Radical "Old" Ways To Educate

Below are highlights from Mrs. Jo Thoburn’s panel discussion on “Radical New Ways To Educate” from the FreedomFest conference held this month in Las Vegas. Philosophically, little has changed at the Fairfax Christian School in the past fifty-three years. Our mission is to create scholars who seek the truth. Our “tried and true” methods created a school where learning is the focus and goals are achieved. The Fairfax Christian School is a very traditional university-prep school.

A Fairfax Christian School education does not end with a diploma and an acceptance into a major university. Because our students are well prepared, they can fully apply their education in diverse environments and disciplines. That’s when our students can use the competitive advantages they have gained from their education and thrive.

A focused environment brings success. The campus and classrooms at Fairfax Christian School are designed to provide appropriate creative stimulation for students without distracting them from their studies.

Personal effects for both teachers and students are left at home. Classroom decorations are kept simple and humble to help focus students’ attention on learning. School uniforms and a conservative dress code eliminate distractions from the classroom. Students also develop confidence when they are well dressed. All of our students wear a blazer, our girls wear knee length skirts, and our boys wear ties on Fridays and for special events. Self-discipline is critical for sustaining progress and achieving big goals. By eliminating worldly distractions, students can focus on the topics at hand.

Teachers instruct. Our teachers are hired for their passion for teaching and for their ability to connect with the students. It is their responsibility to instruct and to work with the students through the learning process. Our teachers are there to stretch and refine the skill levels of each student, to encourage them to reach their highest goals and to inspire them to be independent learners.

Skills will last a lifetime. Whether a high precision skill like learning grammar rules, memorizing multiplication tables or studying the periodic table – or softer skills like playing in tune with the band, writing creatively or assessing a science experiment – a systematic formula of drill and application gives students a measurable foundation for their education.

Textbooks, whether paper or electronic, are a critical tool in systematic learning. Use of original source materials, whether books, news clippings, audio or video, is strongly encouraged to enhance the learning process. An organized scope and sequence with goals and standards gives the teachers and students a path to success.

At the Fairfax Christian School, we avoid “busy work.” Students drill until they master the curriculum, but they do not do work for the sake of doing it. Reading and writing assignments, studying for tests, watching lesson videos and completing any unfinished classwork are typical homework assignments for our students. Homework is not given on weekends or holidays and tests are not given on Mondays.

Curriculum is critical. What is taught is just as important as how it is taught. Our university-prep curriculum, taught from a Christian worldview, is designed to give students a solid foundation academically, morally and ethically. At the high school level, twenty-three AP classes are offered and all other classes are taught at an honors level. The middle school is a pre-AP program which preps students for university level coursework in high school. Students are also offered a variety of art, music, writing and media classes to stimulate their creativity.

Our coursework in economics and business begins in fourth grade with Biblical principles of the free market. By sixth grade, students tackle monetary policy. In high school, all students are required to take at least one AP Economics class. Classes are also offered in Accounting, Speech and Debate, Statistics, Computer Science, Business Law, Business Math and American Economic Freedom.

Technology is a tool. All middle and high school students have their own iPad. In a backpack, each student carries the world’s largest library. However, access to knowledge does not mean good use of knowledge. Without a solid, structured education, the ability to use the amazing resources available can be lost.

Too often parents and teachers allow students to use technology as a crutch, an excuse not to learn. In the past thirty years, spelling, math and grammar skills have declined. Productivity and creativity are lost when a student continually looks up basic skills instead of mastering and applying them. Many schools have dropped penmanship – a very valuable skill, not only for communicating, but also for developing fine motor skills in young students.

Test, test, test. Tests motivate, add interest to learning and track progress. A test should be considered almost a “game.” Students challenge themselves by counting how many math problems they can solve in two minutes or by spelling words as quickly as they can without error, by writing an creative essay with perfect grammar or by completing an AP Studio Art portfolio or performing for a higher chair in Concert Band. These drills can be addictive as students challenge themselves to improve their hard skills and integrate creativity.

Results matter. The Fairfax Christian School has a fifty-three year track record. One-hundred percent of our graduates are attending colleges and universities; several have gone on to receive Masters degrees and PhDs from some of the top universities in the world.

Our small school has produced amazing alumni including members of the US Congress; local elected officials; entrepreneurs; CEOs; industrialists; leaders in technology; leaders in the international Christian community; artists; an Oscar Award nominee; a few best selling authors and even the Inspector General of the CIA.

So, are we radical? Absolutely. In a world where grade inflation trumps achievement and effort is given the same merit as success, high standards in modern education are rare. Fairfax Christian School stands out as a model for what education should be.

Jo Thoburn

Jo Thoburn is the President and CEO of the Fairfax Christian School. She lives in Vienna, Virginia, with her husband David. They have seven children and two grandchildren.