Progress Report on the Classical Education Task Force (February 2023)
The 2022 Convention of the Indiana District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod passed Resolution 1-06, “To Promote Classical Lutheran Pedagogy,” which authorized the Board of Directors to “establish a task force to study classical Lutheran pedagogy and its relationship to current practices and curricula being utilized in the schools of the Indiana District.” This task force, comprising Lutheran educators, executives, parents, and pastors, brings together a broad range of experiences and many years of service in the congregations and schools of our church body. They have met twice for study and discussion, and their work has been fruitful thus far.
The following briefly summarizes the work which will continue in the coming months before a full report is presented to the Board of Directors, for consideration and dissemination among the congregations and schools of the Indiana District prior to the 2025 District Convention.
The task force has been studying three books about education in general, and classical education in particular: Imagine the Possibilities: Conversations on the Future of Christian Education, by Bernard Bull and Jim Pingel, Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, by Gene Veith and Andrew Kern, and Lutheran Education: Wittenberg to the Future, by Thomas Korcok.
Veith and Kern offer a well-rounded overview of the elements of classical education, along with an in-depth exploration of seven variations of classical education implemented in America. They characterize classical education as teaching the liberal (freeing) arts centered in the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, astronomy). Such education “offers an intellectual framework that is disciplined and liberating, open to the past and to new knowledge.”
Bull and Pingel give an overview of several Lutheran schools in a variety of places and demographics to demonstrate how Lutheran education is being done well. They do not focus exclusively on classical Lutheran education, though Immanuel Lutheran School in Alexandria, Virginia, is highlighted. They stress the need for focus on a distinct and clear philosophy and mission of Lutheran education. A close relationship between school and church, along with the need to be distinctively Lutheran, contributes to the overall well-being of a Lutheran School.
Korcok’s book explores the history of Lutheran education and its close relationship to the classical tradition mentioned above. Of particular note is the insight this book gives on education’s role in the Saxon immigration from Germany, which led to the formation of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Korcok emphasizes “Baptism, Vocation, Catechesis,” which should prove helpful to the task force as it continues to study Lutheran classical education. The task force has only skimmed the surface of Korcok’s work but is eager to dig in more deeply.
In addition to learning valuable content from these sources, the task force has also heard from various classical school leaders. Mr. Nathanial Pullman (a member of the task force) is headmaster of Redeemer Classical Lutheran School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The school was started six years ago and has grown to 38 students, serving grades 1-9. Mr. Pullman not only gave an overview of classical education, but he also shared some particular features, such as daily Matins, ability-based grade placement, and material mastery and recitation.
Reverend Robert Paul spoke to the task force from Memorial Lutheran School in Houston, Texas, which serves 220 children from infancy through 11th grade. Rev. Paul noted Memorial’s educational philosophy includes building a strong foundation by starting with Christ through daily chapel and intentional catechesis using Luther’s Small Catechism, while also utilizing a curriculum which, in its entirety, emphasizes the liberal arts to form the child as a servant of God and the neighbor. Memorial maintains a close relationship between Church, school, and home.
Ms. Julia Habrecht spoke to the task force from Immanuel Lutheran School in Alexandria, Virginia, a thriving classical Lutheran school outside of Washington D.C. which serves 145 students, Jr K to 8th grade. Immanuel Lutheran School shares many of the features of classical education found at other schools like Memorial, Houston. Ms. Habrecht emphasized the strong catechetical nature of the school in training students how to live and die well in the faith, and that teaching a broad liberal arts education is not only good for its students but also quite practical.
Part of the task force’s study and discussion centered on accreditation, the processes by which schools are evaluated. Mr. Mark Muehl shared a brief history and overview of the accreditation process for the National Lutheran School Association (NSLA). That process incorporates seven Accreditation Standards for Lutheran Schools (Purpose, Relationships, Leadership, Professional Personnel, Teaching and Learning, Student Services, and Facilities). Mr. Nathaniel Pullman also gave the outline for the “Marks of a Classical Lutheran School” used in the accreditation process for the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education (CCLE), which includes four sections: Commitment to the Gospel, Commitment to a classical approach to curriculum and instruction, and Governance/Structure/Continuance of evaluation. Though there was some overlap between the two accreditations, CCLE explicitly looks for a teaching of the liberal arts in the trivium and quadrivium. CCLE also offers dual accreditation with NLSA.
In these first two meetings the task force has read, heard, and discussed a wealth of information. They have identified the following important characteristics of classical and Lutheran education, which will be useful as they continue their work:
- The emphasis on external and objective truth from God, which is both knowable and teachable.
- The primacy of the Christian faith and confession in all subjects.
- The intimate connection between the spiritual life of the church and the educational environment of the school (seen in practices like daily chapel).
- The close working relationship between the parents and the teachers, with an emphasis on the authority and responsibility of parents for the education and catechesis of their children.
- The desire not simply to train children for a job but through the liberal arts and sciences to equip the students to live as baptized children of God in service to God and neighbor.
Rev. Samuel S. Wirgau, Task Force Chairman
Rev. Dr. D. Richard Stuckwisch, District President