Are Caldwell students uniquely prepared to face the challenges of the modern world? Can an education so obviously rooted in the past provide the knowledge, skills, and wisdom needed to be successful, relevant, and impactful in 2021? Having spent the last 21 years of my life teaching, working, growing, and living in this community, I want to answer these questions with an emphatic, “Yes!”
I’ve spent a lot of time learning about and experiencing classical education, so I think I can make a pretty good case for its impact. As I considered the question I realized the best way to find the answer was to ask those who have passed through our classrooms. So I did. Their answers are emphatically positive, but also beautiful. The scope of their replies is far more ranging than I would have imagined.
Caldwell is a classical, Christian, community school. I remember hearing an explanation of each of those components during my first week on campus in 1999. As I considered the responses received from former students, I noticed the educational benefits they described fit neatly into each of Caldwell's foundational elements.
First, we are a school classical in methodology. We seek to provide students an education that teaches the tools of learning. These tools (reading, writing, thinking, speaking, listening) provide students the ability to be life-long learners. Our graduates say they had an advantage over their peers at college because they could write papers with ease, engage professors in conversation, and address a classroom with relative comfort.
Though those students currently facing the rigorous Senior Thesis project may find it hard to believe, several graduates said Thesis was their best preparation for college and beyond. Caldwell graduates in different professional fields know how to write clearly, concisely, thoroughly, and logically – a skill that gets them noticed. They can speak before groups of any size. They are ready to answer the tough questions and intimidation sometimes found in work and life after Caldwell.
Classroom discussions prepare students to ask the right questions. They tend to not do something simply because it has always been done. Asking good questions leads to fruitful innovation. The ability to ask good and appropriate questions makes Caldwell graduates great employees and leaders. They learned not only to ask who, where, and what, but also why. Answering the “why” question develops an understanding of the foundational and operational principles of any organization or business. Caldwell alums know ideas have consequences.
A person's ability to converse winsomely with those above, below, and beside them in rank within companies and organizations is noticed and admired. Caldwell graduates understand debate (when properly and lovingly conducted) can lead to understanding rather than animosity. Eye contact and the ability to connect with others also make them stand out.
Our former students see important themes and trends across an organization. They cultivated this skill through learning history, literature, philosophy, and the arts chronologically and simultaneously. Classically trained students know how to read with intellectual understanding. They find more context for reading and learning than their peers because of the wide reading they did at Caldwell.
Caldwell is also a Christian school. We seek to teach everything through a biblical worldview. We hope to graduate young adults who cultivate a growing personal relationship with Christ and make a positive difference in the world. Several graduates spoke of Caldwell's impact on their spiritual lives. They said learning to ask the questions mentioned above, even about their faith, plays an important role in their spiritual growth. They don’t just sit in the pew or classroom and accept what is said. They ask questions and conduct research to confirm what they believe is true. Their Caldwell education helped them develop a biblical structure through which they process thoughts and experiences.
One graduate who attended Caldwell from Kindergarten through 12th grade said, “Classical education set rhythms and patterns in my life that determined the ways in which I grow, think, and feel.” Several mentioned they did not fully appreciate Caldwell's spiritual aspect as students, but now see the value as adults living in the "real" world. They recognize all truth is God’s truth and that truth and beauty matter. As they progress in their relationship with Jesus, they see their tendency to self-analyze and check within for bias, weakness, and strength as something they learned at Caldwell.
Lastly, Caldwell is a community school. We recognize God designed us to live, work, and learn together and that He calls us to love and serve those around us. The personhood of each student, the recognition of each community member as someone made in God's image, is vital to our mission. Several students spoke of the influence of teachers. Those who are now teachers seek to bring the kinds of relationships they had with teachers at Caldwell into their own classrooms.
Graduates repeatedly mentioned a result of a Caldwell education that I had not previously considered, but which I recognize as absolutely vital today. Caldwell graduates know how to empathize. Having been treated as precious souls made in God's image, they likewise see and treat others. As they talk to people, as they ask the questions they were trained to ask, and listen to the answers, they can understand where others are coming from and why they believe what they believe.
Caldwell graduates travel widely and engage with people from many cultures and backgrounds. Across the world and in their communities they can see and evaluate the merit of different ideas without changing their own beliefs–and without seeing those who hold different beliefs as their enemies. I can’t think of a more precious, necessary, and timely life practice than that.