Last year at our Spring Curriculum Night, Mr. Barney presented the results of the Good Soil Study, a comparative study showing the life outcomes of a classical Christian education. The study was conducted by the University of Notre Dame's Sociology department. Watch ACCS's (the Association of Classical and Christian Schools) introductory video and download the 57 page pdf report going into further detail and analysis of the study.
This ground-breaking study used self-reports by alumni of classical Christian schools alongside self-reports from alumni from public schools, various kinds of private schools and homeschools. Since the beginning of the classical Christian school movement, there have been distinctives in curriculum and methods that teachers, parents and students could point to that indicated qualitative differences with other schooling choices. But there had not yet been a study that looked at the long-term impact of this alternative, school-renewal movement. This article will explore and explain a few of the findings of the study.
Fostering a Christian Life
One of the stunning results of the study is the magnitude of impact on students’ spiritual lives after graduating from a classical Christian school. The study found that 90% of classical Christian school graduates attend church at least 3 times monthly. Over against peers from other school environments, classical Christian school graduates are more likely to partake in individual prayer, read their Bibles regularly and hold traditional beliefs about marriage. Classical Christian school alumni are also more likely to uphold the authority of Scripture.
One of the reasons for the magnitude of the study’s findings comes down to the educational approach taken at classical Christian schools. At Clapham School one of the core values that most contributes to this kind of outcome is discipleship. Teachers at Clapham seek to mentor students, impacting students beyond mere intellectual content. Through daily interaction and intentional habit training, students come away knowing they are cared for by their teachers. Students are also guided and coached by Bible-believing mentors who assist them to interpret the world of knowledge from the vantage point of a biblical worldview. Our care for children as whole persons means that teachers are investing in students with consideration of the moral, spiritual, emotional and relational aspects of their being.
Preparing for Academic Success
Parents have frequently turned to classical Christian schools in the search for greater academic challenge for their children. The Good Soil study found that a high percentage of classical Christian school graduates felt they were very well prepared for college. Furthermore, most classical Christian school graduates found they received A’s or mostly A’s during their college careers. This finding can be correlated with the SAT results for ACCS students that demonstrate a high level of achievement relative to college and career readiness benchmarks.
Clapham School highly values academic excellence, which occurs through the reading of excellent books that are both challenging and enjoyable for students. Teachers at Clapham seek to stretch students so that they can reach their full, God-given potential. Our educational goals envision students as independent persons who are capable of critical thinking, persuasive communication and effective leadership. One of the reasons why classical Christian school students achieve academic success in college is actually because the focus of their formative education has not emphasized mere information. Instead, academic excellence at a school like Clapham cultivates virtue and the pursuit of goodness, truth and beauty. This means that students graduating from classical Christian schools are well prepared to care about their classes in ways their peers might not be able to.
Cultivating a Positive Outlook on Life
Another arena the study examined was the long-term life outlook of classical Christian school graduates. The study found that classical Christian school graduates showed a greater sense of positive outlook on life and a better sense of life satisfaction. This can seem like a fairly nebulous category, so the study helpfully explores this in several dimensions. For instance, classical Christian school alumni reportedly seek to strengthen their relationship with God as one of their life goals. Graduates of classical Christian schools also reported that they were able to understand suffering as part of God’s plan for their lives. The study found that classical Christian school alumni have a clear sense of purpose and meaning in life, are able to handle life’s problems, and have a high sense of gratitude.
A significant factor in helping graduates achieve this positive outlook is the nature of the great books curriculum used in classical Christian schools. At Clapham School, students read works that provide perspective on life. Students encounter perspectives from authors like Homer, Dante, Milton, Augustine and Bonhoeffer in addition to daily readings from the Bible. I fondly remember memorizing Longfellow’s poem, “Psalm of Life,” which tells us
“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”
Studying history, philosophy and theology helps provide perspectives to help students form a positive outlook on life.
Pictures of Clapham Graduates
Even though the number of Clapham alumni is still small, we see many of the trends enumerated in the Good Soil study among our graduates. It takes a great amount of investment to provide a values-rich education. So it is gratifying to see the investment paying dividends in the lives of our growing number of graduates. You can see for yourself stories by alumni about their Christian faith, academic success and outlook on life.