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A Culture of Academic Rigor

Walking the streets of Portland, Oregon last summer, my eyes locked onto a storefront sign that read, “You did not wake up to be mediocre.” Ironically, it was a mediocre sign in an unexceptional, run- of-the-mill, second-rate, middling storefront. Nonetheless, the message of the faded sign was true. I did not wake up to be mediocre today.  Neither did you.

So it is with Little Rock Christian Academy. We did not wake up today to be average. We did not work this hard for so long to be commonplace. This year we encouraged our faculty, staff and students to “run with horses” – from Jeremiah 12:5 - “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you run with horses?” Literally, the passage is more accurately translated “compete with horses.” That said, I write to tell you, we are training ourselves as Warriors to compete with horses and to run for the roses. And, to do so in a way that honors the name of Jesus. Whether it be in matters of faith or intellect, there is no excuse for lukewarm. In every aspect of our mission, we aim to be refreshing.

To be sure, mediocrity does not breed fast horses. Neither does “drill and kill,” rote instruction. Neither does homework for the sake of homework. Or, teaching to the test. Or, the sage on the stage.

So, what does breed fast horses?

At the risk of using educator jargon, I offer four essentials for strengthening a culture of academic rigor in school: challenge, engagement, understanding and enjoyment.

Challenge

Real rigor starts with challenge. If we’re not challenging your child to think and struggle, we need to hear from you so we can amp it up to a more individualized degree. In learning somewhere, there is a sweet spot between easy and impossible where the brain is stretched in ways that are new, demanding and downright uncomfortable. Psychologists call it the zone of proximal development. We call it challenge. No matter what you call it, the key is that new learning takes place in ways that prompt cognitive struggle and, at the same time, offer guiding support.

Engagement

The second dimension of real rigor is engagement. Responsibility for this falls primarily on the teacher. That is why the art of teaching and the professional skill of the teacher are so prized. That is why we need to do more to reward it.

Understanding

When healthy challenge and authentic engagement connect, a lightbulb turns on. The student experiences the grand “Aha!” – the sweet, sweet sound of understanding. A major break-through for us this year occurred when we unleashed the Harkness method of discussion and understanding in our high school Biblical Worldview classrooms. Challenging material, face-to-face engagement and lightbulbs that lit the room. Bottom line: a school culture thatarouses curiosity and rewards questions will, in the end, prepare themost resilient, motivated and aspiring students.

Enjoyment

A significant benefit to this approach to academic rigor and learning is, quite frankly, enjoyment. When challenged, engaged and lit up, the student experiences joy. You experience more joy as parents and the teachers experience joy. All this reinforces and compounds the learning.

Strangely, some people worry that too much education or a demanding school will diminish or compete with one’s faith. Others worry that too much faith-talk will dilute or weaken one’s education. But, I ask: Why should one’s faith be threatened by the intellect or one’s intellect becompromised by faith? Why not let both excel? At the same time, in the same place.

For me, that place is Little Rock Christian Academy. As partners in the education of your children, let me shift the vocabulary from the schoolhouse to our homes.

Rigor Outside the Gates

Academic rigor doesn’t start at 8:00 a.m. and conclude at 3:00 p.m.  Academic rigor is a mindset that flows into your home and from yourhome. Here’s what we can do together to keep academic rigor alive and well at LRCA and in the lives of your children.

  • Keep the end in mind. What end, you ask? Discipleship, lifelong learning and, for Christian high schools, strong college placement.
  • Aim high. Human nature is like gravity. It pulls us down and causes us to miss the mark. Many an archer will tell you to aim high - a little above the bullseye – and the arrow will find the target, even as gravity and distance try to pull it down.
  • Expect more. Expect your child to work even harder. Your child is very capable. Hard work builds character and the resiliency required for a successful adult life.
  • Be an example. Have you noticed that your son or daughter walks like you, talks like you, acts like you? More than not, they do. So it is with reading, asking questions, talking about ideas.  Do those things and watch your children follow suit and prosper.
  • Support the teacher. Your teacher is acting in the best interest of your child. Really. Whether it is through encouragement, correction or workload, your teachers know what’s coming down the road and want your son or daughter to be prepared and succeed.
  • Bust the myth. I hate to admit it but there are some Christian schools across this land that are stuck in mediocrity. God is not glorified. Families are under-served. Children are under-prepared. Not so with Little Rock Christian Academy. At LRCA, we keep the end in mind. We aim high. We expect more. We set an example. We honor our teachers.

We did not wake up to be mediocre today. The Lord’s reputation is at stake. We want to serve you well. And, most importantly, we want your children to be more than ready – to reach their highest potential, empowered by an engaged innovative faculty and grounded in a Christ-centered worldview.

 

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We Believe!
Gary B. Arnold, EdD - LRCA Head of School