By Patrick B. McGuigan
This is a story about Veritas — the truth.
As in: Veritas Classical Academy of Oklahoma City, a blended (or “hybrid”) educational system that combines the personal attention of homeschooling—guided by loving parents two or three days a week — with the rigor of magnificent teachers working in the Socratic method two or three days a week.
Craig Dunham initially thought he was going to be a preacher, and he went to seminary for five years. He credits his wife, Megan, with steering him toward a holistic view of the Holy Scriptures, and his eventual (current) work as head of the Veritas system.
It’s a place where students learn to love, and pursue, “Knowledge, Wisdom, Goodness, and Beauty in accordance with biblical truth for the glory of God.”
Students move through the “Trivium” (three roads, or stages) of classical education.
Pre-kindergarten through fifth grade is the Grammar stage — when they absorb information and learn the rules of phonics, spelling, and English and Latin grammar. They learn how to write, and are introduced to great (including non-Christian) literature, Saxon-style math (meaning that 2 plus 2 equals 4, even if you have a problem with that), and the basics of science.
Then comes the Logic stage, grades 6-8, with debate, argumentation, the Socratic method, and the discernment of … truth. More writing (and lots of it), more Bible and more literature, higher-order reasoning, the meaning of cause and effect, and science.
And then, the Rhetoric stage, grades 9-12, when self-expression is encouraged, inclining toward, an explanation on the school’s website explains, “those things that are noble, right, pure, and lovely.” Kids write some more, with the emphasis on writing well, and they read the great books that made Western civilization … civilized. And, math and science.
The prism for all things is truth. At a campus in south Oklahoma City and a smaller facility in Edmond, the program now works with about 300 kids.
Grammar grades now include around 160 students, with Logic around 80, and the remainder in Rhetoric (high school). The first two high school graduates came last year, from a humble start in 2004. Six are headed toward 12th grade graduation this year. There will be 16 graduates in two years.
The children learn about Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. They discern the overlap and connection among … everything. Originally a gathering of parents in Norman, the founders of Veritas took their inspiration from Coram Deo (“in the presence of God”), a Texas system that grew from a homeschool cooperative into a five-day program. At Veritas, in light of Oklahoma’s unrivaled laws supportive of homeschooling rights, the system is likely to remain 50-50, a balance between engaged families and world-class instructors.
Like the molecular biologist who also teaches at the University of Oklahoma (where homeschooled kids are excelling, by the way), or the award-winning retired teacher from Norman High in the Veritas science program.
And yet Veritas is not “college prep,” Dunham says — it is “kingdom prep.” Of those two first seniors, one young lady is attending college, while one young man is getting a practical-training polish before entering a trade.
To be clear, the kids are college-ready, consistently excelling on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. And, they are life-ready. “Besides being technically skilled, great writers, and logical thinkers,” Dunham says, “Veritas students have the intangible personal qualities that predict success in college and beyond.”
The wonk in me led to a question for Mr. Dunham: Are there public policy implications to what you are doing here?
His answer was profoundly cautious, leavened with wisdom: “I’m always leery of strings attached when government is involved in any way with education. This works when it is as local and family-oriented as possible.
“We are in loco parentis, not displacing them but involved at the discretion of the parent.
“In terms of public policy, I’d love to see educational resources, the dollars, follow the child, but at the complete discretion of the parent.” Later, he added, “The key is to assure that the parents are involved.”
Too soon for me on the day of my visit, the sun was headed toward the western horizon, and I had to leave. I told Dunham the truth: the kids at Veritas reminded me of my days at Oklahoma City’s Bishop John Carroll Elementary and Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School, albeit with a traditional Protestant overlay.
While multiple Bible translations are welcomed for personal study, the English Standard Version (ESV) and New International Version (NIV) are the preferred translations for classroom work. Veritas is “trans-denominational,” respectful of believers in a way “that yields greater understanding of one another and what God is doing in the body of Christ.”
Thirteen months ago (on November 1, 2011), radio host Rush Limbaugh pointed to an Occupy Wall Street protester who had penned a note in which she decried her progress toward what she deemed “a useless degree in Classical Studies.” Worst of all, she was learning Latin. And, she concluded, her job prospects were “zero.”
Rush went round the bend, asserting it was no wonder the lady was headed toward failure and was marching in an Occupy parade. He described the degree she was nearing as “worthless.” It was not one of his finest hours — perhaps it was among his worst. However, toward the end, a listener called in to testify to the fabulous education her children were receiving at a Christian school where the emphasis is on … classical studies, and parental involvement.
I went to Catholic schools and got a fair dollop of classical education, even in an era when traditional educational standards were slipping.
Then, I attended Oklahoma State University, earning two degrees in history — and specializing in study of the medieval Church and the royal courts of Europe. Yes, my studies included a year’s worth of Latin, a semester’s worth of classical Greek, exposure to Russian and German, and fluency in French.
More than two decades later, I taught Latin to ghetto kids, including the memorable exchange between Jesus and Pilate (in Latin). You know, the one where Pilate asks, “What is truth?” I did that work at a public alternative charter school, Seeworth Academy, founded by the late Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Alma Wilson.
Our classes were held at what used to be the Corpus Christi Catholic School. Every day at that place I prayed to remember and to understand what I saw in many of them — sometimes beaten and bruised, not crowned in glory —”the Body of Christ.”
There is nothing magical, per se, about conjugating verbs and memorizing the words of philosophers in the original language. What was magical from my years as a student and a teacher was understanding and acting upon the Judeo-Christian roots of ordered liberty, the blessings of intellectual rigor, and the importance of both evidence and experience in the pursuit of truth.
I have gone through many professional incarnations in my 58 years. I’ve been purged, and slapped, and beaten up a few times, literally and figuratively. Because of my classical education, absolutely nothing I encountered in Washington, D.C. or Oklahoma City or Paris, France or anywhere else has ever, really, surprised me.
“There is nothing new under the sun,” says the prophet (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NIV). That’s why we are wise to study the classics, and the Scriptures.
For the truth.
NOTE: This commentary first appeared in the December 2012 edition of Perspective Magazine, monthly publication of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs in Oklahoma City.