By Carrie Eben
The church is meant to be a body of Christian believers to encourage each other in their faith. Just as Christ’s body of believers gather to fellowship and edify each other around a common belief, classical Christian educators have opportunities to come together and share the same liturgies of Christian education. Although each church, or group of believers, looks different, they all share a common thread of faith and look to each other under the headship of Christ to nurture and grow in their understanding of Him. Classical Christian educators from diverse backgrounds can likewise come together at classical education conferences to grow in their understanding of truth, beauty, and goodness of curriculum and pedagogy. I thought I would take this opportunity to share about recent conferences which have helped me grow as well as highlight some new and annual conferences coming soon.
The first conference I attended this year was led by the Society for Classical Learning. This Winter Conference for Heads of School and Board Members held in Atlanta, Georgia provided my husband and me (both founding board members of Sager Classical Academy in Siloam Springs, AR) a retreat to contemplate the life cycle of a growing school, a means to talk to other board members who lead schools in various stages, and time to pray for our school in its next phase. The speakers were experts in school management and board leadership, and they shared their wisdom of experience. My favorite part of the conference was meeting in cohorts (based on a mixture of school size and years in existence) and asking questions of the others regarding struggles of our own school. Invaluable.
My favorite conference every year is The Classical Thistle Conference in Branson, MO. Most of you reading are already aware that The Classical Thistle presents a yearly March conference (next year it will be March 1-2) at College of the Ozarks near Branson, MO. School of the Ozarks, Classical School of Wichita, and Grace Classical in Granbury, TX started this lovely little conference in 2016. The Classical Thistle took over running the conference in 2018 and they have run it each year since (minus the 2021 COVID cancelation). I have attended this conference since 2018 and I have found it inspiring as well as practical for teachers who are both new and seasoned in the classical model. Kyle Rapinchuk, Scott McElvain, and Brad Dolloff at College of the Ozarks are responsible for the warm hospitality and opportunity for fellowship and learning each year. The cost is accessible and includes two continental breakfasts and a lunch. This year, there were over 60 breakout sessions over the day and a half with opportunities for classical administrators, grammar teachers, and upper schoolteachers of all experience levels and knowledge areas. I always recommend this conference to the teachers at Sager Classical Academy in Siloam Springs, AR since it is nearby, inexpensive, and packs a punch for both practical and philosophical professional development each year. The growing number of participants reflects the quality and professionalism of the conference. Next year’s conference is scheduled for March 1-2, 2024.
This year, the day before the Classical Thistle conference, College of the Ozarks hosted a Classical Education Summit which hosted around twenty educators from across the nation to discuss the needs of classical educators in the region. It was beautiful to be able to break bread together and discuss ideas on which we could all agree as the most important commons threads in classical education—a “mere Christianity” of classical Christian education. I had the honor of being a part of this amazing group of educators, administrators, and leaders of this movement. We discussed the need for more classical teacher and parent education and how to promote classical Christian education as a lifestyle and pedagogy from K-post-graduate education. Leaders from both the Association of Classical Christian Schools and the Society of Classical Learning were present to add in their perceived needs as well as where things stood from their vantage point within the movement. Dr. Sue Head and Dr. Andrew Bolger of College of the Ozarks led the discussion and gleaned insight for next steps.
The following week, I found myself in Florida at the Classical Learning Test’s Florida Classical Education Summit. Florida is known for its freedom in education, and many leaders in the school choice movement congregated under the hospitality of the CLT to celebrate school choice initiatives in the United States. This summit serendipitously coincided with new (March 8) legislation from my home state of Arkansas since Governor Sanders signed the LEARNS act into law which will roll out options for parents who want to use their tax dollars for their choice of education. I had the honor of both moderating a panel titled “The Power of Parental Choice & Why Parents are Choosing Classical Education” and participating on a panel titled “The Role of K-12 Assessment in Classical Education.” I was able to glean much information about the issues surrounding school choice initiatives from Floridians who have had many years of school choice freedom as well directors from national think tanks. I have much to contemplate as I discern how the new Arkansas laws might affect classical schools in Arkansas.
This summer, there are many opportunities for growth in classical Christian pedagogy and curriculum. There is a NEW conference opportunity June 3 in Tontitown, AR hosted by The Central Consortium of Classical Educators. The Central Consortium of Classical Educators is part of a larger Consortium initiative of Kepler Education which provides resources and regional connections for Christian families, teachers, and educational organizations to expand the reach of classical education and foster human flourishing for generations to come. I co-founded the Central Consortium for Classical Educators, with my colleagues, John Rocha, HOS at Ozark Catholic Academy in Tontitown, AR, Jennifer Winters, Curriculum Director of Anthem Classical School in Fayetteville, AR, and Dr. Albert Cheng, board member of Anthem Classical Academy and Director of the University of Arkansas Classical Learning Lab, to serve the central part of the U.S. (primarily AR, MO, OK, and KS). We hope to provide another opportunity for learning in our area that is both soul-edifying and professionally practical for classical educators and parents in the region. Our theme this year is “Rooted” as we contemplate the roots of classical education. Scott Postma of Kepler will serve as a plenary speaker along with Christine Norvell. Classical Thistle’s very own Kyle Rapinchuk will also be there to present! There will be many opportunities to connect with classical educators, discuss ideas and attend breakout sessions during the conference. We hope you will meet us in Tontitown, AR June 3! You can register here: The Central Consortium of Classical Educators.
I will also be attending The Society for Classical Learning’s National Conference in Dallas, TX this year. The theme is “Redeeming the Time.” The conference is June 15-17 with an added pre-conference day for in-depth learning of a variety of topics for all classical educators, leaders, and parents. This large conference has a mix of plenary speakers who discuss the theme as well as over a hundred breakout sessions across the three days. I will personally be teaching a pre-conference track called “Teaching by Imitation in the Grammar School.” I hope you will connect with me if you attend the National SCL Conference. Register here: The Society for Classical Learning Summer Conference
There are other notable summer conferences occurring this summer as well that I will not be able to make, but maybe you can: The ACCS will host their annual “Repairing the Ruins” National Conference in Pittsburgh, PA June 21-24 and the Circe Institute will hold its National Conference July 12-15 in Denver, Colorado this year (although tickets usually sell out in the fall).
I hope you are inspired by what is happening in the United States in classical education. There are new initiatives for training and parent support nationally as well as locally. Please take the opportunity this year to educate and edify yourself in the classical model. Classical education is a tradition which thrives on continued learning and growing. If you are a classical educator in the area, I hope to see you at one of the many opportunities for learning this summer. I especially hope to see you in my neighborhood June 3 in the beautiful Arkansas Ozarks. The flame is lit for human flourishing in education—join the bonfire!