Whitefield Academy Blog
Crafting Conversations in Classical Education
Whitefield Academy welcomes Dr. Andrew Selby as our new Assistant Headmaster! Dr. Selby comes to us from Trinity Classical Academy in California.
When my extended family celebrated holidays at my grandmother’s house, I remember becoming old enough to sit at the adults’ table. I couldn’t necessarily understand everything they were talking about when they discussed politics or religion (they had lots of fights!) or business affairs. Despite my limited understanding, though, I wanted to participate in their conversation. I could tell whatever they were talking about mattered. Everyone leaned forward and gave the topic their full attention.
My career in classical education has been an extension of the desire to overhear and participate in meaningful conversation. Conversation can be defined as the free trading of ideas in a community. Classical education prioritizes conversation. It seeks to build communities of people who can think well together. We learn the rules for engagement, how to seek to understand someone else and not just be understood ourselves, how to craft arguments that are both true and persuasive. As disciples of Jesus, we have been called to be His life-long learners, brought into His family, the church. This is what I hope to foster as part of the Whitefield Academy community.
Besides experiencing conversation at holidays growing up, another important influence for me was my parents, Jim and Elaine Selby, who have been part of Whitefield for almost 20 years. They loved reading books and discussing them. From as early as I can remember, they participated in Great Books reading groups. When I turned 16, they asked me if I wanted to participate in one that they hosted in our home. I accepted and then really got to be at the adults’ table! This experience led me to attend a great books program at Biola University, the Torrey Honors Institute, which drew me further into the dialectic–seeking of truth through focused conversation–as part of Christian discipleship. (It’s also where I met my wife!)
My training at the MA and PhD levels allowed me to participate in conversation. This journey helped me to realize that one does not simply converse. Meaningful conversation requires hard work. It builds upon many skills such as listening compassionately, reading well and deeply, and articulating clearly. Good conversationalists want to tell the truth more than they want to “win.” In this context of higher learning, it became very clear that ideas can be helpful or harmful to the learning process. The best professors and colleagues I encountered sought to learn from the past, standing on the shoulders of giants.
If we want our students to join in conversations that really matter, that will shape our churches, communities, and the world, then we have to teach them to be the kinds of people who can have great conversations. We can help them from the earliest stages to be curious about God’s complex and fascinating world, to listen well to other people, and to study His Word deeply.
The best conversations are deep and move purposefully. Conversations can be insubstantial but move effectively, like chatting with the neighbor about the weather. Or they can be substantial but not get anywhere, like so many Thanksgiving-dinner political discussions. Our Lord Jesus knew how to have great conversations. So much of his ministry involved penetrating discussions with his disciples, or the religious leaders, or whoever had the courage to come and speak with him. He was able to hear what his conversation partner was saying—not just the words but the deepest meaning—and respond with loving truth. That’s the kind of conversation we all want to be part of.
This is why I’m excited to be part of the Whitefield community. This is a school that teaches young people to grow into adults who want to shape the conversations that matter. That’s what I want for my kids. In my role as Assistant Headmaster, I look forward to facilitating great conversations among teachers that spill over into great conversations for students.
Interested in a classical Christian education for your students? Take a quick virtual tour of Whitefield Academy by clicking below.
Whitefield Academy is now enrolling for in-person classes for the 2020/2021 school year! Click below to learn about our application process.