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Restoring America through Classical Education – Part I

Over the past month, I have had the distinct opportunity to visit the Treasure Valley Classical Academy which opened my eyes as to how we can restore our country. Upon entering this old rehabilitated school in Fruitland, Idaho, I was reminded of the grammar school I attended when I was a child. Upon entering I was struck by its stark hallways and visible infrastructure pipes in plain sight along with the old wooden chairs in the auditorium. There was the Mission Statement of the school hanging on the wall. It said, “Our Mission is to train the minds and improve the hearts of students through a classical, content-rich curriculum that emphasizes virtuous living, traditional learning, and civic responsibility”.

The school’s Principal Steven Lambert believes the mission statement is deeply rooted in ideas that have existed in Western civilization for thousands of years, beginning with the ancient Greeks that citizens have to be prepared to take on their role in a civil society. In order to do that, we need to form and shape character and to provide knowledge. I thought, what a unique mission statement, this is what education should be about in all American learning institutions. The whole atmosphere actually reminded me of when I was in grammar school back in the 1950s. We call today’s education of our children by many different names but I guess the one that stands out to me is “Progressive Education”. The question is has it truly been progressive for our children or progressive for the bureaucrats and educators we have hired and entrusted with their education?

Principal Steven Lambert is quite a unique individual. He is the son of immigrants who immigrated through Ellis Island. He is the principal of TVCA and is a retired Lt. Cornel of the U.S. Airforce after a very distinguished career. He was the Director of the U.S. Air Force Commanders’ Professional Development School, where he was responsible for preparing over 1,400 senior officers annually for command with an executive-level curriculum spanning a broad range of topics and integrating mentorship from the most senior cadre of Air Force general officers. Before that, he served as the Vice Commander of the 86th Airlift Wing headquartered at Ramstein, Germany, where he helped lead an organization comprised of over 10,000 Air Force personnel dispersed across three air bases in Germany, Spain, and Belgium.

Mr. Lambert earned his undergraduate degree in political science from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1990. He is a distinguished graduate from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, where he was awarded an MA in National Security Affairs in 1995. In 2004, he was selected for a research fellowship at the Center for Strategic Intelligence Research (Defense Intelligence Agency, Washington D.C.) and in 2008 he was chosen to be a National Defense Fellow at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy (Tufts University, Boston). As you can clearly see this is not a man without a portfolio.

In a way, Mr. Lambert is continuing to serve his country by preparing the children who attend TVCA with a truly classical education something you will not find being taught in our regular public schools. Mr. Lambert took on this position as principal because he figured out that it was important that he help raise up the next generation to protect this fragile experiment with liberty called America. He cites a speech made by President Ronald Reagan where he said that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction” and believes we need to teach our current and future generations how to protect this fragile experiment with liberty.

This is not Mr. Lambert’s first venture into the field of classical education. Steven is the founding principal of Treasure Valley Classical Academy (TVCA), however; he also helped found the Atlanta Classical Academy in 2014 where he served as principal. The Atlanta Academy teaches the same curriculum as TVCA in Fruitland based on the Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative. https://k12.hillsdale.edu/Programs/BCSI/

Listening to Mr. Lambert talk about TVCA you can clearly sense the excitement in his voice and how proud he is of what they are accomplishing in this education arena. It is because of a new Idaho law called Innovation Classrooms where parents have a choice in directing their child’s education and an opportunity to have the Hillsdale College 1776 curriculum taught in their schools. Parents are seeing a need for their children to understand more about history and civics as more of the educational activity in traditional public education is being directed away from academic instruction. Our public education programs are teaching things like activism, action civics, critical race theory, and more politically charged content. Parents are looking for alternative school models to assert their rights in directing their children’s education. When you look at the fact that homeschooling has risen by 29% in Idaho and micro schools are also becoming increasing popular in our state you can see that parents are looking for educational alternatives. They appear to be fed up with education Boards that don’t listen to them at public meetings and completely ignore them when they ask to have curriculums changed. Parents have decided to take a definitive stand when it comes to what their children are being taught and I believe we will see many more charter schools like TVCA popping up around our state in the future.

The state of public education has become more than dismal throughout the last two decades. We have forgotten that parents are the primary educators of their children. Parents have become way too trusting in leaving their children’s education up to the teachers in our schools and unruly elected Education Boards. Unfortunately, parents have not been holding our schools and teachers accountable for educating their children appropriately but lately have taken a renewed interest with the introduction of Critical Race Theory into their curriculum. Education has become very centralized and that has been quite damaging as they have forgotten they must consider the specific needs of our children which can be very different from not only state to state, rural to urban, and even school district to school district. We should also consider the fact that teaching over the last couple decades has not been looked upon as an honorable profession. Teachers are not often well thought of and we no longer are seeing the best and the brightest go into this profession. This has clearly led to a deterioration in the effectiveness of our education system.

TVCA is a school serving a little over 400 students in grades K through 8th grade and there is a waiting list to get in. You can see that Mr. Lambert takes a personal interest in each and every student that attends this school something you see little of in our centralized sanitized school systems of today. In TVCA each student is an individual and is treated as such. I was surprised when I observed Mr. Lambert address each student he came in contact with during my visit by name. Something that most principals in our public schools would have a hard time doing. TVCA is unique in that they are teaching their students not only to have a deeper appreciation of virtue and knowledge but a deeper appreciation of their civic duty. In a recent video, Steve talked about the way you build citizens is a three-legged stool strong families, strong schools, and strong churches or other institutions like them. In today’s world our families are struggling our schools have lost their way and our churches are no longer the moral conscious of our society. This is the reason the state of our civic-mindedness looks the way it does.

Steve believes we have forgotten our primary mission which is to fashion citizens that are ready to be stewards of this great experiment in Liberty we have been bequeathed. Instead, we have created factories that make careers, jobs, and money the primary objective not that these are bad things but there is a higher calling and we have forgotten the connection to a deeper civic duty of what we need to do in our schools.

I was invited to the Veterans Day event held at TVCA and must tell you civics is certainly a big, part of this school. The stage was full of children and the first three rows of seats in the auditorium were filled with veterans including myself, while there was a full house with standing room only. Principal/Lt. Cornel Lambert dressed in uniform called out the names of 120 of these veterans both in attendance and those being represented by someone in the audience and as he called out the names of these men and women a resounding present was shouted out by the veteran or their substitute. The children sang the Army, Navy, Marine, Airforce, and Coast Guard songs from memory as the audience was dead silent. To top it off they ended with a color guard and the folding of our flag. I had to wonder how many other schools in our state were celebrating like this one was. Unfortunately, I do not believe there were very many.

It appears to us that Principal Lambert is on a mission to resurrect much of the good that used to be in the educational system of our schools and he is definitely off to a good start with TVCA. We are going to revisit the school after the Christmas holidays and spend some more time with Principal Lambert and his students to continue to give Idahoans a better perspective on what a classical education is.

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