I have had the opportunity to attend the Core Knowledge Conference in Washington, D.C. There I attended seminars on the teaching of history, reading, writing, and art with teachers from across the country. I met so many bright, committed, and well educated teachers and administrators. Many were from charter schools just beginning to use Core Knowledge. Did you know that Crossroads was one of the first three schools in the country to use the Core Knowledge Program? Now this program is used in over 2,000 schools across the nation. These schools have come to the same conclusion that we did-that a solid, sequenced, specific body of knowledge and set of skills are critical to the education of the next generation.
While in transit to D.C., I was able to catch up on my reading- a rare gift for me these days! I had tucked the latest copy of Independent School in my bag. One of the articles was entitled, “Smart and Good- Integrating Performance Character and Moral Character in Schools.” In this article, Matthew Davidson and Thomas Lickona quote Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt once remarked, “To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” The authors then wrote that the reverse is also true. “To educate a person in morals and not in mind is to educate, if not a menace, at least a detriment to society.” As an example they asked “Who wants an honest but incompetent doctor, lawyer or mechanic?” They labeled these two qualities as “performance character and moral character” traits.
According to the article, “Performance character traits,” are those traits that support strong performance, including diligence, organization, a strong work ethic, optimism, self-discipline. (At Crossroads we would also include other virtues and the mastery of content and skills.) The authors describe “moral character traits,” as those traits that support relationships. These include, for example, integrity, justice, respect, kindness, and humility. Although an incomplete list as measured against the Core Virtues Program utilized at Crossroads, (which was developed on our campus and is now being used in over two hundred schools and school systems), these traits track along with the virtues our students study and practice on a daily basis.
At Crossroads our students master content and skills and at the same time practice virtues that support and further strengthen their academic progress and their character. Practice in one arena strengthens and reinforces the other in a way that produces a remarkable balance of mind and heart. While the article I read spoke to the best practices to support such a balance at the high school level, Crossroads has given our students academic preparation and habits of the heart to last a lifetime and the opportunity to practice from early childhood.
I encourage you to learn more about our integrated and unique program through our website. But the real proof is “in the pudding.” We would be delighted to host you for a campus visit so that you can see our program in action, meet our faculty and students, and tour our pristine, wooded campus. I look forward to meeting you.
All the best,
Head of School
”We are supposed to mold good character and cultivate good vision with the right stories and the best examples.” ~ Mary Beth Klee
Our language arts curriculum is designed to foster literacy and an appreciation of great literature. We employ a wide range of “best teaching practices” including phonics instruction, linked reading and writing activities, and a rich selection of literature appropriate to each child’s reading level. Students bring the literature to life though dramatic performances and creative projects. Middle School students participate in lively discussions of works by Twain, Dickens, Chaucer, and Shakespeare. (Click here for an article describing these types of discussions.) We stress grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and writing in all grades. In composition, students in fourth through eighth grades write essays about the literature they read, as well as descriptive and narrative pieces. We provide small group composition instruction to meet the needs of individual students with the help of teaching assistants in the elementary grades and an additional composition teacher at the Middle School level.
In mathematics, teachers guide students through concepts using well-sequenced materials. Our program emphasizes a balance of strong computational, problem-solving, and geometry skills. Students develop strategies for approaching problems in an efficient and accurate manner, with an emphasis on knowing basic math facts. Middle School
classes remain small and range from on-level sixth grade arithmetic to pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry. Each student’s individual academic needs and developmental readiness are considered for Middle School course placements. Offerings include pre-algebra, Algebra I, geometry and occasionally Algebra II. Most students complete at least Algebra I by the end of eighth grade. From hands-on manipulatives to high school geometry, Crossroads students explore the world of numbers.
History and Geography
One of the unique offerings at Crossroads is its rich, sequentially organized history and geography program. Through songs, projects, drama, mapmaking, and teacher presentation, our students travel from Mesopotamian ziggurats to Sung Dynasty silk painting to the classic Renaissance architecture of Brunelleschi’s cathedral in Florence. By the end of the eighth grade, students are able to research and debate topics from the democratic revolution to Romanticism and from nationalism and imperialism to communism.
In our science lab and in the countryside surrounding the school, students explore all aspects of their world. From cell study to the study of the galaxies, our program provides students with a balanced, well-coordinated curriculum that includes life, physical, and earth science topics. Through exposure to scientific laws and the lives of extraordinary scientists, students begin their journey into the world of science: researching, observing, experimenting, and recording. Students are also enjoying the development of environmental stewardship initiatives, such as “Awake, Aware, and Connected.”
At Crossroads, world language instruction begins early. History is the backbone of our program, and through history we have many opportunities to expose our students to languages spoken around the world. Beginning in the academic school year 2012–2013, we will be seeking and implementing ways to augment the international component of our program through occasional lessons presented by native speakers. These visitors will share cultural connections and expose the students to snippets of the language(s) native to these cultures. Our goals will be to support our history program, deepen learning about the cultures studied, increase cultural connections, offer opportunities for cultural/language comparisons, expose the students to samples of the language(s) of the cultures, and inspire in our students the desire to study and learn about the fascinating world of language and culture.
While students learn some Greek and Latin roots in the lower grades, Latin instruction begins in earnest in grade six. Many of our students continue to study Latin in high school and beyond. Starting in the fall of 2012, Latin 6 will serve as an introduction to the classical world. This course will include Latin vocabulary as it serves as a foundation for English and an enhanced study of the Latin and Greek cultures. Latin 6 will dovetail with our English and history programs in grade six. At the end of sixth grade, students will be tested on their vocabulary and grammar knowledge to determine eligibility for seventh grade Latin. Students graduating from eighth grade with Latin should expect to enter Latin 2 in grade nine.
French instruction begins in grade four and extends through grade eight. Crossroads students gain confidence and facility in French through lively class activities. Students acquire a clear sense of French culture while learning the basic structure of the language. Vocabulary, grammar, and conversational activities provide a very strong foundation for our students to enter French 2 in grade nine.
In the fall of 2012, we added the option for students in grades seven and eight to take Spanish in lieu of French. Like French instruction, Spanish classes include a variety of engaging activities to support the acquisition of Spanish and an understanding and appreciation of Spanish culture. Students who begin Spanish in their seventh grade year should generally expect to enter Spanish 2 in grade nine.
Arts, Music, Drama
The art and music departments have coordinated their topics with many of our history units. We believe that exposure to a rich array of composers and visual artists are fundamental to learning basic elements of composition and design in both art and music. In music class, students read, play, and compose music. All belong to a chorus that performs regularly throughout the school year. In art history, students study the great works and put what they have learned into practice as they produce their own works of sculpture and painting.
Drama class provides Middle School students with theatrical disciplines such as vocal techniques, concentration, characterization skills, theater terminology, theater history, acting styles, stage and spatial awareness, critical thinking, observation, and auditioning skills. Classroom work includes improvisation, theater games and exercises, skits, monologues, open discussions, and self and peer analysis. Such skills help to prepare the students for a year-end musical theater production in the spring. Along with listening, clear speech, and language, acute attention, self discipline, self respect and respect for others, drama class encourages the independence that comes from working to achieve personal excellence while maintaining a commitment to group projects.
In physical education we encourage participation that helps enhance self-confidence. Activities and games are designed to promote growth in skill level, provide opportunities for personal challenge through risk-taking, and teach students strategies for working together as a team. Our physical education program encourages physical fitness and an active lifestyle. Students engage in a variety of activities, including field hockey, snowshoeing, soccer, jump rope routines, tumbling, dance, and orienteering.
Core Knowledge and Core Virtue at Crossroads: Questions and Answers
Does Crossroads have a Core Knowledge curriculum?
Yes – and no. To begin with, Core Knowledge is not really a curriculum but rather an outline of content goals to be covered sequentially. An elementary school curriculum includes a set of learning goals with a set of instructional techniques to develop skills, knowledge base, and understanding. Core Knowledge defines a body of information that an educated person should know if he or she is to participate effectively in our evolving and multicultural society. The mastery of Core Knowledge content goals is compatible with a wide range of teaching styles. Core Knowledge occupies only about one-half of total school curriculum; schools such as Crossroads also need to teach the basics of reading, writing, mathematics, and science skills, and provide instruction in the performing and visual arts, PE, and languages.
Where does Core Knowledge come from?
E.D. Hirsch, Jr., a professor of English literature at the University of Virginia, asked why his college students could not read and effectively understand literature. His inquiries led him to discover that students often displayed large gaps in their knowledge base. These gaps precluded college-level understanding of English literature. Hirsch realized that literacy depended upon much more than the ability to simply decode English grammar. Literacy depends upon a knowledge base shared by author and reader alike. Hirsch solicited the advice of hundreds of scholars and teachers and found a wide range of agreement about what knowledge and background information is essential for literacy in our increasingly globalized society. Hirsch then established a non-profit Core Knowledge Foundation to assist schools like Crossroads in implementing Core Knowledge into their curriculum.
How are Core Knowledge schools different?
In many elementary and middle schools, process and skill acquisition is considered more important than acquisition of specific content. Thus, teachers are less likely to focus on content in a sequenced way from grade to grade. Topics of study may be chosen based on their “perceived interest” to students and teachers without regard to the bigger picture of building a solid foundation of knowledge. For example, an American history teacher might choose to focus on the Pilgrims or the Great Depression, but essentially ignore the Colonial experience and WWI. The advantage of such “project-based” teaching is that the teacher is likely to love what he or she teaches; the disadvantage is that the students inevitably have gaps in their basic knowledge. Moreover, particular projects on the Pilgrims or the Great Depression are more meaningful in the context of knowledge of American history as a whole, but often no teacher is responsible for teaching that whole. Core Knowledge does indeed permit teachers to teach special projects and units on their favored topics, but it also requires them to convey the sequenced whole body of concepts and facts. Therefore, in a Core Knowledge school, each teacher knows in advance what the incoming students have learned, so that each grade builds knowledge upon existing knowledge in an upward spiral.
Why is it called “Core” Knowledge?
“Core” Knowledge is so called because this body of knowledge consists of the concepts and facts most essential for literacy in contemporary society. Authors, newscasters, politicians, employers, and the like assume that their readers, listeners, and employees know basic concepts and facts in order to understand, debate, and carry out their jobs. Any issue of the New York Times, for example, may refer to more than 2,000 facts and concepts, most of which are covered in Core Knowledge.
Why is it called Core “Knowledge”?
Core Knowledge consists of the basic building blocks of concepts and facts necessary for mastery of any field, discipline, or profession. The concepts, facts, stories, songs, and poems that make up Core Knowledge have been selected and vetted by panels of scholars and teachers to ensure accuracy and comprehensiveness. Because literacy in our increasingly globalized society must also be multicultural, Core Knowledge reflects the cultural diversity of our contemporary society.
What are the weaknesses of Core Knowledge?
Core Knowledge is a work in progress, especially in the Middle School grades; it is now being refined in schools like Crossroads. Core Knowledge defines a minimal floor of knowledge, not a ceiling. For example, teachers at Crossroads have found Core Knowledge to be more appropriate in history than in math. Thus we have adopted an independent math curriculum and have greatly strengthened the science curriculum. Again, Core Knowledge does not claim to be a complete curriculum, and our teachers have balanced the content sequence by teaching reading, writing, and computing skills as well as providing enrichment programs in the arts, music, physical education, and foreign language.
Does Core Knowledge mean memorizing lists of concepts and facts?
No. Core Knowledge does not prescribe any set of techniques for mastering this broad knowledge base. At Crossroads, students learn concepts and facts through songs, plays, art projects, and field trips as well as daily practice. By providing teachers with a sequenced set of knowledge goals, Core Knowledge invites them to be as creative as possible in helping students master those goals. Core Knowledge does not, of course, guarantee good teaching, but it is also no obstacle to creativity in the classroom. Cultural literacy depends upon recognizing a wide range of facts and concepts, not upon memorization and recitation.
Isn’t it more important that my child master basic skills than Core Knowledge?
Basic skills in reading, writing, and math are essential and compatible with Core Knowledge. This program allows one-half of the curriculum left open for teaching basic skills. Many of the concepts and facts of Core Knowledge are learned precisely in the context of mastering basic skills in reading, writing, and math. There is compelling research in cognitive psychology that demonstrates that mastery of skills depends upon comprehension of basic concepts and facts. How can one learn grammar without vocabulary, or mathematical operations without math facts? So, skillful mastery of a subject matter rests upon a body of “core knowledge.”
How can I learn more about Core Knowledge?
The best explanation of the importance of Core Knowledge is E. D. Hirsch’s 1996 book The Schools We Need. The Core Knowledge Foundation publishes the curricular goals in a grade-by-grade series called What Your First Grader [etc.] Needs to Know.
”We are supposed to mold good character and cultivate good vision with the right stories and the best examples.” Mary Beth Klee
What Does “Core Virtues” Mean?
At Crossroads, “Core Virtues” refers to three significant aspects of the school. First, the phrase embraces an intellectual tradition, beginning with the ancient Greeks and continuing to contemporary philosophers. This tradition recognizes the importance of cultivating virtue in human beings. Second, “Core Virtues” identifies an approach to basic moral literacy for students in much the same way that “Core Knowledge” identifies an approach to basic cultural literacy. Finally, the phrase refers to the character education program initially developed at Crossroads and later published as a book, Core Virtues, a Literature-Based Program in Character Education (K-6) by Mary Beth Klee.
What Are the Core Virtues?
The Core Virtues are those dispositions or habits of character that lead us to love what is good and to choose what is right. “The ancient Greeks recognized courage, temperance, justice, and prudence as the central virtues of the human being. Over time, these four came to be called the ‘cardinal’ virtues, from the Latin root word meaning ‘hinge’—the hinge around which good conduct revolves,” writes Ms. Klee in her introduction to Core Virtues. The program also covers a range of other virtues, such as faith, hope, patience, generosity, and love, in connection to the cardinal virtues.
What Is the Intellectual Tradition from Which We Get Core Virtues?
These virtues represent the fruit of twenty-five centuries of philosophical reflection upon human goodness from Plato and Aristotle, through Thomas Aquinas, to contemporary philosophers, such as Mortimer Adler. The ancient Greeks believed that virtue could be learned. Plato said that in moral education “we should be concerned with awakening a love of the good.” More recently, some contemporary philosophers have written about the need in moral education for a return to an ethic of virtue with its recognition of moral standards, in place of the morally neutral approach of identifying and clarifying values. The Core Virtues Program, with its emphasis on virtues rather than values, supports this return to recognizing moral standards.
What Is the Core Virtues Program?
It is a lively, literature-based approach to character education that seeks to inspire the hearts and minds of students through excellent stories. Core Virtues, the book on which the program is based, identifies a three-year cycle of the virtues studied each month. At each grade level (K-6) the teacher introduces the virtue for the month with a simple definition. Then, drawing on books listed in the “Resource Guide,” teachers read stories and books that illustrate that virtue throughout the month. These are stories that lift children’s sights to the possibilities for beauty and goodness in human beings through admirable characters and enduring themes. The literature used to illustrate the virtues becomes progressively more sophisticated each year. Students also participate in community service activities at the local, national, and international levels. This component of the program gives them many opportunities to put virtues into action.
Community service is also an integral part of the Middle School program; the students are engaged in active, practical application of the virtues. The Core Virtues Program continues to be developed in the seventh and eighth grades.
What about Core Virtues and Religion at Crossroads?
Both the Core Virtues Program and Crossroads Academy are non-sectarian; they are not affiliated with any specific religious denomination. Crossroads, however, is rooted in the Jewish and Christian traditions. While the school uses stories from all of the world’s great religions to promote the various virtues under study, in its morning moments of reflection it draws from scripture common to the Jewish and Christian faiths. In the interests of cultural literacy and character education, the school teaches biblical literacy as well as the history of the major world religions. The course of study at Crossroads encourages respect for and knowledge of all these religious traditions.
How Does Core Virtues Relate to Core Knowledge?
There are important connections between the two pillars of the Crossroads Academy mission. For instance, Core Virtues links the study of each virtue to the literature and history taught in the Core Knowledge sequence, so the two programs proceed hand in hand. At Crossroads, such core virtues as diligence, honesty, perseverance, and humility promote academic and personal excellence in our students.