Updated: Jul 18
We barely teach the classics to our children anymore. We watch Homer Simpson and discard the original Homer of ancient Greece. Benjamin Franklin has gone from being an important founding father to being some weird guy with a kite. And as kids aren’t taught about the Western philosophical traditions underlying the foundation of this country, it’s no wonder they struggle to comprehend our classically-founded Constitution.
The Kootenai Classical Academy, a new (zero-tuition) charter school set to open in Fall 2023 in Post Falls, intends to fight this trend. Its mission, as its website proclaims, is “to train the minds and improve the hearts of young people through a classical, content-rich education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue in an orderly and disciplined, yet dynamic, environment.” Affiliated with the prestigious Hillsdale College through the Barney Charter School Initiative, the Kootenai Classical Academy, founded by members of our local community, will make use of the Hillsdale College K-12 curriculum.
On February 10 of this year, after many months of proceedings and a previous failed application, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission authorized the school to open next fall. It will be located at North Meyer Road and Prairie Ave, easily accessible by bike via the adjacent Centennial Trail. Upon its opening, it will serve children from kindergarten until 8th grade, its maximum total enrollment being 428 students. It will add a new grade each year thereafter until there is a 12th grade, at which point there can be up to 702 students enrolled in the school.
Ed Kaitz, a longtime educator and self-described “crusader for classics,” chairs the board of the Kootenai Classical Academy. (In the spirit of transparency, I find myself obligated to note that I myself have had the privilege of taking multiple Philosophy courses taught by Ed Kaitz, and they were absolutely transformative for me. I know I am excited to see his passion and clarity nourish the education of the young.)
A classical education does not mean one out of touch with child development in learning. The Kootenai Classical Academy makes use of the Core Knowledge Sequence, an educational model focusing on providing conceptual foundations at any given time for concepts to be learned later. Rather than force students to learn by rote memorization, as some teachers of the classics have historically done, this school will provide a model of learning that is much more sustainable. In addition, mathematics will be taught using Singapore Math, an analogous teaching style emphasizing real understanding over memorization.
The establishment of charter schools can often be controversial, and the foundation of the Kootenai Classical Academy was not without opposition. Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy Principal Dan Nicklay recently objected that “because KCA’s model is nearly identical to ours, I believe that their opening will cause a significant drop in our enrollment—making it difficult for us to continue to deliver the outstanding education that has defined us over the years.” The Kootenai Classical Academy responded by arguing that the two schools have fundamentally different missions. Time will tell how similar the schools end up being.
While the foundation of this school has significant practical implications for the educational prospects of local children today, it is important to recognize that it exists within the broader context of the national debate over charter schools. As summarized by academicinfluence.com, proponents of charter schools nationwide often argue that charter schools are a great way to help underserved communities access quality education at a more specialized school when public education lacks quality and vision, while opponents often object that the government funding of more charter schools takes much needed funding away from the public schools that are already struggling. The ability to choose a charter school education for one’s child is often sought under the banner of School Choice, and the debate will likely continue to rage for a long time. That said, I am excited to see how this school develops!