A formidable education story in North Carolina is that the Wake County Public School System is experiencing stagnant growth despite being one of the fastest-growing counties in the state.
A News & Observer article from 2018 noted that the county schools grew by just 42 students over the year. What gives? Being interested in some answers, I reached out to Tim Hall (Ph.D.), director of academics of Thales Academy. Hall was willing to chat and offer some perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of public schools, while delving deeper into the purpose of education.
Thales Academy was founded in 2007 by CaptiveAire Founder and CEO Robert Luddy. The school offers a low-cost classical education setting and currently has eight campuses in North Carolina.
Hall sees a lot of kids that come to Thales from the public schools and praises their ability to adapt. “They are often very flexible and adaptable students because they are coming from fluid situations where they’ve been pushed to continually adjust.”
Hall is quick to praise the resources of public schools given the number of tax dollars they are equipped with to help students. Extracurricular activities, student programming, and athletics are much more readily available and advanced in many public schools compared to private. “From an institutional standpoint they have the mechanisms to deliver resources unlike most private schools,” says Hall.
“A lot of private schools can only dream of delivering those kinds of resources and they can struggle to offer quality curriculum and instruction.” Hall says that public schools, in theory at least, should have a strong framework to deliver what they say they can.
“In terms of weaknesses, what I see in many of the K-5 students is there are gaps in reading and math,” says Hall. When it comes to students in the 6-12 grade range, the collective deficiencies often change. “At this point, we see more gaps in critical thinking skills, and overall students in public schools rely on emotive reasoning,” adds Hall. “That’s not entirely the fault of public schools because emotive reasoning is such a large part of the culture now.”
A good definition of emotive reasoning reflects the plain meaning of the term, where an individual uses their cognitive process, or how they feel, to decipher truth, instead of relying on logic or fact-based reasoning.
“We get a lot of families at Thales that are not comfortable with the contemporary progressive worldview.” Hall stresses that when parents and families look into Thales, they appreciate that there is a traditional aspect that he refers to as “no-nonsense education.” He adds, “There is an appreciation for a clean and orderly environment. Families are looking for something different and when they see it, they immediately recognize that.”
One of the main purposes of talking with Hall was to get a sense of the meaning of education, something that is too often neglected today by bureaucracy or political fights over government spending.
“The crux of the issue should be: what really is the goal of the education?” says Hall. “That is the critical question parents need to ask and be conscious of when thinking about education and searching for the right learning environment.” Hall says many parents he talks with, at the very least, get a sense that something is not right with the status quo in many public-school settings.
“One of the things different about Thales is our use of direct instruction, which public schools don’t use.” notes Hall. “Instead, they put everybody in the same classroom and teach towards the middle – which hurts the students in the lower and higher ends in that classroom. Some students are continually left behind.” Hall adds that many of those students that are left behind are even more apt to fall into the trap of emotional reasoning.
Hall emphasizes the classical education approach used at Thales and its benefits not just for the student but for society and civic education as a whole. He readily admits that Thales teaches American exceptionalism. “We are all inheritors of the Western tradition,” says Hall. “Everything we are is rooted in the Western tradition, and if you don’t understand who you are—you’re legacy so to speak—you can’t understand yourself.” Lacking that instruction sets students on a path of devaluing or rejecting greater truths.
“Really, the purpose of a classical education is focused on the human formation,” he adds. “The goal is to be the best human being you can be in relation to yourself and your community around you.”
Hall emphasizes too that when the student is morally formed, it directly translates into being a better well-rounded citizen. “We are teaching a student self-mastery for self-giving. When students self-give, they support their community and support themselves – that’s an essential aspect of self-actualization.” Hall says the rise of young people’s interest in socialism is a direct symptom of the lack of teaching character development.
Hall says this contrasts with public schools that are often more focused on educational and vocational outcomes. “What college can you get into? That’s a primary focus and a barometer of success,” he says. “At Thales, we are looking at the long game —we don’t judge ourselves solely by college admittance, but how well students flourish in life individually and as part of a community.”