Frequently asked questions
What is the Purpose of Education?
For the Christian parent, the purpose of education is the same as every other aspect of life—to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. God is Lord over education just as He is Lord over business, personal relationships, and every other aspect of life. A Christ-centered education does, indeed, yield professional opportunities and societal benefits, but they are by-products, not the primary objective.
How do we Glorify God in Education?
One way to glorify God in education is to pursue academic excellence. The Scriptures teach that we are stewards of God's blessings and gifts, including our minds. [Matt. 25:14-28; Matt. 22:37; Rom. 12:2] The Scriptures also teach that we are to do everything to the best of our abilities "as unto the Lord." [Col. 3:23] It follows that we are under a duty to God to pursue academic excellence—to develop the minds He has given us to the fullest extent possible.
Another way we glorify God in education is by teaching every subject so that the full weight of God's relationship to it is understood and communicated to the student. The Scriptures say, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." [Prov. 1:7] No subject is fully understood until God's relationship to it also is grasped. The Scriptures command us to know God's Word and to teach it "diligently" to our children by talking of it throughout the day and posting it where it can be habitually read and studied. [Deut. 6:6-9]
Who should educate children?
Christian parents have a responsibility to God to educate the children He has entrusted to them. However, the Scriptures do not prohibit parents from delegating the teaching duty to others. Some parents take on the duty themselves by homeschooling. Others delegate the teaching duty to private tutors, private secular schools, to private Christian schools, or to the government through public schools.
Christian parents, however, can never delegate the responsibility for their child’s education. Therefore, when they deliver their child to any school for 6-8 hours a day, 5 days a week—the best hours of each day—and allow that school to stand in loco parentis, they must ensure that the school is teaching their child what they want taught.
At Signal Mountain Christian School (“SMCS”), we believe that young children in their formative years should be under the authority of someone who not only challenges them academically, but shares the Christian values and beliefs of the parents and imparts them to the children. SMCS exists to assist Christian parents in educating their children so that they understand God’s Word and His world, acquire a Christian world and life view, develop Christian character, and are equipped and motivated to impact the world for Christ.
What does SMCS do in practice to glorify God in education?
SMCS glorifies God in education in at least three practical ways. First, Christian teachers model Christ to the students. This is critically important. The teachers take SMCS’s philosophy of education and make it a reality. They love each student as made in the image of God and love that student with his or her unique combination of gifts and abilities. They set before all of the students a godly example, teach and explain God’s Word and His world, pray with and for the students, and build the students up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Second, Christian thought is integrated into a balanced curriculum—it is not just taught in Bible class. In science, students learn about God’s marvelous creation. In history, they see how the Fall and God’s plan of redemption play out. They see the order and precision of the universe in math. In language arts, they read and discuss classical works that teach sound moral lessons, express great and noble ideas, and display God’s creativity through words.
Third, consistent with a Charlotte Mason approach (see FAQ #5 below), class sizes are small and class days are relatively short. There are obvious academic advantages to small classes. For the same reasons one-on-one tutoring is extremely effective, small classes allow for intense, focused learning with a minimum of distractions and disciplinary issues. Any experienced teacher will tell you that he or she can accomplish much more in less time with small class sizes. But SMCS’ primary objective is to complete the academic work efficiently and return the students to their parents as soon as possible so that they can learn values and life skills from them.
Does SMCS incorporate the Charlotte Mason Philosophy of education?
YES. SMCS employs the education model pioneered by British educator Charlotte Mason whenever feasible. Some important principles of the Charlotte Mason approach to education are:
Children are more likely to become eager learners (as all parents want them to be) when the learning environment is stimulating and fosters their natural curiosity (interactive; hands-on; occasionally accompanied by classical music and pleasant scents), rather than one in which they spend most of their days at a desk looking at the back of another child’s head.
Children will best learn big and noble ideas, healthy relationships, proper treatment of parents/friends/others, and critical/imaginative/creative thinking by reading (or listening to) and then telling back and discussing great works of literature, including the Bible, in their original texts. Most great ideas and great stories have been written down; when written down they were expressed most clearly, succinctly and compellingly; and the greatest ideas and stories are contained in what are regarded as the “classics.”
The discipline of developing good habits—especially habits of character—is a fundamental part of education.
Memorization of Scripture and poetry feeds the soul.
Learning is maximized when children spend time outdoors during and after school. The best way to teach children about God’s world is through hands-on study of the natural world—i.e. the natural world is an “outdoor laboratory.” Also, children develop imagination and creativity (which are educational objectives) through free-play in the natural world.
God is Lord of all creation and wisdom, divinely present in literature, history, math, the sonatas of Mozart, the brush strokes of Monet, and the order and beauty of the earth and the rest of the universe. The Holy Spirit of God alone guides us into all Truth.
If you would like to know more about the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, we encourage you to read For the Children’s Sake, by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, which explains Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and techniques and is required reading for all parents of SMCS students.
Does time spent on spiritual instruction detract from Math, Science, etc.?
ABSOLUTLEY NOT. Making God's Word an integral part of education does not mean you get an inferior education, but a superior one. The Scriptures state repeatedly that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom and understanding. [See, e.g., Prov. 1:7; 9:10] A student who does not fear the Lord can never quite achieve his academic potential because his perception and judgment at some level is distorted. It follows then that spiritual training ought to be integrated with academic disciplines because the former enriches the latter; it does not compromise it. If the Scriptures are Truth, then their study cannot possibly detract from one's education. As stated in Harvard's "Rules and Precepts" of 1646 (original spelling retained):
Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisedome, Let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seeke it of him (Prov. 2:3).
Moreover, this is not a “zero sum game.” Academic and spiritual training can be integrated and traditionally have been. We all admire the intelligence and wisdom of the Founding Fathers and of a populace that could understand the "The Federalist Papers" when they were published. What was their education like? The Bible was a central textbook along with such books as the New England Primer, which also is based upon Scripture. Noah Webster, Benjamin Rush and other Founders who spoke on the subject urged that the Bible be made the central text in all schools. It teaches truth, faith, morals, social studies, history, and principles of logic, science, economics and government. They thought that instruction in its principles was necessary to preserve a self-regulating society that respects the rule of law, and that needs only a limited government to maintain order and to secure the rights and liberties of free people. Our experience shows that stretching the students’ minds through Scripture memory also stretches their minds for other academic subjects.
Is a Christian elementary education worth paying private school tuition?
The elementary school years are the most important in a child's intellectual and spiritual development. It is universally understood that children who, in elementary school, receive a solid foundation in reading, writing, math, science and history are equipped to excel during the remainder of their academic careers. What is often overlooked is that, during these same years, each child is learning and internalizing the values and beliefs that will shape and determine in large part his or her faith and character in adulthood. St. Ignatius Loyola said that if he had primary authority over a child during these formative years, the child would “think as I do forever.”
As Christians, we know that faith and character have eternal as well as temporal consequences for our children. Our greatest responsibility as Christian parents is to pass on our Christian faith and values to our children so that they develop their own personal relationship with Jesus. [Deut. 6:6-9; 2 Tim. 1:5]
All of the Board members and faculty at SMCS are well-educated and place a high value on academic achievement. The excellent record of our students on national achievement tests and their high acceptance rate at private middle and high schools are objective evidence that SMCS provides an outstanding education as measured by secular standards. Above all, however, we want our students to have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. [2 Tim. 3:14-17]
The money you spend on tuition for a Christian elementary education is an investment in your child’s eternal future. The reality of modern life is that school, sports, playtime, dinner, homework, and chores occupy about 98% of each day. It is more important than ever that our children be taught the Scriptures, Christian values and a Christian worldview during the best hours of the day—those 6-8 hours a day, 5 days a week that they are in school.
How have SMCS students performed on standardized tests?
At SMCS, we use the Iowa Basic Skills Test as a measure of academic progress starting in the 3rd grade. Using a national achievement test allows us to measure our students’ progress against students from all states in both public and private schools. Furthermore, we do not base enrollment on a child’s intelligence, nor do we “teach to the test.” So test results reflect the quality of our regular curriculum and instruction.
Generally, SMCS students perform in the above average range, well above the national average. In grade equivalents (the grade in which the average student would have to be to do as well as our students), our 3rd graders usually average 2-3 years ahead. By 4th grade they usually average 3-5 years ahead, and by 5th grade they usually average 4-7 years ahead, with many testing post-high school.
SMCS students tend to exceed the average by a greater and greater margin with each year of education. That data supports our belief that the strong foundation they receive in reading, writing and math in Kindergarten through 2nd grade equips the students to accelerate achievement in 3rd through 5th grades and beyond.
Does SMCS have an after-school program?
YES. While SMCS encourages parents to spend time with their children each afternoon exploring God’s world, going to concerts, art museums or parks, etc., we realize that in today’s environment sometimes there is a single parent who must work or a family needs both parents to work to afford a Christian education for their children. To help them, we have established an after-school program to meet these needs. It is directed by our teachers and is structured to provide outdoor time, homework time, directed enrichment activities, and snacks.
What are the qualifications of SMCS’s teachers?
Each of our teachers is degreed, some with Masters Degrees. All are experienced educators with combined teaching experience of over 100 years. SMCS provides annual in-service to continue their professional growth.
Where do SMCS students attend middle and high school?
After leaving SMCS, families have chosen four different routes, depending on the child and family needs: private Christian schools, private prep schools, public schools, or a form of homeschooling. Approximately 40% have continued with Christian schools (CCS, Grace, Silverdale, Notre Dame), 35% have attended prep schools (McCallie, GPS, Baylor, St. Andrews), 15% have attended public schools, and 10% have chosen to homeschool, at least through the middle school years, including through a middle school cooperative, developed by former SMCS parents based upon SMCS’s philosophy and curriculum, and state-approved under SMCS.
SMCS graduates continue to succeed academically, athletically & socially. Many of our students have become leaders in their churches and schools; have made Dean’s and Headmaster’s Lists; have been inducted into National Honor Societies; have won math, science, writing, art, music, and outstanding character awards at their next schools and at the State level; have created their own small businesses; are leading Bible studies; and continue to have a heart for missions and ministries. At least two of our graduates were National Merit semi-finalists.
How do private middle/high schools regard applications from SMCS students?
From our discussions with admissions directors at private middle and high schools, it is clear that no particular elementary school has an "inside track" to admission. Students are accepted based upon what they bring to the school in terms of academics, character, leadership, and talent.
SMCS students have a very high acceptance rate at private secular and Christian middle and high schools. The feedback we have received from principals, admissions directors, and parents is that our students have an excellent academic foundation and are very well prepared to succeed academically at those institutions. Many of our students enter on an “honors” track. Also, we believe that part of the reason for their high acceptance rate is the confidence our students exhibit knowing who they are in Christ.
Where do SMCS students attend college?
For three years—from the 2005-6 academic year through the 2007-8 academic year—SMCS also operated a middle school. Thus, many SMCS alumni who are now in college continued with SMCS staff, curriculum & philosophy during middle school. We track our alumni as they graduate from high school.
To date, almost all of our graduates have continued with post-high school education. Our alumni—many on full or partial academic scholarship—attend or have graduated from the following colleges and universities (listed alphabetically): Anderson University, Belhaven University, Birmingham Southern University, Bryan College, Chattanooga State Community College, Covenant College, East Tennessee State University, George Washington University, Liberty University, Middle Tennessee State University, Samford University, Tennessee Tech University, Texas Christian University, University of Georgia, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), University of South Carolina, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, and University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Is SMCS a Presbyterian school since it was started by Wayside Presbyterian Church?
No. Although the vision and approach to education is Reformed, SMCS is a non-denominational Christian school that teaches core Christian beliefs as expressed in our Doctrinal Statement.
How diverse is the SMCS’ student body?
Due in part to the large number of families who have adopted children (approximately 20%), SMCS traditionally has been the most diverse school on Signal Mountain. While the composition fluctuates from year to year as students graduate or families move, we have had students who are African-American; bi-racial; Latin American; Hispanic; Asian-Pacific; African; and from countries such as Thailand, Russia and the Ukraine. This diversity far exceeds the local demographics and adds to the rich experience at the school.