Principle Approach Schools

by admin on September 3, 2010

in Education

Another philosophy or method of education that has found a voice in Tyler Texas for going on thirty plus years now is the Principle Approach to American Christian Education. When it comes to traditional private education that emphasizes strong academics, conservative orthodox values, and solid Christian character there are really two main camps that a private institution can choose from. (I understand that sounds sort of exclusive, but these are the primary schools of thought, no pun intended).

The Principle Approach (PA) is sometimes defined as America’s historical approach to teaching children. The method seeks to apply the principles of scripture to every field of study. In early American history, children learned to read and reason with the Bible as their primary text. And while some subjects are admittedly disciplines to be mastered rather than philosophies to be debated, the PA places a premium on the pursuit of logic and truth.

PA schools have a familiar classroom setting and strongly emphasize History, Literature, English and Latin as the center of their philosophy. Great importance is placed on returning to original sources. They tend to focus on the American founding fathers, and classical liberal philosophers like John Locke, and others as the examples for maintaining a solid moral and public life. Students who graduate from these schools tend to take with them a strong sense of direction and an ability to reason critically toward a logical conclusion.

Principle Approach schools always seek to individualize the subjects as much as possible. You won’t see “Socialist” Studies, Language Arts or Biology on a PA class list. Instead you’ll find American History, Western Civ., Surveys in English Lit., Sentence Analysis, A&P, Botany, Zoology, etc. These schools see each subject as its own discipline, not some amalgam of subject groups. Avoiding a group think mentality as part of the goal here. One of the more unusual aspects of PA schools is the curriculum of choice, or rather the absence thereof. Ok subjects like Math and Science have textbooks but many subjects do not. Teachers are encouraged to form their own curriculum. Now admittedly this is a lot to expect from an educator, but it also puts him or her where I believe the teacher belongs… at the center of the classroom. The teachers are masters of their subjects and become living textbooks for their students. This also heightens the mentor student relationship, a reason why many PA schools place a premium on teachers with a strong sense of faith. The result is a classroom that is not child centered, but subject centered and Scripture based.

The Classical Approach (CA) or American Classical Method probably warrants an article of its own. It goals and methods (as I best understand them) are very similar but a bit more Socratic. While PA schools look to Anglo- American examples, CA schools draw more from the Greco- Roman tradition as the founders of Western law and thought.

What are the drawbacks? The PA is a solid time tested method. Our local PA school has tremendous record of achievement. But while it doesn’t apply here, many such schools around the country can be a bit sectarian in terms of denomination and the use of Reformed theology. For those whose churches adhere to that doctrine this is obviously not an issue. For the rest of us however it can be a bit of a compromise to send our children to an excellent academic institution but with theology that conflicts with our own. Now I’m sure that I’ll get a fair amount flak from friends and family here if I don’t go out of my way to emphasize that Tyler’s Principle Approach School is far more open to other theological positions, and far less heavy on Reform Theology than other schools who use the approach.

Taken as a whole I strongly endorse this method. My personal history being what it is, I owe a lot to this approach to education and have never regretted the time I’ve spent in Principle Approach classrooms, either seated in a desk, or standing at the lectern.

For more on The Principle Approach, visit the following web pages at, or For more on Tyler’s own Principle Approach school go to, or look for my original article entitled An Institution in East Texas Education, by simply clicking on the following link:

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