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Why are CLAA exams so difficult?

I spend hours and hours every week making very difficult exams.  The exams I make are far more difficult than any exam I every had to take in school or college.  Why are CLAA exams so difficult?

There are two reasons.

First, every course is important in the CLAA.  In modern schools, there are many courses that are studied for political reasons rather than for the sake of Wisdom.  For example, in some schools, students are required to take “social studies” courses that introduce students to all different cultures and religions as if they are all equal in influence, when they are not.   Students learn as much–or more–about the Incas and as they do about Christians.  These courses are not only unnecessary, but they created a distorted view of history that does more harm than good.  They are offered to satisfy people’s political desires,  usually so schools can get money, not for the good of students.  There are no such courses in the CLAA, and everything we ask students to learn is important.

Second, my job as a teacher is to lead students to mastery, not “grade” them.  In modern schools, students usually have only one chance to take a test.  They take the test, receive a score and that’s that.   Besides mixing good children with bad children, this is the worst thing about modern schools, and the cause of all cheating , quitting and self-deceiving among modern students.  The goal of teaching is for students to learn, not to be graded.  That’s the work of an inspector, not a teacher.  When we see a group of students tested and half of them score badly, the teacher’s work is obviously not being done.  The pressure created by these one-time tests leads many students to cheat rather than study, because cheating works when all that matters is a score.  Worse, schools will make tests easier or “curve” grades to make students progress appear better than it is.  To curve grades literally means to change student scores to make it look like more students did well.  If no students earned higher than 80% on a test, the teacher will make 80% an A and move all other students’ scores up in the same way.  In the CLAA, there’s no reason to cheat because students can take an exam as many times as they need to.  There’s no reason to curve grades because students who score badly can study more and try again.  There’s no reason to “dumb-down” lessons because we’ll work together until every student scores 100% on every lesson.

When students finally master one of my exams, they know the lesson very, very well.  That’s the goal of my teaching and the exams make it possible.  In fact, I would argue that excellent exams are the most important part of teaching and I spend more time making exams than anything else.  Sometimes, it may take me an entire day to make one good exam.  It’s the most important work I do.

So, CLAA exams are difficult because (1) every lesson I teach is important, and (2) my job is to lead students to mastery of every one of those lessons.  While the exams are difficult, the fact that students can take them as many times as they need to earn a perfect score makes them very effective in achieving the goal of teaching.

This leads to an important warning.  Home-school families often hear rumors of what schools are teaching and it often sounds like so much compared to what is being done in a home school.  We must always remember that in modern schools, while students may be “studying” all kinds of courses and lessons, they are NEVER required to demonstrate mastery of them.  Students in the CLAA often feel that they are doing much less than modern school students, but that is because when a CLAA student says he is studying Grammar or Geometry, he is actually required to prove that he is learning every point of the lesson. Don’t be deceived by the boasting of modern schools.  They are not doing what they pretend they are doing.  In the long run, when it’s time for students to live adult lives, the empty report cards and diplomas become meaningless and real wisdom and skill determines who does what in the world.  The students who were required to demonstrate mastery in their studies will be known when it’s time to actually do something.

William Michael
Classical Liberal Arts Academy

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