It’s 7 p.m. on a school night and a woman wearing socks with her flip flops is discussing the finer points of free speech with a gaggle of students she half-dragged to hear constitutional lawyer and writer David French speak.
Socks with flip-flops are how Becky Elder—head administrator at Northfield School of the Liberal Arts in Wichita, Kan.—rolls. She also rolls with fiery lectures about the virtues of being on time, why economics matter even when you’re in seventh grade, and the history of moonshine accompanied with examples from her own family history.
Northfield is as eclectic as Mrs. Elder. Students not only learn what you would expect in a liberal arts education—Greek history, Shakespeare, Latin—but also spend one day a week serving the community. Friday lunches are provided Stone Soup-style by classes that need to earn money for grammar books or chess tournament fees. On a teacher’s whim, sixth-graders team up with seniors to debate ancient history. A student practicing his trombone downstairs regularly serenades my after-lunch grammar class. All students are required to either play an instrument or sing in the choir. The administrative assistant also serves as piano accompanist and bus driver. When the toilet goes out in one of the two heavily gingerbreaded Victorian houses that hold the school, we get the all clear from Mrs. Elder herself, bursting into classrooms yelling, “Potty works!”
Despite its eccentricities, or perhaps because of them, students graduate from Northfield to accept academic scholarships from prestigious universities, to dance in professional ballet companies, or to work in the fields. But all students leave with the voices of hundreds of convocation speakers (ranging from classical musicians to astronomers to educators from Uganda) echoing in their souls. They are imprinted, whether they admit it or even like it, with what is good, and are never the same for the experience.
Keeping the school afloat financially is difficult, even when everyone pays full tuition, but Mrs. Elder rarely turns a child away, even when his parents can’t pay. An unshakeable vision (Tradition! Community! Joy!)drives her … all the way to Topeka to fight for school choice.
At the end of the month, conservative thinker and writer Rod Dreher will speak to us about “What is good.”As the battle rages over the rights of small but determined schools like ours to receive public funding, you can bet that Dreher’s audience will include administrators, teachers, and dedicated parents, and a tiny sea of students who see the sacrifices their parents make for their education.
Northfield takes a stand against the likes of NEA and Common Core nonsense in its belief that the liberal arts and the pursuit of the true, the beautiful, and the good are worthy. I just hope we’re not the only ones.
No parent should have to choose between what is good and what is affordable.