Six Providence Libertas Scholars braved the extreme Las Vegas heat in July to experience the 15th annual FreedomFest, and it was an eye-opening experience for each of them. Newly-minted graduate Davis Peterson (Class of 2022), senior Avala Elwood, and juniors Teleios Zermeno, Madison Schock, Abby Fiedkou, and Eliana Bordin, along with chaperones Bruce and Elaine Rottman, enjoyed the cool AC of the Mirage convention center—and a host of cool speakers.
Here, Eliana Bordin provides her perspective on this gathering of more than 4,000 freedom lovers:
During my time at FreedomFest in Las Vegas I not only learned about various topics and issues by watching documentaries and listening to speakers, but I also got to spend time to discuss with Mr. and Mrs. Rottman and the other students who attended. We listened to thought-provoking speeches on medical breakthroughs, educational choice, economics (Abby and Madison were inspired to buy books on inflation), religion, cancel culture in comedy, and more. We also were inspired by impactful documentaries on Frederick Douglass, Roe v. Wade, the homelessness problem, and the Berlin Wall. We heard scientists and senators (Rand Paul and Mike Lee), congressmen and comics (John Cleese and Seth Dillon of the Christian satire site The Babylon Bee), businessmen, writers (Eric Metaxas), and film producers.
Out of the documentaries we watched at the Anthem Film Festival which stood out most to our group was The Hong Konger. Before watching this documentary, I was not aware of the Chinese government’s oppression in Hong Kong, businessman Jimmy Lai’s inspirational and faith-inspired leadership influence there, and his brave activism in support of economic, political, and religious freedoms. The documentary was beautifully made and showed the transition from a vibrant and free Hong Kong to the decline that it is now facing under communist China, with the erosion of its developing democracy and its rule of law.
One of the many sessions that intrigued me the most was by from Senegalese businesswoman Magatte Wade, who spoke on the causes of the poor economic state of Africa, and how it is on its way to becoming one of the most economically free places on Earth.
When we were not in conference sessions, we continued to have insightful conversations on what we had learned that day, what we found most interesting, our opinions on various topics we had heard, and added our own previous knowledge of these topics to create great bases for different discussions like this.
Libertas Scholars read books and articles outside the humanities curriculum throughout the year and hear speakers and attend summer seminars such as FreedomFest (which will be held in Memphis in 2023). This year’s FreedomFest highlighted the disturbing losses of freedom our world is facing. But it also inspired students to learn more about many different political and economic issues, and become both more informed and more courageous to advance freedom in America.
Dr. Paul Wilt, founding father of Santa Barbara Christian School, a predecessor to today’s Providence School, passed into glory on June 23 at the age of 93. He is survived by his wife, Doris, and their four children: Tom, Marilyn, Janet, and Daniel, who were among the first generation of Santa Barbara Christian School students.
When Westmont College hired Dr. Wilt as a history professor in 1958, he began the search for a Christian school for his then three children. Finding no viable options, he drew on past experiences founding three Christian day schools in Pennsylvania to launch the effort to establish a Christian elementary school in Santa Barbara.
To gauge interest, Wilt wrote letters to 50-60 local pastors whose names he found in the Yellow Pages. He then formed a committee of like-minded parents and pastors and together they founded Santa Barbara Christian School in 1959.
The school opened for grades 1-6 at Alamar Four-Square Church (served by one of the pastors) in September 1960 with 60 students.
“The whole thing was his idea,” according to Mrs. Tirzah Riley, longtime Santa Barbara Christian School administrator and unofficial school historian. “He was horrified there was no real Christian school here and he needed one for his children.”
“He was modest and shy and not a born leader. But he just did what needed to be done for the sake of his children’s education. He set the philosophy and vision that lives on today.”
Riley, who met Dr. Wilt about 25 years after the school was founded, recalls him as “an amazing, humble servant. He was very precious with his children and wife. He lived the love of Christ.”
At the 2017 Providence commencement ceremony in 2017, Dr. Scott Lisea, head of school, recognized Paul and Doris Wilt, who were in attendance, and welcomed them to participate in the newly formed Board Emeriti recognition program. “Dr. Wilt gathered the first board of directors to begin Christian education in Santa Barbara,” Lisea said in expressing the school’s gratitude for Wilt’s vision and faithful service, “and he continued on as the board chairman for many years. That is the kind of person Paul is. His faith led him to glorify God for the good of his neighbors.”
Dr. Wilt and his fellow board members weathered many storms by God’s grace and provision as the school added classes and faculty and moved from one campus to another while developing a support base.
Wilt’s confidence in God’s providence and the vital necessity of the school’s mission never wavered. “It was something the Lord wanted us to do and he has blessed it, “ Wilt said matter-of-factly in a 2018 video interview.
“Many children and their parents have appreciated the education which they have received at Santa Barbara Christian School. …Your children are very important to you and therefore their proper education is very significant and you put a lot of emphasis on that.”
Dr. Wilt’s vision and passion for Christian education in Santa Barbara extended many years beyond his own family’s need for the school. In the same interview, he reflects “Now that the school is much larger… it is reaching out to more people with the promise of an education which is Christ-centered and which takes into account the accomplishments, if you will, of the Christian faith to people around the world.”
The founder of Santa Barbara Christian School remained a lifelong friend and supporter of what is now Providence School (after mergers with Providence Hall and El Montecito School).
Dr. Paul Wilt’s handprint is strongly imprinted on the school we enjoy today.
Providence’s Libertas Scholars Program introduces students to writers and ideas that have shaped our world. As the world drifts towards ever-expanding government solutions to problems (which are, more often than not, created by the very same government), students become ready to apply their humanities backgrounds and economic skills to critique ill-advised approaches to modern challenges and suggest constructive ideas of their own.
Travel to conferences
Last summer, the Libertas group traveled to Rapid City, South Dakota, for their first experience with FreedomFest, a national conference organized by economist Mark Skousen. It was a wonderful experience, rich with speakers and lively debates.
As another summer approaches, so does a return to FreedomFest, this year in Las Vegas July 13-16. With a lineup including comedian and actor John Cleese, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, Forbes editor Steve Forbes, former presidential economics advisors Art Laffer and Stephen Moore, actor Ben Stein, writer Eric Metaxas, “Words and Numbers” podcaster James Harrigan, and Senator Rand Paul, this year’s FreedomFest offers a select group of Providence Libertas Scholars plenty of intellectual food for thought. Students will have many options at a buffet of over 200 speakers, movie shorts, debates, and discussions.
Participating in community events
As everything opened up this April, a group of Libertas Scholars attended the Reagan Ranch Center’s Ronald Reagan birthday bash with Dennis Quaid; a few weeks later, ten students took in a fact-filled defense of school choice by Corey DeAngelis at a YAF luncheon.
All Libertas Scholars have been engaged in reading, discussing, and writing about a series of books during the year, including (but not limited to!) Silence, by Shusaku Endo, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Jay Richards’ Money, Greed, and God, and Henry Hazlitt’s classic Economics in One Lesson. These four books taught students about the persecution of Christians in medieval Japan, life in a Soviet gulag, a Christian defense of free markets, and Hazlitt’s one simple lesson of economics, applied to a plethora of examples, written 70 years ago but just as relevant today.
As Mr. Jamie DeVries transitions to head this program during the 2022-23 school year, we anticipate a host of opportunities for students to learn how a deep understanding of the ideas of our Founders, combined with robust entrepreneurship, will help Providence students continue to vigorously promote human flourishing.
Combatting a “CliffsNotes” Culture
According to the Literacy Project Foundation, “the average American is considered to have a readability level equivalent to that of a 7th/8th grader (12-14 years of age).” A national reading survey by Scholastic further reveals what is known as “Decline by Nine” wherein the percentage of children fitting the description of “frequent reader” (one who reads books for fun between five to seven days a week) drops from 57 percent of eight year olds to 35 percent of nine year olds. This trend continues into high school as students get busier with sports, jobs, and other pursuits. Furthermore, some schools and teachers have reduced the number of novels read or have stopped teaching the novel form altogether as they simply cannot get the students to finish reading them.
It seems to me that we are rapidly becoming a “CliffsNotes Culture,” literally throwing reading over the cliff, superficially discussing summaries of books in English class and writing papers by copying and pasting someone else’s generic analysis.
I am happy to report Providence graduates are countercultural, marching to the beat of their own snare drums as they develop literary acumen, one of the 16 “habits of the mind” described in the “Portrait of the Ideal Providence Graduate.”
The word “acumen” in Latin is defined as “point” and figuratively means “mental sharpness.” Literary acumen means more than just being “well read,” but describes the discernment needed to make wise judgments and choices from a depth of perception that comes from fully engaging in meaningful texts and being informed by them.
How does one develop literary acumen in a culture that SparkNotes itself to a pseudo-competence and copy/pastes its way to grade success? As a humanities teacher, I see six ways Providence successfully combats a “CliffsNote Culture” with real literary acumen.
1. Design a vibrant reading curriculum
Education should be teleological— based on God’s truth and designed for a purpose —much like how God has designed us for a purpose. To develop literary acumen, books and anthologies of shorter essays and poetry are chosen with the intent to discuss these works meaningfully. We select a wide variety of works that reflect the canon of literature, but also provoke thought, feeling, and various worldviews. For example: freshmen read and discuss Robinson Crusoe’s conversion scene, sophomores ruminate about the atrocities of WW1 depicted in All Quiet on the Western Front, juniors examine the dangers of racism in To Kill a Mockingbird, and seniors contemplate brutal totalitarianism in 1984 and the different types of love in C. S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. In four years of Upper School, Providence students will have read and thoroughly discussed at least 30 novels of consequence in humanities courses alone, as well as other numerous essays, short stories, and poems.
2. Teach with the intention to transform
My personal purpose as an educator is to teach to the mind, heart, and spirit. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He then instructs hearers to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (vs.39). These are the greatest commandments and they are foundational. They are also the centerpiece to the practice of teaching wherein the primary aim is to illuminate minds and inspire hearts so that genuine transformation can take place.
Dr. Martha MacCullough in By Design: Developing a Philosophy of Education Informed by a Christian Worldview asserts, “If the aim of education is to promote the full development of each human being as he/she was intended to be (an image bearer of the God of the universe), we must help each individual student develop in all areas: cognitively, socially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.”
Such transformation requires teacher intention and time devoted to directed discussion of texts. Exposure to a wide variety of texts, ideas, and feelings is essential to the transformational process, but a text without an intentional teacher falls flat.
3. Foster discussion in small classes
Small class sizes foster holding robust and inclusive discussions, enabling teachers to personalize education and answer questions that are on the individual’s minds and hearts. Smaller classes are a tremendous advantage for discussing novels of consequence and shorter essays and poetry in different formats: teacher-directed, student-led, Socratic, etc. Given the safe place created to inquire and dialogue, teachers do not shy away from the difficult questions, but embrace them as a process of connecting what we learn to seeking God’s truth in shaping our worldview.
4. Recognize the purpose of literature
We recognize that literature is not an end itself, but the vehicle for learning to think critically, develop empathy, and hone writing and presenting skills. Every work read is either discussed, presented, or written about (or all three). The text read lives far beyond the pages, becoming alive in the mind, heart, mouth, and writing hand of our students. Literary acumen does not end with the reading of a work, but with applying it, appreciating it, counter-arguing it, and further developing upon its ideas.
5. Analyze texts with integrity
In a Christian school, we teach a hermeneutic (textual interpretation) that has integrity. Cultural and reader responses to a literary text have their time and place in the process of interpretation, but frequently land stuck in the swamp of epistemological relativism where all truths are acceptable. It is most important to seek what the author intends to mean and not rest on what we want the work to mean. Literary acumen demands accuracy in interpretation, regardless of whether one agrees with the authorial intent. Responding in dialogue with one another as we seek textual understanding is a valuable skill our graduates develop through reading and interpreting a wide breadth of works in a vibrant learning community.
6. Model the joy of reading
The teacher needs to be an ideal example by continuing to read and discuss works of literature; perhaps this is the most valuable gift we can give the lifelong learner, our Providence graduate. Parents, too, can model this joy by continuing to read to their kids and reading on their own as a pleasant pastime. “Decline by Nine” is correlated with the fact that parents typically stop reading to their children at age nine. The bottom line is, if we want our kids to read well and develop literary acumen, we need to read well.
With the goal to create lifelong learners, literary acumen is essential to this process as a base of content knowledge is needed to advance thinking skills, empathy, and wisdom. Wisdom is acquired, not gifted (except in Solomon’s case, but notice he was wise enough to ask for wisdom in the first place). Curriculum should be designed with the purpose of developing the mind, heart and spirit so that any skill may be acquired down the road.
My goal as a humanities teacher is to make critical thinking, reading, feeling, and writing accessible to all students so they will fall in love with learning for life. It is our hope that every graduate of Providence develops literary acumen – not just earning the label “well-read,” but “well done.”
Doing theater raises a big question
We’ve finally finished auditions for James and the Giant Peach, and while I’m headed full steam ahead into the most stressful season of my year, it provides me an opportunity to reflect on the question we must always ask when purposefully putting ourselves into stressful situations, “Why?”
Why take on stress?
I’m looking at long days, sleepless nights, and big emotions—not only my own, but belonging to the students involved in the show, the production team, and anyone who happens to cross my path. So the question stands, “Why?” Why put ourselves into these situations? Why do we go out of our way to encourage students to undertake a potentially stressful project? And, the bigger “why” question: Why do we strive to create something that will exist only for a moment, and then dissipate as suddenly as it appeared?
I am happy to say there is a point to all the craziness. A beautiful fruit comes from theater and the other performing arts; it is called social emotional intelligence.
Every aspect of performing teaches us how to understand and control our emotions and how to navigate emotions between others.
In acting classes, we learn self-awareness. While studying the works of the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov and other like-minded acting experts, we learn where emotions sit in our bodies. Through psychological gestures we learn that not only do emotions manifest through our body language, but that we can actually change our emotions by choosing different physicalizations. In class, we learn to recognize our own emotions and how they affect our thoughts and behavior. We find our strengths and weaknesses, which builds self-confidence.
Three rules for improv…and for life
In our eighth-grade enrichment class, my colleague, Abigail Pryor, and I place a strong emphasis on improvisational acting. We believe that improv—which requires acting without a script—develops self-management, a basic life skill.
The three rules of improv we encourage students to take with them are 1) Yes…And; 2) Make Statements; and 3) No Mistakes, Only Opportunities! These three skills teach even seasoned improvisational actors to start with an open mind and that their own ideas are worthwhile. They teach actors to come up with solutions, not to look for problems. Finally, they teach that every mistake, no matter how seemingly overwhelming, is just an opportunity to move forward in life.
In improv, we learn we are able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage our emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.
Taking the audience on a journey
Meanwhile, performance pieces, such as plays and musicals, teach us about social connection. It is not enough to only understand our own emotions and how they affect us, we must extend that understanding to the audience. As performers, we are asking the audience to trust us to take them on a journey they’ve never experienced before. In order to build that trust, actors must be authentically interested in the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people. It is imperative that actors are able to pick up on emotional cues and feel comfortable socially.So, what is it all for? What is the “why” behind choosing to undergo a season of stress in order to put on a transitory performance? We do this so our students can learn vital life skills, which come around to be the very antidote to the aforementioned stress: self-awareness, self-management, and social-awareness.
Producing positive outcomes
How can students—and everybody else—develop and apply these social emotional intelligence tools?
For starters, enroll in an acting class! We have several at Providence, covering the gamut from singing, dancing, and acting to learning the technical aspects of performance, including lighting design, set and prop building, stage management, and stage makeup (offered as a TRIAD course in the May third term).
More practically, remember, God has given us emotions to guide us through life.
Start with self-awareness. What am I feeling right now? Where am I holding this emotion in my body? If it is anger, you might feel your jaw clench. If it is fear, you might feel your heart race. If it is happiness, you might notice a lightness in your step.
Then, look to manage the emotion. For example, anger serves as a call to action to eliminate injustice, while fear directs us to find safety.
I have built my performing arts curriculum around recognizing, understanding, and expressing emotions. The benefits of having the language to identify your emotions and the skill to appropriately control them is a rarity in many adults today. It is a priceless skill to develop during the school years.
Finally, find the connection. We have a tendency to only share the emotions we find “good” and “acceptable.” To live authentically, we must honor ALL the emotions we’re experiencing by allowing others to understand us on a deeper level.
All arts, be it performing, visual, or other, are about connecting with others.
And, isn’t connecting at the very heart of the Gospel?
Jamie DeVries has accepted the invitation to join the Providence faculty, beginning in the 2022–2023 academic year. A veteran teacher, Mr. DeVries has devoted the past 23 years of his professional life to helping students succeed, in and beyond the classroom. He is the founder and director of the Entrepreneurship Academy at San Marcos High School, as well as the nonprofit organization Kids Helping Kids, which has raised over $4.5 million for disadvantaged children, locally and globally.
Mr. DeVries has taught United States history and economics courses at all levels, including Advanced Placement (AP) classes, first at Santa Ynez High School and primarily at San Marcos High School. He has also taught dual-enrollment business courses in entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, and more through Santa Barbara City College. At Providence, he will teach economics, government, and humanities courses in the Upper School. He will collaborate with current teacher Bruce Rottman, who announced he is retiring at the end of the current school year, to prepare for his new teaching assignment.
With devotion to helping students succeed in academics and in life, Mr. DeVries has created many opportunities to influence students beyond the classroom, including founding an international education tour company and leading summer tours throughout Europe, organizing and leading high school service-learning trips to Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, and India, and creating a local youth mentorship program.
A graduate of Westmont College with a bachelor’s degree in economics and business, Mr. DeVries holds a single-subject teaching credential through Chapman University. Additionally, he is a certified life coach, having trained in the Stanford University Design Your Life program. He is the recipient of many local, state, and national awards, including Santa Barbara County’s Superintendent Bill Cirone “Heart of Education Award” (2019), Santa Barbara County “Distinguished Educator of the Year” (2011), and was named one of Westmont College’s “80 Notable Alumni” (celebrating Westmont’s 80th anniversary).
Jamie DeVries and his wife, Tiffany, already are integral members of the Providence community, with their two children enrolled in the Preschool and Lower School. Through his children’s experience at Providence, Jamie has become passionate about Christian education. “When a teacher visits our backyard to welcome our child to school and to pray with her, there are no words to describe that profound experience,” he relates.
“From my perspective, faith and learning are inseparable and I truly believe we are called to be doers of the word. There are countless opportunities to incorporate faith into daily curriculum; for me it comes down to living a life worthy of God’s calling by searching after truth and appreciating the liberties that we have been given.”
Mr. Rottman and Mr. DeVries are professional acquaintances, having met at an economics teachers conference in Utah in 2017. There, they discovered a mutual passion for the freedom philosophy. “Students under my direction have always come to appreciate the gifts of freedom that our founders have passed down, as well as the veterans who have protected these gifts,” says Mr. DeVries, “and this underscores much of my worldview and how I deliver curriculum. The opportunity to teach the philosophical principles of liberty and free markets from a foundation of faith and in a community that strives to pursue Christ together is a welcome responsibility and a personal blessing.”