Article from LB

By Brian Addison

Loyola Marymount University Professor of Philosophy and Long Beacher Jason Baehr has dedicated over a decade’s worth of research and writing to one thing: intellectuality, through both its character and virtues.

And of course, like any model academic, he craved not just the theoretical side of his work but the actual implementation of it through an educational model molded by the virtues he studied in order to find the qualities of great thinkers and learners: curiosity, wonder, attentiveness, open-mindedness and intellectual humility.

“I had repeatedly thought throughout my research,” Baehr said to the Post, “‘Surely what we want for our children and students is for them to become more curious, to wonder, to be attentive, open-minded, creative, intellectually rigorous, intellectually honest..?’ If so, why don’t educators and educational institutions talk more about these traits—about what exactly they involve and how they can be fostered in schools and classrooms?”

Four years ago, these questions were put to a reality check via his friend and fellow Long Beach resident, Biola University professor Steve Porter, who suggested they create a charter school together. The Intellectual Virtues Academy (IVA) was born.

This endeavor did not come without its difficulties and rocks in the road, however—the two largest ones being the ability to bridge funding so as to make the school financially viable after building enrollment and the ability to have a curriculum that could live up to the hopes they had in their head. The former was cured by a $1 million grant given to the pair in April of this year from the John Templeton Foundation, permitting them to go full-steam ahead in actualizing the school.

The latter problem, however—the curriculum itself—is a different story.

“Virtually every teacher and administrator talks of wanting to promote a ‘love of learning’ and ‘lifelong learner,’” explains Baehr. “It’s also common to hear about ‘educating the whole person,’ promoting ‘critical thinking’ and instilling good ‘habits of mind.’ Our model is aimed at taking these ideas very seriously and literally.”

By literally, he means not only actualizing the tangible form of the school itself, but how chief tenets of philosophy and psychology that surround character strength can be taught.

“As a charter school, we’ll have freedom to develop build a curriculum and instructional program from the ground up,” Baehr said. “In our case, this will look like designing an entire school around the overarching goal of helping students grow in intellectual virtues. That is, helping them develop the personal traits required for good thinking and lifelong learning. That’s a rare and extremely exciting opportunity!”

The academy will emphasize the trending educational idea that the experience of learners and teachers should not be ruled by standardized tests and “teaching to the test,” that is, creating curriculum around solely ensuring that students test better without acknowledging critical thinking skills or elaborate, multi-faceted answers.

“Schools are under a tremendous amount of pressure to ensure that their students test well—and we’ll be subject to some of the same pressure,” said Baehr firmly. “However, we will offer an educational program and overall atmosphere in which good test scores are not the goal. Rather, our focus will be on shaping our students as thinkers and learners. We expect the school to have a more personal and humanzing ethos than many public schools today. This is entirely compatible with also placing a high priority on academic performance and rigor.”

While Porter and Baehr begin to scout out locations for the academy and hope to announce its home by no later than the start of 2013, they plan on opening doors in the fall of that year with two sixth grade classes. Each grade will consist of what they expect to be 50 students, with two classes divied up between each grade. Following the inaugural year, the academy will add one grade per year for the following two years with a hope of having about 150 students, sixth through eighth grade.

“As these numbers suggest,” Baehr noted, “we want this to be a small, personal educational community. We’ve got a lot of hopes for the school, of course. We’re big supporters of public education in Long Beach. Many of IVA’s founding families and Board members have their kids in Long Beach public schools. So, in general, we’d like to see IVA add to the overall quality of public education in the city.”