We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit...It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
The upper school faculty have created a program which turns the old, worn, and ineffective model of “study hall” on its head. We have decided to be more intentional about the use of that time, so that we get the most out of the last period of the day for our students. The purpose of the upper school Agora program is to provide a variation of focused academic support for about 250 upper school students with a wide variety of needs. The word “agora” (Greek: Ἀγορά) refers back to the great meeting spots of the ancient Greek city states. The word translates to English as “marketplace.” The agora was a place where military units mustered, where merchants sold their wares, and where politicians would orate about public affairs while philosophers like Socrates would ponder the nature of things. The agora was a place of exchange and public discourse. It was a place for the exchange of things--and of ideas.
This ideal of the Greek agora, the marketplace, the forum of free inquiry and exchange of ideas is the guiding principle around which the Agora program has been built. The program is designed to provide structured academic support for students who have particular academic or disciplinary troubles. If a student needs extra math help, he/she can get focused tutoring during this time. If a student needs one-to-one assistance for a history paper, that is provided for the student. For those who really flourish in all their classes and are hungry for more stimulation, special seminars and events permit students the opportunity to attend presentations, lectures, and discussions held by the faculty. These presentations provide exposure to ideas and topics which are not covered in the curriculum but which support and enrich it. Students may observe or take part in philosophic bull sessions with faculty members on perennial questions such as “What is happiness?” and “What makes a free man?” These offerings, once core coursework has been sufficiently attended to, reach at the very spirit of the agora. Our students develop an autonomous love of learning and relish a free exchange of thought.
To set students along the path which leads to the true agora experience, the upper school faculty will take this time during the first three weeks of the school year to fully instruct the student body in what it means to be an LCS student. Here we introduce students in scholarly habits and ethical principles which helps us carry our our school-wide mission to “assist parents in developing young minds with virtuous character, critical thinking skills, and a passion for learning to become exceptional community stewards.” The following are some of the things that are taught and discussed with students in the first three weeks of Agora:
- The middle school and high school Core Virtues, taught through anecdotes from literature and history
- Basic routines and expectations of LCS students
- What it means to conduct oneself as a young lady or gentleman at LCS
- Organization skills and student planner use
Our guiding principle for how we use Agora time, following Aristotle, is habit. According to Aristotle, virtue is not doing something well once, but many times and out of habit. We also recognize that habit develops only with time and repetition. Moreover, “old habits die hard” and so it sometimes takes time to break old habits in order to establish new ones. Therefore, our faculty looks for habitual change in a student’s academic and ethical character over time rather than a brief spurt in performance for one or two days. To best set our students up for long-term success, we believe it vital to groom our students’ habits patiently. The development of virtuous habits over time will instill in LCS students the responsibility needed to take full advantage of the spirit of the agora. An undisciplined student cannot reap the rewards of a truly free human being. Human freedom, the product of a classical/liberal education such as ours, comes only to the self-disciplined individual who has become so through the formation of virtuous habits.