By Jim and Emily Watkins

It’s no secret more children are being taught at home, especially as the reality of a global pandemic has spilled into a new academic year. Parents wanting to root their children’s education in Christian faith confront many of the same issues as those in traditional schools when choosing a curriculum.

One is the thorny issue of deciding how to teach particular doctrines or practices. Many K-12 Christian educators tell parents that their school will teach the “core” of the faith, or will “just focus on the Bible,” aiming to assure parents that what their children learn won’t conflict with their family’s tradition. A school might, for example, completely avoid teaching about baptism because the families of some students practice infant baptism, while others espouse believer’s baptism. In the well-intentioned effort to work across denominational lines and unite an ecumenical community, the hard edges of traditions are often sanded into a smooth surface.

The theory is this: a Christian education that takes any one tradition too seriously will push some people away. But this approach fails to account for those parents who care deeply about their Christian tradition (whether it be Baptist, Anglican, Orthodox, etc.) and view it as a vital resource for discipling their children. We would wager that most Christians view their particular expression of the Christian faith in this way, but assume they have to give it up in order to take advantage of a Christian-based education, whether at a school or at home.

Is there another way? Enter Canterbury House of Studies.

Canterbury House is the brainchild of a small group of Anglican scholars, educators, and priests: the Rev. Gavin Dunbar, rector of St. John’s Church in Savannah; the Rev. Nathan Carr, headmaster of the Academy of Classical Christian Studies in Oklahoma City; the Rev. Graham Marsh, curate at All Souls Episcopal Church in Oklahoma City; Dr. David Anderson, associate professor of English at the University of Oklahoma; Kathleen Marsh, a published poet with an MFA from UC Riverside; and Rhea Bright, the current instructor for the Canterbury House of Studies, a longtime educator who is also the wife of the Rev. Patrick Bright, former rector of All Soul’s, Oklahoma City. In the summer of 2019, Fr. Nathan Carr organized a four-day conference in Savannah, to work and pray and ultimately craft the vision and curriculum of Canterbury House of Studies.

Canterbury House of Studies sits within Schole Academy, a digital resource for homeschooling families. Since its launch in 2004, Schole Academy has grown to include a wide array of virtual courses for students K-12 and a large teaching faculty. Schole Academy has experienced significant growth since the pandemic began. According to Joelle Hodge, the academy’s director, enrollment has increased by 40 percent and the number of active courses has increased by 36 percent in 2020.

According to its website, Canterbury House “assists families in forming the hearts and minds of students in the study of scripture and the practice of classical, Prayer Book Anglicanism, both catholic and reformed.” According to Rhea Bright, the intention behind Canterbury House of Studies is to present the “core of the Anglican faith” within its historic context, emphasizing its relationship to the Protestant Reformation. To appeal to as broad an audience as possible, Bright says, “We are going to start with the 1662 prayer book as the grandmother of the prayer books.” Canterbury House of Studies’ courses will highlight the significance of Anglican thinkers and cultural figures and assumes an Anglican perspective on the history of thought.

Canterbury House of Studies is not a full K-12 school. Its first students arrived in early September 2020, and only two courses are currently offered: “The Early Church: The Bible to the Nicene Creed” for 6th-8th grade students, and “Moral Theology and the Sanctification of Time in the Anglican Tradition” for 9th-10th grade students. The middle school course uses the King James Bible in its Scripture studying to build a foundation for the study of English literature, while the high school class focuses on the prayer book as a spiritual tradition, aiming to build habits of daily prayer. Both courses are attended virtually and there are no plans at present to establish a traditional brick and mortar school.

Drawing on C.S. Lewis’s image from Mere Christianity, Schole Academy seeks to offer the “great hall” of the Christian faith through which one can access many different rooms (i.e. traditions). In 2018, St. Raphael School, a classical Christian school in the Orthodox tradition, was annexed by Schole Academy. Canterbury House of Studies opens a second door. A Catholic house is currently in development.

As more courses are added to the program, the academy hopes to provide resources for all grades, and to sequence these courses so that they culminate in a uniquely curated trip to Canterbury. According to Hodge, younger students would get a passbook of sorts and their courses would be named after towns along the Canterbury trail. Hodge says, “students would take these different classes and get stamps in their book along the way,” with a culturally enriching capstone trip to England allowing high school seniors to “see their Canterbury House of Studies experience as part of their pilgrimage to Canterbury.” But before such a beautiful vision can be realized, Canterbury House of Studies needs to develop a rich and robust curriculum.

Schole Academy’s versatile model gives homeschooling parents the possibility of aligning their child’s education more closely with their family’s tradition, even as the question of how best to form a child’s faith continues to be explored. Meanwhile, some parents may wonder, for example, where is the time and place for children to have dialogue with students from another Christian tradition? What debates are lost or never had when courses are tailored to a specific expression of the faith? And what about the points of contention within the Anglican tradition? Will Canterbury House of Studies feel pressure to smooth over those areas of friction?

The Canterbury House of Studies initial cohort of 10 students already includes some families from outside of the Anglican tradition. This gives potential for it to become an important vehicle through which students and families outside of the Anglican tradition learn about this vibrant expression of Christianity. As a young and interesting initiative, Canterbury House is surely a resource worth watching as it develops.

Emily Watkins holds an MA in applied theology from Regent College and is the headmaster of The Augustine Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin. Dr. Jim Watkins holds a PhD in theological aesthetics from the University of St Andrews and is the senior advancement officer at Nashotah House. They live in Milwaukee with their four boys and dog.