Teacher Spotlight: Ms. Karyn Perrine, our upper school history teacher

Ms. Perrine is one of our upper school history teachers. Her drive for excellence and commitment to Livingston’s Classical Academy is .a true inspiration of what it means to be a classical educator. 

Karyn Perrine

Why were you interested in teaching at a classical school?

I have always been drawn to this type of education. It was during my sixth-grade year that I realized something was missing from my education. That same year my younger sister, who was in fifth grade, was being taught by a teacher who used classical principles. She was teaching them to memorize, but the memorization was fun and easy! They learned songs and rhymes.  I was very jealous.

I have also always been drawn to the old and ancient. During my 8th grade year, I was able to take Latin. I don’t remember exactly why I choose Latin since all my friends were taking Spanish but there was something mysterious and intriguing about learning something so old and ancient.  

I love the philosophy of the classical approach. I love how it fosters the love of beauty, goodness and truth. I love how it enables students to receive a solid foundation before reaching the secondary level.  Classical education inspires students to love learning because it teaches them to seek unity and truth within the diversity of disciplines. 

What about classical education makes you want to teach in this setting? 

As my studies progressed I realized how much we as a culture owed to the classical civilizations of the past. This is what I want to pass along to students. I want them to see the connections that we have to the past.  

The mind and body always work together in a classical approach.  Students are taught both to contemplate truths but also use their reasoning abilities as well.  We teach students to look at all sides of an issue. It’s a dualistic approach using contemplation and reason. 

Classical education focuses on the whole person.  A good classical educator understands how to take diverse subjects and begin to unify the material.  This type of approach began with the Greeks as they sought to find unity within the diversity of the world or cosmos (order) out of chaos. 

Classical educators teach students to use their senses and trust their senses. Students are taught to find transcendent truths within the world.  It is through the world around us and the use of our senses that humans first learn and acquire knowledge. We teach students to find the beauty, goodness and truth within the environment.  As students grow and enter the later secondary grades, students are taught to use reason to appreciate these truths.  

I love how the approach builds upon itself as students progress through the different grade levels.

How do you explain this education to new parents?

I use cooking as an analogy. Students in the elementary years learn to taste, identify and savor different ingredients. As they enter the middle years, they begin to understand how these ingredients work together and begin to make recipes, following a plan or structure. They are exploring the culinary (liberal) arts but still dependent on a good master. It is in high school where students should begin to create their own recipes. They now know how to identify key ingredients. They know how these ingredients work together and can begin to invent their own recipes.  

Classical educators give these three levels names.  We refer to them as the grammar, rhetoric and dialectical stages of growth.  Elementary students memorize information (this doesn’t exclude comprehension but they need to memorize first), middle school students love to debate and argue so they should begin to voice opinions or engage in rhetoric, and finally, high school students are ready to see various points of view or engage in dialectic. 

What is your favorite classical book and why?

In classical schools, we use books and ideas which have stood the test of time.  They have proven themselves to be valuable for their insights into the discussion of what it means to be human.

I’m an avid reader but I would say Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis is my favorite.  It’s an intense book, one which I have my 10th grade read as well.  But, it is filled with a great defense of classical education. Lewis describes the downfall of man due to the modern philosophy of the 20th century. Learning devoid of emotion and human connection is devoid of being truly human.  He would say that knowing facts about a horse is not the same as a jockey who truly knows his horse.

Which virtue resonates most with you? How do you incorporate it into your classroom? 

Honesty!  I’m extremely honest individual.

I’m always honest with the students about perspective and bias in history.  I try to incorporate different perspectives into my lessons and tell the students that there are always two sides to every coin.  I also am very upfront with my own ignorance. I’m just a student of history as well and if I don’t know the other side of a story I’ll tell them that with the reminder that it’s there but I as a teacher am not omniscient.    

What are you most looking forward to this upcoming school year at Livingston Academy?

I’m looking forward to all the new changes that will help the upper school grow and develop a culture of its own. I’d like to see the upper school grow some wings and begin to have more clubs at the school and perhaps even compete with other local schools.

I’m also looking forward to the students. They know that they can expect to be challenged and learn. I had several students tell me that they loved that they could always rely on my class to really give them good solid instruction and one student even said that they loved the class “because they were never bored.” I consider that a win! 

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I enjoy gardening and creating healthy meals for my family to eat.  I love learning about naturopathy and use the herbs from my garden to create tinctures and healing supplements.  If I hadn’t found my niche and love for teaching classical education, I would have pursued a career in alternative medicine.