Have questions about classical Christian education?


Why are seniors required to write and defend a thesis?

A: “The senior thesis project proves that we are no longer just students, absorbing information from other people. We reach our own   conclusions. We truly have to create something.” This, according to one of our graduates, was the highlight of his thesis. After thirteen years, the tables are turned: the students stand at the front of the room, sharing insights on theological disputes, bioethical dilemmas, and political controversies—and their teachers are the ones asking the questions.

Many schools consider the senior thesis a capstone project because it brings together so many of the skills a classical education hopes to cultivate—how to read well, think clearly, write eloquently, and speak persuasively—all while demonstrating a healthy balance of confidence and humility.

When asked, students are easily able to identify specific ways senior thesis prepares them for life as adults.

  • Develop Communication Skills – We all know how easy it is for teenagers to go through life neglecting genuine personal interactions, including high-quality face-to-face discussion and debate. A school with a solid rhetoric curriculum is an antidote to this problem. As one student told me: “The most valuable part was when I had to defend my topic and promote it in front of a panel of judges, because this setting has so many practical life lessons. From pitching a new idea to a committee for your job, or even just sitting down in a job interview, this setting will be recurring in life, and it’s a great skill to have already been able to practice as a high schooler.”
  • Engage in Fruitful Debate – Our students realize they are growing up in a culture notoriously inept at constructive disagreement. If we want them to calmly but vigorously defend their ideas, including their own faith (1 Peter 3:15), they need to practice. Another student described her experience: “The year of researching helps us broaden our mindset and look at a controversy from both sides. The writing enables us to maturely defend our thoughts and perspectives… . The ability to decide what you believe and how to best express and defend it is what lies behind the purpose of the thesis.”
  • Pursue Trustworthy Sources – Nearly a century ago, T. S. Eliot identified one of the paradoxes of our modern age when he asked, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” A senior thesis requires students to go beyond the surface to dig more deeply in search of wisdom. As another student observed: “I learned that the core of many controversies and problems in society is based on ignorance…before forming an opinion, I need to research.”

Thesis presentations can be a highlight of the year for the entire school. They provide a memorable opportunity for students to demonstrate that they have learned how to learn—and how to bless others with their eloquence and wisdom.

~By Patrick Halbrook, Rhetoric and Humanities Teacher at Cary Christian School, NC