As an administrator and teacher at The Montfort Academy, a Catholic classical high school in Katonah, NY, last summer I, along with Mr. Steve Terenzio, headmaster of The Montfort Academy, attended the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education's conference, entitled “Truth and Joy in the Catholic School." There we found a forum in which to explore the good, the true and the beautiful in the writings of authors such as Newman, Dawson, Shakespeare, Euclid, and John Paul II, as we discussed the history and integration of Western education, the Trivium, mathematics, science, literature, theology and music. I returned to The Montfort Academy last fall, with great hopes of recreating such an enriching experience with both my colleagues and students.
From the launch of the academic year with our faculty retreat, to a prosperous enrichment of our curriculum, the conference bore fruit at The Montfort Academy. At the opening faculty retreat, we introduced conference readings such as Archbishop Michael Miller’s document, entitled “The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools,” and Dorothy Sayer’s article, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” in preparation for our academic year ahead. The subjects of these selected readings were presented by guest speakers in the context of our retreat and given as recommended reading for our faculty. As a school dedicated to the teaching Magesterium of the Catholic Church and also to classical teaching methods, the ideas presented gave voice to those concerns integral to our mission as a Catholic classical school in a modern world. In our daunting challenge to introduce students to the great conversation of Western Civilization, beginning with Aristotle, Plato and Homer, straight through to more recent Judeo-Christian philosophers, theologians and literary artists––while simultaneously preparing students for NYS Regents, PSAT, SAT, and ACT exams––our exchange of ideas at the conference with other professional educators proved valuable. With a resolve to use the conference resources so as to better fulfill our Montfort mission, we chose to focus on refining one critical area.
In discussing with Dr. Andrew Seeley Montfort’s foundational emphasis on the art of debate, he recommended that we implement a course solely on rhetoric. After much discussion, we decided to have our freshmen through seniors study rhetoric for the first quarter of each language arts course. The results were extremely fruitful. As students engaged in their formal classroom debates, our study of Aristotle’s rhetoric lent us the necessary vocabulary to create and execute effective speeches and to form a judging rubric. For the 2009-10 academic year, we have added to our curriculum a Trivium track that will allow freshmen through seniors to study grammar, logic, rhetoric and debate, and then apply the principles learned in these exclusive classes across the curriculum.