by Peter Kreeft
This is a great resource for logic teachers and for those who are tasked with developing an overall humanities curriculum ordered toward helping young people to discern and defend the truth rather than training them in cleverness or cynical criticism. In fact, this book is a direct response to the trend in the last half-century that reduces logic to manipulating symbols and evaluating the coherence of closed systems. As such, it is particularly relevant for a Catholic classical curriculum.
Kreeft’s concern is much broader than formal logic; it ranges from Grammar to Logic and on to Rhetoric. I would not recommend this for use as a textbook, though there are select sections from which a teacher might develop lessons and exercises. The book is by no means a quick or easy read and it is probably not one that most will want to read front to back. I would recommend reading the introduction and then skipping around to those topics of most immediate interest.
A Concise Introduction to Logic
by Patrick J. Hurley
This is a good text for teaching formal logic. It is widely used in colleges but is accessible to high school students and its chapters are broken down into short sections that are conducive to presenting in a single lesson. Each section has an ample set of exercises at the end for students to practice. Recent editions are expensive, prohibitively so for high school students, especially since most Catholic schools won’t want to use the full text (I only use chapters 1, 6 and 7) but there are plenty of used, older editions available on-line that are affordable and not out of date.
At St. Thomas More Academy [STMA] in Raleigh, NC, all sophomores take a full year of logic. We see this as a critical feature of our curriculum. Logic is properly at the core of a Catholic education because Jesus, the Logos Incarnate, is properly at the heart of a Catholic school.
We realize, however, that many people don’t quite know what to make of this course. Few parents have studied logic, though they generally approve because it sounds rigorous. Students expect it to be daunting. Others claim to have studied logic in middle school, but this usually means they have learned a few fallacies and know how to draw Venn diagrams.
We have developed a way to teach logic to sophomores that is rigorous - college level even - but still interesting, fun and, crucially, one at which all students can succeed. We offer this brief explanation of our rationale and an outline for those who might wish to use it as a resource.
Our first year Grammar course is a yearlong prolegomena to Logic. Grammar and Logic are, together, the cornerstone of our Catholic, Classical, College Preparatory curriculum ordered to the greater glory of God.
Logic has to do with the criteria of coherence in reasoning. This coherence is not merely something our minds aspire to in thought but rather a feature of the reality about which we reason. The Logos in whose image we were created is the same Logos in whom the cosmos coheres.
Logos is not a competing explanation for the world and the working of things in it but rather the underlying rational principle which accounts for the intelligibility of the cosmos and our ability to devise coherent explanations and predictions using both natural languages and the language of mathematics. Famously, Eugene Wigner wrote of “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences;” it is true that mathematics is amazingly effective in the natural sciences, but this effectiveness is actually entirely reasonable given that the Reason who created Nature also created us in His image. The possibility of, and the impulse to, science follow from our theology and this truth is demonstrated from the very beginning with Adam’s cataloguing of the animals (naming them according to the Word) at God’s direction.
Similarly, the stories of people and peoples, which provide the subject matter of history and literature, are made both intelligible and worthy of study because of the human nature we all share as persons made in the image of God. This common image is precisely that which renders the faculty of imagination so critical for growing in historical and moral knowledge.
Logic, then, not only enables students to more competently study other subjects, it also helps them understand just what they are doing when, for example, they study biology. “Bio-logy” does not mean “the study of life;” rather, the study of biology is the study of the logos of bios. This is important because it provides a basis for confidence (with the appropriate level of humility) in the reality of truth and our ability to discern it. Our logic course helps students see the coherence of purpose in STMA’s curriculum. Knowing why we do what we do helps them understand why their classes are so different in form and content from those of their peers at other schools.
Logic is properly at the core of a classical liberal education, one ordered toward freedom, because freedom is impossible without truth and coherence is one criterion of truth. Grammar, a necessary foundation for Logic, has to do with another criterion of truth – correspondence – insofar as it engenders in students the capacity to craft sentences of sufficient clarity and precision to be judged either true or false. Moreover, the three fundamental laws of logic – Non-Contradiction, Excluded Middle, and Identity – are also fundamental to grammar; training students in the rules of grammar prepares them to grasp these laws more readily when they are presented explicitly in Logic.
Finally, logic is properly at the core of a college preparatory education because it prepares students to evaluate arguments when they read and to make arguments when they write and speak. Furthermore, it inoculates Christian students against arguments that challenge their faith and prepares them to make the arguments in defense of the hope that is in them.
In the fall students learn formal logic, but the year begins with a general introduction to logic and its place in our curriculum. Students learn what “logos” means by seeing it in contrast with “mythos.” We review some of the creation myths they studied in 9th grade Ancient History and Literature, and discuss the transition from mythos to logos as forms of explanation for the world and its phenomena. We consider the different ways this transition is manifest among the Greeks in the thought of the pre-Socratics and among the Hebrews in the Pentateuch.
Next, we introduce the three fundamental laws of logic and show how the correspondence between the laws of thought and the laws of reality make science possible. Not only can a statement not be both true and false at the same time and in the same way, no feature of reality can both exist and not exist at the same time and in the same way. We spend some time looking then at logos in Scripture – at how it is implicit from the outset in the creation stories in Genesis, used by various characters such as Daniel (Daniel 13), and explicit in such passages as John 1, Colossians 1 and Hebrews 13:8.
Then we begin to look at arguments. Students learn what an argument is, what its parts are, and how to distinguish between deductive and inductive arguments on the basis of the strength of the inferential claim. Then they learn to symbolize statements using the five operators and to determine the validity of deductive arguments using truth tables. The truth tables allow them to see the truth functions of the logical operators. This prepares them to learn and to demonstrate the 18 rules of inference and replacement they will need for proofs by natural deduction.
In the spring the focus is on informal logic and rhetoric. We begin by confronting nihilism, skepticism, and relativism because they will inevitably come up whenever discussions turn to arguments based on experience or the art of persuasion. Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” is a fun way to introduce nihilism and G.K. Chesterton’s one-page “Philosophy for the Schoolroom” is a good introduction to, and refutation of, skepticism. By this point in the year students should be able to see the flaws inherent in relativism and often enjoy doing so in class.
Following these discussions, students learn to identify informal fallacies (this is a good opportunity to incorporate Scripture again as Jesus’ opponents employ many identifiable fallacies against him and he counters them deftly, e.g. Matthew 22: 15-22 as an example of a complex question) and to evaluate inductive arguments including arguments by analogy, predictions, and inferences to the best explanation, among others. We spend a few days on old Miller Analogy Tests. Because Easter falls somewhere mid-semester, the timing is perfect to consider arguments for the historical reliability of the Resurrection accounts as examples of inductive reasoning. N.T. Wright and Gary Habermas have some great resources outlining these arguments free on-line, many of which are accessible to students at this level.
Looking at accounts of the Resurrection in Scripture, provides a segue to begin studying rhetoric and the three types of proofs Aristotle identified. Logos is easy to see throughout the Epistles. Passages such as the beginning of 1 Corinthians 2 and 1 Peter 3:15-16 are perfect for illustrating Ethos and Pathos. Considering rhetoric in this way at this time is especially interesting because the word Aristotle uses for “proof” in his Rhetoric, pisteis, shows up repeatedly in Paul’s letters where it is usually translated as “faith.” Drawing this connection helps reaffirm for students that faith is not opposed to reason.
After Easter break we continue our discussion of rhetoric and spend some time reading political editorials and watching speeches, evaluating their persuasiveness as a function of the three types of proof. We also look at articles and blog posts from Catholic and other Christian evangelists to consider whether they will be persuasive to non-Christians not already in agreement with their logic.
Finally, we end the year comparing and contrasting the mystery-solving methods of Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown. The students really enjoy this and it is a good way to keep them engaged as the year winds down.
As with everything, the Logic course is a work in progress, but so far it seems that though it is rigorous (maybe because it is), the students enjoy it and their efforts are bearing fruit in later years as they write papers and engage in debates. Our graduates report being well prepared for college and enjoy the experience of confidence and competence when faced with what might otherwise be brand new challenges.
The first thing one notices about St. Thomas More Academy is the joyful atmosphere. This is not an institution, but a community. From the fire pit, to the chicken coop and organic garden, and especially to the beautiful chapel now under renovation, there is a sense of freedom and engagement here that seems to visibly uplift the students – and the faculty.
Founded as an independent high school with the blessing of the local bishop in 2002, St. Thomas More Academy defines itself by the “Three C’s: Catholic, Classical, and College Preparatory.” Those elements are palpable in the daily life of the school. From the rhythms of prayer, Holy Mass, and Eucharistic Adoration, to the profound discussions and rigorous material in the classrooms, STMA is an oasis of faith and reason nestled inconspicuously among the office parks of North Raleigh.
Dr. Jake Noland’s spontaneous opening prayer to a recent Philosophy class of juniors captures the ethos of the place: “Lord, we ask for help in discerning how what we learn reflects your truth and your glory, and how to apply it to our lives.”
What these students learn is deep and thought-provoking. “It’s really about quality over quantity,” said junior Kateri Manville, in the hallway between classes. “It is such a special place. STMA is more rigorous than most schools, especially the logic and philosophy classes, but it is all very relevant.” Her friend, Mary Margaret Love, adds, “… and exciting!” Another junior, Megan Senecal, joined in: “While the material is very challenging, our teachers are always there to help us understand. They are not just teachers, they are almost like friends.” While Senecal enjoys the academics, she said her favorite part of the month is First Friday Eucharistic Adoration, which brings everything else into focus.
STMA has grown to an enrollment of 178 students in grades 9-12, with a dozen full-time faculty, including Headmaster Deacon Brad Watkins and Dean of Studies Dr. Wesley Kirkpatrick, plus four part-time faculty and one staff member. The teachers are passionate about what is happening in this community.
Charles McCants, who teaches Latin as well as Roman and Medieval History, said he and his previous colleagues at a local charter school often dreamed of designing the perfect school. “When I got here, I found that someone had already done it,” he said. “Dr. K[irkpatrick]’s intellectual vision... and Deacon’s moral vision - where the body fuels the mind and the mind fuels the soul -- this makes all the sense in the world.”
By any metric, STMA has soared in its 13-year history: The school boasts a 100% placement rate in four-year colleges and universities. The 49 graduates of the Class of 2015 collectively netted more than $8.1 million in academic scholarship offers. Classes enter STMA at about the 46-49 percentile nationally on the PSAT as 9th graders (average with 100% testing) and leave the school in the 80-85 percentile on the SAT (class average with 100% testing). Alumni report back that they were very well prepared for college and find themselves succeeding quickly in the classroom and beyond. STMA grads in very large numbers stay engaged in their faith, are involved in campus ministry, and often become leaders, according to administrators. Four alumni are seminarians for the Diocese of Raleigh, with two preparing to be ordained priests in June. Many more students are openly discerning the call to the priesthood and religious life. STMA has had a number of non-Catholic students enter the Church, and this Easter, a Chinese student, a senior, will be baptized. On the school’s most recent year-end survey of students, the most frequently suggested improvement was more time for Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Parents appreciate the school’s striking uniqueness. Kevin Holowicki, whose two sons are now a freshman and a senior, said, “We love St. Thomas More Academy for so many reasons. It has provided our children with strong spiritual formation, an outstanding classical curriculum, and gifted teachers who are role models who live out the faith, all in a concentrated setting that has allowed them to thrive."
STMA features some quirky -- and popular -- extras. It is the only Catholic school in the country with a Future Farmers of America chapter. More than one-third of the students are members, caring for a small flock of laying hens, and a garden area that produces hundreds of pounds of organic produce that is donated to Catholic Parish Outreach and Interfaith Food Shuttle every year. About half the school meets regularly at lunch for a swing dance club. Other activities include a weightlifting club, Science Olympiad, women's self-defense classes, life skills classes, and occasionally hunter safety classes. STMA has just added a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen for a farm-to-table cooking class. Students are free to build fires and roast marshmallows at the fire pit in a courtyard near the statue of the Madonna and Child. Class trips have included expeditions to the U.S. National Whitewater Center, the Biltmore Estate, and Grandfather Mountain State Park. The entire school also travels to Washington, DC, every year for the National March for Life.
Electives vary widely from semester to semester, but a student could take an additional six semesters of math or science if they so choose. Despite the rigor of the courses, STMA strives for a low homework model.
Elisabeth Sullivan, ICLE Assistant Director and Board Member, asked Headmaster Deacon Brad Watkins to share his insights about St. Thomas More Academy’s richly successful culture.
Q. What makes STMA so distinctive?
A. Great question. My first response is that it is a truly relational Catholic community. Ours is a relational faith. Love of God and love of neighbor. This should drive all that we do as a school and permeate every facet our existence. Also, our relatively small size (although we are larger than 70% of private high schools in the U.S.) is key to a personal and very human formation. In a contemporary society, where the new normative model is building larger schools, students seem to be almost dehumanized. They are moved through an industrial formation much like livestock are processed through giant concentrated feedlots. For most of America's youth, they have become nameless faces in enormous systems of education. Never in human history have we tried to form young people in such large numbers, and I would argue, with such negative effects. By contrast, for most of human history children were formed by their parents and a small group of adults. To the extent possible, we try to model our formation (incorporating the Salesian model developed by St. John Bosco) on the family. This allows us to notice and address things, subtle things in human, spiritual, intellectual, and leadership formation that might very well go missed in a larger school.
Q. St. Thomas More Academy is unusual in that it has developed quietly and independently, and is now a true model for a growing national movement in the resurgence of Catholic classical education. How did this happen?
A. Fifteen years ago a proactive group of parents and academics began conversations about starting another Catholic high school in Raleigh that was based on a classical curriculum. They approached Mr. Robert Luddy (a local Catholic business leader) who became the chairman of the board of directors and has been the principal benefactor for STMA. Without his tremendous generosity and vision, STMA would not exist in the way that it currently does. We sometimes talk about the patrons of great Catholic art from centuries past and lament that they no longer seem to exist. This is a case where I would argue it does, only in this case the masterpieces are the students we have the privilege of forming each day. As to how it happened, with specific regard to the curriculum, credit must be given to Dr. Wesley Kirkpatrick, our Dean of Studies. He has guided the academics at STMA for over a decade, but it's really in the last five years that he has brought STMA into its own. It is important to note that we are a decidedly college preparatory school. If the goal is taking ninth graders and putting them on a path to their college graduation, then college academics (especially great books programs) become the thing we spend more time focusing on than other high schools.
Q. How do you keep Our Lord at the heart of the school?
A. Aside from physically having Our Lord in the center of the school present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, it is key that Our Lord is at the heart of all the faculty. It is my firm belief that faculty should be believers, true disciples of Jesus Christ. If He is not at the heart of the adults in the school in a real way, students will pick up on it very quickly. I also encourage our faculty frequently to share the joys and struggles of their faith journey with students. I press them to engage conversations about faith when opportunities present. Toward this end, we now have households as a part of our formation program - small discipleship groups (12-14 students from 9th to 12th grade) assigned to each faculty member that allow for more intentional and intimate conversations about faith and life. We also spend no small amount of time discussing discernment, discerning the person God calls (created) you to be, the vocation in which you will be your truest and happiest self, as opposed to what He calls you to do.
Q. What do you see as your major successes? Major challenges?
A. Major successes are every child that graduates our school - for countless different reasons. Beyond that, it would be the true conversions of heart that have happened over the years - students that have drawn closer to Jesus Christ in very real ways. Challenges? As with any Christian apostolate there will always be challenges. No question that the enemy wants to frustrate what we are about, especially if it is leading souls to Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven. This is nothing new and we're not special in this, but day in and day out we really have very few real or major challenges. The Holy Spirit is very much at work in this place and our Blessed Mother is constantly watching over us.
When The Institute offers workshops on classical education or the Catholic intellectual tradition, math teachers seem to be the hardest to reach. Religion, literature, art, and music teachers quickly recognize that their subjects provide great opportunities for introducing students to what The Holy See's Teachings on Catholic Schools calls “a Catholic worldview throughout the curriculum." History and science teachers can see it too, though they might worry about making their subject into an apologetics classes. Math teachers, however, often feel their courses are beyond the scope of our training.
This is regrettable. In the ancient world, the mathematical disciplines were honored among the arts essential to the education of free men, and to the road that leads to wisdom. But contemporary approaches to math make this almost impossible to see. Math textbooks and the standardized tests that guide them aim at forming excellent calculators, leaving very little time for exploring why the rules for calculation work, and why anyone would want to be calculating in the first place.
Institute President Michael Van Hecke, who teaches math to seventh and eighth graders, believes that learning to calculate well can contribute in important ways to the development of virtue. “To solve problems consistently, students have to learn to be orderly and to pay attention to detail," he explained. "They have to develop logical thought processes. When you proceed carefully, if you arrive at x=7, it's undeniable.” He insists that students write their steps with the equals signs vertically aligned, so that they can see for themselves the growing simplicity of the problem. Teachers tend to focus on “covering” what is in the book, on processing data, on getting tests passed, and so miss these opportunities for developing logic and attention.
Attention is particularly important in word problems. Students learn to recognize that details are very important. Mike facilitates this by encouraging students to use their imaginations to turn word problems into story problems. “I will ask a student on Monday, 'How was your weekend?'," he said. "When he gives me a one or two word answer, I insist on hearing more details, to tell the story of his weekend. Other students pay attention to the story. This helps them to flesh out what is presented to them in word problems. They are becoming attentive readers, thinkers, and listeners.” Mike compared the analytical abilities necessary for successfully solving word problems to Latin exercises, in which students learn to attack every word to give complete accounts of form and syntax.
Michelle Orhan teaches middle school math at St. Jerome Academy in Maryland. In a breakout session at a Catholic Classical Schools Conference, Michelle explained how she takes time out every week from calculating work to engage students in puzzles and projects that develop their sense of wonder and provide opportunities for discussion. Every Monday, she puts up a puzzle that the students find challenging but intriguing; each one must answer by Friday. Some she makes up herself; some she draws from resources such as Stella's Stunners. These get the kids thinking and talking with one another at lunch and in hallways about how they might be solved. She doesn't demand they all reach a solution, but they have to show that they tried, and explain how they tried, to tackle it.
She also sets them architectural challenges. “Here's some spaghetti and a marshmallow – build the highest tower you can which will still hold the marshmallow,” she instructs them. Students work in teams, and then compare their effort with those of other teams. Sometimes before, but always during the middle and afterwards, Michelle has them discuss what they think might work, and what they learned as they tried to carry out their ideas. Generally students discover that triangular bases work the best, and they learn to build with the marshmallow, as opposed to adding it on top at the end. They then discuss why things unfolded this way. Some students get very excited about these projects (often not those who are best at calculating), and their enthusiasm is infectious, like the team that discovered that the Eiffel Tower's square base provided a useful model.
She introduced her seventh graders to tessellations – spaces filled by the same image repeated over and over – and had them study some of M.C. Escher's work. She then had them create a Sierpinski triangle. First they had them make an equilateral triangle. They tried using protractors, but found the angles were always off a degree or two. Finally they discovered that circles can be used to make sensibly perfect equilateral triangles (just like in Euclid's first proposition). Then they made a two-story tall equilateral triangle, and filled it in with smaller and smaller triangles. She had them show it to the first and second graders and explain the process. The seventh graders were patient explainers, and the younger children picked up key ideas very quickly.
Weekly and quarterly puzzles and projects make math class a time for wonder, imagination, manipulation, and discussion. Michelle, who was not trained as a math teacher, has discovered since taking up the math classes a great passion for teaching. “I feel like I cast magic spells of enchantment on the students," she said. She believes that math teachers need to develop their own creativity by feeding their sense of wonder. She recommends using films and books to fuel the fire, such as “Flatland," "The Dot and the Line," Here's Looking at Euclid, and A Beginners Guide to Constructing the Universe. (I would add Paul Lockhart’s Measurement to that list.)
John Stebbins teaches AP Calculus at St. Augustine Academy. He wants to prepare his students to be productive members of society by helping them be successful at the collegiate level. The AP portion of the course trains students to be excellent calculators, which John thinks is good to a point. Becoming comfortable with calculating techniques allows students to understand what is going on in mathematical arguments, where precision is called for and is accessible. He laments that his graduate courses in mathematics presented theories only in abstract terms, which were too vague to give clarity and confidence. Examples illuminate concepts, and careful calculation makes the examples understandable.
But John really looks forward to May, when the course is done and he can focus on introducing his students to the marvels and beauties of higher level mathematics. The simplicity of the solution for the sine of a sum of angles is unexpected and delightful. Imaginary and complex numbers (which employ i=square root of -1) are cool. For example, all complex numbers have 2 square roots, 3 cube roots, 4 fourth roots, and so on. But what are imaginary numbers? Do they correspond to anything? Yes! Or at least they admit of intelligible geometrical figures on imaginary planes. They invite play – what happens if you raise e, the natural logarithm, to an imaginary power? Crazy, but you get amazing results if you follow the ordinary rules of calculus. They consider what it might mean. John doesn’t know himself, but the question shows his students how math can illuminate theology, where we use also words that say things that must be true, but often we don’t know what we are talking about. The universe, even the mathematical one, is vastly greater than our best minds.
The search for meaning in math is crucial. Over the centuries, math has developed because rules which make sense with ordinary things, like multiplying rabbits, get used in areas that we don’t understand, like multiplying irrationals. The rules continue to work, but what are we talking about now? “Trigonometry is introduced to students through right triangles but its rules get extended to perpendiculars in circles and angles beyond 90 degrees, beyond 180 degrees,” John said. “What does it mean then? That trigonometry is not about triangles essentially, but about cyclical motion, which is found everywhere in nature. You can even begin to see that the Pythagorean theorem is just a small part of the law of cosines. The concept is vastly bigger than you originally thought.”
John works hard to help his students do well on the AP test, but he finds it mostly a constraint. The AP is a feather in the cap for a school, but it doesn’t leave much room for marvels and beauties, like the Mandelbrot set. If he could, he would broaden the topics covered; their calculating ability would decrease, but their wonder would be stoked.
And then there’s Euclid. In the lunch line at Thomas Aquinas College recently, I met a happy freshman. She had visited the College for a few days before deciding to apply. I asked her what has been the biggest surprise for her. She responded immediately, “I love math!” That was a delightful answer, and brought back happy memories of many Academic Retreats, where humanities teachers have found that the session on Euclid was their favorite, completely contrary to their expectation. Her reason, however, was novel: “In high school math, I would always have to check the answers, because I never really knew whether I was right. With Euclid, I can see and understand the steps and know that I am right.” And that is a beautiful feeling I wish everyone had at least once in their lives.
The liberal arts have fallen on hard times in our days. What used to signify the best and most demanding education for the future leaders of Church and society now is associated with the personal whims of the mathematically challenged. When I used to tell others that I had majored in the liberal arts, I made sure to let them know my degree included a year of logic and four years of math, which always won immediate respectability.
This issue of Beyond the Test is dedicated to these neglected aspects of every serious liberal arts education. Dr. Jake Noland explains how his logic course introduces students not only to the rules of correct thinking but to the Logos that is present in nature and revelation. Our second featured article takes a look at how experienced teachers use math to inculcate virtue, inspire wonder, and engage creativity. Our Featured Resources are books recommended by Dr. Noland, Socratic Logic and A Concise Introduction to Logic. We also Focus On: St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he teaches, as an example of how joy and love permeate academic institutions devoted to the Truth that sets us free.
I hope that you find this issue dedicated to logic and math helpful to you as you work to provide the best Catholic education for today’s students and families, or as you support Catholic education through your time, prayer, resources and encouragement. You can explore the whole range of Catholic liberal arts education as lived in today’s schools through the back issues of Beyond the Test available on our website.
We have added a feature to our Raphael’s Room blog. The ICLE Reading Room includes the best recent articles on issues connected to Catholic liberal education that we have found online. I have put a few samples below, along with items of interest from organizations that share our hope for a complete renewal of Catholic schools. You can keep up with our regular posts by following our Facebook page
Finally, I am happy to announce that, in addition to our CIT webinar discussing history through Herodotus and Thucydides, November will also see the first of our Spirit and Craft webinars. On Tuesday, November 17, David Stiennon of St. Ambrose Academy in Wisconsin will explain how his small school was able to establish an effective Development Office.
Please continue to pray for our efforts to support Catholic teachers. So many opportunities, so little time.
Andrew T. Seeley, PhD
The American Federation Pueri Cantores shares our conviction that the Church’s choral heritage exercises a powerful formative experience in Catholic identity. Through their Vatican and NCEA approved Festivals, AFPC conductors work with school choirs around the country. This spring their Festivals will draw choirs representing 3000 students; in the near future they hope to increase that number to 10,000 students from 400 school choirs.
The Augustine Institute in Denver plans to award four full-tuition and eight partial-tuition scholarships this year, including the Brébeuf Scholarship, a half-tuition scholarship for students entering the M.A. Leadership for the New Evangelization degree program and the Newman Scholarship, a half-tuition scholarship for students entering the M.A. Theology degree program.
Dr. Ryan N.S. Topping, Fellow of Thomas More College, has published two works that promise to be of immense help to our work. The Case for Catholic Education: Why Parents, Teachers and Politicians Should Reclaim the Principles of Catholic Pedagogy will help pastors, parents, teachers and board members convince their academic communities of the need to embrace a Catholic liberal arts approach to education. For those ready to go deeper, Dr. Topping has provided Renewing the Mind: A Reader in the Philosophy of Catholic Education. “With carefully selected readings from classical, patristic, medieval, modern, and contemporary sources, Renewing the Mind proposes the Catholic tradition as the noblest and best hope for a recovery of humane learning in our time….[It] includes an introductory essay on the history and renewal of Catholic education, followed by 38 selections each with an introduction, biography, and study questions; adorning the text throughout are illustrations from the National Gallery of Art.”
From the ICLE Reading Room
Five Temptations for Classical Christian Education by Brian Douglas contains important warnings, graciously expressed: "The second temptation is to believe that academic rigor plus disciplined behavior equals a good education. It is easy for a classical Christian school to become known more for its uniforms, homework expectations, strictness, and the like, than for its gracious, loving environment....When this happens, students may learn to jump through the hoops, obey the rules, do the right things, but they do not learn to love God and others. That is moralism, the worst enemy of true Christianity."
The Great Gift of Reading Aloud by Meghan Cox Gurdon is a beautiful encouragement for parents, and we hope teachers as well. We want teachers at all levels to read aloud to their students, many of whom will never experience it otherwise: “Both grown-ups and children are missing something when there is no reading aloud. The children's loss is hateful to contemplate: the fabulous illustrations they will not see, the esoteric vocabulary they may never hear, the thrilling epics they will never embark upon. But grown-ups lose too: They forgo a precious point of sustained connection and a lot of goofy fun (one friend's father used to read The Happy Lion in a John Wayne drawl), as well as the opportunity to pass on literary favorites.”
Barbarians at the Gates of Realville by Peter Burfeind reminded me that, sometimes, when you think people are honestly mistaken, or simply silly, you become shocked to discover the iceberg of dark philosophy that lies beneath the surface. Mr. Burfeind argues for a Gnostic coherence to many contemporary currents of thought directly opposed by classical education:
"But don’t miss the role the collapse of language plays in the move to unity. As long as language is accepted as possible, sequential, illuminating, defining, and reflective of natural truths, it gets in the way of the move toward unity."
Sometimes the most obvious solutions are the ones that are most easily overlooked.
As Catholic schools strive to deepen their identity in the faith, provide excellent academics, and maintain enrollment on a shoestring budget, many find it increasingly difficult to compete with public and charter schools. Some parents are unwilling or unable to pay tuition for religion class and uniforms, with more modest infrastructure and activities, when most of the curriculum is often identical to what they can get elsewhere for the price of their tax bill.
A growing number of Catholic elementary schools and high schools, however, are leading a stunning renewal by probing the most basic identity questions: What should be distinctive about Catholic education? How does our own intellectual tradition offer the solution to the failures of modern education? Why would we imitate any approach that fails to see that every child is made in the image and likeness of God, is called to holiness, and is destined to live with Him forever?
The answers to these questions have deep implications for every aspect of teaching and learning, from the books, the tests, and the homework, to the daily activities in every classroom. The answers to these questions, most importantly, also have deep implications for the formation of the soul of every child.
Schools that have discovered the great heritage of the Catholic intellectual tradition have seen it transform their communities, quickly and comprehensively. Teachers have seen their vocation in a new light. Parents have seen that the joy, the sense of wonder, and the growing faith of their children are worth the sacrifices that make this foundation possible. (See accompanying story.) Ironically, this restored vision of Catholic education began largely out of necessity among homeschoolers, fledgling independent schools, and struggling parish schools, but now these efforts at the margins hold great promise for all Catholic educators.
What these schools have in common is a determination to embrace The Holy See's Teaching on Catholic Schools, as summarized by Archbishop J. Michael Miller in his 2006 document. They have answered this call with a fuller understanding of what the traditional or classical liberal arts mean at every grade level, including both content and methods of instruction. Some, but not all, summarize their approach by the term “classical school.” While they have not rejected everything that can be found in a modern classroom, they set themselves apart with certain core elements:
1. The Truth revealed in Jesus Christ permeates not only the spiritual life of the school but also its academic life. Faith and reason are connected. Truth, goodness, and beauty are explored throughout every subject, as reflections of the Divine in the created world. These transcendentals and other themes (virtue, order, harmony, freedom, justice, etc.) help connect all learning, in stark contrast to the fragmentation of modern education, which presents isolated facts disconnected from meaning.
2. History is taught not as a series of names and dates, but a compelling story of man’s relationship to God. Students see themselves within this story. Events and ideas are taught chronologically from the ancient world to the modern era, with the Incarnation seen as the central event in human history. The relationship between Christianity and Western Civilization is given close attention. Primary sources are used as much as possible.
3. The power of narrative is understood as vital to the development of a child's moral and spiritual imagination. Traditional and classical literature is read carefully, from myths, fables, and saint stories for younger students, to Aristotle, Aquinas, Dante, and Shakespeare for older students. Works are not simply dissected into literary elements, but probed for insights and life lessons in the pusuit of virtue. Students learn by heart memorable passages and poems that deepen their appreciation and boost their rhetorical skills.
4. Mathematics and science are understood to reveal order, harmony, and mystery in the world. Careful study promotes habits of learning that improve a child’s ability to attend, to reason, and to perceive reality.
5. The mastery of language is valued because it is the means of logical thinking. Teaching styles emphasize questions, discussions, debates, and writing, which help children develop their thoughts and refine their expression. Assignments and assessments rely on essay writing and public speaking instead of multiple-choice and short answer questions that test only memory, not understanding.
6. Latin is often taught, for a variety of reasons. Latin contains the roots of more than half of all English words, it forms the base of several Romance languages, and its structure promotes ordered thinking, more akin to learning algebra than a language. Latin opens up the world of classical literature and the language of the Church.
Countless examples of the Catholic Church's embrace of the classical liberal arts can be found throughout history, from the Benedictine monasteries to the Medieval universities to the Jesuit’s Ratio Studiorum. Training in the seven liberal arts of language and mathematics (the classically-known Trivium and Quadrivium) developed the habits of mind that would last a lifetime, and would allow a person to contemplate the higher truths. For thousands of years, this education was valued as the path to make a man free (Latin, libera), free from manipulation, free to be the best man he could be, free to understand and live a fully human life. Some of the most insightful minds in history were formed in this way. In the Church, a classical liberal arts education ultimately pointed toward the imitation of Christ.
A century ago, progressive philosophies of education began to sever faith from reason. The deepest questions of human existence that had been central to learning since the time of the Ancient Greeks were squeezed out of education. Eventually, even Catholic schools began to adopt curricula, textbooks, and styles of teaching that pushed aside the love for wisdom and passion for truth that had been the hallmark of the Church’s intellectual tradition. Secular educational approaches cannot offer a vision that unites faith, reason, and love. To the contrary, secular education undermines the search for meaning and truth.
Faced with financial and identity crises, a number of independent and even diocesan Catholic schools have discovered that the solution has been right in front of them. They are leading a renewal by reclaiming their own tradition, instead of imitating a system of education that fails to truly educate or inspire young people because it leaves out what is most important in a human life.
by Elisabeth Sullivan
St. Jerome Academy in Maryland has become an inspiration to schools that want to offer thoroughly Catholic education. The K-8 parish school was fighting to stay alive in 2009 when a group of parents and parishioners proposed a return to a classical liberal arts curriculum. With the encouragement of Fr. James M. Stack and Principal Mary Pat Donoghue, a volunteer curriculum team, which included professors from local Catholic universities, developed a detailed plan to guide the transition. Now in the fifth year of its enthusiastic renewal, St. Jerome’s has reached full enrollment, with waiting lists in several grades.
The St. Jerome Educational Plan, a 120-page document, gives a comprehensive picture of one possible approach to Catholic classical liberal arts education at the K-8 level. Already a handful of diocesan and independent Catholic elementary schools have benefited by adopting this plan, under an agreement with St. Jerome Academy.
Below we share the plan's Vision Statement and its list of 15 assessment questions that provide excellent guidance for faculty discussions and individual reflection.
St. Jerome School educates children in the truest and fullest sense by giving them the necessary tools of learning and by fostering wonder and love for all that is genuinely true, good, and beautiful. We emphasize classical learning because we want our students to read well, speak well, and think well and ultimately because truth and beauty are good in themselves and desirable for their own sake. We seek to incorporate our students into the wisdom of two thousand years of Catholic thought, history, culture, and arts so that they might understand themselves and their world in the light of the truth and acquire the character to live happy and integrated lives in the service of God and others. Education in this deep and comprehensive sense extends beyond the classroom and is more than just the acquisition of skills. It encompasses the whole of one‘s life. For this reason, St. Jerome‘s seeks to involve families ever more deeply in the life of the school and in the education of their children.
The Educational Plan goes on to state: Curriculum, pedagogical methods, and all the details of the school‘s life should therefore be constantly assessed both in light of the conviction that knowledge and love of truth, beauty, and goodness are ends in themselves and in light of the twofold goal of the Vision Statement. Every activity, program, policy, method, or proposal should be tested by the following criteria, which follow from this vision, though not all are equally applicable to each of these facets of the school‘s life.
1. Is it beautiful?
2. Are we doing this because it is inherently good, or as a means to an end? If the latter, what end?
3. Does it encourage the student to think of education itself as a high and noble enterprise, or does it cheapen education?
4. Is it excellent? Does it demand the best students and teachers have to offer, and hold them to the highest standard they are capable of achieving? Or does it give in to the gravitational pull of mediocrity? Is excellence the highest standard, or is excellence subordinate to lower standards such as convenience, popularity, or marketing considerations (i.e., consumer appeal)?
5. Does it encourage reverence for the mystery of God and the splendor of His creation?
6. Does it encourage reverence for the mystery of the human person and respect for the student‘s own human dignity?
7. Does it encourage him to desire truth, to understand such virtues as courage, modesty, prudence, and moderation and to cultivate these within himself?
8. Does it help the student to see what difference God makes to all the facets of the world, or does it make God‘s existence seem irrelevant, trivial, small or private?
9. Does it assist in passing on the received wisdom of the Christian tradition, or does it create obstacles to reception of the tradition?
10. Does it encourage real searching and thinking? Does it provoke the student to ask "why?" Does it stir up a desire for understanding?
11. Does it encourage conversation between and across generations or does it hinder it?
12. Does it help to develop to the fullest extent what is uniquely human in the student: the powers of attending, deliberating, questioning, calculating, remembering, and loving?
13. Does it encourage the student to become patient, to take time, and if necessary, to start over in order to achieve excellence, or does it subordinate excellence to speed, ease, and efficiency?
14. Does it encourage the student to value rigor and discipline?
15. Does it deepen the role of the family in the life of the school and the role of education in the life of the family, or does it erect a barrier between family and school?
Mrs. Sharon Bellitto, who teaches 3rd and 4th grade at Regina Coeli Academy in suburban Philadelphia, shares her reflections on Catholic classical liberal arts education:
A few years ago, I sat in Adoration and asked God where he needed me. I asked for more professional development as a Catholic school teacher. The Master Teacher had a plan beyond my wildest dreams. In January of 2011, I began a new chapter in my professional life by accepting a position at Regina Coeli Academy. From my first day, I knew God had directed me here. Every day I am in awe, as together with my students we are immersed in the wonder of what is true, good, and beautiful in ourselves and God’s world.
Teaching in a classical school has changed my life in every way. It has changed me from the inside out. Why? Because in a classical education we are immersed in the truth of the Gospel which permeates every subject and in turn transforms our lives. My class and I kneel in prayer before every single class and we attend Mass every Tuesday and Friday.
Whether I am teaching religion or history, my perspective is the story of
Salvation. The truth is that everything begins and ends with God.
Curriculum resources are effective, based in common sense, and fun for the kids. A few examples:
This year my 3rd and 4th grade students began their studies of the early explorers by meeting the Vikings, Erik The Red, and his son, Leif Ericsson in the classic book, Leif the Lucky. The story delighted my students as they sat in a sun-bathed library listening to me bring Leif’s adventures alive. We then went on to read from our history textbook and make Viking long ships. Later, we sat around our cloth world map and tracked their voyages from Norway, to Iceland, Greenland, and Vineland (now Newfoundland, Canada). The human spirit for exploration had landed its first Europeans in what we now know as the New World. We also learned that Leif Ericsson was baptized a Catholic and later converted many people in his newly established lands.
We use the Shurley English program, which teaches grammar rules using jingles. Each day we begin our grammar lessons singing, dancing and laughing. After a short lesson, the students happily and independently practice the new skills in their workbook. There is no need to give homework or ask the students to study because it is so well designed that the students easily master the information. Grammar without tears.
The Saxon Math program also is so much better than any other math programs I have encountered previously. My students begin the class with a math morning meeting to review prior information and drill math facts, all geared toward the children’s active involvement. The students work with me as I model the new concepts on a worksheet, which serves as a template for their homework. They really love this fun routine.
This summer, I attended the CIRCE Conference in Houston, Texas.
CIRCE stands for Curriculum Instruction and Resources for Classical
Educators. This summer’s conference was entitled: A Contemplation of Imitation. I realized that in all my years of schooling, no one ever encouraged me to slow down long enough to ponder, to sit and stare at a beautiful picture, or to sit quietly in the beauty of a darkened Catholic church. Classical educators understand that.
I took this theme back into my classroom this year. Would you believe that my 3rd and 4th graders discussed what a contemplation of imitation means? Throughout our days, we often stop to look again at those words on our bulletin board as we dig into new information. It helps us look for examples of virtuous people in history and literature lessons.
Every day we try our best to imitate the best teacher, Jesus.
Each year as I dig deeper into what it means to be a classical teacher I am humbled by my ignorance and then inspired to learn and do more. I also copy the master teachers, like the parents of my students, colleagues I meet at conferences, and my teacher friends, like Mrs. Denise O’ Connell who teaches her students to Look (point to your eyes), and Listen (point to your ears) to Learn (trace your index finger over your forehead). Like a carpenter who measures twice and cuts his wood once, my class is asked to think twice, read twice, then write once.
As a person, I feel more alive. I feel like I, too, am beginning to open my mind. Along with my students, I am growing in wisdom and grace through the beauty of God.
Subscribers to Magnificat, the excellent monthly worship aid [Link: Subscribers toMagnificat, the excellent monthly worship aid will not be surprised that we recommend their Roman Missal Companion as an excellent resource for re-discovering the treasuries of the Mass through its new English translation.
Practically-oriented toward lay Catholics, Magnificat’s Companion provides step-by-step commentary for every change, along with more extended commentary by renowned literary professor and translator Anthony Esolen. In an interview with Zenit.org, Professor Esolen presents some of his views on the strengths of the new translation:
Every translator of poetry knows that the choice is not between the literal and the figurative, but between a loose or general rendering and one that is both literal and therefore sensitive to the figurative meaning also. It is a constant concern. Take the word occurrentes in the collect for the First Sunday of Advent….The literal, concrete meaning of the word is rich in Scriptural allusion. The root of the word comes from the verb currere, to run. If we keep the notion of running in mind, we recall -- as the prayer intends us to recall -- the parable of the five wise virgins, their lamps filled with oil, who ran forth to meet the bridegroom as he came….We pray to the Father for "the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ." That's what I call a translation.
This will prove an invaluable aid to the development of a faculty’s Catholic identity. It will also give faculty the tool they need to help students deepen their own understanding of the Catholic faith through a deeper understanding of the Mass.
Magnificat’s Roman Missal Companion is under $4 for single copies, with bulk copies as low as $1.20 per copy. At these prices, it is a must have for all Catholic schools.
Mr. Michael Verlander is chairman of the Theology department at Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta, Georgia, and also has served there as Dean of Houses and Trent House Master. Michael has a strong commitment to Catholic liberal education arising from his years at Thomas More College, New Hampshire, where he earned a B.A. in Philosophy and solidified his life-long love of learning. I have had the pleasure of knowing Michael since he participated in our first Academic Retreat for Teachers in 2006. In the greatest sense, his approach to teaching and leading is simple; Michael concentrates on both refining and fleshing out students' understanding of vital components of the Faith, with a view to illuminating ideals, presenting practical avenues of walking in the Truth, and lessening confusion through delving into centuries-old and current faith-based questions. Enthusiasm on the part of the faculty is always pertinent, and Michael desires always to tap into and share the real joy that comes of exploring and following the truths of the Church. Michael discussed the hallmarks of his department, his own emphases in teaching and the benefits of a House system:
Our Theology Department has four hallmarks. First, we are apologetic, that is, we try in all our classes to “give a reason for the hope that is in us”. Catholic students learn what they believe in catechesis and elementary school. At the high school level, they need to understand why they believe it so that they can be prepared to face the challenges they will encounter in college and beyond. Explanation with support is offered as often as possible; however, the tenth grade year at HSP is devoted to apologetics in a particular way as students prepare for confirmation. We use Peter Kreeft’s Handbook for Apologetics, Scott and Kimberly Hahn's Rome, Sweet Rome, and C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity as avenues for understanding and springboards for further discussions about the "why" of Catholicism.
Secondly, we try throughout the curriculum to show our students the relation between Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium, which aides in the bolstering of trust in the functional facets of revelation. If the authority of the Word is doubted - particularly because it seems vague or its groundwork shaky - how can spiritual growth confidently occur? As we look for “why we believe”, we find answers in Scripture and Tradition, with these answers interpreted and confirmed by the Magisterium. The writings, rituals, and voice of the Church take on weight and significance, ideally in a personal way that connects the student to the faithful at large. Further, as students are able to view this three-fold working out of answers to questions in various theological topics, their sense of the roles of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium in a Catholic’s daily faith life begins to grow organically in the life of the mind.
Inculcating a love for the Mass is our third hallmark. In each of our courses – Church History, the Sacraments, Scripture – we pay particular attention to connections with the Mass. Not only is it the summit and source of our faith, it is also the lived reality of being a Catholic for most people. We want them to understand and appreciate its beauty and sanctity. And at an age where they can open themselves to learning the practical aspects of the sacraments beyond what has been learned by rote - we would hope to help them experience the Mass with love and to tread their path through faith with purpose and a sense of fulfillment.
Our fourth hallmark concerns the great moral battle of our times, the battle for life. Appealing to a respect for humanity in all its unique dignity and enlightening students to an existence most fully enjoyed when it extends itself beyond the survival instinct or the false notion that happiness is the result of total self-fulfillment opens their minds to critical struggles of the day and in a secular culture. We cannot focus on everything, so we aim to educate students in the Church teachings on life issues and an evangelical commitment to defending innocent human life.
As a teacher, I have long been inspired by a quotation from Francis Bacon that was on the wall of my English classroom in high school: “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” Exposure to and practice in these three mediums of creation and logical thinking I find invaluable to a student's experience - both in the classroom and outside of it. Hence I integrate all of those components into each my classes and promote their use in whatever a student undertakes. Reading good books fills the intellect and imagination, discussion trains students to be ready to engage others, and writing forces them to clarify their thoughts and be precise in expression.
Not least of all, I try to live out my vocation with joy. Performing in an attitude of peace and fulfillment - that which springs largely out of dedicated, ongoing searching for truth - is the best thing I can bring to the classroom as a teacher. Further, it keeps me grounded and motivated when I view teaching and learning as an exercise in enjoyable sharing and discovery rather than a strict process or series of tasks to be accomplished. Joy makes the faith contagious and infectious. And I believe that if I increase my devotion to the Eucharist, He will accomplish much more than I can through all my planning.
However, teaching can be such a struggle. It’s easy to become jaded. As part of my regimin and in an effort to curtail the hurdles that can make one flag, every weekend I read something that reminds me of what I’m hoping to accomplish as a teacher, such as Don Bosco’s letter to his brothers on education. Since sharing this habit with fellow faculty in some of our Best Practices meetings, some colleagues have joined me. We share inspirational writings with each other and try to meet when possible in a casual setting to discuss what we’ve read. This type of activity helps strike balance between our daily ‘working’ and ‘non-working’ lives – indeed ideally bridging and consolidating the two in an arena of community.
The house system is a way to establish communities within the larger community. Our four houses are named after Ecumenical Councils: Nicaea, Chalcedon, Lyons, Trent. The houses compete in all sorts of games, from kickball to chess, and work together on community service projects. Points are awarded and detracted from individuals and houses at large based on personal and overall performance. Moreover, since houses unite younger and older students in common efforts, they break down the cliques that tend to separate classes. And as in the classroom setting, the house system is successful to the extent that teachers are enthusiastic; our excitement trickles down to the students. Faculty members fulfill roles as Masters and Mistresses facilitate all of the house-related projects and recreations, though with marked responsibility placed upon students in participation. If we can inspire the upperclassmen especially, they will learn to take up real leadership roles with respect to the younger students. Ultimately, the house system promotes a healthy pride in the life of the school and affords students and faculty alike a way to integrate a sense of tradition into common day to day experiences at HSP – a way of making valuable and worthwhile what otherwise can be dismissed; making our little ways opportunities to grow in character, spirit, and charity.
Beyond the Test