This distinctive atmosphere of beauty houses The Lyceum, a 7-12 Catholic classical school with a Great Books curriculum and an institutional commitment to Socratic discussion classes. The Lyceum aims to have graduates who, having been formed by Catholic western civilization, then become bearers and guardians of a culture of life.
Headmaster Mark Langley believes that the way in which subjects are learned is crucial for achieving the perfection of a student’s mind. This is why The Lyceum has adopted the "Socratic seminar" method for most of its classes. To a great extent, students read works written by the greatest authors, such as Homer, Thucydides, and St. Augustine, who teach both by content and example. Sitting around tables rather than at desks, students are encouraged to take part in class discussions. In this way, students at The Lyceum learn to think for themselves and to adopt the tools of learning that will last them throughout their lives. Lyceum graduates enter college with minds already provoked by the seminal ideas of great thinkers, ready to articulate and defend the reasons for their own intellectual positions.
Mr. Langley offers American History as an example. Texts are taken from Mortimer Adler’s collection, The Annals of America. Students discuss the writings and speeches of Columbus, Otis and Burke, Adams and Jefferson, DeToqueville, Lincoln, Calhoun and Clay. “Asking provocative questions is important for successful discussions; sometimes they need to be shocked into speaking,” said Mr. Langley. “I try to figure out what the students will naturally think and then often I’ll argue for the other side. For instance, the students immediately wanted to nail Benjamin Franklin for his heterodox religious views as expressed in what Adler calls Franklin’s Credo. So I defended him. It got them to look more closely at what he was saying, and find deeper ways to criticize him.”
Lyceum teachers spend a good deal of time reading aloud to students. Listening helps students understand the sometimes difficult texts. As teachers read, questions and problems naturally arise that begin discussions. Mr. Langley believes this is a great way for teachers not used to discussion classes to begin to get a feel for it. “Teachers who have never experienced discussion classes as students feel uncomfortable. They don’t have the sense of control that lecturing brings with it. Sitting around a table with students instead of in front of them also takes some getting used to. But it’s important that students learn to talk to one another instead of looking to the teacher as the Answer Man. And teachers need to see wondering, debating students as a good thing.” In Mr. Langley’s opinion, more experienced teachers have a greater difficulty adjusting. Surprisingly, retired persons turning to teaching as a second career seem a more natural fit. Common faculty discussions of original works and great ideas helps develop a sense of how they can work.
The science and math courses are not all Socratic, relying on traditional textbook formats. Mr. Langley encourages teachers to supplement using original authors such as William Harvey, John Dalton, J. Henri Fabre and Konrad Lorentz. He believes that textbooks tend to make math and science into “mind-numbing, indoctrination sessions. Only in Euclid can you get serious discussions going among students; this is their greatest experience of really thinking in a math class. Textbooks make so many claims that students and teachers cannot hope to explore effectively. In contrast, original authors were so wise, they have so much to teach, that you can ask provocative questions with real hope of a successful discussion.”
At the Lyceum, liberal education is understood as that education in which students are challenged with all that is best in the history of human thought. By reading the original works of the greatest thinkers, participating in the greatest art and music, and living a life which is informed by the Catholic faith, Lyceum students assimilate and perpetuate the civilization of truth and love.