What is a Classical Education?
Classical education refers to the study of Greek and Latin, along with those traditions of art, poetry, science, and law which were pioneered by the Greek and Roman peoples. Classical learning has always been the foundation for the most impressive achievements of Western civilization, from the medieval cathedral to modern spaceflight. In its fullest form, classical education is Christian, with the ancient wisdom of the pre-Christian West being studied in the light of the Gospel. From the earliest days of the Church, through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and all the way up to today, classical Christian educators have sought to instill in students those natural human virtues celebrated by ancient, pre-Christian cultures, with the understanding that such virtues make students more receptive to the God-given virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
Subjects of the Curriculum
Theology: Theology is “the queen of the sciences” because of its subject, namely God himself. The Theology curriculum presents the beauty, logic, and saving truths of the Catholic Faith through the study of the Catechism and the study of Sacred Scripture in all grade levels. In addition, the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacrament of Penance and other Catholic prayers are integrated into the school week.
Latin: Latin is required of all students grades 3-12. Latin merits a special place in a Catholic curriculum given its rich heritage as the vehicle sine qua non of Western civilization and its official and privileged place in the life of the Church. Latin study leads the student to an understanding of the logic of language and thus provides a truly formative education. (See “Why Latin?” under Classical Curriculum for additional information).
English: By learning how to communicate clearly, students also learn how to think clearly. Particular attention is given to increasing vocabulary, mastering the rules of grammar, and being able to research and discuss a given subject thoughtfully and critically. We believe that great readers make great writers, so one of the key components of our writing program requires students to model their own writing upon that of the great authors of yesteryear. Naturally, students' study of grammar is deeply informed by their study of Latin.
Classical Studies/History: The Western tradition begins with Greece and Rome, but is then transformed by divine revelation to become the basis for Christendom: Christian civilization. Neglect and indifference for Christian civilization's origins plays a considerable role in the disintegration of culture we experience in our own time. So it is extremely important for students to be familiarized with the tragedies and comedies, heroes and villains, and pivotal events of the ancient and medieval eras. Students acquainted with the perspectives of Plato, Herodotus, and Saint Augustine will have a better idea of who they themselves are, and where they come from.
Mathematics: Math is the language of nature. While it cannot of itself convey the highest truths, those truths math does convey are timeless and immaterial. Moreover, students can perfect their use of reason by mathematical exercises. This is why math was valued and studied by the ancients, quite aside from its many practical benefits, and so it remains an essential part of a classical curriculum.
Science: The science curriculum helps the student appreciate the order and beauty of creation and introduces the student to the scientific disciplines. Instead of a subject segregated in isolation from the other areas of human knowledge and experience, our instruction of science is integrated with other studies. Students learn the regular use of mathematical skills in science material, learn how to express observations in writing, and orient their scientific knowledge toward the Creator Whose goodness is reflected by His Creation.
The Fine Arts: The art and culture of Western civilization has flourished under the patronage of the Catholic Church because she views beauty as a mark of God’s grace. The study of the fine arts is integrated throughout the Academy’s curriculum as a complementary and vital part of the student’s education. Grades 1-8 are instructed in the fundamentals of music through vocal instruction, music theory, composition and conducting. The students’ repertoire encompasses a wide range including Gregorian chant, folk songs, and other pieces from the classical composers. Children are also instructed in traditional art technique. Through practice of the key elements of drawing and painting, students understand how beauty in art is at the same time an expression of Divine beauty.
Why Classical Education?
Perhaps the best way to answer this question in brief is by offering a contrast of the proven classical approach with the various modern educational fads of the last fifty to one hundred years. On the whole, the latter is characterized by a transmission of “encyclopedic knowledge,” resting upon the authority of an instructor and ultimately dependent upon others’ empirical investigation. While factual knowledge is not to be neglected, it is on its own insufficient and requires something additional to animate it. A classical education offers precisely this, as it is sensitive to the unique gift of God that is the reasoning capacity of the human person. Through a formation founded upon the liberal arts the student is guided to the proper use of this precious faculty. The classical approach can be said to impart not only knowledge but the “way” of knowledge which is dialectical. Its goal is to make a student authentically wise with a desire for and sensitivity to truth.
Differing and seemingly ceaseless ‘theories of education’ ultimately imply that the human person is different than he once was or is in a constant state of change. The Classical approach recognizes that since his creation the truth of the human person is essentially unchanged and consequently so too are the goals and means to his real education.
Thus, a classical education is always and everywhere pertinent to any endeavor the student might undertake. Its efficacy is testified to not only by its normative use by the Church for more than a millennia but by the simple fact that it was the education of all the truly great names of the past from Socrates and Aristotle to Sts. Albert Magnus and Thomas Aquinas and on to Ronald Knox and C.S. Lewis. It is the educational key to forming virtuous men and women and rebuilding a disintegrated culture.