In modern schools, students regularly cofound their teachers by asking, “Why do we need to learn this? How does this help us in life?” Such students frustrate teachers and administrators because they can’t explain why students are spending years doing practical arithmetic calculations on paper when we have calculators on our phones and would never actually do so in business. Teachers try to come up with clever answers, but the reality is that the kids are right: schools are not serving their real-life needs.
Education should prepare children to become the wisest and holiest servants of God that they, with His grace, can be. It should not serve the anxious questions, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? With what shall we be clothed?”, but rather enable students to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6) It should not be confused with secular apprenticeship or job training, for is it not an effective means of serving those needs anyway. This is the fundamental problem in modern schools: no one really knows what the goal is.
This brings me back to my college days. I was sitting one evening in a graduate school course in educational philosophy when a professor asked, “How can we make our schools better?”. My classmates all started firing off ideas about how this or that problem could be fixed, and they went on and on. I finally raised my hand and asked, “How can we call anything better or worse when we can’t even identify what the goal of schooling is?” Everyone stopped talking and my professor started laughing. He was an old conservative who asked the question because he planned to follow up with the same question I did. They were all preparing for careers in teaching and school administration, and the goal of schooling was not even on their radar. I felt like my brain was going to explode sitting there–and I still feel the same way any time I hear people talking about education.
When do we ever establish the goal ?
One of the only places I’ve ever seen this done, up front, is in the Rule of Studies of the old Jesuits, which was published in 1599. In the very first paragraph, they state:
The aim of our educational program is to lead men to the knowledge and love of our Creator and Redeemer.
If we were to knock on the door of a school principal or college dean or classroom teacher, and ask, “What is the goal of this school?”, how many of them would answer as the Jesuits did? This is the problem with modern education: we’re embarrased by our need of salvation. We have kids talking about programming computers, designing buildings, prescribing medications, etc., before we’ve led them to the knowledge and love of their Creator and Redeemer, without which, everything in this life is vanity. Jesus asked those around Him, “What good is it if a man were to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”. Apparently, if He asked that question today, He’d get all kinds of clever responses from teachers and parents. Maybe losing one’s soul isn’t such a bad idea in the 21st century–there’s so much cool stuff!
As for CLAA students, they should not be confused about the goal of their education. In the CLAA, we’re not interested in hearing children’s career plans, most of which is actually wicked arrogance (James 4:13-17). Rather, we’re interested in following the advice and example of wise and holy men of the past who pursued this goal of true, Christian education. If asked, “What is the aim of your education?”, our students should answer, confidently: “To know and love my Creator and Redeemer.”
After establishing this as the goal of their schooling, what did the Rule of Studies consist of? How, exactly, were children to be led to this saving knowledge? Contrary to the opinion of modern schools, it was through the study of the classical liberal arts. We find, in the Rule of Studies, the names of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero, Caesar, Vergil, Sallust, Livy–yes, for the knowledge and love of our Creator and Redeemer!
Now, these authors are not listed as part of a “Great Books” program, where kids waste hundreds of hours idly reading books (translated into their own language) for mere information and idle discussion that is a counterfeit of real learning. Those authors are assigned to students who had already studied to become fluent in the classical languages, as well as the principles of Reasoning and Rhetoric–for their own imitation and use. The mastery of the classical liberal arts was judged–by the Jesuits–to be essential to the aim of knowing and loving our Creator and Redeemer.
Today, we find none of this in schools, even schools that call themselves “classical” but offer nothing like what we read in the Rule of Studies. This means that either (a) the Jesuits are judged to have been wrong, (b) the knowledge and love of God have changed and require a different education today than they did then, or (c) there is another course that fulfills that same aim. If we take Our Lord’s advice and let the fruits reveal to us which trees are good and which are bad, rather than the trees’ opinions of themselves, it appears that the Jesuit schools were very good and modern schools are very bad. The modern curriculum has never given any proof that it leads students to the knowledge and love of their Creator and Redeemer. (We should add here that Pope Pius X warned us of this.)
Therefore, as the founder and headmaster of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, I wish to make it plain that if any parents do not have this as the aim of their children’s education, I ask that they pass by the Classical Liberal Arts Academy and leave us alone. I am not offering my time and resources to the service of ungodly worries or worldly ambitions. I do not care what other schools or programs do or what anyone calls “normal” or “necessary” today. I am not offering the classical liberal arts to serve any goals other than that which it has always served. My concern is that my students be led to the knowledge and love of their Creator and Redeemer and I believe that those who achieve that aim will live happy and fruitful adult lives, the practical details of which, will be revealed to us by the Wisdom and Providence of God in due time.