There are many study programs available to Catholic students today. The CLAA, however, is different from all of them.
1. The CLAA is not an attempt to imitate modern secular school programs.
When we look at the program published by Seton Home Study, we find a Catholic K-12 curriculum that would never have existed before the development of public schools in the 1800s. It includes all of the modern secular school subjects and has nothing, other than the Catholic religion it promotes apart from the curriculum, in common with the educational programs known to Catholics throughout Church history. It is a Catholic-ized imitation of modern, secular, school programs. That’s not to say that it is a bad or false study program. It allows children to complete the minimum educational standards required by state education laws, which, for many families, may be all that they should expect to achieve. It makes no sense, however, for Catholic home schooling families, seeking to pursue greater things, to imitate what large modern schools are doing, or to allow academic standards to be reduced so low for no reason other than, “it’s what everyone else is doing”.
2. The CLAA is not a superficial alternative to modern secular school programs.
If we consider the program published by Mother of Divine Grace, we find an institution that offers an alternative to modern, secular school programs, but which, again, is disconnected from Catholic educational history. The program is not founded upon historic Catholic educational principles, but on a speech given by a 20th century non-Catholic woman (Dorothy Sayers). How the program, and others like it, take the name “classical” is misleading to say the least, for the program makes no attempt to restore true, historical, Catholic education and would be unrecognizable to any Catholic schoolmasters in history. It would be good for the curriculum itself to be subjected to the “Socratic Method”, because in the end, it is a superficial reaction to modern, secular education, which maintains the same goals as modern schools (get into college), but pursues them in a different way (“three stages of learning”). Like Seton, there is nothing necessarily harmful for Catholics in such a program, and, intellectually, they may provide more than Seton does, but they still keep Catholic students disconnected from historic Catholic education and aim too low for Catholic students. Our children need more from us.
3. The CLAA pursues the true end of Catholic education, without compromise.
In the Church today, we hear of a “vocations crisis”, meaning that, despite being led through “Catholic” study programs, Catholic students are not being led to appreciate and choose religious vocations. The Church is praying for vocations, but they are not coming. This has never happened in Church history, even in ages when Christians were violently persecuted. It is a modern phenomenon that should cause to ask, “What’s wrong with existing Catholic schools and study programs?”
As far as education is concerned, there is one fundamental change that has taken place, which modern Catholics either don’t know of or refuse to talk about. In the 1600s, throughout most schools, colleges and universities, the Scholastic Method taught by Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, was replaced by the Scientific Method of Francis Bacon, as the principal means of seeking truth and, consequently, human happiness. This was an incredibly radical shift in human thinking, yet it was strangely embraced by Christians and non-Christians everywhere as if it were the only option anyone had ever known.
Modern Catholics love to say that this poses no threats for Catholics, but Pope Benedict XVI did not agree:
“That a new era emerged—through the discovery of America and the new technical achievements that had made this development possible—is undeniable. But what is the basis of this new era? It is the new correlation of experiment and method that enables man to arrive at an interpretation of nature in conformity with its laws and thus finally to achieve “the triumph of art over nature”. The novelty—according to [Francis] Bacon’s vision—lies in a new correlation between science and praxis. …Up to that time, the recovery of what man had lost through the expulsion from Paradise was expected from faith in Jesus Christ: herein lay “redemption”. Now, this “redemption”, the restoration of the lost “Paradise” is no longer expected from faith, but from the newly discovered link between science and praxis. It is not that faith is simply denied; rather it is displaced onto another level—that of purely private and other-worldly affairs—and at the same time it becomes somehow irrelevant for the world.”
This is exactly what we see among our Catholic young adults, and, I argue, why there are relatively no religious vocations. Virtuous Catholic children want to “make a difference in the world”, but their education, being founded on this underlying intellectual culture, leads them to believe that the difference needed is not to be made through religion or the Church, but through work “in the real world”.
Throughout Catholic history, students learned that Wisdom is the goal of the human life. It’s taught in the Catechism that the soul is more important than the body and that man was created to be happy, with God, forever. Aristotle–a pagan–taught this three centuries before Christ came into the world. This wasn’t even the message Christ came to reveal, for it was already known by the ancients. Study was never understood to be a way of seeking money, but was undertaken in the pursuit of Wisdom. “Religious life” was simply a life consecrated to man’s chief end. A successful Catholic education led students to desire nothing in this world but God, the “one thing necessary”. St. Augustine’s famous line, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” is, itself, a commendation of the religious life. Catholic students were raised, by their studies to “set their minds on things above”, as St. Paul taught. This, literally, is the function of the classical liberal arts. Religious life was not some mysterious, awkward “calling” to be “discerned” by a confused, sensual young adult, but a logical consequence of a true Catholic liberal arts education. Only in modern times do we find religious vocations spoken of as some kind of divine call to a life with less. This is a sign that something is wrong with Catholic education, not that God is spitefully denying the Church priests, monks and nuns, and is explained quite eloquently in the book, “Religious Vocation: An Unnecessary Mystery“, by Fr. Richard Butler, O.P.
As I said, no Catholic schools or teachers would ever state this modern reality as the goal of their teaching: to lead Catholic children to secular occupations. Many even claim the opposite, talking about “raising saints”, but those words are like leaves floating on the surface of a river of conflicting, modern ideas, assumptions and habits that is carrying students to an end that no one can seem to explain. We see Catholic study programs talking about the “Socratic Method”, teaching “Latin” and “Logic”, seeking the “True, Good and Beautiful”, on and on, but then, when the time comes to choose an occupation, we find students talking about anything, it seems, other than religious life. The solutions, after all, are not found in faith, but in experimental research and development. No, no one will say this explicitly, but what’s happening contradicts what we’re saying needs to happen, but everyone looks the other way.
In the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, we are not saying one thing and doing another. We are returning to the goals, content and methods of traditional, Catholic education. We are not offering a curriculum that is like a modern public school curriculum. We are not offering a curriculum that is, in some superficial ways, like the historic Catholic philosophical curriculum. We are not offering a different way to pursue secular goals. We are restoring the traditional, Catholic, classical liberal arts curriculum that was actually studied and taught by Catholic doctors and saints, and the goals of that curriculum.
The success of our program will not be measured by our students’ SAT scores, college admissions, secular accomplishments, career earnings, etc.–all things that non-Christians achieve through non-Christian study programs–because they are not our goal. Our success will be measured by the number of students who choose religious vocations, as a logical consequence of their studies. This is what is different, truly different, about the CLAA.
Having said that, we do not believe that this success can be obtained through mere human programs or efforts. We do not believe that when the right books are set in the right order religious vocations will suddenly increase. No, we know better than that. We must all–teachers, parents and students–seek to lead holy and obedient lives, pray for the graces we need, and work to do our part. We know, however, that “God delights to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.” and, therefore, we work with hopeful expectation of God’s help and blessing in the lives of our students.