Before reading this overview of modern studies in the CLAA it’s recommended that you first read the overview of classical studies.
From ancient times until the 1600s, education was dominated by the study of the classical liberal arts. Any saint you can name from, St. Paul to St. Ignatius of Loyola, understood education to mean the study of the classical liberal arts. In the 1600s, however, errors made by teachers who claimed to be followers of St. Thomas, known as “Scholastics” or “Schoolmen”, provoked some to call for a radical new movement in education.
The classical liberal arts sought Wisdom, using Aristotle’s teaching on the art of reasoning as its “method”. The Philosopher’s famous work on the art of logic was called the “Organon”, which means “The Method” in Greek. (It is translated “Organum” in Latin, which is significant.) In the Organon, Aristotle taught that two different kinds of reasoning served two different ends. Demonstrative reasoning allowed men to reason from absolute truths to prove (demonstrated) other conclusions to be true about many different subjects–logic itself, ethics, nature, and supernatural realities. Dialectical reasoning (i.e., the Socratic Method), allowed men to reason from statements made by others to prove that their conclusions were impossible. Dialectical reasoning obviously cannot demonstrate that a statement is true and, therefore, it cannot be used for the development of any scientific knowledge of a subject. Using it to try and do so was the error of the “Schoolmen” and it led to many errors that were easily refuted by men who could provide evidence from things they have seen and could reproduce.
This led Francis Bacon (pictured) to write an important work in 1620 titled Novum Organum, which being translated, means, “The New Method”. As opposed to the “Socratic Method” of Plato and the “Method” of Aristotle, the Scientific Method was proposed as the most reliable means of learning truth about the physical world. The philosophical foundation being laid, great men like Sir Isaac Newton put the “method” to work and sought to explain all of the happenings in the physical world in mechanical terms using reproducible experiments.
However, just as the “Schoolmen” erred in using deductive reasoning beyond its bounds, so too have the proponents of the scientific method suggested that it should be the only method used in the investigation of truth, leading to an error we can call “Naturalism” or “Mechanism”, that is, that there must be a natural or mechanical explanation for everything. The Schoolmen and the Naturalists represent two opposite extremes and, today, almost all schools are influenced by the Naturalists, who were very influential at the time when public schools were first developed.
The pursuit of knowledge has become, in science, more experimental, less dependent upon literary tradition, and less associated with dialectical methods of reasoning. (John Dewey)
The modern school curriculum consists of the following subjects:
- English Language Arts
- Natural Sciences
- Foreign Language
- Fine Arts
- Practical Arts
It’s worth noting a few characteristics of modern education that are problematic:
- Education becomes compulsory for all students. Never in history were all students required to attend school until the Naturalists (e.g., John Dewey) engineered the public school social order, which even private schools now imitate. This is a terrible mistake.
- Education becomes a tax-funded and, therefore, secular institution. All of the money is in the public schools, which means that all major publishers produce only what serves the public school sector. Private schools normally end up using books that do not serve their true goals but are simply available from publishers. Private schools, following the public school model without the same funding, become incredibly expensive and are forced to admit boys and girls to maintain enrollment levels sufficient to cover costs, which, again, is a terrible mistake.
- Religion is largely omitted. Even in Catholic schools, religion is often reduced to an awkward add-on course that doesn’t integrate with thee rest of the curriculum. In Physics class, they are learning the “laws of nature”, by which all natural phenomena must be explained, and then, in Religion class they’re being taught about transubstantiation at Mass and miracles wrought by saints. This unexamined contradiction of philosophies almost always leaves students with a sense that Physics is “real” and Religion is not.
- The arts of Reasoning and Rhetoric are not studied. We will hear of “critical thinking skills” across the curriculum, but the principles and rules of those skills are never learned and, therefore, the “critical thinking” never happens unless students are intellectually gifted. Being a “good writer” is, likewise, considered a matter of luck rather than the result of study and practice of any systematic art. Students, despite attending school for 12+ years, never are taught the arts of reasoning or persuasion.
- Mathematics and Science dominate the curriculum. Students are hurried into “higher maths” as early as 6th grade before they have learned any of the philosophical principles of mathematics, and often before they have mastered the standard operations. Science classes are required before children are able to acquire sufficient mathematical mastery for real scientific calculations, leading to the creation of school Science classes that over-simplify the real subjects and defeat the point of scientific study.
- Foreign Language is reduced to the study of modern languages for business use. Rather than learning Greek, Latin or Hebrew, Christian students are learning Spanish and Chinese because they’re “more useful”. These languages are studied at a conversational level by memorization of expressions without any systematic knowledge of a language’s Grammar or Syntax.
- History is reduced to “Social Studies” because science teaches that history is re-interpreted through the modern lenses of Darwinism or Marxism. The study of the deeds of God and great men is replaced by theories of inevitable social changes and evolving movements that strip all of the moral instruction out of the events of the past.
- Literature, studied by students who never learn the arts that the master writers themselves learned, and who are ignorant of religion and history, becomes a shallow study of samples of different forms and periods of writing.
- Fine Arts, are dabbled in, with no real respect given to the traditional methods, guilds and apprenticeships by which the masters were taught. Supplies are “free”, so students mess around with paint, paper mache, and maracas. What, after all, can students possibly accomplish in the fine arts when they have 45 minute periods and 7 other subjects to attend to? If they don’t have private lessons outside of school, they achieve nothing in the fine arts.
- Practical Arts, likewise, are dabbled in as “electives”. Supplies are “free”, so students make a napkin holder and a magazine rack in “Wood Shop”, pillows and peanut butter cookies in “Home Economics” and a few get to complete a few projects using Adobe Photoshop in “Graphic Design” class. There’s nothing “practical” at all about these studies. Boxes are merely checked to give an appearance of an “well-rounded” education.
This impractical and unsustainable model of education is not acceptable for Christian students and its no surprise that Catholic schools today have HALF the number of students in them than they did 50 years ago. Parents will not pay private school fees for an education available across town in a “free” public school. In the CLAA, we seek to provide an educational program that avoids these errors and enables Christian children to grow up free to discern God’s will for their lives in their unique circumstances, and devote themselves to prudent plans for preparing for their life occupations, which should include religious vocations. If college is necessary for a student’s plans, we can provide an excellent college preparatory program. If a trade is to be pursued by a student, we can help provide him with a solid Christian education as he prepares for that trade by appropriate means (e.g., apprenticeship, specialized training, etc.). If religious vocations are to be sought, more intense classical studies can be pursued while modern requirements can also be satisfied along the way. Families and students need flexible study programs that allow for the messiness of real education and the CLAA is designed to provide exactly that.