Sedes Sapientiae School is an independent, private, college preparatory middle/high school offering a Classical Education in fidelity to the academic, theological, and spiritual heritage of our Catholic Church.

Si quis indiget sapientia, postulet a Deo in fide

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Classical Education: The Whom and the Why

Families today are increasingly looking for educational options for their children. Instinctively, they understand that the stakes are very high. It is their very children that are to be educated – and their children’s futures that depend on it. As the children progress through the grades, the upper grades become all the more important.

But why are families looking for options to begin with?

The simple answer is that these families perceive in conventional, modern education a lack of a real understanding of the nature of whom they are educating and why they are educating them. 

The Catholic intellectual tradition rests on a deep conviction about the nature of school children and the purpose for educating them: Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and are created to be with Him forever. Education should be concerned with the overall formation of individuals who, if they are to be alive on this earth, must learn to discern – and order their lives to – truth, beauty, and goodness. Future careers, friendships, and families all depend on that formation. 

And while heaven has no entrance exam with questions on Euclid or Aristotle or Shakespeare, the manner of one’s life is on the exam. Learning from such masters forms the intellect to discern and order one’s life to truth, goodness, and beauty, which is to say, toward the manner of life that leads to heaven.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes:
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for. … But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, "an upright heart", as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 27, 30)
A classical education enlightened by the academic, theological, and spiritual heritage of the Catholic faith forms students toward the only source of true happiness. It fosters the intellectual, moral, and theological virtues that lead us to grow more and more like Christ and that make us more fully human. Mere facts and skills, as important as they are for college and career readiness, are not the primary focus. Rather, classical education taught from a Catholic standpoint goes beyond facts and skills. It respects the dignity of the young person precisely as a human person. It connects students’ minds, hearts, and souls with the truths beyond the facts so that what they know will transform their lives.

What we call a “classical” education was at its inception centuries ago called “liberal” education, from the Latin libera, meaning free in the sense of unrestricted by specialization. For instance, if one studies only mathematics, which is definitely a noble and important field, how will one be able to endow one’s future children with a sense of good and evil? How will one be able to discern beauty in entertainment choices? How can one tell truth from mere opinions or outright lies in the news or political speeches?

With the experience of centuries in forming persons and indeed culture itself, liberal education was refined to provide students with the traditional tools of learning, equipping them to act in a free, intelligent, and responsible manner in all of their endeavors. It provides the foundational skills for success in any career (be it maintenance or mathematics) – but also for success as the best persons they can be.

A liberal and liberating education frees students from the interior confusion of scattered experiences and opinions.

It frees them to think logically and independently and to express themselves clearly.

It frees them from manipulation by persuasive but false opinions.

It frees them to enjoy eternal beauty against the fleeting fads and popular crazes of the day.

It frees them to stand up for truth in the face of pressures and inducements to reject it.

The two main goals of liberal education, which dominated education for most of the Christian era, can be summed up in two words: wisdom and virtue.

Wisdom and virtue are essential in the formation of leaders and citizens of a free and just society. Wisdom and virtue inspire students to contemplate all that is true, good, and beautiful, and to apply what they learned to their lives. The Catholic Church took up the ancient tradition of liberal learning from the Greeks and Romans and oriented it toward Christ, baptizing it as it were, and in so doing united reason and faith.

Liberal or classical education has thereby shaped some of the finest minds in history.

Over the last century, however, schools have largely abandoned this tradition of success and took the modern factory and assembly line as the model of the educational process. Efficient in some respects, these methods are fine for making things, but people are not products. (One could wonder if mass production is truly “fine” for making things after all, and if the process dehumanizes not only the manufacturer but also the customer and their interaction – the sort of discussion that liberally educated people tend to pursue!) Products on an assembly line are not free, nor is the process to which they are confined ordered to their freedom.

Quite the contrary, in fact. Modern education confines students and teachers to a process of assimilating unrelated pieces of information and overemphasizes grades, test scores, and external standards that are subject to political manipulation. What room is left in the contemporary classroom for faith and reason? Young people may lose heart in the spiritual confusion of our times when they are denied the chance to explore freely the meaning behind what they learn, and are prevented from developing the ability to discern what is true and what is false.
The conventional model of education does not form children who are wise and virtuous. Rather, it produces children who are anxious because they are uncertain of what is true, and uninspired because they do not how to recognize and attain what is beautiful, and self-indulgent because they cannot discern what is good for them from what is not.  

All across the country, Catholic parents and educators have withdrawn from schools offering the conventional secular model, instinctively knowing something was amiss, but not always sure exactly what it was. More and more are discovering the richness and wisdom of a classical, liberal education as the antidote to a system that drains wonder and purpose from the lives of young people. 

Using the tools of the classical liberal arts tradition, and focusing on Christ, who is the beginning and the end of all wisdom and virtue, Sedes Sapientiae School provides an education that cultivates individuals who are free to be holy, happy, and healthy. The curriculum of Sedes Sapientiae School draws on the academic, theological and spiritual heritage of the Catholic Church to offer a classical, liberal education informed by the Catholic faith. It brings the growing classical education movement to New Jersey, to be a place where teachers are inspired to excel at their vocation, students enjoy learning, and the larger community flourishes in faith.