- What should I study?
- What courses should I focus on?
- What courses are the most important?
- How much time should I give to this or that course?
This dilemma comes from the realization that every course the CLAA offers is important and there is really nothing that can be ignored. The CLAA is not like a modern school where students just pick what they want to satisfy graduation requirements. There are real benefits to be gained from every course studied and real gaps to be concerned about for every course not studied.
The Importance of Childhood
In the ancient world, childhood was seen as the time to set the bar for what would be possible later in life. Plato famously said, “Youth is the time for extraordinary toil.”
In modern society, youth is a time for idleness, play, sports and friends. This is, of course, a terrible error, but I refuse to waste any of my time arguing with Christian parents about this because it’s hopeless. Most students don’t get serious about schooling until they’re 16 or 17 years old and begin being pressured about “going to college”. Usually, it anxiety about SAT scores and college admission that forces kids to do something to have some appearance of learning. Many of the people asking me about “what to study?” are asking me under the influence of these worries and the reality is: it’s too late. What you’re interested in has nothing to do with the classical liberal arts or any real education.
The highest studies depend on a long set of steps that must be started years in advance. The problem with starting late is that many of these steps are appropriate for childhood, but become impossible or simply embarassing as kids get older. Memorizing Catechism questions or Grammar rules is great for young children who can be motivated by simple rewards, but it’s ridiculous to ask a 17 year old to do that sort of work. Likewise, learning to compose verses and develop skill in language is possible for children, but the duty to earn one own’s keep forces them away from their desks as they get older. Wide reading in history, the study of natural history and the fine arts is possible for children with thousands of hours for such, but for older students who are suddenly pressed to become self-reliant, it’s simply too late. The window for this beautiful education has closed.
Many students imagine that the age of study and discovery is enjoyed in college, but this is a lie. College is a time of extreme financial need and students who mess with poetry, languages, philosophy and theology at that time end up drowned with debt and no means of paying it. College education should be a part of a profit-seeking business plan, not an attempt to make up for a wasted childhood.
Getting Things Right
The CLAA curriculum is intended to be started by young children whose lives are not subject to the dissipating busy-ness of modern life. If you’re desire is to have a child who does everything, you’re going to end up with a child who does nothing. Sacred Scripture tells you that your children should be set on a path to get one thing: Wisdom. If you choose to pursue other things, you’re going to get what you deserve. Jesus asked, “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”. What will your answer to that question be if your child’s education is examined and there is found no explanation for most of what it consists of? As you rush to check all of the boxes of modern schooling requirements, when do you address the checkboxes of a wise and holy life?
If you have the chance to get things right, while your children are young, please try to do so. Start with the greatest question and ask yourself, “Why did God create this child? What is he/she here for? What am I supposed to do for him/her?” You’re not left in the dark with these questions. We find them all answered perfectly in the life of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
We don’t find Mary and Joseph seeking out the most expensive private schools or the best soccer clubs in town. We don’t find Mary and Joseph worried about how many friends Jesus will have or what his nursery will look like. We don’t find Mary and Joseph worried about whether he’ll be admitted to the top Roman schools or able to succed in Roman political life. We don’t find Joseph thinking about his career or Mary about her social life. They are concerned with protecting Jesus from evil and leading him to God, and we read in the Gospel:
“And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men.” (Luke 2:52)
That’s what we should wish to have said about our children. That was the summary of Our Lord’s progress, the aim of the Holy Family. There is no confusion here in hte Holy Family because there is no contradiction. They know what they should be doing–and they do it.
To be skilled in the right things, we have to choose to be unskilled in the wrong things. Most people today have a very difficult time saying, “I don’t WANT to do that.” Whatever the crowd does around them, they seek to do that they may fit in with the crowd. If we choose to do that, then, we’ll fit in with the crowd. However, we’re not supposed to fit in with the crowd. We’re Christians, people who believe in God, commandments, judgment , resurrection and eternal life. We’re supposed to be different.
The Christian life can’t be disconnected from education. We can’t claim to be concerned about wisdom, holiness and salvation and then give over our children’s education to nothing but worldly customs and material worries. Jesus warned of this and said to us, “Take no thought for your life. Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be given unto thee.” (Matthew 6:33)
Doing the Best You Can
Families come into the CLAA from all different situations and I ask me what their children should study. The answer I give all of them is the same: You must give each the child the best possible education you can starting now. This is the only true answer to the question. If you’re worried about your child going to college at age 18, you have to admit that that is an artificial problem that you’re accepting as real. If you stick to that, you’re going to make bad decisions. If you’re worried about what other children are doing, whose parents may be giving them no Christian formation at all, you’re going to make bad decisions. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve messed up in the past–you have to do all that is in your power to give each child the best possible education you can starting now. If you’re not willing to do that, then what are you actually asking? You’re deceiving yourself and are looking for an excuse rather than a solution. Don’t waste your time with the CLAA. If you want to do the best you can–with God’s help, of course–then we need to get to work.
How the CLAA Can Help
Here in the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, you don’t need to worry about the problems of modern schooling or mis-directed homeschool programs. Everything we do is focused on “the main thing” and we can help you understand what the saints and wise men of history have taught us ought to be done in education, and actually do it today, with your children. The greatest challenge is going to be in your own heart and mind as you, the parents, will need to be strong and persevere in seeking the right course. To be honest, parents usually turn out to be the weak link in the relationship between us. As the children go through their studies, what they are doing will look and feel very different from what other children are doing, and what you are doing, as a parent, will also look and feel very different from what other parents are doing–and it should. As you go through these things, I recommend that you communicate with me and allow me to help you through them. As I said, most parents don’t make it and end up putting their kids in line with the other kids for fear of being different.
Parents who have stuck with us to the end will tell you that everything turned out well for their children. The fears of college and career were overcome and the children were able to stay focused during their teen years and find good places to study when their CLAA work was completed. Some, after moving on, continue to study with me as they’re able.
If you are willing, you can give your children a traditional Christian education in the midst of all of the opposition in modern society. You must will it. It is hard for everyone, including me, but we can succeed.
If you have questions or concerns, let’s discuss them. I am always available. Send me an email, give me a call or chat with me any time.
God bless your family,
Mr. William C. Michael is the founding headmaster of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. He graduated from Rutgers University with an honors degree in Classics & Ancient History and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the National Association of Scholars. Mr. Michael has worked in private education as a Classics teacher and administrator for over 20 years. He is a Roman Catholic homeschooling father of ten children, and keeper of a quiet family farm in North Carolina. Mr. Michael enjoys studying ancient natural philosophy, gardening, and running.