In this article, I would like to help Catholic parents see that Laura Berquist, who wrote the book “Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum” and who founded and runs the Mother of Divine Grace School has misled thousands of Catholic families over the past 25 years. I am fully aware that the majority of homeschool parents who have followed her advice and used her curriculum have no interest in learning what classical Catholic education actually is, and I fully understand that no proof I can provide will ever influence their choice of a homeschool curriculum or their willingness to continue teaching and spreading her ideas. I am not naive.
I also know that Catholics who are personally embarassed by the information I am sharing in this article will attempt to attack me personally, accusing me of being “uncharitable” towards a fellow Catholic, or “divisive” in raising issues among Catholic homeschool families, but neither of these is my aim. I criticize Mrs. Berquist not as a Catholic individual, but as a teacher and publisher, noting St. James’ warning in Sacred Scripture, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly”, doing my duty as St. Paul commanded Christians to “test everything, and retain what is good.” It is Mrs. Berquist herself who says that the goal of her curriculum is to “teach children how to think”, and I am certain that raising objections with historical evidence would be welcome to anyone interested in thinking rightly. I am writing of Mrs. Berquist solely in her role as a teacher and publisher, and am making no judgments of her Catholic faith or personal life, which I am sure are admirable–but irrelevant.
I am also not seeking to cause any division among Catholic homeschool families, whom I respect and applaud for their efforts to give their children the best Catholic education possible. I am writing to them, assuming them to be people who take pride in “seeking the truth”, who are interested in imitating the saints and wise men of the past and not following modern fads ignorantly. I am a Catholic homeschooling father myself, and I understand all the challenges parents face. I seek to help them understand what is true by pointing out a source of error and confusion.
I welcome objections to this article that are objective, reasonable and well-supported, and I will gladly respond to them, as everyone knows. I have made comments available on this article for this purpose and welcome readers to post there for all to read and follow.
The Protestant Classical Education Movement
Back in the 1990s, Protestants started and spread their false “classical education” movement. A document was produced by the Protestant group names “The Ambrose Group”, titled “The Essential Guide for Parents”. This document made its way into the hands of Catholics who embarassingly latched onto it and started repeating the fiction that this movement was based on. The image below was included in one document that was passed around zealously back then. It’s pure fiction–the Protestant authors just making up history. Today, you’ll find Catholics saying all of these things–and this is where the ideas came from.
To this, they added this timeline marking the key events in the renewal of “classical education”:
Berquist Introduces Sayers’ Ideas to Catholics
This fictional “lost method” of “classical education” was created out of thin air by Protestants who anointed themselves the leaders of a “restoration” just as they did at the time of the Reformation, when they claimed to be restoring the lost Gospel itself. While that is understandable, what is impossible to understand is how Catholics bought into this idea and started promoting it in their own circles.
It can be demonstrated, using simple Google historical search results, how and when Dorothy Sayers’ ideas entered into Catholic circles. We can see that Laura Berquist brought them as they were spreading through Protestant circles, and flasely advertised them as the principles of “classical Catholic education”.
It is important to note that Berquist could rely on her husband’s work at Thomas Aquinas College and her own studied there are a source of credibility among Catholic homeschool parents. She refers to this authority frequently in her writing and offers no historical evidence for any of her assertions on education. This leads us to ask what her actual sources were and whether her ideas ever actually arose from the study of saints and wise men of the past. In reality, Berquist took Sayers’ “Lost Tools of Learning” and ran with it, at a time when it was becoming very popular in Protestant circles.
Let’s look at the chronology:
In 1991, Doug Wilson’s new book, “Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning” is the only result on Google for “The Lost Tools of Learning”. There are no other resources online related to “The Lost Tools of Learning” at this time. Wilson is an anti-Catholic, Protestant pastor, speaker and author promoting Sayers’ ideas as a return to “classical Christian education”.
In 1995, we find 6 search results, one including a press release that announced the opening of a Protestant “classical Christian school” in MD, as the influence of Doug Wilson’s book spread in Protestant circles. It was at this time that Laura Berquist started Mother of Divine Grace School.
In 1998, we find 17 search results, entirely Protestant. It was at this time that Laura Berquist published her book “Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum”.
In 2000, a Catholic homeschool blog Keeping it Catholic, promoted Berquist’s book, Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, saying the book “outlines, in practical form, the method of a classical education as set forth in Dorothy Sayer’s essay The Lost Tools of Learning.” Thus, in 2000, Catholics were being taught by Laura Berquist that Sayers’ ideas are related to some “classical Catholic tradition”.
At this time, Laura Berquist introduced Mother of Divine Grace School on her website as follows:
“Mother of Divine Grace School offers a classical Catholic curriculum for all grades, Preschool through 12th. This is a curriculum that I have developed over the last fifteen years, as I home schooled my own growing family of six. (In other words – it has had a test run!) While most of the text recommendations are Catholic, not everything used is Catholic in origin, but all recommendations are compatible with the [Catholic] Faith. My curriculum was developed by the ‘trial and error’ method, but the result parallels the suggestions of Dorothy Sayers in her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning”.
Note that Berquist is not telling Catholic parents that she offers a curriculum that is simply her own making, or based on Sayers’ ideas. While offering no historical evidence to support her claim, Berquist is assuring Catholic homeschool parents that the Mother of Divine Grace School curriculum is a “classical Catholic curriculum” that unites Catholic students of the present with some unknown Catholic educational tradition.
In 2001, we find 61 search results and see the influence of Berquist growing. A website called “Homeschool Christian” interviews Laura Berquist who claims to have read Sayers’ lecture in 1984. Berquist teaches that Sayers’ lecture represents the “classical curriculum”. St. Monica Academy (CA) appears as one of the first private Catholic schools following Sayers’ ideas, with Berquist listed as an advisor. The school states plainly on its website, “The classical approach to education was used throughout the western world since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, being refined during the Middle Ages, and was the education received by nearly all of the great statesmen, artists, writers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and saints of the last two millennia.” Catholic parents are being taught that Sayers’ method is the actual system of education that existed throughout Church history and that it is a proven method known to all of the famous men of the past.
Thus, through 2009, Protestants and Catholics, following Doug Wilson and Laura Berquist were zealously promoting Sayers’ ideas not only in homeschool circles, but also in the founding of private schools, all advertising themselves to be restoring a “classical Christian education” that actually existed in history.
My Objection and Responses
In June 2009, I published an article, “Call it What You Wish“, criticizing Sayers’ ideas and warning Catholics that this is NOT the education of the saints and wise men of the past. I was the first and only Christian raising an objection to this false classical education movement–and I may remain so to this day. Doug Wilson’s followers started to ask about my criticism when it was republished in 2011, and he responded with gibberish, assuring his followers that “This critique appears to be just sour grapes from someone who doesn’t like the fact that a large number of evangelical Protestants have taken up the task of trying to recover classical Christian education.”
Really? Just some personal “sour grapes”? No substantial criticism or evidence on my side? I think the Classical Liberal Arts Academy provides a little more than some idle, subjective criticism. Yet, this is the same truth-seeking Doug Wilson who’s been caught selling plagiarized work on multiple occasions. I never suggested that my critique was my full response–the entire curriculum is my criticism–but his readers obviously weren’t recommended to my site for further information.
Regardless, the fact is that my objective, public criticism made its way back to Doug Wilson, the leader of the Protestant “classical education” movement, but apparently never reached Laura Berquist or anyone involved with Mother of Divine Grace School, who just kept on humming along. To this day, Laura Berquist reveals the subjective thinking that led to the curriculum that she has falsely told Catholic families is a “classical Catholic curriculum”.
How can there be so much confusion in a Catholic mind surrounding a curriculum that was (supposedly) thousands of years old and could easily be looked up in the Jesuit Ratio Studiorum, for example? How did a Protestant lecture suddenly become the source for Berquist’s work in “classical education” rather than the writings and example of saints and ancient philosophers? Why is no historical proof sought or given for the academic program she chose to promote among Catholic families as “classical Catholic education”?
Sayers’ ideas became the foundation of Mother of Divine Grace School, and the Protestant “classical education” movement was presented to Catholics as a return to the proven ways of Catholic saints and ancient wise men–spreading Sayers’ ideas without a shred of historical support.
When all is said and done, we will find that Laura Berquist has misled thousands of Catholic families by presenting her curriculum as some fruit of classical study at Thomas Aquinas College and her own experience as a Catholic mother. The reality is that Berquist simply took the ideas of Doroth Sayers, as they were being promoted in Protestant homeschool circles, and promoted them as “classical Catholic education” for unknowing Catholic parents. As the Thomas Aquinas College website suggests, “Mrs. Berquist’s work aims to bring students to Thomas Aquinas College.”–that’s really all there is to it. Of course, very few parents in this generation would ever take the time or effort to seek proof for the claims of her program, especially when she appears as a nice Catholic lady with a husband working as president of a Catholic liberal arts college. This is what is most unfortunate about what Berquist has done over the past 25 years.
Marketing the Mother of God
Even worse than the irresponsible misrepresentation of “classical Catholic education” to Catholic homeschool families, Berquist elected to brand and market her educational ideas using the the name and image of the Mother of Our Lord, who is reduced to a mere mascot for a false and misleading curriculum program. The idea that this curriculum should be embraced as a proven and traditional Catholic study program worthy of Our Lady’s support is shameful and contrary to the actual tradition of Catholic teaching.
The Mother of God was known by the Doctors of the Church to be endowed with Wisdom and, as St. Albert the Great taught, with a perfect knowledge of the classical liberal arts. St. Albert taught that the Mother of God was the fulfillment of what Solomon spoke of in Proverbs 9:1. He wrote:
“Wisdom hath built herself a house, she hath hewn her out seven pillars (Proverbs 9:1). This house is the Blessed Virgin; the seven pillars are the seven liberal arts.”
Thus, using the name and image of the Mother of God as a marketing tool for an educational program that actually promotes the ideas of an individual Catholic woman, or worse, an individual Protestant feminist, is another misleading fault Berquist needs to be held accountable for. Her program should have been named “Laura Berquist’s Designing Her Own Curriculum School” or “Dorothy Sayers’ School for Catholics”, but it was branded and marketed, instead, as “Mother of Divine Grace School”. To see this false education advertised as “classical education” and marketed with the name and image of Our Lady is shameful and, again, has misled many Catholic families.
It is one thing for Mrs. Berquist to teach and publish a curriculum of her own liking, but another to suggest that the curriculum she is publishing is a retoration of some formerly known and studied curriculum of Catholic history. Catholic homeschool parents should request of her clarification of the following facts:
- the educational ideas of Dorothy Sayers DO NOT represent the classical Catholic curriculum studied and taught by saints and wise men throughout history.
- the curriculum of Mother of Divine Grace School DOES NOT offer families the classical Catholic curriculum studied and taught by saints and wise men throughout history.
- the “three stages of learning” DO NOT accurately express the nature of the subjects of the classical Trivium.
- the writings of the saints and doctors of the Church HAVE NOT recommended any course of study that resembles that which is found in Mother of Divine Grace School.
- the writings of the ancient philosophers HAVE NOT recommended any course of study that resembles that which is found in Mother of Divine Grace School.
- the K-12 educational model WAS NOT known or employed by any Catholic or classical schools in history.
- the Blessed Virgin Mary HAS NOT been associated in history in any way with the ideas taught by Dorothy Sayers or the curriculum offered by Mother of Divine Grace School.
If she is unwilling to acknowledge these points, then Catholic homeschool parents must request of her the evidence she possesses to support her teaching and publishing.
True Classical Catholic Education
I have written this article to help the small number of Catholic homeschool parents who want to give their children the education that was actually studied and taught by the saints and wise men of the past. I am certain that they will find this information helpful and their children will benefit from it.
As I said in the opening paragraph, I am not naive. I understand that many Catholic homeschool families make curriculum decisions based on the appearances and emotional preferences. I know that many will attempt to argue that this article is “uncharitable” and “divisive”, but talk is cheap and they are not actually interested in following up and discussing such accusations. Misleading people is what is actually “uncharitable” and “divisive”–not telling the truth. What I have done here is what Catholic researchers, publishers and teachers are supposed to do. I understand that what I’ve explained here will be embarassing to them and their comments and responses will be emotional and short-lived.
I have not written this for those parents and will not be affected by their responses.
In the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, we are not working to restore the ideas of Dorothy Sayers. We are not marketing false, Protestant ideas about education and pretending that this is classical Catholic education. We hope that the work we do promoting the true classical liberal arts will gain for us the true commendation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose honor we seek by the promotion of the Holy Rosary as she requested. We are working to restore the actual, historical curriculum that was studied and taught by saints and wise men throughout history.
If you’d like to continue your study into the actual history of clasical Catholic education, I free access to “Understanding Classical Catholic Education“, which is a book that contains lessons I taught to parents back in 2009, in which we investogate the history and principles of classical Catholic education beginning in ancient biblical times, through Church history, to the present day.
God bless your studies,
William C. Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy
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.