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Where Do We Begin?

This article was originally posted in 2011.

Dear parents,

Welcome to the CLAA. I know, it’s very, very different. It doesn’t just seem to be very different. It really is very different from what most people born in the last century understand education to be. I’m not going to deny that it may be very difficult to embrace. If your goals for your children’s education are not the same as mine, you should never embrace it–and I’m not going to pressure you to do so. After all, there’s a lot of work to do and if someone’s heart is not in their work, they will never do it well. So, why bother?

On the other hand, I’m not going to allow anyone to say that what we’re doing is unrealistic, radical or hard to understand. Actually, it is most realistic, historically normal and very easy to understand. If you’re willing to read this, I’ll explain.

Let’s begin by realizing that modern grade-level schools and school programs were designed in the1900s under the influence of men like Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor to make the administration of schools (citizen-factories) easy for the administrators. The fashion then was known as “scientific management” with a focus on the managers rather than the products or students. It was assumed that there were large numbers of students who would need to be conveniently arranged into groups based on their birth dates. These schools were not designed to cultivate wise Christians following the best available course of studies. They were public school intended for mass-indoctrination or, to be more exact, mass-Americanization. It should not surprise us that history’s wisest men didn’t share this idea of education. They weren’t raised to be citizens of a particular place or generation, but as Socrates said of himself, “citizens of the world” (i.e., cosmopolitan). Look around and you’ll see millions of people who have been trained for particular decades–they wouldn’t fit in to any other period of human history and will not fit in most other places in the world.

The schools were and are assembly lines funded by taxes and the argument was that these schools would (a) raise what Mr. Potter called a “thrifty working class” and (b) keep street kids out of prison and save the state money. Neither of these original promises has been fulfilled, yet Americans go on with a plan for schooling that has never, ever worked. In fact, one common fact that can be said of all of the wise men you can think of from history is this: they didn’t study as modern students do. What is worse, Christian schools have embraced this model though they don’t even have the tax funding on which the whole system depends. For Catholic schools, they had a supply of immigrant nuns to staff their schools, but those schools weren’t designed to produce future nuns. Once the free labor supply was exhausted, rather than changing their model, schools raised tuition and hired less qualified teachers, who are really not “teachers” at all. A family with five children is asked to pay a $30,000/year tuition bill to attend their parish school, while they also pay property taxes that fund the public school. Yes, they get to wear uniforms and play sports, ride on school buses and imbibe the spirit of their age (i.e., they are “socialized”), but what they ultimately end up with is a public school education with a private school bill on top.

Hey, if you think that’s a “realistic” plan for Christian education, that it’s not “radical” and that it’s “easy to understand, then have at it. Most home school programs are arranged according to the same model–which makes even LESS sense! Why is a single child, studying in his own home, under the direct supervision of his own mother being set into a “grade” as if he’s in a giant modern school? He’s at home. There’s only ONE of him. The “grade level” idea of studies assumes he’s stuck with 100 students in a school and needs to follow a common course that satisfies the MINIMUM legal requirements for all of them.

Let’s think about the academic plan. Modern schools normally set 10 or more subjects before a child with 30-45 minute blocks for each subject each day. Here is the current plan for high school students in New York:

Subject Area (Credits)
English (8)
Social Studies (8)
Science (6)
Math (6)
Art, Music, Dance (2)
Second Language (2)
Health & Phys. Ed. (5)
Electives (7)
Total: 44 credits

What is a “credit”? The state defines it: 

A credit is awarded to courses passed with a final grade of 65% or above. Most passed courses will be awarded one credit per term.

Therefore, if the English curriculum was made up of 100 important ideas, a graduate could have learned only 520 of them–and get his “diploma”. He didn’t necessarily study 4 times as much English as he did Art as the credits falsely suggest.

Now, again, what in the world are home school families doing paying attention to these standards, or allowing them to direct their independent, parent-directed, Christian studies? Again, if you think that’s a “realistic” plan for Christian education, that it’s not “radical” and that it’s “easy to understand, then have at it.

In the CLAA we do not believe that this modern notion of education is acceptable for children who are to be raised to “seek first the kingdom of God” in this life and fulfill their chief end as human beings, which is eternal life with God. The partial learning of important ideas is not acceptable and average students should not limit the education of the elite students.

Now, if you’re still with me, and interested in moving from the madness of modern education to the superiority of the classical liberal arts curriculum, I’d like to help you understand where to begin in the CLAA.

I. The Core Curriculum

Students beginning in the CLAA should begin the study of the three core courses, upon which all future studies are built. These are: Catechism, Grammar and Arithmetic.

1. When we speak of Catechism, we should not think of sacramental preparation. Every pastor may have distinct requirements for the sacraments and that’s church business that we must submit to. Here, we’re dealing with the intellectual formation of children directed by their parents, not policies of particular parish priests (who come and go). For the child’s intellectual formation, we believe that every CLAA student should study a systematic traditional catechism and for that we recommend the Baltimore Catechism. Students should enroll in the level that matches their state.

Remember: We are not studying these specific courses because they are “required” by our churches, but because they lay an excellent foundation for future study. Our students have to know Christianity–and it’s taught nowhere as well as it is in the Baltimore Catechism.

2. Grammar is the art of speaking and writing rightly. Without Grammar there is no essay writing, no poetry, no public speaking, no Logic, no Rhetoric. Students getting started in the CLAA should enroll in both of these first level courses:

Do we believe classical language study is useful for “today’s Christian students”? Well, is the Bible useful for “today’s Christian students”? Are the Church fathers and saints useful for “today’s Christian students’? Yes. Cicero, one of history’s wisest men, said “Those who do not know what happened before they were born remain forever as children.” and to understand English in a mature and masterful way, we must understand where English came from and we must understand English in a particular way. English for the workplace is not sufficient for English for the life of wisdom. The state’s or college’s minimal language requirements are not same as the requirements of religious study, meditation, self-expression, marital communication, parental persuasion, spiritual direction, personal counseling, and so on. Lift up your head and study to serve God, not Mammon.

3. Arithmetic is the art of counting and numbers, but more importantly, it is the beginning of the study of reasoning. While modern schools ensure that students learn their “math facts” and practical arithmetic concepts, they fail to teach the children the art of mathematics. We focus on the art in:

II. Enrichment Courses

When students are established in their core courses, enrichment courses may be added–and we offer wonderful enrichment courses. There are four main categories of enrichment courses:

  • History
  • Literature
  • Fine & Performing Arts
  • Practical Arts

Of the enrichment courses available we first recommend: World Chronology, Natural History and Music Theory. World Chronology provides students with a rich survey of world history from a Christian point of view and provides the “big picture” out from which all future history courses are developed. Natural History introduces students to an understanding of the natural world that is assumed in future philosophical and theological studies. Music Theory provides students with a philosophical understanding of music from which true mastery in music performance and composition may be developed. These three: World Chronology, Natural History and Music Theory provide an excellent program of enrichment for students of the classical liberal arts.

Remember: The enrichment courses must always be kept out of the way of the core courses or the child will not make true intellectual progress. Do not be deceived by the attractiveness of trivia and superficial studies. The student who does not progress in the liberal arts does not progress.

Questions?

If, after reading this introduction, you have further questions about getting started in the CLAA, please contact Mr. William Michael directly: wmichael@classicalliberalarts.com.

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