This is a reprint of a popular article published in 2011.
I. Tests for Catholic Study Programs
Test 1. Does your study program have historical proof of success?
Some schools and study programs try to sell their services by boasting of accreditations, college admissions and standardized test scores. You should know that every public school can claim the same successes. These are no test for a Christian education.
Some schools stick pictures of Greeks and Romans on their books and call themselves “classical” schools. However, no one in history would have any idea what these programs were doing, for there is nothing truly classical about them at all. It’s a marketing sham.
If we want to set our children in the safest possible way to happiness, it should be a path that the saints and wise men of the past too themselves. After all, Scripture teaches us, “He that walks with wise men shall become wise.”
If you were able to bring St. Thomas, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Plato, Aristotle and Cicero back to this world and ask them to identify the educational program that is familiar to them, they point to the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. Using programs that do not teach the classical liberal arts, but simply sell piles of books for and school supplies with a “lesson plan” tacked on to try and make it appear that they form a study program is to cease walking with the wise men. It doesn’t matter if they call themselves classical. What matters is whether the classical masters would call them classical! The CLAA claims to be classical because it is. Unlike other programs that have no merit for their claims, we can prove that our materials and methods are genuinely classical.
Test 2. Is the program centered on Faith and Reason?
There are many who believe that classical education is equivalent to a “Latin-Centered Curriculum”. If that is true, then why did Cicero, who was and is the greatest of Latin speakers, take pride in saying, “I have spared no pains to make myself master of the Greek language and learning.” It doesn’t seem that Cicero is convinced that Latin is the center of the classical curriculum!
The true center of the classical curriculum is Logic, not Latin. Aristotle’s Logic books were titled the “Organon” or the Method because they supplied by which all studies were pursued. When rancis Bacon led the Scientific Revolution classical learning in 1620 he titled his book, Novum Organum (the New Method). The classical curriculum was not identified by the Latin language but by the method used in seeking truth: Logic. The essence of classical education is Logic.
However, this Logic employed was no mere human Logic. Since the founding of the Church, the classical Logic-centered curriculum was under the direction of the Christian faith. That faith was taught by (a) systematic catechesis, (b) training in virtuous habits and (c) liturgical prayer. These sources of divine light then balanced and guided the mind through the arts of Dialectic and Logic to form the complete scholar.
Only the Classical Liberal Arts Academy provides families with the opportunity to enjoy this holy education. We provide a traditional catechesis program that includes rigorous assessment to ensure that our children know the true faith. We provide rich family religion resources that help families to establish pious home life and are intimately involved in the life and work of the Missionaries of the Poor around the world–even bringing our families on missions projects among the poor overseas. We supply the guide used by men and women around the world to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the official prayer of the Catholic Church. Other programs merely sell piles of academic books and school supplies. That is no true Christian education.
The Classical Liberal Arts Academy doesn’t pretend that books written in the 20th century are the materials used to provide a classical education. We’re not seeking to make money off book sales. We teach Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine, St. Thomas and the rest of the classical masters using their own texts. We teach the arts of Dialectic and Logic as the instruments of learning by which all other subjects are undertaken.
Only in the Classical Liberal Arts Academy can you find faith and reason at the center of everything our students do.
Test 3. Is the program affordable?
The Jesuits were famous for their schools in Europe and many of them operated for free. The curriculum was so simple and the ministry so inexpensive that there was no need for tuition. When we compare that to the 80+ page “classical” home school book catalogs and conference table glut we can see that something isn’t right.
Expensive education is the fruit of modern theories of school organization, teaching and educational goals that the classical schools did not share. When schools exist to provide teachers and administrators with jobs, the children suffer for it–but the classical schools have never been driven by the desire for money. They have always seen their service as a Christian duty that follows Christ’s own principle: “Freely you have received, freely give.”
Other study programs offer nothing that isn’t paid for by the families and operate in very expensive ways. Much of the money spent by families is paying for customer service, administrative costs, personnel, etc.., in support of a wrongly ordered business that makes the families pay for the conveniences of employees. Families shouldn’t have to pay for these things to educate their children and these expenses make that education terribly expensive.
The Classical Liberal Arts Academy puts students before sales and never turns a family away for financial reasons. Our courses cost $125.00 each and that includes everything: lessons, support, online resources, assessment and record-keeping. Through the prudent use of technology, we eliminate the need for office workers and focus all of our energy on our students’ studies. Very few courses require any books at all and when they do they are single classic texts that will be kept by the student for use throughout life. Worksheets are available freely online to enrolled families to print or copy as much as they like. Old lessons and online activities are available to students as long as they are enrolled in the CLAA.
By our own simple and sacrificial Christian living, we keep educational costs at a minimum, do not charge for most of our services and offer full financial aid to any family that asks for it in need. We offer 3, 6 and 10 month payment plans with no interest or fees to keep families from using credit cards or paying anything more than is necessary for the education of their children. A student can complete a full CLAA course for $12.50 per month. That is affordable education.
Note: CLAA enrollment is less expensive than it was in 2009.
Test 4. Is the program an effective whole?
An educational program should be a program, designed with clear goals and using methods consistent with those goals. As it is expected to develop a student’s mind from beginning to end, the program itself should provide a progressive and coherent course of study.
Most of what is offered by study programs today is little more than a book sale. These “school” merely string together books from all different publishers using all different methods and expect the parents and students to make it all work! Books are published by groups that share none of the program’s stated goals and yet there is an ignorant attempt to pile them up and expect a great education. Do you really think that a Mennonite publisher serving the Amish produces a “classical Arithmetic” book? Do you really think that ordering dozens and dozens of disconnected books–many of which are published by groups who do not share your religious beliefs or educational philosophy–is going to help you give your children a “classical” Christian education? Do you really believe that books that never existed in history are the way to forming a “well-trained mind”? Be honest. The disorder and inefficiency of these “programs” forewarns its users that the student will end up with a disordered and inefficient mind. Ultimately, these book collections are lazy and careless attempts to improve education driven by easy sales rather than true concern for student formation.
This method actually proceeds from a logical fallacy known as “composition” and reveals something of the carelessness of these programs’ designers. It is said that by collecting the best individual books and study materials that these will produce the best overall program, but this is false. It is more important to know that each book is designed to fulfill a specific role in the overall plan of education. Do the Grammar books prepare the student for Logic? Do the Logic books build on the previous Grammar books? Do the Grammar and Logic books prepare the student for Rhetoric? Does the Rhetoric build on the Grammar and Logic? Do the writing and literature courses build on the previous studies in Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric? Does the program lead from the beginning safely and comprehensively to the end–philosophy and theology?
Most programs cannot answer “Yes” to these questions, and it is why you should avoid them. The CLAA program is a single coherent program–and it has been throughout human history. Every lesson in our program is written by the CLAA for the achievement of the goals stated by the CLAA. Every lesson in our program builds on previous lessons and reinforces them. Every lesson in our program makes use of the same methods and materials that the saints and wise men of the past used in attaining their heights of wisdom and learning. The entire Christian life is taught and developed: prayer, study and service. The entire program moves very efficiently through subjects because there is no overlap, wasted time or gaps in the curriculum. Only such a well-ordered and efficient system can be expected to produce a well-ordered and efficient mind. No other program offers this but the CLAA.
II. Critique of Other Study Programs
If we survey the landscape of Christian study programs–whether they be schools or home school programs–we will find a number of real problems. First of all, they are influenced too greatly by modern schools and curricula and often do little more than resurface the modern curriculum. Until now, parents have nobly attempted to choose the best of what is available. Unfortunately, what has been available were materials that filled a vacuum of quality Christian study materials and a lack of knowledge among Christian families.
Let us look at some popular programs as examples.
Seton Home Study is a Catholic study program that offers a modern multi-subject curriculum with an old-fashioned feel. Unfortunately, turning back the clock fifty years does not undo the problems of modern education, for they go much further back than that. While it is Catholic on the surface it is educationally modern and inadequate for a classic Catholic education. It may honor St. Thomas and the saints in word, but it does not do so in deed, nor would they approve of it if they were here today. There is no treatment at all of classical Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric or Philosophy, the core subjects of the traditional Catholic curriculum. Mathematics are taught not with their original goals but to satisfy minimum standards set by the public schools. They boast an accreditation that is shared by any public school. While this program is great for its old-school-Catholic appearance, it is inadequate for the kind of philosophical training Catholic children need to face the challenges of life. Children need more than to learn about saints…they need to imitate them.
Kolbe Academy is a popular program for Catholics that inaccurately claims to be “classical”. It is not classical in any way. It speaks of classical “methods” and classical “content”. However, a look at its curriculum will find little or no attention to Dialectic, Logic, Rhetoric or Philosophy. Remember, Dialectic and Logic are the heart and soul of classical education, the essence of classical methods. Kolbe’s subjects are modeled on the modern curriculum and consist of a piecing together of various programs and materials that are in no way coordinated in their design or proven effective as classical education should be.
In the place of essential subjects are reading lists that push students through thousands of pages of Christian and non-Christian literature without the theoretical training required for the sound interpretation of the works. This seems impressive to many parents who err in thinking that classical education has something to do with the “love of reading”. However, it is not through hours of encyclopedic reading that a child pursues wisdom, but through the careful mastery of the classical liberal arts and the study of history’s wisest men by means of those arts. It is not how many books one reads, but whether a students masters the essential books.
Similar to Kolbe Academy is Mother of Divine Grace School, which again inaccurately claims to provide students with a “classical” education. However, there is nothing truly classical about the curriculum or the methods employed. Nothing done in this program would have been known by those wise men they claim to admire. The program is founded on a loose idea of education suggested by “The Lost Tools of Learning“, an essay by Dorothy Sayers who lived in the early 1900s. Her essay is rooted in modern child psychology and in it she merely offered some thoughts on what might make modern schools better modern schools. It was not a manual for classical education, yet it is the source for everything recommended by MODG.
The errors of this model begin with Sayers’ ideas of “stages” of learning which she compares to the subjects of the ancient trivium. While the classical schools taught Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric as distinct subjects, Dorothy Sayers speaks of a “Grammar Stage” of learning later “Logic” and “Rhetoric” stages. Sayers even speaks of the “Rhetoric stage” of Math, Science and Grammar! Yet this is marketed as “classical” education. Let’s be clear: Grammar is a subject. Logic is a subject. Rhetoric is a subject. They are not stages of learning. This notion is pure rubbish and has never been a part of Christian education at any time in history.
A step up from Kolbe and Mother of Divine Grace School is Regina Coeli Academy (RCA). Looking at the RCA curriculum, you will see many similarities between it and the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. However, RCA has three important flaws.
First, they fail to give due attention to the philosophy of Rhetoric or Dialectic, which is fundamental to the classical curriculum. A course is offered in “Composition”, but this is a part of the error of modern education–focused on college admission and artificial school writing rather than a complete philosophy of communication skills. When we read Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian we find that they chose to teach the art of Rhetoric in a philosophical rather than a practical manner. Rhetoric requires more than a mere familiarity with the rules of essay writing. It assumes a knowledge of Dialectic and some level of erudition. It includes, as Aristotle says, the coordination of all liberal studies, since we must thoroughly understand the people to whom we’re writing and speaking and not just the mechanical process of putting our own thoughts into print. A child who does not think well will never write or speak well no matter how many writing or speech classes they take. A student cannot be asked to give what he does not yet have.
Second, courses at Regina Coeli “meet” online. This is the beginning of their practical troubles. First of all, the benefits of flexibility in distance learning are lost and the cost of courses rises through the roof due to the need to have “live” teachers paid by families. This defeats the whole point of technology, which is to make information available freely and universally. This leads to our third critique:
Regina Coeli Academy is too expensive–up to ten times the price of a CLAA course. For example, to complete the RCA Humanities I course (which is an English and History course combined) will cost a family $1250 for enrollment alone! Worse, the course is textbook-oriented and uses a secular literature textbook. The total cost of this single course, when books are included approaches $1400. The excessive cost of study is a result of a poorly conceived plan for delivering instruction to students. For what Christian family was that program designed?
Angelicum Academy is the Catholic-friendly offshoot of the secular Great Books Academy, and boils down to a Great Books reading program with other subjects tacked on. There is no formal instruction in classical Grammar, Logic or Rhetoric. The Academy says that they are taught in an integrated way in the Great Books program, but this is not a “classical” approach at all. It’s book sales.
First of all, classical languages are not even a part of the core curriculum. Thus, classical Grammar (the “door of the arts”) is pushed aside as an “Enrichment Course”. This is a fatal flaw in the Angelicum curriculum that clearly disqualifies it from any claim to being of a “classical” nature. To see why the classical languages are essential to classical liberal arts education, read our article, “Why We Must Learn Greek and Latin”.
The Angelicum Academy’s philosophy turns upon the supposed value of live discussion, which they call “Socratic”. The problem with this is that Socratic dialog is not simply live discussion, but a method of investigation that requires a great deal of learning and practice. The true Socratic Method is the art of Dialectic which is a type of reasoning that must be studied before it can be employed. CLAA students learn this in our Dialectic course, but the Angelicum Academy does not teach it at all. Therefore, their “Socratic” courses are simply open discussion–which is not a classical method. Why would someone pay to have their children share their own ideas with their peers. Proverbs calls this foolishness, not education.
In the end, the Angelicum Academy boils down to another attempt to offer reading lists as “classical” education. Angelicum is disconnected from any classical tradition of content or methods.
In addition to these programs there are 1,001 miscellaneous programs that claim to teach this or that. There are reading programs, writing programs, science programs, math programs, art programs, history programs…it goes on and on. Rather than get into details critiques of these programs, we ask you one question: Do you really think that these disconnected mini-programs are the solution to education? Stop throwing money away–classical schools were never composed of a bunch of disconnected pieces. Classical education is a single system of the seven liberal arts followed by philosophy and theology. That’s all you need. Where enrichment is helpful, the CLAA provides it in a way that actually supports the children’s core studies. The home school conference is great for people who want to sell books and promote themselves, but it is not helpful for your children’s spiritual and intellectual growth. Simplify and make steady progress with single, coherent study program.
When we understand the goals of true classical education and the errors of modern education, it should be clear that none of the available study programs are sufficient to overcome its errors and restore sound Christian education. The Classical Liberal Arts Academy is the only program available that maintains sound philosophical and pedagogical principles that have guided Christian learning throughout all of history.
We hope that this article provides a helpful beginning to your evaluation of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. We know that the classical liberal arts curriculum is a radical alternative to what we’re all used to and that the existence of all kids of “classical” stuff floating around makes decisions very confusing. We are sorry to see many programs misleading parents by claiming to be something they are not and capitalizing on the ignorance and trust of parents seeking simply to do their children good and give them a proven Christian education.
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. 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.