From the deacon’s desk: why classical education matters

A colleague pointed out to me that our friend Rod Dreher quoted me today on his blog. Rod was making a theological point, explaining why clear thinking about sexuality is so important, and what is at stake in today's debates about human nature. In doing that, he mentioned briefly something that I wrote a few years ago. This is important stuff, worth reading carefully, to help understand what is happening in our world and in our Church today.

But here's what struck me afresh today: at much greater length, Rod also quoted another old friend, Michael Hanby. In theological circles, Dr. Hanby is an internationally famous professor, but here at Martin Saints, we know him as one of the leaders of St. Jerome Academy outside Washington DC. St. Jerome's is a sister classical school, and a leading light in the national renewal of classical education.

Today, Dreher, Hanby, and I were discussing human nature and sexuality. But on another day, the same group of friends could just as easily been talking about the excitement of classical education. It made me pause for a moment: how interesting that these writers, all of them interested in holiness and sexual morality, are also investing themselves personally in the revival of the classics. Why would this happen?

And after half a second, I realized: because it's the same battle. To put it mildly, not everything in today's culture (or in today's Church) is wholesome like it ought to be. Faithful Catholics need to say "no, thank you," to much that our culture takes for granted. We write about sexuality because we need to be discerning about what is changing in our world and why it matters. And we build classical schools, in part, to create oases of sanity in a culture that has, in many ways, lost its mind. We build classical schools in order to teach a true and faithful vision of human nature.

Whenever Catholics have to say "no" to something in life that would divert us from God's path, we should be clear that underneath the "no" is an even deeper "yes," a "yes" to a vision of beauty and truth. Our curriculum emphasizes the classics because through these great books, we can initiate our students into a tradition of wisdom, a tradition of discernment, so that here and now in the modern world, the students are free and able to live for what is good, true, and beautiful.

When a student graduates from a classical school - if we have helped our students learn the art of paying attention to the right things in the right way - then we believe our students will be better at prayer. If we have formed students who are receptive to goodness, truth and beauty, then we will have done all that we can to co-operate with grace. A Martin Saints graduate will be fully alive, equipped to embrace the faith for him or her self.