Articles on Philosophy of Catholic Education
Edocere [pronounced eh-doh-cheh-reh] is the online aspect of the Society of Saint Pius X's apostolate of traditional education in the United States of America District.
- To promote a truly Catholic concept of the importance of the teaching vocation, and to inspire others, by example and by word, to desire to enter into the teaching profession.
- To encourage traditional Catholic educators to understand their mission as a profoundly supernatural one, as an extension and participation in the role of the priest to form Christ in souls.
- To inspire and assist traditional Catholic educators to make a consistent effort to improve their curriculum and teaching methods, especially in the core areas for a liberal arts education.
- To assist teachers and educators in their mission of Catholic education by providing them with resources (books, articles, tapes, etc).
- To integrate all studies with the knowledge and practice of the Faith, to overcome the modern dichotomy between secular and religious studies, and promote the Social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
- To promote the robust philosophy of the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas and the well proven and tried educational methods of the Catholic Church.
- To form bonds of friendship amongst traditional Catholic educators, to help them in overcoming the obstacles to Catholic education, especially indifference, laziness, disinterest and worldly preoccupations.
Mission statement of catholic educators
As traditional Catholic educators, we are thoroughly committed to Catholic education and to giving our students that which will contribute to forming their whole being to the supernatural life. Our desire is to help one another to educate the whole person of the student in order that he may be submitted to the reign of Jesus Christ in the spiritual, moral, intellectual and physical spheres.
This conference was given by Fr. Michael McMahon at the Summer 2004 Principals’ Meeting convened at St. Mary’s College and Academy (St. Mary’s, Kansas) to the principals of schools in the United States and Canadian Districts of the Society of Saint Pius X.
It was a pleasure for me to prepare this presentation on Jesuit education, delving into the wealth of information which the Jesuits have given us over the last four centuries. At the 2003 Principals’ Meeting we took a general approach to deal with education and the students we are trying to educate. Now we are getting into the "nuts and bolts" of education, that is, the specifics and how to apply them in our schools. Arriving at this stage, we must look to the great masters and Catholic educators who have preceded us, handing down to us their wisdom and experience. Among the greatest are the Jesuits. Amazingly, they have written on almost everything: on any topic you can imagine dealing with education, there has been a Jesuit who has written about it. So when we get into curriculum or the practical application of the Catholic philosophy of education in our schools, we are wise to acquaint ourselves with the information concerning Catholic education which the Jesuits have given us.
Having reviewed the past 400 years in which they have been engaged in education, it is clear that the Jesuits have been in the very front rank, a fact universally admitted by friend and foe alike. There is a book which recalls a conference given at the end of the 19th century by the president of a prestigious non-Catholic university called The Jesuit and Puritan Systems Compared. It is a constant, violent attack on the Catholic Faith and the Jesuits, but even there it was admitted by the antagonist — which is why, you can imagine, back in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Jesuits were accused of being witches and magicians — that he couldn’t argue the fact the Jesuits were doing something incredible, that they were teaching and educating and leading and influencing society through their education.
They have been at the very forefront of education, and one reason why it is interesting as well as important for us to look at the Jesuits is that there are many similarities between the Jesuits and the Society of Saint Pius X. Both of us were born into times of crisis. The crises have similarities and major differences, but we must agree the Orders were both born into a time of crisis. Each society was founded by a great leader in his time: St. Ignatius, one of the greatest men of the Counter-Reformation; and certainly the Archbishop, one of the greatest churchmen of the 20th century. Both spread throughout the world, concerned with the defense and eventual restoration of the Catholic Faith; both were often attacked, obviously by foes, yet even by those who should have been friends; and, we can say, neither had the specific intention to become involved in education. To specifically found an order in order to educate was not the Archbishop’s idea, and that was not at all in mind of St. Ignatius at the beginning. St. Ignatius was trying to form a shock troop for the Papacy, a small, mobile, well-educated, group of men who had mobility — they were to be tied down by neither parochial nor educational duties. When the Pope needed them somewhere, they were to be sent. That was what St. Ignatius had in mind in founding the Company of Jesus. However, being a saint, he proposed and then God disposed. Again, it was the same thing with the Archbishop: he followed Divine Providence.
And what happened very quickly, even in the lifetime of St. Ignatius, was his realization that the way to defend the Faith is through education. There is an organic development, certainly with the Jesuits and also with us, of the necessity of our involvement in education. No longer are vocations coming from the places where we may have expected them in the past, due to the religious and social conditions of today. We are recognizing the fact that, in order for us to fulfill the goals of the Society, a priestly society, in other words, to have vocations — young men who are going to become religious — then we have to form them ourselves. So at this point in history and in the history of the Society we need, then, to become very serious about education and properly dealing with our schools.
In his excellent book The Jesuits and Education, Fr. William J. McGucken, S.J., says:
Almost against his will, St. Ignatius and his followers came to see the power of education. This would not be a cure for heresy but a preventative of it. To save southern Germany for the Church there was needed a genius like Peter Canisius, and even his heroic efforts were powerless to remedy all the ravages wrought by heresy and worldly prelates. But once you get control of the youth, train them in right principles, impart to them at the same time an education the equal or superior of any in Europe, and the whole world is saved for the Church (p.9).
Once St. Ignatius realizes that God disposes for him to get into education, he goes for it, and then you have this great educational system of the Jesuits, which will develop up until its disastrous crumbling in recent times.
Before actually getting into the objective means and aims of the Jesuit methodology, we first need to briefly become acquainted with the Ratio Studiorum, the Jesuit manual of education. A very good book on it is still in print, Loyola and the Educational System of the Jesuits by Fr. Thomas Hughes, S.J. It is really an explanation of the Jesuits’ educational system, but it is more or less a commentary on the Ratio Studiorum.
The Jesuits did not start out to establish secular schools, that is, to invite the enrollment of students not intending to enter their order as religious. They came to see the necessity of having such schools, however, as a logical and natural development of their purpose. Their great achievement can be measured by recalling the social conditions of the time which were exacerbated by the destruction, implosion, and corrosion of the university system. Most of the universities of the time were seedbeds of heresy. A remedy had to found. St. Ignatius was not about to take his young men — you can see how this is echoed in the Archbishop — and send them into these universities to be trained. He realized he had to do the educating himself. The parallel with Archbishop Lefebvre is remarkable. At the beginning, what did he do? — He sent some seminarians to the University of Fribourg; then he realized that was not going to work because it was just as liberal, or only slightly less so, as anywhere else. It meant for him that God’s will for the new Society of Saint Pius X was to establish its own places of education — first seminaries, then as a by-product, schools. This was a mirror of the beginning of the Jesuit educational system.
The landmark achievement of the Jesuits was to give order, hierarchy, structure, unity, and methodology to education. This is their great legacy, and learning from it is something extremely beneficial to us in the field of education.
They began founding colleges. There was a college in Goa; St. Francis Xavier began putting people into that college and trained Jesuits to begin teaching. St. Francis Borgia did likewise in Spain. Then in 1551, St. Ignatius decided to found the Roman College. Once decided, he determined that it would be the very best in the world, a model of all models. He spared no effort nor expense to make it the greatest of all universities of his day. This was the mind-set of St. Ignatius of which, depending on our own individual character, we must share.
There was a need for a system of education, for a system of studies; therefore they put themselves to the task. They begin putting together various documents, some antecedent to the Ratio Studiorum: the De Studiis Societatis Jesu, the Ordo Studiorum, and the Summa Sapientiae. Finally, in 1581, the fifth Superior General, Claudius Aquaviva, somewhat like what St. Pius X did for canon law, decided to research and combine all these documents into one manual so that anyone given it would know what the Jesuits meant by "education" — the roles of rector, prefect, and teacher; their manner of operation, etc. Aquaviva was elected in 1581; in 1584 he began his work on the Ratio, but it was not until 1599 that the completed Ratio Studiorum was published. The Jesuits were not "band-aid" guys; they were not out to simply patch things up. They set their minds to doing things correctly no matter how long it would take. They were convinced they could not proceed in any other way since this apostolate regarded the education of future generations, of their own men and teachers, and the proper erection of their schools. By no means did they neglect the "here and now," but they had a very long-term vision of their education apostolate. When, 15 years after it was begun, the Ratio Studiorum came out, its use was mandatory.
This document was fundamental in giving structure to the Jesuits and making their educational system, as a system, possibly the greatest in the history of the world. Its colleges, universities, and high schools spread throughout the world.
The Ratio Studioroum is very Ignatian. It is not a theoretical treatise on education; it is a practical code for establishing and conducting schools. It sets up the framework, gives statements of the educational aims and definitive arrangements of classes, schedules, and syllabi, with detailed attention to pedagogical methods and, critically, the formation of teachers, which Aquaviva put at the top of the list. The heart of any school is its teachers, and that has got to be at the top of the list.
In general, what is important for us is to share in the wisdom of fellow Catholics, even those of the past. For His reasons, Almighty God has disposed for us to live in these times and, as crazy as these times may be, we must be sure to benefit from the wealth of Catholic thought and action from the past. We must not re-invent the wheel. The Ratio and what the Jesuits have done is useful for us. The essence of their vision is very well summarized by Fr. Hughes:
There is a best way of doing everything and not least in education. In such a best way some elements are essential at all times, while others are accidental, and vary with time, place, and circumstance. The ideal system will preserve in its integrity that which is essential, and then will adapt the general principles with the closest adjustment to the particular environment (Loyola and the Educational System of the Jesuits, p.141).
I think that is very important to keep in mind that while the Jesuits had the Ratio Studiorum they were not slaves to it. They were lovers of the principles enshrined the Ratio, not slaves to its letter. In other words, they knew the principles and prudently applied them in the specific situation. I think we need to keep this in mind when we look at the Jesuits, or any other order for that matter, because our Society has the great opportunity and ability not to be shackled to a certain spirituality, order, or way of doing things, when it comes to education. At this point in our history, we are able to learn from the Jesuits, the Salesians, the Christian Brothers, the Marists, and take what is best from each of them. Certainly, there will be underlying perennial principles in all of their systems, but also particular means of approach, methodology, class structure, curriculum, etc., that we can adapt and use ourselves.
That gives you an idea of the Ratio. It’s difficult to find a hard copy, but Boston College has it on its web site in English.
Why did the Jesuits become involved with education? Why have we done the same? These questions are easily answered by answering the question underlying both, "Why does any order of the Catholic Church exist?" What does St. Ignatius write in the Institutions:
The end of the Society is not only to care for the salvation and perfection of their own souls with divine grace, but with the same [divine grace] seriously to devote themselves to the salvation and perfection of their neighbors. For it was especially instituted for the defense and propagation of the Faith, and the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine.
From this, the Jesuits will come to realize the need to establish schools.
The Jesuit philosophy of education is nothing more than the Catholic philosophy of education intimately and inextricably linking scholastic philosophy and the dogmatic teachings of the Church, that is, reason and religion, St. Thomas and the Magisterium. Paramount is the proper understanding of human nature as created by Almighty God and the ultimate destiny of man.
Man is not merely a citizen of this or that country; he is born to be a citizen of heaven. Therefore, in all truth, we can say that the purpose of education is a preparation for life, proximately this life, but ultimately everlasting life. That is why the Jesuits educate, why we educate. And we’re here to learn the principles necessary to fulfill that end. The glory of our role as priests and our specific vocation as educators is just that; we have the opportunity to form young souls. That is something that principals and teachers need to meditate on constantly; it should be their daily concern. We are intimately involved in the formation of citizens for heaven, souls made for the Beatific Vision. And that can never be over-emphasized.
Therefore, we are not talking about intellectualism. Education is not just intellectual formation nor instruction; it is the formation of the whole man. It is interesting to note that formal religion classes in most of the Jesuit schools never were never given more than two hours a week. Instead, the Jesuits strove to have religion permeate everything. They thought it somewhat odd or superficial to make religion a course all by itself, or to devote many, many hours to it sheerly because their teachers were religious. Unlike the Jesuits, we don’t have only priests or religious brothers teaching. We must make sure we staff our faculties with the right kind of teacher, not just someone who knows math or history, but a Catholic man in the state of grace and striving for sanctity so that religion permeates his class, whatever the subject. This is critical, because religion is not just a class at a certain time; religion is everything.
Religion is all, or religion is nothing!
We are aware how we have to constantly fight that attitude of mediocrity called "Sunday Catholicism." What are we doing with our children? — We are educating them so that they do not become one of those "Sunday Catholics." Therefore religion has to penetrate. That is the majesty of our vocation, and what a glory it is! We all know the labor, time, and effort it takes to do what we have to do in our schools, but it is worth every minute. There can be nothing more glorious than being a teacher or being a principal, guiding teachers, guiding a whole school.
The ultimate end is to lead students to the knowledge and love of God. Essentially, education is ultimately apostolic. It is an apostolic mission. We instill in children a knowledge and love of Almighty God, a knowledge and love of the holy Catholic Faith, an enthusiasm for the Catholic Faith, manifest its importance: that it is the first principle, that it is not just something they do on Sunday, or something they do in religion class. It is something which is important all of the time — it must penetrate and permeate! The school, the education, the method, the curriculum, whatever it may be: these are means to that end, that they know, love, and serve Almighty God. We are aspiring to form Christ in each and every one of those students. What greater role is there?
The proximate educational aims are, first, to develop all the powers of the body and soul. It’s the whole man that is being formed: his body, senses, memory, imagination, intellect, and will. It is developing, disciplining, and directing all the capacities of the human personality. That is the purpose of education. Here is a remarkable quote from the Ratio Studiorum:
The development of the student’s intellectual capacity is the school’s most characteristic part. However, this development will be defective and even dangerous unless it is strengthened and completed by the training of the will and the formation of the character.
If you are just shooting for intellectual knowledge and you are not strengthening the will and forming the character at the same time, not only is education defective, but it is capable of being "even dangerous," and possibly extremely so! Education prepares nature to receive and cooperate with Our Lord’s grace. We are instructing the intellect, training the will, and forming the character — in other words, the whole man — based upon serious principles.
Critical to the Jesuits and to any good school is formation of teachers and their skillful teaching. The teacher is the heart of the educational process. Obviously, the priest in charge as principal is the one giving direction. He is clearly the head; he is the one who is setting the spirit and tone for the school. However, the teachers are the ones with their hands on the clay doing the regular immediate formation. That’s why a bad teacher lacking in either discipline or knowledge causes disasters, the worst being to extinguish the desire of students to learn and to love learning. Be vigilant! Boring teachers, unprepared teachers, warm bodies thrown into a chair because no one else is available — these are the destruction of a school, and not just the destruction of a school, but the destruction of souls entrusted to our care. We can’t do that! Any talk of establishing schools means necessarily we talk about making sure we have properly trained teachers teaching our children.
Get your hands on and read Teacher and Teaching by Fr. Richard Tierney, S.J. He says:
True education is generally the work of skillful teachers. Since the former is a pearl without price [true education], the value of the latter can scarcely be overestimated. Teaching is the art of the interesting, the inspiring (p.27).
A genuine teacher moves students to action, intellectual or physical, whatever the case may be. To have such teachers is the first means of securing a good education for a student. As the famous saying goes, "Many teach, but few inspire." One cannot possibly exaggerate the need to have good inspiring teachers. We may suffer various monetary constraints which we believe disallow us from compensating a teacher in proportion to his worth, but I would say, now is the time to make every possible sacrifice to reward our teachers and attract qualified individuals. Really, if it comes down to trimming the food budget in the priory, I would say, then do it!
Let us not forget the need of adequate training. We must monitor and nurture the teachers we have. Reciprocally, they must desire our monitoring and nurturing. One way to help their development is by sending them to the annual Society Teachers’ Meeting and/or the teachers’ retreat after Easter. Neither we nor they can forget they are Catholic teachers. Evaluation and constructive criticism must be offered on a continual basis throughout the school year. Even the best teacher still needs to develop, to improve; that we provide the means for this is a major part of our administrative role as a true headmaster.
Fr. McGucken writes masterfully on the history and pedagogy of Jesuit education in The Jesuits and Education. He says St. Ignatius and the Company were determined, once the work of education was understood as God’s will and it was decided to get involved in it, to spare neither pains nor expense in the formation of their teachers. They would do anything to make sure that the teachers were properly formed. That is something we have to reflect on, that upon skilled teaching hinges much of a school’s success.
A good education will be determined by the quality of the curriculum. Unfortunately, it would take months to go over the details of the curriculum, but let’s discuss some basic principles. The first guiding principle is that the curriculum achieve formation, not just information. The curriculum is structured to develop the intellectual and moral habits, to form the character. The goal of a Catholic curriculum is not merely to be an accumulation of information to deliver to the student. This, however, is the goal of curricula in the modern, informational, technological era — that the student acquire as many facts as possible, have them crammed into his brain; then he is an intelligent man. No! — But we must be sure not to swing to the other extreme, that is, factual information is unimportant. Though it is not the main thing, not the formal cause, it is still the material of education. We need to know facts and dates, historical circumstances — these things make up the matter of education. They are not the end, but they are means to the end.
A soul is not properly formed by the mere accumulation of information. The methodology of Jesuit education was to form a man to train him to think. One of our biggest challenges is to train a young man to think, to analyze. This incapacity to think will be overcome by forming the intellectual and moral habits of a person, helping the student to penetrate into the reality of things rather than merely filling his mind with reams of facts. Knowledgeable and engaging teaching will go a long way in this battle.
The second principle regarding curriculum is that its study is to be intensive rather than extensive. We want to form, not simply inform, and the way to bring that about is by being intensive, by studying in depth a relatively small number of subjects rather than superficially studying a large number. It is studying the most important things and studying them thoroughly.
For the high school level, the Jesuits considered the humanities — literature, language, and history — to be the most important thing. The emphasis on these subjects, without absolutely excluding others, of course, contributed to the balanced formation of the human being, making him a fit receptacle for the grace of God. The humanities offer abiding and universal values for human formation. Why have the great classics, the great works, the great authors, been studied? — Quite simply, they provide what it takes to form a soul, to form a personality. Fr. Richard Tierney, S.J., alludes to this in his book, Teachers and Teaching:
What is it that has contributed most to immortalize the great classics? Surely not the name of the author, for an author shines in the light reflected from his book. Not in their diction, for diction alone is as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. What then? The great thoughts and the noble deeds that seem to make the pages palpitate life. Homer is Homer’s heroes.…[It] is this that flames in the mind long after the music of the language has died from the ear, and the beauty of the imagery has faded from the memory. It is this and kindred things that call to the best that is in man that educates.
Literature aims not merely at words and phrases and figures. We should look below these for the chief instrument by which we are to accomplish the end in view. We shall have praise for all that is noble, scorn for all that is base. The Trojan War will be more than a succession of battles; it will be a temporal punishment of crime. The flight of Aeneas from the burning city will be an heroic example of love and reverence for parents and those in authority. The hell of the Aeneid and the pool of Phaedo will show, first that reason unaided by revelation demands a future punishment for crime; secondly, that the Catholic dogma on this point fits in neatly with the dictates of reason and meets an instinct of nature. Then the lesson will be made actual by references to current thought and other contemporary conditions (pp. 4, 6).
By utilizing these perennial works, the Jesuits formed the soul by noble deeds and great acts; inspired their students and provided a vision for the young mind. These are abiding concepts in education and why it is so necessary to base our schools upon them. By such studies, the Jesuits fostered in their students the ability to think worthwhile thoughts and express them effectively. In order to do the same thing, we must also concentrate on the classics and humanities. Our curricula must present a body of worthwhile knowledge (not just anything and everything), foster in the student the enthusiasm to think it through and organize this knowledge in a workable form, and, finally, dispose him to express his thoughts effectively by writing or especially speaking. This is why the Jesuits based their education upon these classics. The Jesuits called it the eloquentia perfecta; knowing the right things, knowing them well, being able to organize them properly, and express them in the proper manner.
The succession of the curricula from the humanities to philosophy and theology is very important. Some people object that we only need to learn the catechism and read the lives of the saints. Again, that’s just not education. We cannot restore all things in Christ with such a viewpoint. It is a viewpoint which opposes too extremely the viewpoint of the utilitarians who exclude from education all that will not eventually help make money! It is condemned by history’s great Catholic educators and any man with common sense. Our own North American seminary has added an introductory year of humanities studies for this very purpose. The incoming young men are deficient in this area, this vital and foundational area: we have called it the "Humanities Year." Fr. Hughes gives a brief summary, addressing those in charge of schools:
Before he can teach men, or mold teachers of men, or even conceive the first idea of legislating for the intellectual world, he must, himself, first learn. There are two fundamental lessons which he does learn, and they go to form him: one is that, among all the pursuits, the study of virtue is supreme. The other is that, supreme as virtue is, without secular learning, the highest virtue goes unarmed, and at best is profitable to oneself alone (p. 15).
God has formed human nature to work in a specific way. He gives graces to perfect that nature, not to work outside it. Education must form the whole man, body and soul, natural and supernatural.
Fr. Tierney strikes at the utilitarians while speaking of mathematics, and we live today at a time where it is unduly exalted. He speaks about the chief function of the study of math, which is to train the intellect not to jump into the dark, but to step cautiously on firm ground under a full light. Mathematics is not inspiring, mathematics is not uplifting. Mathematics is mathematics. Therefore, to have a school developed around them is incredibly utilitarian, and ultimately a malformation of our children. It flies in the face of the very best in educational history. Parents often say: "If our child is not taking advanced mathematics, how is he going to go to college, how is he going to become an engineer?" The answer is, if your child is properly formed at 18 years old and knows how to think, he can go to any college and tackle the subjects of his choice. This assumes we have given him the fundamentals. If someone knows algebra and knows it well, he’ll have no problem going on to calculus in college. There is no reason for us to be worried about teaching calculus and advanced mathematics in our schools, unless you have a series of schools that are specifically mathematic; that, however, would be a deformation of education.
The Jesuits and Latin
A discussion is necessary on the Jesuits and Latin because their entire school system was more or less based upon Latin, even as late as the beginning of the 20th century. A directive of the Maryland-New York Province of the Society of Jesus laments the state of Latin in the curricula and admits the adverse effect this has had on their overall success in educating. It says that a return to the way the Jesuits had always taught Latin and its "pride of place" in their schools was absolutely necessary.
Frequently, arguments are made today that we no longer need Latin because it is no longer "useful." Yet, how much is the loss of Latin and our knowledge of this great language linked to the loss of culture and sense of history, to proper classical studies, to the achievement of the traditional, classical goals in Catholic education? Fr. Camille de Rochemonteix, a renowned Jesuit historian, neatly summarizes:
Then Latin was held in honor. They did not try to form mathematicians or doctors, artists or agronomists or specialists; rather, they prided themselves on knowing, writing and speaking Latin because this knowledge was indispensable for the study of philosophy, the crown of a classical education; because it was the idiom of both the Church and of science; because it was the language of the past in religion, literature, philosophy and theology; and because no one thought an education could be liberal without Latin.
We must remember the proximate aim of the Jesuits — trying to impart culture, making an eloquent man to be a fit and able receptacle of God’s grace. The best and most appropriate means of attaining eloquence in speech, in writing — culture — was, to the Jesuit mind, comprehension of Latin — and how great was their success! They wholeheartedly and unreservedly believed this, even up to recent times. The Jesuits did not deny the title of "Latin schools." It was the core of the curriculum. Nine-tenths of everything was taught in Latin. There were some schools in which you couldn’t speak in the vernacular, even outside of the classroom. The language of the school was Latin. They believed Latin to be the principle vehicle and instrument in forming the mind, and the key to opening the door to holy Mother Church and classical culture. They believed that you couldn’t possibly become a cultured man, get the true classical studies and penetrate to the true mind of the Church unless you really knew Latin and were capable of speaking and writing it fluently. This was not an impossible goal; it was done. As they frequently stated, "Greek was for the gifted student, Latin for everyone!"
The Ratio Studiorum says the purpose of Latin was to teach culture. It wished Latin taught because without it, no one can attain that fine appreciation and delight in beautiful things nor be comfortable and at home with them which is the mark of the cultured mind. The Ratio wished the pupil to become a master of its expression and its appreciation: to find his reading in Latin books, to express his thoughts in Latin, to talk, to plan, to argue, to dream, to pray, to live in Latin. Mind training, proper formation, was a by-product of Latin teaching (The Jesuits and Education, pp. 163, 164).
The teaching, learning, and understanding of Latin were of singular importance and the success of their schools was inextricably linked to it.
It is interesting and important to note the manner by which they taught the hallowed language. Let us give the floor to Fr. McGucken:
The objective to Latin teaching, implicitly contained in the Ratio, was, as has been seen, eloquentia — that is, the ability to talk and write Latin....The means adopted to foster eloquentia was the direct method of Latin teaching.
The "direct method" consists in the avoidance, as far as possible, of the use of the vernacular as the means by which Latin is learned. Often the direct method is referred to as the natural method of language learning. We are quite fortunate today to have the Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata series by Hans Orberg [endorsed enthusiastically by Bishop Bernard Fellay, available from Angelus Press — Ed.]. With much success we employ this method at St. Joseph’s Academy [in Armada, MI]. It is also used at the Society’s French seminary in Flavigny, the Brothers’ Novitiate in the Philippines, in United States District’s schools, and widely throughout Europe, especially in Italy. These words taken from the Woodstock Letters (1893) of various correspondence between American Jesuit educators are appropriate:
There can be no doubt of the possibility of having American boys speak Latin; it is a thing that has been done before, and is now being done in certain of our colleges, at least in some classes. A few, not many, of our professors object that Latin is indeed a good training for the mind, but it need not be spoken. It does not require much acquaintance with teaching to know that our course of instruction is impossible in the higher classes, quite impossible, if Latin has not been taught to the boys earlier as a living language....The innovation of teaching Latin through the vernacular was introduced by the Port Royalists.
The traditional Jesuit method of teaching Latin was, at least until very recently, the direct method. As Fr. McGucken notes:
The direct method tradition died very slowly in the American schools. Even as late as 1910 the Schedule for the Maryland-New York Province Committee of Studies strongly recommended that Latin conversation should be "more carefully attended to in our lower classes, as a tendency has been noted to neglect more and more the traditional practice off the Society (pp.199,200)."
The study of language by way of active, idiomatic translations was not imposed. Such a process was almost unknown in Jesuit schools before the suppression of the Society. It was at most tolerated in the Society. It can be said to be a great hindrance to the full command of the language. That is because by this method you are learning how to translate; you are not really learning Latin.
According to the Jesuits, Latin was for everybody and necessary for normal formation. Greek was for the gifted student. Everyone was to speak and write Latin. With the "translation method," only the best, brightest, and most personally motivated get good enough at translating Latin to begin to read it. The direct method tries to get everyone to read. Not everyone will be fluent, but the majority of boys can attain a certain proficiency in Latin. Of course, it presupposes that the teacher is going to work at it first and be very good at Latin himself in order to get that knowledge — "You can’t give what you don’t have." This method avoids the situation where almost everybody hates Latin because only the most gifted make the transition. For the Jesuits, Latin is the vehicle for forming a cultured man, the vir eloquens; and the way to go about it is the "direct method."
Principles in the Classroom
The Jesuits call their teaching methodology "the mastery formula." It contains two steps. The first is self- activity — ut excitetur ingenium — in other words, getting the student to think. On the part of the student, active participation in the classroom is critical. The teachers are not there just to inform, to give grand speeches and sermons. They are there to make them think and help them learn — to form those souls — and that means getting them to do it on their own. That’s education. It is like the mother helping her little child to take its first steps: you guide him, and your hope is that the child will walk by itself. The same truth is illustrated by a father teaching his child to ride a bicycle: the training wheels come off, dad runs alongside, and then, when the child’s not looking, he takes his hand away. The child might fall, but gets back up,....Mastery of the subject and well-prepared classes are fundamental in this area, but so is making the classes interesting. The best way to kill everything is to be up there boring the class with monotonous recitation or unprepared, unimaginative lessons. We all know what that does to us; we’ve all had those teachers in the past. That is why teaching is often called the "art of the interesting."
Amidst this stimulating intellectual atmosphere, the second step of the formula kicks in, which is the mastery of progressively difficult subject matter — striking the necessary balance between comprehension and progression. Very much according to common sense, this is the methodology by which Jesuit teachers would proceed: children imbued with a true desire to learn tackling ever more challenging material. This leads to the formation of not only intellectual habits but moral ones, too. A complete exposition is found in the Jesuit books on education. Those who teach will find it worthwhile to go to these books and see how the Jesuits lay it out. Without being able to address them thoroughly here, let me at least enumerate the important components to their teaching: pre-election (the proper preparation before studies); repetition; memory work; emulation or competition — they were always fostering healthy competition in the various domains. Fr. McGucken in The Jesuits and Education details these.
Complementing studies are extra-curricular activities. Things like plays were very important in the Jesuit system. Such activity puts the thing into real life. Having already covered the work in literature class, the students now should produce the play. With their own hands into it, the thing comes alive; they act it out, see their friends act it out; they are part of it. Each year we’ve produced a Shakespearean play with the boys at St. Joseph’s. The interest it generates is amazing. While the play is going on, the boys who are not in a scene run to the back of the tent in order to watch the action. It is something beautiful; it is education coming to life, wonderfully complementing classroom experience. The Jesuits were very much for that, with often very elaborate theatrical departments.
Physical education also has an important role in the development of our youth. This comes from Fr. Schwickerath’s book Jesuit Education: Its History and Principles in which he writes about physical culture and the physical education of the pupil:
Physical culture forms a most important feature in a good system of education: mens sana in corpore sano. Athletics, outdoor sports, and gymnastics do much for the physical health of the students. Besides, it demands and consequently helps to develop quickness of apprehension, steadiness and coolness, self-reliance, self-control, readiness to subordinate individual impulses to a command. This is all valuable for education (p. 570).
In our sports-crazed times, we must remain balanced, shifting neither to one extreme nor the other. Physical education clearly has its place in education, yet must play its proper role in the hierarchy. As always, virtue stands in the middle.
Personal Knowledge and Discipline
To quote from Fr. Richard Tierney’s Teacher and Teaching:
Teachers are more concerned with the formation of the soul, not the intellect alone, the formation of character. Maintaining close relationships is a means of inspiring the students, of forming high ideals, of teaching by example in both the spiritual and in the intellectual orders....What part is the teacher to play in forming the pupil’s character? In general, he must both inculcate principles and foster the formation of habit. This requires constant activity and elaborate but definite knowledge. Mere acquaintance with certain common foibles of human nature is not sufficient. Each boy in particular must be known intimately and trained individually. Otherwise, there is much useless beating of the air (p. 106).
This is a summary of their approach. We need to know our students with more than superficial knowledge. A boarding school is a blessing to this end because there one has the opportunity to know the students in a variety of circumstances, to anticipate their reactions, how to deal with the various personalities and accordingly help them acquire virtue. It’s more difficult in a day school, certainly. You’re not going to have the same opportunities, but we’ll have to make the effort to arrange for them then. It means arranging for extra-curricular activities, outside-school activities; it means organizing things to get to know them. If you don’t know someone, you can’t affect them or properly direct them to a goal, which is, for us, to foster in the student a great love of our Lord Jesus Christ to be, as Pope Pius XI said, "true and perfect Christians." Our students are the "books" that we must study. If we just have a superficial knowledge of them, if we don’t know whom we are dealing with, we are "beating the air."
To discipline them, supervision has to be constant and judicious. Fr. Tierney goes on for three pages about "spying," how demeaning that is to the office of the teacher and ultimately counterproductive. An example of their zealous, prudent, and charitable supervision was that the Scholastics and Masters were obliged to participate in recreation with their students. If you are physically able to do that, then do it: that’s the Jesuits. The underlying reason is clear: this is recreation, free-time, not the obligatory class-time, thus a greater influence can then be exerted.
Corporal punishment was seriously discouraged. The will needs to be won, and corporal punishment hinders that. They didn’t say that they threw it out entirely, but like later Catholic educators would say, it was to be a rarity. Succeeding systems of Catholic education were merely the inheritors of the great wisdom of the ages. The key, the perennial link, is Christ-like charity — love rather than fear.
The secret of magisterial ascendancy, as Ignatius of Loyola projected, was to be found in the master’s or teacher’s intellectual attainment, which naturally impressed youthful minds; and also in a paternal affection, which won youthful hearts. Does anything more seem necessary to the full idea of authority (Fr. Thomas Hughes, S.J., Loyola and the Educational System of the Jesuits, pp. 107, 108)?
From Fr. McGucken’s book The Jesuits and Education, we read:
All in all, the discipline in the 17th-century Jesuit college was mild. There was, in sharp contrast with the prevailing practice of the day, very little corporal punishment. The Jesuits believed that prevention of disorder was better than post factum remedies, and in general they tried to win their students by love rather than by fear.
Throughout their history, that’s the way the Jesuits motivated their students.
We are not Jesuits, not Salesians, nor Dominicans, etc., but we do have the opportunity to use what has been proven the most effective in the approaches of those orders of the Catholic Church which became known for education. Because we’ve inherited the noble task of education, we have the duty to apply the perennial principles of education. We must continue to devote ourselves to the study of education: its history, methods, the proper formation of character....This is our duty, our glory, our own path to heaven. Entrusted to our care are the future citizens of the eternal kingdom. And we must spare no expense, nor labor, nor effort or energy, to collaborate with the Lord of the vineyard and bring to full fruition this heavenly harvest!
- Fr. Michael McMahon is Headmaster of St. Joseph’s Boys Academy (Richmond, Michigan) and will be Headmaster of Notre Dame de La Salette Boys’ Academy (Olivet, Illinois) when it opens in September 2005.
- Hughes, Thomas, S.J., Loyola and the Education of the Jesuits.
- Jesuit Educational Association, Teaching in a Jesuit High School (1957).
- McCormick, Patrick. History of Education.
- McGucken, William, S.J., The Jesuits and Education (1932).
- Schwickerath, Robert, S.J., Jesuit Education: Its History and Principles (1903).
- Tierney, Richard, S.J., Teacher and Teaching (1915).
Taken in part from the original printed article of "Teach Me" in the June 2001 issue of The Angelus magazine.
The Angelus Editor's Foreword
This conference has been compiled and edited from Fr. de la Tour’s talks given to the priests and faculty at Immaculate Conception Academy, Post Falls, ID, and also to the priests of the Society of Saint Pius X in the United States District at their annual Priests’ Meeting, Feb. 12 - 16, 2001.
In this wide-ranging conference given to priests and faithful in both hemispheres over the last year, Fr. de la Tour discusses how and why modern education has broken down and cautions us to keep from following suit. He records how bad philosophy has corrupted education and re-establishes for us the basis for true education. This is not simply a speculative treatment, however. Father advises us practically on how to restore what has been lost and outlines the steps to be taken to do so. Priests, teachers, and parents, take note.
Introduction:the Cause of the Problem of Modern Education
In the year of Our Lord 1669, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, the monks of St. Wandrille were chanting Matins. The fifth lesson was from St. Thomas Aquinas. It read thus: "Accidentia sine subjecto subsistunt." The Angelic Doctor explained in this lesson that after the consecration, the accidents of the bread remained without their substance, which had been changed into the body of Our Lord. Something unbelievable then happened. The young monks started to whistle in order to manifest their opposition to St. Thomas. How could such a thing happen?Because they had been studying the philosophy of René Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes rejected the Thomistic distinction between substance and accidents. He even refused to give a philosophical explanation of the mystery of the Real Presence. For him, reason and faith belonged to two completely separate domains. Since the Real Presence was a supernatural phenomenon, it was pointless to use natural philosophy to understand this mystery. This is why the monks, imbued with Cartesian philosophy, refused to peacefully sing the lesson of St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Divine Office was thereby disturbed. The incident must have been worthy of notice since it was recorded in the annals of the monastery.
Now let us reflect a little upon this anecdote. It is typical of the second half of the 17th century, when all the teaching orders in France (Jesuits, Oratorians, Doctrinarians, etc.) became slowly contaminated with the errors of Descartes. Even the novitiates of the contemplative orders started to teach Cartesian philosophy, as was the case in the Benedictine monastery of St. Wandrille. It also illustrates very well the theme of this conference, which is the influence of philosophy on education and, through education, on our spiritual life. We must realize that the Divine Office is the center of the monk’s life. And its peace is here destroyed because of a false philosophy. The right kind of prayer is upset because of the wrong kind of education.
We used to say in 1969, when the Novus Ordo was promulgated, "lex orandi, lex credendi."We rejected the new Mass because it did not express our Catholic Faith. Upon the way we pray depends the way we believe. A defective liturgy will little by little poison our faith. Well could we have said in 1669, when witnessing the rowdy monks whistling during Matins, "lex studendi, lex orandi." Upon the way we study depends the way we pray. A defective education has grave consequences with regard to our spiritual life. This incident from the annals of St. Wandrille is therefore symbolic, and will serve as a starting point for this conference.
We will study the influence of the false philosophy of Descartes on our present system of education. I believe that the philosophy of education in many of our schools is not sufficiently inspired by the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas, but on the contrary has been affected by the errors of Descartes, just as in the non-Catholic schools. And this is one of the reasons why our schools are not bearing as much fruit as we expected. There seems to exist a disproportion between the amount of work on the part of our dedicated teachers and the results obtained on the part of our students. Could this be explained (at least in part) by the lack of Thomistic principles in our teaching? I believe so. John Senior wrote:
Controversies in education, as in anything else, are consequences of deeper divisions in philosophy and ultimately in religion.1
The problem of modern education is the modern philosophy which inspired it.
Descartes is the father of idealism, a most pernicious error which has wrought untold damage to man’s knowledge. In a nutshell, idealism adopts as the starting point of philosophy thought instead of being. This error is much worse than the preceding ones. Why? because it no longer attacks one particular truth known by the intellect, but the intellect itself as the faculty of knowing truth. Without entering into details, Descartes believed that our intellect directly attains, not the things outside our mind, but our ideas of these things. His philosophy was wholly rationalistic. This means that he believed in the efficacy of reason alone, unaided by anything else. There was a complete separation between faith and reason, instead of the mutual collaboration found in St. Thomas. Cartesian philosophy is anti-Catholic in its essence, although Descartes believed himself a devout Catholic.
Let us summarize the three main characteristics of rationalism. Firstly, it refuses to depend upon reality through experience. (It thus effects a separation between sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge.) Descartes does not appeal to the evidence of the object, but only to the so called "clear idea." This is pure subjectivism. Secondly, it no longer accepts receiving knowledge from previous teachers through tradition. (It thus effects a separation between modern thought and the wisdom of the ancients, especially Aristotle). Descartes wants to entirely reconstruct the whole edifice of human speculation. This is rash individualism. Thirdly, it wants to find truth without the help of supernatural Revelation. (It thus effects a separation between philosophy and theology.) Descartes never allowed the least Catholic dogma to interfere with his seeking knowledge. This is self-confident naturalism.
From this too brief summary, we can realize that Descartes has inaugurated a new orientation in philosophy. One can see the spirit of the Renaissance at work. Reason, jealous of its independence, no longer humbly submits to God. Descartes is paving the way for Kant and Hegel. If our ideas are not measured by the things God created, what will prevent the divinization of our mind, since it has become the ultimate reality?Idealism logically leads to pantheism. This is why since 1663 the Church has kept Descartes’s works on the Index of Forbidden Books. In spite of this prohibition, his philosophical errors were adopted by all the teaching orders during the second part of the 17th century, as the great historian Jean de Viguerie has proven in his well documented books. This was a great tragedy and had tremendous consequences with regards to education, which is the subject of this conference.
Catholic Revival in Education
A renewal in Catholic education was able to take place in the 20th century. This was due in great part to the "rediscovery" of Thomism in the late 19th century. After the Renaissance, the doctrine of St. Thomas was no longer the leading inspiration in matters of education. We must wait for men like the Dominican Fr. Calmel to start again to apply Thomistic principles to the organization of a school. Fr. Calmel wrote a great book entitled Ecole chrétienne renouvelée, where he lays down how St. Thomas’s doctrine can become the soul of a Catholic school. He was the inspiration of the Dominican Teaching Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus, from which congregation issued the sisters of Fanjeaux who have a school in the US in Post Falls, ID.
Another factor in this Catholic renewal in education is the "rediscovery" of Gregorian chant in the second part of the 19th century. After the Renaissance, the liturgy as the public worship of the Church was no longer what it was in the Middle Ages. Dom Guéranger explains this in his wonderful preface to The Liturgical Year (available from Angelus Press). St. Pius X promoted a return to the antique tradition of the Roman liturgy mainly through the Benedictine monks of Solesmes. In the 20th century, men like Henri Charlier (whose brother André was the headmaster of the famous school of Maslacq) understood that Gregorian chant was of supreme importance in the formation of youth. Henri Charlier taught chant to the parishioners of Mesnil-Saint-Loup (the parish of the Benedictine monk Fr. Emmanuel). His brother André was running his school on the same principles. He wrote:
The Church willed that the authentic Gregorian chant be restored because she judged that this art was destined to make souls enter the unfathomable mystery of the Faith, whose doors it delicately opens.
Between the 6th and the 12th century, the only schools were the monastic schools. The Latin Psalter was the standard textbook. The psalms are a wonderful tool to teach students the spirit of praise. Man is created for the glory of God. The Divine Office turns our soul towards heaven. In the 13th century, the great universities were founded and learned Dominicans taught scholasticism to medieval youth. But St. Thomas was brought up at Monte Cassino and died at Fossa Nova. In a way, the seedbed of Dominican theology was Benedictine life. As Cardinal Newman said, "The Church did not lose Benedict by finding Dominic." After the Reformation, in the 16th century, St. Ignatius came and Jesuit colleges were established. They were great schools; however, it is unfortunate that very soon, in spite of St. Ignatius’s desire, their teachers adopted Suarez and not St. Thomas as their master. This weakened them when in the 17th century they were confronted with Descartes, himself trained by the Jesuits at the College of La Flêche.
I cannot dwell too long on historical matters, but I just wanted to point out that the Catholic renewal in education was made possible in the 20th century only when teachers linked again with the Benedictine and Dominican traditions. An education, to be complete, needs the humanities (and the Jesuits were justly famous for this), but also the robust wisdom of St. Thomas as well as the God-centered spirit of the liturgy. Men like Fr. Calmel and André Charlier were great educators because they tapped all three wellsprings.
Let us now come back to Descartes and see successively how his doctrine contradicts St. Thomas’s, what influence it has on our modern system of education, and what can be done to counteract this pernicious influence. We summarize Descartes’ errors in five headings.
Suppression of Theology
For Descartes, ideas, in order to give true knowledge, must be absolutely clear. Therefore theology cannot be a true science, since there is a certain obscurity due to the mystery of God. In the modern curriculum, there is very little room given to theology. To give you an example, there is only one hour of Christian doctrine per week in some of the French Society schools. This is because of the enormous amount of mathematics and physics in the programs for the nationwide state examination. The problem is that our students get the idea that what truly matters is science in the modern meaning of the word. Knowledge of God becomes confused with emotional piety instead of being light for the intellect. For St. Thomas, God must have the first place in the curriculum of a Catholic school. Theology must be recognized as a true science and be considered as the crowning of studies. It is also a supernatural wisdom, at the same time speculative and practical.
Pope Pius XII spoke to students in the following terms:
All Christians, but especially those dedicated to study, should have a religious education as profound and as organic as possible. As a matter of fact, it would be dangerous to develop all other forms of knowledge and leave the religious heritage unchanged from the first days of childhood. Incomplete and superficial, it would necessarily be suffocated and probably destroyed by non-religious culture and the experience of adult life, as is proved by the fact that the faith of many was shipwrecked by doubts left unclarified and by problems left unsolved. Inasmuch as it is necessary for the foundation of your faith to be rational, a sufficient study of apologetics is indispensable. Afterwards you should sample the beauties of dogmatic theology and the harmonies of moral theology. Finally, try to include Christian ascetics in your studies and press on, on, beyond to the high planes of mystical theology. Oh, if you could see Christianity in all its greatness and splendor! 2
But it is equally certain that an ever-increasing development of your historical, literary and scientific acquirements without an adequate and corresponding deepening of religion, which is truly necessary, could be highly dangerous to your souls.... Do not let yourselves be satisfied until you have penetrated, as far as possible, into the intimate meaning of religious truth, and until the truth itself has penetrated you — your intelligence, your imagination, your heart and your whole being.3
Importance of Christian Doctrine
What must be done in our schools to give our students a solid religious formation? I believe it is possible in high school to initiate them in theology. We must help them to penetrate into the great mysteries of our Faith. Fr. Calmel explains that this can be done when the teacher himself has a certain theological formation. He can then teach what he has himself assimilated. But since we need to ascertain whether the student has understood or not, the teacher must make him speak. I would suggest reviving the oral exercise of the disputatio. The teacher plays the part of the "devil’s advocate," using the false reasonings of the great heretics (Arius, Nestorius, Pelagius, Luther, etc.), and the students must refute him using what they have learned in the class. During theology class (what Fr. Calmel called "Christian doctrine") connections can be made with Church history (Councils, Fathers, and Doctors of the Church, etc.). These oral exercises should also be made for such modern issues as the New Mass, religious liberty, and ecumenism. The only way to form Catholic minds is to give our students profound convictions. Our boys need to love the truth with their whole heart. (Veritas is the motto of the Dominican order.) From this burning love will often proceed the desire to communicate this truth to our neighbor, in other words, apostolic zeal.
Two more suggestions to implement this primacy of God in the minds of our students: We must teach them to meditate. I believe that personal prayer is extremely important. It is often what will make the difference between a student who perseveres after high school and a student who does not. Saying the family rosary is necessary, but not sufficient. A boy must also practice mental prayer in some way or another, i.e., talk to God in his own words. Each teacher can adapt this to his own grade level. He leads the students in meditation by helping them to ponder on some eternal truth, applying it to their personal life (like in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: "Jesus suffers for me...what can I do for Him?"). When the subject of the class has been the Incarnation, the Passion, or the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it should be easy to conclude by five minutes of prayer. The students must learn to avoid separation between their studies and their prayer life. Once again, everything has to be integrated. Why do we want to know more about God? Because we love Him. And the more we know about Him, the more we love Him. And true love leads to prayer.
Spending Time in a Monastery
The second suggestion is to have our students, at least once in their high school years, spend some time in a monastery. I know it is often easier to have a priest come to the school to preach a retreat. Ignatian retreats are indeed very good and should be given to our students. However, I believe that the company of monks bears fruits which are especially important for our youngsters. André Charlier wrote: "Our modern world understands nothing because it has lost the sense of the sacred." The Divine Office is the praise of God, something gratuitous, disinterested, without utilitarian value. Our boys need to see the monks whose life is dedicated to the loving adoration of the Blessed Trinity. Abbot Marmion said that the monastic life is one long Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. The boys having their meals with the monks, working with them, and praying with them (ora et labora) will taste Benedictine peace (pax is indeed the motto of the Order). And what about having the students back at school sing the Divine Office? In some boarding schools the boys attend Compline. It is even possible for high school students to sing one hour of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary every day. The psalms are short and can even be memorized. There is no better school of prayer than the psalms.
Secularization of Knowledge
For Descartes, theology is not a science. Not being a science, it is not a wisdom, and has therefore no influence on the other subjects of the curriculum. In one and the same man, the philosopher and the scientist are divorced from the believer. This leads to the secularization of knowledge. Its purpose will no longer be to know the world as coming from the Creator’s hands in order to know and love Him better, but to dominate it in order to make our life more comfortable through technology. There is a reversal in the orientation of knowledge. For medieval man, things spoke of God who made them and ordered them. For modern man, things are silent, they are on earth to be analyzed by means of algebraic equations. In the medieval scheme of education, everything was part of a whole. There were no "secular" subjects. Everything was to be taught in the light of faith. Theology is a wisdom, and one of the attributes of wisdom is to give harmony and unity to the parts of a whole, to "integrate" them. In modern textbooks of physics or biology, no reference is made to God. It is the same thing in literature. The "profane" subjects are completely cut off from the "religious." This division is not good. It is one of the effects of the disintegrating spirit of the Renaissance.
What can we do to encourage a Catholic perspective on science in our students? Modern textbooks crammed with molecular biology exclude the Creator from their pages. They do not lead the children to wonder at the beauty of the universe. But I believe the Catholic teacher can do a great deal in spite of these faulty textbooks. Whenever we can, let us not be afraid of dropping a quote from Sacred Scripture appropriate to the particular lesson we are studying. It is not a question of transforming every class into a religion class, but of helping the student acquire a Catholic mind, a mind which realizes that "the whole world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil" (Gerard Manley Hopkins). The utilitarian purpose of science pales when compared with the recognition of God Himself as seen through His wonderful world. There are many beautiful verses from the psalms like "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His handiwork," or "He has pitched a tent there for the sun, which comes forth like the groom from his bridal chamber and, like a giant, joyfully runs its course" (Ps. 19). There are also a lot of religious analogies which can be drawn from nature: For instance, our Lady is the "Star of the sea," a "rose amongst the thorns," "dawn arising," etc.
Passages like the following one from St. Theresa of the Child Jesus can also be used:
Jesus opened the book of nature before me and I saw that every flower He has created has a beauty of its own, that the splendor of the rose and the lily’s whiteness do not deprive the violet of its scent nor make less ravishing the daisy’s charm. I saw that if every little flower wished to be a rose, Nature would lose her spring adornments, and the fields would be no longer enameled with their varied flowers. So it is in the world of souls, the living garden of the Lord...4
It is sad to see that in many schools of the Society of Saint Pius X, students are exclusively studying classical Latin, just as in the public schools. Since they lack motivation, at the end of several years they have achieved very little: Most students are hardly able to decode a few sentences of Cicero with the help of a dictionary. If they were studying ecclesiastical Latin as well as classical Latin, students would be more motivated since they would see the connection between Latin and their prayer life. They could thus learn to understand the Gospel of the Mass, the psalms of the Office, and other prayers from the liturgy. Fr. Calmel wrote that in order to love Latin, one needs to have enough Catholic sense to be "vehementer affectus suave sonantis Ecclesiae vocibus." (St. Augustine was thus vehemently moved by the sweet voice of the Church, i.e., by the singing of the psalms in the basilica of Milan). What a world of difference between the Introit for the First Sunday of Advent drawn from Psalm 24, "Ad Te levavi animam meam," and some insipid sentence about the slave of the mother-in-law! The students can learn by heart after having translated them, some verses of the Adoro Te Devote, the Stabat Mater, or the Lauda Sion. They can follow the liturgical cycle through the hymns of Vespers ("Creator alme siderum" for Advent, etc.). Here is a quote from Pope Pius XII:
Latin! A language, ancient but not dead, whose superb echo, even if not heard for centuries in the ruined amphitheaters, the famous forums and the temples of the Caesars, is not silent in Christ’s basilicas, where the priests of the Gospel and the heirs of the martyrs repeat and sing again the psalms and the hymns of the first centuries in the reconsecrated language of the Quirites. Now, the language of Rome is principally a sacred language, which is heard in the divine rites, in the theological halls and in the Acts of the Apostolic See, and in which you yourselves often address a sweet greeting to the Queen of Heaven, your Mother, and to our Father Who reigns above.5
Fr. Berto was the private theologian of Archbishop Lefebvre at the Council. He was a Dominican tertiary and a great educator. He advocated teaching Latin like a living language, whereas the modern way is exclusively through written grammar and translation. Why would the French teacher say to his students, "Fermez la porte," or "Ouvrez la fenêtre," whereas the Latin teacher would never say "Claude januam," or "Aperi fenestram" (i.e., "Close the door"; "Open the window")? There is not enough time to quote extensively from Fr. Berto, but it is interesting to know that his ideas about the method of teaching Latin were shared by such men as Fr. Calmel and Henri Charlier. There has been a return to pre-Renaissance ways of teaching in the past 50 years like in the textbooks using the "natural method," as it is sometimes called. Far from us to advocate a "Latin without tears" utopia. But we should put emphasis on oral exercises. Students need to be able to speak a little Latin. This demands good teachers, but it is not an impossible task, especially if the students do it daily for 15 minutes. Simple questions are asked in Latin by the teacher, and the students must answer in Latin. For example, "Quae est Maria? Maria est Mater Dei. Ubi est Roma? Roma est in Italia," etc. Ideally, this needs to be started in the 7th or 8th grade, or, even better, in 5th or 6th. Fr. Berto believed that these exercises would greatly facilitate the students’ understanding of the liturgical texts. After having studied the missal, the students in the last year of high school could translate some articles of the Summa in connection with their program in philosophy.
Fragmentation of Curricula
For Descartes, the only certain knowledge is science in the modern meaning of the word, i.e., maths and physics. For St. Thomas, philosophy is the most certain of all natural sciences. It is the knowledge of things through their first causes. As theology is a wisdom in the supernatural order, philosophy is the supreme wisdom in the natural order. It pertains therefore to philosophy to put order in the other branches of the curriculum, i.e., assigning to them their proper objects, making sure they do not encroach upon each other’s boundaries, etc. Philosophy is "architectonic," as Aristotle used to say, meaning that a mind with a good philosophical formation will be an "integrated" mind and not a "compartmentalized" mind. For the medieval student, there was a hierarchy among the branches of the curriculum and a distinction, but not a complete separation, between them. As an example, modern students will study biology apart from scholastic philosophy. The result is that life will be viewed in a mechanistic perspective, i.e., will be reduced to physico-chemical factors, instead of being viewed in a hylomorphic perspective, i.e., explained by a principle of organization called substantial form.
The Importance of Philosophy
The goal of our education is to produce Catholic minds. For this purpose it is absolutely necessary that our students be exposed to the principles of Thomistic philosophy. I would suggest starting with a simple Logic class in 9th or 10th grade meeting a couple of times a week. There exists at this age a natural propensity to argue. (It is what Dorothy Sayers called the "pert stage" in her famous essay "The Lost Tools of Learning"). Our students desperately need to clearly define their terms in order to make accurate statements. Their essays are too often marred by imprecisions, vagueness, and even confusion. They also need to make the proper distinctions in order to break up concepts into several divisions. Last, they need to construct correct reasonings and detect fallacies in arguments. These are the three ways to advance in learning: definitio, divisio, ratiocinium. Logic (also called "dialectic") was considered a prerequisite for the other subjects in the medieval scheme of education. Before tackling a special domain, you needed to have acquired enough mastery in handling the "tools" of grammar (language), dialectic, and rhetoric (speech).
The second suggestion is to have a class in psychology in the 11th or 12th grade. Our boys would greatly benefit from an in-depth study of the human soul. God is the author of the natural order. It is important to know the faculties He created, to understand their purpose so as to use them according to His will. Original sin wounded, but did not destroy, the natural order. This is why our students need to have at least some grip on the basic principles of Thomistic psychology. There are many important practical consequences which can be deduced from the principles put forth by St. Thomas in his Summa. This is done very well by the Dominican Sisters in their classes to their schoolgirls and in their talks to their parents. It is certain that a mind enlightened with truth is one of the best weapons we can give our boys in order to work out their eternal salvation. (We also have to train their wills to virtue, but this is not directly the topic of this conference.) The knowledge of the human soul as designed by God truly helps us in seeing the moral law not as some arbitrary code imposed from without, but as the consequence of the nature of things from within. Our students learn not to separate their intellectual life from their moral life. When they study a Greek tragedy, they could apprehend the passion of despair from a poetic mode through literature, already knowing it from a scientific mode through philosophy.
Loss of the Sense of Reality
The idealism of Descartes can be briefly contrasted to the realism of St. Thomas in the following way: For the French philosopher, what our mind directly attains in the act of understanding is the idea of a thing. In other words, the idea is conceived as a "painting" of reality. For the Angelic Doctor, what our intellect directly attains is the thing itself, reality which exists outside the mind. It is only reflexively that the intellect can know its ideas. In other words, the idea is conceived as a "window" through which we know the nature of things. It is not the direct object of knowledge, but only a means. Another point we have to bear in mind is that Descartes thought that our ideas were "innate," i.e., pre-existing in our mind, whereas St. Thomas, with Aristotle, believes that they are abstracted from sensible data. Our five senses are the "bridge" which exists between our intellect and reality.
One of the consequences of the Cartesian errors in the domain of education is that modern science tends to fabricate subjective notions to reconstruct reality in the mind instead of understanding the objective nature of things created by God. Many physics textbooks are not seeking to help the student to penetrate into the essence of natural things, but rather to manipulate algebraic notions to quantify and measure phenomena. This leads to subjectivism. Our mind handles mental concepts without reaching the innermost "quiddity" of things (i.e., what answers to the question, quod quid est? ―what this thing is?).
Another trend in modern education is that teachers too often do not respect the proper order of knowledge (i.e., firstly sensible data, and secondly intelligible ideas). In chemistry they give students the table of elements and talk about electrons and protons before actually seeing what copper or zinc is. In biology they have their students dissecting a plant and observing its cells under a microscope before reflecting about the nature of the plant and its place in the order of creation. For instance, here is a beautiful poem by Joyce Kilmer that can be used to make children sit down under a mighty oak and admire it. ("Knowledge begins in wonder and ends in wisdom.")
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
There are great books which can be used to integrate the study of science and literature and thereby awaken in the child a certain love and appreciation for reality. A good one for primary grades is by Anna McGovern, where she arranges the materials through the four seasons.
Using the Five Senses
The book mentioned above has very good questions that the teacher should ask the students in order to help them to observe things around them. For instance, let our boys capture a grasshopper. They should see its green color, hear the noise it makes when it rubs its legs together, smell its odor, touch its dry skin, even taste it if they wish to imitate St. John the Baptist in the desert. From all these sensible data, they can then abstract the essence of grasshopper-ness, which is enjoyable for the mind because worth knowing for its own sake. It is a shame to see so many of our boys unable to distinguish an oak from an elm or a chickadee from a nuthatch. Our students need to get in touch with the natural world which surrounds them. The Audubon Society has excellent field guides for birds, rocks, mushrooms, reptiles, insects, trees and flowers. Our pupils should know how to identify and observe them. They can draw them and make reports on them in the manner of J.H. Fabre when he writes about the spider. They, of course, should also know the constellations of the sky. (Astronomy was one of the four liberal arts of the "quadrivium.") Stargazing awakens a sense of wonder in us, the same feeling of awe which must have penetrated the soul of Job as God told him: "Shalt thou be able to join together the shining stars the Pleiades, or canst thou stop the turning about of Arcturus?" (38:31). I believe that a lot of the material studied in our schools is not relevant and should be kept for later specialization in college. I am afraid that, like too much liquid poured too fast into small cups, all this "science" spills out of the brains of our boys and not much is actually retained by them. One other good thing about nature study done in field trips or living specimens brought into the classroom (boys love to bring frogs or lizards to their teachers) is that it motivates the students. Hopefully, they will all get "hooked" on one subject, either birds, insects, etc. And then they will want to study on their own, and this is one of the goals of education, to give a desire for more knowledge.
The Mystery of the Universe
When we think about what to do to counteract the Cartesian influence in our schools, one of the things which comes to mind is the sense of mystery. Descartes had suppressed the mystery in things since, for him, what we know is our own "clear ideas" which are luminous and evident. St. Thomas, on the contrary, knew that our understanding of things is limited and therefore includes a certain obscurity. A danger of cramming the minds of students with facts of how things operate is that the illusion often arises that science can explain everything, has all the answers. Now this is not only foolish, it is even bad science, for the best scientists know that precisely they do not have all the answers. What is the nature of light? What explains the migration of birds? What about the amazing instinct of insects? etc. We have to get our students to marvel, to admire, to wonder at God’s creation. We can never fully comprehend it, and knowing this is part of true wisdom, one of the goals of education.
Pius XI set forth the Catholic ideal of education, which is to instill an attitude of docility to a reality which has not been made by us:
By the time the child is of the age of reason, he wants to further his investigations. He looks for the "why’s" and "wherefore’s" of things, for solid knowledge. He must also acquire a wise, serene, level-headed judgment which will enable him to appreciate people and things in their true worth without letting himself be swayed by false appearances, heated passions or temperament, or by the tide of opinions [Pope Pius XI, 1926].
How to Study Literature
It is very sad to open a modern literature textbook. It certainly provides the student with a tremendous amount of data. You find information about the life of authors, their style of writing, the history of the period in which they lived, etc. A wide variety of excerpts from the classics is found so that the student is exposed to a "little bit of everything." But what is the result? The very purpose of literature class has been defeated. Our students must study literature in order to appreciate the true, the good, and the beautiful which are expressed in a poem, a drama or a novel. They can, through the means of the imagination, have access to the profound realities of human nature so well depicted in great literary works. The point is that the modern anthology crammed with footnotes often involves the students in things extrinsic to the text itself, instead of penetrating into its heart. I believe that the best way to study literature is to study a few carefully selected books per grade, but to study them in depth, with a good teacher. A teacher must know and love the books he is studying with his students. He must also read aloud to them. This is the best way to get them interested in the books. Then the students must be asked questions and they must answer. It is often the only way to make sure they are grasping the contents of the book. Good books are not only a means to cultivate the imagination, but they also help us to gain mastery over language, in other words, to learn self-expression both oral and written. Our schools need to choose the books best suited to each grade. For instance, in my opinion, the works of Robert Louis Stevenson or Mark Twain would be excellent for 7th and 8th grade. In the 9th and 10th grades the novels of Charles Dickens and Walter Scott seem to fit well for this age. In the 11th and 12th grades, they could read Shakespeare and of course, Chesterton and Belloc who are a must for Catholics. These are only examples, as there are many other good books which can and even ought to be studied, e.g. the Iliad and the Odyssey, and The Song of Roland, etc. We are fortunate to have in the US such men as Dr. David Allen White and Dr. Peter Chojnowski, who are both very competent in matters of literature. They can be a tremendous help to our teachers.
A Mistaken Understanding of the Nature of Science
For Descartes, science is a quantitative collection of clear and simple ideas which measure reality. For St. Thomas, science is a qualitative comprehension of principles (hierarchized under the idea of being) which are measured by reality. There is not enough time to dwell on this aspect of the Cartesian revolution, but it does also have far-reaching consequences in the domain of education. It is certain that modern instruction is centered on data to be memorized in order to be able to pass an examination rather than on a formation of the intellect through a step by step quest for truth. I believe this is one of the reasons for the lack of motivation among our boys. We are not engaging them enough in the process of their own education. They are too passive. The teacher is not doing his job of showing them the "inside" of the science he is conveying so that they in their turn may enter through the door. There is a beautiful quote of Pius XII on this topic:
Open, expand, illuminate and progressively adorn the child’s and the adolescent’s minds which are awakening to life; guide the curious and ardent youth whose holy ambition is to discover the truth and who is eager to investigate every branch of learning: is there perhaps a task more lovely, more vast, and more varied in its admirable unity than this? In fact, in all ages and in all achievements of study, one thing only is sought: to find and possess an even fuller and purer light in order to love and enjoy it, to defend and propagate it; to give it to each and all, according to one’s ability, and to multiply and spread the benefits of this light everywhere.6
Quality Rather than Quantity
The above-quoted words of the pope put us on the right track for a reform of our system of education: To study fewer things but to know them better. Simplify our curriculum in order to give more time to the formation of the intellect. Our boys too often have a smattering of culture, bits and pieces in their memory, too often vague and confused notions, but they have not learned how to think. This is a real problem. We do not want students with a superficial veneer of knowledge, but Catholic minds who have assimilated the cultural tradition passed on to them. But too often we have the impression that the wisdom that the teachers are attempting to pass on to these minds is not communicated. The students do not seem to have the interest needed and the good seeds of philosophy, literature and history fall on barren ground. The fruits are simply not there. Too many graduates from our schools have no character, no convictions, no love of the truth. They do not seem to enjoy knowledge. Here again, Pope Pius XII warns us against the dangers of Cartesianism in education:
In order to study seriously, you must guard against the belief that the amount of knowledge acquired is the fundamental element on which to build the edifice of our future culture. There is no need to know too many things, but only to learn what is necessary and suitable, and to learn it well, to understand it properly and study it thoroughly and intensely. It is therefore necessary to avoid compelling yourselves to make an almost superhuman effort and to run breathlessly after everything that learning has enshrined and tries to bring to the student’s desk. This is all the more true if one is thinking of methods of learning which are pure memory aids. These methods are a far cry from serious and pleasure-giving study, from a real and profound cultural formation, and because of them some schools are running the risk of involving themselves in a drama which saddens parents and irritates the students.7
Integration of the Different Subjects
Fr. Calmel wrote that the Catholic school does not consist in a class of Christian Doctrine, with a class of literature added on, and, in addition, a class of mathematics crowned by a class of history and some physical education, the whole thing interspersed with languages and sciences. The Catholic school does not consist in the presentation of subjects side by side, but in the presentation of the same, entire, beautiful and coherent truth, which is the constant nourishment of the teachers, and which they communicate to the students with serene enthusiasm, through the diverse disciplines, whose different requirements are yet respected.8
Our boys need to have a coherent vision of truth in their minds. It is vitally important, as we have already said, that, in order to fight against the "separation" of the Renaissance, to present Catholic wisdom as a whole (integer). Our students need to see the intelligible connections between all the subjects taught in the curriculum of our schools. I remember the science projects in Kansas where the students had to make a report on insects. They had to observe them, to write about them, to draw them, etc., thus integrating several disciplines. J. H. Fabre [see postscript to article] in his books often makes connections between biology and history, or biology and geography. There is a very interesting book called Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick. It is a successful attempt to integrate science and history. The mathematical and physical principles Archimedes discovered are combined with characteristics of the Greek world in which he lived. The book truly brings mechanics and hydrostatics to life instead of reducing them to abstract theories. The student is led to experience some of the excitement Archimedes must have felt in discovering these truths. There are several helpful books of a similar kind in home schooling catalogues (on Thomas Edison, etc.).
Pope Pius XII was advocating a harmonious development of the intellect through a synthetic integration of all the branches of our curriculum:
Those who are aware of the problems of the schools know that there is nothing more harmful than a mass of ideas accumulated in a confused and disorderly way — ideas which neither meet nor integrate, and which, rather, often clash and cancel one another out. Frequently the teaching and study of scientific matters is completely divorced from the total training of the intellect.9
The Learning of Crafts
Another suggestion is to get our boys to have a practical activity which puts them in contact with real things, and where they have to acquire a manual skill. This seems strange, but this kind of experience is very helpful for the development of the mind. Some boys have understood the concept of the lever when using a pitchfork. Our students all need to learn a small craft: pottery, leatherwork, gardening, farming, woodworking, etc. It can be a hobby done at home. If it is not possible at home, it could be arranged at the school.
Henri Charlier emphasizes its importance:
The true practice of crafts with every blow of the hammer comes up against a nature of things which admirably forms the intelligence not only as far the practical side is concerned, but also forms reflection on nature and the spirit of things.10
What wonderfully civilized quality we find in the work of the craftsmen of old! There was a "logic" in the operations of their trade, and these men had mastered it. I believe it is possible to introduce some of the same spirit in the education given in our schools.
Music and the Receptivity of the Mind
All the great educators insist on a less hurried pace for studies so as to give time for the truth to sink in and take root in the mind. Music has a great role in making the soul passive, i.e., receptive to teaching. A student who learns to appreciate good music is thereby refining his imagination to make it a fit instrument for his intellect. We have to get our boys to enjoy the great classical composers. They also should have a good repertoire of folk songs (not only American, but also Scottish, Irish, etc.). And, of course, they should sing Gregorian chant. The ideal would be for each boy to know how to play one musical instrument, even a simple one like the harmonica or the recorder. But it is not always possible. At least our students need to be exposed to beautiful music. In some schools, they have classes in music appreciation, in others they listen to music during the meals. I would like to quote Marcel de Corte, the great Thomist philosopher, about the importance of music in the education of his son Leon.
During the months when the man begins to appear in the boy, Leon was enraptured by music: a haunting melody would recur incessantly in his mind. A very talented pianist, he was able to overcome the paralysis of his hands by repeated exercises. Thanks to his older brother, he was initiated into Bach. It is alone, now, that he ventures forth on the sonorous sea in search of his soul. Like Romanesque art, music is for him the way that leads to the interior life, and which, at the same time, hands him the key to the exterior life. By himself, without our ever having discussed it, our son rediscovered the point of view of the Christian soul of the Middle Ages, as it was formed by Greece and by the Gospel: the microcosm and the macrocosm correspond, and the universe of the soul is in union with the whole universe. The knowledge of self and the knowledge of God who sustains the totality of the real in existence, meet. To know oneself is also to know God, or, rather, to understand that one only exists by God; and to know the place that one holds in the universe, to the point where the lower material world and the superior spiritual world are met together in man.11
What the Society of Saint Pius X Can Do
To conclude, here are five practical suggestions to help the Society fulfill its mission of education. Of course, the ideal would be to have an institute of teaching brothers for boys like the Dominican Sisters for girls. But this has not been God’s will, so we have to see what can be done with the means at our disposal.
A philosophy of education common to all our schools. Every priest and teacher should have a clear idea of what the goals of education are, so that he will take the right means to attain them. We need to take St. Thomas seriously and use his principles in order to make our schools conform more to the Catholic ideal.
Seminars for the training of our teachers. A reform in education must begin with the reform of teachers, who must receive a sound theological and philosophical formation. This can be realized through seminars during the school holidays. During these sessions, workshops can be organized with experienced teachers giving demonstrations to younger teachers.
Headmasters in community with their faculty. Each school faculty must have a real community life, including meetings with the headmaster where they study some aspect of Catholic education. The headmaster must visit classrooms and then have individual appointments with his teachers so as to guide them. He must see the "big picture," i.e., the curriculum of the whole school so as to establish connections between the grades.
Communication between the schools. The Dominican Sisters often have meetings between their principals and between their teachers on a subject. This allows for a greater uniformity in their curriculum. It also promotes the family spirit, since everyone can profit from each other’s experience. Something similar could be organized for our schools. One advantage is that more work can be accomplished since it can be shared between the different schools (e.g., one school works on the Latin curriculum, one school on the history curriculum, etc.). It demands co-ordination, but it would bear great fruits.
Conferences to the parents. This is very important since there must be profound harmony between the school and the family. Our parents are full of good will, but many of them have lost the true principles of education in the home, and this is why they often seem to work against the education given at school. It is our duty to teach them to rediscover these principles (authority, discipline, self-sacrifice, etc.) so that there can exist a mutual collaboration between parents and teachers.
There are many other ideas which could be implemented such as: intellectual competitions between our schools (we have soccer and basketball tournaments. Why not a debate tournament on history, philosophy, or other topic?); extracurricular activities where both teachers and students take part so as to create bonds between them, such as hikes, canoe and camping trips, etc.; formation of confraternities in order to foster piety (similar to the Children of Mary for the girls). But what has been said will be enough to give us some elements of reflection for the time being.
Let us entrust our schools to the Immaculate Heart of Mary so that she may help us to make them more Catholic, for the greater glory of God and the salvation of many souls.
- The Restoration of Christian Culture, 179.
- Papal Teachings: Education, Selected and arranged by the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, Allocution of March 24, 1957, 551-552.
- Ibid., Allocution of Sept. 30, 1953, 462.
- St. Theresa of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul (Rockford, IL: TAN Books & Publishers, 1997), 2.
- Education, Allocution of Jan. 30, 1949, 372.
- Ibid., Allocution of April 10, 1950, 384
- Ibid., Allocution of March 24, 1957, 547.
- École chrétienne renouvelée, 62-63.
- Education, Allocution of March 24, 1957, 548.
- Culture, École, Métier, 27.
- Deviens ce que tu es, 113-114.
Originally printed as the article "Author's Afterthoughts on 'Teach Me!'" in the July 2001 issue of The Angelus magazine.
In a conference he gave 50 years ago, the renowned Dominican educator, Fr. Roger-Thomas Calmel said:
Simply to teach some elements of Thomistic philosophy to our seniors is not enough. We must put our whole education from kindergarten to 12th grade under the vital influence of Thomistic principles.1
St. Thomas is indeed the Common Doctor, the universal teacher who leads our minds to unchanging truth. In my previous article [see "Teach Me!" in The Angelus, June 2001, pp.2-15], I explained that the problem of modern education was the false philosophy which had inspired it. We showed the main errors of René Descartes and contrasted them with the teachings of St. Thomas. We made some suggestions on how to counteract the Cartesian influence in our own schools.
Why did I focus on Descartes? Because he inaugurated a new orientation in philosophy. His system of thought was no longer imbued with Catholic principles, but with rationalism. Theology was eliminated from the curriculum. Mathematics took the place of metaphysics as the fundamental subject. Without the supernatural wisdom of theology and the natural wisdom of metaphysics, sciences were not coordinated into an harmonious whole. They no longer led men to appreciate God’s order in creation, but became means to make man’s life more comfortable on this earth.
Descartes lived in the 17th century. His rationalistic spirit led in the following century to the writing of the famous Encyclopedia edited by Diderot and D’Alembert with the support of men like Voltaire. This work provided the educated world of the Age of Enlightenment with a summa of the new learning in opposition to the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas. In it, technology was seen as the source of true progress. Man was born to enjoy this world through machines, but he was unable to do so as long as his intelligence was perverted by the system of education favored by the Catholic Church. Therefore the first step in the liberation of mankind was to free the immature mind from the tyranny of priests. This is why the Society of Jesus — the Jesuit Order — the greatest teaching order at the time and the chief organ of Catholic Counter-Reformation for two centuries, fell victim to the propaganda of the rationalist minority. While there were still many good minds within the Society of Jesus, many Jesuits had unfortunately become contaminated with the errors of Descartes.
For all that, the suppression of the Society was a great tragedy since it left no opponent to refute the enemies of the Church then preparing the French Revolution (1789). In his book, The Crisis of Western Education, historian Christopher Dawson explains that it was in the 18th century that the destruction of the classic system of education was consummated. Under the influence of the new ideas, the old educational traditions of the monastic schools, the medieval universities, and the humanist colleges became discredited. The revolutionaries sponsored their own educational programs and all the schools were put under secular control. The radical opposition between Catholic education and modern education was nowhere more apparent than in France. The religious and secular worlds were completely divorced. The contrast between the educational ideals of St. John Baptist de la Salle and those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau was obvious.
This may not be as clear in countries other than France, but nevertheless we must know there is everywhere a Catholic ideal of education which is in opposition to modern perspectives on the same subject. This has been pointed out by Popes Pius XI and Pius XII in their encyclicals and allocutions. Archbishop Lefebvre often said that the Society of Saint Pius X had not been designed as a teaching order, but that it had been forced to take over boys’ schools out of necessity because qualified people were unavailable. It is a fact that Divine Providence allowed several congregations of teaching sisters to remain traditional, whereas all the congregations of teaching brothers (Salesians, Marists, Christian Brothers, etc.) became infected by modernism. So the Society of Saint Pius X has had to "fill the gap" and open schools for the children of the families assisting at Mass in its priories and missions.
This enterprise has met with more or less success depending upon various factors, such as, the time the priest could dedicate to the running of the school, his competence and his interest in the field of education, the teachers he could find, the cooperation of the parents, etc. For the past 25 years the Society of Saint Pius X has been doing the best it could with the means at its disposal to provide children with a Catholic education.
Now that we have a little experience in this domain, it seems that the moment has come to look back on our achievements. We need to examine the fruits of our schools and see if we are satisfied with the type of graduates we are producing. And if we see that the goals of a true Catholic education have not been sufficiently attained, then we need to rectify the means so as to better attain these goals. The goal of Catholic education was declared by Pope Pius XI in Divini Illius Magistri (1929) [available from Angelus Press]. It is to "cooperate with divine grace in forming the true and perfect Christian." 2 And what is this true Christian? The pope defined it very clearly: It is the supernatural man who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by faith. In other words, the fruits of our schools should be men of character with profoundly Catholic minds, men truly living an interior life, men sincerely desiring to "restore all things in Christ."
The enterprise of opening schools without previous experience in education, without a tradition such as exists in a teaching order of religious, is daunting. But because it is clearly God’s will, we can count on His grace to remedy our insufficiency. This does not dispense us from doing what is in our power to improve our schools; that is why I indicated in "Teach Me!" five practical suggestions to improve their status.
Generally, we should find our inspiration in the wisdom of our predecessors. Pope Pius XI speaks about "the array of priceless educational treasures which is so truly a property of the Church, this incomparable and perfect teacher." 3 When we look at the history of the Church, we see how our most admirable Mother was able to adapt herself to all epochs of mankind in order to teach her children. This diversity is one of the marks of the true Church.
In one of his "historical sketches," Cardinal Newman summarized the spirituality of three great teachers: St. Benedict, St. Dominic, and St. Ignatius. Each corresponds to a period in the history of the Church, roughly, the primitive Catholic Church, the Middle Ages, and the period of the Counter-Reformation. The institutions they created — namely the Benedictine school, the Dominican university, and the Jesuit college — fulfilled a need, being most perfectly adapted to a particular historical situation. But as pointed out by Cardinal Newman, "The Church still has both Benedict and Dominic at home, though she has become the mother of Ignatius." It is interesting to note that the great 20th-century minds of the renewal in Catholic education synthesized all three traditions. Gregorian Chant (Benedictine), Thomistic philosophy (Dominican), and the humanities (Jesuits) were all part of the educational ideals of men like Fr. Calmel and André Charlier.
The Benedictine, Dominican, and Jesuit institutions are only three of the most famous in the history of the Church. Other educational treasures are at our disposal. The figure of St. John Bosco and his Salesian Order come to mind. This great educator took a fatherly interest in his boys. He fostered a "family spirit" through which the teachers and students were united in joy and peace. In this friendly atmosphere of mutual trust, the boys developed an interior desire to follow the rules in order to please God and their superiors. This result could be obtained because the pupils were almost at all times under the vigilant eye of the teachers who would talk, work, and play with them. This "preventive" system removed from the students the possibility of committing faults.
The Society of Saint Pius X, educating the boys of the 21st century, was able to profit from the wisdom of holy Mother Church, wisdom which shines forth in the life and writings of the numerous saints which she has produced in the past 2000 years. Thus recently, a group of 8th-Grade boys from the school St. Joseph des Carmes (near Fanjeaux, France) from where I was recently re-appointed to Post Falls, ID, spent five days in the traditional Benedictine monastery of Bellaigue, France. [At Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery, Silver City, NM, over 500 boys have made voluntary summer visits there since its foundation. — The Angelus Ed.] There they took part in the Divine Office, helped the monks to bottle cider, and took walks with them. To take meals in a monastic refectory is the best way to teach youngsters table manners. The boys were given talks on the meaning of a monk’s life totally consecrated to God. At St. Joseph des Carmes, senior high-school students have been studying the philosophy of St. Thomas. They were able to pray near his tomb in Toulouse and receive a special blessing with his relics in the chapel where his body stayed for one day. A sermon on the Angelic doctor was given, since it was his feast day.
The schools of the Society of Saint Pius X do their best to teach the classics as was done in Jesuit colleges. Another feature in our schools which we received from the Ignatian tradition is the Spiritual Exercises. Most schools have their juniors and seniors make a five-day silent retreat every year. This bears great fruit, especially in the domain of the formation of the will.
Pius XII gives us two guidelines in our task of strengthening the faith of our students:
The first: The faith of young people must be a praying faith. Youth must learn how to pray. Let this prayer be always in the measure and in the form, suitable to the age of youth, but it must ever be realized that, without prayer, it is impossible to remain firm in the faith.
The second: Youth must be proud of their faith, and ready to accept the fact that it will cost them something. From earliest childhood, the young must accustom themselves to make sacrifices for their faith, to walk before God with an upright conscience, and to reverence whatever He orders. Then youth will grow naturally, as it were, in the love of God [Pope Pius XII, Allocution of April 18, 1952].
Several of the Society’s schools utilize the "preventive system" of St. John Bosco. This shows that our priests are most desirous of learning from the experience of the educators whom the Church proposes to our imitation.
In May (2001), an interesting Latin seminar took place in Paris, France. It was presided over by Fr. Lorans, rector of the Society of St. Pius X’s College in Paris. Christopher Brown from the US gave an overview of the study of Latin through the history of Christendom. Hans Ørberg from Denmark explained the pedagogical principles behind his textbook, Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. Several professors from France also gave talks, but the one who "stole the show" was Professor Luigi Miraglia from Italy. He first gave us a wonderful conference in fluent Latin on his experience in teaching Latin according to his "natural method." He then brought "on stage" between 15 and 20 of his high school students who were in their second year of studying Latin with the Ørberg Method. He held a lesson for half an hour, asking questions in Latin and receiving answers in the same tongue about the texts they had studied. Two of Professor Miraglia’s former students gave speeches in Latin, amazing everyone with their fluency and, most importantly, their love of Latin.
At this seminar, Professor Miraglia became acquainted with some of the Society of Saint Pius X priests present and scheduled a seminar like it in the U.S. for August 1-3 (2001) in Post Falls, ID. The U.S. seminar was attended by 45 people, half of them priests and faculty. As a consequence of it, schools like St. Joseph’s Academy in Michigan have started to use the textbook Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. The basic principle of the method is not new, but follows the natural pattern of learning language. The text is so arranged that it enables the student to understand a new word or a new grammatical form from the context in which it occurs, much more after the manner by which he learns his own mother tongue. After using it several times in various contexts, its meaning becomes firmly fixed in the students’ minds. Latin vocabulary and grammar are learned organically according to the same progressive approach by which any of us learn to speak. The advantage of this method is that it enables the student to understand the Latin text just by reading it attentively without having to engage in the usual mental gymnastics to translate it into English. Eventually, boys are able to think and speak exclusively in Latin.
This method of learning Latin as a living language is a return to a very ancient tradition as opposed to the methods of the past two or three centuries. The instructions given by Rome concerning the implementation of the apostolic constitution Veterum Sapientia (1962) requested that students in minor seminaries learn to speak Latin, not just translate it. Questions of the teacher and answers of the students were solely in Latin.
Professor Christopher Brown reported that the schools of Campos, Brazil — Bishop Castro de Mayer’s former diocese — are planning to use the Ørberg textbooks. Fr. Couture of the Society of Saint Pius X’s Asia District is using them to train his pre-seminarians. The collaboration between Society of Saint Pius X priests from different countries on matters of education can be very fruitful and we hope more communications of the kind manifested at the Post Falls meeting will be established in the future.
Several teachers wrote me to comment on the ideas I expressed in "Teach Me!" I would like to clarify one point. When I stressed the need of more active participation of the student in the class, I did not mean to exclude the authority of the teacher. As Dr. John Senior says:
The relation of student to teacher is not one of equality...It is the relation of disciple to master in which docility is an analogue of the love of man and God, from Whom all paternity in heaven and on earth derives.4
St. Thomas Aquinas explains very well the role of the teacher in an article of the Summa Theologica.5 The teacher exteriorly assists the intellect of the student in his discovery of truth, cooperating with God who enlightens the mind from within. Once again, the teacher cannot infuse knowledge in our mind, but he can lead us to knowledge because he possesses it. He knows the way and so he is able to give us some helps so that we too can acquire knowledge. Through skillful explanations, comparisons, and examples, he assists the student to grasp the truth, for instance, to see in a demonstration the connection between the premises and the conclusion. Because we need to engage the students in the process of learning if we want true education to take place, we have to develop what St. Thomas calls "studiousness" in order to spur in their minds a desire for knowledge. "This virtue," he says, "derives its praise from a certain keenness of interest in seeking knowledge of things." 6 This is why it is necessary for teachers to awaken this "inquisitiveness" in their pupils. This yearning for the truth is one of the conditions of learning.
A five-day session for Society priests working in our European boys’ schools is planned for July (2002) in Flavigny, France. In the same way as the traditional Dominican Sisters meet several times a year to coordinate their efforts in education and assure unity in the schools of their congregation, the European priests of the Society of Saint Pius X will meet. Young priests will learn from their more experienced confreres; laymen experienced in the field of education could give conferences; problems could be discussed and solutions adopted. For a long time, priests have expressed a need for such sessions.
Our schools have to form Catholic men for the 21st century, and the conditions of life in this century are vastly different from those in the centuries of St. Benedict, St. Dominic, or St. Ignatius. We live in our apostate world, a world which has received the Catholic Faith and rejected it. The devil has made such a mess of everything on earth that the world is slowly becoming uninhabitable for anybody but saints. In other centuries, men of average virtue could fulfill their destiny here below without being obliged to heroism. In the 21st century, however, Satan has appeared to have organized everything for the eternal damnation of the larger number of souls. It is no longer possible to remain lukewarm and still save our soul. More than ever, mediocrity is not a viable option. Our boys must become Catholic warriors or perish. How can we develop this fighting spirit in our students? This is one of the questions which will be discussed during this Flavigny meeting, along with others regarding curriculum, formation of teachers, vocations, etc. We entrust the preparation of this session to your prayers. As Pope Pius XII reminded us in a fiery speech to young people:
A call to rebirth and a cry for recovery sounds throughout the world: it will be a Christian recovery. As We said in the beginning, you want a new structure to arise from the ruins heaped up by those who preferred error to truth. The world will have to be rebuilt in Jesus.
Young people! do you want to cooperate in the gigantic enterprise of reconstruction? The victory will be Christ’s. Do you want to fight with Him? To suffer with Him?
Do not, then, be weak and lazy. Rather, be inflamed and ardent youths. Enkindle the fire which Jesus came to bring into the world and make it blaze up! (Pope Pius XII, Allocution, March 24, 1957).
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.
- Fr. Roger-Thomas Calmel, O.P. (1914-1975), a prominent French Dominican and Thomist philosopher, made an immense contribution to the fight for Catholic Tradition through his writings and conferences. His most enduring influence is through the traditional Dominican Teaching Sisters of Fanjeaux and Brignole (France) who operate 12 girls’ schools in France and the United States. Before Vatican II, Fr. Calmel formed the founding members of these communities, specifically giving them the philosophical and pedagogical principles to educate Catholic girls in a de-christianized, secular and modernist environment. With the outbreak of the current crisis in the Church, these nuns, thanks to Fr. Calmel, were already well prepared.
- Divini Illius Magistri (Angelus Press), p.54
- Ibid., p.57.
- Restoration of Christian Culture, p.155.
- ST, Q.I, Art.117, ad 1, corpus.
- ST, II-II, Q,167, Art. 2, ad 3.
Let us study the relation of technology to the organization of schools and universities. As the technician enters this field, he converts all institutions of learning to his interest; that is, he promotes technical training, which as he claims, in the only up-to-date, useful, practical knowledge.
The significance of reforms in this direction must not be underestimated. They constitute a direct attack against the idea of a "rounded education" (encyclios disciplina) that prevailed in classical and medieval times. The consequences of this attack do not, obviously, consist alone in the decline of the role of grammar in education, in the retreat of astronomy and music, in the disappearance of dialectics and rhetoric. This slashing, whereby of the seven classical "free arts" only arithmetic and geometry have survived, is by no means all. The technical science which comes to a position of supremacy is both empirical and casual. Its inroads into education mean the victory of factual knowledge over integrated knowledge. The study of ancient languages is pushed into the background, but with them there vanish also the means to understand a culture in its entirety. The logical capacity of the student, his capacity to master the form of knowledge is weakened. Factual knowledge is empirical and thereby as infinite as are the endless rows of causes and effects by which it is described. We often meet with pride in the boundless accumulation of factual knowledge, which has been likened to an ocean on which the ship of civilization proudly sails. But this ocean is a mare tenebrosum ("a dark sea"); for a knowledge that has become boundless has also become formless. If to the human mind all things are equally worth knowing, then knowledge loses all values. Therefore, it may be concluded that this factual knowledge will eventually drown itself in the ocean of its facts. Today the most valiant human efforts are swamped by the rising tide of facts. It would not be surprising if we were to become as weary from this vastness of knowledge as from a crushing weight which burdens our back.
Where emphasis is placed on facts, education strives for a handbook knowledge, imparted to the student through profiles, graphs, and statistics of the subject matter. True education is incompatible with this kind of knowledge and with this method of instruction, for the crude empiricism into which such training has fallen is a purely mechanical piling up of facts. This training lays no foundation, it contains no forming principle, which would be superior to, and would master, the subject matter.
That dubious adage which says: "Knowledge is power," is less valid today than it ever was, for knowledge of that sort is the very opposite of mental power; actually it completely enervates the mind. Universities decline in the degree that technical progress spreads into them from the secondary schools. The university becomes a technical training center and servant of technical progress. Technology, in turn, does not fail to lavish endowments and new institutes upon universities and to work strenuously for the transformation of the universities into conglomerates of specialized laboratories.
It should be noted that the classic idea of a rounded education, confined as it was to the formation of culture and wisdom, stands in sharp opposition to the idea of an encyclopedia of sciences, that is, to a knowledge which is arrayed alphabetically like a dictionary or encyclopedia.
The idea of an encyclopedia of sciences belongs to the eighteenth century. Knowledge of that description has been the forerunner of all modern technical science. It is the knowledge of Diderot, a D’Alembert, a La Mettrie, who declared all philosophic thought to be null and void, who in works such as Histoire naturelle de l’ame and L’homme machine advocated an empiricism in which everything is explained in terms of casual reflexes between brain and body. The thought of Hume, their English contemporary, is stronger and finer, but his doctrine of the association of ideas, and the principles of all possible associations (he assumes similarity, contiguity in time and space, and cause or effect) lead to the same result (Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding). According to Hume, perceptions are not in need of a substance that carries them, for all substances are merely composites of simple concepts and thought. These theories of associative thinking always tend to make the associations materially independent.
However, to associate is not yet to think; in fact the special capacity for association characteristic of many a clever head appears to be rather a substitute for independent thought. Hume may be considered the spiritual father of Joyce’s Ulysses, a book that makes association independent, and destroys every intellectual order so radically that nothing is left but a great garbage pile of associations.
This was the (SSPX USA) District Superior's Letter to Friends and Benefactors in the June 2005 Regina Coeli Report.
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
We live in a time of ever changing moral standards (e.g., who would have imagined 100, 50 or even 20 years ago that there could be a debate about the definition of marriage!). The main reason for this is the principle that the majority rules; what the majority wishes to do, that is the moral law. Or at most we are told that economics, or biology, or psychology should be the sole guides in shaping human conduct.
Thus the individual’s judgment, as to what will contribute most to his own well-being and welfare of society, becomes the final court of appeals in moral matters. This of course is simply the modern version of Satan’s lie: "You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." The educational policy of any age reflects the philosophy of the age, and therefore we have in today’s education no mention of the sublime commandments of religion: "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not." Instead, we have the deification of human reason and an insisting upon the all-sufficiency of knowledge and enlightenment. Intellectual development, tests and measurement, and individual differences receive most of the attention, while character formation and the will are largely overlooked.
The fruits of this policy are abundant: the amoral and immoral conditions it promotes, the increase of lawlessness and crime, and the riotous freedom of our youth to name just a few.
The solution to this moral dilemma can be found only in religion as Pope Pius XI said in his Encyclical on the Christian Education of Youth:
Disorderly inclinations must be corrected, good tendencies encouraged and regulated from tender childhood, and, above all, the mind must be enlightened and the will strengthened by supernatural truth and by the means of grace, without which it is impossible to control evil impulses, impossible to attain the full and complete perfection of education intended by the Church, which Christ has endowed so richly with divine doctrine and with the Sacraments, the efficacious means of grace.
To overcome this moral dilemma it is important that we begin by building solid foundations otherwise known as character formation. The word "character" is derived from the Greek word meaning an instrument used to engrave or cut furrows. Character is the sum total of all the qualities that have been engraved upon the soul and that have become part and parcel of a man. Character is life dominated by principle, or in other words the completely formed will.
The development of character in children should be the supreme objective of priests, parents, and teachers. As Pope Pius XI described in the same encyclical:
Hence the true Christian, the product of Christian education, is the supernatural man who thinks, judges, and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatural light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the current term, the true and finished man of character. For, it is not every kind of consistency and firmness of conduct based on subjective principles that makes true character, but only constancy in following the eternal principles of justice, as is admitted even by the pagan poet when he praises as one and the same "the man who is just and firm of purpose."
Character training must therefore be made the center of the educational scheme from our earliest years. When this has been done then the child, when he comes to the critical years, will readily respond to the appeal of the higher motives to which he has reacted so often before. When this has not been done we can expect ruin. Individuals and nations are brought to ruin not by a lack of knowledge, but by a lack of proper conduct as Pope Pius XI explains: "particularly in young people, evil practices are the effect not so much of ignorance of intellect as of weakness of a will exposed to dangerous occasions, and unsupported by the means of grace."
While grace is all-powerful, it does not relieve us of the duty of developing to the utmost the natural strength of character of which our young people are capable. Priests, parents and teachers need to awaken in young people the spirit of the conqueror. There is a nobility that lies in their soul, dormant, perhaps, but never dead. If we would have them win out in the battle for virtue this nobility must be aroused and spurred on.
To aid in this it is important that proper attention be given to forming good habits in the young. Our character is the result of acquired habits added to our natural temperament. Hence, character education is largely the formation of habits. Therefore, parents and teachers must ceaselessly endeavor to prevent the formation of habits of wrong doing; for such habits weaken the will and cause misery. The formation of an evil habit happens so easily that it may take a long time before one even realizes that he is bound by it. Habits are neither made in a moment nor are they broken in a moment. But at any moment one can begin to make or break them. Acts develop habits, and habits form character, and character determines destiny. The boy, who, at the age of fourteen, is rude, selfish, or offensively loud, is likely to retain these habits as a man. Many psychologists affirm that, on the average, habits are formed from the ages of three to fourteen. If so then it behooves parents to begin early with habituating their children to what will form the basis of their character and therefore their protection when they are passing through the fire and water of the many temptations incident to adolescence.
This work of character formation must then begin with the pre-school child. Every day in a child’s early life is forming and determining his future. Good habits of courtesy, table manners and speech have a part to play in forming their character, as do good health habits, habits of orderliness and play habits. Even more important are the general moral habits which must also be formed early. Among these are: truthfulness and honesty, the foundations of character; respect for parents and authority; co-operation with others; sense of responsibility; sympathy; sense of modesty, so important for the proper training in chastity.
Among the most important habits to be formed in children is to teach them to be moderate in their wants. This is not a question of denying them joys and pleasures, as childhood should be filled with joy. Yet they should learn that no one can satisfy all his wishes, one who doesn’t learn this will be miserable later in life when he is not able to get everything that his heart desires.
A child, who has had each and every whim gratified, will be habituated to yield to every urge, and will not hesitate to push aside even moral considerations if they stand in the way of satisfying sensuous impulses. On the other hand, if they have been trained to abstain cheerfully they will develop the basis of the habit which will assist them in saying no when these same sensuous impulses tempt them.
In our world it is not too difficult to see the urgent need of training children in habits of self-control. Many years ago the late Archbishop John Spalding made an appeal in this regard to mothers: "O mothers, you whose love is the best any of us have known, harden your sons, and urge them on, not in the race for wealth, but in the steep and narrow path wherein, through self-conquest and self-knowledge, they rise towards God and all high things."
Parents should urge their children on to what one bishop called "the strategy of the Holy War." They can do this if they train their children every now and then to deny themselves some favorite food, or to ignore some little pain, or to make a heroic conquest of laziness. These things will train then to exercise themselves spiritually and will help to harden them for the spiritual war that wages against us all. If, however, they have never been trained to deny themselves permissible indulgences how will they be able to abstain from gratifying the non-permissible desires.
Nor is it difficult to arouse children’s enthusiasm for such little acts of self-denial. Some children may whine at first, especially if they are just beginning to form good habits, but, as the principle of doing not what they like but what is right begins to sink in, they will soon take interest in doing these little "acts of heroism" as beneficial to their own character development. Self-control should therefore be represented to them as an act of growth, of strength, of freedom; it must be made evident that the apparent repression is only a step towards a higher life. They should be shown how a gradual process of practice on the smallest things builds up willpower, and how every act of self-conquest in one sphere of life makes the battle easier in all the other spheres. In the work of self-discipline and the war for the control of our emotional nature the offensive is the best defense of the higher nature.
By training our children along these lines, we shall give them a conception of that true liberty which is the enjoyment of our privileges without trespassing on the rights of one’s soul, of our neighbors, or of God. They must be trained to obey the principle not their impulses. Only in this will they find true happiness, both in this life and, one day, in the next.
Sincerely yours in the Mystical Body of Christ,
Fr. John D. Fullerton
The crisis in education is not the result of a defect in teaching methods alone, granted that some are better than others and that arguments about them are serious, necessary, and productive. The crisis in education is really the result of a general cultural depletion, and nothing short of a genuine restoration will work any real improvement. And that is no matter for methodology; it is a deeply philosophical, historical, religious, and personal matter, going down into the roots of our civilization and ourselves.
Education is a relation of student and subject. It must be ordered to the complete and slippery exigencies of both. From the point of view of the student, we should teach what is easiest first; but from the point of view of the subject, this is often impossible. For example, it is commonly acknowledged that logic is a difficult subject. Yet, since it is prerequisite to all other courses in philosophy, willy-nilly it comes first in the sequence and cannot be "skipped." Nor can we propose a radical change in curriculum without carefully considering the development of the student himself as a person. We too often consider him as an abstraction, as a mass in relation to whatever forces might accelerate him.
There are virtues appropriate to childhood. Girls and boys are not little women and little men; and there are subjects and subject matters appropriate to childhood, others appropriate to youth and to maturity. It is more difficult for an adult to learn the names and dates of history, the continents and capitals in geography, or Latin paradigms, than for a child. If a child skips his geography, in order to discuss the political and military problems in Asia, he may never learn where Asia is; and he will suffer a consequent disorder, a disorientation, increasingly common, that forever warps his later political views. The English professor is painfully aware of the "advanced" poetic genius who never learned grammar, as professors of art must be of cubists and abstract impressionists who never learned to draw. Conversely, since politics presupposes ethics, and since ethics cannot be grasped without experience in the world, what are the children to say of Vietnam or Tashkent in the first place? Any pushing up of even the brightest of the immature results in a smart aleck who often dazzles by a display of memorized resemblances — using the virtue proper to the immature, he does well at giving back what he had read and heard. A twelve-year old might well deserve an "A" in a college course even in so mature a matter as politics because he is able to repeat formulas. He will pass the test, but this is no sign at all of his having grasped the material, or, what is more important, of the discipline having grasped him.
English professors are familiar with the child who has jumped from Snow White to Lolita without the intermediate stages: no Rover Boys, no Scott, Mark Twain, or Dickens. A reading list devised at a midwest university recommends what is essentially a college syllabus for high school students. …You do not advance a child intellectually or morally by force-feeding him mature and, in these cases, decadent "adult" fare. You do not improve or advance a high school curriculum by running trial heats of college courses over it. High school teachers filch the college reading lists in the hope of preparing their students for college courses when the right preparation is to cover prerequisite material. In an age so concerned with civil rights, we should not overlook the rights of childhood.
It is true that there are high school courses taught in college that should be moved back. But the meaning of "advanced placement" must not be stretched to cover what is really a problem in curriculum. We have grades — steps — necessary to the development of the student and to the structure of the subject. If you want to study philosophy, you must begin with logic; and if you want to make a young man into a philosopher, you must get him into the habit of being logical by drill in its disciplines. Some will go faster than others and that is why we have that other kind of "grade" from "A" to "F". But logic cannot be skipped nor can any test be substituted for it. Again, a smart boy can bone up on the rules of logic, but he will not have assimilated the terms or acquired the permanent disposition. A Chinese once criticized American education by saying, "You are always pulling on the flower to make it grow faster." We need rather, in the words of T. S. Eliot, a "life of significant soil." If a student has a greater capacity to learn, all the more reason for him to complete the full four years of his high school life and the full four years of his college life so that he actually realizes his potential. Slow him down. At Princeton, under Dean Root, the students in the four-year college normally took five courses per year; the exceptionally bright ones were permitted to take four, on the grounds that for them it was really worthwhile to go slow. An education is not an annoying impediment to research or business, but a good in itself, indispensable to the development of the qualified person.
There is a well-known distinction, often cited and seldom really seen, between the horizontal extension of knowledge and the vertical ascent to higher planes. For example, it is obvious that a knowledge of carpentry can be extended horizontally in the practice of the craft — a man can learn more and more simply by doing a certain thing again and again, like laying a floor; and his knowledge can also be extended by the application of this skill to different things — from floors to staircases, windows, roofs. He will have learned by practice and application more and more about the same operations.
But consider the knowledge of the architect, which includes carpentry — not the practice of carpentry, but its reasons. The architect, in considering the principles of building as a whole, must know the reason why. Not how, but why. All the knowledge of all carpenters, indefinitely extended, will never add up to that of the least of architects, and the least of architects, though he has not the skill to do it, understands the reasons for the best of carpentry beyond the carpenter himself. The architect, from a higher prospect, sees the reasons for what carpenters, masons, tillers, glaziers do. He sees the reasons for those things and integrates them. He does not simply coordinate, that is, order disparate lines of activity the way a foreman does; he integrates them, he sees them as parts of an integer or whole. Floor, staircase, window, roof are not coordinates, but parts that together make up the house. They are constitutive elements of the thing, the one, whole, integrated thing. But suppose all knowledge is an integer!
There is a famous picture coming down to us in different versions from the Middle Ages, illustrating education. It depicts a several-storied tower into which the schoolboy with his satchel and his tablet enters on the ground floor, greeted by the stern magister, who has merry eyes, a big stick called a baculum, and a book called the Donatus from its author, the fourth-century grammarian. Next, through the window of the second story, we see the boy progress to Aristotle’s Logic, and at the third window up to Cicero’s Rhetoric.
Rhetoric is the liberal art of intellectual nourishment, as cooking is the servile art of physical nourishment. Rhetoric makes the truth effective. It is not simply more and more grammar or more and more logic, any more than cooking is more and more vegetables. Rhetoric is rather making something out of the sentences and the arguments that grammar and logic have supplied. Rhetoric is grammar and logic. Any piece of rhetoric is made up of grammar and logic; they are its constitutive parts. From the points of view of the higher prospect of rhetoric, one looks down on grammar and logic and sees the reasons for their operations.
These liberal arts differ from one another vertically. You rise from one to the other, not by a horizontal extension, but a vertical ascent to a different level of understanding that includes the lower ones, analogous to the relation of part to whole.
In the picture, the boy, grown up to adolescence, climbs from the fourth to the seventh window, entering the higher stories of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy; beyond which the young man climbs higher still, up to philosophy, comprising physics, biology, psychology, ethics, economics, politics; to metaphysics and the highest peak, theology, the study of the mind of God Who knows and made all things — in Whom, therefore, the universe and all knowledge is integral.
The brave young man at the top of the stairs must now descend to wherever in the scale of work his talents lie, learning how to do one thing in the daily practice of an art or craft, but having had a vision of its place in the universal scheme of things in which architects cannot be arrogant or carpenters envious, because they both are parts of something greater than themselves. That is the difference between a technical school and a university — the university is supposed to rise to the universal. It integrates the horizontal in the vertical. It is a place where "young men see visions and old men dream dreams."
Teaching, Plato says, is a species of friendship, whose highest degree is love, in which persons see each other as integral parts of something greater than themselves — a marriage, a family, a college, a nation, a faith. In the pursuit of happiness, in marriage or friendship, in vocations, recreation, politics, and just plain jobs — in the long run — we have to ask what the whole thing is: What are all those activities and commitments parts of? What is the integer? If as student forgets everything he learned at school or college, he had best remember this one question. It will be on the very final examination that his own conscience will make at the last hour of his life: In the pursuit of horizons — of horizontal things — have you failed to raise your eyes and mind and heart up to the stars, to the reason for things, and beyond, as Dante says at the top of the tower of his poem:
To the love which moves the sun
And all the other stars?
Of course we are all in favor of advanced placement in the ordinary sense. If a freshman at college already had two years of high school Latin, he should not begin again with amo, amas, amat. He should be placed in the third year course. If that is what is meant, we should all be for it. If a student has had plane geometry in high school, let him go on to solid in college. It is difficult to adjust these matters. There are differences from school to school, and overlaps from school to college; so the placement test is called upon. Certainly a student should not be forced to take the same course twice, nor should he be given college credit for a course for which he got high school credit — this would be to receive payment twice for the same work done. But once the placement test comes into use there a strong temptation for the teacher in the senior year of high school to give up the subject in favor of a year’s intense drill in how to get high scores. Even worse, some universities — and famous ones — are granting college credit to students passing these tests without the genuine experience of a course. This is like trafficking in indulgences; it is selling a credit in the absence of merit and is a kind of fraud. A smart boy can run four years of college tests and call himself a Bachelor of Arts, when in fact he will be a neurotic with a talent for running tests. Do we detect an adulteration of learning in the name of economy? Credit without courses — which means without teachers, classrooms, electric lights, and heat?
A test is not the equivalent of a course. What we test is only that aspect of the experience which is testable. In some disciplines that aspect includes greater amounts of the reality than in others; in none does it include the whole and in many — especially the humanities — it includes very little. If a student cannot respond to the testable aspect of a discipline to which he had submitted for the required length of time, we infer that he has not sufficiently responded to the whole. But this does not work the other way around: If a student bones up on the testable aspects of a subject — not having submitted to the discipline — the grade he gets on a test in no way implies a corresponding response to the whole. He has not had the whole, so how could he respond? That some students are fast and some slow has no logical relation whatsoever to the selling of indulgenced tests.
Structuring downward from the graduate school to the college has resulted in the sad fact that colleges with fine old names have become marketplaces for a series of tests, with quickie courses in how to pass them taught by graduate assistants whose minds are on their PhDs. Liberal education has all but been eliminated. The high prestige these places still obtain is from their graduate schools and from their past. Advanced placement has ruined the college by advancing the graduate school downward into it: the high school has been ruined by advancing the college downward into it. One can dream nightmares not far from waking life in which nuclear fission is taught in the nursery. It may be done; but there will be thumb-sucking at Los Alamos.
It follows, then, that we should certainly place students in the courses they have had prerequisites to, that we eliminate duplications in high school and college curricula, and that schools, libraries, theaters, publications should work together to enrich the life of significant soil and foster a genuine growth of the intellectual life of every community. Mark Van Doren called college "a vacation from the commonplace. It is a time," he said "when we are not merely expected to change, but required to." It is that change, that growth of the person both in intellect and will, that transformation of his deepest life, which is the untestable — by no means detestable — reality of education. It cannot be speeded up or skipped or rearranged to suit the economy or the race with Russia or the latest machine. Education is a very great good in itself and not a mere instrument of success. The end of education is the perfection of each person and our special care is to prevent the emergence of the irrational aesthete and the brutal scientist. In the most serious, not the merely snobbish, sense of the word, we should have in mind the cultivation of "gentlemen."
And teachers must start with themselves. It is the same with teaching as with any calling, good or bad — it is a person who does it. No one ever learned from a method any more than he was ever killed by a gun or a knife. We learn and are killed by persons who may or may not use various instruments. The first rule for a teacher, then, as for any person, is to be somebody worthy of his calling, having an appropriate "dignity," whose Latin root means: "worthiness," which by no means implies that he should act like an undertaker. There is a dignity appropriate to taking us under and another to taking young people up. I mean the right worth for the job, and for the teacher of English or the classics this means a high seriousness about language and literature in the presence of which slovenliness and disrespect do not occur, simply as a matter of courtesy. This cliché happens to be true; if you want to teach something, you must have that something yourself. If poetry is not a part of your life, no method in the classroom will create ex nibilo the love of poetry in your students. Recall the famous dictum of St. Augustine; Love God and do what you will. It is open to a grave misuse, but the essential truth of it stands. The same maxim applies to what we call "English": Love literature and do what you will.
Why are students coming down from high schools and colleges — even after four years and a bachelor’s degree — so appallingly deficient they cannot read a normal paragraph in Mathew Arnold, a popular writer of less than one hundred years ago? It is because, as Ezra Pound said, "they ain’t got no kulchur." If there were music, poetry, and art at home, they would have learned despite bad teaching — teaching has always been mostly bad. Do you suppose Shelley’s schoolmasters were much good, laying about with the cane? Yet he wrote very well at the age of eighteen. Our boys have simply not had the nourishment. Their cultural life has been exhausted. Teachers have sown the seeds of poetry and prose according to the directions on the package, and have tried different varieties of seed; but the soil is gone. To see these shriveled persons coming up to college year after year now is to ask who in their lives has loved literature. Where could they have found the spiritual environment absolutely essential to the germination of the seed? I am not speaking of sentimental gush about books by someone who himself watches TV or at best reads the latest novels. This is the danger in St. Augustine’s phrase. Love presupposes knowledge. Love without knowledge is sentimentality, an indirect form of hatred that adds deception to contempt, so that one actively loves what is not really there — something worse than no love at all. Remember the word dignity — a worthiness. A person who is to be worthy of his job must have a love that is genuine.
The first quiet but definite step in the genuine reformation of education is that parents and teachers should read. Beginning with themselves, wherever they are and in whatever stage in their own depletion — they must read. Not the one hundred greatest books, or any of those they think they ought to read, but whatever good book is at hand; and beginning with it, come not just to like it, but to know it and to love it — and then rightly read another and another. I vividly remember standing before a fine teacher at college who had done a lot to promote the hundred greatest books and saying to him, "But I just can’t read all those books."In the middle of the Critique of Pure Reason I had despaired. "Of course you can’t," Mark Van Doren said, "Nobody can read a hundred books but here is one — read that." He took a volume from his desk haphazardly and handed it to me — it happened to be a collection of Plato’s Dialogues that helped to change my life. Of course, I never finished them; I am still reading Plato because I have not yet finished my life.
Ideology is the enemy. He has a nasty brother named Enthusiasm. The enthusiastic teacher is the one who rushes into a subject fervently but in ignorance on the grounds that action is virtue and that keeping the class awake for fifty minutes is the real business at hand. The enthusiast not only makes a fool of himself in front of those narrow-eyed and shrewd youths who see right through him, but worse, he often makes fools of those less shrewd, open-eyed, and best — because trusting — students whom he really teaches, but teaches to be shallow. He turns out those smart literary types who talk about Kant, Kafka, and the Tropic of Capricorn but have never experienced the copulative relation between a subject and a predicate. John Ruskin wrote:
Do not talk but of what you know; do not think but of what you have materials to think justly upon; and do not look for things only that you like, when there are others to be seen: This is the lesson to be taught to our youth, and inbred in them: and that mainly by our own example and contriteness. Never teach a child anything of which you are not sure yourself; and, above all, if you feel anxious to force anything into its mind in tender years, that the virtue of youth and early association may fasten it there, be sure it is no lie which you thus sanctify. There is always more to be taught of absolute, incontrovertible knowledge, open to its capacity, than any child can learn, there is no need to teach it anything doubtful. Better that it should be ignorant of a thousand truths, than have consecrated in its heart a single lie.
Stick to a few incontrovertibly good books and to a few real principles of grammar and rhetoric, and stay away from itchy reading lists and above all stay away from those interminably arid — stupid — discussions of current events that have almost displaced the serious study of history and literature. It is appalling to see little boys and girls ….. discussing foreign policy on Cuba when they do not know the formal beauty in the statement that Cuba is an island bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Straits of Florida, and the Caribbean Sea. There is an incontrovertible truth, while the rest is material they have no grounds "for thinking justly on," whatever their opinions might be; and the result of an education of that kind is the youth who has opinions about everything and the truth of nothing, even to the point of coming to that sorry disposition of the mind so common at college in which truth is denied altogether. "What is truth?" they say, failing to note that Pontius Pilate asked the same question before sending an innocent Man to the cross.
The letter of the Times correspondent referred to contained an account of one of the most singular cases of depravity ever brought before a criminal court; but it is unnecessary to bring any of its details under the reader’s attention, for nearly every other number of our journals has of late contained some instances of atrocities before unthought of, and, it might have seemed, impossible to humanity. The connection of these with the modern love of excitement in the sensation novel and drama may not be generally understood, but it is direct and constant; all furious pursuit of pleasure ending in actual desire of horror and delight in death.
That is, again, from Ruskin, written almost one hundred years ago and relevant right now: schools have direct responsibility in this shocking fact — or perhaps it is no longer shocking, and that is far worse — that a child or woman cannot safely walk the streets of any city in the United States after ten o’clock at night, not even the streets of mine, a university town, isolated, without the usual sociological excuses. Anyone even slightly acquainted with history knows that we should be alarmed, not only for our wives ands children, but alarmed at the ultimate barbarism of which this is an early, unmistakable symptom. We should add to Ruskin’s paragraph, the increased power in methodology that has broadened the sensation novel to include the movie and the television show.
We must work very hard to restore first in ourselves and then, by influence in others, opposed to that "furious pursuit of pleasure ending in actual desire of horror and delight in death," the pursuit of truth, ending in actual desire of beauty and delight in life.
A summary of the conferences of Dr. Peter Chojnowski given at the Society of Saint Pius X’s annual Priests’ Meeting of the United States District (Feb. 7 - 11, 2000), at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, Winona, MN.
This quotation from Aristotle’s Politics, a substantial portion of which is dedicated to articulating a curriculum which would methodically prepare the young mind to receive the virtue of wisdom, is offered both to comfort us and to sober us. It is meant to comfort us, insofar as we can see the Philosopher at a point similar to the one we seem to find ourselves in, that is, one of bewilderment. We are not the only ones who have experienced the feeling of groping for answers to a question which should have been long settled, "What is the process of education like?" The quotation is sobering for two reasons. Firstly, we see how stark Aristotle considers the situation and the importance with which he invests the answer to the question, "On what principle should we proceed?" We are faced with a question so important that Aristotle himself dedicates a third of his major political work to it. Secondly, if we consider the matter, we realize that culturally and intellectually speaking, we are in a much worse position to answer a question like, "Upon which principle ought we to base education?" Besides, "the existing practice" is about as "perplexing" as it comes. Even though Aristotle may have criticized the traditional literary education based upon the Homeric epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey, he still did not question the manly virtues which the Homeric tradition presented, honor, shame, hospitality, and megalopsychia (i.e., great-souledness). He could also take for granted the fact that his method of instructing in the moral and intellectual virtues, would resonate with those who had the ideals of practical wisdom, justice, piety, courage, and temperance passed down to them from their ancestors. Aristotle was searching for a "principle" and a "practice," and even seems a bit disheveled when considering the prospect, even though he had before him a manly and humane ideal, that of the man of goodness and moral beauty. Aristotle has a universally recognized standard for good and virtuous action, and he still looks for "principle" and "practice"! What is our own situation then, when we have no universally recognized standard for manly virtue? What chance have we of finding the "principle" upon which will be based the "practice?"
Our task is to confront the problem of education with Thomistic principles of analysis and resolution. We will use Thomistic doctrine and principles even though St. Thomas Aquinas himself did not confront the same problems that we do, nor could he even imagine the problems we face in educating the typical secondary school boy. St. Thomas made no explicit provision for a cultural condition in which the lines of communication uniting one human generation to the next would break down completely. He would not understand a condition in which not only has an educational and literary tradition broken down, but the very persons whom we seek to educate have been cut off from the promptings of their own nature. Such "promptings" always set the task and the agenda in the process of education. How can a young boy learn what the culture of mature humanity is in its fullness, when he is not even sure what it means to be human? What are the consequences of the evident fact that the very first principles of the human will and intellect, those which are supposed to be self-evident, seem to have disappeared?
We are in a situation with regard to education which is in a way similar to the situation in the Catholic Church: everything which the Fathers and the Doctors said could not happen has happened. The ancient academicians could have never imagined that fundamental human psychology could be altered to make the evident obscure. If Pope Pius XII wrote that technology was altering the psychological life of man in his day, imagine a ten-fold increase of his assessment and you have the typical young person of our age.
It will be futile for me to lay down Thomistic principles for education in what could be called an "ideal" setting or even in a "normal" cultural setting. Instead, we must apply the unchangeable truths uncovered by St. Thomas to our contemporary, denatured, liberal student, and the denatured, liberal society in which he has been raised — a society to which the normal appears bizarre, the society for which the normal conceptual framework of Christian civilization, the songs, the colors, the symbols, and the stories have no resonance and are no longer points of reference; the society which has been told that Christian culture has been demolished precisely so that it can build whatever structure it desires on the cleared lot. This is why I chose as a title for this article: "St. Thomas at Ground Zero: Where to Begin When You Cannot Continue?"
We must think in a scholastic fashion. We must consider the proximate object of our inquiry into the Thomistic principles of education, that is, the student. The student and his development is the goal of all our endeavors in education and the one whose good we have in mind through the process. He is the final cause of our efforts. His advancement to the state of mature manhood is the first in our intentions and the goal to be attained.
If the contemporary student is the object of our consideration, let us first mention certain aspects of the young man of today which appear to make his education an impossible task.
We leave aside for a moment the general lack of experience concerning fundamental human realities, the reality of pain, the reality of war, of hunger, of strenuous and life-dependent work, of an intense experience of human limitation and of a deep existential appreciation of man’s dependence upon God for life and livelihood. These are general problems which characterize most of our contemporaries in the post-Christian, industrialized, computerized world.
What are some of the problems with Johnny in our classrooms. We proceed, again in good Thomistic fashion, from that which is most apparent and visible to what is most essential and profound.
1) Johnny has no manners. His behavior, his standing and his sitting, his speaking, form of address and demeanor while being taught indicate that he has no sense that he is now engaged in a hierarchical system in which he is the junior and the teacher is the senior member. Johnny does not experience, in a way that would determine his behavior, the existence of a definitive and existing milieu, that is, an overall intellectual and cultural atmosphere.
2) Johnny is silly. This silliness is a psychological consequence of two things: the lack of a proper and convincing milieu for Johnny to experience and his lack of a belief that what his teachers are telling him really matters.
3) There is no coherence in Johnny’s mind nor in his knowledge. There is no "big picture" in Johnny’s mind. This stems from a lack of coherence in his day-to-day education. He does not see the intelligible connections between subjects taught him nor the topics considered. Johnny cannot see any coherence between the life they live at home, with their friends, the life they foresee themselves living after they get out of school, and their schooling.
4) Johnny lacks essential academic skills. Without these skills, Johnny is rendered incapable of assimilating, in the normal way, the wisdom of the ancients.
5) Finally, and most importantly, Johnny at the high school and college level is a functional illiterate. This produces in Johnny the appearance that he lacks interest in knowledge, in writing, academic matters, education, argumentation, and discourse.
If we accept as true the above deficiencies we have to conclude that the teacher’s function has become obsolete, since he no longer really has minds which have the raw material necessary for cultivation. We must ask the question no other generation has had to ask: "Has education become an impossible task?" What indicates that it seems to have become impossible is that it does not appear to be happening. We are not educating. At best, we are passing on information to be used at a future time. It must be thought and it must be accepted. At best, our youth are getting through the day. They are doing their work in order to get it done, normally at the last minute. They are not thinking about what they are doing. They do not really want to think about what they are doing.
Our boys are bored. A man who is bored will never be educated. It is the perceived boredom of the students which does more than anything else to aggravate the exasperation of our teachers. In this, as in many other ways, our own high school boys appear to follow the national trend. In the 34th Annual American Freshman Survey, produced by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute and released last month, out of 260,000 college freshman interviewed, a record 40% answered that they were "frequently bored" in high school classes, compared to the 25% who answered yes when the question was first asked in 1985. Moreover, more students reported that they were habitually late to class or skipped classes entirely. From these new statistics, university researchers have coined the new term, "academic disengagement," a term I myself used a month before this survey was reported!Linda Sax, a researcher who directed the survey, attributed this "boredom" to the "rapid advances in today’s high-tech world may make it harder to hold the students’ attention....This is a reflection of the increasingly fast-paced society, made more so by computers and other media." Interesting also, for our purposes, Miss Sax adds, "Students tell us anecdotally that they love it when teachers use more interactive tools. But not all teachers do it."
Boredom Is What Remains at Ground Zero
Boredom is an inherently Christian psychological state. It tells us that this little finitude which now confronts is not enough to satisfy the hearts restlessness for the infinite God. It shows that more is always necessary, that the heart and mind race forward into the spaciousness of the imagination when their desire for being, truth, goodness, and beauty are not satisfied. Since boredom indicates a regularity of human desires, it is an indicator of the fixity of human nature. It is, therefore, a psychological state which can serve as a beginning. Boredom is a point of beginning for the student who is now completely disengaged and is manifesting, in an almost instinctive way, the failure of the current education practice. Also, it is a point of beginning for our own reflections on the basics of the process of education, which, by its very nature, is meant to "engage" and "draw out."
So it is the disinterested yawn which drives us back to the fundamentals of education. Does St. Thomas have anything to say to us here. Can he provide for us an understanding of what education is, what its most basic elements and relationships are?
To recover this understanding is to establish a basis from which we may advance in the real work of education. I want to be very clear that to despair of what has been done in the recent past is not to despair of education as an activity which is fundamentally human. It is the most distinctively human activity. Angels do not need it; brutes are incapable of it.
No other creature but man starts out existence with an intellectual capacity to know, but without ideas known. The discursive nature of human knowledge makes education necessary; it also makes of education an extended process; no other creature starts from such a low point and is called to such a high point. Education is an activity which is uniquely human. If education is necessary and we must return to essentials in order to restore this basic education which has been lost, it will be my contention that we have the advantage. We can foster milieus in which the basics of the educational process are made actual, whereas those who have massive funding, sports complexes, unwieldy faculties, and all the bureaucracy which accompany them, are handcuffed to these things. They must continue the production line of paper degrees, even though the reality which those degrees used to express is no longer present. Let those who would be certified be certified! Let us concern ourselves with how to form a man capable of functioning amidst a body of men. Let us produce men who are fruitful and vital members of the Mystical Body.
If we are at ground zero St. Thomas would have us begin with the most basic principles employable in a consideration of education, that is Act and Potency. The precise movement of education is one from the actualized potency of the teacher’s mind to the actualization of the student’s potency or capacity to know. The basic process of education is that the teacher acts as efficient cause in the reduction of the potency of the student’s mind to a state of actuality. This state of actuality will resemble to a certain degree the teacher’s own state of actuality. The student is brought from a state of not knowing to a state of knowing. When considering act and potency as the most fundamental principles which we can employ to understand the process of education, two things must be remembered:
1) There is never act without pre-existing potency. This potency — or potential — which is to be actualized (or "activized"), however, is not general in any way. Education is the actualization of very specific potencies (or "capacities") of the human soul. To understand the progressive movement of education we must understand what are the specific human capacities for internal and external action and movement which we desire education to provoke. An understanding of these capacities will also provide us with an indication as to how to go about provoking that which is most fundamental in the human mind and personality, and 2) There is never an actualization of pure potency. The mind of the student is never in a state of pure potential. The mind of a student, according to Aristotle and St. Thomas, began life without a set of pre-given ideas, but does not remain in that state. Even the student with the poorest of educational backgrounds has had his mind "activated" by his constant interaction with nature and the world of human artifice into which he was born. As Socrates affirmed 2400 years ago, much of what the teacher requires the student to understand is already present in the boy’s mind in an implicit way on account of the boy’s trek with natural and human reality; the teacher must "simply"(!) bring to the forefront of the mind, by rendering explicit, what is already grasped in an implicit (and superficial) way. Teachers are confronted with human souls which already "know" to some degree. Our profession is to actualize pre-given, God-given abilities in those souls. Education will be a progressive actualization and, hence, perfection of a human being. This is going to require that teachers not treat students as if they were computers, "programming" them with information meant to be useful only in later life.
These basics are upon what we will build a proper knowledge of the process of education and for its reconstitution.
How to Use the Principles of Natural Law to Restore the Student
If the perverted re-consideration of nature by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (see The Angelus, July 1999, pp.30-37) began the process which led to the decomposition of education, the understanding of nature as advanced by St. Thomas Aquinas will provide us with the basis upon which to begin the reconstitution of that same educational process. Catholic education has as its purpose to bring about the realization of a boy’s capacity to be a mature man with a mind which is a microcosm of the whole of the created order. So, we must understand the nature itself which is to be actualized. Must we not fully understand the object and, hence, the objective, before we can undertake a consideration of the method needed to attain that objective?
Inclination as Law
The contemporary boy who faces us in our classrooms is "disengaged" from the process of education. By doing homework and enduring lectures, he may present all the appearances of being a student, but, essentially, he is not. If he is not a student we are not teachers, certainly not the masters and guides who were the mainstay of the educational process in the past. We can call him "disengaged" because education is not the substance and totality of his life; it is only part of it. For education to be a true cultivation of the entire man it must include within itself all of the aspects of human potential and activity. Schooling for our boys has become a compartment, by no means the most important one, which they are required to fill with a certain prescribed number of items before the compartment can be safely sealed and its contents forgotten.
Rather than allowing our students to be disengaged and letting them escape on account of disinterest into the musings of the partially formed adolescent imagination, let us as educators engage them fully, let us hold up before them a form of actualization which they truly want and one which they know only we can bestow on them. Let them realize that the world of mere images to which they habitually escape does not compare to the substantial realities to which we can lead them by our engaging teaching. Not only can we hope to end the disengagement, but actually engender enthusiasm in our students concerning the educational process their teachers have initiated and they themselves are undergoing. The entirety of the education is this interior process on the part of the student by which he moves from a state of potentially knowing to the state of actually knowing. The teacher is simply the initiator and facilitator of a process which takes place entirely within the soul of the student.
How Do We Get to These Boys?
We accept as facts that we are dealing with a functionally illiterate generation who has been detached from the literary and cultural tradition of learning which had been passed down, largely intact, until 35 years ago, and also that the boy has been fundamentally detached from the substantiality of the world. He is instead used to the accidental forms which are not even attributes of natural substances, but rather artifacts. These artifacts are not created to engender understanding of the true, the good, or the beautiful, but to incite consumer spending. With these facts accepted, is there any "ground" we can locate which will be present in every boy to serve as a basis of stability in a situation of intellectual chaos and provide us with a "natural curriculum" upon which to build?
This "natural curriculum" is based upon the order of human knowing as presented by St. Thomas Aquinas and upon the union of body and soul which constitutes the essence of man. But we must first look to the primary precepts of the natural law (Summa Theologica, I-II, Q.94, AA.2,3). It is here that St. Thomas gives us a list of the basic and most fundamental orientations of human nature. These basic inclinations, orientations, and desires are the activities and powers that constitute what it means to be a man. These inclinations, as understood by St. Thomas, are so critical that he states that the natural law (which is only participation in this world in the eternal law) is human reason’s grasping of these primary inclinations in the course of ordinary human acts. These inclinations, and the desires which proceed from these inclinations, are what we call "Law." The primary precepts of the natural law, however, do not instruct man as to what not to do, but rather, instruct man as to what to do, that is, what goods he is to pursue. They present an intellectual and existential agenda for man. If we are considering the reconstitution of education in the souls of our students immersed in a culture dominated by manipulative and reality-distorting technology and the abstractions of liberal ideology, and we define "education" as the bringing to maturity of the human mind and soul, does it not make perfect sense that we should understand this nature which we are attempting to cultivate? Natural human desires reveal to us the program for a reconstitution of the curriculum and the entire educational endeavor.
This assertion that the orientation of man indicates to us the very task for education has been taught by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Divini Illius Magistri [available from Angelus Press]. Referring to the process of Catholic education, His Holiness employs words such as "impulse," "impulse implanted in their nature," "perfection," "directed to man’s last end." When speaking about youth, he states: "And hence they feel the impulse towards a perfection which is higher, which impulse is implanted in their nature by the Creator Himself." Also, there is "no true education which is not wholly directed to man’s last end."
What are these primary precepts of the natural law, these basic inclinations of the human soul, which we would base so much upon? St. Thomas, in his usual terse way of treating fundamental aspects of reality which he understands to be self-evident, describes them in the following way:
Wherefore the order of the precepts of the natural law is according to the order of natural inclinations. Because in man there is first of all an inclination to good in accordance with the nature which he has in common with all substances, inasmuch as every substance seeks the preservation of its own being according to its nature, and by reason of this inclination warding off its obstacles belongs to the natural law. Secondly, there is in man an inclination to things that pertain to him more specifically according to the nature which he has in common with other animals, and in virtue of this inclination, those things are said to belong to the natural law "which nature has taught to all animals," such as procreation, education of offspring, and so forth. Thirdly, there is in man an inclination to good according to the nature of his reason, which nature is proper to him; thus man has a natural inclination to know the truths about God and to live in society, and in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law, for instance, to shun ignorance, to avoid offending those among whom one has to live, and other such things regarding the above inclination (ST, I-II, Q.94, A.2).
According to St. Thomas, what is good is true and what is true is good ["The good and true are convertible." — The Angelus Ed]. They are different aspects of the same fundamental reality, "being." Being, under various aspects (e.g., what is good; what is true) is the object of the intellect and the appetites. What motivates man is his desire for what he perceives as good. In the case of the primary inclinations of human nature, which are also the primary precepts of the natural law, "true things" are pursued as "good things." They are things which satisfy a natural desire for attainment and perfection.
Since we are speaking about intentional learning and not mere common, unavoidable experiences, we must remember that the true is desired by the rational appetite as a desirable good. A true thing must be seen as desirable before any one will seek it. No student is a true student if he does not actively participate in his own education. He must want it. He must want the truth for education to happen.
I am convinced that the first principles of practical reason, telling man what is desirable and worth seeking, are obfuscated for the contemporary Western man so that that which is supposed to be self-evident has become obscure or reduced to an "option." They may be denied in the college classrooms, but everyone lives as if they are the case. For instance, we cannot help but know that a thing is what it is and that something cannot be and not be at the same time. Liberals operate as if their view of reality is true and the traditional view is false. Their persecution of Tradition bears this out. What is happening in the college classroom is that a malicious will had by the typical professor is being intentionally turned against these self-evident truths of speculative reason. The will is intentionally distorting our common human recognition of the fixity of things.
What renders these self-evident principles of practical reason problematic is the fact that St. Thomas speaks of them as both self-evident by their very nature to anyone. But it has become clear that, because of some unprecedented interference, our own boys have become oblivious to the evident. It appears we no longer necessarily desire what "all men" have desired. And, there is the rub. How do we uncover and reactivate what St. Thomas thought could never be covered and deactivated?
In order to "regain" and renovate our students that they may become true students and true heirs to the traditional wisdom contained within Catholic philosophy and theology, we must find a way, in the course of the educational process itself, of removing the liberal, technological veneer which keeps our contemporary youth from recognizing the desires inherent in their natures as men. Once these are recognized, the natural dynamism of man’s movement towards an end will engender that enthusiasm which can only be present if there is a connatural symbiosis of thought, feeling, and true desire for real things. What I mean by that is what St. Thomas says is a participation, on the part of human reason, in the providential plan which God has for all creatures as that plan resides in the Divine Intellect. Since the Divine Intellect is eternal, St. Thomas refers to this "plan" as the Eternal Law. However, even though the Eternal Law is present within the mind of the unchanging God, that does not mean that the plan is not about change, development, and movement towards a state of perfection. The Eternal Law is an unchanging plan concerning change and development. It is the type for the unfolding progress of all of temporal Creation. It serves as a divine model or exemplar of all things which have been created. God, in His Eternity, has ordained and sanctioned the movement of all things towards their final state of perfection; ultimately, each creature is ordained to imitate, according to its own type and mode of being, the Divine Perfection. So the plan is about change, development and the movement towards perfection, even if the mind in which it resides does not change nor move. The Eternal Law is about imperfectly actualized beings (you and me) striving after a perfect state of actualization (that is, Heaven) according to the limitations imposed upon them by their essence.
How does the human mind "participate" in the directive plan of the Divine Mind? The way this happens is that the human mind, in the employment of practical reason, and in the course of acting, encounters desires which are understood to be in accord with the Divine Providential plan for all men. The man knows the object of his rational desire as good. He takes pleasure both in the thought of the good to be attained and in the action directed to attaining that goal. We could almost say, "It feels right." Remember that to be "right" is to be in accord with human nature. The accord between action and nature is known by the mind’s taking "pleasure" in it and realizing that such action is pleasurable. On the other hand, Immanuel Kant designated Law and obedience to the Law with struggle because he believed, perversely, that Law was contrary to natural inclination. St. Thomas understands inclination to be a law itself, in fact, the most immediate access man has to the Eternal Law. This is why St. Thomas speaks of the "natural inclination" all men have to virtue. This is not to say virtue is easy, but rather, that it can be engendered and when it is, man can and will take pleasure in it. What is presupposed in all of this is what I have referred to as a "connatural symbiosis" of thought, feeling, and desire. In any properly human act, action, thought, and feeling cannot be easily or entirely separated.
For St. Thomas, the essence of man is that he is constituted of body and soul, that is, he is both Matter and Substantial Form. Matter is part of his essence. With this in mind, when we consider the practical proposals for educational reconstitution, we will emphasize both the physical environment in which education takes place and the bodily activity which must be incorporated into the learning process. The natural inclinations of human nature must be considered within the context of an understanding of the complete essence of man. Therefore, materiality is going to be involved in all the partial realizations of these concrete human desires or inclinations.
For St. Thomas Aquinas, the definition of something, that is, the "essence" of something, must include within it all the elements of being which are characteristic to the specific creature. The "essence" pertains to the fullness of that being’s nature. Man is, therefore, properly defined as an "embodied rational soul," a being whose highest and most proper operation requires the activity and co-operation of the body. Matter "individuates" form. St. Thomas knew that it was this particular man with this particular body who was called to "activate" his nature. Real, concrete flesh and blood in real, concrete circumstances and environments doing real and concrete work are going to matter in real and concrete education.
Shortly, I will make some practical proposals. They follow the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas (ST, I-II, Q.94). What I seek to do by these practical proposals is to awaken the primary desires of the human soul, especially the desire for speculative truth, in order that what was once self-evidently desirable to "all" will again become self-evidently desirable to our youth. I wish to dissipate the haze of capitalistic technological liberalism which clouds the innate God-given desires of man, in order that the young will "see" what is truly good for them as men as good. Only by having genuinely good and enticing objects of rational desire can we hope to provoke in the youth character determining good acts of the will. Let us not forget the primacy of the understanding in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. We cannot love that which we do not first know. And we will not love that which we fail to see as rich, fruitful, engaging, and genuine.
As we have emphasized, this "reactivation" of natural desires which were supposed to be incapable of being "deactivated," must be accomplished within a physical environment which presumes man’s embodied state and his reliance on the five senses. To enliven the young mind, we must remember that the vivifier of a man is his soul. It is the source of all of man’s actions. It provides man with a unity of being in which the senses, the imagination, the memory, the rational desire, and the intelligence "live together." What is connatural for man is for the senses to trigger that process of knowing and loving which are the two essential acts of any development or education in man. The reason I offer suggestions for the enlivening of all of the basic orientations and primary desires of man is so that the whole man will resonate with the real. If we are to educate the whole man by engaging him, we must first awaken the boy.
1) The employment of manual labor as a participation in the preservation of the life and well-being of the community. This will allow them to "feel" the fact that work of the hands is necessary to preserve the life of the body, just as the work of learning is necessary to preserve the life of the mind.
2) Sports and contests to incite the agon or mutual striving for excellence in the physical domain. This will help the youngster to grasp the notion of "contest."
3) Strenuous outdoor activities and familiarity with the land. Put the boys in contact with God-created substantial forms rather then with man-created accidental artificial forms. This invites a better understanding of the natural essence of things and incites "wonder" with regard to the natural world. Aristotle says this "wonder" is the act which stands at the beginning of philosophical contemplation.
4) Discipline and punishment which involves a corporal element. For boys, this treatment is simpler, better understood, and overwhelmingly preferred to harshly separating the boy from the charity of the brotherhood of believers. With regard to punishment, which is the essential element of discipline, we must let the boy understand that standards are set for the sake of maintaining the community of which he is a valued member and, therefore, he must pay for his violation of the common good. Punishment loses its essential function when it is only understood as a cutting off from the community. This forces them into the hands of unbelievers. We must do everything we can to avoid having unbelievers raising and "training" our own.
MAINTAINING PHYSICAL VITALITY AND EXERCISING RESPONSIBILITY
1) Maintenance of masculine austerity and simplicity in manners, dress, demeanor, and relationships. Such behavior makes visible the idea of a single final cause. This also presents in an aesthetic manner the right relationship in the masculine soul between the soul and body, between the intellect, will, and the appetites. Remember the principle: "It is easier for a man to think about basic ends when he sees only basic things."
2) "Spartan" form of life. Provide only what is essential for the maintenance of physical existence. What else could be better for unclogging the pores of the soul and the mind? If consumerism and comfort are the reason for the deactivation of the first principles of natural human desire, be done with them. For these "monks without vows," there is an historical precedence: St. John Chrysostom most earnestly recommended to parents to employ the monks as instructors to their sons; to have their sons educated in monasteries, at a distance from the corruption of the world where they might be made acquainted with the Holy Scriptures, be brought up in Christian habits, and where the foundation of a true Christian character might be laid.
THE QUEST FOR TRUTH
1) We must extend the athletic contest to the intellectual sphere. We must create the conditions for an intellectual competition amongst peers which will lead to the attainment of mutual excellence, for instance, the regular and public posting of grades.
2) We must make a competition of the doing and making involved in the Liberal Arts.
3) We must pass to the boys stories which resonate with the struggle for and the attainment of the goods which are in accord with right reason and natural desire. For this post-literate generation, we must revive an oral culture. What they hear, if well presented, will be remembered. Let us educate even if we cannot produce literacy.
THE DESIRE TO KNOW GOD
1) Common prayer must punctuate the day. God must always be understood by the boys to be "in front of them, behind them, on this side and that." They must know that they are part of the Mystical Body of the brotherhood of the faithful. Their conception of the Church must be organic and they must know themselves to be vital parts of that organism whose end is the eternal life of the whole. Also, the boys must know and, more importantly, see that men pray.
2) Establish a familiarity with the Divine Office. This the spiritual part of the "back to basics" approach. This emphasizes the physical aspect of the rhythm of the day insofar as the day is tied to the position of the sun. The light must again tell the boys when and what to pray.
3) We must vivify in the boy’s mind the liturgy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with its emphasis on the rhythms of the liturgical and natural seasons. The boys must have these supernatural rhythms in their souls. Utilize natural signs which are evocative of supernatural truths, e.g., the bonfire, water, oil, darkness and light, sounds and smells. All are liturgical elements whose symbolic character should be exploited to the fullest. The images and symbols of God, His angels, and His saints, and the symbols expressive of God’s relationship to man and to the world, must be part of the innermost recesses of the young man’s imagination. In this way the boy will never in his life be able to "get rid" of God no matter how hard he may try.
THE NEED TO LIVE IN SOCIETY
1) Establish a sense of Catholic brotherhood among the boys. Boys must, as far as is possible, eat together, learn together, struggle together, play together, and pray together. The ongoing struggle, so necessary to incite striving in the male soul, must be tempered by the understanding that all of them struggle for the same proximate and ultimate goal. We must establish a true friendship amongst the boys based on their common sharing of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
2) Encourage the formation of a certain hierarchy amongst the boys themselves. The eldest must take some responsibility for the younger and be delegated the responsibility of exercising some authority over them. Contrary to females, males need to think in a hierarchical fashion. Boys must think, feel, and externally act as a part of a hierarchical structure. A genuine hierarchy does not simply involve vesting one with authority in order to "babysit" the rest.
3) Teachers must have a role in the normal daily activities of the students, even outside the classroom. There must be no wall of separation between the two poles of the entire educational process. Education is the teacher and the student together.
4) Rules must not be seen by the boys as an arbitrary and eccentric web of regulations which is meant to entangle, trip-up, and "imprison." The final product of such a regimen is "unnaturally twisted" in the sense that, when the boy leaves the environment of the school he "unwinds" and returns to his untrained self. The rules, in such a case, have not formed him in any interior manner. Boys are instinctively averse to arbitrariness and injustice in judgments or discipline policies. This is a manifestation of the "natural" understanding that law is properly a manifestation of mind rather than will. All law in human institutions is meant to be an application of the Eternal Law which resides in the mind of God. Rules should cohere with right reason as related to natural inclination and true desire. Rules must facilitate the achievement of what "all" desire.
In the ways outlined, let us rediscover the original meaning of the word "education." Put another way, let us "draw out" even more than we "put in!"
The eminence of teaching — Etienne Gilson, Director of Studies, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto
Given as a McCauley Lecture on April 14, 1953, at Saint Joseph College for Women, West Hartford, CT.
Two years ago, on April 30, 1951, the Catholic world was celebrating the third centenary of the birth of St. John Baptist de la Salle, and even outside the Church many men open to the significance of his work joined in the celebration. No homage could have been more general or better observed. It is not my intention to celebrate the sanctity of de la Salle, but I have reason to begin this lecture by mentioning his name. For, were I asked to cite what appears to me as one of the higher moments in his spiritual life, I would recall an episode which even his historians sometimes forget, unless they veil it in order not to hurt our modern feelings.
We are in 1681. At that date, de la Salle has already done a great deal to foster the work of popular education. In 1679 he had already rented a house next door to his own in Rheims, and he had provided the masters of his schools with what they needed to live, including the daily food supplied to them from his own kitchen. Yet, for reasons he could not clearly discern things were not working according to his desire, so he consulted another saintly priest, Father Barré, who had founded several poor schools in Rouen, and he asked him for advice about what he should do. Father Barré's answer was a simple one: "Do you really want to form your teachers to piety and to make them love their work on account of the good they can do? Take them into your own house and live in their company."
Seen from a distance and with modern eyes, this piece of advice does not appear particularly terrible. Since he was already supporting the masters in the house next door, why should this holy man have hesitated to welcome them into his own home? After all, he would have saved the rent of a house. Yet Father Barré was confronting de la Salle with the hardest decision he ever had to make during the course of his life. And do you know why? Because he was being asked to take teachers in his own home! He himself belonged, if not to high nobility, at least to the best society of his native city; schoolteachers, on the contrary, were simply nobody; no gentleman could be expected to live with such people in his own house without raising a sort of social scandal. De la Salle knew it well, first from his own personal feelings, for he was a man of his time, but also from the feelings of his family, which was sure to consider itself publicly insulted by such a decision. He made it, however, not without a severe internal struggle, and the result was a twofold one.
On the human side, his family considered him crazy and all his younger brothers and sisters were taken away from the schools he was conducting, as if he were incompetent to care for them. This was to remain in his memory as one of the deepest sorrows of his life. On the supernatural side, his sacrifice was rewarded a hundredfold, for it became the source of the prodigious development of popular education by the Brothers of the Christian Schools. How could I forget this episode? I am indebted to it for my first Christian education.
In recalling it, however, I fully realize that this is not a wholly democratic story. It is full of social class prejudice which we are supposed to have long overgrown. But have we, at least as completely as we like to imagine? Socially speaking, I hope I, can truly say yes. But I am not certain that many men have ever stopped to consider what kind of work it is to teach. I am not even certain that all teachers think of asking themselves the question. We teach because, at the time of our youth, for reasons that even then were not too clear to ourselves and that we have partly forgotten, we decided that we would be teachers. Others are teaching by religious obedience and chiefly as a way of serving the Church. Still others just found themselves engaged in the work of teaching, as much by chance as of their own will; and since they once began to teach, they continue to do it. When it is not saintly, all this is at least natural, sensible, and above any reproach, but it will certainly not do any harm for us to ask ourselves: What do we do when we teach?
This is by no means an easy question to answer, unless, of course, we content ourselves with a nominal definition of teaching activity in general. Incidentally, this is what common sense would do. To teach, any sensible man would say, is to give lessons at school or elsewhere, in or on any subject. It is to cause a person to do something― for instance, to read and write ―by instruction and training. But if you had desired to hear a sensible man, you would not have invited a philosopher. The true philosopher's business is precisely to ask questions which common sense considers settled, and, let us add, rightly so. Should it be resolved that all teaching will be suspended in schools until a world convention of teachers agrees about what it is to teach, pupils could joyfully envisage an exceedingly long vacation. The words of a philosopher can bring about no such visible effects; they are the words of a soul quietly talking to itself, but they can be heard by other souls, and invisible effects may attend the silent realization of their meaning.
Let us therefore start from common sense in order to go beyond it. To teach, the dictionary says, is by instruction to enable or to cause a person to do something. And indeed, all teachers know that they are causes. I would even suggest that, the simpler their teaching is, the better they know this. At the end of the year a professor of metaphysics may well wonder what he has caused his pupils to do that they could not already do on the very first day they entered his classroom. But there is no place for such doubt in the mind of the primary-school teacher. At the beginning of the school year he has been given a batch of boys and girls, none of whom could read a line, and, marvel of marvels, at the end of the same year they all can read. By both instruction and training, the teacher has caused them to read, and his reward is not in his salary, for quite a few other jobs would enable him to keep soul and body together, which is about all he does; his true reward is the joy he has taken, despite his hours of discouragement, in seeing his efforts progressively rewarded first by his best pupils, then by all the others. There was something they could not do, and now they all can do it, and he is the cause that they can. Here we are at once stumbling upon a truly metaphysical question. So long as we quietly enjoy teaching, no problem arises; but as soon as we begin to wonder why we enjoy it, we must ask the next question: Why is there pleasure in exercising this kind of causality?
Were we left to ourselves, we might have to wait a long time before finding an answer. We might even despair of ever finding one and quit bothering about the question. Such failures to find an answer can always be blamed on the question; we simply conclude: It does not make sense. But, precisely, this one does, and we can apply for an answer to those who asked it before us. If we believe in teaching, we should also feel willing to be taught.
The first remark to make on this point is that, properly speaking, to learn by being taught is not to invent. Improperly speaking, to invent is to teach oneself. Grown-up people are doing it constantly, and children begin to do so much earlier than we think. As soon as a human being knows something, he begins to enlarge the amount of his knowledge by a personal effort. But unless we use words in a loose way, we cannot say that this process of personal reflection, however fruitful it may be, constitutes a real teaching. When we are learning from a book, the problem becomes different; the book and its author are our teachers. There is teaching here because there is a teacher who is another than the pupil. This personal relation between two distinct human beings is essential to teaching; no man is to himself his own teacher in any department of human life, and we all know this even from common language. When a man says, "I am my own master," he merely means that he has no master. So also in the order of teaching: to be oneself one's own teacher does not mean not to learn, but it certainly means to have no teacher at all.
Now what is this precise relation which we find between teacher and pupil? I have just been using the word "master," and although there is some tendency to shun it in our day, or at least not to use it with the fullness of its implications, it still retains some of them. Besides, it is not used only in the language of schools. The master of the house or the master of a merchantman is supposed to have control over the house or the ship. In mediaeval universities a master was the holder of a degree giving authority to teach. Today, as in the thirteenth century, a master's control extends not only to his pupils but often to their masters. In all such cases, the notion of master implies that of authority. By its very nature it is not a democratic notion. Assuredly, we are doing our very best to make teaching as democratic as possible. Modern teachers are urged not to boss their pupils and, in point of fact, we sometimes meekly suggest to them that, did they accept to listen to us, we might perhaps teach them something. Yet, when all is said and done, the very act of teaching implies the admission of a certain inequality not indeed in nature, nor even in intellectual ability, but at least in knowledge. A man knows something, others do not know it, there is no way for the teachers to cause it to become known without putting it, willy-nilly, in the heads of his pupils. There can be no equality between a cause and its effect. To cause is to act upon; to be caused is to be acted upon, and no pedagogy will ever do anything about this.
In the case of teaching, however, this is not the whole story. When we light a wood fire, all that the wood has to do is to be burned. Wood is completely passive with respect to burning, but children are not so with respect to learning. When they enter a school, however young they may be, they have already exercised, practically at every waking moment of their lives, the extraordinary operation called cognition. Mysterious as it is, knowledge is a natural function of man. Children walk because they have legs, they breathe because they have lungs, they see because they have eyes, and they know because they have an intellect. Not only do they know, but they love knowing, just as they love breathing and walking. Let us rather say that they cannot help doing these things because no organ can help performing its natural operations.
Yet we all know that it takes them an effort to learn what they are taught in schools. The reason is that teaching in school confronts the child with a kind of knowing operation he is not yet used to performing. However simple we may try to make it, what we teach in schools always remains a typically adult learning. Left to himself, provided only he be out of early infancy, a child performs marvelous intellectual operations. The first time he says "dog," he has already seen things, perceived analogies between them, formed the abstract concept of a class, and attached a name to it. Any normal child achieves this feat without even being aware of it, and he repeats it endlessly without effort. On the contrary, as soon as we teach him to read, to write, or to count, we ask him to perform operations that are not natural to his intellect, because they are about symbols and no longer about things. The recognition of this fact accounts for the multiplication of images and pictures in modern school books; and we all know their danger as well as their usefulness. By putting pictures under the eyes of the child, we are inviting him to exercise natural cognition, which he loves to do, but, by the same token, we are postponing the time when he will have to make the very effort we must cause him to make if he is to be trained to think in an adult way. There is no natural relation between the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they are suppose to represent, nor between the words and the things they point out, nor yet between numbers and the possible concrete objects whose substitutes they are. Now these are precisely what we consider the simplest things to teach: reading, writing, and arithmetic; but they are indeed the least natural things to learn. This is the reason why learning them requires from the child such an effort, the very same kind of effort he will be asked to furnish throughout the whole course of his studies. If we think of it, most of what we are teaching consists of techniques, either scientific or linguistic, whose practical usefulness, supposing it exists, the young student cannot see. Since he cannot see it, the effort required for the mastering of such techniques is made doubly hard because, in his mind, it has no justification.
This is precisely the point at which the teacher not only has a part to perform but becomes a necessity. We should not imagine that school children know nothing more than what they are taught in schools. In fact, what we teach them is but an infinitesimal part of their knowledge, but it is precisely made up of what, without us, they would never learn. No wonder, then, that in the good old days teachers were so commonly called masters. Where an effort is required, to obtain it by persuasion is by far the best thing to do, when it can be done; otherwise, there is no other recourse than to authority, unless, of course, we renounce obtaining it.
Now, to obtain from the pupil this effort upon himself, which he can see no reason to give, except the words we say, is the highest and noblest part in the work of the teacher. It also is by far the most difficult one; so much so that we are all trying to ease the difficulty. The present tendency to make everything as easy to learn as possible is perfectly justified so long as it is a question of teaching those elementary techniques which are part and parcel of the mental equipment of a civilized man. The three Rs need not be made more difficult than they naturally are, but beyond the level of elementary education, while there is still no reason to make things harder than they actually are, we should not wish to rid our pupils of the effort necessary to learn them. First of all, the thing cannot be done; where the pupil has no personal effort to make, he needs no help and consequently no teacher. Next, if the difficulties are inherent in the teaching matter at stake, they usually can be simplified up to a point, but we cannot eliminate them without eliminating the matter itself. Hence the sometimes bitter disappointment of so many grown men and women when they remember their school years. How is it, they sometimes say, that I have had three or four years of this and that, and yet I don't know it? The reason often is that, when a subject is made easy to the point of ceasing to be what it is, it is simply not being taught.
This first way of avoiding the difficulty is a question of programs, school books, and teaching methods. If mistakes are made there, the teachers are in no way responsible for them. But there is a mistake for which some teachers are responsible, and I myself have made it so often that I feel entitled to say something about it. I beg to symbolize it by the well-known aside which escapes us after a strenuous effort to explain a difficult point: "I hope I am making myself clear." Now of course we must try to make ourselves clear; this certainly is one of the most important results to achieve for any master interested in his work, but we should not consider it the most important one. There is no use in displaying evidence before eyes that make no effort to see it; when they do see it, the reason is not that we made it so clear that we understood it for our pupils; sooner or later they have to understand it by themselves, and their own effort to understand it is for them the only way there is to learn it. The most scientifically pedagogical methods are bound to fail if they go against the facts of nature. In this case, the fundamental fact of nature is that no man can understand anything for another one. No master can take his own knowledge out of his own mind and put it in the head of his pupils. The only thing he can do is to help them to put it themselves into their own minds. To the extent that he has achieved this result, a teacher can justly feel conscious of having attained the proper end of his professional activity.
Abstract as it may sound, this general conclusion can help to clear up certain pedagogical controversies. For instance, if what precedes is true, there is no fundamental difference between the classical method, which proceeds by professorial expositions and lectures, and the so-called Socratic method, which proceeds by questions and answers, that is, by mode of dialogue. However you may choose to teach them, your pupils have the same kind of intellect that you have, they use the same principles of natural reason that you yourself are using; the only difference is that, in your own mind, a certain number of consequences are related to these principles and follow from them according to a certain order which you know but which your pupils do not know. What you achieve in teaching is precisely the communication of this order. Whether you do this by continuous exposition or by questions and answers does not make any difference. If you are lecturing, you know the order beforehand; if you are asking questions, these must needs be leading questions and their order is precisely your own lead. The teacher is equally active in both cases and he is so in the same way; and the learner is equally passive in both cases, in the sense that his mind has to follow the order already present in the mind of the teacher. But there again the learner's passivity comes to an end, for indeed, for him to reproduce this order is to produce it. Having to answer the objection of those who precisely denied that a master could put into the heads of pupils something that was not already there, Thomas observed that "if questions be put in orderly fashion, they proceed from universal self-evident principles to what is particular. Now by such a process knowledge is produced in the soul of the learner." So the master really causes knowledge to be in the mind of the pupil; but, Thomas goes on to say, when the learner answers the truth, "this is not because he had knowledge previously, but because he then acquires knowledge for the first time." 1 And indeed, there is no other choice. The proper effect of the act of teaching is to cause a personal discovery in the mind of the pupil.
Thomas Aquinas has several times considered this remarkable problem, and apart from minor variations in the expression of his thought, he has always answered it in the same way. One of the favorite examples he uses in such cases is a comparison between the art of teaching and the art of healing. In both cases, a certain acquired learning is at the origin of the process. The physician knows what he has to do in order to heal the patient, just as the teacher knows what he has to say in order to instruct the pupil, but the physician can no more give to the patient his own health than the teacher can give his own learning to the pupil; last, not the least, the physician can do little more than to cause nature to recover health in the body of the patient, just as the teacher does nothing more than to cause the intellect to acquire knowledge in the soul of the pupil. Only― and I hope you will remember this in view of the conclusion of this lecture ―the relation of master to pupil is a still more intimate one than that of physician to patient, because it does not obtain between a mind and a body, but between two minds. What is the term of the teacher's action, Thomas has just told us, is that the pupil acquires knowledge for the first time; and this is true, but it has its counterpart on the side of the teacher. In order to cause his pupil to invent learning, he himself must invent again what he is teaching, or, rather, he must go again, before his pupils, through the whole process, now familiar to him, of the invention of each and every truth. The teacher, Thomas says, begins to teach in the same way as the inventor begins to invent.2 In other words, unless he be actually thinking aloud and engaging his own intellectual activity in his lecture, the teacher does not really teach. Incidentally, this is one reason why it is doubtful that any mechanical device will ever replace the actual presence of the real teacher. Only a living intellect, patiently preceding us on the way to truth, can effectively teach us how to think.
Although I am mostly using modern words, what I am now telling you is a very old truth, or, rather, a standing one. It can easily be found in one of the disputed questions of Thomas Aquinas On Truth:3 "When they say that a teacher transfuses his learning to his pupil, this does not mean that the learning that is in the master is to be found afterward, numerically the same, in the pupil; it means that a learning similar to that of the master is caused in the pupil by the fact of his being taught." In other words, there is no transfusion of learning in the sense that there are transfusions of blood. We can give our own blood to others; we cannot give them our own learning.
And yet, see what an extraordinary thing teaching is! St. Thomas Aquinas died in 1274― that is, nearly seven hundred years ago― and on the very moment he died, his own learning died together with him. From the new life he was then beginning to live, he could no longer communicate with us by means of words. But today, men unknown to him ask themselves the question: What is it to teach? And remembering that he himself spent his whole life teaching or being taught, these men turn to him for an answer. All that is left of him in this world is paper covered with ink and sentences written in a dead language that is not even our own. We read his words, however, and suddenly what was alive in his mind seven centuries ago begins a new life in our own understanding. How is this possible? Simply because, while reading the dead signs symbolizing his thought, our own minds have themselves formed the same notions that were in the mind of Thomas Aquinas at the time when he wrote those lines. In saying the same notions, I naturally mean to say not the very same notions which once lived in his mind but, rather, similar ones. His learning has become the cause of our learning, and still this learning is truly our own, not his. In short, Thomas Aquinas has been our teacher, and we have been his pupils, because he has caused us to produce in our own minds a learning similar to his own learning.
Here is precisely the point where the eminent dignity of teaching appears in full. Without attempting a philosophical definition of man, this at least can be said, that he is the only known species of speaking animal, and the reason why he has an articulate speech is that he has an articulate thought. The thinking power of man, which we call his intellect, is what makes him different from all the other kinds of living beings. If to teach is what we said it is, it implies the meeting of two human intellects― that is, of two human beings taken precisely in that which makes them to be men, namely, their understandings. Every other kind of job has its usefulness; consequently, it has its own dignity; but this particular one does not consist in producing material goods, in exchanging them, or in selling professional advice, or in taking care of the Bodies of our fellow men. In point of fact, it is like nothing else. The relationship that obtains between the master and his pupils is that of an intellect which has already actualized its own potentialities, with another intellect whose potentialities are still to be actualized by the teaching of the master.
From this point of view, the reason for this ancient appellation should become clear. Whether or not we give him the title, the teacher is indeed a master because, owing to his intellectual maturity and his own learning, he alone is the prime cause of the whole teaching process. But the nobility of his work arises as much from its end as from its cause. What his intellect is acting upon is another human intellect, endowed with the same natural light as his own, just as noble and irreducibly personal as his own intellect is, and which, if his pedagogy is sound, he can cause to think, but for which he cannot think. It is true that in comparison with the understanding of the master, that of the pupil is in a state of receptivity or, to use the technical term familiar to philosophers, of potentiality. But, if I may be permitted to borrow once more from Thomas Aquinas one of his more felicitous expressions, I shall say that the understanding of the pupil is in a state of "active potentiality" 4. Without this active receptivity, Thomas Aquinas goes on to say, man could never learn anything by himself, which he certainly can do. In short, man does not have two distinct intellectual powers, the one by which to learn by himself, the other by which to learn from his teacher. The intellect by which the pupil can learn from his teacher is the very same intellect by which he can learn by himself. For indeed he has no other one. This is the true reason why the ultimate end of our pedagogy should be to teach children to learn by themselves, because, in fact, there is nothing else we can teach.
How impractical all this probably sounds! And yet how practical it is! However heavily we load our programs, and however widely we may diversify them in order to answer the future needs of all our pupils, many of them will feel later on that they have been taught many things they did not need to know, whereas what they did need to know has never been taught to them in school. There is a safe way for us to protect ourselves against this otherwise inevitable reproach, and it is to teach our pupils to learn by themselves instead of trying to impart to them an always larger amount of learning.
Should we consider it possible to do this still more than we are already doing it, no pupil would ever regret having spent so many years in school and no master would ever wonder if he has not been wrong in his choice of a career. For we now know the answer to one of the first questions we asked at the beginning of this lecture: Why do good teachers love to teach? Why do they take pleasure in exercising this particular type of causality? The answer is that since to be is to act, all beings like to exercise causality for the same reason that they like to be. Now causality is the very act by which a being gives something of itself to another being, and this is the reason why effects naturally resemble their causes. The good teacher then loves to teach because he loves to impart to his pupils the very best thing there is in him, namely, intellectual life, knowledge, truth. The generosity inherent in the very act of being finds here its highest manifestation, and the purest kind of pleasure should naturally attend its exercise. The highest reward of teaching is, the joy of making other minds similar, not indeed to ourselves, but to the truth which is in us.
To cause, Thomas Aquinas says, is to produce something which resembles its cause, and this is a universal law of nature; but if we think of it, this is a law of nature only because it is first the divine law. Before being a cause, the teacher himself is an effect of God; as such, he resembles his cause, and all his actions and operations, when properly directed, have for their own end to make him more and more similar to the sovereign cause whose effect he is. This is true not only of man but of each and every thing that is, moves, acts, and operates. In Thomas' own words: "the last end of all things is to become like God." 6 This is what a stone does when it falls, what an animal does when it lives, and what a man does when he thinks. Only, because thought is the highest and most noble known form of activity in nature, man is the highest and noblest among the known images of God. If to teach is to cause others to think, it is to help them in becoming not only like unto their masters but unto the Master of their masters, God.
In concluding, and since I myself am an old teacher, I had better remind myself that I have not spoken about the eminent dignity of teachers but about the eminent dignity of teaching. A true teacher is what, as I hope, we all are, at least up to a point, but the ideal notion of what teaching truly is should not be considered a description of what we are; it is the yardstick that measures what we ought to be. Just as few men measure up to the eminent dignity of man, few teachers are fully equal to the eminent dignity of teaching. This is so true that when one of them is, the Church, in her truly divine wisdom, proclaims to the whole world that he is a saint: St. John Baptist de la Salle, for his infinite love of the little ones and a whole life devoted to turning them into better images of God; St. Albert the Great, on account of his unquenchable thirst for scholarship, which consists in knowing all that is knowable to man just as God knows all that is knowable to God; and Thomas Aquinas, who preceded them both on the altars for the very remarkable reason that he had dedicated his whole life to the pursuing of truth for the pure love of truth.
Now, since he himself was a professor, Thomas Aquinias once asked himself if he had not better spend his life speculating about truth, which is contemplation, rather than teaching it to others, which is action. In doing this, he was asking himself a rather embarrassing question. Not that he ever took any pride in being a professor. As he liked to say: To be a master is not an honor, it is a task. But like all good masters, despite some occasional grumbling, Thomas loved to teach. On the other hand, he had read in the Gospel the well-known story of Martha and Mary, and since Mary had chosen the better part, how could he doubt that contemplation was better than action? Of course he did not doubt it, but he had spent his whole life teaching the truth; he still wanted to do so and he could not persuade himself that his life would have been a better one if he had kept to himself his own accumulated learning instead of sharing it with so many disciples. So he found this remarkable way out of the difficulty: to act is not as noble as to contemplate, and it is true that to teach is to act, but to act in view of imparting to others the fruit of contemplation is more noble than contemplation alone.6
Majus est contemplata aliis tradere quam solum contemplari: it is a greater thing to distribute to others what one has contemplated than only to contemplate. What life, then, could be more noble than that of a teacher, if it achieves in its perfection the unity of action and of contemplation? Yes, some will say, but Thomas Aquinas was a teacher, and his answer was very clever; only the teaching of the Gospel remains what it is, and when all is said and done, Mary has still chosen the better part. Who would deny this? Certainly not Thomas Aquinas, for he was not trying to be clever; as usual, he was simply trying to say the truth. And the truth is that if there has been a teaching of the Gospel, there also must have been a teacher. Not this time St. John Baptist de la Salle, nor St. Albert the Great, nor St. Thomas Aquinas, but He better than whom no man can ever pretend to do: the teacher and the divine model of all teachers, namely, Christ.
- Summa Theologiae, I, 84, 3, ad 3m; trans. A. C. Pegis, Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas (N. Y.: Random House, 1948), p. 385.
- Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 75.
- De Veritate, XI, 1, ad 6m.
- Op. cit., XI, 1, Resp.
- Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 20; ed. cit., p. 439.
- Summa Theologiae, II-II, 186, 6, Resp.
St. Thomas on teaching — by Fr. Herve de la Tour — St. Thomas explains that there are two ways of learning
The better is the way of independent investigation, which he calls "discovery." It is remarkably illustrated in the exploits of gifted children who teach themselves to read or, like the three-year-old Mozart, to play a musical instrument before having had any instruction. We all employ this method in less spectacular fashion when we acquire some store of knowledge or some skill through our own experience and effort. This procedure not only manifests greater intellectual power in the learner, St. Thomas thought, but is also more perfect. For we learn in this case through an immediate contact with the realities in question, whereas, when we are taught, the teacher’s "signs" (generally verbal ones ―illustrations, explanations, etc.) intervene and, at best, point us toward those realities. It is a rare talent, nonetheless, that can wholly dispense with a teacher’s help and to do so is, in any case, time consuming. So that the chief value of this second way of learning, that is to say, learning-through-teaching, is one of economy. Most men would have neither the leisure nor the courage to learn all they need to know if teachers did not ease and accelerate the process for them. St. Thomas Aquinas and Education by John W. Donohue, S.J. (Random House, 1968).
St. Thomas’s recommendation makes clear the primacy of that personal way of discovery. The teacher, he says, should pattern his method after the one naturally used, when the student learns by himself. This is based on the general principle that whenever an effect can be produced either by natural process or by artificial method, the method should as much as possible be the same as that of nature. The great medieval scholar stresses the difference which exists between a work which can only be produced by artificial means (for instance the construction of a machine) and a work which can also be produced by nature (for instance the growth of a plant). Teaching belongs to the second category. A teacher will strive to assist and not replace the natural energies of his student. He will not be like an engineer but more like a farmer who helps the growth of the tree through watering, pruning, weeding. The principal cause of growth is the natural vigor of the tree, the farmer is only assisting it.
We have been victims since Descartes of an exaggerated emphasis on "methods." The student has been viewed with a mechanistic perspective. Teaching is synonymous with trying to cram information into the student as if he was a passive machine instead of a living mind. St. Thomas is quite opposed to this caricature of true teaching. He explains that the procedures of teaching will be most effective when patterned after those of independent search. A good teacher will make the difference between learning by discovery and learning by instruction as narrow as possible. In other words he will assist his students in their learning so that their experience will seem to them a discovery. Some great teachers really have this gift. Their classes are so good that you‘re constantly finding out new things and getting excited about them. The challenge and the enthusiasm of learning are kept alive by the evident love that these men have for their subject. The teachers cannot but communicate to their students who come out of the classroom with a desire to learn more.
Maybe we could use another illustration from St. Thomas to understand better his conception of the teacher’s role:
The example is that of a physician ministering to a man brought down by an infection. In many such cases, if the patient went unattended, his body would mobilize its restorative forces and eventually heal itself. The art of the teacher is like that of this internist, since all the teacher can hope to do is to strengthen the student’s resources and facilitate their exercise. The import of the analogy is clear enough whether it is medically accurate or not. Whenever true learning occurs, its principal cause is the learner himself. In St. Thomas’s terminology the teacher is called a secondary and instrumental cause ―helpful but not indispensable. He cannot transfer his own knowledge to the student but only help him achieve similar learning for himself. St. Thomas Aquinas and Education by John W. Donohue, S.J. (Random House, 1968).
We see that we are far removed from the modern conception of teaching where the teacher exclusively relies on artificial means (workbooks and other devices) and slowly loses sight of his true function: to stimulate the living mind of the student, to guide the development of his intellect. The emphasis on "measuring" education with grades obtained through tests is partly a result of this false philosophy. Knowledge according to St. Thomas is a quality of the living mind and not a quantity of memorized information
Let us delve a little deeper in the matter and see how the teacher will assist the student to acquire knowledge. We will take the example of geometry. (Geometry is very good for training the mind to think in a logical fashion.) This science uses deductive reasoning to establish a body of demonstrated conclusions from a few accepted premises. It is the teacher’s job to provide the student with a good understanding of the first principles of geometry. He will also help the student to sharpen his skill in solving problems by explaining to him the basic process when the pupil has a difficulty, he will give him examples, comparisons, schemas etc….which will be so many "pointers" leading the pupil to grasp this or that particular truth. When you are in front of a wall too high for you to leap, you may need the assistance of someone to point out a ladder which you had not seen. The teacher’s art consists in employing language so skillfully that his student will go beyond the words to the realities they signify.