The following, which appeared September 7 on the First Things blog site, was written by Andrew Seeley, tutor at Thomas Aquinas College, and Elizabeth Ryan Sullivan, director of communication for St. John Bosco Schools in East Rochester, NY.
In a bid to save Catholic education, major Catholic archdioceses are closing many schools and turning others over to the control of regional boards. This sad necessity has become an occasion for soul-searching within the Catholic educational bureaucracy…. At the cutting edge of the effort to restore Catholic education are a number of schools, private and even diocesan, that are finding growth and enthusiasm in the rediscovery of a rigorous, classical liberal arts curriculum.
This movement first emerged among Catholic homeschoolers in the 1970s and 1980s, then spread to small independent schools in the early 1990s. Today, around 100,000 Catholic students are homeschooled, and thousands more are enrolled in independent Catholic schools outside of the diocesan system….
The last 15 years have seen an explosion of classical schools and homeschooling organizations among non-Catholic Christians. The Association of Classical and Christian Schools has 229 members, Classical Conversations claims to help 37,000 homeschoolers and the Circe Institute offers an impressive array of training services and products.
Although not yet so well organized, many independent Catholic schools also have embraced the classical approach. At first schools like the Lyceum Academy in Cleveland, Ohio and St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, California, were considered outsiders and even threats to the Catholic educational establishment.
But the evident successes of these schools in forming strong Catholic academic communities with students knowledgeable about their faith, their Church, and Christian civilization have led pastors, bishops, and superintendents to open their arms toward these schools. In the diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, [Bishop] Robert Morlino has lent his support to the independent St. Ambrose Academy to such an extent that he teaches there on a regular basis.
In 2009, St. Jerome’s parish school in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., faced dropping enrollment and major debt that forced a diocesan review process. A group of parishioners approached Pastor James Stack with the idea of a classical curriculum, a bold move for an urban, socioeconomically and ethnically diverse school.
Father Stack and Principal Mary Pat Donoghue embraced the idea, and a volunteer curriculum team of educators, theologians, and philosophers hammered out the 120-page educational plan for the pre-K-8 school. The superintendent supported the initiative, and St. Jerome’s today has gained national attention for its early successes. Some classes now have waiting lists.
After the first year with the new approach, math and reading scores jumped. Disproving the notion that a classical curriculum is elitist, many students who previously struggled found motivation and success through the rich content and lively discussions that required them to think deeply….
To read the original posting, click here.