By Gibbons J. Cooney

California Catholic Daily exclusive
In the fall of 2019, at the direction of the archdiocese, San Francisco’s Star of the Sea Elementary School will be returning to the basics of Western education and offering a liberal education to its K-8 students.

In the May newsletter, Fr. Joseph Illo, Star’s pastor, wrote: “I’m excited to announce that our school will be rolling out a new curriculum in the fall of 2019. The Archdiocese has asked our school to develop the Catholic Liberal Education model, also known generally as ‘Classical Curriculum.’ “

“The Classical or Liberal Education movement began in England sixty years ago, and today over 260 schools have adopted this model. In March I attended a seminar with our schools department at St. Jerome Academy near Washington D.C. (New Principal) Mr. David Gallagher will be attending a July seminar at Catholic University in Washington sponsored by the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education — their website has good articles on this educational approach. Having seen the test scores, enrollment numbers, and great excitement generated by this model, I share the enthusiasm of our faculty over this new direction. It’s worth noting that many tech giants, such as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, greatly value the more classical approach to prepare for later education in technology. Beginning with the classics of literature and history, children learn how to think in a way that prepares them to excel in all careers.”

The mission statement of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education says, in part: “Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has called for the renewal of Catholic education at all levels, from grade school through the research university. The Church has warned that Catholic schools must not be just secular schools with a Catholic name and a religion class.”

“The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education was founded in 1999 to help educators renew today’s Catholic schools by drawing on the Church’s tradition, which frees teachers and students for the joyful pursuit of faith, wisdom, and virtue. Our goal is different from that of secular schools, therefore our approach should be different”.

“Today’s teacher training programs, professional development opportunities, and curricular materials are rooted in a pragmatic philosophy of education that emerged a century ago as a rejection of the successful 2,500-year-old tradition that preceded it. For millennia, education was seen not as mere job training but as a search for wisdom and virtue. The Catholic Church took up this classical tradition in the liberal arts and sciences and ordered it toward Christ, producing some of the finest minds and the wisest saints in history. At the heart of this flourishing is a clear conviction about the nature and purpose of reality, of the human person, and of God — all of which are undermined by secular progressive education and its industrialized methods.”

K-12 schools using Catholic Liberal Education generally teach the Trivium: the lower division of the seven liberal arts, which consists of grammar (the acquisition of skills and learning concrete facts through memorization; grades 1-5), logic (beginning to understand these facts and being able to reason and asking Why?; grades 6-8), and rhetoric (learning to express what they now understand in the most compelling manner possible; grades 9-12).

The statement concludes by noting that the decline in Catholic schools pretty much mirrors the decline in fidelity to the ‘Church’s tradition’: The best-kept secret in Catholic education today, after five decades of plummeting enrollment and waning belief, is that the remedy lies not in secular solutions but in the Church’s own proven wisdom in the formation of the whole person.”