How we deliver the True, the Good, and the Beautiful
Faith and Reason
At St. Michael Academy, faith and reason meet harmoniously in all our classes, including the sciences, as they did long ago when the first European schools and universities were formed under the auspices of the great Monasteries of Christendom. It is a very recent intellectual phenomenon, and one that is fraught with great controversy, to claim, for example, that modern science cannot coexist with Christianity. By integrating faith and reason into the heart of our curriculum, SMA strives to produce students who are filled with intellectual curiosity and Christian humility, a rare combination in an age where too many “experts” suffer from the sins of arrogance and pride.
Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric
A fundamental approach to learning here at St. Michael Academy is the classical pedagogy of the Trivuum, which structures teaching according to the realities of a child’s intellectual development, with the early years focused on facts; the middle years introducing logical reasoning about facts; and then the high school years combining the first two with rhetoric, which emphasizes the ability to make effective and truthful arguments via demonstrated excellence in written and oral expression. The great thing about the Trivuum, even with its fancy name, is that it really is consistent with our natures and with how kids naturally learn. By the time kids reach high school, they are ready to begin the process of weaving facts together in a logical way to make powerful arguments about the perennial and timely issues facing them as American Catholics. Since our students are familiar with the great thinkers of the classical and modern eras, their rhetorical arguments will be bolstered by the giants of our core curriculum. This all culminates when each graduating student presents their senior thesis in a public speech before the entire St. Michael Academy community. It is a special moment borne out of our commitment to the Trivuum.
The Great Books
The reason our curriculum features the likes of Plato and Aristotle; Augustine and Virgil; Aquinas and Dante; Dickens and Chesterton; Tocqueville and The Federalist Papers; C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot – is not because they are old, but because they wrestle with the Truth in a way that is unique, profound, and has stood the test of time. After four years of reading and writing about these great books, our graduates emerge ready to tackle any modern issue in an articulate, logical, and respectful manner.
The Liberal Arts
True liberal education has nothing to do with a particular political ideology, but rather with learning the “art of being free.” By immersing our students in the very best of western civilization, they become acquainted with both real and imagined instances where individuals are called upon to order their souls in a way where they freely choose to do what is Right. This ordering is perhaps best articulated by Plato, who likens the correct ordering of the soul to that of the ideal city, with the wise portion ruling over the appetites with the aid of courage, or as C.S. Lewis puts it in The Abolition of Man, “The head rules the belly through the chest.” This kind of “ordered liberty” is also an essential component of America’s constitutional republic, which requires citizens capable of governing themselves, both as individuals and within autonomous communities.
The Socratic Method
A defining characteristic of a Classical education is a reliance on the Socratic method, a teaching style inspired by the great Greek philosopher who was known for constantly questioning both his followers and the Athenian authorities in his fervent pursuit of the Truth. As a result, St. Michael high schoolers are expected to read classic texts from the Western Tradition, and then be prepared to answer pointed questions from their teachers regarding the real-world ramifications of the perennial issues raised by what they have read. This rapid-fire give-and-take learning style emphasizes retention, discussion, memorization, and mastery, as well as the capacity to relate timeless Truths to the present controversies of our age. Instead of busy work, our students are acculturated into a routine of reading, discussing, writing, and speaking about the “permanent things,” methods made famous by both Plato – who viewed education as more about an orientation to Truth rather than mere technique; and Aristotle, who stressed the everyday habituation of students toward the classical virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.
The True, The Good, and The Beautiful
At SMA, we proceed according to the Godly-inspired creative notion that while it is often difficult for Man to discern them, there are such things as Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. If that is correct, and with free will, then reality can also be characterized by their opposites: the False, the Bad, and the Ugly. The trick, of course, in Catholic classical education, is to train students to distinguish between these dichotomies, and then have them prefer the former, as opposed to the more contemporary penchant to surrender and declare everything relevant and according to individual taste. In this way, a St. Michael education is truly counter-cultural, giving students the confidence to buck the crowd when they know that something is wrong rather than right.
The Moral Imagination
A proper education often boils down to what stories the students are told. Jesus, the master teacher, or Rabbi as his Disciples called him, taught by way of parables, or stories, which struck the chords of his followers’ moral imaginations. The Classical approach, by introducing modern students to the best stories from worlds far away in both space and time, liberates them from the shackles of their own perspective and allows them, like Plato’s prisoners in the Cave, to pursue the light of Truth and bring it back to their homes and communities. In this way, the Truth truly sets us free, and Beauty indeed can save the World.