Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Details of the Summer Academic Retreat I mentioned

Andrew Seeley, Ph.D., who is organizing this event gives the following description:

Since the "classical" curriculum refers to something excellent that has been done in the past, the first day is devoted to an overview of the history of Western and Catholic education. We need to consider what the different goals and means of education in the past have been in order to begin seeing what we need to do now.

Christopher Dawson (, who has been called the greatest English-speaking Catholic historian of the twentieth century, has an excellent book that does just this, "The Crisis of Western Education". It is succinct, accessible and profound. It also has chapters devoted specifically to Catholic education in America.

Classical education is often called "liberal arts" education, referring more or less to the seven traditional liberal arts. In one way or another, classical education aimed at teaching and perfecting these arts in students. The trivium consisted of the three language arts -- grammar, logic and rhetoric -- and aimed to make students complete masters of language: heard, read, written and spoken.

So Day Two is devoted to the Trivium, using Sr. Miriam Joseph's book on the trivium ( as a guide. Sr. Miriam taught the trivial arts at the College of St. Mary in South Bend, Indiana. Like Dawson's book, it is succinct, accessible, delightful and relatively complete.

Day Three is devoted to the Quadrivium, which is mathematical in nature. Here we find a conflict between a modern and ancient understanding of mathematics, which can be represented by Euclid and Descartes. Euclid presupposes that math is aimed at knowing the truth about reality, while Descartes thinks math is primarily a method of problem-solving. Considering these two different views and the effect they might have on students will be the focus of the day's sessions.

Day Four is devoted to the Sciences, which didn't really have a place in the classical curriculum. Understanding the aim and method of modern science and it's place in today's "classical" curriculum is the goal of this day's sessions. I have not settled entirely on what we will read, but Newton is the preminent example of a successful science.

Finally, the classical curriculum was crowned by moving beyond the arts to considerations of wisdom, or the most important matters for human life. In different ages and settings, different studies were seen to fulfill that role -- literature, history, metaphysics, ethics or theology. So Day Five is devoted to a consideration of three of these subjects. Cardinal Newman has an excellent essay on Literature in the curriculum; Christopher Dawson will represent history as wisdom; and John Paul's "Fides et Ratio" will touch on the nature of theology and it's relation to philosophy.

In the evenings, we will have seminar discussions on Sophocles and Shakespeare. These will be delightful in themselves, connect to the Literature topic, and give teachers a chance to experience the fruitfulness of discussion classes. A lecture on Poetry will complement both the study of the trivium and of literature, while an evening session of music will be delightful in itself and an opportunity to discuss the place of music in the curriculum.

I should say that we might make a few changes in the curriculum, but it will stay essentially the same.

Anyone interested in Catholic liberal education is invited to this wonderful retreat. Contact Dr. Seeley at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education to register.

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