by William Michael
Upon first glance, the Classical Liberal Arts Academy can be both exciting and disappointing. On the one hand, the spiritual and intellectual formation available through the CLAA is, as it should be, out of this world. It is exhilarating to think that our boys can receive an education that is very much like that enjoyed by the learned saints we love--and teach our boys to love. Catechism, Grammar, Reasoning, Rhetoric, Philosophy, Theology--it's awesome!
But then, on the other hand, the practical and professional preparation available through the CLAA appears to be non-existent. The Christian boys who do not choose the religious life will need to prepare for a career in the world, which may very likely require college study. What does the CLAA offer for such boys?
I answer: EVERYTHING.
If you have read much of my writing on education, you will learn that I am not a big fan of homeschooling. That does not mean that I do not believe that homeschooling has great potential, but that I do not beileve that homeschooling parents have a good handle on how the education of Christian children ought to be managed. I believe that homeschooling parents are making many costly mistakes and that other homeschooling publishers and conference speakers are contributing to those mistakes for their own monetary gain. If anyone would try and ignorantly say that I do not respect homeschooling families, remind them that I am the head of a homeschooling family and I do believe that homeschooling can be very effective--if managed prudently. I do not, however, believe that most homeschooling parents are managing the education of their children prudently, that is the issue.
TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS
What we must understand is that the study of the classical liberal arts and preparation for a career are two separate paths that concern two different worlds. The classical liberal arts serve those faculties of man which he will enjoy forever--the intellect and soul that God gave to him at creation. Those studies which supply man with knowledge and skills needed for his secular work in this life are known as the IL-liberal arts and serve man in this world alone. Just as Church and State represent two separate kingdoms, so also do the liberal and illiberal arts. Nevertheless, just as we pray that God's will "be done on earth as it is in heaven", so also must we educate our children for the lives that they choose in each of these kingdoms. The religious life allows all of a man's energy and attention to be devoted to the kingdom of heaven, while the secular life requires that a man be divided and serve both in a way that does not disqualify him from the eternal and therefore superior kingdom. Our Lord himself asked, "What will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?".
Therefore, as you look over the Classical Liberal Arts Academy's program, do not be confused, as though we believe that an education in Grammar, Reasoning, Rhetoric, Arithmetic and the other arts will prepare a man for a medical license or job in computer programming. Such preparation is not the aim of the classical liberal arts. In the ancient world, it was the children of the wealthy and free that studied these arts, whose studies were not primarily concerned with money-making, but moral formation--leading a boy to become a good and wise man. Today, they do the same and most of our families may indeed be considered "wealthy" even though we may need to maintain a career for that wealth. The amount of leisure we enjoy is proof that we are not poor, and that leisure must be well used for the cultivation of virtue and wisdom. For this self-improvement, the classical liberal arts have no rival. Such training is their goal, and the primary aim of the CLAA. We can look back to St. Thomas More as an example of how the classical liberal arts serves, rather than hinders, the preparation of Christians for extraordinary work in the world. The difference is that it prepares men to work in a way that is thoughtful and consistent with Christian principles, not simply as the rest of the world is working.
CAREER PREPARATION PROBLEMS
As you know, we live in a competitive, constantly changing, capitalistic society. The knowledge and skills needed for professional work today will not likely be the knowledge and skills needed when our children are 30 years old. I, for example, learned architectural drafting as a freshman and sophomore in high school, only to find such skills useless as computerized drafting replaced the pencil and T-square--before I graduated. With that change, my interest in architecture ended, and three years of "occupational studies" proved to be a waste of time.
The reality is that professional training is a complex business that requires a complex solution. What is most important is realizing that it is indeed a business, as our investment in our future begins with the time and energy we devote to it in our childhood studies. The eagerness to begin investing while children are young will normally prove to be imprudent as the field evolves throughout the child's life and those factors which are prerequisite to success in the field change with that evolution. The actual work of a physician, for example, changes as medical technology and methods change. It is one thing for a practicing physician to make changes to his practice, but another thing for a young student to try and study to be prepared for the medical field that he will actually enter into when he is a 30 year old man. Many, many families are completely wasting time, energy and resources to try and "get a head start" on a career whose character they cannot possibly predict for their young children. Such efforts will prove to be unwise, yet they are very common today.
COLLEGE PREPARATION PROBLEMS
In America, the belief that a college degree is "necessary for everyone" is a terribly expensive error. A college degree is only necessary for career work that requires and rewards it. More importantly, we must understand that there are two different kinds of college students, for whom college provides very different experiences and results.
The first kind of college student is the tuition-paying student. This student managed to make the cut when the college's applicant pool was reviewed by the admission board. He is judged to be capable of making it at the college level and is allowed to pay to work for a college degree. Most of these students pay for their college studies with student loans--borrowing money with no sure promise of an ability to repay. Most of these students work during college, which negatively affects their ability to study and earn good marks, which negatively affects their ability to qualify for admission to the best graduate study programs. Regardless of the obstacles these students face, for some, this sometimes proves to be a good investment that works out well for them, but for most, this proves to be a waste of time, energy and money--that negatively affects the rest of their lives. Remember that the American college graduate walks away from college with a piece of paper and an average of $30,000 in debt. It doesn't take a genius to understand that this is not the best way to enter the competitive professional world.
The second kind of college student is the scholarship student. This student had very little to do with the admission board, but was sought out by the college to be given free or discounted access to the college's resources. The college elected to invest in the student, believing that the student's promise of success in his field will bring the college greater benefit than his tuition payments would. Such a student is normally free from any need to borrow money or work during his college years and is allowed to study and prepare for entrance into professional life without distraction. When he enters the professional world, he does so with a degree, mastery in his field of study and no debt. While he may need, at some point, to borrow money for his professional preparation, it will be for a graduate or professional degree that brings a corresponding increase in income that makes the debt worthwhile. Regardless, very, very few homeschooling parents are preparing scholarship students. It doesn't matter if the HSLDA can publish a few stories of extraordinary examples of the potential of homeschooling. Home-schooled scholarship students will prove very hard to find--and there are reasons for that, which I'll explain later.
Having said all that, neither of these two students will have gained anything if the work they do proves to require no such investment! There are many PhDs teaching high school English and many college graduates working alongside high school drop-outs in America. These prove to be imprudent investors who have spent much and gained nothing. Unfortunately, many of them followed the advice of their parents, who often share the costs.
College, then, must first be proven a good investment for a student and by a "good investment" I mean one that brings certain rewards. God certainly does not require a degree of anyone and, therefore, if it does not serve the professional life of the student, it serves no purpose at all. Yes, it may make for good small talk, but so will watching the Weather Channel. For most students, ther is no "business plan" prepared and the steps taken by the parents and the student are often nothing other than foolishness. Hundreds of thousands of American CATHOLIC students are being sent off to college to their own ruin. They will be disqualified from religious life by their debt and forced to undertake a much heavier financial burden than they need to when they do marry and start a family--don't forget the wife's college debt, which is often added to the man's! So much for a dowry.
If this article isn't depressing enough, I have to add to it by mentioning the terrible errors being made by homeschooling parents who don't understand how educational requirements and regulations work. Most homeschooling parents are worried about diplomas, accreditation, and other educational symbols and make decisions without ever really understanding what they are getting into. In the end, they work far harder than anyone asks them to and they waste much of their children's educational years on studies that no one--neither God, nor any college, nor any career, nor any state government requires of them.
In America, compulsory education laws exist that make education necessary for American citizens, whether they be Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims or Atheists. The fundamental principle behind this requirement is that no child should be denied the education that taxes provide for him at no cost during his youth. This compulsory education is articulated by each state government by means of graduation requirements and graded curriculum standards that define what "education" means as far as the state is concerned.
For example, in New York, the requirements for high school education is stated as follows:
"For grades 9 through 12: English (four units); social studies (four units), which includes one unit of American history, one-half unit in participation in government, and one- half unit of economics; mathematics (two units); science (two units); art and/or music (one unit); health education (one-half unit); physical education (two units); and three units of electives. The units required herein are cumulative requirements for grades 9 through 12."
Now, there's a piece of information here that is assumed to be understood by home-schooling families: the "unit". What, pray tell, is signified by "four units of English"? Don't worry, the state education department defines a unit for us:
"a unit means 6,480 minutes of instruction per school year"
Alright, so a student needs 25,920 minutes of English for grades 9 through 12. Is that helpful? No. Wouldn't it make a difference if this meant 25,920 minutes one-on-one with Shakespeare, or 25,920 minutes with Mr. Jones who has earned the universally revered "Teaching" certificate, or 25,920 minutes with...uh...Mom? You bet it does. The biggest problem is that, for some boys, Mom stands nearer to Shakespeare than Mr. Jones, whereas for others, Mom stands much further away. All "minutes" are not equal in the wonderful world of education. (In case you're wondering, 6,480 minutes divided by 180 days of school means 36 minutes per school day.)
Now, all that talk of minutes and units is goobledy-gook for a homeschooling family and many problems are caused by it. As I said above, some parents are brilliant and effective teachers and others are disorganized and--though I know this makes people mad it's true--unqualified to manage their children's academic studies. While the unfit parents may fall short of these real requirements while claiming to satisfy them (and the state really won't care as long as the paperwork gets done), the extroardinary parents may end up confusing a "minute" of their idea of teaching with a "minute" of the state's idea of teaching. Thus, a student may receive the equivalent of 100 minutes of state teaching in only 10 minutes of his parent's teaching at home. Unfortunately, most parents reckon this as only 10 minutes on paper, rather than 100, thinking that all "minutes" are equal. This is not so.
In New York (our example), a clause exists for the completion of an "accelerated" diploma program. This clause states:
"Students seeking to complete the diploma requirements in less than four years...shall be awarded [the diploma] at the end of the semester in which all requirements are completed."
Now, that changes everything. The state acknowledges that not all "minutes" are equal and provides for the accelerated completion of diploma studies.
You can see (hopefully) that this business of "satisfying requirements" is far more complicated than the homeschool curriculum publishers want to pretend it is.
WHY THIS MATTERS
I've explained that career and college preparation are complicated matters, more complicated than most homeschooling parents and publishers wish to pretend. It's just so easy buying boxes of books from an "accredited" home school supplier and imagining that you're actually getting somewhere. Unfortunately, the real world outside of the homeschool conference is much more complicated and competitive than that. Your son can't set up a lemonade stand in the driveway and make enough money to provide for a family.
If that weren't enough, the spiritual consequences of not understanding how these things work are far more dangerous. If you have noticed, there really aren't many impressive Catholic homeschooled 20 year olds out there. For all the talk or prayer and piety, we don't see many priests, monks, nuns, etc., coming from homeschooling homes. I know that the parents who contact me are often those who learn of the CLAA AFTER having already learned the hard way that other homeschooling programs aren't producing the kind of piety and wisdom that they hoped homeschooling would. They know something is wrong, something is missing, something is failing--but they can't put their finger on it.
What is wrong is that the modern society in which we were all born and raised has been engineered by philosophers, teachers and leaders who knowingly and intentionally have rejected traditional Catholic faith and practice and have developed educational and social systems that lead students to their ends and not to the ends of the Christian life. The fundamental teachings and moral training on which the Christian life is built are not provided to children by parents who have imbibed all of that, despite the fact that they seem to be given a "Catholic" education--I mean they are kept out of the public schools and are given workbooks with pictures of Mary and Joseph on them. What more could be needed?
True theological and philosophical education, along with true moral disicipline are crowded out of a course of studies filled with studies that are supposedly necessary for success in "the modern world". The college admission board and the global marketplace that their children will have to face--which parents really know nothing about--is allowed, like a monster under the bed, to control both parents and children through fear and what results is, not surprisingly, an educational program that, despite looking pretty Catholicish fails to produce the results they expected. The kids end up like, well, all the other kids raised by those same influences--sometimes even worse.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
Getting back to the beginning of this article, we find the solution: keep separate worlds separate. What is needed for the formation of the soul must be provided as the priority. Remember Our Lord's words to Martha: "One thing is necessary." This, again, is, and always has been, the aim of the classical liberal arts, and our focus in the CLAA. Secondly--both in order and priority--is the formation of the career. We cannot predict a field of work for our children when they are 5, 7, 9, 11 or even 17 years old. Therefore, we must devote the early years more rigorously to spiritual and intellectual formation so that, as the details of the child's vocation and life are manifested as he actually enters into adulthood, a solid foundation of spiritual and moral excellence will have been laid and he may enter into practical/professional studies with true wisdom and virtue.
As for college and career preparation, the big questions have to be answered well first:
Why would I NOT prefer religious life to whatever career I am interested in?
What steps need to be taken for me to move from where I am to the career I seek?
Can I realistically complete ALL of those steps?
Is college necessary for my desired career?
What college will best prepare me for my career?
What are the admission requirements of that program/college?
What must I do to attend that college as a scholarship student?
How will I pay for college if I am not a scholarship student?
If I must pay for college, would that be a prudent investment?
When will I marry in all of this? How will that affect these plans?
When these questions are well answered, with specific answers and practical details, then we can begin to answer questions about the educational strategy that will be required to achieve those goals and objectives. Of course, there are basics needed for high school graduation (not really, but that's another topic) and college admission and they can be pursued--BUT we must take care to make sure that we are not doing more than these things require. After all, we cannot allow theology and philosophy to be crowded out of our schedule.
Now, the good news is that the CLAA can help with ALL of this. We're the only place where you can find a comprehensive solution and reliable counseling in managing the complexity of your children's education. Whether it's catechesis, discerning a religious vocation, or help planning for a career in a mechanical trade or learned profession--we can help. In addition to our courses, we offer parent conferences, workshops, private consultations and camps that help with these practical matters in education. You simply have to ask. We'll help.
Moreover, we will be providing parents with a complete "Core Standards" program that will be accepted by nearly every state in US and will allow you to efficiently satisfy all state education requirements without wasting time and interfering with greater studies. For more info on the CLAA Core Standards program, contact us.