EDUCATION AND CULTURE
Classically understood, education is not an occupation. It is a lifestyle. More exactly, it is the transmission of an entire way of life from one generation to the next. It is the formation of the mind and heart to become free and fertile ground into which may be planted the seeds of a common culture, the social virtue, which rightly disposes a person to their heritage and society, both the immediate society of their family and the state as a whole, and to their duty as members of that society. When understood in this light, it becomes manifestly absurd to expect any external institution to shoulder the entire responsibility of education. Not only is such a thing impossible (except in some socialist nightmare), but would we even desire it if it were? Would any responsible parent, understanding the true nature of education, simply relinquish their full rights and responsibilities to “experts” and “professionals,” whose standards and expectations are as varied and unknown to the parents--and sometimes as mechanical--as those of the factories that produce their computers and phones?
We know that the answer is no. Education forms an essential part of the rearing of a child, and is therefore primarily a duty of the parents themselves. It is itself part of the very basis in natural law for the permanence of the matrimonial bond<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> and the primary end toward which the natural communion of life and work of the spouses is directed<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> . Thus, the primary educators of a child must be the parents.
Of course, this is a very heavy responsibility and can at times even become a burden. It is for this reason that parents ought to seek out a community of like-minded people to aid them on this singularly difficult and important task. That community ought to include tutors, themselves dedicated to mastering the intellectual and moral traditions at the heart of their shared culture, to aid them in achieving their goal of firmly instilling the best aspects of that culture in their children. This is the reason for the founding of Saint John of the Cross Academy, a classical tutorship that facilitates the kind of community, bound together by a truly traditional Catholic culture, in which children receive an education worthy of the name.
The tutors of SJCA recognize their role and its importance, but they know that it is essentially a secondary and instrumental role. Thus, while they all have a total and lifetime commitment to the mastery necessary to be classical tutors, they also understand that their expertise does not in any way supersede the rights and responsibilities of parents. Tutors are instruments in the hands of the parents cultivating their children, and indeed the whole family. They dedicate their life not so much to an occupation, but to a work of mercy.
The tutors of SJCA, with this understanding of education and the role they play in it, have two primary responsibilities to the community: (1) to help the parents gain a more perfect understanding of the intellectual and moral traditions of their culture so that they can better transmit that culture to their children; (2) to tutor children directly throughout the years most formative of their rational powers, training them to master grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric (the three foundational artes liberales, or liberal arts) in the various areas of study and in accord with the best our tradition has to offer. The tutor does not strive for novel methods or to impress his own personality upon his pupils. Indeed, it is the great authors of the Western tradition who are the teachers, and it is their wisdom that informs all of the tutor’s methods. The tutor is doing his work well insofar as his pupils can think well about the ideas before them, focusing totally on the intellectual activity at hand rather than on personality of the tutor. The ultimate end for the tutor himself is that the pupil will one day no longer need his guidance, as a child gradually learns to ride his bike without training wheels. For at the completion of his schooling, the pupil will have demonstrated his own mastery over the liberal arts. He is now free to pursue wisdom on his own, possessing the right rule of reason in his soul as a virtuous habit.
When it comes to contemporary education, especially of the Catholic variety, a common advertising tactic is to claim that the institution is “renewing” or “rebuilding” culture, or that it is “counter-cultural” in the sense that it is a bastion for a culture which is not in vogue. These are bold claims. Does SJCA make a similar claim? Is it the goal of SJCA to “renew” the culture? We must answer with a firm, if surprising “no.” This is not because we think that our culture does not need renewing and rebuilding. Rather, it is because we realize how absurd it would be for a single institution to claim for itself such a task<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. At this point, is it even possible for any merely human institution to do so? Only the pervading work of supernatural grace in and through the Church is powerful enough to bring about such a change. We all pray to be instruments, God willing, but surely this could only occur through our excellent attention to the task immediately before us. We must be “faithful in that which is least,”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> as Our Lord says, if we are to have any part in that which is great.
At this point, it would be useful to give an account of just what we mean by “culture.” Culture is a manifestation on a societal scale of excellence in the whole spectrum of rational behavior of mankind developed over multiple generations and informed by a common tradition. The relation of this word to “agriculture” is no accident and helps to illustrate our point. Just as agriculture is the art of disposing the field well to bring forth its latent perfection in a good crop, so human culture, through the fertilizing effects of tradition, disposes the hearts and minds of those who share it in common to bear the fruit of human perfection: the virtues.
Given this view of culture, it ought to be clear why SJCA has a much more modest goal than a wholescale renewal of culture. Our goal is simply to help parents educate their children into a tradition and culture that has proven to be the strongest and most fruitful culture in the history of the world, namely, Catholic culture. SJCA will not distract itself with grandiose plans of creating a new culture or converting the whole world. We choose instead to focus on the family in front of us, helping each member of the family to be as well formed as they can be into a culture more ancient and longer-lasting than anything devised through the machinations of men. If God decides to use this modest work to bring about a more general renewal, then we would certainly be grateful instruments. But as T.S. Eliot remarked, culture is something that comes about as a result of the members of a community simply pursuing true human excellence in their diverse activity<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. The minute the abstract “culture” becomes itself the aim of our action--one begins to wonder what the word means in such a context--, that is the same minute we cease to be active participants in culture. This is the path to becoming an ideologue, but not a cultured human being. We have plenty of the former, and not enough of the latter. Culture is virtuous precisely because it is a habit for concrete action in accord with the human excellence, and it is gained, like other virtues, through the painstaking repetition of those actions. The tutors of SCJA accordingly have as their goal to help their pupils to gain the intellectual and moral formation which most disposes them to excellence in any genuinely human activity. Thus, while we do not take as our primary goal the “renewing of culture” at large, we see our work as an incredibly effective tool in the hands of families seeking excellence within their own lives. In turn, we may hope with the help of grace that this excellence may organically take root and bear fruit for generations to come. Only then will there be any sort of rebirth of culture. And if there is, it will be the cause of generations of families obeying the dictates of God, His creation, and the ancient customs those dictates inform. The tutors of SJCA, again, will have only been instruments.
Why is a classical tutorship particularly fitted for this goal? We believe that it is because it is the best way for children to be initiated into our ancient and common culture. Through the imitation of the great masters of the Western intellectual and spiritual tradition, children become habituated to think and desire along with those great models that laid the foundations of our civilization. Being steeped in the ancient traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, both in doctrine and practice, children find their place alongside “so great a cloud of witnesses,”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> and learn to think, pray, and worship, even in the unity of our sacred Latin tongue, with the Saints that have handed us this patrimony. Thus, a Catholic and classical education provides the intellectual and spiritual formation necessary to liberate people from the bondage of being a mere child of their age, and the ignorance that leads to mindless assimilation. They become part of something far deeper, far more human and real than any fad of modernity.
In this way, perhaps this kind of education may be called “counter-cultural,” but this is certainly not its essential characteristic. (We might even pray that the leaven of Catholic classical education would permeate to the point that no “counter-culture” was even necessary.) Indeed, if we are reflective about the current state of our world and the diseases that ail it, it would become clear that what we are dealing with is not simply an evil culture. Rather, we look in vain for signs of any culture at all. Tradition, the very lifeblood of culture, is nearly wholesale rejected. In the obsession with entertainment and self-gratification, true human virtue is choked out. Mediocrity rises to the top because it is not a threat, while magnanimity is labelled “arrogance,” “extremism,” or “bigotry.” In short, any true cultivation of human excellence is abandoned. What is left is barbarism covered with the veneer of technological sophistication, which has succeeded in giving our modern brand of barbarism ever more ways to express its brutality. But as we have seen, the essential characteristic of classical education is precisely human excellence, enabling human beings to reach out for the highest virtues of heart and mind. True human excellence, whether it is that of the farmer or the politician, is a free, deliberate, and rational excellence. So while a classical education may not claim to be itself the cause of culture or even of the renewal of culture, it is a necessary element in forming those who can make that claim in the future: generations of families properly formed in the best their tradition has to offer.
All of this provides the inspiration for the founding of SJCA and will inform every aspect of its life: its character as a classical tutorship rather than a modern school, its absolute emphasis on the family, its Four Marks of Tradition, Subsidiarity, Simplicity, and Contemplation as laid out in its Bylaws, its historic-classical curriculum, and even its yearly calendar, organized around the ancient liturgical calendar of Holy Mother Church. All of this is to ensure that the families and tutors of SJCA are thoroughly immersed in the life-giving flow of the traditions of Catholic culture, that with grace we all might be disposed to seek with Saint Augustine that “Beauty ever-ancient, ever new,” without Whom no heart could find rest.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Sup. III, Q. 41, art. 1; also, Q. 67, art. 1: “By the intention of nature marriage is directed to the rearing of the offspring, not merely for a time, but throughout its whole life. Hence it is of natural law that parents should lay up for their children, and that children should be their parents' heirs (2 Corinthians 12:14). Therefore, since the offspring is the common good of husband and wife, the dictate of the natural law requires the latter to live together forever inseparably: and so the indissolubility of marriage is of natural law.”
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> ibid, Q. 49, art. 2, ad 1
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> T. S. Eliot, Notes Toward a Definition of Culture, pg. 109: “For the schools can transmit only a part, and they can only transmit this part effectively, if the outside influences, not only of family and environment, but of work and play, of newsprint and spectacles and entertainment and sport, are in harmony with them.”
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Luke 16:10
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> T. S. Eliot, Notes Toward a Definition of Culture, pg. 17: “For if any definite conclusions emerge from this study, one of them is surely this, that culture is the one thing that we cannot deliberately aim at. It is the product of a variety of more or less harmonious activities, each pursued for its own sake: the artist must concentrate upon his canvas, the poet upon his typewriter, the civil servant upon the just settlement of particular problems as they present themselves upon his desk, each according to the situation in which he finds himself.”
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Hebrews 12:1