top of page

Classical Education














What if your child's education used their natural wonder to lead them to academic maturity and to a lifelong love of learning? Why is not all education like this?

What Catholic and other concerned parents and educators have discovered, especially over the course of the last 30 years, is that this method is in fact the historical norm, and for this reason it is called "classical" education. During the Nineteenth and especially the Twentieth Century, tried and true methods of education were abandoned across the schools of the United States and of Europe, in favor of a religion-free smattering of "social studies", repetition-based methods and perhaps training in the basics of some trades.


This experimental focus upon productivity and progressivism was at the expense of teaching students the basics of how best to learn and the true heritage of Western Civilization, i.e. Christendom, the ensoulment with Catholic Christianity during the medieval period of the Greco-Roman society of the ancient world, first in Europe and then throughout the World. At Saint John Bosco High School, your child will be told this story and make it his or her own.


Below are some key elements of our understanding of classical education that distinguish us from others and from the progressive model currently adopted by most public schools in the nation.

1. Religious Education


Education is most fundamentally not a teaching of the intellect (although this follows) of this or that fact, but training in Truth, Goodness and Beauty for the Soul of the student. The student then must have a firm grounding in piety, that virtue of the soul which gives to God, to one's family and to one's nation that which is their due, whether worship or reverence or respect. Without fostering this disposition of the soul, the intellectual training which our students receive would inevitably be misused, so it becomes essential to train the student in piety and the fear of God first of all. At St. John Bosco High School we do this not only through weekly Mass, but also through drawing the connections to the Faith that exist in all our subjects. Thus students can appreciate the sacredness of work, and discover the deeper purpose of their academic labors: the worship of the Most High God. 

2. The Seven Liberal Arts


While the ideas behind the seven liberal arts were percolating throughout the ancient period before the coming of Our Lord both in Greece and later throughout the Roman Empire, they were not systematized until the Medieval period, when Christian scholarship organized these subjects deemed indispensable to the education of the scholar, and ideally to all free and God-fearing citizens.

2a. The Trivium: The Lost Tools of Learning 


While the trivium is often emphasized in classical education, (Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric) it is only a part of the Seven liberal arts, made complete by the Quadrivium of Music, Mathematics, Geometry and Astronomy. The trivium is an essential teaching in the methods we all must use to learn. It is a training in how to learn. Grammar education is essentially the ability to memorize the fundamental facts of any art or science. One of the most distinctive incarnations is our commitment to Latin education. Latin is the language with which Western Civilization has been most profoundly been formed, and as its sons and daughters, we ought to learn it not only for our betterment but in piety to those who have given us so much.


Dialectic or Logic trains the mind in how to use these facts to unerringly arrive at other truths (and detect errors of thinking presented by others). Finally, Rhetoric is a training in beautiful presentation of the fruits of one's contemplation and intellectual labor. The three ways each appeal to each of the parts of the human soul: the intellect, will and affections.

2b. The Quadrivium and the Physical Sciences


The Quadrivium subjects listed above have in common the fact that they allow the person to liberate himself from the daily chaos and noise into realms of pure thought that examine relationships themselves, rather than just examples. For example, in Geometry, we do not just look at different triangles. We ask, What is it to be a triangle? What is the relationship of the stars of the constellation of Orion to each other. What do beautiful pieces of music have in common with one another?


The great achievement of Western Civilization recognized by the secular world is its development of the culture of scientific thought that made the Industrial Revolution possible. This revolution – marrying Faith in an Orderly God who made an orderly Creation to the Reason with which He gifted man to understand and exercise dominion over that Creation – was sponsored by the Catholic Church, and most medieval and Renaissance and even many later scientists were celibate consecrated religious. In the physical sciences, we see the insight that the subjects of the Quadrivium themselves are imprinted upon the physical world in a way the Greeks and Romans never imagined. The descent of a falling object obeys mathematical laws of motion discovered by Galileo (a Catholic priest) and then re-explained by Newton in the context of his three even more fundamental laws of motion. When we see the world as the lawful masterpiece of the lawful and loving Father God, then we can appreciate it and see our place in it.

3. Ad Fontes


We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century - the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?" - lies where we have never suspected it... None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. 

-C.S. Lewis

In order truly to be free, again and again we must return to the primary sources that fed our civilization. The medieval motto for this was "ad fontes", going to the sources of the knowledge, the primary sources rather than derivative and often twisted secondary sources. In this way, students train themselves to become detectives searching for the Truth, able to think for themselves and become really participants in the "Great Conversation" spoken of by Mortimer Adler, a proponent of the Great Books Program model adopted after the mid-Twentieth Century by many colleges in an attempt to belatedly make up at the undergraduate level for their students' lack of a classical education in Elementary and High School. 

4. The cultivation of the whole person: Physical Education


The human person is a body-mind-soul unity. No part can be separated from the others. They influence and reinforce one another. Therefore physical or gymnastic education, just like the maths and sciences, is an essential part of the educational endeavor, not "extra-curricular". The Greeks understood this keenly, which is why they emphasized communal physical education in their gymnasia for all youth.


We fully encourage our students to train their bodies as the temples of the Holy Spirit, with the same intensity as they hone their minds, by participating in sports (while piously observing the Third Commandment and refraining from needless work on Sundays) and we offer physical education as an integral part of our curriculum. 


Further Reading:

1. The Lost Tools of Learning, Dorothy Sayers

2. An Introduction to Classical Education, Dr. Christopher Perrin

3. The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Classical Education, Ravi Jain and Dr. Kevin Clarke


bottom of page