Surprising Things Happen When Students Are Taught Truth and Beauty

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Surprising Things Happen When Students Are Taught Truth and Beauty
Surprising Things Happen When Students Are Taught Truth and Beauty

West Point sets a high bar in deciding who enters the U.S. Military Academy. Each year, students must petition their congressmen and senators to secure one of the open places in the freshman class.

Graduates must not only get good grades and high test scores but also show leadership, physical fitness and character. High schools around the country are proud when one of their students gets the coveted West Point acceptance letter. Rarer still are schools that can claim two such students, and even rarer still are those that score two graduates in the same year.

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However, it does happen. This year, two seniors from a private school in Connecticut were just accepted. This case is particularly extraordinary because the graduating class numbers are less than two dozen.

This school, and others like it, are different from modern education under the influence of John Dewey. It teaches perennial truths, not faddish experiments of “critical thinking,” “self-discovery,” and “engagement.” Discipline tempered with charity reigns. There are no cell phones at this school, and the students don’t mind.

Due to parental demand, classical Catholic academies are popping up all over the country. The Connecticut school with the students accepted at West Point is Cardinal Kung Academy in Stamford, Conn. It is named after the great anti-communist Chinese cardinal who defied the Red regime in China. The school opened in 2018 with 20 students, and now, the number is nearly 120.

Most students at these academies are home-schooled and disillusioned with today’s utility-driven education systems based on test scores. These schools offer something more.

The classical academy model is based on the study of the Great Books of the Western canon, beginning with the ancient world and continuing to the present. Such study allows students to see the origins of the West and share in its wisdom. Students are also taught an integrated humanities program that includes Latin, art and music. The emphasis is on an understanding of truth, morals and beauty. It draws upon the treasures of the Church that attract all ages in all epochs.

There are many variations of these themes and curricula. The common thread is that they favor the formation of the person with a coherent worldview based on reality. Students live moral lives with enthusiasm for the love of God. Above all, the students receive an appreciation of their Catholic Faith, toward which they can practice piety and devotion.

Such a curriculum would seem contrary to what an institution like West Point needs. The military condition requires extensive technical and scientific knowledge.

However, it is precisely this logical and moral education that provides the foundation for the leadership and character that make good military officers. It motivates students to go beyond the average and excel.

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The administration at Cardinal Kung stresses that it aims to instill meaning and purpose in these postmodern times. Instead of questioning their identities, students are invited to think about those Big Questions that revolve around why they exist and the purpose of the Creator in creating them.

Such an education does not automatically resolve the issues that students will confront after graduation.

Despite the schools’ many positive aspects, they would be better equipped to resist the deadly pressures of the Sexual Revolution amid the Culture War if they were not co-ed. They could return to the traditional pattern for Catholic non-primary schools, where boys and girls were educated separately in accordance to the mentality of each.

However, such studies do prepare students to deal with the Culture War based on what has worked in the past. They give them methods of thinking and reasoning that help them find solutions. They teach students to think beyond themselves and show concern for the common good.

For this reason, Catholic parents everywhere are looking for schools that can provide this education. The Church has always been at the forefront of the formation of young children, looking after both body and soul. The final goal of education should be preparation for Heaven.

However, one curious characteristic of these schools is that they exist outside the official education establishment. Due to the crisis inside the Church, they even operate outside the parochial school system. Run by concerned laity, encouraged by friendly clergy and inspired by the teachings of the Church, they plot a course in uncharted waters. Many also stay clear of government funding and the strings attached to it.

The rise of schools like the Catholic classical academy model represents a much-needed trend. Cardinal Kung Academy’s double success in placing two seniors in West Point proves that academy students can be motivated toward higher things.

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If distractions are removed from the classroom, students can be moved to think of those permanent things that have always inspired them to give the enthusiasm of their youth to seek after the kingdom of God and his justice. If bad philosophy is abandoned, students will benefit from the philosophical wisdom of figures like Saint Thomas Aquinas and thus come to understand their nature and end.

When Heaven is the goal, surprising things happen. It is time for a change.

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