This is the 1st article in the series How to Get an Elite Prep School Education on a Homeschool Budget.
Master educator, John Taylor Gatto, abandoned the New York City government school system in the early 1990’s stating that he was no longer willing to “hurt children.” He has devoted his life since then to articulating a different vision of education that turns children into lifetime learners.
Interestingly, Gatto examined the curricula taught in our nation’s most prestigious prep schools, where the wealthy and powerful groom their children to assume positions of leadership, and identified fourteen themes that they hold in common. As I reviewed these themes, it struck me that Catholic homeschoolers are in a unique position to inculcate these characteristics into our own school day.
Our nation – indeed our world – desperately needs leaders committed to Catholic values, and these future leaders need to be thoroughly prepared. Catholic home education can be the equivalent of an expensive prep school education, at a tiny fraction of the price. Let’s make the most of it.
The First Theme
Taylor’s first theme is that students must develop a “theory of human nature as embodied in history, philosophy, theology, literature and law.” If graduates will be assuming positions of influence, they must understand what provokes others to act the way they do, and how they can be motivated to think and act differently. This theme should be natural for Catholic homeschooling families who base their theory of human nature on the teachings of Holy Mother Church.
To Catholics, human beings are creatures made in the image and likeness of God, who exist to know, love and serve God and one another in this world and to be happy with Him in the next. This philosophy will help students develop a personal code of conduct, but also give them a firm grasp of the motivations and actions of others.
Our goal must be to deepen our students’ understanding of the Christian view of humanity through the agencies that Mr. Gatto mentions: history, philosophy, theology, literature and law. While our religion classes (theology) must inculcate virtuous habits and pious practices, they must also awaken our students’ interest in how God revealed Himself and His Divine Plan, first to His Chosen People, the Israelites, and then through His Son, Jesus Christ.
History and the law allow them to understand how mankind’s cooperation, or lack of cooperation, with this plan affects nations and peoples. Philosophy deals with the problems humanity faces as it struggles to grasp the reality of existence, reason, and knowledge.
An example of this theme in action is found when our students study a document like The Declaration of Independence. In the very first paragraph, Jefferson states that the occupants of the colonies are entitled to a “separate and equal station” by the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” and claims that their fundamental rights are “inalienable” because they receive them, not from a benign or even benevolent government, but directly from their Creator.
Carefully considered, this document is worthy of study for more than its historical or legal significance; it reveals essential aspects of the human condition.
Great fiction will accomplish the same purpose. By reading great works that have stood the test of time, students gain insight into what motivates human thoughts and actions. Sometimes these are virtues like courage, loyalty, honesty, as well as faith in God and charity towards neighbor. Other times, human actions can be attributed to avarice, concupiscence, materialism, and disordered ambition. Hesitation or lack of action can be the result of indolence or despair.
These virtues and vices, and many more, are the heart of great story telling.
The next time your students crab about a book analysis, a history quiz, or memorizing the catechism, remind them that they are being prepared for greatness.
Stay with us for Part 2.