This is the tenth article in the series How to Get an Elite Prep School Education on a Homeschool Budget.
Unquestionably, children from entitled backgrounds will themselves often enjoy lifetimes of wealth, influence and privilege, but must children from more humble origins necessarily be content with a more mundane existence?
Not so, asserts master teacher John Taylor Gatto who identified fourteen themes that elite private schools use to prepare their students to take on leadership positions in the professions, business and government.
As you and I may not be able to swing the almost $50,000 annual tuition in these schools, Catholic home schooling parents should strongly consider integrating some or even all of Mr. Gatto’s themes into our home learning. More than ever, American society needs leaders who are well formed, not only academically, but also spiritually.
Gatto’s tenth theme is that young people must have a comfortable familiarity with the fine arts, what he refers to as “cultural capital.” They must be familiar with the “master creations” of great artists in fields like “music, painting, dance, sculpture, design, architecture, literature and drama.”
His reasoning? “Apart from religion, the arts are the only way to transcend the animal materiality of our lives.”
In the not too distant past, it was tough for families living apart from major cities to find opportunities to expose their children to the fine arts.
Having lived all my life around New York City and Chicago, my children and I have had the advantage of world class cultural institutions like Chicago’s Lyric Opera, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and of course theatre — on and off Broadway. The gap between cultural haves and have-nots has changed, however, thanks to videos and the Internet.
While I urge you to find opportunities for your children to experience live productions and personally see and hear great works, you can still offer them some rich cultural experiences right in your own home.
A word of caution: While I have tried to check out some of these sources for wholesomeness, please use caution when accessing anything on the Internet or on TV.
My children have enjoyed a great, if informal, music education at home from their dad, a former musician. He must have done a great job as two daughters pursued musical studies after high school. You can expose your children to great music, musical theatre, drama, dance and opera if you have a TV and computer.
An extensive number of world-class performances can be watched, and videos ordered at Great Performances on public broadcasting.
I just googled “YouTube Chicago Symphony Orchestra.” There, you can listen to Riccardo Muti conduct Verdi’s Requiem, two other complete performances, excerpts from other great works, and discussion from world-class musicians.
And it’s free!
On YouTube, I searched for “Broadway” and came across a five episode PBS series about American Broadway theatre. You can see and hear snippets of great performances with history and background.
3. Museum websites
I checked out four: The Louvre in Paris, London’s National Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the Art Institute of Chicago. The websites allow you look at some of the great works featured in these institutions. Better than that, they give some background and explanation for those of us who were not art history majors.
Websites have pictures and descriptions of some of the works, and short biographies of the artists.
The National Gallery has a “Picture of the Month” feature. When I visited, the painting was Titian’s Noli Me Tangere. You can translate the text on the Louvre website, but I could not translate the audio in the children’s section which seemed quite excellent – if you speak French.
The art museums offered, what seemed to me, the least satisfactory websites for learn-at-home purposes. A trip to the public library might be a better option for the visual arts.
4. Live Performances
Even if you live in suburban or rural areas, there are always opportunities to see some live performances. Most public and private high schools and community colleges have drama programs and put on plays. Some are quite professional. Many communities have local theatre companies. Private dance academies often have recitals for their students, and some of these can be excellent. If you are not sure if the show would be appropriate for children, you can almost always get information online or by calling the company.
Often localities host band concerts during the summer or on patriotic holidays. You can learn more about patriotic music by reading biographies of John Philip Sousa or George M. Cohan.
I found a 6-minute video biography of Sousa:
Here is a biography of George M. Cohan that is more accurate than the Jimmy Cagney movie Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Not sure what the difference is between a philharmonic orchestra and a concert band? You can find the answer!
The village I live in claims to have the highest number of architecturally significant buildings, per capita, in the United States. My kids certainly know the difference between Victorian and Prairie School.
Want to pass on this information to your children? Visit this link for an explanation of American home styles.
Many of you live within driving distance of Catholic churches that are rich architectural resources. Usually, the older the church the lovelier it is, and often you can learn the history on the church website.
As you can see, fine arts resources are almost limitless for anyone with a computer or public library. Let me add that when it comes to sacred art, Seton Home Study School gives students an education that compares—I would guess excels—that of any high-priced prep school.
Have your children look at the lists of artworks and artists in the back of many books and research them at the library. Notice that the back covers of Seton books feature examples of the finest church architecture and many of these churches are in cities where you live or visit.
Turn off mindless television shows and modern music. Expose them to the best entertainment. Let them understand that sacred music is more than just the hymns they hear at church on Sunday. Let them hear Handel’s Messiah.
Do not miss any opportunity to give your children knowledge, and love, of the fine arts. It will enrich their lives.
Inset Painting Copyright Leonid Afremov