Classical classroom techniques emphasize growth in virtue, wonder, and love in all learning experiences, especially in classroom dialogue. Privileged methods at Holy Family Cathedral School include storytelling, dialogue, memory-work, active listening, thoughtful speaking, recognizing social cues, practicing respectful deference, and responding to one another’s insights in a positive way, even and especially when disagreeing. These norms of the classical classroom are based on the methods of Socrates in his dialogues and also on the manner of teaching exemplified by history’s greatest teacher, our Lord Jesus Christ, who forms His disciples especially through parables, riddles, and frank and open dialogue.
Our curriculum emphasizes the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy) as important classical content areas. Through these we seek to cultivate understanding, wisdom, virtue, and holiness, and a good grasp of our own time and place within the overall timeline of history. All materials, subjects, and methods foreground our wonderful Western heritage as an essential and successful synthesis of faith and reason.
The Catholic Faith is integral to all content and every method at Holy Family Cathedral School. We teach our students that a vibrant faith in Christ should inform our every thought, word, and deed. The curriculum we offer therefore represents an extended catechesis, with every subject ultimately being subjected to all that Christ has taught.
At Holy Family Cathedral School we are eager to hand on the culture of Western Civilization. As Pope Benedict XVI observed in a lecture in 2006, the treasury of Greco-Roman thought in the course of history influenced Scripture itself and constituted Divine Providence’s ‘preamble’ to the fullness of Revelation in Christ. The rich history of Western Civilization is therefore a fitting preamble to faith, because faith ultimately builds upon and presupposes reason. The successful synthesis of faith and reason which we hope to instill in our students is evident most of all in the many riches to be found in the study of Western Civilization.
The study of Latin is classical education’s most important and time-honored way of teaching grammar. Latin also holds the key to a wide array of modern languages and has informed the history of most advanced disciplines, both in the arts and in the sciences. The study of this language from an early age promises to place our graduates competitively while also granting them valuable access to the primary texts and conceptual traditions which have informed every discipline in Western education for centuries, in history and literature, philosophy and theology, medicine and law.
Whereas modern education emphasizes “STEM”—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the classical tradition proposes the study of the “quadrivium.” Focusing not on the outcomes of science but instead on science’s first principles, the classical emphasis on the quadrivium—arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy—prepares students for advanced study by laying a solid and integral foundation in the mathematical arts. These mathematical arts are ultimately not self-contained; they are always, in a classical model, referable to the human person, to our understanding of God’s creation, and to an ethic based in the relationship between humanity and God.
Classical education treats technology as a valuable tool and as an integral part of the reality of modern life, but not as an end in itself. Technology is used in our classrooms when and where it is beneficial for a given lesson—to display works of art for evidence-based inferential discussion, for listening to music during study or dialogue, for displaying documentary-style videography for educational purposes, or for more advanced functions such as three-dimensional modeling. We reject as false the notion that technology and its uses necessarily make the user more knowledgeable. In this sense technology has often been regarded with a degree of caution in the classical tradition (see Phaedrus 275fll.), because its virtues and excellences are not without limitation or hindrance. We therefore aim to subject technology to classical aims while being careful to avoid being subjected by it.
The study of logic is integral to a classical formation. Being the second part of the trivium, sound logic underpins all the ‘laws’ of science, the whole system of if-then statements which is so fail-safe that we entrust our lives to it whenever we travel by land, sea, or air. Students at Holy Family Cathedral School are encouraged to think logically throughout the curriculum, while training in formal categorical and syllogistic logic begins in students’ upper-school years.
Storytelling, song, and traditional social dance are emphasized throughout all years of instruction at Holy Family Cathedral School. In addition to reading stories themselves, children are frequently read to by teachers and by more advanced students. Children are encouraged in a variety of ways to memorize and retell the stories they hear, often in song. The memorization of select social dances—the Virginia Reel, for example—gives students a ‘lived’ or kinesthetic experience of number in time and space which has for centuries held an important place in classical education. And yes, poetry: we do that too! Our curriculum treats poetry as a confluence of the trivium and quadrivium, emphasizing both structure the rhetorical devices in great works of tragic, comic, epic, and lyric poetry.
‘Classic literature’ at Holy Family Cathedral School does not mean ‘stories everyone knows,’ but instead the literary works of every period which were created on the basis of classical principles. Above all this means that the stories we assign to be heard, told, read, or memorized have been written to instill goodness of character by treating virtue as virtuous and vice as vicious, evil as evil and good as good. In such stories bad characters are clearly bad, and good characters clearly good. Our teachers’ treatment of literature thus transcends any story’s entertainment value, focusing instead on the power of literature to mold the mind, will, and heart by depicting “living pictures” of truth, goodness, and beauty.
The cultivation of natural virtue is a primary objective of the curriculum at Holy Family Cathedral School. Whether in Latin, physical education, or the memorization of music or math facts, the student of all these things and more learns an array of virtues along the way—patience, prudence, fortitude, and still other virtues. Education in virtue in a classical model happens not fortuitously but by design. We want our curriculum’s effect to be evident in the personal virtue of our students. Whereas many schools focus their disciplinary code on infractions against school policy, the code of ethics of Holy Family Cathedral School is based instead on virtue-ethics and the formation of our students in moral goodness. Because we are a Catholic classical school, formation in virtue finds its ultimate fulfillment in our students’ individual and collective pursuit of holiness.
The arts represent important meeting-places of the trivium and quadrivium within the timeline of history, wondrous expressions of the riches of the human person and the reality in which we live and move and have our being. What artists apprehend ultimately reaches beyond logic and the sciences, towards what cannot be grasped fully this side of heaven. Art is therefore ordered fundamentally to the transcendental attributes of being—truth, goodness, and beauty—representing these by giving each “a local habitation and a name.” In this way art enables us to perceive the essential unity of truth, goodness, and beauty. With this in mind, the arts curriculum at Holy Family Cathedral School seeks to immerse students in wonder at the transcendentals in every artist’s artistic output, with special emphasis on realism, balance, and beauty in the history of art.
For millennia dialogue has been the chief means by which the classically educated student is formed. The principles of the art of dialogue are to be found especially in the teaching of Socrates, who defined the third component of the trivium, rhetoric, as “the art of soul-leading through words.” In a Socratic discussion, students are encouraged to “test” or “probe” by means of dialogue and dialectic not only what they themselves think but also and more importantly what the truth of things might be. This process of discovering truth in dialogue typically proceeds from particular to universal, from evidence to conclusion, allowing the experience of learning to impress upon the mind of the student not only the “what” but also the “why” and the “how.” This method is also used by Jesus throughout the Gospels, highlighting once more the central role of reason in its final assent to the central tenets of the Christian Faith.