Our Educational Philosophy
"The last ends of education...point to the mysterious bond between teacher and student who have been brought together by something other than themselves, something they both love, something that begins to encompass them both."
- James S. Taylor, Poetic Knowledge
"After much converse about the matter itself and a life lived together, suddenly a light, as it were, is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another, and thereafter sustains itself."
- Plato, Seventh Letter
"To have shared and loved the experience of the good, true, and beautiful, through some concrete or vicarious experience is to begin real friendship, for as Aristotle observed, true friendship is based in part on the mutual love of the good."
- James S. Taylor, Poetic Knowledge
We offer an experiential [poetic] education - both direct, through hands-on activities & crafts, & imaginative, through lively engage-ment in the great books - founded on the Byzantine Catholic monastic tradition, for students who are 12 to 15 years old.
We believe education is about pulling our students towards beauty by engaging them in it, We are not interested in just covering an arranged number of books and materials and ticking off boxes as we meet arbitrary mass goals. We want our students to recapture a sense of wonder.
We hope to observe “the proper order of knowledge,” which begins with the poetic, as outlined by educational pioneer & founder of the Integrated Humanities Program, John Senior. Senior tells us that “in the poetic mode, one experiences things rather than examining them in any critical spirit.” This is the time to learn through “experience of two kinds, direct and imaginatively participatory” (James S. Taylor). In our study of literature, history, poetry and philosophy at this period, “the stories they tell do not explain; they imitate or re-present their subject; they render it present” (Dennis Quinn). Frank Nelick observes that, with the advent of the printing press, the poetic mode for studying literature began to be lost; “It was the end of an oral and conversational tradition and the end of the reliance on memory, which, as the Greeks believed, was the mother of the muses.” Considering this along with the observations of Montessori, who developed her unique philosophy of education through years of observation & research, (and supported by contemporary discoveries in neuroscience), we see that the 12-15 year old period is not the time for specializing or analyzing, but for connecting to particular, concrete instances of beauty in nature and art, working the land, and building community.
The students must also be allowed the leisure time that will allow them to begin to reflect on the transcendent nature of things like friendship, integrity, and sacrifice. This glimpse of the transcendent nature of things “takes place, as all poetic knowledge does, in a setting of leisure of some kind.” (James S. Taylor) We want to create a space for true leisure, which has been all but forgotten or replaced by recreation in contemporary society. This is the primary reason we have no homework or exams at St. Anthonys’. With classes of no more than 12 students, there is plenty of time during the school day for the work that needs to be done, allowing for leisure time in the afternoons and evenings.
Our current, factory-style educational system is depleted and dry. Its goal - to instill loads of facts into young minds and produce efficient workers - falls far short of “learning to love what is beautiful.” It also fails to take into account the various stages of brain development, expecting people of all ages to behave alike in their absorption and regurgitation of information. It demands the impossible - that individuals all learn in the same way, at the same pace. It asks its students to work at a desk all day and then come home to more work. It instills a fear in us that if we do not conform, our children will not be able to function successfully in life or in work.
We hope to offer an alternative.
from Poetic Knowledge, by James S. Taylor
On the Poetic and Scientific Modes of Knowledge
The fact is, we are not moved by thought alone but by the integration of an idea and desire, the desire for union with reality, and all our composite being perceives reality as good. If education does not cultivate the natural desire for union with reality with understanding that the poetic and gymnastic modes are real knowledge, then it delivers something profoundly inferior to the reality and powers of the human being. For desire of the real to rise up, there must be something real to arouse it, and gadgets, computers, and gimmicks used to hold attention, all taking place in classroom environments technologically insulated from reality, are simply parts of the generally unlovable atmosphere of modern education - unlovable because they are all efficiency, utility, and no longer beautiful.
...Again, it is love, desire, that inspires real knowledge and far from being confined to feelings, this must include the love from the will...
Scientific knowledge, on the other hand, does not, cannot, give an experience of the whole thing - only external reality, the surface, the parts are held as real. It is a priority of the scientific mode that it be free of emotional responses to reality. When this scientific view enters into education, then only the deliberative aspect of the will is emphasized, and effort to learn anything is considered a virtue.
The School of the Poetic Mode in the Modern World
But the great question for students and teachers who would discover the poetic mode of knowledge is not whether it can be declared valid or not - it can, either by pointing to the long tradition of its recognition...or by simply reflecting on their own experience to see that such a mode exists within themselves. Rather, because the awareness of poetic knowledge requires, not exclusively but to a profound degree, a poetic culture found in daily life and in ordinary experience, the question is: Is such a life possible in a highly industrialized, technological society based on the idolatry of materialism? If poetic experience first play upon the beautiful, the wonderful, the proportionate thing that is intuitively pleasing to our senses, where are we to find this beauty in the noise, flare, and glitz, the noxious air, the tasteless food, the vulgar democratization of manners, the desensitization of emotions and resulting wanton violence from suburbs to cities to nations, that so inform the life of the [twentyfirst] century? Are there even any tables, chairs, cups and bowls (outside museums or a few craft centers) whose handmade simple beauty caused the manly Odysseus to gaze in wonder on such ordinary objects? What ideas of substance present themselves from our daily life and work, so that at mealtime around the table (if anyone still eats together) is there conversation of some reflection on the permanent things? How often, if ever, do we encounter some setting, some person, some song, some moment where we can say within our hearts and minds that the experience was “something very much like perfection” (Homer)?
...The modern world, indeed, has gone a long way in destroying the occasions for a normal sensory life in contact with natural beauty and the occasions of poetic experience. In cities, towns, homes, and schools, it is largely a life insulated from reality, a world of electronic images and music, machines in the home and in the office that separate us from our work, exercise machines and professional sports and no real gymnastic sense of the world. For the poetic sense of life to make a real “comeback,” to treat just one area, both atheistic communism and liberal capitalism would have to disappear as well as the huge and crushing industrial-technological nations they have produced. An economy based on working and living proportionate to the whole human being within a stable family unit, and not relative to the State and its materialistic ends, would have to come into being. Frankly, it all seems impossible viewed this way, without, perhaps, some enormous global catastrophe first.
Without a sympathetic culture that reflects the poetic sense of life, teachers who work in the poetic mode have very little to point to for present examples; we prove our position often in the negative, by the absence of poetry. Yet, the close of the twentieth century also forces us to look more closely, for there is still a nature, and a human nature, that can respond to reality and to the permanent things. It is simply more difficult now. Therefore, it seems that poetic education can be engaged in now, but on a small scale, perhaps as small as one home and family at a time, but I would hope one classroom, one small school at a time. The recent rise in private schools and homeschooling are opportunities for the application of poetic education without the constraining bureaucratic requirements from state and federal agencies.
But what is needed is a school completely dedicated, I would say, devoted to the education that observes first of all the poetic and gymnastic modes of knowledge. And a school, based on the tradition from Socrates to the IHP [Integrated Humanities Program]...is also based on that great species of love: friendship. As Senior says, a school first of all is a faculty of friends. Before buildings, before books, even before students, a school is a gathering, often just of a few friends, learning together, who love the same things and love to reflect and remark about them in conversation. The presence of such friendships and their love of concrete and mysterious realities, is what attracts students to such a school.
...Small is beautiful, less is more, in this case, and students of such a school will not only regain the proper use of their senses, they will at the same time discover their reason which, while being good in itself, would also answer the charge that such a school would not prepare the students for the “real” world.
...Keep in mind, then, that at a school in the gymnastic and poetic mode, designed to truly recover education, is not a “romantic” idea, or an easy school, especially when compared to the cushy surroundings and “feel-good” methods of most modern education. Students in the real school, for example, would be cold before the room took the heat of the wood stove, and they would be hot unless a breeze could be found to enter through open windows. But like the memories of light and shadow, the memory of cold and hot, the smell of the open field for playground and science, the drowsy afternoons after a simple but healthy lunch, the sometimes tedious drills for math, would all be recalled in a sympathy that had joined the passive and active powers of body and soul. And recall at this point...an order based largely on self-discipline now so foreign to the average school setting as to be disbelieved as possible without the aid of threats, bribes, and even the presence of police. And yet, order as viewed by Charlier or Senior (or Socrates, Aristotle, or Aquinas for that matter) is also part of nature; therefore, in spite of human perversity, or call it original sin, the sense and satisfaction of order as a species of beauty still resides within the soul and can still be drawn out by the alert and sympathetic teacher.
Teachers and parents often want to know about books for such a school and how they would be taught. In the school of the poetic mode of education, there are very few books indeed, and the ones used, in a sense, choose us before we chose them; that is, these are the books of our tradition, which is the Western tradition...
Furthermore, to teach in this integrated way, so that students see that knowledge is not a set of discrete subjects to be mastered but rather a whole that instructs by delight, one book could suffice for an entire curriculum…
...But the end of such an education is not more and more books or even necessarily smarter students. Poetic and gymnastic education has as its end the cultivation of the senses, the imagination, and the will, not the elevation of the I.Q. Not is there the presence of the twice-removed distance of the impersonal textbook or the cumbersome bookkeeping with work sheets, handouts, or the conventional means of evaluation under this way of teaching. My students examinations on what they read was determined by writing something about the experience of the book, talking about it, drawing about it. Even the “hard” subjects of math, where perhaps calculations for distances were determined, always had the full context of the story underneath them as the foundation of reference, rather than the cold black and white numbers in a lifeless story problem in a textbook.
...The books...are not the end of education and certainly not intended to produce “bookish” students with overstimulated minds. It is not a school for parents to be able to say: My kid is smarter than your kid. The books, while being good in themselves, are first of all to be enjoyed. They are also occasions of something more important.
The philosophers recognize such distinctions by speaking of causes or ends; that is, in addition to reading the book for enjoyment, the student is able to learn about life in a vicarious way and also in some specific ways...as well as learning more about the living language. Students become better readers and writers by reading and writing, not by methods of attacking the discrete topics of a language arts program. These ends would be called immediate and proximate causes.
But there are also remote and ultimate ends. The reward teachers and students experience when they abandon all the cumbersome paraphernalia of scientific education and confront one another and the truths of the subject at hand directly and simply, is friendship. It is friendship, a species of love, spoken of by Andre Charlier and John Senior, that defines such a school and echoes that first image in the West of the teacher Socrates, whose students playfully, affectionately detain him one day so that he will talk to them about justice, as seen at the beginning of the Republic. And this is why Senior says that first of all a school is a faculty of friends…
...the presence of the teacher and student, and the teacher illuminating a book with the student - the object that has been placed between them - produces the third thing, like the note created by two notes played in harmony, the mutual delight in some aspect of the true, the good, and the beautiful, those transcendentals that are harmonized in the One. To have shared and loved the experience of the good, true and beautiful, through some concrete or vicarious experience is to begin real friendship, for as Aristotle observed, true friendship is based in part on the mutual love of the good.
When we compare the ends of modern education, be it in the public schools and universities or in the majority of private academies and colleges, with the ends of education as conceived by the much longer and vibrant tradition recorded in this study, we see that there can be very little friendship between students and teachers and between the students themselves, at least in the sense spoken of here. First, the faculties of most schools have been brought together to instruct students in certain subjects so that they master certain skills. Students are present because by law they have to be, and by the “law” of economics, so they are told, they must use an education to get a job. Now, faculty members within this setting, as well as students, may indeed become friends, but it will not ordinarily be because of a remote or ultimate cause of education but because of the nature of human beings who tend to form friendships of some kind in social settings. Furthermore, since the pervasive influence of Dewey and his overzealous disciples have firmly implanted the idea throughout the education of teachers that there really are no transcendent truths to be seen and experienced outside their utility in solving economic, social, or political problems, then there is nothing left for teacher and student to gaze upon beyond immediate and proximate ends, nothing for them to love as good in itself.
Aristotle set down...what had already been observed in common experience for as long as anyone could reflect on such things, that there are friendships based on utility...where what love there is is not based on the good of the other but opon what each can get from the other. It is for the good of ourselves that we befriend another person in this case. Then, there is the occasion of love based on pleasure...still not based on the good of the other but upon what pleasantness we derive for ourselves from that person. Aristotle says such friendships are incidental and are easily dissolved, because if one person ceases to be useful or pleasant then there is no reason to love them. Of course, Aristotle also points out that true friendships contain a measure of usefulness and pleasantness, for, after all, these are goods of a kind, and the truly good desire to be useful and pleasant to their friend. It is just that the useful and pleasant between real friends must be of a higher order and not subject to change and whim. But perfect friendship, says Aristotle, can only take place between those who are good and are alike in virtue. This bonum honestum is reserved for those who love the good, where we desire, above all, the good of the other. So it is not difficult to see that the immediate and proximate ends of things are closer to the utilitarian and pleasant goods; whereas, the remote and ultimate ends rise to the bonum honestum, that is, the honorable good, which, beginning with at least Socrates to present-day Christianity, is recognized as true friendship.
...It is clear from all experience that youth do not really from the higher degrees of friendship - theirs is mainly at the level of what is pleasing. But given the presence of teachers who are friends and who love their students in the highest order, desiring their good, and understanding and patient of their age, students will have the model in their memory, the form of love in their minds, in a time where as a nation, as a world, we either destroy our youth in unjust wars, or by overindulgence, or by neglect and deprivation.
And now we need to take a deep breath...and found a school even with just a few teachers and few students, for a few years. Who knows how far the spark may leap? With all the experiments in education...it would seem there would be some room somewhere for one small experiment in the recovery of education.
...our land, our homes, the heavens and the earth, those dear and those distant from us are important not only in their nature, but, like ourselves, have meaning and purpose far beyond the reach of the current means of analysis and measurement. By rediscovering poetic knowledge, it is possible to see and teach once more that the world - seen and unseen - and the world of ourselves within, mysteriously but actually possess a life that is “something very much like perfection.”
When I saw [three boys I had taught in high school] about twelve years after their graduation, they were eager to tell me how much they had enjoyed my class...they only remembered that we read the Illiad and The Count of Monte Cristo together, and that they were the best books they ever read...they recalled little of what I had said, but...their memory of the experience of the class was one of overall great fondness. I think this was possible because those books were read in an atmosphere of pure enjoyment - no notes were to be taken, no pop quizzes. We read a great deal aloud and would talk whole hours about one scene, recreating it in our minds, savoring some moment or event that seemed true to us.
Historically important dates and names are not only necessary to know when learning history, but for students these can also be enjoyable, if those precise things are left embedded in the stories of history. With older students, reading the histories written by the makers of history - Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul, for example - gives an immediacy to the subject and deepens the vicarious experience of the events. In either case, textbooks of history should be avoided, for these are far too abstract for young minds, books about books, usually, that merely summarize events. Even for older students, in high school for example, the best foundation for Ancient Greek history is still Homer - the Odyssey and the Iliad.
When a flower is taken apart and examined as pistil, stamen, stem and petals, each part is seen exactly and a certain curiosity is indeed satisfied; however, curiosity is not wonder, the former being the itch to take apart, the latter to gaze on things as they are. Curiosity belongs to the scientific impulse and would strive to dominate nature; whereas, wonder is poetic and is content to view things in their wholeness and full context, to pretty much leave them alone. Stated as simply as possible, science sees knowledge as power; poetic knowledge is admiratio, love. In other words, take the students outside, regularly, and turn even a backyard into a laboratory of the open fields. Once again, textbooks at this level are a burden; they get between the student and the things of admiration. Let them make their own notes and pictures, poems and stories, about what they have seen. Biology is the observation of living things, not dead things. And this includes the elements of nature…
So, with dissection or isolation there is no longer an experience of the flower - only parts - and the thing called a rose is gone…
...it is also to be remembered that the human mind is limited - one of the great lessons of poetic knowledge - and even under the power of connatural knowledge, or formal metaphysics, it cannot fully account for the presence of flowers, rain, the sun, or anything. Scientific knowledge accounts for the material world even less because of its necessary attachment of observing externals. This is why scientific knowledge can give the impression of dominance over nature, because only material reality can be disassembled, manipulated, and destroyed, giving the appearance of complete dominance to the finite mind. An education that rejects the poetic mode actually rejects the essential stage of discovery of reality. Advancing to the conclusions of science without the gymnastic and poetic foundations casts an aura of unreality on all knowledge that follows…
On Montessori's Philosophy for 12 to 15 year olds
The Montessori program for the young adult from age twelve to fifteen is very different from that of traditional school. Dr. Montessori felt that because of the rapid growth, the increased need for sleep, and hormonal changes, it is useless to try to force the adolescent to concentrate on intellectual work. She recommended an Erdkinder, or Earth school, where children would live close to nature, eat fresh farm products, and carry on practical work related to the economics of supplying food, shelter, transportation, and so forth. Intellectual work is still done, following the child's interests, but without pressure.
Adolescence is an arbitrary, contrived category. In past eras children were children until the early teens wherein, through some rite of passage, they were ushered into and took their place in adult society. Today there is no economic place for young adults and no rites of passage. We have, instead, created a holding stage that keeps young people in a limbo, into which children enter earlier and adults stay longer year by year.
—Joseph Chilton Pearce, Evolution's End
And how far, we may ask, does it take one to hold a degree these days? [Written in 1949] Can one be sure of even earning a living? ...And how do we explain this lack of confidence? The reason is that these young men have spent years in listening to words and listening does not make a man. Only practical work and experience lead the young to maturity.
My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification from the secondary school to the university, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual.
—Dr. Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence
The period of adolescence has been compared by Dr. Maria Montessori to the first plane of development. She identified both as periods of great transformation, physically and mentally.
Task commitment and concentration continue to be of great importance to the Montessori Adolescent. Her psychic development is to articulate a personal vision. The adolescent’s motto is “Help me to think for myself.” This requires time for solitude and personal reflection, as well as a time for dialogue with her teacher(s) and within a circle of peers.
The major characteristics or “ages” of early adolescence are these:
The focus of the adolescent is on camaraderie, fellowship, companionship and teammates. Peer relationships are crucial and the peer group is the adolescent’s first priority. They need to identify.
The adolescent mind turns from elementary thoughts of the universe toward themselves and their group. Adolescents need to know how they feel and what they want. They need to draw conclusions, listen and synthesize. They need adults to listen to their reasoning. They need to be empowered to seek solutions and to discuss their conclusions.
The adolescent’s vital force has a special intensity. It can burn out of control – but if channeled, it can move mountains. The adolescent has an astonishing capacity to work and an unquenched thirst for adventure and self-discovery.
The adolescent feels challenged to understand what is expected of him or her as an adult.
The adolescent confronts and deals with human nature in a very unique way, confronting powerful dilemmas, mysterious forces and contradictions of life.
The major “needs” of the Montessori adolescent are these:
They need to work.
They need to be challenged.
They need to be empowered.
They need the earth (land).
They need to build community.
They need to develop a personal vision.
What is Montessori for Middle School and How is it Different than Traditional Learning?
Montessori for middle school uses many of these same principles but takes the developmental age of 12-18 in mind. There are many ways in which the adolescent is different than the elementary child in both their body and their mind.
Puberty is one obvious difference. Children grow rapidly, have new hormones in their bodies, and new drives to contend with.
What is less obvious is their new outlook on the world. Suddenly they begin to see social circles and the way that communities are constructed. They begin to ask questions like “Where did we come from?” and “Where do I fit in?” Montessori called the 12-18 year-olds “Social Newborns” for this very reason.
These two factors cause a whole slew of issues. Suddenly, the young child now views himself as an adult. He struggles with inner turmoil and anxiety about his place in the world while at the same time is driven to make deeper connections with peers. Social drives conflict with academic drives. This can add up to conflict with families who still view the child as…well, a child.
Educating the Adolescent
Montessori for middle school takes into consideration this transformation that is happening within the child. It provides rigorous academics, as adult-like in quality as possible, while giving equal regard to their exploration of society. Montessori believed it was best if the child was able to separate from the family, create a micro-society, and explore different roles until the transition calmed down. Here are some of the basic principles of educating the adolescent—and in particular the middle school student:
Ideally, students live and study away from the family. There are only a few boarding Montessori middle schools in the world, but these are intended to give students space in which to grow into their adult selves. Other Montessori middle schools try to give students as many “odysseys” away from family life as possible.
Students are in charge of their environments and are given opportunities for practical work that accompany their academic studies. For example, rather than reading about the four stomachs of ruminants, they may actually raise some cows, or goats, or sheep. Then their studies include both the biology to learn about the animal as well as the work it takes to care for one.
Similar to elementary, academic lessons should provide materials to work with their hands as much as their minds. There are much fewer “Montessori” materials at the adolescent age because Maria Montessori died at the very beginning of the 12-18 work. However, materials are most commonly found in organic ways such as the microscope to view animal cells, wooden tiles to manipulate algebra equations, and the shovel when cleaning a stall.
Ideally, the environment is still prepared and students are given large blocks of work time with multiple ages...
Specialists and professionals are often brought into the classroom. Students are often brought to them. Experience with the adult world is paramount to their motivation to learn. They are constantly asking themselves “How will learning this help me?” Montessori for middle school attempts to answer this question by connecting their learning to the adult-world.
An understanding of the needs of the social newborn are worked into the plan of study. This means that time for reflection is set aside so students can slow down and process their learning: physically, socially and academically. Conflict resolution is intentional and guided as students “bump up” against each other in their practice of society. Wellness is incorporated in their daily lives whether it is physical activity, meditation, or creative expression.
And finally, the family and local community are very much a part of the process. The students reach out to volunteer in their community. Families are brought into the school to participate and educate each other on their child’s new development..
The following paragraphs are from the website of Gregory the Great Academy, with whose values we align and would like to emulate at St. Anthonys'.
On the importance of play
Scripture tells us that Wisdom was with God from the beginning, playing in his presence and in the world. From this we see that play is not to be dismissed as a frivolity, but is central to wisdom, the highest goal of education. Any well-rooted virtue—even intellectual virtue—is characterized not by strain, but by a playful ease, virtuosity, and freedom. Education should aim for this virtuosity, and even anticipate it, just as practice anticipates the game.
On why we will have no more than 12 students per class
In every domain nature decrees a certain scale of operation which must be obeyed if we would succeed. People cannot be educated with the techniques of mass production. In the art of education, where a personal touch and repeated effort are essential, the small-scale operation is superior.
On the importance of experience of the real
Today many youths have lost the inexpressible benefit that comes from contact with the realities they study. Communications technology is a two-edged sword. It brings the world to us, but on its own terms. Terms that too often flatter and belie. You can’t fit an oak tree in a laptop, or the experience of a spring evening into headphones. Whether in the reading of whole works rather than adaptations, or the priority given to the experience of nature over the experiment in the laboratory, the Academy seeks to challenge students to make contact with the Real.
Are we a "classical" school?
Although much of the curriculum is based on source classical texts...our philosophy of education is different from schools that call themselves classical. The difference is impossible to state in a paragraph, but it is based, first of all, on the community of friendship among the teachers. We are not separated by our “subjects,” but come together through discussing how they fit into a whole.
Our teachers are educated in the Liberal Arts and work to find and teach the integration of knowledge, the wonder and delight that arises from the direct experience of reality, because all knowledge derives from God. We call this Poetic Education and it is founded on a worldview formed in Catholic orthodoxy and influenced by the late Dr. John Senior in his works The Death of Christian Culture and The Restoration of Christian Culture.
It is not enough to teach a man a specialty. Through it he may become a kind of useful machine but not a harmoniously developed personality. It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good. Otherwise he - with his specialized knowledge - more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person. He must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions and their sufferings, in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellow men and to the community.
These precious things are conveyed to the younger generation through personal contact with those who teach, not - or at least not in the main - through textbooks. It is this that primarily constitutes and preserves culture. This is what I have in mind when I recommend the 'humanities' as important, not just dry specialized knowledge in the fields of history and philosophy.
Overemphasis on the competitive system and premature specialization on the ground of immediate usefulness kill the spirit on which all cultural life depends, specialized knowledge included.
It is also vital to a valuable education that independent critical thinking be developed in the young human being, a development that is greatly jeopardized by overburdening him with too much and with too varied subjects (point system). Overburdening necessarily leads to superficiality. Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.
—Albert Einstein, "Education for Independent Thought"
New York Times, Oct. 5, 1952