Catholic Liberal Education
Classical Liberal Education is commonly viewed as traditional in its approach with its advocacy of grammar, logic and rhetoric, known as the trivium, and the ‘mathematical arts’, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and music, known as the quadrivium. Together, they form the seven liberal arts. Rather than seven subject areas to be studied, they are the lens through which, for example, literature, languages, maths and science can be studied. They connect subject areas and can be applied to any or all, giving the learner a way to apply their thinking and reasoning within a subject area.
The liberal arts seek to expand critical thinking and reflection by exploring the value and teachings that can be found in studying the past, understanding how this has shaped our present and taking the key moral and societal messages through which we can shape a future. Although not derived from a specific time, Classical or Liberal Education is a vision that Christianity inherited from ancient Greek and the Romans and can be viewed as the basis of a grounded and intellectually stimulating education.
Currently in the field of Catholic education, there is an increase in the literature focused on themes involving ‘renewal’, ‘recovering’ ‘restoring’ and ‘reclaiming’. This raises questions around why this is so. What is happening in schools or in national policy or guidance that is prompting teachers, leaders and academics to pursue this type of thought?
It is interesting to note that over the past decade, many Catholic schools in North America look to the classical movement for inspiration. A Catholic Liberal Education, broadly speaking, takes the foundations of classical education coupled with the teachings and traditions of the Church to inspire mind and soul through education. Why is this happening?
Perhaps the upward trend of secularization of schools and curriculum is not meeting the needs of families who choose a denominational education in line with their beliefs and values. Perhaps the ever-changing contexts for learning, influenced by popular politics or fleeting ideas is not withstanding the test of time in schools. A classical or liberal education—with strong and unwavering foundations, coupled with the philosophy of learning from the past to create the future—might be worth learning more about.
Much of the secularized curriculum looks predominately to the development of skills, albeit important to society, economy and production, but may lack the value of lessons learnt from the past. Should we continue to trust without question a system which is overly self-referential, valuing only present thought and ideas but discounts what we might learn from the past?
Should we now consider how a classical liberal educational model in the United Kingdom could serve the schools, families and children of today?