Weekly Letter (Jan 28, ’19)

Dear Parents and Students,

This evening we will host Michael Ortner as part of our Star Speaker Series. Mr. Ortner will discuss an Integrated Classical Program as a foundation for STEM education. I have been asked to speak following Mr. Ortner’s lecture which is tonight at 6PM in our auditorium. The following is the text of what I will present tonight in case parents are unable to attend.

Take care and God bless,

Mr. David Gallagher


A curriculum is important in any educational system. It helps teachers and administrators plan the education procedures for a given period of time: a period, a quarter, a semester. As Benjamin Franklin, the father of time management said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Curriculum consists of a chain of teaching and learning that students and educators use to translate the school’s educational goals into skills, knowledge and perhaps even changes in student behavior. A lesson plan for example is curriculum used by the teacher in the classroom.

Now, imagine a teacher going into the classroom not knowing what to teach or how to teach it. That would be disastrous because at the end of class the students would not have learned anything, except maybe that the teacher is confused or stressed out.

For a school to achieve its educational goals, it needs a curriculum that is functional and relevant to student needs. The most important facet of the curriculum for a classical school is the humanities: history, language, literature, and religion. Beginning next school year, Star of the Sea Classical School students will study Mathematics, Science, Music, Art, Physical Education and Grammar, as they always have. They will also study Latin and homeroom teachers will integrate the subjects of Religion, History, and Literature.

In Literature classes we will teach and read the Great Books, the classics, from the Greeks up through the Romans, then the Middle Ages and the Renaissance into modern times. In addition to studying the Great Books, students will also read and recite poetry.

History will be taught logically and systematically, a bit like a story, The logical way to tell a story is to begin at the beginning and continue to the end. A story does not make sense when it is told in bits and pieces. Imagine that you were telling the story of “Hansel and Gretel” to a young child. What if you began with telling them about the gingerbread cottage with the window panes of clear sugar? This would probably be the most interesting part of the story to the young child. But then you backed up and told about the stepmother’s secret plans for the two children that Hansel and Gretel overheard? The story will be neither clear nor relevant.

History is no different. Yet we often teach it unsystematically in our schools, as a series of unrelated events: California history this year then American history, ancient history the year after that. By the time you graduate from 8th grade, you will have studied the Reformation, the American Revolution, the Spanish missions in California, and the city-states of ancient Egypt. Most likely you studied these subjects in different years, out of different textbooks. It can be difficult for students to put these into chronological order in their own minds.

A common misconception made by departments of education and textbook publishers is that young students are not able to understand or are not interested in people and events that are not part of their immediate experience. So History is renamed Social Studies and begins with what the child knows: one’s self, the family, the community, the state, our country, and then the rest of the world. Very self-focused, encourages the student to relate everything to herself, to measure other cultures and customs by her own experience. If we begin our children with themselves and then move outwards, we tell that they are the center of the universe, and that history does not have anything to do with them because there is nothing similar to their own desires and preoccupations.

The goal of history in the classical curriculum is different. Students learn the proper place of their community, their state, and country by seeing the wide scope of history from the beginning and then fitting their own time and place into that pattern.

Classical curriculum also includes the study of Latin, considered by some as a “dead” language, no longer spoken by the people of a country or region. But many living languages, such as Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and French, evolved from Latin. So by studying Latin it becomes easier to learn those languages. In fact, we now call these languages “Romance” languages because they developed from the language spoken by the Romans.

Latin helps students to improve vocabulary since English has borrowed many words from Latin. Latin is the language of medicine, law, science, and of our Church. Latin grammar and forming Latin sentences is a little like fitting puzzle pieces together. Students who enjoy math and music usually do well in Latin because it requires the same logic skills as these disciplines.

Too much of education today is based on standardized test scores, getting kids into a top high school, and careerism long before one’s career begins. This is understandable. We want our students to think ahead, to aim high and strive for lofty goals. We are living in a fast-paced age. Things change quickly. It can be easy to forget about the value of slowing down, of contemplation, of conversation, of living in community.

Apple CEO Tim Cook made a commencement speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2016 saying: “I’m more concerned about people thinking like computers without values or compassion or concern for the consequences…That is what we need you to help us guard against. Because if science is a search in the darkness, then the humanities are a candle that shows us where we have been and the danger that lies ahead.”

Of course, we cannot predict the future or know what careers lie ahead for our children. We do know that one-third of jobs in 2024 will require skills that are not common today. The best way to equip our students for the journey ahead is a well-trained mind and a nurtured soul.  An integrated classical program provides that for our students.

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