Classical liberal education and Catholic classical liberal education serve humanity in two ways: First, in purely secular terms, classical liberal education aims to help learners by means of natural reason alone to
Second, in theologically Catholic terms, classical liberal education aims to help learners understand not only what human beings can learn by natural human reason alone, but what they, by faith, can learn by opening their minds to Divine Revelation ; i.e., that
Pre-Kindergarten 3/4:The Oratory Academy preschool program is designed to develop cognitive abilities, physical stamina, emotional stability, and spiritual growth. Relying on their personal history, each child receives carefully planned experiences, which encourage and enhance healthy human development of specifically Christian kind. An understanding of self, of others, and of God is accomplished by strategic interactive teacher-student and student-student dynamics. Parents are invited to share in these interpersonal activities. Notably, in our pre-kindergarten program, phonics becomes the basic building block for language acquisition, gradually helping each child to become bilingually proficient.
Attendance & Prayer: At the beginning of each class.
Kindergarten: In the Classical Liberal Arts Education triad (i.e. grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric), kindergarten is concerned primarily with grammar fundamentals. High priority in placed on phonics, reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic because this becomes their base. Furthermore, it is important that a child’s mind-set, basic skills and sense of responsibility are properly nurtured in their early development stages. In addition, the bilingual curriculum consists of the school day being split into fifty percent English and fifty percent Spanish instruction.
Attendance & Prayer: At the beginning of each class.
Encouragement: To encourage healthy attitudes and expectations for academic success, the following awards are used:
Attendance & Prayer: At the beginning of each class.
A method typically involves a set of actions that can be followed in a given situation. A strategy involves a plan for how to solve a problem. While methods tend to be fairly constant, strategy can be updated depending on the circumstances or the actions of others.
The Academy uses a classical liberal arts education framework and the school’s pedagogy has adapted to this reality. Liberal arts education requires students to memorize basic facts, to understand how the facts fit together coherently and to present these facts in a convincing way. Within this context teachers not only help students to think well but also to know and love God above all things. Memorization and recitation are important methodologies especially in the younger years. Use of rhymes, chants, and songs also help students memorize basic facts. To conceptualize and abstract students must have memorize content to be able to see relationships; in this way they will see how one thing is related to another. In the lower and upper elementary grades, students learn to organize facts. Student learns Logic at this stage to develop correct argumentation. Teachers use advanced graphic organizers, critical questioning, helpful clues, and other learning strategies to develop abstract and independent thinking.
Current educational research renders insightful instructional strategies, innovations, and activities. Based on Robert J. Marzano, Debra J. Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock’s “Classroom Instruction that Works,” teachers receive a quarterly list of instructional strategies in both English and Spanish. Each strategy is related to the school’s writing curriculum Step Up to Writing or Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Pre-Kindergarten and kindergarten students study Spanish with Santillana program. Grades 1-5 use a curriculum published by a special Pharr Oratory School editorial staff. For grades 6-8 there are three source materials: McGraw Hill series, stories from recognized Hispanic writers, and a Larousse publishing house grammar program. For grades K-8 the Step Up to Writing program is used.
A justification for a serious study of classical education comes from the mind of the Spanish writer Jorge Santayana:
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience. (The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense. Scribner’s, 1905: 28)
Western civilization of which we form a part begins with Greek and Roman antiquity. To discover who we are we must go to our ancient roots. Our ethical underpinnings, moreover, are Judeo-Christian and must serve as our starting point. Whether or not we choose to accept a Western heritage is a matter of choice. However, not to acknowledge from where we came is to tamper with our identity, something very dangerous, indeed. We must be clear about who we are, what we are rejecting, and what we are putting in its place. The question and place of history in education is not simple. The following dialogue–whether true or not–helps us to see the complexity of the problem:
A proud American spoke about certain events in the history of the United States. He was confronted by an exasperated Englishman with the following: “America, unlike England, has no history; only current events.” What is expressed here in sarcastic humor is the inability–because of a lack of sufficient time and perspective–for us to see America and our past with enough distance and, therefore, with adequate objectivity; that is, where exactly do we stand in relationship with the history of the mankind. We begin a sound analysis of who we are by studying Greek and Roman antiquity. The Pharr Oratory Schools engage the Memoria Press program to give students a proper perspective and orientation of the culture in which they live.
Having command of reading, writing and speaking is the unique mark of an educated person. Studying Latin increases competence in English, requiring years of practice to master. Second grade begins with grammar and vocabulary in both Latin and English. The Rod and Staff series is the standard English grammar and spelling texts.
The study of notable classical literature further develops the student’s language skills, something critical to their language development. Reading the classics provides students with correct English and a taste of brilliant literature.
For each age level, there is a gradual increase of complexity in both literature and poetry. Carefully chosen literature–besides enhancing reading and comprehension skills–inspires students to adopt a noble, righteous, and disciplined life. Upon reaching 7th grade, these students are ready to study Shakespeare.
In the study of classical books, the process is slow, making use of accompanying literature guides. Poetry, moreover, is complex, requiring repeated and careful reading. Mortimer Adler has something important to say about slow reading:
Most of us have been taken in by the notion that speed of reading is a measure of our intelligence. There is no such thing as the right speed for intelligent reading. Some things should be read quickly and effortlessly and some should be read slowly and even laboriously. The sign of intelligence in reading is the ability to read different things differently according to their worth. In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through you–how many you can make your own. A few friends are better than a thousand acquaintances. If this be your aim, as it should be, you will not be impatient if it takes more time and effort to read a great book than it does a newspaper.
Unreadable handwriting must be avoided at all costs, for it is a blatant disrespect to others. Children begin printing at the very start of school, but, very soon, in first grade they learn to write cursive. Penmanship is a high priority in every grade and class.
Latin teaches the learner to gain academic vocabulary, critical thinking, and the formal system of grammar. Besides critical thinking skills taught in math, Latin is the best skill taught for early childhood development. The Latin Curriculum follows a course of grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages of the trivium, which is uniform with traditional scope and progression. Grades 2 and 3: Utilizes Prima Latina. Grades 4 and 5: uses Latina Christiana and Grade 6 First Latin Form. Grades 7-8: Concentrates on the study of syntax and translation skills using Second and Third Form Latin.
Latin vocabulary is an important tool in understanding English words. Understanding prefixes and suffixes from their Latin origins enhances our use of English.
Latin study is a great aid in being able to master Romance languages. Another fringe benefit of Latin study is being able to quickly pick up the other Romance languages French, Spanish, Italian, Catalan, Romanian, and Portuguese.
Latin study gives students a better grounding in the rules of English and Spanish, in particular, and of language, in general. Latin promotes in the student in-depth conceptualization and an eventual steel-tight dialectic. Students so intellectually formed will not settle for shabby reasoning or for today’s pervasive fallacious thinking. Daily involvement in such mental exercises serves to develop in students a sound intuitive logic and a clear and precise expression in their communication with others.
The notion of liberal arts began to take form around the year 500 BC, when curiously wise human beings thought seriously about the meaning of the reality they perceived: Did they actually grasp what their senses reported to their awareness? Were their senses truly reliable? With the many different opinions held among human beings, how was a person to know which opinion represented the truth of reality? Faced with these questions, the cosmos became the curriculum and the subject matter to be studied. These free, inquisitive and insightful human beings who, as both teachers and students, became the agents and catalysts in recording and organizing their discoveries. And, so, began liberal education.
Around 570 BC, the mathematical mind of Pythagoras of Samos (about 570–about 496 BC) came onto the historical scene. Pythagoras was fascinated with how the cosmos and universe were so mathematically and geometrically harmonious. Moreover, because Pythagoras, for many years, lived in Egypt, scholars have surmised that the Egyptians taught him much about mathematics, cosmology, and philosophy.
Pythagoras, upon discovering the wonderfully ordered organization of the celestial bodies and the reliably regulated elements of the earth, came to the conclusion that mathematics and the coherent beauty of number, ratio and proportion had to be the very first principles of everything that existed. Eventually, Pythagoras’ disciples were able to examine and uncover how the four arts of astronomy, mathematics, geometry and music were uniquely related to one another, thereby calling these four arts the Quadrivium; i.e., the four ways. In designing his Republic, Plato made use of the mathematical sciences for laying the socio-political foundations of his society.
Mathematics, music, and Latin–considered three universal languages–are given special attention throughout the entire course of study. The importance of mathematics in today’s society is indisputable; it is, therefore, of high priority in making the Oratory student competent. Mathematical and dialectical thinking are similar, yet different: Ontologically and psychologically, an analysis of different mathematical definitions and representations demonstrate that abstract notions, such as number or function, can be conceived in two basically different ways: structurally as objects and operationally as processes. Both approaches, although apparently incompatible, are, to be sure, complementary. For example, Anna Sfard, in an article titled “On the Dual Nature of Mathematical Conceptions: Reflections on Processes and Objects as Different Sides of the Same Coin” (Educational Studies in Mathematics, 22: 1-36, 1991), dealt with structural/operational reality.
Because mathematics is cumulative, meticulous, and challenging, it serves to develop a thinking habit that is logical, precise and error-free. Mathematics is the language of science and a necessary tool for studying the earth and the universe.
Arithmetic is different from mathematics: Arithmetic is the art of counting and calculating. Because arithmetic is concrete, dependent on memorization and deals with the practical and not-too-complicated world, it is ideal and attractive for children. Mathematics, on the other hand, is the abstract science of number, quantity, and space. It is suited for the more mature mind, for it may be studied as pure mathematics or as applied to other disciplines; e.g., physics and engineering.
Today, many textbooks pay little attention to the above-mentioned distinction between arithmetic and mathematics, presenting algebraic notions as early as Kindergarten. The Pharr Oratory approach is challenging and careful; that is, there is always the feared possibility that a discouraging hurdle arise with the introduction of algebraic concepts. Therefore, the Oratory teachers are not afraid to present certain very pertinent algebraic topics, but gently and appropriately. Surely, they will never compromise any much-needed teaching time set aside for the delivery of those scheduled arithmetic skills that have been established for each grade level.
Our textbooks and teaching strategies at the Oratory Schools serve to ensure that students learn arithmetic and mathematics in age-appropriate scope and sequence, precluding the possibility of unduly engaging in both ill-suited and ill-timed materials and notions. From Kindergarten trhough grade 7 the Rod and Staff math textbooks meet our needs. In using these texts, the Oratory Schools have adapted their content to the schools’ needs.
Two things need mentioning: first, the classes are accelerated by one year; e.g., Kindergarten students use first–grade books. Second, at the end of grade 7 an Algebra Readiness exam will determine whether an 8th grade–student studies either Algebra 1 with high school credit or 8th grade Math.
We are all called to holiness as our primary vocation. As the Church teaches:In the Church, everyone . . . is called to holiness. . . . [T]his holiness . . . is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others. (Paul VI, 1964. Lumen gentium, no. 39)
To achieve this goal the Eucharist plays a central role. Students, teachers, and parents actively participate in weekly Mass. Students and teachers use their talents to prepare readings, hymns, and prayers of the faithful for all weekly school liturgies. The Holy Mass is offered piously and in faithful observance of Christ mandate, “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24.)
For the healthy formation of conscience. students may ask for the Sacrament of Reconciliation at any time during the day. Yet, the school sets aside certain times to encourage both students and staff to take advantage of this sacrament of peace. Prayer is part of all school activities: school assemblies, classes, staff meetings, days of recollection, and social gatherings, are all steeped to pray. The school arranges student retreats, staff retreats, and parent–student retreats.
The Sacraments and prayers compliment the school religious education program. The Ignatius Press Faith and Life series provides the standard text for grades PK-8th. The Faith, Family, and Friends guidance program provides additional information for individual religious growth.
Children experience the world with curiosity and wonder; intuitively, they begin to observe and classify. It is the task of parent and teacher to assist them in this intellectual organization. Science is, at times, defined as the organization of information. For the child, then, this identification-organization-classification triad is the first step into the world of science and technology. The elementary science curriculum traditionally includes topics and approaches that allow teachers to relate the child’s personal experiences with the habit, or practice, of their categorization. Therefore, the elementary science curriculum includes such things as observe bugs, birds, and trees, helping the child to identify parts of the natural world. Eventually, the child becomes familiar with such concepts as classification, morphology and physiology. The Oratory School curriculum covers yearly Life Science, Earth Science, and Physical Science in varied dimensions and depth. Students use the following textbooks: Harcourt Publisher for grades K-5 and Holt. Rinehart and Winston for grades 6-8.
Even though intellectual and spiritual development of the student is the principal concern of the Pharr Oratory Schools, its leadership in no way discounts the importance of sports and physical education. The pagan Greek philosopher Thales (ca. 620 BC-546 BC) wrote: “What man is happy? He who has a healthy body, a resourceful mind and a docile nature.”. Again, the pagan Roman poet Juvenal (1st and 2nd centuries) stated: “You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body. . . . For assuredly, the only road to a life of peace is virtue” (Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sana. . . . semita certe tranquillae per virtutem patet unica vitae).
Father Robert Schwickerath, in his book Jesuit Education: Its History and Principles wrote that
Physical culture forms a most important feature in a good system of education: mens sana in corpore sano. Athletics, outdoor sports, and gymnastics do much for the physical health of the students. Besides, it demands and consequently helps to develop quickness of apprehension, steadiness and coolness, self-reliance, self-control, readiness to subordinate individual impulses to a command. This is all valuable for education. (p. 570)
The Pharr Oratory Schools promote hands-on activities and performances in music, art, and drama.
Music, whether listened to, sung, or performed on instruments, evokes emotions. For some people music is a very powerful experience. Because music can enrich students’ lives, parents and schools must help students discover their interest in and talent for music as early as possible. Scientific studies of the brain have mapped more extensive neural connections in musicians than non-musicians. Scientists have also observed that studying music often results in enhanced mathematical ability. [Begley, S. 9 February 1996) “Brain Trust”, Education Week; Viadero, D. (18 September, 1996) “Your Child's Brain” Newsweek, 19; Olson, H. (1967), Music, Physics and Engineering. Dover Publication].
Art class can introduce a young student to many skills and much knowledge. To be able to draw, a child must learn to observe very carefully the object to be depicted. An incipient artist must also learn how to solve problems; e.g., how to get the exact color needed for a particular painting? Moreover, studying art history helps a student understand other societies and cultures.
Drama helps children learn to speak publicly with poise and self-confidence. In participating in drama, children learn how to wait patiently and to work as a team.
The human soul and mind give testimony to a human body where, in baptism, the Blessed Trinity comes to dwell. And, so, the body must stay fit, graceful and comely, so that the indwelling Spirit will joyfully touch others outwardly while inwardly shaping the inhabited soul itself. If Oratorian spirituality teaches and encourages the disciplined practice of daily prayer, all the more should that Philippian school for holiness instruct and promote the sanctity of an well-exercised and nourished body sheltering the Divine in an earthly abode.
The faculty, staff, and Board of Governors of the Pharr Oratory School System teach the importance of wellness through healthy eating and disciplined physical activity. In this way, the two orders come together to exhibit two things: physical gracefulness and spiritual grace as external expressions of divinely elevated human dignity.
Within this context, physical education prepares Oratory students to be upright players of any sport. Thus engaged, the Oratory student is gifted with a wonderful venue for character formation. Through Divine Grace, sports are uplifted to God, teaching students endurance, patience, sacrifice, and teamwork.
Physical education is, therefore, included within the students’ weekly class schedule. The basic curricular activities are prayer, sound exercise and healthy eating. In accord with TAC, the Texas Administrative Code (Title 19, Part II, Chapter 116), the just-stated curricular activities take the form of games, music, and unique fitness dynamics. Physical education instructors have experience working with their assigned grade level; they must also be specifically educated in fitness and nutrition.
In the midst of our many responsibilities as educators and parents time seems to fly by, so much so that we are, at times, suddenly surprised how quickly our children are growing as they have taken on the characteristics of adulthood, and, in the process, present us with, what seems to us, uncomfortable confrontations in the area of sexual identity and expression.
With this surprise God reminds Catholic parents that the Creator of human nature has the manual of instructions in healthy human development. When sexual situations arise, Catholic parents will, almost instinctively, appeal to the Church’s many helpful directives which, when carefully read, provide the wherewithal to become competent in teaching their children the norms for sexual identity and maturity in accord with each child’s age-ready sexuality.
Most of our parents know that they must not take lightly or turn a blind eye to the sexual awakenings, doubts and questions of their children about their instincts. As an aid to such conversation with them, the Oratory Schools invite you to read and study the document of the Pontifical Council for the Family - The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family
Through this document you will find the best way to teach your child to grow with a clear concept of what it means to respect the human body and to know the real meaning and value of truth and love.
In this way, parents can counteract the error and confusion about human sexuality propagated by the media and by other misinformed individuals.
It is imperative that parents strive to prepare their children to understand the real and creative meaning of sexuality that Christ and His Church alone teach us.