Classical Liberal Arts Academy

The Classical Liberal Arts Academy was started in 2008 by a classical academic turned teacher with a young family of his own. It claims to be the only school providing a real classical liberal arts education. It is definitely unique.

For those not familiar with the concept of liberal arts, here’s a brief run-down. There’s the Trivium and the Quadrivium. The Trivium is a bit like English and the Quadrivium is a bit like Maths. The Trivium goes Grammar then Dialectic then Rhetoric. The Quadrivium goes Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, Astronomy. You might see these terms decorating various centres of learning (like the Great Hall at USyd).

So what are the differences?

Their pre-readers’ course teaches Latin before English.

The first lesson in Arithmetic contains no numerical puzzles but bids the student memorise a catechism beginning with “What is Mathematics? Mathematics is the study of Quantity.” The catechism unfolds a categorisation of quantity that is just begging to be drawn on a white board with big curly braces like Alice Nelson and all the Doc Woodbury afficionados did in the Thomistic Sydney Underground.

The Grammar course plunges into John’s Gospel. The website contains sample translations written by the hand of a five and a seven year old.

There is no grade by age. A student starts at the beginning and works through at his own pace (I’ll use the male pronoun since I have all boys and anyway, we’re discussing a plan of learning centuries old, we can afford to be a little antiquated here). A teenager might work quite fast, while a five year old do the same lesson at a more relaxed pace. Each lesson has an online examination. Written work can be faxed or emailed to CLAA or signed off by a parent. There are no prescribed terms or school year’s to work to.

There is a lively discussion forum for parents to get advice. Mr William Michael, the director, encourages debate. He has strong opinions backed up by strong arguments. Although one may flinch at first by his forthright words, his reasoning is very sound.

Readers might be aware of John Taylor Gatto’s books on the problems inherent in modern educational theories. Although not a Catholic, he shows how the protestant reformation introduced a whole slew of rather evil doctrines into the world. Calvin, Darwin, John Dewey, Francis Bacon are the names I can spout without remembering the details. Mr Gatto’s answer points towards Unschooling – just forget the whole idea of controlling children and do real things together. Mr Michael has an even more radical idea – look at what they were teaching before the reformation. How can we do that? The books are still around! Ratio Studiorum is a Jesuit book from 1599. That’s what CLAA is using.

There are more courses being planned. Enrichment courses include World Chronology, Classical Vocab and Art and Music History. The Music course is being developed with help from the Ward Method. See Musica Sacra for more info on why that is an amazing thing. Gregorian Chant takes centre stage by the sounds of it.

If this was open courseware I’d be into it in a flash. But CLAA asks for commitment – and money. How much is this worth to me? Could I spend the money better? There are lots of local apostolates who could use that sort of support. Will my boys be significantly worse off if they never read Cicero in Latin? Wouldn’t it be wiser to finish cladding the house first?

Of course, as a difficult person I am wondering if I can do this myself. The Ward Method books are all online. Aristotle, Euclid, Cicero and the Baltimore Catechism are all public domain by now. There’s Ratio Studiorum mentioned earlier. Finding Saint John’s Gospel in Latin, Greek and English is not hard. I have little Latin and less Greek, but I’m still ahead of my children. Whatever little I can manage may still give them a good standing in finding out more themselves. Or would I put them off completely.

It does sound like a lot of work though. Learning from experts is a whole lot less frustrating than trying to nut things out for yourself. Reading Garrigou-Lagrange is slow work. Hearing one of the great disciples of Doc Woodbury explain it is joyful clarity. Doc Woodbury in turn studied under Garrigou Lagrange. I wonder who Mr Michael of CLAA learned from.

It looks like there will be a whole lot of disciples of Mr William Michael in the future. According to the website over 800 students have enrolled since they opened. Only time will tell.

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3 thoughts on “Classical Liberal Arts Academy

  1. One wonders how many of the 800 stayed for long? CLAA is very difficult (rigorous) work and not without its critics. What I have found from doing my “homework” on CLAA is that it is not for us. Some have been very pleased with the classwork but not so much with Mr. Michaels.

    I am not inclined to have my dc do so much of their schoolwork online. CLAA’s attitude toward other Catholic homeschool ‘umbrella’ organizations seemed very rude. Crushing others down in order to raise yourself up did not seem very “Catholic” to me. I’m a “whole picture” type of person.

    1. On the forum Mr Michael gives stats on how many have withdrawn. Here’s August 29, 2010:

      Since January 2009, we have had over 1050 students from 424 families enroll and 52 students from 20 families withdraw.

      I guess there may be some more that just get stuck along the way and take a bit longer to formally withdraw.

      Doing schoolwork online means some supervision is needed. Each lesson is formatted to be printed and studied offline, so time online can be minimised.

      The tone comes across as rude, but can you fault what he’s saying? If someone says “There is no salvation outside the Church” then he is correct, but might sound rude. I hope I’m getting that right – I know there are qualifications to that statement.

      Do you have a specific case of crushing another Catholic homeschool group? So far I’ve read the thread about WCC – challenging the college’s claims to providing an authentic Classical education, or rather fielding criticism from one of the professors there. The professor took back much of his accusations after a very interesting discussion.

      Also on the forums there are more examples of outlandish criticism against CLAA, so it is definitely not all one way.

    2. As of this month about 1,200 children are enrolled from 500 families. As far as I remember only 15-20 families withdrew… and for different reasons, of course.

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