HUMANITIES AND THE ARTS
Theology, “the study of God,” is the context by which all other texts are studied. The principal theological texts studied are the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We also read selections from the Church Fathers, documents of the Church councils, and papal encyclicals.
Philosophy, “the love of wisdom,” exercises the brain while it elevates the soul. The ability to understand abstract concepts leads to clear and systematic thinking in all things. We use philosophy to connect the humanities, but also to show its obvious connection to logic and mathematics. We study the development of philosophy from its classical roots focusing on Plato and Aristotle, through its dramatic encounter with the early Church, its christening by St. Thomas Aquinas, and its deterioration in the modern era.
During Freshman year, we cover ancient history, from the Mesopotamian and the Egyptian through the Greek and Roman civilizations. We view the background against which the Old Testament was written and classical philosophy was developed. Sophomore year covers early Church history up to the High Middle Ages. Junior year begins with the High Middle Ages, which is probably one of the most important periods in world history and yet most neglected in other schools. Junior year goes on to cover the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, while Senior year covers the Modern “Revolutionary” Era: the American and French Revolutions, the Industrial Revolution, the Communist Revolution, and the Sexual Revolution (which led to the acceptance of contraception and abortion). The Catholic Church lost its temporal power but developed its religious and moral authority on a universal scale.
Our study of literature is tied to our study of history and the rest of the humanities. During Freshman year, students are introduced to the classical epics of Homer. As Sophomores, they are exposed to early English classics such as the Canterbury Tales, as well as modern literary renderings of medieval history. During the Junior year, students get healthy servings of Shakespeare. As seniors, they read American literature, Dickens, Dostoyevsky and Hugo. And of course, G.K. Chesterton. Reading and writing go together, of course, and in addition to developing an ear for poetry and narrative, students learn to master the art of the essay in their written assignments in all subjects.
ECONOMICS AND SOCIAL SCIENCES
The study of economics provides perhaps the best example of the problems caused by the fragmentation in modern thought. Economics is not an autonomous, isolated science, but is a derivative of the religious concepts of the culture within which it operates. When a society’s economic principles are divorced from Christian principles, it is certain to have a detrimental effect on the culture. During the senior year, key texts are read in conjunction with the study of modern history and in the light of Church teaching.
A complete education must include the development of the child’s creative nature and must provide him with the tools and the technique with which to express his ideas, his feelings and his love. It must also include the analytical skills with which to judge a work of art and therefore must provide the continuous exposure to great art. Most importantly, the mechanical skills and the aesthetic aptitude must be put into the proper context of eternal Truth. A good artist is a complete thinker and vice versa. Chesterton says that in order to be a good artist, one must be a good philosopher: “A man cannot have the energy to produce good art without having the energy to wish to pass beyond it. A small artist is content with art; a great artist is content with nothing except everything.” The influence of the arts in today’s society cannot be overstated. This is why all the arts are mandatory at Chesterton Academy all four years.
Music appeals to the ear and the mind, the emotions and the intellect, the senses and the spirit. The Church has always considered music as an essential component of meditation and worship. It touches a “chord” and fills a need that is beyond what sight and words can achieve alone. In fact, few could deny that music is the most direct path to touching the soul. The power of music with our young people today is undeniable, and it is imperative that they should learn to recognize the difference between music that glorifies God, elevating the soul, and music that seeks to alienate us from Him. Because music is so abstract it is often difficult to make these judgments and the study of music is probably one of the most complex disciplines the students will experience. It involves not only the learning of music fundamentals (theory, performance, ear training, music analysis and appreciation) but also Music History, where we look at music in the context of the times and philosophy of the period in which it was created. This is especially interesting as we study the role of music throughout Church History and specifically its role in the Catholic Mass. During the Freshman year, the emphasis is placed on basic musical terms and skills. Music History begins in earnest during the Sophomore year in conjunction with the Humanities curriculum.
The best way to learn music, of course, is to perform it. Students are given many opportunities to perform throughout the year with the Chesterton Academy Choir.
Classical drama arose from religious rituals and modern drama has its origins in the staging of the first Christmas play by St. Francis of Assisi. It was the separation of the arts from religion that brought about meaningless art. Great emotion has been spilt upon the ground and down the drain because it is no longer directed to its proper use. The dramatic arts are particularly powerful in our present culture where movies and the media are often the primary source of knowledge and ideas for many young people. It is therefore imperative that students learn as much as possible about this potent art form. Drama involves the study of how words are brought to life and in order to successfully do this on stage the actor must understand more than just his character. He must learn to see the work as a whole, to understand the author’s vision, and sometimes even the time in which it was written. In other words, the actor must learn to be a good literary critic, a good philosopher and sometimes even a good historian. This is where the skills learned in other classes at Chesterton Academy benefit the students greatly.
Drama has the added benefit of being a team activity where students work together for a common goal. It is always a powerfully bonding experience that they will always remember.
At Chesterton Academy drama begins in Sophomore year where the students are introduced to basic acting skills. They present several scenes or a short one-act play. It continues Junior year where they perform a full length play and culminates their Senior year with a Shakespeare play.