Our Approach to the Liberal Arts
The primary focus of a liberal arts education is the development of true freedom that will enable one to live a more complete human life, as opposed to the mere attainment of some technical skills or knowledge. The root of the word “liberal” is the Latin word “liber,” meaning “free.” A liberal arts education increases one’s freedom, understood as the ability to embrace the Good, wherever it is truly recognized. It imparts the freedom necessary to join with the great minds of history, rising above one’s current situation and culture, to appreciate what is deepest in our human condition: the meaning of love, suffering, sacrifice, death, and generous service to others. Acquiring a liberal arts education is a life-long process; The Heights School strives to form life-long learners who have what educator and philosopher John Henry Cardinal Newman called a “habit of mind” in pursuit of intellectual excellence and the contemplative life.
Liberal arts teach, among other things, a respect for the proper and responsible use of words, the sincere asking of questions, the recognition and appreciation of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. A liberal arts education also opens the door to many professional opportunities. The fruits of a liberal arts education – a broad understanding of reality, clarity in thought, excellence in writing, and effective speaking skills – are very important in many professions, especially for those in positions of leadership.
The Abundant Goodness of the World
The curriculum of The Heights School is rooted in a perspective that sees the abundant goodness of the world, of all creation, as a fundamental governing principle. In the words of Saint Josemaria Escriva, “The world is not evil, because it comes from the hands of God, because it is His creation, because Yahweh looked upon it and saw that it was good. It is we ourselves, men and women, who make it evil and ugly with our sins and unfaithfulness” (Passionately Loving the World). This truth naturally leads us to study, to reflect upon and to contemplate all the human riches of our past and the world of today as ways to discover God in the ordinary things, to know and “serve Him in and from the ordinary, secular, and civil activities of human life.” The Heights will thus refrain from narrowly embracing one ideology, political agenda, philosophical school or approach to the rich drama of human history and thought. Grounded in the western tradition, a Heights education values the abundant goodness of the world as created by God and sees the nobility and heroism in struggles of individuals, both men and women, throughout history.
Formation of the Heart, Mind, and Soul
Education is much more than the delivery of a curriculum, no matter how outstanding such a curriculum may be. Authentic education involves a forming of the mind and heart so that students and teachers embrace the riches of a liberal arts curriculum, constantly striving to delve into these riches. A strong part of the school culture is a recognition that focused, serious study is an important professional obligation for students. Indeed, the sense of schoolwork as the beginning of one’s professional life and thus an important means of serving others informs the way study is viewed in the Heights community. Furthermore, the relationship between The Heights School and Opus Dei helps to foster the sense that doing even the most ordinary things, like studying, extraordinarily well for a noble motive enables us to offer our best to God and so draw close to Him.
Concentrated study, especially in our fast-paced, entertainment-driven culture, requires practice in building up one’s ability to focus, memorize, analyze, and contemplate with a sense of wonder. Students should foster the strenuous silence of living at a slower, more contemplative pace – to be comfortable with the pace of a page turning. Living an intellectual life today requires a certain amount of asceticism. Students need to limit time spent in front of television or computer screens, with their fast-paced barrage of images, and spend time every day in real study in an environment free from distractions. Fortitude and temperance lead to a well-ordered soul, one that is capable of living a studious life. But this strength of mind must also be accompanied by real wisdom of the heart – the appropriate fostering of the imagination and intuition so that the heart is attuned to the attractiveness of the goodness of reality. Intellectual virtue is perfected when it leads to true contemplation.
True Friendship Between Teachers and Students
The Heights faculty strives to foster an environment that focuses on friendship and cheerfulness as essential to the education process. Friendship involves being concerned for the good of the other. It often begins by sharing similar interests. Friendships among students are necessary for emotional stability and genuine human development. The Heights faculty works to create an environment where these friendships can naturally develop. The faculty member also, in a manner consistent with the proper teacher-student relationship, seeks to be a friend to his students. This means striving to convey what is objectively necessary for full human development.
Teaching is not simply the passing on of information but of a vision of life rooted in a noble understanding of human nature. The teacher readily exposes the rationale behind the material to his students and seeks to help his students relate what they know already to further knowledge. The personal relationship between teacher and student is rooted in an understanding of the students as fundamentally free to embrace truth and take ownership of the great intellectual heritage that is our common inheritance. The teacher serves the dynamic process of passing on this great treasure to yet one more generation. The freedom necessary for this process must be respected and fostered by allowing appropriate expressions of personality in the classroom. A cheerful tone provides the optimum environment for such development. A Heights teacher will thus never be an authoritarian figure but rather will exercise his legitimate authority through the personal relationships he establishes through his teaching.
Parents as Primary Educators
The reality that parents are in fact the primary educators of their children informs the entire educational philosophy at The Heights School. Not only are parents the first teachers of their children but, through establishing a home with its specific culture, they continue to form a grounding from which a growing boy learns to assimilate and value the education and formation available at school. It is absurd to think that any school, even the best possible school, can take on the task of passing on the riches of a liberal arts education in only the time a student is at school, about seven hours per day for roughly half the calendar days of a year. A liberal arts education must be supported by good habits of reading, conversation, and study, and these are fostered in the home. To any impartial observer of our culture, it is easy to see that one of its defining characteristics is entertainment. We live in an entertainment culture. The most common forms of entertainment, especially for our children, are video games, television, movies, certain types of music, and aspects of the Internet. All of these mediums have contributed to a faster, less contemplative pace. The fast-paced nature of these entertainment media makes focused study and contemplation difficult.
The Heights School relies on parents who are fully engaged primary educators to establish a home environment that is in unison with the formative and educative mission of the school. The faculty members of The Heights are under no illusion that it is possible to accomplish our noble goal without the active support of parents in this regard. When parents establish a home where each child is truly valued as a person and the personal relationships between the members of the family have precedence over material things and entertainment, they are establishing the necessary conditions that make acquiring a liberal arts education possible. Parents who are fully engaged primary educators will foster a variety of worthwhile cultural endeavors, such as reading and discussing good literature, taking family excursions, and living family traditions in the home. These good endeavors will only grow through the example and encouragement of parents and the prudent limiting of modern forms of entertainment that otherwise would tend to take the place of reading and other cultural pursuits. For this reason, The Heights School seeks to enter into a partnership with families to work together to accomplish this mission. In the school’s admission process, through the family interview and in other ways, the school actively seeks boys whose parents share this vision and strive to put it into practice.