History of Western Thought "HoWT" | The Heights School
ALUMNI ARTICLES History of Western Thought “HoWT”

Philosophy is a critical aspect of education which is now featured prominently in the curriculum of The Heights.  The capstone course in this program and the entire Heights’ education is the History of Western Thought or “HoWT.”  The course is officially described as follows:

The History of Western Thought (HoWT) is a required course for seniors.  The course explores the intellectual history of the West.  It is the capstone course to a young man’s liberal arts studies at The Heights.  The student will grapple with some of the key thinkers of the Western tradition — Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, More, Descartes, and Newman — in many fields:  statesmen, poets, theologians, philosophers, mathematicians, and natural scientists. The study of these subjects comes together in HoWT and, in doing so, new clarity and depth is given to each student’s understanding of history.

Michael Moynihan, Head of The Heights Upper School explained the vision behind the course which he helped launch for the 2012-2013 school year:

“Our approach to teaching history at The Heights School has always had a strong anti-reductionist thrust, emphasizing that history is best understood from various perspectives (including economic, social, political, religious, cultural, geographical, military, and others), perspectives that can each shed light on understanding the past, while no one perspective is sufficient for a comprehensive understanding.  Indeed, a comprehensive approach to history makes use of various perspectives and analytical tools while always keeping in mind that the human story of our common past also must include the drama of humans in a particular cultural context exercising their creative freedom for noble and base ends.  A complete approach to teaching history should thus include openness to the great ideas and cultural expressions that have informed Western Civilization.”

To really understand HoWT, you need the perspective of its teachers and past students:

Dr. Larry Kaiser, who helped design the course and first taught the class in its earliest form as a philosophy survey in the mid-2000s said “It’s a course that makes explicit many themes previously encountered in the curriculum while introducing a glimpse of the “wholeness” or coherence such themes provide to western thought.”

Fellow HoWT teacher, Dr. Matthew Mehan added: “HoWT: where else can you get a robust probability argument for the immortality of the human soul? Every year of HoWT has been an honor to teach because it is a rare treasure to introduce the contours of human thought, its problems, its pitfalls, its triumphs, and its humble, yet exalted, path towards God.”

The opinions of the faculty are valuable but even more insightful are the thoughts of past students who are currently in college and can weigh the course based on their continued education.

Nate Gadiano ’16, a junior at Princeton gave his thoughts:

“In a few words, HoWT was the single most helpful class I took at the heights. Now entering my third year in college, I can confidently say that it is one of the best courses I have ever taken. Period. The foundation that the course laid and the questions that it posed to me as a senior in high school were wonderfully meaningful. Indeed, in a very real way, the course opened the door to a centuries-old conversation in which I have since been engaged and of which I hope to continue to be a part. I feel grateful to the school for the course and to my teacher Dr. Mehan, with whom I have remained in dialogue even after graduating.” 

His classmate, Jack Ferguson ’16  who is junior at Notre Dame in the Program of Liberal Studies wrote: “Having gone through History of Western Thought, I am vastly more prepared for my university humanities classes than my peers from around the country. HoWT prepared me in philosophy, in poetry, in rhetoric – so now as I read Plato or Vergil or Newman in college, it’s my second, or third, or even fourth time going through these deep and rich texts, which is how they are meant to be read: again and again.”

Finally, Jack Scalia ’17, a sophomore at Denison University in Ohio said “History of Western Thought is, aside from the religion classes, the most important class in the school’s curriculum. In college classes, I often harken back to my days in HoWT and find myself utilizing the same passages and lessons I learned years before in my papers and class discussion.” 

The Heights seeks a have a true impact on the lives of the young men who attend the School. This course is one of many that helps make The Heights a unique place to educate young men. The course is only as good as the person teaching it which is why everyone is so grateful for the beloved faculty members.

To learn more about the History Western Thought course and its teachers, view the full syllabus here.