St. Monica Academy High School
Charter of Principles
The education of children is, in the first place, the responsibility of their parents.1 Parents have the right, and the duty, to choose a school which corresponds to their own convictions.2 In furtherance of this right, and in fulfillment of this duty, a group of parents in 2001 founded Saint Monica Academy. As the school has expanded to include the high school grades, the governing Board has adopted the following charter of principles, to guide the school’s headmaster and teachers, and to enable parents considering the school to understand our convictions, our curriculum, our culture, and the unique capabilities that have been and will be achieved by our graduates
College Preparatory Par Excellence
Saint Monica Academy high school is a college preparatory school with a classical pedagogy and a traditional liberal arts curriculum. Parents looking for a place to prepare their children to excel at top colleges will find that here. They will find comprehensive instruction in the conventional subjects of mathematics, English, languages, history and the sciences.
But they will find these subjects taught in a way that we believe no other school in our area provides. They will find English classes brimming with literature and poetry of the classical canon — works whose characters ennoble and entertain, written in prose and verse that our students will learn to analyze, admire and emulate. Parents will find their children coming home knowing authentic history, beginning with ancient civilizations and continuing through the American constitutional republic. Parents will visit classrooms where the instruction in subjects like chemistry, physics, biology, geometry, algebra and pre-calculus is as lively as it is rigorous, reflecting the teachers’ own excitement and sense of wonder, and instilling that in their students.
The product of this curriculum and pedagogy is graduates who excel in college because they are excited about learning. They are scholars of history, lovers of culture, knowledgeable and curious about the sciences. They are observant, discerning, and independent thinkers. They are their generation’s rare masters of the vanishing crafts of fine writing and speaking. They are creative problem-solvers. They are leaders.
Catholic Faith and Morals
The Catholic faith as taught at Saint Monica’s is the Church’s official magisterium, based on Sacred Scripture and 2000 years of Christian tradition, from the earliest Church Fathers to the modern popes. Rather than evade or water down orthodox Catholic teachings, Saint Monica’s celebrates and defends them. NonCatholic students, too, are edified to see the Catholic faith presented in a full and fair light, from which vantage point they are better able to exercise their own freedom of religious and moral conscience. Students will come to see that Christianity is affirmed by knowledge and reason, not threatened by it.
In the high school, students explore the Church’s rich intellectual heritage. They study great works of apologetics and theology, beginning with accessible writings of the Fathers of the Church, including St. Augustine, and culminating in an introduction to parts of St. Thomas Aquinas’s masterpiece, the Summa Theologica. They continue to deepen their knowledge of Sacred Scripture. This overlaps with the English curriculum when the students follow the path of Abraham Lincoln by mastering stirring passages from the Bible, with its incomparable verse. Students practice their rhetorical skills by addressing the heated moral issues of our day from the standpoint of both Catholic doctrine and opposing critiques.
In keeping with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, students learn that by excelling as students, they are giving glory to God and preparing themselves for His service. They see that they can turn their study into prayer, sanctifying their work, sanctifying themselves in their work, and sanctifying others in the process. They are taught that one cannot be a “Catholic” only on Sundays or in times of explicit prayer, but that the Catholic faith must be lived consistently at all times. This “unity of life” is manifested in how the students and their teachers practice both supernatural piety and human virtues. Our teachers are men and women of prayer who frequent the sacraments. Our students are expected to be kind to each other, respectful of those in authority, modest in dress, chaste in behavior, courageous and persevering in adversity, and leaders of their underclassmen. They will see that Catholic morality leads to true freedom and joy.
The ideals we have described here — the search for truth; love of learning; discernment of genuine beauty; virtue; service; and the Christian faith itself — are at odds with the prevailing ethos of our popular culture and even of most elite educational institutions. Parents struggle to instill these ideals in the face of the contrary culture, and worry even more about the influences on their children when they leave home for college.
Saint Monica Academy reinforces the virtues and ideals that parents are trying to instill at home. Even though the school has grown far beyond the original founding group, encompassing diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, the families are united in a common bond of shared values and goals. The children form a peer group in which the exercise of faith and virtue brings admiration, not derision. Yet social interactions are also characterized by naturalness and good humor. Friendships are formed that will continue across the years and miles, as the students go their separate ways but maintain their contacts and solidarity, leavening their new peers while reinforcing the faith and morals of the old.
An important aspect of the social interaction at Saint Monica’s high school is the relationship between the sexes. Modesty governs the norms of attire in the classroom and in extracurricular activities. Students are thereby influenced to regard each other with respect appropriate to their human dignity, not as bodily objects. Young men and women enjoy swing dances and other forms of entertainment where friendships can develop in a wholesome way.
What is a Classical Education?
There are several traditional elements of what is called a classical education. Among these is what is called the “trivium”, a cluster of three liberal arts traditionally viewed as the fundaments of clear thinking and effective communication. Another element is the reading of great literature, sometimes called the Great Books. Finally, where appropriate, a pedagogy employing the Socratic method is employed allowing high school students to discuss a text or problem and progress to a conclusion together in a participatory manner.
The Trivium – The Foundation of the Liberal Arts
For centuries, if not millennia, one was not considered to be educated unless he had first mastered those liberal arts known as the “trivium”, the arts necessary to clear thinking and effective communication. The three arts that comprise the “trivium” are grammar, logic and rhetoric. Saint Monica Academy expects its students to gain a beginning in the mastery of these arts in a variety of ways, some formal and others more informal. Because this tradition of learning is now little known it is helpful to review what these three arts concern and their importance to critical thinking and argument.
Grammer: We associate “grammar” today with certain rules generally taught in English or foreign language classes. It is widely assumed in modern philosophical circles that these rules are arbitrary human constructs. While that is true to some extent – whether one uses colons or semi-colons may be more a matter of convention than anything else – traditionally the principles of grammar were considered to be connatural to man because the fundaments of speech conveyed something about the reality around us. Because grammar focused on the building blocks of a meaningful predication (what we call a sentence or statement), it is a necessary and preliminary foundation for logic, the science of deduction from statements.
Saint Monica Academy offers Latin3 as the prime vehicle for the teaching of grammar because Latin is a highly structured language, requiring students to be facile in identifying the parts of speech as well as verb tenses and moods. Understanding well the parts of speech greatly improves the student’s English. Of course, grammar is also stressed in English instruction as well.
Logic: Logic is the formal study addressing when and how one can reach necessary and indisputable conclusions from premises that have already been established or conceded. Logic was once formally a part of higher education. Unfortunately, the formal study of logic is rarely found anymore at the university level and is virtually nonexistent in high schools. Should anyone be surprised why so few people can follow a complex argument or recognize a false one?
Every young person, merely by virtue of sharing in the intellect which distinguishes man from beast, knows without quite knowing why, what it means to deduce necessary conclusions from premises. Even before high school, students have unwittingly practiced logical deduction repeatedly in their application of math skills to problems. High school students are therefore ready to learn to think more critically about what necessary conclusions may be drawn from a given set of premises. That is precisely what a study of formal logic provides. The Saint Monica student learns what forms of syllogism lead to necessary conclusions and which do not. The Saint Monica student learns to identify fallacies in arguments. The study of logic is universally applicable and therefore crosses into different disciplines, including mathematics, science and English, where opportunities arise to develop more learning about logical thinking.
Rhetoric: Rhetoric was traditionally understood as the art of persuasion, which, like any skill or art, can be used for good or ill. A neglected study, it has come to be associated with the meretricious, as if persuasion could not serve to advance more noble goals. Much of the effectiveness of our communication depends upon how well we can persuade. Men and women do not respond to bare bone logical exercises. People’s biases and desires get in the way of their appreciation of truth. Then too, not all human action can rest on undisputable conclusions and therefore logic takes one only so far. It is for these reasons that the art of persuasion makes all the difference. Moreover, to avoid being misled, it is helpful to understand the rhetorical devices employed in the media and elsewhere. Our forebears, therefore, concluded that to be persuasive, one ought to study the liberal art of rhetoric.
Rhetoric is best learned from wide reading of great speeches and essays. Students are expected to not only memorize passages from great speeches but encouraged to carefully examine what it is that makes a speech effective. The models are easy to find: Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and the speeches Shakespeare puts in the mouth of Mark Anthony, Henry V, Portia and Shylock, etc. Great essays also deserve the student’s attention. St. Monica Academy expects its students to have read and discussed essays by Belloc, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and others. Rhetoric is an important ingredient of essay writing and St. Monica Academy students are expected to incorporate what they have learned about rhetoric into their essay writing. Of course, the most effective learning is accomplished through participation. Hence Saint Monica Academy expects its students to engage in classroom debate.
The Three Stages Of Learning: It has been observed that the three arts which comprise the trivium describe the three phases of learning that children naturally progress through: the Receptive, the Analytical and the Expressive (or “Rhetorical”). In a child’s early years his learning is receptive (corresponding to the art of grammar) and fostered through recognition and repetition. Hence the memorization of poetry and geographical features is especially easy and appropriate for younger children. The next stage, corresponding to the liberal art of logic, is the Analytic phase, where young people have assimilated enough experience to desire to reason and argue about things. While this phase begins before high school, it is truly appropriate for high school students. Last of the phases of development is the Expressive (corresponding to the art of rhetoric) where young people are interested in language that moves the soul (for better or worse).
Under the pedagogy of the trivium, students learn not just particular subject matters, but also acquire the “tools of learning” that will equip them for a lifetime of independent learning, creativity and effective problem-solving. These basic tools of learning will enable Saint Monica Academy students to make the most of their later education at the college level.
The Great Books
Saint Monica Academy seeks to advance its students in as many of the various subjects as is feasible through great literature or what are sometimes called the “Great Books.” There are many things that may make literature or a book “great.” Time tests literature as it does all things. What is great endures. Why? Because it speaks to man across the ages and therefore is deemed to contain something of abiding interest. Shakespeare is perhaps one of the best examples because he addressed virtually every aspect of the human condition with
profundity through marvelously drawn characters that have taken on a life of their own, and did this all with a cadenced choice of words that still moves us centuries later. Homer, Plato, Plutarch, Cicero, St. Augustine, Seneca, Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Milton, Austen, Solzhenitsyn, et al., likewise continue to speak to us in words that are as fresh and vivid as when they lived and wrote.
The alternative to reading “great books” in school is to read “not so great” books and even bad books. That should be answer enough. Too often the great writers are thought too difficult. Saint Monica Academy believes that well prepared high school students are capable of reading appropriate texts of the greatest thinkers and writers.
The Socratic method is taken from the Dialogues of Plato where Socrates taught through questioning rather than formulating answers for the student. Socrates’ goal was to teach his students to think for themselves. For that reason, it has long been the hallmark of good law schools to teach would-be lawyers how to think through the Socratic method. While high school students cannot be expected to progress solely in this manner, where appropriate Saint Monica Academy encourages disciplined discussion of texts in class by and among its students. Learning by participation is critical. Hence Saint Monica teachers eschew mind-numbing cramming and look for opportunities to teach through observation, discussion, and experimentation.
These classical principles of education permeate Saint Monica’s curriculum and pedagogy. Always, the goal is to foster not only the mastery of the subject at hand but a love of learning, whose benefits will be lifelong. To that end Saint Monica’s seeks a balance with respect to homework assignments to ensure that they serve classroom progress and do not so overwhelm the student that his natural interest in learning and reading is crushed or dampened.
Students progress through the standard sequence of college-preparatory courses in mathematics: PreAlgebra, Algebra I, Geometry (including Euclidean proofs), Algebra II, Trigonometry/Pre-Calculus, and AP Calculus AB.
Students will study general science, biology, chemistry, and physics. Chemistry, physics and biology are standard college-preparatory offerings, including laboratory experimentation. A highlight of the biology course is a snorkeling field trip to Catalina Island, where students can observe the marine life they have studied in class.
Saint Monica’s science teachers have an infectious love for the subjects they teach. They regard themselves as ongoing learners, carrying the students along on a journey of exploration. The students are thereby reawakened to a natural sense of wonder at the world and universe around them. iPods and iPads give way to microscopes and field work. Students increase their powers of observation. They learn not just science, but the classical scientific method, beginning with observation and then testing hypotheses to fit a theory to the phenomena. They will acquire the habit of learning from the world around them, finding joy at its beauty and seeing God’s glory in creation.
English Literature and Composition
Recruiters at a top law firm recently observed that, despite their selection of the best students from the very best law schools (which had previously culled from the highest echelons of the most prestigious colleges), the new incoming lawyers were glaringly unable to write. Saint Monica’s high school is an oasis in today’s expressive wasteland. Our students are well on their way to becoming masters of the English language, superb writers and speakers.
Good writing begins with good reading. In too many schools the canon of great English literature has been corrupted by modern fashions of what is acceptable or representative. Saint Monica high school graduates are steeped in great literature — prose and poetry — from Shakespeare to Evelyn Waugh, from Chaucer to Twain. They thrill to vivid narrative and delight in beautiful imagery. They learn the power of the well-chosen word, and practice the discipline of finding it. They come to appreciate the lapidary sparkle of literary devices like parallelism and alliteration.
Imbibing great literature is not limited to the English curriculum. When studying ancient civilizations, students read Gibbon, the master of antithesis, and thereby not just learn, but never forget, that “Augustus was accustomed to boast that he found his capital of brick, and that he left it of marble.” When studying the history of Europe, students read Churchill’s vivid account of the Hundred Years War, discovering that he incorporated elements of Shakespeare’s style into his own narratives. Our students enjoy Francis Parkman’s compelling account of the Battle of Quebec; Henry Adams’ description of the Naval Battles of 1812; Theodore Roosevelt’s perspective on the westward expansion; De Tocqueville’s observations on religion in the U.S.; and Winston Churchill’s marvelous summarizations of the Civil War. In religion class, students read the brilliant prose of the apologists Newman, Chesterton, Knox and Lewis, and of course great verse in the Bible. In apologetics, our students read Henri Fabre, who brought the insect world to life through his masterful powers of observation and his remarkable descriptions.
Then the students write, and re-write, and learn that the greatest writers have always been, above all, relentless self-editors. Reinforced in this process are the fundamentals of grammar, syntax, conciseness, and organization. And in this subject, as with all aspects of our school, students are trained in striving for the beautiful, in exposition of the truth, and in persuading an audience to choose the good.
History has been another casualty of modern pedagogy. Even where it has not been altogether replaced by “social studies” or some other trendy specialized “study,” what remains is often a morass of relativism and cynicism, where great epochs and institutions are caricatured by their worst actors, and heroes are laid low. Recent surveys of Ivy League graduates showed appalling ignorance of rudimentary facts about even our own nation’s past.
Saint Monica’s history is, in the first place, history. The touchstone is the presentation of truth, but in a way that exalts, not just pointing out faults. The failings of people and periods are presented, but in just proportion, sometimes as a chiaroscuro of their heroism, a heroism all the more remarkable for transcending faults and rising to courageous deeds.
Saint Monica graduates know the history — and the culture — of the great ancient civilizations: Egypt, Israel, Babylon, Greece, Persia and Rome. They learn the history of the so-called Dark Ages, the medieval period, and the Renaissance. They attain a balanced understanding of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Reformation, recognizing the abuses in the Church, yet seeing the continuous consistency of her doctrines in the midst of corrupt kings and bishops as paradoxical proof of her theological inerrancy.
American history is taught from the colonial period to the present. It is taught in detail. Students attain a command of every era. They simultaneously learn related geography and (in their English classes) the contemporary literature. They study in depth the founding of our constitutional republic, the competing ideas of government and liberty that blended into our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They read from the Federalist Papers. They study how the founding principles of limited government and individual rights have been interpreted over two centuries of Supreme Court jurisprudence, and the crossroads at which they stand today.
In keeping with the principle of teaching through great literature, Saint Monica students are introduced to the great historians such as Thucydides, Plutarch, Gibbon, Parkman, Churchill, and Belloc.
Fine Arts and Music
The high school student should make a formal study of music and art. A Catholic education that orders all learning ultimately to the knowledge of God, should familiarize the student with beauty. The true, the good and the beautiful are all reflections of God’s perfection, and are thus all ways to come to Him.
The basics of appreciating fine art are introduced at Saint Monica Academy and reinforced by field trips to our many excellent local museums: the Norton-Simon, the Huntington Library and Art Galleries, the Getty, and LACMA, for example. The emphasis is on the training of the mind and eye by familiarity with beautiful works of art, rather than on learning how to produce art.
Music is an area that requires particular attention by parents and the school, for here more than anywhere modern culture drives a wedge between parent and child. Saint Monica Academy provides a balance to the frequently dark and ugly world of today’s popular music. In daily morning assembly and weekly music class, students become familiar with beautiful music from our rich sacred tradition, our patriotic songs and secular classical music. The power of music to move us to holiness, gladness, sorrow and bravery are experienced. School dances are more balanced than is usually presented to high school students, involving the music of many eras, including folk dancing, swing and ballroom, as well as current popular music. In these ways Saint Monica Academy hopes to help parents widen the musical experience of their children, so they become sensitive to its beauty and emotive power.
From its founding, Saint Monica Academy has recognized that not all things a student needs to learn can be learned at school. For this reason, Saint Monica Academy firmly strives to avoid overburdening students with academic homework in order to leave students afternoon and evening time for the cultural education so important to the development of their souls, for music lessons and practice, for art study and for wider reading of literature.
Sports and Extracurricular Activities
While not its primary focus, sports as well as other extracurricular activities at Saint Monica Academy are important contributors to the overall development of the student’s character. A student’s participation in various sports and extracurricular activities develops discipline, the ability to undertake difficult tasks in order to achieve a goal; fosters teamwork, the willingness to act for the good of the whole/others; and requires an attitude of sportsmanship/courtesy that ensures that the dignity of each participant is preserved and respected. These are important in developing within the student a balanced and well-rounded character. In addition, they enhance the student’s ability to succeed in the academic life of the school. Consequently, Saint Monica Academy integrates various activities into its school program including:
A. Sports St. Monica offers CIF varsity and junior varsity team sports such as basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, and cross-country.
B. Debate. Saint Monica high school students may compete individually in debate tournaments.
C. Drama. Saint Monica Academy students will have the opportunity to participate in one Shakespeare play each year under the direction of a drama coach.
D. Crusaders for Life. St. Monica’s pro-life club strives to protect the sanctity of every human life, especially the unborn, through prayer, sacrifice, and community outreach.
D. Service. For several years, Saint Monica students have adopted a parish in Tijuana, Mexico where they have gone to serve the poor. They have also participated in pro-life rallies, inner-city camps, fundraising for poor parishes in Kenya and Cuba, and other initiatives.
E. Biannual travel tour. To bring their studies to life, especially history, a biannual trip to historic places is organized for all high school students at Saint Monica Academy. In the spring of 2005, the high school students spent five days touring historic sites near Washington, D.C. They did similar trips in 2007, 2009, and 2011, chaperoned by teachers and parents. Another trip to D.C. is scheduled for March 2014.
College Placement and Achievement
A. College Preparation. Saint Monica Academy’s high school program is college preparatory. The course offerings are structured so that students who graduate will meet or exceed the requirements of highly selective colleges. All courses are taught at the honors level. Students are able to take the SAT II and Advanced Placement exams in Calculus, Latin, and English.
B. Guidance. Saint Monica Academy works with parents to identify the most appropriate college to addend and assist the student and family in the college admission process.
C. Advantages of a small excellent high school for college admission. Colleges and universities find Saint Monica Academy graduates very attractive. Selective colleges look for diversity in the composition of their student body. Saint Monica Academy students are unique on many counts. Through their immersion in the classical curriculum, they will bring to their college years a knowledge of Western history and literature well beyond the norm. Their writing skills, passion for great literature, and speaking skills, developed through drama and rhetoric, will further make them top candidates.
D. Accreditation. Saint Monica Academy is presently accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the Western Catholic Education Association.
The world around us cries out for great leaders. Everywhere we see a decline in morals and the debasement of truth. And yet we find rays of hope, and where it appears, it shines forth in leaders—men and women in all walks of life who reflect character, learning and faith. Hope dawns as well in young people eager to learn truth and grow in virtue. It is to teach truth and form virtue in tomorrow’s leaders that Saint Monica Academy was born. And it is to prepare future leaders to excel in college and thereafter that we dedicate our high school.