Letter from Laura Berquist
Mother of Divine Grace School Founder

Dear Families,

I would like to tell you about the MODG curriculum and how it came to be.

When I started teaching my children at home, about 30 years ago, I knew I wanted to teach them how to think. I knew that it wasn't enough to accumulate facts because facts alone won't get you to truth. You have to know what to do with the facts, you have to know how to judge and order the facts, if they are going to help you. The children were going to need a formation that would enable them to make good intellectual judgments. I wasn't, initially, clear about how to achieve that goal. So I experimented on my guinea pigs.

My experiments, though, had a direction in addition to the general desire to give the children the tools of learning. I am a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, in Santa Paula, CA, and my husband was a founder of the college. (www.thomasaquinas.edu) I wanted my children to be prepared for the education offered there. If they were well prepared for that education, I knew they would also be prepared for anything else they might desire to do.

The education offered there is the education every educated person in Western Civilization once received, sometimes known as a liberal arts education. In this education the idea is to educate the man as man, whatever vocation he may pursue. All of his faculties are used. He develops all the powers of his soul.

In the classical curriculum the liberal arts studied include the Trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric, and the Quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. These are all presupposed to and ordered to philosophy and theology. In acquiring the arts of the Trivium and the Quadrivium the student cultivates these important areas of understanding. His intellect is strengthened and formed, enabling him to make good judgments. He considers the very highest objects, those most worth knowing. In doing this he becomes a free man (the 'liberal' in liberal arts comes from the Latin 'liberare' meaning to set free), able to direct his own life and the common life of the community.

That is what my husband and I wanted for my children. My husband, however, who had been teaching in colleges for 25 years before we were married, knew that such an education requires the right preparation. There is a tendency to think that the way to achieve every good is simply to practice it. If you want to skate well, practice skating. If you want to cook well, practice cooking. This is true, but you can't practice it until there are certain foundational tools in place. If you can't keep your balance, you won't be able to skate well. In fact, you won't even be able to practice skating. If you haven't tasted the various foods, can't read, or use measuring utensils, you can't really practice cooking. Though it is true that the way to improve reading skills is by reading, before one can do that he must know how to read. Similarly, there are skills one must develop before he can do the classical curriculum in its fullness well.

So we worked on a curriculum that would prepare the children to do the fullness of the classical curriculum at the right time. We worked on developing the imagination, giving the beginning of every one of the liberal arts and sciences (as I describe more fully in the talk entitled "The Beginning of the Liberal Arts and Philosophic Sciences"), and specifically teaching the children how to think, that is, how to order and make judgments about the information they receive.

Laura Berquist on the founding of Mother of Divine Grace School

When I was first thinking about this, I read Dorothy Sayers' essay, "The Lost Tools of Learning". Much of what she said resonated with me. She was not an educator, and she acknowledges that in her essay. But she was a smart and observant lady; she knew that the educated person needs to not only learn, but know how to learn, so that he can learn what is necessary any time it is desirable. She knew that education is ordered to truth, and that to arrive at truth one needs more than facts. One needs principles in the light of which he can make judgments. He needs to judge the conformity of the facts he learns to the reality outside. That is what truth is, a conformity of the intellect with reality. Such a person will be an independent learner and thinker, and we live in a time when we have to be able to resist collective thinking. We want to order our lives to the truth, specifically the eternal Truth, not to what is popular.

When I first read Dorothy Sayers' essay, I knew from internal experience and education that she was right. It fit with what I had learned in my own education at Thomas Aquinas College. But I didn't know exactly what it meant in terms of day to day teaching. Also, Miss Sayers spoke of stages of intellectual formation. She called them the Grammatical, Dialectical and Rhetorical stages, and said these stages were characterized by certain natural inclinations to action in the children. She chose those names for them because she saw a likeness between what the children naturally wanted to do, and the method of the classical Trivium. Since what I was familiar with was the subjects of the classical Trivium, I wasn't sure what she meant by that, but I noted it as an interesting idea.

Then, for ten years, keeping in mind the classical curriculum I wanted to prepare my children to do, and the fact that I wanted them to learn how to think, to obtain the tools of learning that would help them all their lives and teach them how to make judgments, I experimented with curricula.

At that point I returned to "The Lost Tools of Learning". I was more than ever in agreement with the notion that we wanted to teach our children how to think. I had seen, first hand, that thinking can be done well or badly and one can be taught to do it well. I also saw that there are steps in learning. Small children cannot analyze in the same way older children can. I needed to change the type of assignments as the children grew. When I reread the essay I realized that I now knew, from experience, what Miss Sayers was calling the stages of intellectual formation.

It is essential in teaching that the student do what is appropriate at each period of learning. He should memorize, sequence and observe at the "primary" and "grammatical" stage. This strengthens and makes docile his imagination, so that in the next stage of learning, the "analytical" (sometimes called the logical or dialectical), he will have the help of a trained imagination in following and constructing arguments. In turn, it is essential to this education that when the student is capable of grasping and marshaling arguments, he should practice doing so (7th through 9th grade – the desire for argument is often noticeable!). If he does, then the last stage, the "rhetorical", can be given to articulating those arguments elegantly, in the service of the truly noble. The student should, at these various stages, have the opportunity to consider much of the same material in a different light, based on his ability, interest, and level of formation.

The reason that it is so important to keep the appropriate level of intellectual formation in mind is that if you ask your student to do something before he is ready, you will both be unhappy. There comes a time when the student is ready to analyze and then he should do so. But if you ask him to give you the main point in a paragraph or chapter or story when he is still working on sequencing and thus ready to retell the material, you are going to be disappointed and you may actually interfere in the proper formation of the student.

The reason Miss Sayers named these stage from the subjects of the classical curriculum is that they share with those subjects a method. Learning a language, and the grammar of language, involves memorization, and observation. Logic involves analysis and careful reasoning. Rhetoric requires attention to the power of words. So while Miss Sayers was not suggesting that the student undertake the study of the Trivium in its perfection, she was observing the children are naturally good at different methods of learning at different times of their development. That's true, and thus I incorporated her terminology in my explanations of the goal of the assignments at different grade levels.

At the end of ten years I had basically the curriculum we now offer in Mother of Divine Grace School. That curriculum has been refined over the last 20 years, as I have worked with hundreds of other students. We now have syllabi for every course, with course objectives, teachers to assist students, group classes in nearly every middle school and high school subject. Each of these offerings has been developed in response to parent input. We love our MODG families, and want to help them in the way they want help. We truly believe that parents are the primary educators of their children and they have the sacramental grace to know what is best for their children. We want to help our families raise their children in a Catholic culture in their homes. Each family has access to a consultant who is able to help the parents choose the best course of studies for each child, and help them implement those studies. These consultants are experienced mothers who have used this curriculum successfully in their own homes with their own children. We keep records for each student, and we help students with college applications. We want to help our families and students succeed in their goals.

I have one last thing to say. I taught my children at home for about twenty-five years. I loved that time with my children, and thank God for the opportunity. I think you will love it, too.

Please look over our website, and feel free to call our office with any questions.

God bless you,

Laura Berquist