MODG Founder Laura Berquist outlines the way our curricula are ordered towards the formation of each student's mind and our school's particular learning goals.
In the Founder's Letter, I give a history of our curriculum. Here I want to give an overview of the curriculum. There is some shared information in the two documents, but this page both gives you more specific information about the curriculum, and has links to articles on the various aspects of the curriculum embedded throughout it.
The MODG curriculum is ordered to teaching children how to think, to giving them the tools of learning, by giving them the beginning of a classical education, under the light of the Catholic faith. Classical education is built on the foundation of the seven liberal arts (the Trivium: Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, and the Quadrivium: Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy). (For more on this, see the article "Classical Education - Beginning in Wonder, Ending in Wisdom".) These arts prepare the mind for further study, strengthen the imagination, and are important disciplines in themselves. (See "Excellence in Education - Perfecting the Intellect".) But these arts are subordinate; they are ordered to the philosophic sciences (Aristotle's Physics, De Anima, Ethics and Politics), which are themselves ordered to the Metaphysics. All of these are ordered to Sacred Theology. (Both of the articles mentioned speak to that.)
Thus, Sacred Theology is the end of classical education, and the goal of all of the disciplines. What we want, ultimately, is wisdom. We are interested in having true knowledge, which means knowing the cause of a thing, that it is the cause, and that it can't be otherwise. We want to know the Cause of the causes. That is what we are directed to, and that fits with our natures. (If you are interested in more information about this I suggest that you look at the founding document of Thomas Aquinas College. In this light classical education can be defined as the education which brings one to wisdom.
This is the education I wanted for my children, and the education to which the Mother of Divine Grace curriculum is directed. But it is our view, based on experience, that there are preliminary activities and studies that are necessary to do both the liberal arts and the philosophic sciences to which they are directed, well.
That is what we provide at Mother of Divine Grace School. Every assignment throughout the curriculum has four goals: a methodological goal, a content goal, the later formation to which the method is ordered, and the later knowledge to which the content is ordered.
For example, in the early years (K-5) every assignment has a methodological component that strengthens the imagination. (I here mean by imagination what Aristotle means by the word, 'the power of making images', not making up stories, though the meanings are related.) There is sequencing, observation and/or memorization in every assignment. This is ordered to the ability, later on, to make coherent arguments, because a docile and strong power of making images is essential to good reasoning. (See our Methodology.) The students also work on foundational skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. Clearly, these early content goals are ordered to later related goals. Learning to recognize numbers is the first building block for eventually doing calculus. Learning to read leads to being able to read Shakespeare, and St. Thomas. Further, at every level of the curriculum there is a specific intention that the student make the acquaintance of the good, the true and the beautiful in the materials they use in every discipline.
Thus, in our curriculum, we specifically take note of the appropriate method, as well as the appropriate content for the students. In Grades 3-5 there is an addition to the method of the K-2 years, the emphasis on developing patterns of language. This is accomplished by using copying, dictation, conversation, usage exercises and creative writing. In Grades 6-9 these patterns of language will be analyzed. To do that well, the student should have familiarity with various forms of language. From 3rd Grade on, we recommend the study of Latin as well.
In Grades 6-9 the emphasis in method shifts, though the subjects continue. All of the subjects in these years are intended to provide an opportunity to learn how to analyze, which is ordered to understanding and producing an argument. That is something children at this age are usually pretty good at, so we capitalize on their natural stage of development by guiding that propensity to argue into an academic channel. There is a strong emphasis on clear thinking in these grades, with many opportunities for analysis, in matters that are commensurate with the young mind, such as language grammar. Grammar is central to the curriculum in this period of study. There is also an emphasis on understanding the way the mind works (at least implicitly) in the 6th and 7th Grade. This is accomplished by using the particular writing exercises the way they are laid out in the curriculum.
In Grades 10-12 the emphasis in the method shifts again. The student assignments are now directed to learning how to speak persuasively to an audience, which includes learning the ordinary conventions for papers, such as footnoting and bibliographies, but it also includes the ends of rhetoric. Rhetoric is of three kinds: the political, the forensic and the ceremonial. These three kinds differ in their ends. The political aims at establishing whether a proposed course of action is expedient or inexpedient; the forensic, whether an action done was just or unjust; and the ceremonial, whether someone deserves praise or blame. In our high school program we discuss all three types of actions and characters. You can see that these ends are all suited to the man who is concerned with the noble and the good. They will be best achieved by the man who is wise. Now, to attain these ends, the speaker has three means of persuasion. The first is his own character: he must present himself as one who is worthy of belief. The second is his power to affect and control the emotions of his listeners, for their state of mind will greatly affect how receptive they are to his argument. And the third is the persuasive quality of the argument itself, for the premises must be likely and the procedure logical. In my experience, the student in the rhetorical stage is interested in the high and noble, he cares about what is good and bad, and about what is blameworthy and praiseworthy. So the ends of rhetoric are by nature of interest to the high school student.
There are, of course, also content goals, all through the curriculum. In high school the content goals assume even more importance than previously. In the earliest years it is the tools of learning that are most emphasized, in junior high the tools and the content have a parity of importance, but in high school the content assumes a much greater role. In each of the major disciplines the student is working on a coherent argument developed over the high school years. For example, in 10th grade religion the student is developing the first view of the motives of credibility. He will examine this again in greater depth in 11th and 12th grade. Our goal is that every student who is with us through high school will be able to make the argument for the motives of credibility, moving from the argument for God's existence, to the truth of the Catholic Church. The students study the Roman Constitution in 10th Grade, and thus, mixed government, the Spanish form of mixed government in 11th Grade, so that they can intelligently discuss the US mixed government, and the universal principles of government, in 12th Grade. This fits well with an additional emphasis at this level, namely the student is thinking about making judgments in particular matters.
Throughout this course of studies, with its different methodology at different stages, we work on giving the beginning of every one of the liberal arts and sciences (as I describe more fully in the article entitled "The Beginning of the Liberal Arts and Philosophic Sciences"). It is also our specific intention to encourage wonder in God's creation and delight at seeing truth. This is the necessary disposition for philosophy.
We have borrowed from Dorothy Sayers' insightful essay "The Lost Tools of Learning" (see Letter from our Founder) a terminology to describe these stages (K-5, 6-9, 10- 12). Miss Sayers titles these formative periods the grammatical stage, the logical or dialectical stage, and the rhetorical stage. She is, as we are, talking about an appropriate method for these various periods of study. Her descriptions of the appropriate method fit well with our experience of children. (The articles "Teaching the Art of Learning" and "Teaching Children How to Think" both expand on this theme.)
It is clear then, that this education is an appropriate beginning to classical education. It is our view that children need first to be taught how to think, before they can think well about difficult topics. There is general agreement on that point. The question, of course, is how to do that. Do you teach children the beginning of logic by doing the Prior and Posterior Analytics of Aristotle, or by doing other subjects in such a way as to prepare for those works? Our view is the latter, for we think children are not ready for the abstract thinking required in those works. This is the view of many others, St. Thomas, for example. St. Thomas, in his commentary on Boethius' De Trinitate, gives an outline of classical education. He says:
Thus, the aim of the philosophers was principally that, through everything that they considered in [their study of] things, they might arrive at a knowledge of first causes. Accordingly, they placed the science of first causes, reserving it for the mature part of their life. First they began with logic, which deals with the method of the sciences. Next they proceeded to mathematics, which even children can have the capacity for. Third, to natural philosophy, which requires time for experience. Fourth to moral philosophy, which young people are not ready for. And last they turned to the study of divine science, which treats the first causes of beings.
I would note a few things about this statement by St. Thomas. First, he is talking about adults pursuing classical education. That is why he says that "even children have a capacity for" mathematics. In other words, here, in this description of those pursuing knowledge of the first causes, he is not talking about children. Second, the order of the sciences is logic, mathematics, natural philosophy (Physics), which requires time for experience, moral philosophy (Ethics) which is not appropriate for young people, and then divine science (metaphysics), which is reserved for the mature part of life. (The article "Classical Formation", which is an appendix in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, enlarges on this idea.)
It is our opinion that all learning is cyclical. One learns on a very basic level first, and then comes back, again and again, to consider the matter, always on a deeper level. We know that the end of education is wisdom, and that involves a knowledge of the causes, as causes, so we make sure our curriculum provides a first acquaintance with the liberal arts, and the sciences, that lead to wisdom, and will be constantly built on, in a cyclical, not a linear, way. (The article "The Beginning of the Liberal Arts and Philosophic Sciences" explains that thought in some detail.)
All of this is to say the following. The curriculum we propose is a curriculum well suited to the achievement of a true classical education. It is the beginning of that education in two ways. First, it gives the preliminary tools for the classical curriculum. Second, as we have studied the liberal arts, the philosophic sciences to which they are ordered, and Sacred Theology, we know what the beginnings of those disciplines are. They are explicitly developed, so that the children are, in fact, doing those disciplines in our curriculum, but not as they will do them later on, when they are ready to read Aristotle and St. Thomas.
The MODG curriculum is ordered to wisdom and intends to teach children how to think. It is based on classical education as contained in Aristotle and outlined by St. Thomas, both as to what it is and who should do it. It reflects the doctrine of the De Anima on how learning takes place. Finally, it recognizes that learning is cyclical, and that there are stages of intellectual formation in children.
There are other questions about curriculum, and its implementation, of a more practical nature. How does one accomplish this noble work in a large family, with all the other duties attendant on that? In our program, each enrolled family has access to an experienced consultant who has done this curriculum in her own family with her own children. The consultant is able to tailor the curriculum to the specific needs and goals of the family and of each child in that family. The article "Classical Education and How to Implement it in a Large Family" reviews much of the information in this explanation of curriculum, but also talks about practical ideas for using this curriculum in a family, and talks about our results. It might be helpful to you.
Since MODG has been in existence for twenty-five years, we not only have hope that the education we propose will be effective. We have student results from the last twenty-five years. Our students do well on college entrance exams, they are accepted into the colleges of their choice, they do well once they are in college. Even more important, at least to me, they are prepared to live, defend, and cherish their Catholic Faith. We highlight information about our students and graduates on the Students and Graduates pages.
May God bless and keep you,
We are so grateful for the existence of this classical distance program of education. The classical methodology for academic and spiritual topics has deepened our appreciation for seeking truth, goodness and beauty. Parents and students alike have learned together, shared good books together, and discussed important issues based on sound classical teaching.