Exploring Movies with the Family

By John Rocha

9781400096862_p0_v1_s260x420In 2007, I discovered a book entitled The Best Old Movies For Families: A Guide to Watching Together by Ty Burr while listening to an interview on NPR.  What attracted me to the book was my own background of watching old black and white movies on weekends while in my teens.  Perhaps, I had too much freedom in watching television, but this was also the time before 24 hour airwaves, cable television, and streaming on demand. I discovered movie characters like Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes, as well as the acting duos of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, and even Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. None of these duos make the book, but that is what makes me fond of it, adding movies that I may not have heard of or watched in while.

I have thought about this book often over the last seven years as families search for middle ground between engaging modern culture and keeping their children from being overrun with technology and media. One suggestion to balance the use of media and technology is to explore movies as a family, rather than leaving children to experience the digital world alone. Ty Burr is a professional movie critic for the Boston Globe and has past experience with Entertainment Weekly. What brought him to write the book was his experience in sharing his love of movies with his two young daughters.   Continue reading Exploring Movies with the Family

Chess, Chivalry, and Story: The Beginning of the Hero’s Journey

By Beto Carmona

parsifal-in-quest-of-the-holy-grail-ferdinand-leekeSome of the sweetest joys of being a teacher are those moments when the books are set aside, the pencils are put down, and everyone in class delves deep into a good, captivating conversation spurred by a topic brought up in class. At Western Academy, we, students and teachers, are free to be leisurely, just because it is good to be so. Without sacrificing high standards for our boys, we let the boys experience what Aristotle meant when he said, “We work in order to have leisure” (Pieper 20). To this noble end, this year our barefooted boys are rediscovering an innate, joyful and angelic love of learning through a focus on leisure in the Chess, Chivalry, and Story (CSS) class, where the boys are instructed in the high art of The Dangerous Book for Boys to equip them for the hero’s journey of life. Continue reading Chess, Chivalry, and Story: The Beginning of the Hero’s Journey

Nature Nurtures the Liberal Arts

By Adam Thompson

Nature answers all he asks; 
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks, 
Part and parcel of her joy,— 
Blessings on the barefoot boy! 
From John Greenleaf Whittier’s “The Barefoot Boy”

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 12.35.27 PMThough Whittier’s Romantic conception of Nature as a benevolent female companion to the barefoot boy may blithely paper over the often brutal character of a natural order that is frequently indifferent to man’s plight, the characterization nonetheless illuminates the great potential for learning that Nature extends to those who requite her offers of love. The barefoot boy who delights in the manifold sights, smells, sounds, and textures of Nature will grow into a man alive, a man better able to appreciate the poetic mysteries of the created order and to master the fickle temperament and prickly perils of his moody friend. In fact, the barefoot boy perfectly captures one of the touchstones of a liberal arts education— Nature provides the ideal learning environment for a boy to discover the true meaning of his freedom. Continue reading Nature Nurtures the Liberal Arts

The Art of Poetry: A Deeper Participation in Reality

By Christopher Hall

Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. - Socrates

The reason why the philosopher is compared to the poet is that both are concerned with wonders. For the myths with which the poets deal are composed of wonders, and the philosophers themselves were moved to philosophize as a result of wonder. – St. Thomas Aquinas

r1208191_15708564We want the boys at Western Academy to be wise, and in order for them to be wise they must first conceive of the world as miraculous and wondrous, and poetry helps them do this. By “miraculous” I don’t mean full of fairy dust and arbitrary pseudo-explanations. I mean a sense that the world is “charged with the grandeur of God,” to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins; the world is not just a concatenation of brute facts, but a marvel and wonder to behold. No one who wanted to write poem about a mountain would settle with a list of the stones and minerals of which it is made, because there’s more than that making the mountain, and that is, ultimately, the idea of the mountain in the mind of God.

The boys’ experience of wonder and the miraculous incites them to knowledge, but this knowledge does not simply explain the phenomena of the world, which it relates to the boy who knows. Rather, true knowledge occurs when the boy interiorizes the reality of the sensed phenomena. A fact, on its own, cannot properly be interiorized, because it cannot be related to. It’s just there. But truth is relatable; the boy can be there with it. Poetry interiorizes, as well, and poetry is its own kind of knowledge, what St. Thomas called poetica scientia. Continue reading The Art of Poetry: A Deeper Participation in Reality

Quo Vadis? Using the Leverage of Science Wisely

By Nathaniel Saylor

“Give me a place to stand, and I will move the Earth.” – Archimedes

A few weeks before the start of the IMG_1149school year a score of students are sawing, filing, glueing, constructing.  They are building trebuchets – a medieval war engine – on a small scale.  Archimedes was moved to make his boast of moving the Earth when he uncovered and described the secrets of the lever.  Mastery of different kinds of levers led eventually to the trebuchet.  So at Trebuchet Camp, the boys are learning one of the ways science evolved from its beginnings in ancient Greece to more complex technological applications in 14th century Europe. Continue reading Quo Vadis? Using the Leverage of Science Wisely

Athletics and Play in Curriculum

Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus, I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. - 1 Corinthians 10:24-27

As I reflect back on my fifteen plus years in professional coaching, I’m often struck by two extremes of philosophical understandings of Athletics and Physical Education within a curriculum of a school setting. The first relegates it to absolutely no importance, as it has nothing to do with classroom instruction and merely needs to be offered for the utilitarian function of stuffing a college application resume. This attitude follows that winning or losing doesn’t matter, everyone can be a winner, and that mere participation is satisfactory in game and sport. A philosophy such as this smacks in the face of my entire educational experience. Upon reflection, my most significant educational influences were my coaches.

On the other hand, many individuals and schools elevate sport to a neo-pagan religion. Family life completely revolves around sport participation, children specialize in sport at extremely young ages, and children seem to be putting all their eggs in a single basket in order to achieve a college scholarship or future professional career. This false philosophy also fails to adequately take the human person into account and does tremendous harm to people and society at large.717MCD1E3VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.gif

The ancients, both St. Paul in the quotation above, and Plato in “The Republic”, point out a different path and properly order sport in the lives and educational process for a soul. They effectively refute both prior educational fallacies. Continue reading Athletics and Play in Curriculum

Our Festival of Music at Western Academy

“The most beautiful things are felt with our hearts,” said the Little Prince.

by Tim Keenley (WA Faculty)

jpieper_leisure_lgWe began mandatory band in all middle school grades this week. Seventy boys playing brass or reed horns: many for the first time and many of the others just getting started.

Amidst the cacophony of detonating trumpets and squealing clarinets, I remembered the warnings of a popular band director, “The primary goal for instruction in beginner band is to get the student to the second year. Most students are lost between the first and second year of instruction.” [1]

Simultaneously in the lower school, we launch a multi-year sequence of ear training and sight-singing. All this effort is worthwhile.

As we begin the fifth year of our school’s existence, let us reflect on the special gifts music brings to all of us; as we share it, create it, and open our hearts to receive it.

Continue reading Our Festival of Music at Western Academy

Teaching Boys To Be Explorers of Mystery

By Ron Bergez

9780374508043_custom-ed870e86c469c6e30b359164bf6470602c90f1bf-s99-c85-1I began teaching when I was in grade eight at Our Lady of Victory School in San Francisco, and the third grade teacher– my sister in-law- used to let me sub for her math class when she had to be absent. I felt pretty clever. Later, after a dozen years teaching in various schools in California (and still feeling pretty clever) I took on a job as a Humanities teacher in a small charter school in Arizona. There I was given an article to read, based on a talk by novelist Flannery O’Connor, entitled “The Nature and Aim of Fiction.”[i] It led me to re-examine fundamentally what I do in the classroom. I haven’t been the same teacher since.

O’Connor says, “The type of mind that can understand good fiction is not necessarily the educated mind, but it is the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.” A good story doesn’t just have a central idea or theme that the reader extracts, thereby “solving” what the story is about. Life and reality, in fiction and outside of it, are mysterious. Both operate at multiple levels. For me as an English teacher, this means that a book is not a puzzle to be figured out, but is a description of (mysterious) human experience to be contemplated. I must enter into the exploration – not the explanation – of each work, even each character, with my students. My authority is open to challenge: my experience may not be determinative. (There are students who know far more about various subjects than I do: any type of science; the higher realms of math; music; the list goes on…) The paradigm shift has taken getting used to, but it has been liberating. Continue reading Teaching Boys To Be Explorers of Mystery

An Education in Freedom

By Adam Thompson

Await no further word or sign from me:467751
your will is free, erect, and whole—to act
against that will would be to err: therefore
I crown and miter you over yourself.
From Dante Alighieri’s Commedia

In the Commedia, Dante awakens to find himself lost in a dark wood and soon discovers that the only way back to the light requires an arduous pilgrimage through the three realms of the afterlife: Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Fortunately for Dante, the ancient Roman poet Virgil — his personal hero and model of human and artistic perfection — is summoned by saintly intercessors to befriend the forlorn poet and guide him on his quest. As the two descend into Hell and later ascend into Purgatory, Virgil schools Dante in the meaning of human freedom, eventually declaring him fit to rule himself as indicated in the quote provided above and the illustration “Virgil’s Farewell” by Salvador Dali.

The image of the teacher (Virgil) crowning and mitering the student (Dante) ruler over himself beautifully illustrates the intertwining secular and religious ends of a liberal arts education— the attainment of authentic human freedom as a habit of being that flows from a boy fulfilling the true potential of his created nature and conforming his will to God’s in loving friendship.

Continue reading An Education in Freedom