Thomas Aquinas College

In a recent comment I made mention of a particularly striking curriculum that I’d seen from a small conservative Christian college, particularly in reference to a classical canon of works that are no longer fashionable. At the time I couldn’t recall the college, and couldn’t immediately find my copy of the curriculum. I have found both.

The college is Thomas Aquinas College in beautiful Santa Paula, California. Their motto? Verum. Bonum. Pulchrum. The True. The Good. The Beautiful. Read through the entire site. The college looks and sounds idyllic. Note especially this, from the About the College page:

Fundamental in the Catholic intellectual tradition is the conviction that learning means discovering and growing in the truth about reality. It is the truth that sets men free and nothing else. Since truth concerns both natural and supernatural matters, the College’s program has both natural and divine wisdom as its ultimate objectives.

There are no textbooks. The prescribed, four-year interdisciplinary course of studies is based on the original works of the best, most influential authors, poets, scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, and theologians of Western civilization. In every classroom, the primary teachers are the authors of the “Great Books” from Aristotle, Homer and Euclid to St. Thomas Aquinas, T. S. Eliot and Albert Einstein.

There are no lectures. Teaching and learning demand a meeting of the minds. The course is, therefore, essentially a sustained conversation in tutorials, seminars, and laboratories guided by tutors who assist students in the work of reading, analyzing, and evaluating the great works which are central in the collected wisdom of Civilization. Classes are Socratic in method and do not exceed twenty students. Every student has daily practice in the arts of language, grammar, and rhetoric; in reading and critical analysis of texts; in mathematical demonstration; in laboratory investigation.

There are no majors, no minors, no electives, no specializations. The arts and sciences which comprise the curriculum are organized into a comprehensive whole. The College aims at providing its students with a thorough grounding in the arts of thinking and a broad and integrated vision of the whole of life and learning.

Such a doldrum-shattering, revolutionary approach is so succinctly summarized! The edu(c)rats should tremble at the dawning of such a star! What major university could even attempt to compare with the program of this little college? They are much too far gone down another road, as I see all around me every day. They’re nothing but overgrown high schools, these days.

And so, at long last, feast your eyes, widened in wonder, on their four year curriculum, a reading list of Great Books that will make these young ladies and young gentlemen the envy of all truly well-read people. It is simply stunning, to be honest. I am flummoxed, completely incapable of describing how great a list of books this is, or of emphasizing the benefit to be had of such a curriculum in such a company and within the bounds of such a tradition. I leave you, dear reader, to ponder the benefits yourself! This curriculum is, however incapable I am of singing its paeans, precisely an example of that recent revival of interest in the canons of yesteryear, the recognition of the value of classic works in various fields, whether foundational or exemplary. One learns best from the best.

The college is not only exemplary of an older tradition of education, but of specifically a traditional Roman Catholic one. By this I mean not just an older form of traditional education which happens to be Catholic, which education in most places long since been subsumed into public shooling’s mediocrity, but a more traditional expression of Catholicism and the concommittant education which is appropriate to that expression. There are a number of vocations from this school, of both priesthood and religious, and there’s a magnificently traditional chapel under construction, which will undoubtedly resound to the quiet splendor of a traditional Latin mass in the Extraordinary Form soon after its consecration. President Thomas Dillon and all the faculty, staff, students and families who have made Thomas Aquinas College what it is deserve our thanks for pointing out that there’s another way out of the mess that education is in. A way that some so dismissively call backwards has proven to be a vividly successful way forward. We can, it seems, rest assured that a book on Felt Banner Construction will not be making it onto the curriculum at Thomas Aquinas College

The true, the good, the beautiful indeed.