Canongate Academics

“Education,” in the words of G.K. Chesterton, “is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.”[1] The soul of our society, which we aim to pass on, is the Western tradition and the Catholic Faith.

Traditionally, these things were passed on by learning Latin, Greek, and the seven liberal arts—“classical education.” However, as the Catholic historian Christopher Dawson has explained, the classical method was a “superstructure” built on a “common spiritual foundation” provided by the culture of daily life. Because that wider culture has eroded,[2] “even if it were possible to preserve or to restore classical education it would by itself prove quite ineffective[.]”[3]

The challenge of a school today, in his view (and in ours), is to pass on to students the experiential awareness of life’s “spiritual unity” which used to be passed on by the culture. In the words of Stratford Caldecott, we now have to provide both the “content” and the “context.”[4]

To meet this challenge, we follow an adaptation of the classical model called “poetic education.”

Poetic education prioritizes immersion in reality. Frequent experiences of beauty and goodness are foundational to the formation of the young. We create the conditions for students to perceive that beauty is objective, that life is beautiful, that the world was created by love, and that prayer is essential. To this end, we fill our school days with real things—nature, literature, musical instruments, paintings, community meals, dances, and (especially) the liturgy.

Poetic education is also profoundly relational. We have formed a community where, within the boundaries of clear policies and expectations, students are given the freedom to grow in virtue and take responsibility for their learning.[5] Giving students guided formation, freedom, and forgiveness demonstrates to them God’s existence and character in way that theological instruction can’t.

Within this context, we teach the objective, intellectual content of the tradition. We maintain high academic standards, while helping students of all capacities to learn to the best of their ability. All students can and should develop a hunger for truth, an ability to make and evaluate arguments, and a respect for the great thinkers of the past, so that they may continue to add to the truths we teach them after they graduate.

In all aspects of our school, we strive to live up to Aristotle’s ancient dictum, “we work so that we may have leisure”[6]—leisure being rightly understood as rest in the good, not mere inactivity or amusement. Already at the very beginning of the Western tradition, school was considered a place of leisure to learn proper leisure.[7] By continuing that tradition, we hope to live out, together with students, the truth that there are ends, even on earth, higher than economics and appetite, and that our true “life’s work” is arriving at eternal sabbath rest in God.

[1] Illustrated London News, July 5, 1924.

[2] “[H]umanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life” (Pope Francis Laudato Si’ 113).

[3] Understanding Europe, ch. 1.

[4] “Towards a Distinctively Catholic School.”

[5] Students who are unwilling to participate in growth toward real freedom (those who demonstrate an inflexible disrespect of the Faith, school policies, or others) will be dismissed.

[6] Nicomachean Ethics, 10.7.6. See also Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture.

[7] Even the English word “school” comes from the Greek word for leisure: skole.

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