What Kind of School is Monument Academy?
It is the philosophy of Monument Academy that all students benefit from a challenging, content-rich, educational program that builds academic potential and personal character. The school provides an environment that fosters academic excellence through the habits of thoroughness, the willingness to work, and the perseverance to complete difficult tasks. Through a defined traditional, culturally-literate and classically based curriculum students are prepared to become active, responsible citizens.
We hold to the self-evident truth known to the ancients and to the Founding Fathers that virtue is the well-charted but too-little traveled road to true happiness. And we do mean virtue, not post-modern “values,” a term that implies “whatever I do, whatever my unruly passions and appetites urge on me, is okay; so don’t judge me!” There are right and wrong answers in human living no less clear than the simplest addition problem. We abandon or try to cheat these moral answers at our own peril and to the despair of those around us, especially those we care about. The right answers in every human life are to be attained through the practice of the virtues. Those virtues, sources of our moral excellence, consist in the bold ancient virtues— temperance, courage, justice, prudence—as well as the softer virtues, both ancient and modern—honesty, politeness, gratitude—that weave the noble tapestry of the “unbought grace of life.” Students at MA acquire the virtues through the Character First Program. They further study the virtues in the great stories, real and imaginary, that comprise the human pageant. In time, they read the philosophic truth of Socrates:
For I go around doing nothing but persuading both young and old among you not to care for your body or your wealth in preference to or as strongly as for the best possible state of your soul, as I say to you: “Wealth does not bring about virtue, but virtue makes wealth and everything else good for men . . .
Character pervades the curriculum. Character—not magic—is the source of Cinderella’s reward. Character—in the form of industry—leads Franklin to discover and to invent. Character—as we are told through the story of the Ring of Gyges—points to “the actions of a man if he knew he would never be found out” (Macaulay). Character is the hard currency—as Washington showed—with which heroism (or simply goodness) is gained and nations are made. At MA it is not our design to make students behave grudgingly and only when a teacher is in the room. Our sole concern is not just to keep them from cheating on tests. True, we insist upon discussion in the classroom, decorum in the halls. Yet our greater hope is that young people will do the good for the best reason of all: because they love it.
Classical education demands the critical study of language: one’s own and others. Aristotle said that man is the being that possesses the power of language. Human beings come together in society in order to share their thoughts, through language, on the just and the unjust. The eighth-grade girl who expresses pleasure or displeasure at another girl’s dress and make-up, the teenage boy who argues with other boys about who was the greatest quarterback or rock-guitarist of all time: both of these young people are doing what their nature impels them to do. However immaturely or un-philosophically, they are appealing to a standard of the good or the beautiful and trying, in accordance with that standard, to give each person his or her due. They are natural orderers of the world around them. In order to make proper and just determinations and allocations of the standards of the good and the beautiful, we must thoroughly know language through which such decisions are made. Human beings think and act and love and judge and hope and plan through language. They must be very wise, accurate, and just, therefore, in the way they use their language.
We get to know a person better by meeting his parents and his siblings. It is simply uncanny how children resemble their parents and how different children in a family may “take after” one parent more than another, in looks and in behavior, yet all have common qualities. Just so, we come to know our native English better by introducing ourselves to the family of European languages. The words we use in our every-day-speech have long histories, and knowing those histories, often involving multiple languages, equips us with a greater command over those words. Intensive study of the grammar of our languages instructs us in how to order those words into clear sentences, the basic units of thought. The more complex the sentence we learn to handle, the more complex the thought we can express. For no small reason did the Greek word logos (as in logic, dialogue) mean both speech and reason. The one is useless without the other. The patriarch (from the Latin pater for father and the Greek arkhos for ruler) of the European languages is Latin, the matriarch Greek. The child of his classical parents, English has many brothers and sisters (resembling the German Brüder and Schwester), not to mention cousins (from the French cousin) and other relations. Accordingly, we have students study Latin intensively, many Greek roots, and encourage them in modern languages. From kindergarten through eighth grade MA teaches the English language intensively, analytically, daily. We agree with Churchill in that, “the essential structure of the ordinary [English] sentence . . . is a noble thing.” We view with distress that many children and adults these days, in their halting literacy, seem strangers, indeed orphans, in their own native tongue. MA students are taught to be caretakers of the English language, and therefore of reason, by deploying it with greater precisionand wisdom, with greater clarity and depth.
The great task of challenge of living in a way worthy of human beings, of pursuing not just mere life, but the good life, we call civilization. The study of civilization is arguably the most important young people can embark upon. It is so because each new generation inherits the patrimony of their parents and grandparents: their own personal legacy, such as it may be, but in a larger sense the ideas, manners, laws, arts, institutions, habits, aims and aspirations, and basic common sense or prudence that make life good. As with any inheritance, the inheritors can substantially increase it, just save it, or squander it entirely. Their shepherding of the patrimony depends upon their knowledge and their virtues.MA instructs students in the knowledge needed to preserve human civilization and to make it flourish. To the extent it can, the school also trains students in the virtues, as we have said. The arts of civilization are at once high and complex arts, and yet at the same time often simple, common-sense observances such as living by the Golden Ruleor gentlemen opening doors for ladies. MA teaches these arts of civilization through classes in economics, moral philosophy, and, above all, Western Civilization. MA eschews the tepid term social studies as being non-committal, directionless, and lacking in all spirit and life. Students come to understand and grapple with their own inheritance by carefully reading and vigorously discussing the words and deeds of men and women in the past. Original sources are almost always preferred to secondary textbooks. Our emphasis on civilization causes us to expand Arnold’s maxim to read, “the best that has been thought and said and done and discovered.”
Our students spend a lot of time reading one tremendously great and beautiful and mysterious book that does not fit neatly between two cardboard covers. We mean the “book of nature.” The purpose of education is for human beings to discover and understand the world. That means the human world and also the physical world around them. Indeed, MA’s pursuit of knowledge requires serious attention to be given to the sciences and to math. The first and perhaps most obvious is that the traditions of both the ancients and the Founding Fathers held that human reason compels thinking people to explore and to explain the order of the universe. Aristotle was a scientist as much as an ethicist or political philosopher. Greek civilization gave us Euclid as well as Euripides. The awe-inspiring art of Michelangelo drew upon a re-discovery of Galen and of the human form and coincided with the birth of modern medical faculties. A compelling case could be made that the greatest American achievement—our Constitution—would not have been written had the eighteenth century not been immersed in the physics and astronomy of Newton. A more-than-historical and more-than-pedagogical reason, though, impels us to teach our students the sciences and mathematics with energy and rigor. Even as we Americans live in a great age of science and discovery, our people become increasingly scientifically and mathematically illiterate, the number of native-born citizens doing graduate work in the sciences continues to diminish, and the complex moral problems arising from novel technologies (such as cloning) challenge us to think about the very nature of the human being even as we strive to make man’s physical existence healthier and more pleasant.MA eschews the common textbook, recipe-following method of teaching math and science found in most public schools today. Instead, we teach the real “math” behind he mathematics and the real “science” behind physics, biology, and chemistry. In other words, our students—who must absolutely master their math and science facts—cultivate mathematical and scientific minds by learning the why behind the what. Newton’s and Boyle’s laws did not drop from the heavens, nor did Pythagoras’s theorem pop out of a textbook. Rather, the means of understanding an ordered universe resulted from these thinkers’ painstaking observation and reasoning about the world before their very eyes. Science is not a thing that sits lifeless in a bulky textbook but a habit of mind often called the “scientific method.” This method of reasoning, not individual bits of technology themselves, has ushered in over the last four centuries what we generally call “progress.” If the habit of mind is lost, so will be progress. The intense interest our students cultivate in the human condition through the study of history, literature, and allied subjects, then, is no less manifest in our inquiry into the beauties of nature and of numerical relations.
Nonetheless, in the upside-down world of public education, the authors of children’s illiteracy claim that they do in fact have content but charge that the rote memorizers have no method, at least not one that keeps from destroying the child’s fragile psych eand will to interact with the all-important society of peers. All this, of course, is claptrap. Classical education, liberal education, has a method of teaching developed and honed for over two thousand years in the West. In the first instance it holds that before a person can think, he must have something to think about. That something is a fact: Adam named the animals first, not thought “critically” about them. Without knowing the things around us, the things that brought us here, the words and structure of language through which we express these things—animals, plants, elements, rivers, cities, Presidents, poems, nouns, verbs, adjectives—we cannot think at all. The greatest genius of the age, in learning a foreign tongue, would still have to begin with the rudiments of the language. For a young mind to become ready for thought it must pursue a massive importation and organization of basic facts: the bricks for building the edifice. To this end, learning in the early grades, what some call the “grammar stage,” consists largely in mastering facts and strengthening the power of the mighty memory to recall these facts on demand.
There is a second truth about the human mind that traditional teachers bring to bear on the subjects at hand. This truth is that the mind is inquisitive. Human beings are the only creatures that want to know things. The so-called progressives took this feature of man to mean that teachers were hardly necessary, that children would drift into learning without much effort on anyone’s part. They did not understand the other limitations of our nature: sloth, complacency, anarchy of appetite and passion. Our inquisitiveness means that our reasoning faculties can be led (when first prepared with the rudiments) by the appropriate questions well-stated. While the rudimentary bricks build up the structure, the questions of how, when, and why usher us into the cathedral of understanding. Liberal education is thus both fact-based and question-based. These two are not antithetical but inseparable.
We call this method of questioning Socratic after the founder of Western philosophy. He was by no means the only important teacher in our history to use questions to pursue a truth or bring home a point. (“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans do the same?”) The Socratic method should not be thought of as a random, rambling chatter between teacher and kids without direction or insight, nor as a means of taking responsibility from teachers for teaching, nor yet as a fumbling way to get students to participate in class. Rather it is a carefully constructed pattern of questions developed by a knowledgeable and hard-working teacher to bring students’ reason to the very heart of the matter. To the uninstructed or uninitiated observer, a Socratic discussion appears easy or looks as though the teacher is not doing much of the work. To the better versed in the ways of learning it appears as true dialogue, in the highest sense of that term.
Now insofar as every discipline is both fact-based and question-based, insofar as each discipline may require more or less of one or the other, in keeping with the idea that the individual styles and personalities of teachers must play into the mix, and because there are different grade levels and degrees of understanding even from class to class ,there is no exact recipe for how much time should be spent in going over facts and how much in teachers asking questions and students giving answers (or vice versa).Nonetheless, the class should almost always have a clear question on the table, so to speak. The young mind without an important question before it soon becomes a wandering or a sleepy or a bored mind. And these are not the kinds of minds we want at MA.
The young mind well trained in the Socratic Method applied to the best that has been thought and said and done and discovered becomes a formidable inquirer into the world, both physical and human. The comment we have heard again and again from parents of students of every age is that their family conversations have improved, that their children have amazed them on trips to museums and historical sites that they find their kids even over the summer always reading. This phenomenon is more than the claptrap about life-long learning we hear from the educrats. The human mind rigorously trained in the arts and sciences that demands to be engaged with the world is a force to be admired. When combined with a steady character, it is a force for good.
We regret two related trends in modern education: the shocking ignorance among our
young people today regarding the American tradition of self-government on the one
hand and the hostility towards civics education as being somehow a form of
“indoctrination” reminiscent of Nazism and thereby undermining a greater world
harmony on the other. The two trends have to be related because only someone wholly
ignorant of the sacrifices made by the men who stormed the beaches at Normandy,
who raised the flag at Iwo Jima, who later formed and executed the Marshall Plan, and
who for almost half a century, in a war that was not entirely ‘cold,’ checked the
oppressive grip of communist totalitarianism, could say something so utterly foolish as
that a proper American civics education is either fascistic or narrowly Anglo-centric.
MA unapologetically embraces a thorough immersion in American government, history,
literature, and arts, as well as the related discipline of economics, which vindicates the
Founding Fathers’ understanding of human nature, of civil society, and of the capacity
of the individual following his own conscience under the rule of law. So important is the
civic-minded mission of MA that another way of thinking about our enterprise is as “an
education worthy of the Founding Fathers,” both the education they had in their youth
and the education they recommended for “generations yet unborn.” In other words, we
are in the business of keeping our Republic, not forgetting it or bashing it. Such is the
proper and necessary role of public education in a nation with a government of the
people, by the people, for the people.
Such a purpose does not deny the integrity and importance of other nations. As stated
succinctly by E. D. Hirsch, an educational pioneer who describes himself as a man of
the “Old Left”: “We don’t live in France or China. It is a duty of American schools to
educate competent American citizens.” Nor does it claim that this nation has always
done right in every moment of its history. Rather, any true study of civics begins with
the clear aims of the American regime, stated time and again by the Founders, but
most memorably as,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,
Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are
instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the
Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its
foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall
seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
The Founding Fathers created a clear standard by which the “American experiment” is
to be judged. When Americans have lived up to this high aim, they have flourished.
When they have departed from it, they have done so to their own detriment. Through
the clear lens of the Declaration we both study American history and learn to govern
By adhering to the foregoing aims of education, often in the face of virulent and public criticism, MA has flourished since its inception and has each year built upon its strong tradition of sound learning. There are many ways of proving the school’s success. The most common way, the only one the broader public has much interest or ability in undertaking, is by looking at our test scores. Yet the public may not realize that MA is a school that emphatically does not teach to the test.
We should remember that standardized testing is only one, and not the most important,
measure of the school’s flourishing. The place to come to grips with MA’s unique aims
and methods is in the classroom. Far from having something to hide, we open our
doors and our classrooms to prospective students, their parents, reporters, and any
school that might find profit from observing our education. What these observers say is
usually a good indication of what we labor to achieve: “the kids are so well-behaved,”
“the kids know so much,” “the teacher really knew his stuff,” “how do you find teachers
like that?” and, our favorite, “this is the kind of education I wish I would have had in
Real learning takes place in the Monument Academy classrooms because the entire
school is built on the principle that education is simply the basic interaction among
teacher, text, and student. To this end, the school adheres to Churchill’s basic tenet.
When visiting the White House during the war and asked what sort of Scotch he would
like, the witty Prime Minister of Britain replied, “I shall be satisfied with the very best.”
Thus is MA satisfied: by having the very best teachers, the very best books, and the
very best efforts of its students. In no other way can it be satisfied.
What Monument Academy does is counter-intuitive. Rooting ourselves firmly in the learning of the past we prepare ourselves for the future. In a world that constantly chatters about the speed of information, we slow down to read long books carefully, to open our minds to stories that take a good while to tell, to labor over problems that a modern calculator could solve in a microsecond, to love things of permanent and transcendent beauty, and, when necessary, to reinvent the wheel. We make no apologies. We are not antiquaries and do not consider ourselves quaint. We are in the business of forming minds, not programming machines. We are committed to strengthening souls, not gaming a system. Join us.
Download full Philosophy PDF
(Dr. T.O. Moore, 2001. Used with permission)