Innovative, I call it, and yet the curriculum is as old as it gets. A new private school is opening near Charlottesville, Virginia, offering a course of instruction that makes a classical homeschooler’s heart go pitty-pat: Latin, Greek, math, logic, music, drawing, history, and literature. St. Bede’s Latin School will open next fall with classes for students in 6th through 8th grade. Its founders intend to offer one additional grade each year, eventually rounding out a complete middle and high school program.
Modeled on Highlands Latin School in Kentucky (founded by Cheryl Lowe, who is familiar to many homeschoolers as the author of Latina Christiana), St. Bede’s is “committed to restoring the Great Tradition of the West by immersing students in the languages and literature of the past—those founts of wisdom that have nourished the western intellect for centuries.”
Like young C. S. Lewis, St Bede’s students will find themselves immersed in the study of Latin and Greek language and literature. “Until very recently,” states the St. Bede’s curriculum summary, “most thinkers and writers in the Great Tradition of the West were schooled in both Latin and Greek. Only a few generations ago, Latin was a standard discipline even in public schools. While many are beginning to rediscover the importance of Latin, we should not continue to discount the importance of Greek. Aside from being the language of the early church and of philosophy, Greek is the most exacting and precise of all the European tongues. The study of Greek prepares the mind for any intellectual discipline.”
The rigorous course of study will include readings from The Iliad, The Odyssey, Theogeny, and The Oresteia, as well as writings by Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch, Xenophon, and Arrian. Particular focus will also be given to music, logic, and mathematics. Rather than attending separate classes for each grade level, the sixth through eighth grade students will learn together in mixed-age classes.
“The model of the one-room schoolhouse,” says St. Bede’s co-founder Arthur Rogers, “is a more natural and saner one than the practice of rigidly dividing children according to age. The younger students need older ones to admire and to follow, the older students ones to help and to guide.”
What is innovative about St. Bede’s is its schedule: students will attend class only three days per week, Tuesday through Thursday. “A school,” states Mr. Rogers, “should not usurp the authority and responsibilities of the family.” He maintains that “small classes and very little coming and going from one room to another will eliminate much of the wasted time that characterizes the public school (and many private schools).”
I poked around a bit and was only able to find a handful of schools in this country which observe a shortened school week. (The aforementioned Highlands Latin School is one.) It is a striking concept, however, one which may appeal to school-educating families and home-educating families alike. As a matter of fact, Highlands Latin School grew out of a homeschooling co-op. Mr. Rogers explains that Cheryl Lowe’s school “developed from a co-op she was running one day a week for a few years. As she attracted more students, she decided to go to three days (with the fourth day of optional enrichment).”
St. Bede’s School, too, will offer an optional half-day of Friday enrichment activities. The combination of a challenging classical curriculum and a non-traditional three-day schedule is quite an intriguing notion. One so often hears complaints from school-educating parents about how overscheduled and overstressed their children are; a shortened school week would seem to ease that problem, and the vision behind St. Bede’s and Highlands Latin suggests that this can be done without shortchanging academic pursuits.
I would love to hear from readers about other schools observing a three-day school week. When it comes to education, less (so we homeschoolers say) is so often more.
Related reading for home educators: The difference between a traditional Latin-centered classical education and a neoclassical education.