One of the chief occupations for our headmaster, most especially as school begins, is to develop students’ habits so they are actually capable of learning. Being able to meet and acquire new knowledge requires many virtues, and constant growth in them over time, to help children (like all people) grow in mental and moral maturity.
Learning is not only about filling kids’ heads with facts or even ideas, but helping them become the kind of people who can obtain knowledge, place it in relation to other knowledge, and communicate their ideas to others. Thus, mental virtue is inseparable from moral virtue, from goodness.
For example, no person can learn if he cannot pay attention. Indeed, a person’s ability to learn may directly parallel his or her ability to pay attention over sustained periods. To help a child develop the capacity to grow at all, he must be carefully and consistently expected and trained to pay attention, in increasing lengths.
This is not only an academic habit, but an important relationship habit. When we listen to and pay attention to people, we show that we love them. When we do the opposite, we show that we do not love them. Thus learning to pay attention is not just necessary for a child to learn anything, it is also necessary for him to love.
People also cannot learn if they cannot follow commands, both direct and indirect. To even read a book on one’s own is to come under another person’s tutelage. It may be bad tutelage, but before one jumps to that conclusion it is important to first understand what he is saying. One learns to listen carefully before acting, or passing judgment. Again, this is not just an academic skill, but a personal habit that is important for living a good life of love and service to others.
Thus to require children to pay attention and to learn to follow commands is teaching them how to love — to love other people, creation, and God himself. These habits not only bring order to the classroom, they bring order to our souls. A well-ordered soul, one that has learned self-discipline, is one that is set free from the enslavement of sin and sinful passions to love God and others.
This is of course what all Christian parents seek for themselves and for their children. It is also why we as a school say one of our chief purposes is to seek not just truth and beauty, but also goodness.
This principle of the strong link between mental and moral virtue is, by the way, one of many reasons that it is impossible for any school to be non-religious. Every single teaching method, curriculum, and philosophy at least implicitly represents a certain view of human nature — a certain understanding of what people are, and how we learn.
We boldly proclaim our understanding of human nature as the Christian one. Regardless of whether other schools do the same, the things they learn and the manner they learn them also profess beliefs about human nature. Often — typically, in fact — they contradict Christian views of the human person. One can see this in disorderly classroom environments of low expectations, grade inflation, or where teachers try to be students’ friends instead of a loving authority tasked with the duty to help their character rise as high as possible.