If at all possible, in the early grades, children should be introduced to foreign languages, if only by learning practical phrases. This includes Latin. And they will love it! Their memories are like sponges, and through this creative activity, students and their parents come to see the value of eloquentia perfecta, the perfection of eloquence. The art of beautiful handwriting, via Palmer or Zaner-Blöser, is slowly enjoying a renaissance. Writing experts tell us that handwriting is an accurate indicator of character and temperament.
The Refining Arts
Beginning with the earliest levels of Catholic education, our students should be taught to pursue beauty in music, painting, drawing, and theatrical performance, including Shakespeare and the American theater. The arts help to educate emotions and sensitize the feelings. They are a fine preparation for studies in math, science, and language arts.
The arts have rescued children from abusive home environments. In an age that glorifies ugliness in so many forms, education in the arts is a necessity and not an option. In their early years, children must experience beauty because, once they are overwhelmed by ugliness, it is difficult to lead them out of it. The opportunity to wonder at the marvels of God’s creation belongs to children.
Today American emotions have deteriorated into chaos. Beginning with the Beatles, “the first bug in a plague of locusts,” Americans were lured into an emotional revolution. Unrepressed animalistic emotions were unleashed, and audiences were invited to participate. We went from healthy emotions, powerful and good, to MTV with its warlike, rebellious emotion of punk. Today Rap, with its rebellious, offensive, and violence-laced lyrics, screams with anti-social expression. Our students are exposed to this negative influence.
El Sistema orchestra tells another story. In 1975, the orchestra was begun in Venezuela by the economist and musician, José Antonio Abreu. He saw the orchestra as a symbol for the ideal society, and his idea has expanded across the continents. This advocacy program educates poor and at-risk children in beauty and the arts; their lives are transformed through music. Currently, Gustavo Dudamel, the face of El Sistema, conducts the Simon Bolivar symphony orchestra, composed entirely of these children. Their electrifying energy is felt by their audiences who are overwhelmed by their ability to express beauty.
Education of Taste
Children’s taste need to be educated. Within limits, the dictum, taste may not be disputed (de gustibus non disputandum est) carries validity. This is due to the many factors that form and mold our taste such as character, temperament, education, age, gender, and choice of friends, leisure and entertainment, culture and the arts.
Good taste is restrained; bad taste, excessive. What is impeccable taste? It is the art of discrimination analogous to the eye of the connoisseur, which can infallibly distinguish art from kitsch, and excellent quality from average or merely good quality.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord I: 481). The dictum, ‘taste may not be questioned’ has its limits. Sound taste has to do with particulars of the truth; it is not arbitrary. It knows the difference between what is sweet, bitter, sour, and salty. The art of impeccable taste is a never-ending process because it chooses the better of two goods.
Taste is an analogous word and refers to the appetite. One may speak of taste in food and in wines, taste in clothing, the arts and entertainment, taste in one’s companions. The Psalmist exhorts us to ‘taste and see how good the Lord is’ (Ps 34:8). Here taste is used in the spiritual sense wherein it participates in the act of faith.
The Catholic Teacher
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Because each student is like clay in the hands of a potter, the Church needs dedicated teachers. There is nothing worse than being held captive by a teacher who is unprepared, boring, or disinterested—or all three. Many teach, but few inspire a love of learning. What a gift for a student to sit before an educator who has mastered not just the skill of teaching but the art of education!
Quality is not elitism, but fewer are opting for more quality. Every effort should be made to find the funds to support the noble endeavor of Catholic education. “The Church, as a mother, is under an obligation to provide for its children an education by virtue of which their whole lives may be inspired by the spirit of Christ. At the same time, it will offer its assistance to all peoples for the promotion of a well-balanced perfection of the human personality, for the good of society in this world and for the development of a world more worthy of man” (Vatican Council II, “Declaration on Christian Education,” no. 3).