The Classical Liberal Arts as the Best Foundation for STEM – Michael Ortner

St. Michael Academy offers a unique, yet time-honored, approach to education through its Catholic Integrated Classical Curriculum.

This program is based on the three pillars of a classical education, integrated history and literature, a rigorous study of the natural world, and an appreciation of the visual and performing arts, all suffused with the light of the Catholic faith.
Sometimes what is very old becomes, through disuse, again quite new. That is certainly true for the Trivium—Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric—the “Classical” model employed here at SMA, weaving facts (grammar) and reasoning (logic) together through written and oral expression (rhetoric) in the pursuit of the unvarnished Truth.

What gives the Classical model its unrivaled horsepower is that we utilize those tried and true learning techniques to tackle the very best of thought and action in human history. Rather than dumbing down the curriculum, our liberal arts and sciences program challenges students to master, through the Socratic Method and Great Books, intellectual heavyweights such as Plato and Aristotle; Homer and Virgil; Augustine and Aquinas; Dante and Shakespeare, just to name a few. And our integrated curriculum does not shy away from rigorous Math and Science instruction, as the Truth resides as much in the world of numbers and the scientific method as in philosophy and theology.

We seek the True, the Good, and the Beautiful by journeying through Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem – and what a wonderful ride it is! Will you join us in America’s fastest growing educational reform movement? You'll be glad you did.

1 / Classical Education

“Classical education” is fast becoming a buzz word in educational circles, yet many are still puzzled by what makes a program distinctly classical.  Some believe it merely involves the study of Ancient Greco-Roman culture, language, and literature.  Others believe that a classical curriculum must be based on the study of rhetoric, grammar, and logic (called the Trivium in Ancient and Medieval times)  combined with the study of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music (called the Quadrivium in Ancient and Medieval times).  And still others feel that utilizing the Socratic method (i.e. asking students questions rather than merely lecturing them) is the most essential element of this pedagogical approach.

All of these elements are important in a classical curriculum, but they are merely means to an end.

A classical curriculum, particularly a Catholic one, seeks to form students that look beyond the temporal and mundane towards the eternal and transcendent.  At SMA, students are not only trained in rhetoric, logic, and oratory, but they are also taught to contemplate the permanent things.  These permanent things, like love, beauty, justice, and truth, are found throughout the literature, art, and music of human history.  Students study historical attitudes towards these permanent things, as well as man’s never ending pursuit of them.

2 / Integrated Literature and History

A tendency has arisen in the modern era to compartmentalize academic subjects so that they operate independently of each other.  This has done a disservice to students, especially in the areas of history and literature.  Students study dry dates and figures in history, while puzzling over the extensive amount of historical questions on English exams.  However, at SMA, we have aligned and integrated the study of history and literature.  This means students studying Ancient Greece read Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Sophocles.  Those studying the Middle Ages read Chaucer and Joinville, and so on throughout the ages.

This method helps students to understand the motivations of some of the most important historical and literary figures, while also understanding the effects of these individuals on society as a whole.  They also study the Permanent Things (love, beauty, justice, truth, etc.) as they have been perceived throughout history, and the effects these perceptions have had upon history.

3 / Understanding the Natural World

As the great philosopher Aristotle once said, “We should venture on the study of every kind of animal without distaste; for each and all will reveal to us something natural and something beautiful.”  With this in mind, SMA students undertake a rigorous course of study in the natural sciences, including biology, chemistry, and physics.

This includes time spent in our St. Albert the Great Science Lab peering at microbes through microscopes, observing chemical reactions, dissecting fetal pigs, growing vegetables, and hatching and raising chicks.  The smaller class sizes at SMA give students ample opportunity to explore and study the natural world, as well as prepare for college.

Performing Arts

Students at SMA are required to take Oratory class.  Through their study of the performing arts, students are taught the skills necessary to present and conduct themselves appropriately in their communities in a variety of formal and informal situations.  They are also better prepared, when called upon, to assume leadership roles in their communities.

Music Program

Students at SMA have the opportunity to take band class with the highly acclaimed Petoskey High School band.  They also have the opportunity to join the SMA choir, which sings at our weekly school Mass. Several students take part in the Crooked Tree Youth Orchestra and take private musical lessons as well.

Visual Arts

The visual arts have always played a vital role in human civilization, from the cave paintings at Lascaux to the frecoes of the Sistine Chapel.  SMA students continue in this tradition of attempting to express the intangible in a variety of artistic styles.  While not all students will become world-class painters, their study of the visual arts will help them to approach situations with a unique perspective.