The RLA Difference
Why send your teenager to RLA High School?
It’s a good question, since parents in the Philly suburbs have a whole host of fine options at their fingertips. But for parents who care equally about their teenager’s academic and faith formation, we at RLA believe there is no better choice than our rigorous and authentic Catholic classical curriculum. And now that RLA has moved to the campus of St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Berwyn, just a stone’s throw away from the Septa R5 train line and Lancaster Pike, high schoolers from all over Chester, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties can get to our high school easily.
Today in our topsy-turvy world, it is a real challenge for parents to find a school that is affordable, safe, consistent with their values, intellectually challenging, and family-friendly. Yet this is exactly what we provide at RLA, so we invite you to become part of our faith community as we begin a period of exciting growth here at our new home at St. Monica’s.
Below are just some of the ways that distinguishes our approach to learning from other fine schools, as we seek to nurture the mind, body, and soul of our students as they prepare to take their place as Catholic leaders in an increasingly confusing cultural climate.
A “Heaven Prep” School
Of course RLA prepares its graduates for college; our classical liberal arts curriculum is perfect for those looking to get into the college of their choice. But RLA is also looking to help your child get into a place with an even harder admissions standard: Heaven. That is why we say we are cultivating “Smart Saints” at RLA – and that goes for all our students, whether they choose to attend college, or pursue other noble career avenues in the arts, the trades, or the military. At RLA, we define success a bit differently than the ordinary school, taking our cue from Christ, Mary, and the Saints rather than the latest educational fad.
“The Best That Has Been Written, Thought, and Said”
RLA is a “Great Books” school, which for many is a very new model of education. But actually, our new approach is rather old, but for not being tried for about a century as other more modern approaches have been tried nation-wide. The reason our curriculum features the likes of Plato and Aristotle; Augustine and Virgil; Aquinas and Dante; Dickens and Chesterton; Tocqueville and The Federalist Papers; C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot – is not because they are old, but because they wrestle with the Truth in a way that is unique, profound, and has stood the test of time. And after four years of reading and writing about these great books, our graduates emerge ready to tackle any modern issue in an articulate, logical, and respectful manner.
“The City of God” and “The City of Man”
It is appropriate that our beautiful new home is at St. Monica’s, as Monica was the Mother of St. Augustine, the great Doctor of the Church who early in his life also happened to stray far from Christian Orthodoxy. It was Monica who eventually got his wayward son Augustine back on track, allowing him to pen later in life such masterpieces as his Confessions and The City of God (both of which RLA students read in their sophomore year). It just goes to show you that even saints like Augustine need help staying on the straight and narrow, which is what we try to do at RLA with our high school students. Augustine viewed the Christian life as a pilgrimage through the often sinful “City of Man” toward their ultimate destination in “The City of God.” That is a good way of looking at any Christian’s journey, particularly today when our high schoolers face all sorts of temptations from an often-hostile popular culture.
The “Liberal” Arts
True liberal education has nothing to do with a particular political ideology, but rather with learning the “art of being free.” By immersing our students in the very best of western civilization, they become acquainted with both real and imagined instances where individuals are called upon to order their souls in a way where they freely choose to do what is Right. This ordering is perhaps best articulated by Plato, who likens the correct ordering of the soul to that of the ideal city, with the wise portion ruling over the appetites with the aid of courage, or as C.S. Lewis puts it in The Abolition of Man, “The head rules the belly through the chest.” This kind of “ordered liberty” is also an essential component of America’s constitutional republic, which requires citizens capable of governing themselves, both as individuals and within autonomous communities.
“The True, the Good, and the Beautiful”
At RLA, we proceed according to the Godly-inspired creative notion that while it is often difficult for Man to discern them, there are such things as truth, goodness, and beauty. And if that is correct, and with free will, then to paraphrase roughly from a Clint Eastwood film, reality can also be characterized by their opposites: the False, the Bad, and the Ugly. The trick, of course, in Catholic classical education, is to train students to distinguish between these dichotomies, and then have them prefer the former, as opposed to the more contemporary penchant to throw up your hands and declare everything relevant and according to individual taste. In this way, an RLA education is truly counter-cultural, giving students the confidence to buck the crowd when they know that something is wrong rather than right.
The Trivuum: Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric
Another “New Old” approach to learning is the classical pedagogy of the Trivuum, which structures teaching according to the realities of a child’s intellectual development, with the elementary years focused on facts; the middle school years introducing logical reasoning about facts; and then the high school years combining the first two with rhetoric, which emphasizes the ability to make effective and truthful arguments via demonstrated excellence in written and oral expression. The great thing about the Trivuum, even with its fancy name, is that it really is consistent with our natures and with how kids naturally learn. By the time kids reach high school, they are ready to begin the process of weaving facts together in a logical way to make powerful arguments about the perennial and timely issues facing them as American Catholics. And since our students are familiar with the great thinkers of the classical and modern eras, their rhetorical arguments will be bolstered by the giants of our core curriculum. This all culminates when each graduating student presents their senior thesis in a public speech before the entire RLA school community: students, faculty, parents, and benefactors. It is a special moment borne out of RLA’s commitment to the Trivuum.
Faith and Reason
Since God is the author of reason, and God by his very nature cannot be unreasonable, it is difficult to argue that faith in God is inconsistent with what is found to be true by way of rational human inquiry. At RLA high school, faith and reason meet harmoniously in all our classes, including the sciences, as they did long ago when the first European schools and universities were formed under the auspices of the great Monasteries of Christendom. It is a very recent intellectual phenomenon, and one that is fraught with great controversy, to claim, for example, that modern science cannot coexist with Christianity. By integrating faith and reason into the heart of our curriculum, RLA strives to produce students who are filled with intellectual curiosity and Christian humility, a rare combination in an age where too many “experts” suffer from the sins of arrogance and pride.
The Socratic Method
A defining characteristic of a Classical education is a reliance on the Socratic method, a teaching style inspired by the great Greek philosopher who was known for constantly questioning both his followers and the Athenian authorities in his fervent pursuit of the Truth. As a result, RLA high schoolers are expected to read classic texts from the Western Tradition, and then be prepared to answer pointed questions from their teachers regarding the real-world ramifications of the perennial issues raised by what they have read. This rapid-fire give-and-take learning style emphasizes retention, discussion, memorization, and mastery, as well as the capacity to relate timeless Truths to the present controversies of our age. Instead of busy work, RLA high schoolers are acculturated into a routine of reading, discussing, writing, and speaking about the “permanent things,” methods made famous by both Plato – who viewed education as more about an orientation to Truth rather than mere technique; and Aristotle, who stressed the everyday habituation of students toward the classical virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.
A Catholic “Booster Shot” for the Real World
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus tells his disciples, “Look, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be as cunning as snakes and yet innocent as doves.” In many ways, this is what we are doing with our high school graduates as we prepare them to take their place in a world in constant flux and that seems harder and harder for Catholics these days to negotiate. Instead of urging our students to retreat from the outside world, we arm them with courage and conviction, which both helps inoculate them from the temptations of sin that they will no doubt face as young adults, as well as commissioning them to be the “leaven” and “salt” of the earth which all Christians are called to be. We also want our graduates to be happy warriors on their faith journey, standing-up for what they know is Right, but doing so in a joy-filled and non-judgmental fashion. As Jesus directs in John 13:35, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
A Moral Imagination
Finally, a proper education often boils down to what stories the students are told. Jesus, the master teacher, or Rabbi as his Disciples called him, taught by way of parables, or stories, which struck the chords of his followers’ moral imaginations. The Classical approach, by introducing modern students to the best stories from worlds far away in both space and time, liberates them from the shackles of their own perspective and allows them, like Plato’s prisoners in the Cave, to pursue the light of Truth and bring it back to their homes and communities. In this way, the Truth truly sets us free, and Beauty indeed can save the World.
When this integrated approach to learning, with each year building upon the previous, is combined with - Marian devotion, small class sizes, regular Mass attendance, outstanding teachers, college counseling, Pro-Life activities, school leadership opportunities, Senior Thesis, historical field trips, intramural athletics, dramatic and musical performances, dances and proms, and many other activities – the result is beautifully formed, mature, articulate, level-headed, and devout young men and women ready to assume their roles as the next generation of Catholic leaders, with probably the equivalent of at least three to four semesters of college coursework. So, if that is what you want for your child, RLA high school is the place for you. We look forward to hearing from you so we can set-up an initial interview and tour so we can begin the enrollment process.
Regina Luminis, pray for us!