Boys at Gregory the Great Academy discover Truth every living day. They wake to the sounds of nature and of man in harmony with nature: birdsong from an open window, a prefect’s call to Morning Prayer, the bustle of roommates readying themselves for the day. The natural world and their place in it is constantly present, never mediated by some electronic device.
Without first perceiving reality through the senses, a boy would find the abstractions of religion and philosophy extremely difficult. That is why we place such an emphasis on developing the imagination through three means: technological poverty, good (as well as Great) books, and time.
The natural order of learning directs us first to experience the real, to take delight in beauty and goodness, to discover truth, then to wonder at the meaning of each thing and how it fits into the wholeness of Creation. The only way to experience the sensible world is to encounter it with the senses; one can then add a little knowledge about things through learning what others think, but first a student must submit himself to Nature itself, unmediated by anything artificial. Gregory the Great Academy sits on nearly two hundred acres of woods and fields. Students are liberated by our policy of technological poverty and are encouraged to heed Wordsworth’s exhortation to “Come forth into the light of things / Let Nature be your teacher!” Having seen the glory and beauty of nature with their own senses, they cannot help but wonder at and begin to understand God’s love. This is fertile ground for further learning.
The second means to develop the imagination is through good as well as great books, read with delight and taught by imaginative teachers who are in love with them. Imaginative literature opens the mind to truths about human nature as well as the natural world. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Robin Hood, foundational books for Freshman Literature, introduce boys to wonderful descriptions of nature and to the way human beings act in the world. A teacher who loves these books brings them to life; our freshman literature class is always rocking with laughter, thirsting for adventure, or pensive with “the tears of things” because they learn to reflect on the good, the true, and the beautiful. The good books, the habit of reflection, and the training of the imagination are the best preparation for the great books taken up in junior and senior humanities classes. But without time for reflection, little progress in this soul-training could happen.
Unlike many modern schools, including some that espouse Classical training, Gregory the Great Academy does not offer a plethora of courses. Each student in each grade takes the same classes with all his classmates and is thus liberated from the necessity of choosing a track at an early age. We leave the college courses, such as calculus and chemistry, to college, choosing instead to give high school boys time for their minds to expand and flower, time for them to grow and learn how to make big decisions (such as a life’s course). But most of all, we give the boys time to hike in our fields, time to build a campsite down by our creek, time to play board games and ping pong on cold, rainy days, time to build friendships that last a lifetime.
Over and over we hear that true friendship is built at the Academy, and that it is time and the freedom from technology that made it possible. In these days of shallow online influencers replacing friendship, this gift of time might be the very best gift we can provide young men.