It’s Time to Build Schools, from the Ground Up

Sometimes the best thing you can do to a school is to raze it. The pipes leak, there’s mold in the ceiling panels, rats are nesting behind the wainscot, and a strange black stain has appeared under the basement floor near the oil line. It isn’t worth repairing.

It might have been worth repairing, if it had once been noble and beautiful, or at least conceived in an orderly way, for ordinary human purposes. But it wasn’t. It was constructed upon false principles. Its walls looked like those of a bad factory. It smelled like a warehouse. It could be terribly noisy, but it was never musical. It could boast plenty of glaring neon colors, but it was never simply sweet. It was not grand, but only big, and big enough for musty corners of corruption to develop here and there. This is the room where the kids snorted coke. This is the closet where they stashed the porn. Here is the English teacher who hated great English literature. Here is the history teacher who taught no history. Here is the health class that spread confusion and disease.

If it stirs any affection, it is in spite of its unlovable self. Perhaps one of the teachers took pity upon you and sent you to the library to read something good for a change. Perhaps one of the coaches lent you his hammer and chisels, and you used them to make a present for your father. But in general, the thing might well be wiped off the face of the earth, and you would feel a moment’s twinge, and then not give it another thought.

I’ve been writing a lot about the latest dreary exercise in pedagogical flummery and inhumanity, the Common Core Standards. I’ll be writing more. But they do serve one purpose, as it seems to me. They can stir Catholic bishops, pastors, teachers, and parents to take stock of where we are. If somebody is giving you a peculiarly rotten meal and expects you to down it as you’ve downed all the others he’s served, you might just push the dish aside and ask yourself, “What have I been eating at this joint, all these years?” This rotten pedagogy, this dispiriting transformation of English and history, and what little poetry is allowed to remain on the lifeboat, into the Inhumanities—this rejection of wisdom and this reduction of knowledge to information, and of art to “transferable skills”—it is not spanking new. But it now presents itself as so thoroughly and comically bad, and so inimical to human culture in general and the Catholic faith in particular, that we might just begin to say, “The building was wrong from the start!” And then we can build upon truly human and Catholic principles.

So here I’d like to introduce my readers to someone who is aiming to do just that. I offer his example to inspire others to go and do likewise, or to assist him in his wonderful undertaking.

Peter Searby has a vision. He understands that boys are treated pretty shabbily in our schools—and not just the public schools. He recalls interviewing a nine year old boy, who told him that he hated school, because they gave the kids only fifteen minutes a day to go outside, and then only for talking, not for running and playing. Otherwise, school life meant being confined to a chair, listening to the teacher talk, and filling out innumerable worksheets. Searby knows, too, that many boys are drugged to smother what is a normal physiological and emotional reaction to the abnormal environment in which they are compelled to wear out their days. He understands that such boys, bored, resentful, and inured to failure, cannot become stalwart contributors to a healthy society, or clear-eyed defenders of the Church.

Searby’s answer is not to toss to the boys a little extra work. It is to reconceive the whole idea of teaching boys. Or rather it is to return to what we all know about those creatures, from history, from every human culture, from biology, and from the abundant evidence of our eyes and ears. What would a healthy and hearty Catholic school for boys look like?

His words are not just far from those of our reigning educrats. They come from a different world entirely:

Boys are full of potential that needs to be activated. They long to break out of the walls that hem them in at school, and to experience the world around them. They need a school that will tap into their drive and inspire them to do, to make, to solve problems, to give of themselves through the knowledge and skills they have mastered.

Boys long for a landscape of action where they learn to navigate boyhood and become young men of courage and imagination. They need to work and study alongside men who guide them—together with their parents—along the adventurous road to manhood.

They need a place where the academic curriculum is rooted in the great traditions of learning, guided by the compass of wisdom attained through the study of the liberal arts and sciences; where they hear, speak, and write alongside the masters of old; where their imaginations are enriched by characters and stories that inspire them with wonder and refine their consciences; where they learn the art of liberty and what it means to be human. They yearn for adventures in the outdoors, where their limits are tested and their hearts and minds grow strong; where competitions and games are part of learning; where they reconnect with nature and experience the joy of working with their hands.

And they need a place where they can actively live their faith.

That’s exactly what Peter Searby proposes to give those boys, in The Riverside School. He has thought the matter through. The Riverside School is, right now, still a-borning. But it is already more than just an idea.

During just the next two months, the Riverside Center for Education, located in Westchester, Illinois, will offer tutorials in Archery, Building Homemade Instruments, Sound Recording, and Soldering and Circuit Boards, and a treasure hunt and a dog-sledding exhibition. The Center is not a school; not yet. But it is the beginning of a school, and it can in the meantime supply many of the boyish adventures that the schools cannot or will not give. These come under six categories: Theater, Film, Tutorial (for reading, writing, and speaking), Maker (for arts and crafts), Ranger (for exploring the outdoors), and Folk (for learning how to play and sing traditional folk music).

As for the Riverside School itself, Searby wishes to combine, in a most engaging and fruitful way, the best of the classical model of education with the hands-on learning that bore its most glorious fruit in the medieval guilds and the workshops of the Renaissance masters. So the boys will commit poems to memory—and why not? Why not carry songs about with you in your soul? And in the early years they will commit the simple arithmetical operations to memory—and why not? Young children like the feeling of mastery that comes from a strong memory, and if you do not know that that may be especially true of boys, you have never looked at the back of a baseball card. They will have plenty of time to read quietly and to reflect upon their reading of the good books of our heritage. They will also be vocal about their reading—in recitations and plays and dramatic reenactments of history.

Nor will their hands be idle. Boys like to make things, with wood or clay or stone, with electricity, with fire—so arts and crafts will be a regular part of the school’s week. So also pioneering through the nearby woods, and taking care of animals on the school property. And let us not forget competitive games, for everyone, not just for a few gifted athletes; for the sheer fun of it, but also to forge friendships, to learn grace in victory or defeat, and to practice the virtues of forgiveness and magnanimity.

And all of these deeply human and pleasantly boyish things will be enjoyed, as it were, in the stained-glass light of the Catholic faith, taught fully and reverently, and lived by the teachers themselves, as models for the boys.

My dear bishops—it is high time to go on offense. We have our innings too. Why copy the architecture of the public schools? Those walls are buckling. Are we slaves, that we have to take instruction from our secular masters? Time to build anew, upon the sure foundations of nature and grace.

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • slainte

    But what about the girls? Is there a place for them in this new model of classical liberal education?

    • Sam Scot

      An interesting comment. It is typical of all discussion of things male in what we might call the Contraceptive Era. It is what made our public and Catholic schools what they are, with boys being denied their natures in defiance of the common sense of the ages—simply to make sure the weren’t doing something girls couldn’t (or wouldn’t want to) do with them. So we have schools that don’t suit either boys, girls, or God, and are dangerous to faith, learning, and physical safety. Suppose we talk about girls’ education when we’re . . . talking about girls’ education?
      There are many wonderful ideas to be explored there (I have a lot of girls myself). It’s a great starting point to realize that boys and girls don’t have to do every blasted thing together. Being sentenced to a lifetime of coeducation means that young people spend a lot of time not doing what they would like to, and not learning the things they should.

      • slainte

        A woman must be prepared educationally to stand on her own to support herself and her children in the event of an unwanted divorce or the loss of a husband through untimely death. To do otherwise yields tragic circumstances for an already disadvantaged family. I therefore support equal access to education for men and women.

        • Vinnie

          Yes, equal but different. Because we are.

          • slainte

            I agree, we are equal but different.
            My mother was widowed with four children, all of whom were minors at the time of my father’s death. She had been a stay at home mom until his death and was compelled by circumstances to re-enter the work force; she struggled mightily. She will always be a heroine to us.
            I raise this issue not from a “feminist agenda” but because I witnessed my mother’s struggles and I don’t wish other women to experience the same reality. Education makes a difference when the unthinkable happens; it is very important for women and men. Fathers who care about their daughters, please take notice.

            • ColdStanding

              If we don’t again take up the making of boys into men, daughters will suffer from not having men to marry.

              • slainte

                I do not oppose, and in fact very much support, school programs that will foster honorable Catholic men and women and which build upon their respective sex differentials.
                I do not, however, support any “dumbing down” of educational standards for women.
                Coldstanding, you might recall that in the 1800s, Fr. McGivney formed the Knights of Columbus in order to cause the community of Catholic men to support the widows and children of men who died unexpectedly or were killed in work related accidents.
                Prior to receiving support from the Knights, widows were forced into prostitution to support their children. While this is not likely to occur today, a traditional Catholic woman who stays at home to raise her children is at a distinct disadavantage if she must re-enter the work place on short notice upon her husband’s death. A well educated woman can make the transition more easily and her children are the beneficiaries.

                • ColdStanding

                  I do not think “dumbing down” is a fair comment upon what is suggested by the original post. It certainly isn’t something I would support. I do wish to emphasize that these types of boy-centered educational approaches are net gains for girls – when they reach adulthood. There is also a cumulative benefit to the common good. We must get back into the habit of considering long term goals even if they take generations.

                  However, these programs, in seed form as they are, will be trampled on the path, killed by drought, or choked by thorns if everybody insists on dog-piling their every unmet need upon these as yet fragile undertakings.

                  The K of C started out small, in one parish, and now, after many years and many small individual contributions, is a massive pool of funds to help those policy holders cover unexpected needs.

                  Our daughters are in great need, too. They need a steady hand just as much as do boys. Their needs, while generally the same, differ in the particulars. Programs of the type mentioned above are particularly suited to boys. Other programs would be/could be particularly suited to girls.

                  • Slainte

                    ColdStanding, “separate but equal” is always separate but not always equal. Men and women have attended co-ed institutions with good results in the past. While the model can benefit from adjustments, it should not be discarded. My concern is entirely oriented toward maintaining standards of educational excellence for both men and women.

                    • ForChristAlone

                      I may have misunderstood this article but I thought this was a piece about boys.

                    • slainte

                      And here was my simple uncomplicated query in response….

                      “But what about the girls? Is there a place for them in this new model of classical liberal education?

                    • ForChristAlone

                      Exactly my point: this is a piece about boys (hence, not girls). No one is averse to your writing your own article about why a classical liberal education for girls is so important for them.

                    • slainte

                      Thank you for your comments.

                    • jules

                      Absolutely, but every article doesn’t need to be about boys AND girls. Let this article be about boys and you write one for girls!

                      I think solid classical education is for both boys and girls – there is a resurgance coming. If you can find a true classical school for your children. It will encourage them to be great thinkers.

                      Girls and boys, men and women are meant to complement each other – we have to get away from the him against her and the she against he mentality.

                    • tom

                      Before the radical feminist took over. God give us patience.

                  • tom

                    Slainte has a ax to grind and is a member of a voting block first She’s not invested in the structure of family as supported by the Church for 2000 years. She wants government ordered goodies.

                    • Slainte

                      I am a Catholic and reject “government ordered good lies”. Your statements lack charity and mis-characterize my concerns.

                    • Slainte

                      Auto correct changed the word “goodies”..please note the correction.

                    • tom

                      You’re obsessed with women’s rights in an article about a different experiment. Start your own program that reflects your views.

                • MtMama

                  This is a gross exaggeration – if you look at the facts you will not find “most” widows were forced into prostitution. A minority went that route, but not most. Many were destitute and struggled in menial jobs to support their families – I’m thinking of someone like author Ralph Moody’s mother – but they did not resort to the selling themselves. Give them more credit for dignity and imagination than that.

                  • Slain

                    I did not write “most women”…Fr. McGivney served in Waterford and New Haven Connecticut among the famine era Irish immigrants in communities which were then Congregationalist and rigidly anti-Catholic. It was a challenge for Catholic men to find work in those environments and practically impossible for a woman to make a wage sufficient to support several children. Please research Fr. McGivney for additional details regarding his heroic efforts on behalf of widows and children in the 1800s.
                    While things are much improved for women, it remains of utmost importance for women to continue to access the same rigorous educational standards and institutions available to men.

                    • tom

                      Right now, women get over 60% of advanced degrees. Would you agree that men should have 60% because women often take extended periods away from work to raise children? of course, the screwy gals complain that they don’t get pay raises while they’re at home with their children and demand “EQUAL PAY”, as though they were the dying William Wallace ( Mel Gibson) screaming for Freedom.

                    • Slainte

                      I advocated for equal access, not equal results.

                    • tom

                      Our ruling elites have decided women WILL be accepted into graduate schools at a higher rate. It is POLICY to hurt men, now.

                    • slainte

                      Women are being played just as men are. We are not your enemy.
                      And I am not the feminist you have wrongfully labeled me. I am a Catholic woman who is trying very hard to advocate for optimal treatment for boys and girls to grow more steadfast in their Catholic Faith while also acquiring excellent educations.
                      And that Tom is exactly what the “Elites” do not want; they want to undermine the family and cause division between men and women. I respect and honor moral Catholic men and their role as head of the home. I do not and will not support any effort to undermine men by any group of Elites or feminists.
                      Pax Christi Tecum.

                  • tom

                    In my family, mom became a waitress and each of the kids, from age 8, got some kind of a job most of the time to give to mom. The parish priest was a saint, too. Many widows simply remarried.

                • TheAbaum

                  I’m not supporting differential education, but the idea that education allows rapid re-entry in the workforce isn’t plausible.

                  One of the biggest problems of the long-term (defined as out of work for periods as little as a year in duration) is the perceived loss not only of technical currency, but the habits of employment.

                • tom

                  You’re fixated, too. I hope you have a K of C life insurance policy!

              • Peter Searby

                I agree with this last post wholeheartedly. We are building a new model that will guide boys along the adventurous road to manhood. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to learn more about Riverside!

            • MtMama

              In writing that a special education should be designed for boys, Mr. Esolen did not advocate that girls should not be educated. Where did you get that? As a former teacher and now homeschooler (of boys and girls), I think most modern educational models are geared toward females. Even the SAT is beginning to smell “feminine.” I’m fortunate that since I homeschool, I can tailor my children’s curriculum to meet their individual needs, gender and otherwise. It’s not so in schools and I pity boys most of all who are confined to such one-dimensional prisons. I am a college graduate and I feel I could support my family if something happened to my husband, but not as well as he does and not as well as my mother who was not college-educated but operated a small business with my father. I think often a lot more depends on personality, natural talents and plain old grit, than book education in “getting ahead.”

              • Slainte

                See my original inquiry which inquired about a place for girls in Prof. Esolen’s proposed model of a liberal classical education.

                • Nick_Palmer3

                  Slainte, you’ve hit squarely on the source of the disagreement with your initial post. Prof. Esolen was NOT proposing a “model of a liberal classical education.” He was merely describing the initial phases of one man’s vision for a “boy-appropriate” education. As he noted above, we could have useful discussions of models for a girl-appropriate education (as today’s version is pretty awful, albeit perhaps better than that for boys). Or for a coed school.
                  His focus, however, was one “experiment.”

                  • slainte

                    Nick, I read the article together with its title “It’s Time to Build Schools, from the Ground Up” and queried, “But what about the girls? Is there a place for them in this new model of classical liberal education?”
                    The conversation stepped up and expanded in response to poster Sam Scott’s comment. I refer you to same.
                    Based on my life experience I tend to focus on the interests of widows, children, and anyone else who might be compromised by misfortune.

                    • Nick_Palmer3

                      Slainte, you may sense some annoyance from me at your posts to TE’s column. There are two reasons and they are common to quite a bit of modern discourse. First, you don’t address the author’s topic, you find fault with what he chose not to write about. Second, you imply that a “proper” solution must be global in nature, i.e., a proper approach to rebuilding schools must address both boys and girls to be legitimate. I have issues with both of these.

                      First, no one article, especially in 2,000 words or less, can address all aspects of any problem. What fault did you find with the approach (experiment) he described for the problem it was meant to address? That problem was the mis-education of boys. While you have deep concerns about widows and children, which is admirable, Tony chose to focus on one subset, boys. Girls, for example, are not the issue. They, too, are poorly served by our public education system. But that’s for another article.

                      As to the second, an example may help. Several decades ago NYC had arranged to deploy public restroom “pods” that were self-contained and would be economic for about 25 cents per use. They were sturdily built and self cleaning. But the deployment was stopped because they would not accommodate handicapped patrons. Let’s think about this, the restrooms would improve conditions for over 95 percent of people, and leave conditions no worse for the remaining 5 (or less) percent. No one loses, except if some warped form of envy intrudes.

                      Likewise, improving boys’ education should in no way compromise girls’ education.

                      This is also a current in so many political “solutions,” Obamacare being the latest manifestation. Problem = difficulty in obtaining coverage for pre-existing conditions. Solution = we, the government, must take over the entire healthcare system. Why not merely address pre-existing conditions? Problem = some people are bankrupted by medical bills. Solution = we, the government, must take over the entire healthcare system.

                      Why not provide catastrophic health insurance. An article in National Affairs last year suggested the cost of catastrophic coverage would be less than $200 per citizen.
                      We cannot solve all problems in one fell swoop with global grandeur. Think socialism, communism, Leninism, Obamacare. The meta-point of Tony’s article is perhaps more important than the details of Peter Searby’s experiment: we are not omniscient, the law of unintended consequences always kicks in, we must experiment in smaller ways, and be wary of leaping to grand overarching solutions.

                    • slainte

                      Nick, thank you for reflections on my comments.

                    • TheAbaum

                      The bigger problem is with boys. Schools, generally run by (left-wing) women have been feminized to the point where they are a “hostile and offensive” environment to boys.

                    • slainte

                      Schools that eschew academic excellence have not been “feminized”, they have been degraded and the children demoralized. Young men and women deserve better.

            • TheAbaum

              You are missing something here. You’re parent’s situation is not a call for some change in public policy, but the reminder for the need for copious life insurance (assuming of course, somebody isn’t uninsurable). Too may people don’t realize “adequately insured” means 8-10 TIMES their earnings, if they are married with children. If you are the sole breadwinner that should be the minimum.

              Some jobs are simply inconsistent with being the sole remaining parent.

              That’s not a criticism, but an object lesson.

              • slainte

                Thank you for your thoughts.

            • TheAbaum

              We are complements, not equals. I expect to have equal standing if entering a courtroom, but other than that we are no more “equal” than two shoes from the same pair.

            • tom

              No one’s trying to deny girls anything. Get some perspective.

              • slainte

                The same school system that you state undermines the well being of boys also introduces pubescent girls to carcinogenic contraceptives and abortion services without providing notice to or acquiring parents’ consent.
                Girls and boys need rescuing; our Catholic faith demands it.

                • tom

                  Finally, we agree.

        • Frank

          According to yesterday’s PEW poll, more women are “marrying down” educationally than men for the first time in 50 years of polling. Men have been falling behind women in most aspects of education over the last decade or more. We need to bring masculinity back to education or boys, men, and their families will suffer. Read Peg Tyre and Christina Hoff Sommers! They write excellently on how improving boys education shouldn’t be viewed as “anti-woman.”

        • tom

          You sound like a federal judge.

    • Siobhán

      I suppose the emphasis is on boys specifically here because the current system of education suits girls so much better and has in many ways become feminised. It isn’t about disadvantaging girls, but providing a healthier educational environment for boys that recognises their needs.

      • Vinnie

        Thanks. You hit the nail on the head.

      • slainte

        Siobhan, I agree that the current educational system is deficient. However, any alternative system should not alter the quality of education provided to men and women equally.
        I agree that boys and girls should each enjoy programs that affirms and honors their sex differentials…just not in a way that affords one sex a better quality education than the other.
        One’s education and skillset determines the amount of the paycheck which is critical to the well being of all families.

        • Tony Esolen

          Slainte: I wrote this article because of what this particular young man, Peter Searby, is doing. If someone out there knows of a young woman doing something comparable for girls, please do put me in touch with her immediately.

          • slainte

            Prof. Esolen, you have consistently advocated for the well being of Catholic youth. I commend you for your valiant efforts, in particular as they relate to disclosing the deficiencies of the Common Core curriculum and the adverse effects on our children.
            Thank you for being open to a program that forms Catholic girls into well educated and virtuous Catholic women and mothers.
            Our Catholic intellectual tradition demands nothing less.

            • tom

              Boys have been getting the short end of the education (and employment) stick for a couple generations, now. The result is a ….social mess. The deplorable matriarchy in black extended family set-ups is a prologue to where all families are headed. Most young black men have been rendered unemployable. Let’s remember that all families are “communistic” in that each child receives what he or she needs. It’s never EXACTLY fair, measured in grams, on a social justice scale. Such thinking misses the forest for the trees.

              • Slainte

                The treatment of boys and girls within the family setting should be fair and proportional; our Catholic faith teaches no other.

                • tom

                  Each of my children receive according to their needs.

                  • slainte

                    And that is the meaning of proportional. So we agree.

              • Maria

                “Most young black men have been rendered unemployable.”

                Really? That’s funny all of the black men I know — in my family or otherwise — are employed. Let us not confuse race with class.

  • The entire design needs to leveled to the ground and made compost. The design is currently about control not about education. The current design provides the appropriate way to respond to authority. Breaking people into birth years and then hoping they will discover how to meld back into a culture broken is absurd. Books have been written and nothing but tinkering with the mundane occurs. Why? It is only about control.

    • tom

      it’s not a bad base, but it needs to be extended and over-ended with scouting, virtual opportunities ( free harmonica lessons on-line?), perhaps mandatory lectures after the childrens’ Mass with a carpenter teaching a skill that week or a poetry writing session. Kids hiking as a group from their parish to attend mass at another parish, with donuts and milk afterwards would broaden horizons.

      Today, it IS a rut.

  • ForChristAlone

    #1 Only men know how to shepherd a male child from boyhood to manhood. That’s why children need both mothers AND fathers. Women haven’t a clue of what it takes to be a man (despite the outrageous claims of radical feminism).

    #2 Boys need activities led by men and this includes Church-related activities. When boys witness that Church is a ‘woman’s thing,’ chances are that religion is not a bright prospect for their future.

    #3 Hopefully this is a school for boys only. Boys know that by the age of about 7 that they should remove themselves from ‘girly’ things. It is not healthy for boys to be around girls too much while they are refining the notion of what it takes to become a man – a truly Christian man.

    • Tony

      This is quite true. It’s even shockingly true. Some years ago, Touchstone Magazine published an article on the research of a Swiss sociologist, who found out that if the father attends church services and the mother does not, the children were almost certain to attend church services when they grew up; but if the mother attends church services and the father does not, the children were almost certain NOT to attend when they grew up. Both sexes, it seems, needed the leadership of the father.

      • Micha_Elyi

        Both sexes, it seems, needed the leadership of the father.

        True. So why is there so much man-bashing from the pulpit? Try this field exercise: compare the Mother’s Day homily with the Father’s Day homily. Another field exercise: when the topic of marriage difficulties is brought up by a homilist or apologist (Catholic radio, I’m looking at you) are most examples mentioned cases of the husband beating or cheating on the wife? (Infidelity and spousal abuse runs both ways about equally; fortunately they are the cause of a tiny number of divorces–less than 10%.)

    • TheAbaum

      About a month ago, my ten year old niece announced her observation to me that men and women are different. I suspect it was more a request for affirmation for an insight at odds with the official view of the ruling class line than any great sudden epiphany.

      Out of the mouth of babes….

      • tom

        Remember those old schools with a Boys entrance and a Girls entrance?

        A federal judge, invariably appointed by a Democrat, would strike that down in a heartbeat.

        Don’t get me started on our co-ed military, designed to guarantee defeat on the battle field so a gal can get a bigger military pension. All of these radicals are smart enough never to suggest an all-female submarine crew or all-female infantry brigade, aren’t they?

        • Michael Paterson-Seymour

          Mine had three: “Boys,” “Girls” and “Mixed Infants” Rather Post-Modern.

      • Micha_Elyi

        Why did you call girls “girls” but boys “male”?

        The disrespect of men starts early in their lives.

    • Maria

      I agree with your points overall, but #1 is simply too sharply drawn. The fact of the matter is ONLY those whom God calls can shepherd a child from boyhood to manhood. The father is ideal, of course. But you may have noticed that Our Lord in his infinite wisdom allows some fathers to die, sometimes quite young. Mothers can certainly be given the grace to shepherd their sons as well. Another example: homeschooled boys are not often educated primarily by their fathers. And yet, many homeschooled boys are far more mature and more manly than many of their peers.

  • Bruno

    It’s a strange coincidence that I had a similar idea not more than one month ago. I thought, why doesn’t some one, or a group of people, come together and build a real school? That is much more productive than just complaining about lethargic bishops, or about bad pedagogy.

    I hope Riverside school succeeds at fulfilling its design and that it may inspire schools worldwide to tender for our future. We Catholics must give up complaining about laws and regulations and take real initiative – that is what being the light of the world means!

    • TheAbaum

      “It’s a strange coincidence that I had a similar idea not more than one
      month ago. I thought, why doesn’t some one, or a group of people, come
      together and build a real school?”

      The answer is simple. Government imposed strictures create enormous barriers to entry, for the expressed purpose of suppressing any such competition.

      • tom

        There is not a more educated group of people in a society than the Catholics of right now! We have masters degrees, successful companies, expertise in medicine, world-wide travel, military people, the law and the sciences. Yet, it’s rarely given to the Church to make our schools better. We all seem to operate in an isolation chamber.

        It’s just too bad there’s no way to share what we know with the younger generation, through Church-sponsored learning shops, a Christian based scouting program…something, some way.

        • Maria

          I hate to say it , but this seems to be partly a matter of Church leadership. There are no established avenues for educated lay people to assist the parish school in substantive ways. Volunteering one’s services never works because the people running the school go all “turf war” if you try. I think a lot of pastors prefer to keep the status quo and simply defer oversight to the principal. Or, perhaps they are just overworked.

  • Mack

    Well, okay, so why don’t men teach? Or stand for school board? Or vote for school board? Or volunteer one hour a week at your school’s reading program? “Anyone?” as Ferris Bueller’s teacher asked. “Anyone?”

    • sibyl

      Three main reasons, from my observation. One, the whole educational endeavor is so debased that teaching today doesn’t require or elicit much in the way of masculine skill or respect. Thus it doesn’t pay well enough to allow many men (esp. those supporting families) to go into it as a career (although some, like my husband, do it anyway out of love).

      Second, with the breakdown of the family, fewer and fewer men live full time with their children; it’s mostly (of course not all) moms who have day-to-day dealings with teachers, PTA meetings, school board elections, etc. Many men aren’t as intimately aware of what is going on.

      Third, and most obviously, it seems to me that most men find the current educational model to be okay. They don’t see anything too wrong with it as a whole, although probably they think there are some dopey teachers and bad school environments. They themselves are products of it, and wouldn’t imagine a radically different type of school; they buy the idea that you go to school, you get good grades, you graduate, you go to college.

      • John200

        Those are three good reasons why men don’t tend to teach as a career.

        A fourth, which I would rank number one in importance, is that a grown man who chooses to spend his days in the company of young children would be highly suspect. This is a matter of normal prudence. Fair or not, there is a lurking suspicion that such a man might have not-so-good motives.

        Nor does the man want to work under such suspicion. Even if he likes to teach kids how to do things.

        • tom

          The Feminization of Education is complete, for better or for worse.

          When women become bosses, they hire other women.

          • John200

            That’s a fifth good reason. Also note that we are not supposed to talk about it — politically incorrect; women are just the same as men, blah, blah, blah, you know the routine.

            #6. This point will knock their heads off; in the universities, students who major in Education earn nearly the lowest test scores among the majors. Right down there, with phys ed, near the absolute bottom. So the degree programs are among the weakest anywhere, right down there with Crybaby Studies.

            I think the word “Education” is a poor description of what goes on in most schools, but that’s a whole ‘nother article.

            • JohnE

              My son is in 5th grade and I don’t think he has ever had a class with a male teacher yet, except maybe this year with PE. When I was in grade school my 2nd-6th grade teachers as well as most of my junior high and high school teachers were males. I think it was an anomaly even back then.

              • Micha_Elyi

                …most of my junior high and high school teachers were males.

                “Males”? Half of a breeding pair of school teachers?

                Too bad you didn’t have men for teachers.

    • MtMama

      Well, when private schools start paying better maybe they will. My husband is involved full time in education, but it also requires him having a part-time job as well. He does it because he loves what he does and is especially good at it. A better question would be – Why don’t Catholics support education as they should?

      • DJ Hesselius

        And just how much money do you think is proper?

        • Micha_Elyi

          Enough money that men who teach will be attractive to women as husbands–plus enough extra to pay for the lost employment due to false accusations of you-know-what, that’s how much is proper.

    • tom

      Good idea. We all should. A virtual program could augment learning, too. Imagine a Registered Nurse ( perhaps retired, we know they’re tired!) who could be a telephone-computer call away from a kid struggling with a Biology question. Or a retired military man helping a student with a history paper on the Battle at Antietam. No question, the Church has lost all ability to use its almost limitless people resources for the Catholic kids in our own neighborhood.

  • Ford Oxaal

    When families become families again, things will sort out, and there will be some of the patterns and co-curriculars described in the article. But the curmudgeonly truth is as follows. The Roman Catholic Church is the steward of Western culture. In her basement are all the treasures of the past two thousand years — sitting there collecting dust. There is one tool necessary (but not necessarily sufficient) to mine that trove of truth: Latin grammar. It must be taught starting in third grade and continued until proficiency is achieved. If a Catholic school does not have a serious Latin grammar program, it cannot have a masterful grammar instruction in the native or secondary languages. If it does not teach the tools of reading and writing, it cannot foster anything of high merit. So start your chants!

  • Steven Jonathan

    Brilliant! Fantastic! Thank you Dr. Esolen-
    We are in a slumber, a dreamy narcotic haze- it is torturous how the public schools treat boys and girls, and the pseudo Adams now encourage the surgical removal of the heart. The schools need to be razed to the ground and salt poured on the fields- There is no baby to throw out with this fetid bath water- it is toxic and has killed the baby and child. These have become soul death factories.
    The biggest horror is that the Catholic schools are following suit- what blindness has possessed us?

    • Art Deco

      The collapse of the religious orders has left the Catholic schools without the manpower to maintain themselves as worthwhile institutions. They are generic private schools with a patina derived from their heritage. You may see a few elderly priests or friars or brothers or nuns (with sensible shoes but no habits) on the premises. They will (one wagers) be like our clergy ususally are – generic ‘ministers’ with little interest in being abrasive to the larger world (a larger world in which most Catholics in the pews nestle as passably as anyone else).

      Not also that with the collapse of the religious orders, the economy of the Catholic schools was destroyed as well. They cannot be made affordable for aught but the haut bourgeois.

      Homeschooling and homeschool co-operatives are the last option.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        I fear that they resemble the Anglican “public” (that is, private boarding) schools so memorably described by Mgr Ronald Knox, where “schoolboys were taught a religion that their mothers believed in and their fathers would like to – A religion without ” enthusiasm ” in the old sense, reserved in its self-expression, calculated to reinforce morality, chivalry, and the sense of truth, providing comfort in times of distress and a glow of contentment in declining years; supernatural in its nominal doctrines, yet on the whole rationalistic in its mode of approaching God: tolerant of other people’s tenets, yet sincere about its own, regular in church-going, generous to charities, ready to put up with the defects of the local clergyman.” Any resemblance to the religion taught by Christ and His apostles was purely coincidental.

  • Vinnie

    Our culture – pick anything – is intent on making men into women and women into men.
    Confusion reigns. I wonder what is behind that?
    We do need to carve out of our society a section of normalcy so that seed may fall on fertile ground and be tended correctly.

    • tom

      Communists can’t succeed with a strong family life. they like divorce, abortion and illegitimacy with a block captain being some chubby gal with an overbearing attitude to ask wives if they’re pregnant so the district leader can assess their right to life.

  • John O’Neill

    As a retired high school teacher I could not agree with Professor Esolen more; the schools in America are awful and soul destroying. I had the experience of having taught in both Catholic high schools and a public high school. In my experience in the Catholic high school I spent ten years in an all girls high school and have many negative impressions from those years. First of all the school was administered by Vatican II nuns who seemed to think that the purpose of Catholic education was to promote radical feminism and to destroy the traditional mores and teachings of the Catholic church. The worse offenders were in the so called Religion department which was populated by mostly ex nuns and current nuns who no longer adhered to any rule of a religious community. The most telling policy of their new church was that they appointed a male homosexual to teach religion to senior girls and his course was on Christian marriage. Several years later when he died of aids the nuns practically canonized him. In other areas there was very little religious instruction or practice; I do not know if Catholic schools have improved from those days in the 1980s. Before I retired from the public school where I taught Latin I could discern the on going homosexual agenda being promoted by the powers that be in the school. There were quite a few homosexual teachers most of whom I got along with and when they stayed to the subjects they taught with expertise. Later the school started promoting a so called respect day where every teacher was mandated to set aside his lesson plan and teach a lesson about the contributions of homosexuals in their respective fields; hence English teachers had to ramble on about gifted and famous homosexuals and science teachers had to go on about the same in their discipline. Surprisingly there was some resistance to this mandate but mostly came from older and more traditional teachers who were on there way out. During that time it became obvious that almost ninety percent of the teaching positions were being filled by recently graduated females and males were being marginalized. Professor Esolen is absolutely correct; the schools must be torn down and started over and the Catholic schools may also be included in that group. It is not only a moral problem but it is also a problem of having an educated and learned citizenry because we obviously do not have one today.

    • Art Deco

      I think it is a problem in occupations which do not have good operational measures of competence (and in some settings where they do, like the Navy). The male homosexual population reaches a critical mass and the institution’s collective purpose is ruined. It is almost like a virus taking over and destroying a cell. You see this in religious orders, in dioceses, &c. Read this account about what occurred some years ago at one of the Helmsley hotels:

    • tom

      You’ve serve your time in purgatory…if not Hell. Thanks for your service and I’m glad you survived.

  • OLO101

    As a female who makes a living by soldering and making circuit boards, fixing radio transmitters for a large broadcasting network and who is an audio engineer–I just have to say that both sexes benefit from this type of training. Electrical engineering is one of the most amazing fields and I love every second both of my jobs.

    It is a travesty that schools have eliminated physical activity during the day.

    • tom

      We used to just walk ( run, actually) to and from school (2 to 3 miles) every day from age 6 to 18. There were no school buses..

  • jcbathtub

    Great article!

  • sara

    An easier solution, one I’ve been trying to promote, one that is both Catholic and effective and financially possible, is to convert every single existing Catholic elementary school into a Montessori school. Children do not sit and do twaddle in the Montessori environment. I have studied the method extensively for over a decade (and used it with my own 3 boys) and it has also given birth to the single best catechesis program ever formed, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I believe that most Catholic schools today are salvageable if the administration would only learn the major Montessori ideas and implement them completely. This is the answer. And it wouldn’t required millions of dollars to start things from scratch.

  • pestolover

    Hurray for Karamazov!

  • Patricia

    Someone mentioned a homeschool co-op. My husband and I and a few other families started something like that a few years back, and it is working beautifully. We signed up our children as homeschoolers with an accredited Catholic homeschool, ordered their syllabi and books, rented some classrooms at a nearby Protestant church (the Catholic diocese won’t let us in), and hired teachers or parents who are willing to work part-time for modest pay. All the instructors are solid orthodox Catholic who take an oath of fidelity to the Pope and the teachings of the Church. The Catholic classical curriculum beats anything you’ll find in a public or diocesan school (no Common Core!), and our kids learn the Faith in it’s purity. We attend daily Mass and pray the Rosary every day at lunch, as well as starting and ending each day and class with prayer. In addition, we have gym, choir with sacred music and chant, and life skills with classes such as cooking, sewing, wood-working, fishing, and survival skills.
    It’s all very doable with even a small group of dedicated and like-minded parents, but it takes thinking outside of the box. The adult peer pressure has proven to be our biggest obstacle to growth, as many parents who have looked into joining us just didn’t have it in them to do something different than what everybody else is doing. Or they considered sports, school dances, etc… as something that were just too important for their children to do without or to do with from alternative sources. But for those who truly want something better for their children, this is a wonderful alternative.

    • ForChristAlone

      We ought to all divert funds from our parish and diocesan churches and support worthy efforts like this. The Church calls for a “new” evangelization? For my money this is it. Here is Catholic education at its best where the young are evangelized and catechized. Forget the tired model of a Catholic school. This is it. Where can we find out more about your model? Do you have a website?

      • Patricia

        We’re still relatively modest and don’t have an official website yet, but there is a little on the website of the church from which we rent classrooms. There is contact information there if you would like to speak more directly with one of us. God be with you!

        • ForChristAlone

          Perhaps the Editor here at Crisis Magazine could allow you to write a piece on your model as it seems like something sorely needed. How about it, Editor?

    • tom

      God’s speed, Patricia. Best news I’ve read this year.

  • John

    “My dear bishops. It’s time to go on the offense” Don’t hold your breath!

  • Marie Dean

    I am all for teaching hands on and technological skills as described, the it is the liberal arts which teach thinking skills. As an ex-home schooler and Montessori trained person who had a long time ago my own Montessori school, I can assure you that the hands on approach is key. But, there must be a Catholic spirituality behind each school’s philosophy, such as Benedictine, Dominican, Ignatian or so on.The best teachers right now out there are those who have the NAPCIS certifications. I have the Masters one. If anyone wants a quick read on the necessity for religious philosophy behind schools, check out this series.

  • Marie Dean

    PS remember, the kulturkampf against the Catholic Church happened under Bismarck who wanted to undermine the academia when he started up the gymnasiums, which omitted liberal arts.-this led directly to his goal of a highly technocratic citizenry which could not think. Ergo, the acceptance of Hitler down the road.

  • Bruno_Behrend

    Most Catholic systems are capitulating to the Common Core. You will have to do this on your own.

    • TheAbaum

      Behrend.. as in the Behrend Campus of Penn State?

      • Bruno_Behrend

        I wish, as I’d have inherited a great deal of wealth. I’m just the humble son of two post-war German immigrants who met here.

        However, I did get the consolation prize, as I believe the family named their prized German shepherd “Bruno.” (which I believe is the name of the pub in the campus basement.

  • TheAbaum

    This is the emblem of modern pedagogical bureaucracy. Each drop of a single incident like this is just one in an innumerable number that form a raging torrent of inanity.

    • Art Deco

      School bureaucracies have a long history of being unable to adjudicate properly the disputes which occur between boys, of knowing when to intervene and when not to intervene, and of understanding what constitutes and offense and what does not. It was certainly grossly manifest in the early 1970s when I was in elementary school. There is a large population of women who are poorly equipped to raise boys (one manosphere writer refers to elementary schools as “a massive s*** test”) and they seem to find elementary school teaching an agreeable occupation. The few men who go into the trade are no better.

      • TheAbaum

        No argument there. It does however seem to be worsening. This incident should merit the “adjudicators” dismissal and shame. It won’t.

  • Anonymous

    This makes me grateful to have gone to a school like The Heights School in Potomac, MD. I owe much of my current foundational strength to having attended a school like the one described in this article. We need to go back to that model, and it’s about time someone said it.

  • If only architecture were the only thing copied from public schools… Do Catholic schools produce faithful, devout, pious, chaste children? Does any even advertise deep formation in the faith and prayer life? What exactly is the difference between Catholic schools and public schools? If the answer is merely a better education, than the Church has failed us. Moreover, failed us twice, for much of each collection plate goes towards Catholic schools and most donating cannot afford them, a privilege for the well-off subsidized by the poor.

  • Feemster

    Great story. At 58, thanks to an awesome and inspiring daughter who is a student at one of our great Catholic Universities, I have gone back to school to earn a degree in education. I caught her fire for teaching and I will live long enough to use my degree. It’s WHY I will live. I hope I can find a place like this when I am ready to teach. I could care less about money….I want to change lives.

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  • Nathan

    This Riverside Center sounds very nice, but much of what is described here is also available at public schools — and a lot more cheaply! The constant claim that public schools are worthless and that students don’t commit basic math operations to memory is simply absurd, false, and ignorant, and is driven by an extremely narcissistic personal agenda that puts ideology over reality. No, Mr. Esolen, you do not speak for all Catholic parents. I am extremely happy with my children’s public school with its school orchestra, sports facilities, student theater, choir, debate teams, art classes, film classes, etc., etc., etc. Our state provides less than $6K a year per student, and the schools do an outstanding job with the money they have. The school is filled with fine staff who are committed to young people, as well as a vibrant and enthusiastic bunch of youngsters. Instead of whining about how you think the schools should be tailored to YOUR views, how about giving some credit to the good that many schools do.

    • Tony

      Nathan — please remember: I’ve taught the products of all of our schools, public and private, for thirty years. These students, and I’m including our Honors freshmen, don’t know grammar, don’t know much about world history, don’t know anything about geography, and now, I’m dismayed to learn, often have never even heard of the names of the greatest English writers. What do you want me to conclude? What about what I’ve just said is “narcissistic”? Is it or is it not the case that boys are languishing in our schools? Is it or is it not the case that the schools teach the tenets of the Sexual Revolution? Is it or is it not the case that the curricula tend to obliterate the faith from the history of the west? Is it or is it not the case that authors like Milton can hardly be studied anymore, because they are religious? What do you want me to say? I have to value a school according to what students learn there (much of which is false or immoral) and what they don’t. If the school has vibrant and enthusiastic teachers who chuck almost all of English literature, and substitute Angels in America for Paradise Lost, so much the worse.

  • tom

    The Boy Scouts used to provide a lot of what this fine article suggests. Hiking, cooking, crafts, an electronics or home repiars merit badge, leadership skills, first aid, singing around a campfire and FUN…you name it. The Church should form its own troops or help create a Christian Scouting experience. Remember the Ad Altare Dei Award? The bishops need a nationwide virtual schooling adjunct, too, where boys and girls can learn beyond the classroom routine. We have the know-how and the technology. All we need is the Faith!

  • CiceroTheLatest

    “My dear bishops—it is high time to go on offense.”

    Nice idea. Would that appeal be to the same bishops who refuse to excommunicate “Catholic” politicians who promote abortion?

    Or the same bishops who borrowed the concept of “Social Justice” from the hard Left, and are now surprised that it’s turned against them? (And should, really they SHOULD, have been able to make the crucial distinction between a Christian concept of “Social RESPONSIBILITY” and that Leftist chimera of “Social Justice”.)

    Or perhaps it would be the same bishops, and Pontiff, who allowed a “Nun” to support the imposed requirement for supporting abortion through insurance and in Catholic hospitals because it provided more money fro her “Social Justice” goals?

    This was a good article. But the leadership of the Church not only isn’t up to the task of addressing the problem, it is largely responsible fro its creation and severity. That isn’t the direction to look for its solution.

  • A Catholic Life

    And let us not forget that the greatest foundation that we can build upon is the Catholic Church. That involves having the catechism not only as a course but as an integral part of the curriculum. Gone are the days when the Faith had to be mentioned in some way in all subjects at least once a day. Why? We have seen the disastrous effect of this on the Church, on Faith formation, on families, and thereby on society. Thankfully there are programs out there teaching faithful and complete catechesis to children. Some programs, like the one by, is entirely online and can be used by families and/or schools. We need more organizations willing to support strong catechesis.

  • Ruth Rocker

    I’m not a boy, but was a tomboy growing up. I would have loved to have attended such an institution. I was lucky enough to have my grandfather in my life. The man could do anything he set his mind to. He taught me very valuable skills, too. Everything from how to tie a fishing fly to how to plant potatoes and harvest blackberries without being skewered by the thorns. Unfortunately, there aren’t many children today, male or female, who has this kind of mentor available. Let the Church step into this vacuum and lead and guide our children in these valuable things. There is more to life than knowing how to program a computer.

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  • HV Observer

    ” And let us not forget competitive games, for everyone, not just for a
    few gifted athletes; for the sheer fun of it, but also to forge
    friendships, to learn grace in victory or defeat, and to practice the
    virtues of forgiveness and magnanimity.”

    There’s one sport that does that, above all others: Rugby.

    • Peter Searby

      Good comment! I played Rugby at UD. Great sport! The sports culture in our country is over professionalized. We must recapture the true spirit of the amateur. The issue we have now in many schools is that it is often the only way most young men have to express their manliness. This is ok in part, especially since sports in some ways simulate battle. But we have created a dichotomy in our schools–academic or jock. As you say, we need to once again rediscover sport as a game–a game that forges brotherhood through battle and truly brings folks together.

      One aspect of Rugby that other sports can learn from is the tradition of hosting. If more clubs and schools would consider sport as a way to host other teams and their families (communities), we might transform the sports culture. However, this will take new leagues and clubs. Maybe we can organize new leagues that do not overburden the young and their families with over scheduled lives, leaving no time for unstructured creative play, jaunts through the woods, or time for building tree houses! Dr. Esolen’s book “Ten Ways…” addresses this problem with a lot more wit than I can muster. Thank you.

      • HV Observer

        I have been a Rugby fan for many many decades. A year in New Zealand will do that to you. However, in the context of your proposal, it was the experience of the now-closed St. Gregory Academy in Pennsylvania, run by the FSSP, which I had in mind.

        Rugby has a simple Lebensphilosoph 1.) Go forward. 2a) Stay in support. 2b) Stay in support at the breakdown. 3) Hospitality. It looks like you have the Hospitality part well in mind. As for 2 a and b), you probably know that clubs all over use the Henry V/Agincourt/”he to-day that sheds his blood with me/Shall be my brother” ideal to promote themselves. Basketball and hockey clubs don’t. Gridiron football is a sport based on brutality and bureaucracy.

        I can also see the potential of Rugby as a way of evangelization. The ideal of Christian, hospitable, team athletes has lots of potential that way. Which is why you would want them to play older clubs that may not have this, but need it.

  • Michael J. Lotus

    This was good until the end. Asking the bishops to do anything is a waste of time. To the extent the bishops notice anything like this they will oppose it. They are politically correct and feminist in their outlook. This will be seen as a threat to existing parish schools, which are female dominated and will be hostile to any new initiative along these lines. This is a project for the Catholic laity, and they should expect opposition not assistance from the bishops, the clergy and the existing RC school system.