The Catechetical Academy: An Experimental Excursion

Feast of St Ariadne the Martyr

Kids_Contemplating_Mountains_square.jpegTHE INITIAL impulse for Eighth Day Institute was an idea to develop a gap-year program. We’ve done everything but develop that idea. However, now that I have a fourteen-year old son and a twelve-year old daughter, along with a fourteen-year old boy my family has taken in, my thinking about the gap-year has expanded. Why should I wait for them to graduate high-school to implement my ideal vision of an education? Quite frankly, that would be foolish.

What is my ideal vision for an education? I initially spelled it out in the first issue of Microsynaxis. I’ll give it to you here in two concise sentences. The core curriculum consists of a three-fold focus on the Bible, the Fathers, and the Great Books of Western Civ. This core is then supplemented by seven other areas: prayer, poetry, astronomy, craftsmanship, language, ministry, and the development of leadership and life skills.

But I’m also passionate about our Lord’s prayer for the Church to be one. So my ideal vision of education also means bringing Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant students together.

To force myself to begin making this vision a reality, I put together a notebook of readings for a pilot project. This first excursion took us to the mountains of Colorado. Camping with four teenagers (we a friend of my daughter along with us) and two toddlers was quite the adventure. My wife would say that’s an understatement.

But our readings and discussions were remarkable.

I’d like to here give you a taste of our first excursion, a glimpse into what will become an official EDI program in the 2016-2017 academic year. And I’m going to offer it to you in the form of a florilegium, a gathering of literary flowers from our readings. Each of the teenagers assembled their own florilegium; this one is mine.

A word of warning: This is longer than a normal blog post. But it is offered in 25 sentences or short paragraphs (twelve of them are passages from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451—if you haven't read this recently, I hope the sampling here will move you to read, or re-read, it; it is more timely than ever). So take your time. Read this leisurely, slowly and meditatively:

1. Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God by Simone Weil: “The key to a Christian conception of studies is the realization that prayer consists of attention.”

2. Homily on the Nativity of the Theotokos by St Gregory Palamas: “Today a paradoxical book has been made ready on earth, which in an indescribable way can hold, not the imprint of words, but the living Word Himself; not a word consisting of air, but the heavenly Word; not a word that perishes as soon as it is formed, but the Word who snatches those who draw near Him from perdition; not a word made by the movement of a man’s tongue, but the Word begotten of God the Father before all ages.”

3. Message in a Bottle by Edward Hirsch: A quote from Paul Celan: “A poem, as a manifestation of language and thus essentially a dialogue, can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the—not always greatly hopeful—belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps. Poems in this sense, too, are under way: they are making toward something.”

4. Lectio Divina: Reading the Bible by Paul Evdokimov: “The Fathers of the Church lived the Bible. They thought and spoke by the Bible, with that admirable penetration which extended to the identification of even their being with the biblical substance itself. If one tries to learn from them one understands that the word read and heard leads always to the living person of the Word.”

5. Genesis by Moses: “Then God saw everything He had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

6. Hexaemeron by St Basil the Great: “If then the world has a beginning, and if it has been created, enquire who gave it this beginning, and who was the Creator: or rather, in the fear that human reasoning may make you wander from the truth, Moses has anticipated enquiry by engraving in our hearts, as a seal and a safeguard, the awful name of God: “In the beginning God created.” It is He, beneficent Nature, Goodness without measure, a worthy object of love for all beings endowed with reason, the beauty the most to be desired, the origin of all that exists, the source of life, intellectual light, impenetrable wisdom, it is He who in the beginning created heaven and earth.”

7. Christianity and the Survival of Creation by Wendell Berry: “Creation is thus god’s presence in creatures. The Greek Orthodox theologian Philip Sherrard has written that “Creation is nothing less than the manifestation of God’s hidden Being.” This means that we and all other creatures live by a sanctity that is inexpressibly intimate, for to every creature, the gift of life is a portion of the breath and spirit of God.”

8. Phaedrus by Plato: “The specific which you have discovered [i.e., writing] is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

9. Technopoly by Neal Postman: “We are currently surrounded by throngs of zealous Theuths [the inventor of writing in Plato’s Phaedrus], one-eyed prophets who see only what new technologies can do and are incapable of imagining what they will undo. We might call such people Technophiles.”

10. Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury: “Bet I know something else you don’t. There’s dew on the grass in the morning.” He suddenly couldn’t remember if he had known this or not, and it made him quite irritable. “And if you look”—she nodded at the sky—“there’s a man in the moon.” He hadn’t looked for a long time.

11. Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury: “I’m antisocial, they say. I don’t mix. It’s so strange. I’m very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn’t it? Social to me means talking to you about things like this.” She rattled some chestnuts that had fallen off the tree in the front yard. “Or talking about how strange the world is. Being with people is nice. But I don’t think it’s social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you? An hour of TV class, an hour of basketball or baseball or running, another hour of transcription history or painting pictures, and more sports, but do you know, we never ask questions, or at least most don’t; they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us sitting there for four more hours of film-teacher. That’s not social to me at all. It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not.”

12. Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury: “A great thunderstorm of sound gushed from the walls. Music bombarded him at such an immense volume that his bones were almost shaken from their tendons; he felt his jaw vibrate, his eyes wobble in his head. He was a victim of concussion. When it was all over he felt like a man who had been thrown from a cliff, whirled in a centrifuge and spat out over a waterfall that fell and fell into emptiness and emptiness and never—quite—touched—bottom—never—never—quite—no not quite—touched—bottom . . . and you fell so fast you didn’t touch the sides either . . . never . . . quite . . . touched . . . anything.”

13. Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury: “There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

14. Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury: “With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.”

15. Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury: “Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun? That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.”

16. Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury: It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books. The same things could be in the ‘parlor families’ today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them, at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.

17: Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury: “Leisure.” “Oh, but we’ve plenty of off hours.” “Off hours, yes. But time to think? If you’re not driving a hundred miles an hour, at a clip where you can’t think of anything else but the danger, then you’re plaing some game or sitting in some room where you can’t argue with the four-wall televisor. Why? The televisor is ‘real.’ It is immediate, it has dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right. It seems so right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn’t time to protest, ‘What nonsense!’”

18. Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury: “The whole culture’s shot through. The skeleton needs melting and reshaping. Good God, it isn’t as simple as just picking up a book you laid down half a century ago. Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord.”

19. Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury: After hearing Montag read Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach”: “Sh, sh,” said Mildred. “You’re all right, Clara, now Clara, snap out of it! Clara, what’s wrong?” “I—I,” sobbed Mrs. Phelps, “don’t know, don’t know, I just don’t know, oh, oh. . . .” Mrs. Bowles stood up and glared at Montag. “You see? I knew it, that’s what I wanted to prove! I knew it would happen! I’ve always said, poetry and tears, poetry and suicide and crying and awful feelings, poetry and sickness; all that mush! Now I’ve had it proved to me. You’re nasty, Mr. Montag, you’re nasty!”

20.  Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury: “All this country here. Listen to it! Nothing and nothing. So much silence, Millie, I wonder how you’d take it? Would you shout Shut up, shut up! Millie, Millie. And he was sad. Millie was not here and the Hound was not here, but the dry smell of hay blowing from some distant field put Montag on the land. He remembered a farm he had visited when he was very young, one of the rare few times he discovered that somewhere behind the seven veils of unreality, beyond the walls of parlors and beyond the tin moat of the city, cows chewed grass and pigs sat in warm ponds at noon and dogs barked after white sheep on a hill.”

21. Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury: “It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

22. Christ’s Prayer for Unity by St John: “The glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

23. First Epistle to the Corinthians by St Paul: “I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

24. Epistle to the Corinthians by St Clement of Rome: “Because of the sudden and repeated misfortunes and reverses which have happened to us, brothers, we acknowledge that we have been somewhat slow in giving attention to the matters in dispute among you, dear friends, especially the detestable and unholy schism, so alien and strange to those chosen by God, which a few reckless and arrogant persons have kindled to such a pitch of insanity that your good name, once so renowned and loved by all, has been greatly reviled.”

25. Epistle to the Corinthians by St Clement of Rome: “We write these things, dear friends, not only to admonish you, but also to remind ourselves. For we are in the same arena, and the same contest awaits us. Therefore let us abandon empty and futile thoughts, and let us conform to the glorious and holy rule of our tradition; indeed, let us note what is good and what is pleasing and what is acceptable in the sight of Him who made us. Let us fix our eyes on the blood of Christ and understand how precious it is to His Father, because, being poured out for our salvation, it won for the whole world the grace of repentance. Let us review all the generations in turn, and learn that from generation to generation the Master has given an opportunity for repentance to those who desire to turn to Him.”

Erin Doom is the founder and director of Eighth Day Institute. He lives in Wichita, KS with his wife Christiane and their four children, Caleb Michael, Hannah Elizabeth, Elijah Blaise, and Esther Ruth.

Showing 4 reactions

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  • Erin Doom
    commented 2015-10-14 10:20:20 -0500
    Just Fahrenheit 451. The rest of the readings were selections that I assembled into a notebook. We’re still thinking through the logistics of this project.
  • Robert Terry
    commented 2015-09-18 17:16:39 -0500
    This sounds like great fun. Did everyone do all the readings before the trip?
  • Robert Terry
    followed this page 2015-09-18 17:15:52 -0500
  • Eighth Day Institute posted about The Catechetical Academy: An Experimental Excursion on Eighth Day Institute's Facebook page 2015-09-18 16:17:38 -0500
    The Catechetical Academy: An Experimental Excursion