“The Lost Tools Of Learning” and Defunding Public Schools

The chaos and violence in our summer streets this year are the vile fruits of an increasingly leftist, ideological, politicized public education system.  The idiots in the streets, embracing fantasies about Marxism imbibed in school room, are doing precisely what they have been trained to do.


COVID-1984 will create opportunities, along with wounds.

The great writer, translator of Dante, and Inkling, Dorothy Sayers, wrote an essay in the 1940’s about the devolution of education and what could save it. Her essay is called The Lost Tools of Learning.  I remember being electrified by this essay when I discovered it, I believe in the ’80’s, reprinted after many years in National Review by William F. Buckley, Jr.

Sayers recommended a return to a modified form of the medieval trivium and quadrivium, Latin being the glue for the whole vision.   The objective of her proposal was to break the mindless parroting of stuff, but rather to teach students how to learn, how to think, to shape their minds.

Today I read at the National Catholic Register about an initiative in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Marquette, comprising the upper peninsula of Michigan.

New Trend: Implementing a Classical Catholic Curriculum
Diocese of Marquette Catholic schools are the first in the nation to adopt such a focus; high school to follow.

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, have made a bold move to embrace an educational curriculum of the past to pave the way for a vibrant future. The diocese is the first in the nation to fully move all of its schools to a classical Catholic curriculum.

“We moved our schools toward this model because it best aligns with our mission as Catholic educators,” Mark Salisbury, Diocese of Marquette superintendent of Catholic schools, told the Register. “We know this because it is the model of education the Catholic Church has embraced through its history. It is the best curriculum to have all of the subjects lead our students to Christ.”

The diocese’s eight Catholic schools, which educate 1,100 students, began to implement a classical curriculum —which emphasizes truth, goodness and beauty and the study of the liberal arts (grammar, logic, rhetoric; arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy; and Latin) and the great books. Overall, it focuses on helping students know how to learn and how to think. This classical curriculum was implemented during the 2014-15 school year, said Salisbury, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive, both in strengthening the uniquely Catholic educational experience for teachers, students and parents, but also in terms of maintaining enrollment.

“Our annual parent surveys consistently show that over 90% of our parents are either satisfied or very satisfied with our academic programs,” he said.


Schools that have adopted a classical format have increased massively in attendance.

This was good.


A unique part of the classical approach is that students learn Latin. According to Holy Name third-grade teacher Debra Casey, learning Latin has piqued her students’ interest in the English language.

“Latin is their favorite class,” she said. “They just love it!”

In their Latin classes, the students are not just memorizing words; they are learning their meanings and their connection to their Catholic faith and to the English language.

Principal Miron agrees that Latin has inspired students to learn even more about the English language — and science too.

“One of the beautiful aspects of teaching Latin is when an older student makes the connection between the Latin learned previously and a new word — often a scientific or academically-challenging word,” she told the Register. “They are able to discern the meaning of the word based on the Latin they’d already learned. Suddenly, the Latin becomes relevant, and you see their eyes light up as they grasp the implication of this.”



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Hard-Identity Catholicism, Just Too Cool, Latin, The future and our choices, The Last Acceptable Prejudice and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. michele421 says:

    Teaching Latin in schools? Maybe a good idea. Certainly worth a try.

    Defunding public schools? Really, really bad idea. Public schools are necessary because many parents simply can’t afford to send their children to Catholic schools. [If enough people opted for Catholic school for their children, the tuition could drop. And how much in taxes do people pay? There are solutions.] If parents don’t like the curriculum, there are many things they can do to convince officials to change it. [Oh yeah?] Defunding public schools would only make it more difficult for poor children to get a decent education. That’s not in line with the Virtue of Charity, and not a thing for a good Catholic to do. [That last part is just manipulation.]

  2. Julia_Augusta says:

    Father Z,
    Don’t worry. The mass education system, aka the industrial diploma mill complex, is about to get disrupted by tech. As I write this, one of the hottest areas of tech investment is in online learning and edutech. Startups are being funded right now at rather high valuations. It’s going to happen faster than most people realize.

  3. acardnal says:

    Many states offer tax deductions or tax credits for attending private schools K – 12.

  4. wrightfam says:

    I have homeschooled all of my children and the reason I started was because the Catholic Schools in my area are very expensive and not very Catholic. Higher enrollment will not lower cost only more vocations can do that. I grew up going to inexpensive Catholic schools. We had nuns and nearby dioceses had nuns and brothers. The schools were supported by the parishes. Fix the liturgy which will increase the faith which will grow vocations and collections and then the schools will be available for all. In the meantime I agree that public schools need to be defunded. The damage done is far worse than the little benefit gained.

  5. JPCahill says:

    I’ve always liked Ray Bradbury’s vision: close the whole public “education” system down and turn the buildings into libraries.

  6. DeGaulle says:

    Those who worry about the education of the poor in the event of public education being defunded should consider that no education might be preferable to a bad education.

  7. tho says:

    The Great Society has allowed so many negative accretions to accumulate on our school system that I doubt that it can be saved. In the late 60s and early 70s the teaching profession became a haven for men wanting to avoid the draft. Many brought a bad attitude with them, and then we allowed them to have unions, this protected the incompetent. Affirmative action allowed incompetency to thrive, and relaxed discipline to the point of chaos, so now police in schools is common place. Believe it or not our schools are in worst shape than our Post Office.

  8. aflusche says:

    YES! Public indoctrination centers are killing the souls of our children.

    If we closed them, we could lower taxes, and families would have more money in their pockets to choose better education options. And of course there’d be a huge demand for education options, so the market would supply abundant options.

    I’m upset at most of the COVID Crazy, but I’m glad public schools are being shaken up. Hopefully more parents will realize they have choices.

  9. LeeGilbert says:

    FWIW, The Phoenix School District has 22 charter schools known as Great Hearts Academies, which also teach a classical curriculum with Latin through the early years and then as an elective later on. Our son and his family moved down there precisely to enroll their kids there, but there is a waiting list, of course, and there are thirty or forty families ahead of them. But think of it, a classical education for free!

    Yet, the big liability is that these are not Catholic schools and my son and daughter-in-law have since had sufficient whiffs of the public school ethos to put them off, meaning that however great the curriculum the students as a whole are not necessarily children of grace, have cell phones and etc..

    Nevertheless, I would strongly suggest that any interested Catholic school educator contact and meet with the principal of the elementary side of the Great Hearts Academy ( the lower grades are known as Archway Academy) in Anthem, AZ, Teresa Clark, herself a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College. ( In fact, there are a number of educators in these schools who are graduates of either TAC or University of Dallas) She would have a lot to offer, and a tour of the school would give fellow educators a much higher idea of what young minds are capable of. My wife and I had a long meeting with her when we checked the school out on behalf of our son. The art that mere kindergartners and first graders were producing was stunning, and the head of the Academy later told us that their art program gives their students such a foundation in the fundamentals of art that they are equipped on graduation to pursue a professional career in art should they wish to do so.

    When we visited the high school section we were led into a math class, intriguing enough in itself, but we were standing against the back wall and could both hear and feel the deep resonance of a male choir that was singing something polyphonic in the room behind us. It was glorious and emblematic of an education to die for.

    If the Church in the United States were to create a Catholic version of the Great Hearts Academies, it could hardly fail to produce saints, many of them. It would be on the grade school and high school level analogous to that program at the University of Kansas (The Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, under the leadership of John Senior), which flourished only from 1970 through 1979 and yet produced many vocations, and one could say, even a monastery, for the founders of Clear Creek Benedictine Monastery in Oklahoma all went through that program.

    What we badly need to pull this off are tuition vouchers, so that Catholic parents can get such an education for their children, a program where all the teachers are baptized and the curriculum fosters both learning and sanctity.

  10. I took Fr. Z’s suggestion and started (well, resumed, after eons) studying Latin via Duolingo. That’s a good (and free) option in places where Latin courses are not available.

  11. TonyO says:

    Defund the public schools? YES!

    At least, defund the ant-Christian public school establishment and all of its little robot administrators and principals. Every child should be able to be educated in an institution that recognizes their worth as a child of God, and in an environment that integrates that understanding in EVERY subject, including history, science, music, English, and religion class. This is, in fact Catholic Doctrine, not just my theory: see Militantis Ecclesia: “Religion must permeate and direct every branch of knowledge.”

    All comprehensive educational programs are religious in effect, either positively by teaching under the guidance of a religion, or negatively by denying the fundamental importance of religion in understanding the ultimate goals of education and the methods to be used to achieve them. In practice, our public schools teach the religion of their masters: Secular Humanism, which is a belief system (i.e. it cannot be established by science, but is believed by “faith”), and teaches a specific theory about man’s purpose in life – i.e. that it is limited to THIS life.

    All US states in 1789 allowed for public funding of schools that taught religion. It isn’t against the Constitution of the US. All a state would need to do, currently, to allow for state vouchers to be paid directly to Catholic (and Protestant, and Jewish, and secular charter) schools is to revise their state Constitutions back to something compatible with how they originally read: that allows for state support of parents by supplying vouchers for private schools. But a state needn’t even make that much of a change – tax credits against private school tuition would accomplish nearly the same thing. And recent Supreme Court rulings (Montana case) show that this too is not against the Constitution.

  12. TonyO says:

    That said, homeschooling is often a great choice, and there are MANY Catholic homeschool curricula that will allow parents to provide a sound education. Some of them are explicitly classical in nature and form, such as Mother of Divine Grace, which yes, does make a large place for Latin (and all the other aspects of the classical education). We did it with my six kids, and never looked back at brick-and-mortar schools as something we missed. And with the tech world out there now, even more resources are available than ever before, including classes online, as well as other formats of support for homeschooling parents and kids.

  13. albinus1 says:

    As a Latin teacher as well as a traditional Catholic, I caution against using Duolingo for Latin. Duolingo can help with phrases and vocabulary—I’ve used it to brush up on Italian—but it can’t really help build understanding of the grammar of a language, expecially one as complex as Latin. In addition, based on the testimony of colleagues who have examined it more closely than I have, it contains some sentences that are simply weird and that talk about things like gay marriage that, in addition to being an affront to Catholic moral doctrine, simply were not an issue in ANY period in which Latin was used extensively. It simply presents a false picture of Latin usage. For a grammar approach grounded in ancient literature I recommend Wheelock; the book itself is not expensive, and it is so widely used that there is a WEALTH of supplementary materials available for free on the web. For a more inductive approach, Orberg’s Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata has been highly recommended to me by many other Latin teachers whose opinion I trust. If one is mainly interested in the Latin of the missal and breviary there is a book by Scanlon that draws all its examples from those sources. It is older but has been reprinted frequently. For a broader picture of Ecclesiastical Latin there is a book of that title by Collins. I don’t know what kinds of supplementary materials may or may not be available for it.

  14. JonPatrick says:

    For those that are concerned about the families that cannot afford the current tuition at a Catholic school, I have long advocated that what we need is a voucher system so that parents could use the tax dollars set aside for their children’s education for tuition at any accredited school of their choice. However those running our major cities have long opposed this step due to the stranglehold of the teacher’s unions and the ideological opposition to any non state controlled education system. If Black Lives really mattered to those in charge they would give them this opportunity but generally the opposite it true and the poor and minorities have been the ones that have suffered the most as a result.

  15. JustaSinner says:

    Funny thing this new curriculum…it IS what Liberal Arts once WAS. Not the mere learning of facts, but HOW to think and learn. Well, that went out the windows when the Hippy Scum tm, took over universities in the late seventies.
    Like at the U of Iowa. Hippy Scum tm, surrounded the old ROTC Armory for many weeks until the National Guard and State Police moved in and took the campus back. To show you the mentality of the Hippy Scum tm, the Old Armory was on the National Register. It was demolished in the late 80s…against fed law, but who cares, they controlled the University by then, let it for and collapse.

  16. teachermom24 says:

    “However those running our major cities have long opposed this step due to the stranglehold of the teacher’s unions and the ideological opposition to any non state controlled education system. If Black Lives really mattered to those in charge they would give them this opportunity but generally the opposite it true and the poor and minorities have been the ones that have suffered the most as a result.”

    Unfortunately, this stranglehold not only afflicts major cities but is in small town America as well. Berea (KY) schools recently adopted a resolution to implement the BLM curriculum (take a look at their website to see how really scary this is). Here in rural Tennessee, voters elected a candidate for the state house whose campaign was funded by the TEA and declared he was against vouchers (of course).

    I was reared in public schools (1960-72) and received a so-so education. I later taught in parochial schools where I made the determination to homeschool my own children should God grant me some. He did :-). Our first son went to Montessori school through grade 2 where I gained good insight as to how I wanted to teach my children. Our next three children were homeschooled beginning to end, largely under the influence of Mother of Divine Grace. That lasted 20 years. Both my children and I received a superior education (the education I never had), thoroughly grounded in Latin.

    After I retired from homeschooling, I started subbing in public schools and got some good insight into public education. Our county is one of the poorest in Tennessee and the school where I spent most of my time is the lowest on the socioeconomic scale and the “depository” for the most disabled special needs children (those who will never graduate from high school) in our county. On the one hand, I would love to see public education de-funded today and closed down. On the other hand, what are the options for the poor and needy children if public education were de-funded? The mess we have gotten into in this country with our welfare state and the crippling of Catholic hospitals and schools, which used to best agencies of service to the poor and needy, is so deep and complex, it will take a lot and a long time, if ever, to get out of it.

    On the third hand (if I had one), I agree with a previous poster that no education is better than a bad education. What I witnessed at the particular school this past year led me to the conclusion that these children were probably better off with no school than at school, at least at the present. But that’s not a long-term solution. The poor who are left idle are easy prey for more government control.

    For the poor, there are no alternatives here for schooling other than public or home and the poor are not going to homeschool. The better-off will drive 1-2 hours to find better schools. There are no Catholic schools in the county or neighboring counties.

    If any parent comes to me wondering about homeschooling vs public school, I would steer them to homeschooling and I would give them all the help they need. Sadly, no one is asking me. So, I pray.

  17. JakeMC says:

    Teaching Latin in all schools is a wonderful idea. I can give an example from my own life. When I was in high school, I struggled with Shakespeare. I mean, *really* struggled. Despite my high reading level, I simply couldn’t make heads nor tails of the Middle English.[Early Modern English. Chaucer is Middle English] When I got to college, I decided to take Latin. While it was no longer required for medical students (that requirement had been dropped a year before I started my pre-med studies), I figured there was a reason it had been required for so many years before. It was the best thing I had ever done. Because translating Latin lent itself easily to more classical methods of sentence construction, I suddenly discovered that Middle English was a cakewalk. While I had always had a natural talent for English grammar, having to deal with Latin noun declensions made English sentence structure so much clearer. After one year of Latin, I suddenly discovered that things like Shakespeare were very easy to read. It gave me a lasting love for the very classics whose outmoded sentence structure had always stymied me before. I also found some of the dry, highbrow style of some of my other textbooks easier to absorb, as well. (I never did complete the pre-med studies, BTW; many factors conspired to put an end to that.)
    There are many other reasons for my lasting love of Latin. Reading the ancient authors brought history to life. It sharpened my critical thinking skills, initially developed by my classical grade-school education, then dulled by the inferior high-school education I had in a public school. It actually played a large role in the final development of my worldview. For these reasons alone, I applaud the current slowly spreading trend toward reviving the study of Latin. Of course, the best reason of all is the fact that it is *still* the Lingua Franca of the Vatican, the unifying language of the Catholic Church. Which is precisely why the demons hate it!

  18. millennialmom says:

    Precisely why I’m looking into traditional Catholic curriculum to homeschool my kids. As a product of the public school system, I got very little benefit from it. Thankfully I was raised with old-fashioned values. I worried for awhile about socializing them with other children their age, but hey, that’s what co-ops and outside activities are for. I know of too many Catholics my age that know nothing about their faith and turned liberal from being in a public school setting.

  19. albinus1 says: As a Latin teacher as well as a traditional Catholic, I caution against using Duolingo for Latin. Duolingo can help with phrases and vocabulary—I’ve used it to brush up on Italian—but it can’t really help build understanding of the grammar of a language, expecially one as complex as Latin. In addition, based on the testimony of colleagues who have examined it more closely than I have, it contains some sentences that are simply weird and that talk about things like gay marriage that, in addition to being an affront to Catholic moral doctrine, simply were not an issue in ANY period in which Latin was used extensively. It simply presents a false picture of Latin usage.

    Yes, I do see and don’t disagree with your assessment of the shortcomings of Duolingo (except I have yet to come across liberal indoctrination in any of the lessons). I do find irritating that some of the exercises contain references to thinks like New York, which didn’t exist in classical times. I never figured I would be able to make a leap straight from Duolingo to Virgil or Cicero, and I always figured I would need more. But so far it is a good start, and is better for me as a start than trying (again) to do it on my own with a textbook.

  20. roma247 says:

    I believe they give seminars on Classical Schooling up in Marquette too. Our school’s Principal has been attending them for some time…we are still finalizing our transition over to a full Classical curriculum following their model…and the nice thing in our case is that our school is certified by the Diocese as a Catholic school, but we are not controlled by the Diocese, so we have a little more freedom curriculum-wise.

    So…if anyone is looking for something like this in the Chicago area, have a look at Kingswood Academy in Darien.

  21. adriennep says:

    Hooray to Father for letting us know of this article. These schools are the fruit of Bishop John Doerfler, who must be a very humble and holy man. After Archbishop Sample left Marquette for Portland, it was Doerfler who quietly implemented a “five year plan” for sacred music in his diocese—building upon his predecessor’s landmark writings on sacred music. They were going to implement their own hymnal within five years of this music education program.

    Now this in the diocesan schools. Unfortunately, Sample in Portland is still blocked by the old regime. They still list St. Mary’s in Medford on their web site, despite that high school being the first to be funded by the Communist Chinese government (a “Confucius School”). And our local struggling K-5 school just lost its principal due to “COVID uncertainties,” but really has no educational soul. I will bring this article to the pastor.

    Also, Dorothy Sayers’ article has been used since the early 1990s when the “Lost Tools of Learning” was waved by Reformed Protestant cult figures as in Moscow, Idaho, to hijack the classical Christian ideal for their own purposes. It takes a lot of nerve to teach classical church history by denying Catholicism. Their accreditation group ACCS actually required membership in their Reformed churches. Several have pointed out that Dorothy herself led an immoral life not suited to Christian ideals. Plus, her article was really a one-off fluke. She nowhere crusaded for education reform after it.

    Andrew Seeley at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education has been leading the transformation of Catholic schools towards the classical model for years now with yearly admin and teacher conferences. They have a great map of their school conversions. I have no doubt that Marquette might have been helped by them as well. In any event, let the church bells ring! We now have a whole diocese that will lead the way for a true return to roots for Catholic education. St. Augustine, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, are smiling.

  22. xavier says:


    I’d also add Greek to the curriculum. We can then also read with edification the Greek Fathers. Also I’ve advocated including Syriac and Amharic too.
    It’s heartening to read of these initiatives

  23. Alice says:

    I minored in Latin and use Duolingo for language learning and review. There are good reasons to use modern cities like New York in the example sentences. For one thing, if the borrowed name is not declined, the student learns to figure out the use from context and possibly from surrounding adjectives. For another, Latin scholars may still write a preface to a translation or a dedication in Latin, so it is a good idea to give examples of how to use these loan words. I don’t like Duo’s promotion of alphabet soup causes, but it does keep me on my toes and it might be useful when reading a document from the Vatican.

  24. Jones says:

    Oh Father Z when I was first coming to the faith I was digging through your archives and found your article on Dorothy Sayers the Lost Tools of Learning. My eyes lit up because I was researching everything I could get my hands on regarding classical education. Of course I came upon Ms. Susan Wise Bauer and her encyclopedic Well Trained Mind series. I was ecstatic to find a Catholic take.

    Clarion call!

    What are good homeschooling programs you fine people recommend?

    I know of a few such as;
    Memoria Press.

    Mother of Divine Grace based on Laura Berquist’s Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum.

    And of course Seton. Any others would be much appreciated.

    Also didn’t John Senior teach The Integrated Humanities Program?

    Fr. Jackson Fssp speaks very highly of him and that program. Said it didn’t explicitly teach people to be Catholic but a lot of people became Catholic because of it.

    Side note. Defund the public schools? Not to be rude but are we going to have separate classes for those inner city kids? Alot of them are behind educationally and have emotionally violate home lives which makes it extremely difficult to focus in school. Are teachers going to be equipped to deal with that? And let’s not kid ourselves, alot of those kids are in mortal sin due to the heavy infiltration of pop culture of all stripes.

    That’s not something I take lightly, I went to those type of schools and was also homeschooled. I wouldn’t step foot in that environment unless I knew teachers were respected and students who were disruptive weren’t allowed to take over the class. Oh boy the lack of structure that takes place is some classrooms is a whole other ballgame.

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