Sunday, August 10, 2014

(140) The Unique Thomas Aquinas College Summer Program: A Great Books Camp!

            High Schools students can spend their summers in many productive ways…….a diversity of summer jobs, volunteer service work, and camps.  There are many sports camps for basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, and football.  There’s also scout camp and band camp, but have you ever heard of a Great Books Camp?  Thomas Aquinas College at Santa Paula, California just outside of northwest Los Angeles has just that.

A welcoming barbecue on the first day of the 2014 Summer Program on July 20
           High school seniors may obtain a great preview of TAC and a stimulating taste of the true, the good, and the beautiful by attending its two week High School Great Books Program during the summer following their junior year.  The adolescents will be exposed to a few of the greatest minds of Western Civilization and will receive a great broadening experience especially those who will be attending a a secular university or a more technical college that specializes in the professions such as business, engineering, computer science, education, or one of the health specialties.  Hopefully, the students will obtain an appreciation for the give and take of rational argument and a thirst for pursuing the truth which civilizes, ennobles, and liberates.  To begin with they receive in the mail the readings: Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Plato’s Euthyphro and Apology, and the work of St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation.  The youths are expected to read them before their arrival for Socratic discussion during the program under the light of the Faith.

About to begin a socratic discussion of a great work

            After discussion of the works of early Greek thinkers in their pagan groping to make sense out of nature and their existence, the account of the creation and fall of man in Genesis of the Bible begins the discussion about the Divine Plan, human nature, and free will as well as the causes and consequences of the great sin.  St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation presents the answer that the Faith provides to the tragedy of the fall of man.  Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Pascal’s famous essay on the “wager”, and St. Thomas Aquinas’s fifth proof for the existence of God in Summa Theologica all stimulate considerations of the right relation between faith and reason.  In Fabre’s The Grey Cricket the youths will see purpose and order in nature.  They will reflect upon the meaning of life in Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich.  At the same time Euclid’s Elements demonstrates the intelligibility, order, and accessibility of mathematical ideas as tools for understanding God’s creation.  Flannery O’Connor’s The Enduring Chill ties much of it together in revisiting the earlier questions about death and life, arrogance and docility, and saving grace.

 Discussing a Euclid geometric proposition.

       The students receive a glimpse of the struggles, stops, and turns in the quest for the true, the good, and the beautiful over the centuries and can imagine themselves in a time machine reliving part of it as they read and discuss the works of the great authors of yesteryear.

Evening Study Hall to prepare for a discussion of a great book

          The Summer Program is not only the Great Books.  It’s also prayer – Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, opportunities for Confession, Rosary Procession, Evening Consecration, discussion in the dorms, even prayer before games.  There are also fun activities as sports, music and song around a bonfire, a hike in the nearby mountains of Los Padres National Forest, a trip to the beach on the Pacific Ocean and dinner in Santa Barbara, a visit to the Getty Center Museum in Los Angeles, an evening classical concert at the Hollywood Bowl, acting in a Shakespearean play, learning dance steps, and a closing dinner dance.

Evening Consecration to Mary

      A total of 136 students from all over the United States and even the world attended……30 states, 7 countries, and 4 continents, traveling from as far as Argentina, Italy, and Singapore.  There were Catholics and some non-Catholics, different races, ethnic backgrounds, a picture of diversity.  If history repeats itself, most of the 136 will enroll in the Fall of 2015.  Of course, the religious activities are voluntary.

A break during the hike into the nearby mountains of Los Padres National Forest

Swimming during the hike in the ice cold Punch Bowl

          Thanks to my daughter Stephanie a 2014 TAC graduate, my other daughter Naomi (second from the left in the above photo) attended the Summer Program in 2012 and made close friends which she still has today although a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville.  Our son Joseph (on the far right in the photo below) attended the 2014 program.  Both enjoyed it.  They did not come back transformed, but they now have an unforgettable experience to fall back upon in their development.  They have been exposed to a number of great books, the Socratic Method of discussion, inquiry, socializing and mixing with people in an intellectual environment, art, music, and most of all the spiritual aspect of life.  This experience reinforced and enriched much of what we tried to teach them at home and added a lot to what we as parents were able to give them.  

Visiting the Getty Art Museum in this photo followed by a concert in the Hollywood Bowl in LA

               In sum the TAC Summer High School Great Books Program is a marvelous two week spiritual, intellectual, and social, experience of prayer, seeking the truth, learning, and lots and lots of good clean fun.  The kids do not fit the nerdy stereotype at all, but as a whole are beautiful, wholesome, fun loving youths who also enjoy learning.  See the TAC website at and my blog #139 for a detailed description of Thomas Aquinas College. See for the 2014 Summer Program Blog which has considerable detail with hundreds of photos (slides) and for a general description of the High School Great Books Program.  

A Rosary Walk to the Grotto

Learning the social graces at the semi-formal dinner dance

      A Great Books Program for Adults. Each July Thomas Aquinas College invites members of the President’s Council to one of two Great Books Summer Seminar Weekends.  I would like to see something like that for parents, friends of TAC, and other interested people from around the country.  This would be a unique way for professionals to spend part of their vacations to fill gaps in their education.  This would be particularly useful for engineers, scientists, business people who are weak in the liberal arts and all who have graduated from a secular college or university. 

I’ll never forget a remark made by my psychology professor over fifty years ago at then Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University.  “Be careful that you guys don’t end up as a bunch of dumb engineers”.  Even then the Carnegie Plan required at least one liberal arts course during every semester of their engineering programs so that engineers would be aware of the social consequences of the technology they develop and apply.  Even more important, business managers and corporate executives must be more aware of the social consequences of their decisions…….that is social business responsibility.  A solid grounding in the great social encyclicals of the great popes since 1891 is crucial.

The class of the second session of the Great Books Summer Seminar Weekend