Upper School students follow a traditional liberal arts and sciences sequence, with the primary focus on literature, mathematics, history, and science.
Literature explores the human condition in all its richness and variety. Students immersed in great books are better equipped to understand themselves well and to think critically about their culture. While literature has never figured into an official list of classical studies, it has always been understood to form the basis of ones self-understanding as part of a particular heritage. In order to be an educated, self-aware, and responsible person, students must have more than passing familiarity with the great works of our tradition.
The study of good literature also builds what has been called the ‘moral imagination’ in our students. Ascent’s curriculum has been developed to put the best poems, stories, and books in front of your children in order to align that imagination to what is good, true, and beautiful. We want students to read about courage and cowardice, virtue and vice, life, and death. In reading about these things, they learn the human condition and the story that they will take part in. Ascent’s reading list is purposeful, not because we want to shelter the child from anything sad, frightening, or evil, but because we want to expose them to those things at the appropriate time, in the appropriate ways. By developing the moral imagination, we raise up the child to be the character who looks for the light in dark places, stand with courage, and defend the good where others would shrink away.
The discipline of mathematics strips away all subjectivity regarding reality. Through the study of mathematics, the learner confronts the abstract and must engage in the uniquely human capacity for purely rational thought. Logic and reason in every discipline owe their structure to mathematical principles. In discovering and mastering these principles, the learner’s mind is shaped into a powerful tool of reason. Robust training in mathematics prepares the student to test possible truths against established principles, and even discover new truths by building on the work of those who have come before.
In the grammar stage, the learner is taught the bedrock ideas of abstract, numerical thinking through definitions, operations, and rules of arithmetic. In the logic stage, the learner discovers the major structures – algebraic manipulation, geometric reasoning, and the generation and use of formulae – which can be built from, and upon, these bedrock ideas. In the rhetoric stage the abstraction intensifies with disciplines such as trigonometry and calculus. Here, the learner applies the previously established logical structures to new and unfamiliar objects, examines the implications of changing a particular rule, and, through creative questioning, discovers new proofs that provide complex frameworks which illuminate and enliven the cosmos in which we live.
The subject of history is often misunderstood as the memorization of dates, names, and events with little actual relevance to modern life. In reality, students who study history dive into a study of the human condition. They observe the great movements and accomplishments in history and learn from the successes and failures of past generations. The classical approach to history emphasizes reading historical texts directly to understand the people of the past in their own words. These texts provide the backdrop for examining the actions of historical figures and the outcomes of their choices. Examining these historical thoughts translated into action reveals how these people answered some of the questions mankind has been wrestling with since the beginning of time: What does it mean to live a good life? Is it right for a man to rule over another? Do human beings have natural rights? How one answers these questions affects not only the individual, but also families, communities, and nations.
The study of history is critical to modern life. The questions our ancestors wrestled with are the same questions that we are still asking ourselves today. History allows students to see how other peoples have answered these questions with the hindsight of knowing what effect these answers caused. They learn to appreciate the struggles and sacrifices of the past that produced their current culture. History presents students with exemplars of virtue through the men and women who chose goodness and truth over expedience or comfort. These tangible examples make our core virtues relatable and relevant to the daily lives of our students.
Science is one of the most tangible ways for our students to experience wonder in the classroom. A classical school encourages students to approach the study of the natural world with an attitude of wonder and curiosity. Through the study of scientific topics, students learn how to observe the universe and investigate the phenomena they observe. They practice critical questioning and reasoning through collecting data, building inferences, testing hypotheses, and applying theories and principles already discovered.
Too often, the scientific disciplines are valued only for their monetary potential. In a classical classroom, biology, chemistry, and physics are valued as means of understanding and marveling at nature. In tandem with our virtue of wonder, our students are shaped by science into thoughtful human beings who examine, question, and integrate prior knowledge into their encounter with the unknown. It is our hope that our students find within the study of science a miniature portrait of the power of human reason when applied to the natural world.