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Classical Education in Southern California

A beautiful new chapel isn’t the only thing Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) has going for it (see the previous New Oxford Note). Long before Duncan Stroik arrived on campus, this faithful Catholic institution has been providing a superb classical education to students from all over the country, and boasts an illustrious list of alumni, including some whom NOR readers may recognize, such as author and Catholic homeschooling pioneer Laura Ber­quist; Michael Waldstein, president of the International Theological Institute in Austria; Maggie Wynne, prolife director for the U.S. House of Representatives; and Pip Donahoe, Holy See delegate to the United Nations. And for such a small school — TAC maintains a student body of approximately 350 from year to year — it has produced a sizable number of graduates who have gone on to seminary studies. In the past 25 years, 45 alumni have been ordained to the priesthood and nearly as many alumnae have gone on to the religious life.

Something has obviously gone right.

The college’s approach to education is rather unique. Not only is it classical in content, the integrated liberal arts program follows the “Great Books” approach. Perhaps the most startling aspect of this approach is that there are no textbooks and no lectures. That may sound liberal and trendy, but not so. TAC’s rigorous four-year core curriculum is based on the original works of the best, most influential authors, poets, scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, and theologians of Western civilization. Thus, students learn directly from the works of Aristotle and Pascal, Herodotus and Homer, Euclid and Albert Einstein, Tolstoy and Thomas Aquinas. The list of required reading over the course of the four years is beyond impressive. It is inspiring!

Lecture halls are replaced by the kind of tutorials, seminars, and laboratories you’d find in some of the best graduate schools today. Classes are all Socratic in method and typically enroll 15-18 students led by a professor tutor. That means that discussion is paramount — and students attracted to this approach are typically hungry learners, which makes for a dynamic and high-powered student body.

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