As Plato wrote in his Republic, “Knowledge of the good is the ultimate virtue; without it the attainment of other virtues is impossible.” If that metric is the gold standard for education, knowledge of the good at Thomas MacLaren School is deeply embedded in every aspect of its culture.
Indeed, its Mission Statement asserts, “We begin with the conviction that all human beings can know truth, create beauty and practice goodness.” Joy Oram, the school’s Director of Community Engagement, whose passion for her school, its students and faculty, is positively contagious, said “Although academics informs our core values, the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness is our overarching philosophy. We strive to be fully human and fully awake to the world.”
Thomas MacLaren was an architect whose work is evident throughout Colorado Springs. As their website states, “Our namesake left the Pikes Peak Region more beautiful than he found it…he embodied learning that weds the arts to the sciences and the needs of a city with the delight of one’s own heart and eye.”
Founded in 2009, Oram said “The school has grown from 77 to 823 students, and from 11 to 117 employees, with 68 percent of faculty having postgraduate degrees. Historically, we’ve had students in grades six through 12, but this is the first school year we’ve had Kindergarten through fifth grade, and it’s so exciting to see the beautiful little children in their uniforms — we’re beyond thrilled.”
As part of their educational experience, these impressionable young students are exposed to the teaching methods of Hungarian music teacher Zoltán Kodály. Their website explains, he “taught that music was meant to be enjoyed…that the human voice is the instrument most natural to us all, and that folk music is the musical mother tongue of the child.”
Oram noted that, “We celebrate each academic subject equally, and we model a respectful environment which includes confidentiality and the dignity of each student.” That promotes an academic milieu that optimizes learning opportunities and engages students’ instinctive curiosity. Eighth graders are introduced to Faulkner and Dostoyevsky, while 10th graders delve into John Locke and Edmund Burke. As they enter twelfth grade they’re studying Descartes, Rousseau and Hegel.
Informing the school’s academic culture is Mortimer Adler’s assertion articulated in The Paideia Proposal, that “It is natural for children to rise to meet higher expectations; but only if those expectations are made both reasonable and attractive.” Inspiring students to experience the wonders of learning is at the heart of the school’s culture, and Oram said, “Several of our graduate award winners are at Hillsdale College.”
She also discussed outreach to the broader Springs community. “We have a special branch to spread our truth, beauty and goodness message, the MacLaren Society, which provides a variety of enriching, free events.” As well, the school features a Socratic seminar, which all high school students attend. It focuses on history, literature, politics and economics, and desks are set in a circle with a teacher as facilitator. The curriculum is further distinguished by using original texts, and there are separate classrooms for high school boys and girls. A wise rule is that the tyranny of cell phones is mitigated because they are checked at the front door. Moreover, while athletics are important, “At MacLaren, the student athlete is first and foremost a student.”
It’s at once refreshing and encouraging to see that the light of learning is burning brightly at a school committed to developing young minds by providing a rigorous curriculum coupled with the virtues so necessary to ensuring the full potential of every student — a teacher’s dream.