English Department

As the SSPX USA District Parent-Student Handbook notes, “SSPX schools place great emphasis on a literaturebased language arts program” since great stories have a unique capacity to “engage the intellect, inspiring wonder and understanding.” After the K-6 years, which introduce students to fundamentals of reading and writing and more importantly nurture a love of beauty in words, poetry, and stories, junior high language arts classes focus on composition fundamentals, formalizing and refining skills largely developed by imitation in grade school, while retaining key elements of the “grammar stage” of the program: dictation, recitation, reading aloud, and English grammar. In high school, the program transitions to an almost exclusive focus on good reading and persuasive writing.

Agreeing with the ancients that the primary ends of literature are to instruct and to delight, the SMA English Department has designed its upper school curriculum upon the masterpieces of the Western canon. Students are introduced to a wide variety of texts from classical antiquity through the twentieth century: epic, drama, poetry, novels, short stories, and essays. Classes are divided into honors and standard tracks from seventh through twelfth grades, allowing students to progress at their own pace and with appropriate texts, but all SMA students are introduced to the most important writers of our literary tradition: Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Shakespeare among many others. The ultimate aim in placing great literature in front of our students is to help them see, through literature's imitation of reality, the three great transcendental ideals of the good, the true, and the beautiful. As Pope Pius XII lyrically put it, the best literature "opens a window to the infinite." Simply stated, we want our students to be able to discern the action of grace in nature, in their own world, and great literature, which always presents reality truthfully, is ideally suited to that end.

Our curriculum is, therefore, based upon good reading in two senses: our students read good literature and are trained to be good, discerning readers increasingly sensitive to and appreciative of the allegorical sense of texts and the “mighty power of symbolism”(Richard Weaver). Our students must not end up like those Our Lord describes as failing to benefit from His poetic mode: “ . . . all things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand: lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them”(Mark 4: 11- 12). We want our students able to hear, understand, be converted and forgiven. The Word Himself tells us that begins with good reading. Our students must be able to understand both what a text says and what it means; hence our teachers take as much time as necessary with a given text to ensure understanding at the deeper level.

Demonstration of good, discerning, allegorical reading will come by way of composition. In high school, compositions that aim to convince and persuade are given primary place since they demand attention to and reflection upon text; they best demonstrate whether or not students “hear” and “understand."