Thomist School Curriculum

Fenwick considers our minds, our bodies and our faith to be gifts from God. It is our moral obligation to grow in all three of these areas.

By Gerald F. Lordan, O.P., Ph.D., Social Studies Teacher and Faculty Mentor

St. Thomas Aquinas

As some of us may know, Fenwick is the only high school sponsored by Dominican Friars in America. As such we are a national lighthouse for the Thomist educational philosophy.


Thomism evolved from the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P., an Italian Dominican (1225-1274).  Aquinas was educated at the University of Paris by a German Dominican, St. Albert the Great, O.P. (1200-1280). It is the greatest joy of every teacher to be surpassed by his student. Thomas brought joy to the heart of Albert. St Dominic de Guzman, O.P. (1170-1221), a Spanish Dominican and the founder of the Order of Preachers, believed in an educated clergy. To that end he sent the Friars to study the Liberal Arts at the great universities of Medieval Europe. The liberal arts influence the Fenwick curriculum today.

A curriculum is the set of planned activities designed to change the observable behavior of a student. There is a curriculum continuum. One end of that continuum has a Roman influence. The word curriculum comes from the bales of straw that delineated the chariot race course in the Colosseum. The goal of this curriculum is to cover all the prescribed material and nothing but the prescribed material in the shortest possible amount of time. The other end of this continuum has a Chinese influence.  It is the dao, the vast treeless grassy plain of western China. There is not a set course of travel. Everything looks the same in all directions all the way out to the horizon. One may, therefore, go wherever one wishes, when one wishes, at the speed one wishes.

The 1959 movie classic “Ben-Hur” was remade in 2016. But what does chariot racing have to do with curriculum?

A good curriculum addresses all three educational domains. The cognitive domain considers the intellect, the world of the brain. The psychomotor domain considers the physical, the world of the body. The affective domain considers the emotional, the world of the soul.  A good curriculum makes the student smart, strong, and holy.  Fenwick considers our minds, our bodies, and our faith to be gifts from God. It is our moral obligation to grow in all three of these areas.

One view of a curriculum considers textbooks to be the principal factor. One teaches everything in the text and only those things in the texts. A second view of a curriculum considers activities to be the principal factor. One encourages students to participate in both mandatory and elective activities, before, during and after classes. A third view of a curriculum considers the underlying philosophy of the school to be the most important factor. All the lessons and activities are woven together in a seamless cloak.

Dao is the vast, treeless grassy plain of western China.

The Thomist educational philosophy of Fenwick teaches the student about God’s Creation. The more the student understands Creation, the more the student will understand the Creator.  The more the student understands the Creator, the more the student will love the Creator. The more the students love the Creator, the more the students will love themselves. The more the students love themselves, the more the students will love their fellow human beings. The more the students love their fellow human beings, the better they will serve all Creation, both the living and the non-living.

Herrad von Landsberg’s “Garden of Delights” is part of a 12th century illustrated manuscript showing the seven liberal arts of the Trivium and Quadrivium circled around Socrates and Plato and Philosophy. This shows that the seven liberal arts were bound together by a philosophical approach to discovering the first principles of the universe and mankind.

The Thomist curriculum is based upon the liberal arts. The liberal arts have the trivium, the three sciences of words, and the quadrivium, the four sciences of numbers. The trivium has grammar, rhetoric and logic. The quadrivium has arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. Fenwick students study grammar in English class, rhetoric in Speech class, and logic in Theology class. Fenwick students study algebra, trigonometry, geometry and calculus in Math class; biology, chemistry, physics and astronomy in Science class; and music in Fine Arts Class.

About the Author

Gerald Lordan

Dr. Lordan is in his 27th year of teaching at Fenwick. Originally from Massachusetts, Lordan completed his under-graduate studies at Northeastern University and received a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Maryland. He earned his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from Boston College.

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