Spreading the Good News: UST’s Renewed Core Curriculum Doubles-Down on Teaching the Trivium
Associate Division Dean of Liberal Studies and Core Fellow Dr. Martin Lockerd and Assistant Professor of English and Core Fellow Sr. Maria Frassati Jakupcak, OP, Ph.D, participated in a panel discussion called "Liberal Learning in the Literature Classroom" at the 26th annual Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW) conference held in October at the University of Houston. Nearly 200 people attended the meeting.
Their paper, which they co-presented, was titled "Lost Tools in the Literature Classroom." It touted the success of UST’s renewed Core Curriculum and its cornerstone course, “Foundations of Liberal Learning,” which prioritizes the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Both professors agreed that the information shared was well-received by their peers.
"Many of our colleagues were impressed with UST's commitment not only to the study of literature but to the intellectual formation of our students," Lockerd said. "We all know that incoming college students are generally less prepared in reading, writing, and thinking than in past decades. Our Core refuses to let them stay that way. We train them in the arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric and introduce them to the life of the mind so that they not only succeed in the rest of their education but flourish. Several of our colleagues wished their universities would follow this lead."
Sr. Maria Frassati said, "I thought it was remarkable that, because of the new Core, rather than speaking about a teaching practice present in a single classroom — which is what the other panelists were speaking about — we were able to speak more wholistically about what ‘Foundations of Liberal Learning’ is doing for a whole range of other classes," she said. "Our colleagues at the conference were impressed that, in a world getting rid of literature requirements in the Core, UST has doubled down on them and added this class to help make sure students are as prepared as we can make them for the literature classroom. It is a gift to teach the class, and it was a joy to share the good news about UST with other people unfamiliar with the great work we are doing here."
Sr. Maria Frassati summarizes their talk:
In the fall of 2022, the University of St. Thomas-Houston launched a renewed Core Curriculum requiring, among other things, three literature courses that move chronologically from the ancient to the modern world. Although the Core effectively emphasizes the importance of literature, there is a significant problem: most students entering college currently lack what Dorothy Sayers famously (and accurately) called "the lost tools of learning," namely, the trivium, a group of studies made up of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
Although the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric has been foundational to Western education since its inception, the arts of the trivium are foreign to most students raised in the American schooling system. Accordingly, the framers of UST's Core developed a trivium course called "Foundations of Liberal Learning" (LS 1301) to serve as the cornerstone of the Core and a prerequisite of the three literature courses.
Guided by Joseph Pieper's “Leisure the Basis of Culture,” this course puts a contemporary spin on the ancient arts of the trivium, providing students with a philosophical understanding of language and the essential skills of the trivial arts as applied in our current cultural context.
“Our seminar paper first lays out the overall vision of the UST Core, which aims at forming a common culture based on all that is true, sound and beautiful," she said. "Then, drawing on our experience teaching both ‘Foundations of Liberal Learning’ and the literature sequence in UST's renewed Core, we also shared examples of the many ways in which the recovery of ‘the lost tools of learning’ have encouraged our students both to develop intellectual abilities and to see the relationship between those abilities and the ultimate purpose of the human person.
“The trivium not only helps our students develop the wisdom, skills and self-knowledge needed to make sense of difficult texts but also primes them to develop a genuine love of literature and ensures that our common campus culture includes some of the greatest authors across three millennia."
Sr. Maria Frassati joined the UST faculty in the fall of 2022.
Lockerd joined the UST faculty in fall 2022.