“Behold how good and pleasant it is for brothers to live in unity” -Psalm 132
How do families arrive at the decision to send their son to a boarding school? Difficult considerations abound. For many it is simply an inconceivable rupture in family integrity. Even for parents who are open to the idea, sending a son to a boarding school can feel like an abdication of authority in which parents outsource their responsibilities to the faculty and staff at a school. Others will ask what can the school provide that I can’t provide here at home? Or, aren’t boarding schools for kids who have gotten in trouble or for parents who can’t control their children? Finally, how can I trust someone with one of my children?
No response that we provide to these questions and difficulties can make this an easy decision, nor would we want it to. The difficulty here is a testament to the love and integrity that bind together the families considering the question of our boarding school. As parents ourselves, we consider familial love and integrity to be some of the most important ingredients in a child’s education. There is no “one size fits all” answer to whether a boarding school is right for your family, but we’d like to arm you with considerations that are relevant to those questions above.
First, if you decide to send your son to St. Martin’s Academy you should know that we consider our role as not a replacement for, but an extension of your parental authority and responsibility. The family is the immediate soil out of which an individual soul grows, it provides a first culture, and generally speaking, the most lasting. This cooperation between the school and the family is why our admissions process is intensive and involves face to face meetings with both parents and students. We need to be sure that we can serve in good faith as an extension of your family before we commit to that responsibility, and you need to be sure that you trust us with that commission.
We need to be sure that we can serve in good faith as an extension of your family before we commit to that responsibility, and you need to be sure that you trust us with that commission.
We’re convinced that family integrity involves more than simple physical proximity, and that at a certain age, a carefully controlled distance affords the child an important perspective on his family and his responsibilities to it.
With that in mind, let’s consider some of the advantages that a boarding school can provide. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman writes in The Idea of a University that the residential aspect of a school is so important to its intellectual life that a non-residential school with “rigorous” academics provides a poorer education than a boarding school with no academics in which young men simply live together. Of course, that is not what we propose to do, but Newman’s rationale is instructive:
When a multitude of young men, keen, open-hearted, sympathetic, and observant, as young men are, come together and freely mix with each other, they are sure to learn one from another, even if there be no one to teach them; the conversation of all is a series of lectures to each, and they gain for themselves new ideas and views, fresh matter of thought, and distinct principles for judging and acting, day by day…this effect may be fairly called in its own department an enlargement of mind. It is seeing the world on a small field with little trouble. (The Idea of a University VI.146)
The boarding school provides a critical experience of community in which boys develop in ways that are decisive for the rest of their lives. The social interaction that Bd. J.H. Newman describes as “an enlargement of mind” can only occur in the unscripted environment of daily life.
What else is our boarding school uniquely equipped to provide?
- Daily Opportunities to Learn and Exercise Leadership: A St. Martin’s education involves constant opportunities to learn and develop as a leader. As a boarding school that places groups of peers together in facing tasks and challenges, students fine-tune their ability to work as teammates and as leaders. Whether it is a fence that needs mending, hogs that need feeding, or an athletic field that needs irrigation, students are placed in charge of school mates in various projects around campus and the farm and are then mentored and held accountable for their performance. Faculty and staff serve as strong role models and mentors in these tasks. St. Martin’s students have a tremendous responsibility for the daily operations on campus, that, while closely supervised, are designed to cultivate prudent decision making and leadership. This individual responsibility helps develop a healthy independence that is so vital in a conformist culture.
“THE INDEPENDENT MAN IS SELF-GOVERNED, BECAUSE THE CONTROLLING FORCE THAT DETERMINES HIS MORAL CHOICES COMES NOT FROM EXTERNAL THINGS, FROM SHIBBOLETHS, FROM ‘THE IDOLS OF THE TRIBE, OR THE IDOLS OF THE FORUM OR THE IDOLS OF THE MARKETPLACE,’ BUT FROM HIS OWN ENLIGHTENED MIND, AND FROM HIS WILL EDUCATED TO A LOVE OF MAN’S REAL GOOD.” -FR. EDWARD LEEN
- Camaraderie and Peer Accountability: Life in common at our boarding school cultivates a camaraderie among the students that is rooted in a shared experience, culture, and faith. This camaraderie is a touchstone for the students throughout their lives as they interact with a world that challenges their culture or faith: it gives them a model for Christian community and fraternity, and encouragement in their own practice of virtue. Any group of peers implicitly exercises a subtle accountability and influence on one another. It is one thing to learn the Faith and see it practiced by one’s family and to some degree in one’s community; it is another thing entirely to be immersed in the Faith and practice it in a group of peers, peers who have your respect on account of shared experience and hardship and who strive toward the same end. This is the soil in which true friendship grows.
- An Immersive Cultural Education: As a self-contained campus that is free from technological paraphernalia (TVs, cell phones, computers, etc.) St. Martin’s is able to provide a consistent structured environment without the distractions of the virtual . As a boarding school, we are able to implement semester long fasting from screen technologies that allows the students to develop attentiveness and imagination without disruption. This experience can be provided at home, but has become increasingly difficult as media forms and the devices for accessing them have proliferated. But much more than simply removing screens, St. Martin’s residential life is able to immerse the students in the outdoors, in nature, poetry, and song, offering a sustainable Christian culture.
Of course, none of this makes it an easy decision, but it is worthwhile to consider the possibilities of a residential life that involves a squad of friends in serious sustainable farm-work, leadership responsibilities, and outdoor adventures while bringing them to grips with the greatest books and thoughts in existence through an intensive academic curriculum. It is essential to remember that our duty at St. Martin’s is conducted as an extension of, and with a commission from, each student’s family. This opportunity to work with families for the transmission of a wholesome culture to its future leaders is our privilege and responsibility at St. Martin’s Academy.