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Beauty in Education: An Essential Ingredient

Elizabeth Black 

Beauty plays a crucial role in a young person's education. The types of books, music, and art that a student is exposed to and the kinds of things she is taught to consider lovely and worthy of preservation profoundly form her mind and soul.

As a young woman whose body, mind, soul and heart form a single unified person, what the young woman finds attractive and desirable directly affects her ability to know the good and to choose well. And since freedom is the ability to choose the good, a proper liberal arts education will form not only the intellect, but also the will and the heart. 

Indeed, to choose the good, a person must desire it. A liberal arts education nurtures this desire by presenting truth and goodness through images found in stories, songs, dance, poetry, etc. so that the student will grasp truths intuitively, find pleasure in them, and feel an affinity towards them. For this reason, beauty is an essential component of education, most especially in Middle School, as these are highly impressionable years in one's life. Beauty forms the taste for goodness and truth, which in turn attracts the student to choose it. Beauty is the sweetness that draws the student to the true and good. Because she has come to recognize and love what is good, the student of the liberal arts is free not merely to choose, but to choose well. 

The visual and performing arts are an integral part of this education in beauty. A school with a strong liberal arts curriculum will provide its students a rich formation in art, music and theatre. Students should receive a strong background in the materials, techniques and discipline necessary for the arts; by doing so, they will come to understand the importance of arts in society and the role beauty plays in forming culture. Students come to appreciate beauty more by participating in it themselves, whether through playing in an orchestra, singing in choir, performing on stage, or designing costumes and sets for a play. 

Each type of art holds its own unique way of encountering beauty. The study of music theory unlocks hidden aspects of the harmony of God's creation. In theatre, students are able to explore human thought, feeling and behavior by mirroring the human condition through symbolic action. Through regular performances and exhibitions, students learn that making and searching for beauty is not merely an individual pursuit; it is best when shared within a community. 

Of course, beauty doesn't belong to the visual and performing arts alone. It's wonderful helping students discover beauty in subjects where they might not initially think to look for it, such as math and science. In these areas of study, students discover the beauty found in order, proportion, and the laws that govern matter and space. They can learn to see and marvel at the amazing design in each part of the created universe, whether it's the elegance of a Calculus equation or the intricate workings of an individual human cell. In short, beauty becomes not simply a nice but essentially irrelevant addition to a person's studies, but is in fact an essential aspect of human flourishing. 

Ms. Black is Oakcrest's Dean of Faculty and Curriculum. She received a B.A. in Classics and Early Christian Studies from Christendom College. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Liturgy from the Liturgical Institute. With ten years of teaching experience, seven of which have been at Oakcrest, Ms. Black brings abundant practical knowledge of teaching young people, especially girls, to her new role of mentoring the faculty and developing the curriculum. Working closely with our Master Teachers, her chief responsibility is to help the teachers in their mission to educate our students with professional excellence according to our mission. Her vision of education comes from her strong background in the liberal arts and her commitment to educating the whole person. Ms. Black is trained in the Ward Method and began teaching at Oakcrest in 2012.