Interview:
Dr. Eric DeMeuse of Chesterton Academy

The students of the Chesterton Academy of Milwaukee achieved the highest scores on the CLT10 in the 2021-2022 school rankings. We invited the school’s headmaster, Dr. Eric DeMeuse, to speak on the school’s success. 

CLT: Thank you so much for joining us today. Could you tell the readers a little bit about your school’s goal and mission?

ED: The mission of Chesterton Academy is to help parents raise up a generation of joyful saints and leaders educated in the classical tradition and the truths of the Catholic faith in order to serve the common good. Ultimately, our goal is to help our students grow in friendship with Jesus Christ and become intelligent and virtuous leaders in the public square. 

CLT: What has been your experience with CLT?

ED: At Chesterton Academies across the nation, students take the CLT test each year with the results used as an internal metric (CLT8 in 9th grade, CLT10 in 10th grade, and CLT in 11th and 12th grade). In addition, I think the CLT has also helped our students in college placement across the board. There are obviously the schools that accept the CLT. But even for schools that don’t, the CLT has improved our students’ performance on the ACT and other college entrance exams. In fact, most of our students reported that the CLT was more rigorous than the ACT.

CLT: But despite that rigor, your students were the top scorers on the CLT10. Congratulations! What factors have contributed to this success, in your opinion?

ED: At Chesterton Academy we don’t “teach to the test.” Rather, we encourage students to read living texts with living ideas—some of the greatest thinkers and thoughts in history. These texts and concepts are difficult—from Euclidean geometry and calculus to Plato and Aristotle to Dante and Dostoevsky. They not only study these ideas but engage them through Socratic seminar, discussion, debate, and narration. This pedagogy helps students to face difficulties with confidence and peace—even the difficulties of a standardized test!

CLT: In that same vein: what does education mean to you? What are the marks of a well-educated person?

ED: In the words of one of my favorite thinkers on education, education is “an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” Education consists in everything from the rhythm of a schedule to what material is presented for discovery to how a teacher facilitates that discovery. It consists in the formation of the mind and in the formation and right ordering of our loves. As G. K. Chesterton writes, education teaches us that “there is a whole truth of things and that in knowing it and speaking it, we are happy.” Ultimately, the mark of a well-educated person is someone filled with joy—someone who seeks and loves the truth about reality and the truth about who they are in Jesus Christ.

CLT: How would you describe your students? Do they have that sort of joy you mentioned?

ED: A friend of mine at a seminary recently remarked that they are seeking men who are “happy, healthy, holy, and normal.” I would use these words to describe our students. Our students are incredibly joyful—I laugh a lot with our students during the school day. They are healthy and well-rounded human beings—they are athletes, thinkers, actors, singers, dancers, debaters, and artists. They seek God’s will in their life—every morning we attend daily Mass and spend time frequently in adoration and prayer listening to the voice of the Lord. And they are normal—they are fun and opinionated and bold and enjoy many of the things that teenagers enjoy these days. In a word, I find our students to be very impressive and I am incredibly proud of the human beings they are.

CLT: What is the best thing about your school? 

ED: The students, the families, and the teachers. The students for all of the reasons mentioned above. The families because education is a family enterprise—creating an atmosphere and a culture where a young person can thrive is the work of a whole community, and our community is committed to this endeavor. And finally, the teachers—on a daily basis I get to work with some of the most remarkable, talented, and humble people I have ever encountered. The way in which they serve these students and families and the way in which they dedicate themselves to prayer and the intellectual life is rare and beautiful. When I look upon our faculty, I consider myself as Job did when confronted with the wonders of God, “Behold, I am of small account.”

CLT: That’s a beautiful thought. To conclude our conversation, is there a book that has been impactful to you or your school?

ED: Obviously G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is a particularly formative book for how we understand the human quest for truth, and all the students read this work their sophomore year. I would also add to this St. John Henry Newman’s sermon “The Remembrance of Past Mercies.” I read a portion of this sermon to our seniors every year at commencement. It is a treasure that informs our emphasis at Chesterton Academy on fidelity, gratitude, and resignation to God’s will.

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If you enjoyed this piece, you might enjoy learning about some of the great writers who shape the CLT, like Euclid, Geoffrey Chaucer, Benjamin Franklin, Susan B. Anthony, and Ernest Hemingway.

Published on 7th July, 2022.

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