Prince of Paradox

pen and paper

Except for the cheese comment, have you wanted to introduce your high schoolers to some of the classic, quotable thought from a giant of the modern Catholic age? And even more, have you wanted them to mull it over and internalize it, connecting it to the larger body of work and the treasures of the faith you've already exposed them to? If so, then read on!

Chesterton, Prince of Paradox is a guided, gentle introduction to G.K. Chesterton's fiction, poetry, essays and apologetic works, particularly developing the skills of analysis and reflection. The two-semester course was originally designed for upper-level high schoolers, but advanced 8th graders have successfully tackled it. Chesterton can be read and enjoyed by a multitude of ages; he offers unique food for thought each time one cracks the cover, whether it's a first thumbing or a fifteenth, whether one is 8 or 80.

The class requires a weekly reading assignment, generally hovering around 50 pages. Chesterton is a thick, meaty author; that's not a trivial amount. Each week, I also offer a written analysis, looking deeper at some particular aspect of the reading selection.

The writing assignments for this class are unique. A 1-2 page reflection paper is required for each of the 10 books we read during the year. This is a short essay on something that particularly resonated with the student, connected in some way to another aspect he or she learned about. It's a chance for the student to synthesize his own thoughts and analysis of the material, how it impacts him and how he understands it. It asks what rattles around your soul after you put the book down?

At once these reflection papers are easier and more difficult than standard high school assignments: they're more intimate than a book report, more thoughtful than a standard essay. (And shorter than a bunch of 5-page papers!) Chesterton demands reflection and meditation to soak up what he says; it's too easy to quickly formulate a pat answer to a pat question. Having open-ended assignments helps to foster those deeper skills of curiosity and reflection.

But ideas don't formulate in a vacuum. To help develop them, there is an active discussion forum on the class website. This is a place to bounce ideas around each other and off me, ask questions, and compile the juicy quotes that one can't help but share. I monitor the boards frequently during the week, offering my own thoughts and reflections on their ideas. Parents are welcome to monitor the class as well. This provides fodder for those spontaneous, fruitful, late-night discussions that tend to occur with thoughtful teens in the house.

The class runs from early September until late April, with a final persuasive essay to cap off the assignments with a flourish of style and rhetoric. I can't promise every student will write like Chesterton at the end of the class, but at least they'll be familiar with his thought, style and logic. By the end of the year hopefully some of each will have rubbed off on them. If so, we are all enriched.

Reading List

Lord of the Ring-givers

For hearty, hard-core hobbit heads, or those just dipping a furry toe into Middle-Earth for the first time, this high school literature and writing course will surprise, enlighten, and bring a new-found wonder at Tolkien's Catholic world.

Anglo-Saxon Literature

They've gnawed your bookshelves to the bones and are hungry for something new. Go beyond Beowulf to the earliest English literature in existance in this one-semester class.

Saints Alive

This junior-high writing course aims for prose as lively and vibrant as the saints themselves. Here students make the jump from ho-hum to high-school-quality essays.

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