St. Midas’ Prep: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Catholic Schools, and the Culture of Achievement
This year’s commencement season is among us, and when students from Catholic high schools walk across auditorium stages and into the world, can we argue that they have a different perspective on the world than if they had not attended a Catholic school? And, if we can, what distinguishes their point of view from others? When it comes to educating our children to face a world where success is judged in terms of cash earned and honors received, how do we vary from our public and private school counterparts?
Each and every day, individuals who teach and work in Catholic schools (ideally) grapple with these and other similar problems.
Moreover, as is often the case with the most important subjects, I’ve realized that there are no simple answers.
During my Sophomore English classes, we were reading F.
“Diamond,” like another fantasy tale by Fitzgerald, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” was initially published in the collectionTales of the Jazz Age, which was released in 1922, just a few years before Fitzgerald’s novelThe Great Gatsby was published.
Midas’ School outside of Boston, he is described as attending “the most costly and most elite boys’ preparatory school in the world,” where “money-kings” drop off their kids in “Rolls-Pierce motorcars.” Despite the fact that the school is not the major part of the novel, it serves as a background for the action, which takes place at a magnificent estate erected by the grandparents of Unger’s classmate Percy Washington and his wife, Mary.
- The family, which includes a direct descendent of the first president, owns a ranch in a remote part of Montana that has not yet been surveyed by the United States government.
- From a massive magnetic field to anti-aircraft weapons to a hole on the golf course where captured pilots are kept as prisoners, the family takes every precaution to keep their property secret.
- It’s a fairly crazy story, to be honest.
- Percy’s father, Braddock, begins praying for the salvation of his estate and the redemption of his slaves, and he offers God his gigantic diamond as a form of exchange for his prayers.
- Midas” in Braddock’s prayer: he was solely concerned about whether or not he had made his bribe large enough to be effective.
- God was created in the likeness of man, and as a result, it has been argued that He must pay a price.
Ultimately, Braddock is confident in his ability to buy God’s favor (and obviously, it does not work—the estate is destroyed, and the guest Unger flees with Percy’s two sisters) because of his perverted conception of the relationship between people and the divine: “God was created in the image of man.” The most essential thing to him is possessing enough material possessions—diamonds, money, slaves—with which to stave against whatever calamity may be brought upon him.
It is important to note that Braddock does not reject the existence of God or turn his back on him; instead, he vows fidelity to a God he has created and is totally sure that God “must have His payment.” Back on track, it is this attitude of putting the divine in the service of humanity that is reflected in the symbolic name of St.
- Midas the Great.” Naturally, Midas, the monarch with a golden touch, is not a saint, nor could he ever be.
- Despite the fact that St.
- Fitzgerald, a lapsed Catholic himself, based St.
- According to a 1915 poll included in Bruccoli’s book, Newman’s enrolment of only 60 students was “taken from the Roman Catholic families of affluence in various areas of the United States,” with the majority of the students being from the Northeast.
At first glance, which is all we have, Fitzgerald’s school does not appear to be significantly different from the elite Protestant institutions on which it was modeled; however, instead of offering a top-notch education to WASPs from New England, it offered a top-notch education to aspirant or prestigious Catholic families at a time in American history when ethnic Catholic families were still on the outside of the American elite, looking in, Fitzgerald’s school offered a top-notch education to aspirant or prestigious Catholic families Fitzpatrick was a student at the Newman School from 1911 to 1913, according to Bruccoli, who credits the school for introducing the young writer from St.
Paul, Minnesota, to the glitz and glam of New York City and Princeton, where he went on to matriculate.
Midas’ to be published.
Midas’ Prep can serve as a cautionary tale for Catholic preparatory schools, particularly elite ones whose students take the most demanding courses and compete for admission to prestigious colleges, and who are therefore the most susceptible to the Pelagianism exemplified by Braddock Washington’s prayer—the belief that we can earn our way to salvation— Achievement can become a god in and of itself, and there is perhaps no more serious offense in the Judeo-Christian tradition than believing that you are worthy solely on the basis of what you have accomplished, what you have earned, or what you have acquired in order to distinguish yourself in the eyes of those who are in your immediate vicinity.
It’s actually just a twisted form of the sin of arrogance: It was because Lucifer could not accept that his worth came from God, that, as his own name indicated, he was the bearer of God’s gift of light and not in any way deserving of it on his own merit, that he was cast out of heaven.
According to the author of the letter to the Romans, those of us who work in Catholic schools swear our loyalty to someone who “did not see equality with God as something to be grasped/Rather, he empty[ed] himself,/ adopting the form of a slave” (Phil 2:6-7).
Individual accomplishments are shifting sands in the sight of a God who requires that we realize our complete reliance on Him as the foundation of our identity.
When there are fewer and fewer consecrated religious in schools, it’s certainly becoming more difficult; at the very least, the sea of black garments served as a visual reminder to students that their schools were founded on a different set of values and required them to navigate time and space using a different compass than the rest of the world; Given how deeply ingrained we are in the business of preparing our children to enter the meritocracy, it is likely that we may be unable to offer them with an education that is truly steeped in humility, short of converting our schools into monastic institutions.
However, just because a struggle is uphill does not imply that it is not worth waging; therefore, the issue remains: how can we prevent our schools from becoming so many different copies of Fitzgerald’s St.
Our capacity to provide kids with a glimpse of real counter-culture, of a view of the world that does not ultimately award value based on performance and that does not elevate the accolade-laden individual to the pinnacle of society, is critical to our success in this subject.
A great deal of this literature is ancient, since the works that are the most away from our age in terms of vision are also, not unexpectedly, the works that are the most removed in terms of years from us.
Dante offers us a sense of freedom that is far more rich than our current sense of being unencumbered by restrictions; his moral order is not based on the concept of infringing upon the rights of individuals without their consent, but is rooted in an objective, almost physical reality that is virtually incomprehensible to us today, but which still serves as the foundation for Catholic ethics.
These books and plays will more often than not present us with the issues of a fast changing world, and they will frequently encourage us to seek purpose and beauty in experiences other than those that business and trade can provide.
As examples, consider the poems of Wordsworth or Coleridge, which were written as they attempted to find an antidote to the dehumanizing effects of industrializing Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century, or Thoreau’s musings, written as the railroad cut tracks through his Concord backyard a half-century after his death.
A Catholic high school becomes St.
Because it is the default setting of our generation, the default setting of our kids is to acquire—it doesn’t matter if those acquisitions are grades, honors, money, or titles; what matters is that they be acquired.
Let us hope that Catholic schools will be able to do the same.
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