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Focus on the Program, Not the People

In modern retail business, it’s common to hear “The customer is always right.”. Jeff Bezos went fuether and, while founding Amazon, replaced “customer service” with “customer obsession”. This may be effective in the retail industry, where the end is indiscriminate sales, but it doesn’t work in education. In fact, in education, the key to success quite the opposite.

When I started the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, I established the following mission: “The Classical Liberal Arts Academy works to research. Restore publish and teach the classical liberal arts.”.

At the time, I did not realize the importance of this mission, but as the work of the Academy has developed and progressed, I see more and more how important it is to focus on the program and not the people.

People living in modern society have been deluded by democracy and capitalism. They believe that what is true in democratic politics and retail shopping is true in every area of life. Parents believe that their opinion or vote should be equal to that of the headmaster or superintendent of the school. Students believe that teachers and administrators should be willing to customize and individualize every part of their schooling to their liking. When they have a difficult time or encounter something they don’t like, they throw a tantrum and demand to speak to the manager and have their wishes granted, as if the principal’s office in the school is a customer service desk. If their wishes are not granted, they threaten to withdraw their children, go to another school and demand a refund, even when there is no other school that shares our mission for them to attend. I’m left wondering what brought them to our Academy in the first place, and this leads me to rest in our mission.

The people come and go while the program moves forward.

Over time, as the program develops, the number of people becomes greater and greater while the dissatisfied come and go and have very little effect on the overall progress of our work. At times, we are tempted to put the people first, but we continue to put the program before the people. Again and again, this policy proves to be wise in the end.

In philosophy, we talk about the need for a student to rise above the “sea of change” and focus his attention on that which is unchanging. We often talk about the corruptible nature of material things and the constant change in the present world, but the most unstable thing of all is the will of human beings. This is why it’s perfectly reasonable for a school working to restore classical Catholic education to put the stable program before the unstable people.


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