Patrick S. J. Carmack, J.D. is the President of the Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program, and the founder of the Angelicum Academy Homeschool Program and of the Great Books Academy Homeschool Program
(2000 AD). In addition to earning his Juris Doctorate, Patrick has
completed additional courses in psychology and philosophy, as well as
studies at the Institute of Spirituality at the Pontifical University of
St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (the “Angelicum”). He is a former Judge at
the Oklahoma State Corporation Commission, member of the U.S. Supreme
Court Bar, former CEO of an independent petroleum exploration and
production company, founder and former Chairman of the International
Caspian Horse Society, and President of a non-profit educational
Patrick was a participant in Dr. Mortimer J. Adler’s
last several Socratic discussion groups in Maryland and California in
1999 and 2000, and he moderated the first live-audio Socratic groups
online and numerous online groups since. He has spoken on educational
topics at various conferences in the U.S. and in Europe. He is the
recipient of the International Etienne Society’s Pope John Paul the
Great Thomist Humanist Award for his work in education.
He recently spoke with Catholic World Report about the Catholic online education, the pros and cons of online technology for learning, and the Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program.
CWR: Online education has had exponential growth in the last decade; has Catholic online education kept pace?
Patrick S. J. Carmack: No,
but it is catching up. There is a conservative tendency in Catholic
education with respect to the use of modern technology, which results in
a reluctance to embrace it. This is probably partly due to a kind of
nostalgia for the golden age of Catholic education in the scholasticism
of the High Middle Ages and the later, very successful Jesuit pedagogy
developed during the Counter-Reformation period. But there is another
reason as well, one articulated by Marshall and Eric McLuhan, which
recognizes that technology and media themselves change us, and hence
society, regardless of the content. There are both advantages and
disadvantages to this, but overall the changes are troubling, especially
if one connects them to the increasing secularization of the West,
where technological change is most rapid. In a word, there is a
dehumanizing element to technology that disembodies us to some degreea
discarnation of a sort. That, of course, runs counter to the Catholic
love of all reality, including the body and the incarnational aspect of
CWR: It is surprising to hear you
criticize educational technology since you work so much with it. Are you
opposed to the use of technology in education, to online classes for
Carmack: Yes, and no. A few years ago
some of us were meeting in Rome with Cardinal Grocholewski, Prefect of
the Congregation for Catholic Education, and he related how numerous
requests were made to the Congregation for Catholic institutions of
higher education to be established in poorer countries, even Muslim ones
such as Indonesia, but that the Congregation had no resources to
respond to this need, and so that opportunity for evangelization was
being missed. Online education can address this need at minimal costs,
worldwide, and we are already engaged in that apostolate. I think this
is a situation in which one can reasonably conclude that the dangers of
modern technology are secondary to its obvious advantages.
reminded of St. Thomas’ observation that while considered simply one
thing may be better than another, yet relatively that may be reversed by
circumstances. So education in-person and without technology may
be better than online education simply considered, yet relatively for
someone without other means of education, online education is much
better than no or minimal education. Remember Aristotle’s dictum that
the educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the
dead. While Catholics may find that an exaggerated judgment, still it
strongly supports the point that good online education is certainly much
better than no education.
Given the prohibitive cost of higher
educationthe average cost of a bachelor’s degree in the U.S. is now
over $40,000 per year, so over $160,000 for the typical four yearsfor
the vast majority of the world’s population online education represents
the only means to higher education. Our LSP online college classes cost
under a fourth of the numbers just mentioned, so an accredited BA begun
at LSP and completed at Holy Apostles College & Seminary online for
example, would cost under $37,000, total.
CWR: What about quality?
studies over the last decade have confirmed that online education is
equal to or superior to on-campus education, at least in terms of
measurable elements such as grades. Our LSP courses are essentially the
same as those offered by Great Books collegesand of course the Great
Books contain “the best that has been thought and written.” Our Theology Online courses
are taught by renowned educator Fr. Joseph Fessio, himself a student of
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who is widely considered the finest
pope-theologian in the history of the Church.
CWR: What is Father Joseph Fessio’s role in the Liberal Studies Program?
Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, Chancellor
Fessio is the Chancellor the Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program
and is the instructor in each of the four Theology Online courses, and
gives the 100 or so total lectures for those four courses.
CWR: What, exactly, is the Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program?
program consists 12 college-level courses developed by Ignatius Press
and the Angelicum Academy. Eight of the courses constitute the Great
Books Program; four of the courses constitute the Theology Online
courses. All 12 courses (60 total credits) have been recommended for
college credit by the American Council on Education (ACE CREDIT). The
Great Books courses are each 6-credit hour courses (48 total credits,
usually completed in eight semesters/four years), and the theology
courses are each 3-credit hour courses (for 12 total credit hours).
CWR: What is the guiding vision of the Liberal Studies Program?
central idea was to provide an online, Catholic, generalist/liberal
education using the Great Books as the primary textshence the Angelicum
Great Books Program, combined with a deeper, more systematic
concentration on the Catholic Faith using the four theology online
courses developed by Fr. Fessio for that purpose.
The Great Books
are best studied using the dialectic or Socratic method, which is a
live, focused, conversational approach, discussing the profound ideas
raised by the greatest authors of all time, under the guidance of
experienced moderators, many of whom are also professors at Catholic
colleges and Fellows of the Adler-Aquinas Institute (adler-aquinasinstitute.org), also headed by Fr. Fessio.
theology online courses are best taught didactically, using lectures by
Fr. Fessio and selected readings, since they generally involve
Revelation and Magisterial teachings, not the subject of debate (in
fact, one of the courses is on Revelation). 80% of the credits (48
credits) are part of the online, live, Angelicum Great Books Program
courses, and 20% (12 credits) are the Theology Online courses. Combined,
we believe this represents the very finest Catholic liberal education
available, online or otherwise.
CWR: How far do those 60 credits take a student towards their bachelor’s degree?
60 college credits represent ½ of the typical bachelor’s degree
curriculum in the US. College students typically take 15 credits per
semester on campus, for four years, earning a total of 120 credits. The
plan of the LSP was to provide the first 60 credits towards a bachelor’s
degree (BA) online, and to allow students then to transfer those
credits into colleges and universities of their choice, online or on
campus, towards their chosen majors. More and more colleges and
universities accept all of these credits, which have been formally
recommended by the American Council on Education for college credit to
its 1,600 affiliated colleges and universities.
CWR: At what age can students begin the LSP courses?
the strong recommendation of our late, great, friend the Catholic
philosopher convert, Dr. Mortimer J. Adler, we have been offering the
Great Books Program to students as young as 14 (9th grade)
and up, since 2000 A.D., with great success (our oldest student was
87!). Young students need a couple of years of the Great Books Program
before taking the four Theology Online courses, so we do not recommend
them for students younger than 16 (11th grade). In this way,
by the time they graduate from high school or homeschool students will
have earned 60 credits towards their BAs, in a top-notch, Catholic,
online program moderated by world-class, Catholic professors and
moderators who have conducted literally thousands of these classes over
the last 15 years.
Parents and students may wish to read some of the testimonials
by our students posted online (at angelicum.net) to get a sense of how
effective and really life-changing these courses can be. To our
surprise, we have found the younger students profit more from the Great
Books than the older oneswith exceptions, of courseas they are more
open to the great truths contained therein and generally have been less
harmed by the radical skepticism and relativism rampant in modern
CWR: Why study the Great Books, often regarded as old, dusty classics? Wouldn't it be better to focus on contemporary works?
Books” is a generic name and so is easy to dismiss generically without
seeming too much the philistine, but considered specifically I think few
serious educators would suggest they should be omitted from any
education worthy of the name: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Genesis, Plato's Dialogues, various works of Aristotle, Plutarch's Lives, Virgil's Aeneid, Cicero On Duties and Friendship, the Gospel of St. John, Augustine's Confessions, selections from Aquinas' Summa, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dante's Divine Comedy, Cervantes' Don Quixote, Milton's Paradise Lost, the great tragedies of Shakespeare, Tolstoy's War and Peace, Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamasov, the U.S. Constitution, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, and
many more like these. Our students read well over 100 such works in
four years. Dr. Adler maintained that unless one were acquainted with
such great, influential works one simply could not be considered well
educated, nor understand the foundations of our society, its past,
present or likely future.
In the words of Dr. Adler: “Reading the
Great Books has done more for my mind than all the rest of the academic
pursuits…it is the best education for the faculty as well as for the
students; the use of original texts is an antidote for survey courses
and fifth-rate textbooks; and it constitutes by itself, if properly
conducted, the backbone of a liberal education.”
people maintain it would be better to study far fewer works and more
thoroughly understand them. Or that students cannot understand those
difficult works in high school. What would you say in response?
would answer that I agree with Dr. Adler that no graduate from high
school or even college is "educated" in a complete or even moderately
satisfactory sense, nor will they thoroughly understand even a few great
books at that age. That is the work of a lifetime. Rather, the best we
can hope for is to acquaint them with the broad range of human
intellectual activity and discovery, which reading widely in a four-year
Great Books Program accomplishes better than any alternative. Students
who never previously considered careers or interests in philosophy,
theology, history, literature or many other subjects have those fields
opened to them, often for the first time, when they read the Great
CWR: Is the program committed to upholding its Catholic identity?
The Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program’s commitment to
fostering a strong sense of Catholic identity is recognized in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College as a recommended Catholic college program.
CWR: Many online programs have seen significant growth in the last few years; how is the LSP doing?
Carmack: Our student numbers this year are up approximately 30%, which is obviously very strong growth.
CWR: Where can parents and potential students find out more about the Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program?
Carmack: At angelicum.net. Classes begin the first week of September. Online enrollments are on-going.