On this episode of Anchored, Soren is joined by Chris Weir, the executive director of the Camino Schools in California. Chris explains his journey to getting involved with the Camino Schools and the redundancy of using the label “classical” when referring to Catholic liberal arts schools. The two also explore the reasons to be hopeful about the future of Catholic education and the importance of making it more accessible.
Today’s episode of Anchored is brought to you with support from America’s Christian Credit Union. Find out how ACCU can be the banking partner to your school or family by visiting americaschristiancu.com/CLT.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (00:01.154)
Welcome back to the Anchored Podcast, the official podcast of the Classic Learning Test. My name is Soren Chua, VP of Partnerships here at CLT, and today we're joined by Mr. Chris Weir. Chris holds a BA and MA in Theological Studies from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he also served as the Special Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs and the Assistant Director of First Year Programs from 2001 to 2005. From 2005 to 17,
Chris served as the Director of Admissions, Director of Leadership Development, and Associate Director of Formation at Servite High School, an all-boys Catholic high school in Anaheim, California. While doing research for the founding of the formation program at Servite, Chris discovered the nationwide renewal taking place within Catholic education, rooted in a rediscovery of the Catholic intellectual tradition. Since then, Chris has served as the Vice President for the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education,
Assistant Principal of Holy Innocence School in Long Beach, President of Servite High School, and he is currently the Executive Director of the Camino Schools in Orange County, California. He and his wife, Annie, live in Long Beach and have three children, Mary Elizabeth, Magdalena, and William. Chris, such an honor to have you on today.
Chris Weir (01:17.882)
Great to be on the podcast, Warren. Thanks for having me.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (01:20.35)
Absolutely, as we always do, we're going to start talking about your own educational background. Talk to us a little bit about your K-12 experience. Where did you grow up? What kind of schools did you attend?
Chris Weir (01:31.002)
Sure, yeah. So I'm a cradle Catholic. Went to St. Hedwig's school in Los Alamitos, California for nine years, K through eight. And then went on to Servite where I later worked, but I am an alumnus. And loved my Catholic education. But I think what I didn't realize at the time, I always assumed as a student, both in K through eight and in high school that...
The school part was the same anywhere you went. My public school friends were experiencing the same thing in terms of the curriculum, the textbooks, what basically would happen inside the classroom. But that the cultural differences were the main differences. And so when I discovered that there was more to that, that's sort of the light bulb that went off, that there's actually a difference to the philosophy and the pedagogy and the curriculum itself, which sort of woke me up. But loved my Catholic education and got a lot of great...
foundation from it from the great people that were involved.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (02:28.11)
So you did K-12 all the way through Catholic and then did you go on to, you went on to Loyola. So you really are a product of.
Chris Weir (02:34.21)
Yeah, I know nothing but Catholic education. That's right. Yeah.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (02:39.742)
It's fascinating and I know we're going to talk about that a little bit more, especially with your new project at the Camino schools, but you mentioned that it's the culture, but not... I think that's probably true for a lot of Catholic schools, so to this day, where you walk in and it seems like the curriculum, pedagogy, the one-to-one, everything kind of looks like public schools, but then it feels a little bit different. And I guess at some point you realized, oh, there's actually more to that. And we'll talk about that.
Chris Weir (03:08.038)
Soren Schwab (CLT) (03:09.234)
I guess, or rediscovered is the Catholic liberal education. I know there's, you know, on the Protestant side, they're more inclined to use the word classical or at the classical renewal movement. On the Catholic side, it's more of a kind of a Catholic liberal education. How has that kind of evolved over the last 50 years, kind of from your, I know you're not that old, but your experience the last 100 years, Chris.
Chris Weir (03:35.579)
Yeah, right, right.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (03:40.095)
What have you seen once you discovered this and what has been happening in Catholic education, maybe related to this Catholic liberal education that I mentioned?
Chris Weir (03:50.054)
Sure, sure. Well, you know, it's funny you mentioned I hadn't really thought about it before, but just even that mark of 50 years, I think my lifespan is such that 50 years is probably a good number to use because I think a lot of the teachers that I had, their own, for many of them Catholic education was sort of markedly different, I think. And so they were able to pass on a little bit sort of intuitively that was a little different. But then in the sort of maybe the second half of that 50 year span, we've really seen where
Unfortunately, and for no fault of their own, a lot of really well-intentioned Catholic educators who want to be at Catholic schools for all the right reasons, they don't know what they don't know. And they don't have sort of that thing that maybe some of the older generation had that they sort of got intuitively. And so they're not able to pass it on. They don't know what they don't know. So, but as far as, you know, Catholic liberal education, the liberal arts tradition, classical, yeah. I mean, I do agree with a lot of people.
on the Catholic side of things, that sometimes that classical word can be more of a hindrance than a help. And the reason is because it allows people to look, step back and say, oh, that's classical. Okay, we can have a Catholic classical school in our diocese. And we could also have a Catholic STEM school and a Catholic fine arts school. And so it allows people to sort of box it in as this other thing, when in fact, like you said, to your point,
what we're talking about when we say Catholic liberal education or classical or whatever it might be, what we're talking about is what Catholic education was for 2,000 years. And we're simply drawing the distinction from what's only been around for about 100 years in that modern progressive education, which like you mentioned, I think a lot of Catholic schools and Catholic educators sort of took in again for no fault of their own, but that just became the norm.
and Catholic schools and pastors and bishops said, you know, well, I want my Catholic school to be relevant and accredited, and I want my teachers to have credentials and to be certified, and they didn't realize that all of that was taking in a brand new philosophy of education that had never existed before, so.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (06:03.298)
Wow, that's really powerful and you know that full disclosure, right? I'm the Protestant, so I'm not claiming to be an expert here, but talking to you, talking to folks like Michael Van Ecke, right? And I asked them about, well, then what is authentic Catholic education? And he's like, well, that's what we're talking about, right? I mean, that is Catholic liberal education. So in a way, it's from what you're saying, it sounds like the liberal arts slash classical, whatever you want to call it. It's almost like it's been divorced from...
Chris Weir (06:22.158)
Soren Schwab (CLT) (06:32.986)
Can you be a Catholic STEM school? But if Catholic tradition is the liberal arts tradition, then how is that even possible?
Chris Weir (06:40.282)
That's right. And let me be clear, I don't want anybody to think that there's anything wrong with STEM. But if you think STEM is the foundation, if you think that's why you're doing everything that you're doing, that's where you've gone awry. Now, there's people out there like Michael Ortner, who I know is friends with CLT and others. And you see it with all the tech companies who are desirous of hiring liberal arts graduates because of the way that they can think and reason.
So there's nothing wrong with STEM. It's just what is your foundation? What is your end goal? If it's STEM, then you're missing the boat. And if you do want kids to succeed in something like STEM, they're far better off with the foundation and the traditional liberal arts. And yeah, so it's kind of frustrating that this thing that's only been around for about 100 years has now come to be seen as the norm. And we have to distinguish ourselves by calling ourselves classical or traditional liberal arts when we've got 2000 years under our belt, if not more.
So that can be frustrating, but hopefully one day it'll just be Catholic education again, and then the other will be called modern progressive education.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (07:45.258)
Yeah, and you're one of the leaders in that movement. We talked beforehand, it's nothing like innovative or new, it's just going back to the roots, to the at-fonte, so to speak. But I guess from my perspective, Catholic schools, I feel like even more so than kind of your ACSI, Protestant schools, almost everything that they compete in, it seems to be kind of these competing in things that are more worldly, right?
test scores, whether it's the number of AP classes, whether it's blue ribbon, all these things. And so I guess I don't blame some of these schools, right? Because that's what parents understand, right? They understand a certain number, a certain percentile, certain awards, versus the thing that I guess sets authentic Catholic education apart, right? And the impact that it has on the soul of the student. Well, that's really hard to, I guess, measure, right? And put on a website for marketing. And so...
Chris Weir (08:41.67)
All right, sure.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (08:44.194)
How do you, and you've been part obviously of Catholic liberal schools or classical schools, how did you approach that and how do you think in Catholic schools make the case that this is the best education without falling into these kind of progressive categories of validating their success?
Chris Weir (09:02.274)
Right, it's a great question. For me, I think that the best way to convince anyone is for them to see the fruits of it, right? So if you're talking about, you know, a parent who's considering whether or not to send their child to a school like this, you've got to get them on campus. And anytime you do, and the number one word that I've ever heard used to describe schools such as these is joy.
the recognition of a true and authentic joy on the part of both students and teachers. Modern education, teaching in the modern progressive educational system is not a fun or joyful endeavor. It's soul crushing. And so I think the fruits are really what do it. And I think we just have to see this movement and the reestablishment of authentic Catholic education.
We have to see it as a long game, right? Because what I've seen time and time again is that schools that unabashedly adopt this and move forward and really do well with it, things may not change overnight, in some instances they do, but eventually these schools thrive and they flourish and people see that firsthand, not only by coming on campus, but by interacting with their graduates. And they say, what, you know, these kids are different.
The first thing you notice is they're happy. You know, they're not burdened by the anxiety and the depression and the social ills that so many kids are today that you hear about all the reports about and the studies and statistics. So I think if we just, you know, commit ourselves to this vision of education, do whatever we can in our specific context at the school we're at or whatever, and just realize that the fruits will come and they will spread like wildfire, you know.
We've seen that in countless schools across the country.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (11:04.714)
And it seems like this movement is growing and it's growing rapidly. And even when I joined CLT five years ago and I would mention the ICLE and some of these schools, people would say, oh yeah, there's this one in Hyattsville, Maryland, that's St. Jerome. They have a cool story, but it's now one of so many. Now I want to talk specifically about your time at Holy Innocence. I know your children still go there because...
Chris Weir (11:21.457)
Soren Schwab (CLT) (11:33.17)
I think what I'm hearing a lot, and that's not just on the Catholic side, but in general about great books education or classical education, liberal arts education, is the sense that, oh yeah, but it's just for kind of wealthy suburban white, kind of this elitist, you know, and of course we want to make the case that this is the best education for all children, but based on your own experience, how would you answer that?
Chris Weir (12:18.196)
First and foremost, I think the very question itself is offensive to all children. I mean, the idea, well, let me back up. This kind of education, the whole purpose of it is that it is the the educational approach best suited for human flourishing. Okay. If that's the case, then why shouldn't it be accessible to all children? You know, when you sit down and talk to a parent about what they want for their children, you know, to your previous question about test scores and things that we measure schools by, I mean, some parents will say they're looking at those things, they want to know how many AP courses, but at the end of the day, every parent wants their child to be happy, you know.
And if you sit a parent down and say, this is the education best suited to make your child happy, happy being themselves because they've discovered the truth of who they are, who God is calling them to be. They've been given tools and habits of mind and desires of heart to pursue that, you know, and succeed in the pursuit of that. That should be accessible to everyone and almost more so to the underprivileged. Because if you lack a leg up in all these other categories,
then gosh, I hope at least we can give you an education that prepares you to succeed despite having some of those setbacks that maybe other children your age and in other contexts don't have. So I think we need to fight to give this to underprivileged children almost more than privileged children. I mean, we got to give them every advantage they have to become the people that God's calling them to be, that God created them.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (14:14.302)
I mentioned Hyattsville and St. Jerome and some of these early schools that adopted this or reconnected with their authentic Catholic roots. But there's so many now. You're in a state that is maybe politically not known for some of these things. You're in California, but even there this is happening. What have you seen?
in this movement, the last 10-15 years maybe, that makes you hopeful across the country, but particularly where you're at in California.
Chris Weir (14:50.402)
Yeah, I think broadly speaking, you know, the first, I think what first had a lot of parents interested in this and sort of attuned to it was that because our Catholic schools had sort of drifted to this modern progressive approach, the Catholicity sort of naturally took a bit of a back seat. You know, and again, in some cases, in most cases, not intentionally and with no, you know, mal intent. But so I think initially there was this desire of parents to see their Catholic schools be more Catholic.
right, weren't more intentionally Catholic. So that's what was happening, I think, kind of pre-COVID. That's what was driving a lot of parents and others to look into this. But then you have COVID and gosh, so at the beginning of COVID, if you ever told me I would ever use the phrase, one of the blessings of COVID, I wouldn't have believed you. But one of the blessings of COVID was that it lifted the lid and really allowed parents to see, it's not only about the Catholicity, but just the way that their children are being educated.
So I think now what you have as parents, yes, a lot of them are very concerned with Catholicity, but you've also got a lot of parents out there that just go, I want my kids better educated than this, you know, and they're drawn to the actual form of education, whether they're religious or not. So in the, in the Catholic sphere and certainly here in California, I mean, for me, it's personal. Six years ago, my wife and I were trying to figure out what to do with our oldest daughter. When she was about three, you know, are we going to homeschool? Are we going to start a school? Are we going to move to a school?
We looked to Orange County first. I'm an Orange County, you know, kid born and raised and there just weren't any options. So we looked elsewhere and we talked to lots of people and there just, there weren't very many options and thank God we were led to Father Peter at Holy Innocence and that led to a beautiful option there. But now you fast forward and the Camino schools are one of, you know, probably about half a dozen options that didn't exist, you know, just six years ago here in Southern California. So I'm just very grateful to be a part of.
especially in a place like California, being able to offer families that desire it an alternative.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (16:53.942)
Yeah, that's fantastic. And what a great segue into your new project, so to speak. So you are now working as the executive director of the Camino schools. How did you get involved with that project, with the schools? I guess, how did you find out? Walk us a little bit through the process that made you want to be part of it.
Chris Weir (17:16.25)
Sure. So I was at sort of a crossroads in my career. I had a handful of opportunities that I was sort of weighing. And to be honest, the first time somebody I think texted me a copy of the PDF sort of prospectus that the founding board members had put together just to start spreading the word among benefactors and others. And when I first read it, I was just to be honest, I was completely overjoyed simply that this opportunity was coming to Orange County.
Having gone through the you know personal experience that my wife and I did ourselves I was just happy that it was happening. It was K through 8 which you know, that's not Typically my wheelhouse. I spent a couple years, you know with holy innocence with my own kids, but So I when I initially heard about I didn't really think about it as a as an opportunity But the more I discerned, you know I would say that probably the biggest and I say this almost anytime I speak probably the biggest light bulb moment
in my career as a Catholic educator was when it finally sunk into me the difference between running a school and building culture. And that Catholic education is really about building culture, not running schools. And I think that's one of the fundamental problems in Catholic schools today is that we've sort of just, unbeknownst to us, we've adopted this mindset of running a school, and it's really about building culture. So one of the things that the Camino School's vision was very clear about is
the unique power of schools to renew culture and to build culture. And that's really at the end of the day, what drew me to the project is that these people really understand the power of what a school can be in terms of renewing culture. And it was something I really wanted to be a part of.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (19:01.238)
So you're saying building culture apart from school culture, so through building school culture and then go out into the world and impact the culture at large, is that kind of the ultimate goal?
Chris Weir (19:12.906)
Yes, that's the idea. And I guess, you know, I don't know if I'd say apart from school culture, it's sort of building a community, building a culture around a school, right? Because, you know, some of the elements of great culture are, you know, solid families, solid formation, solid friendships. These things a school can uniquely sort of bring together, encourage, help develop.
Especially at a time like this when we have so many families who, Sorin, I think because of what's happening around us, I think we have a lot of young families who desire something more. They know that they want more for their children and even more for their own families and more for themselves. But it's something that their parents probably weren't even given. In a lot of cases, it wasn't something they experienced themselves. They see this more out there.
And I think a school like the Camino Schools is able to draw families like that together, who have this common vision and this common desire for not only just their children, but for their entire families and themselves. Encourage that, give them tools, connect them with each other so that there's mutual support and camaraderie and encouragement and mutual learning. And so I think that the founders of the Camino Schools I think uniquely saw that schools can do that in a special way.
You could have a lot of people say, hey, I'd like to renew culture. Well, how are you gonna do it? Well, I'm gonna start a foundation. I'm gonna do, but schools have a real unique ability, I think, to really, in a very powerful and almost quicker way than a lot of other attempts to really help build culture, build people up, so that yes, exactly like you said, they can then go out and like a ripple effect, be that leaven in their.
workplaces or wherever they go to high school or college or and hopefully again, we got a we got to believe in the long game. We're not going to see it. Some of us, I don't expect to see the full fruits of the Camino schools in my lifetime, but I believe that they have the ability to have an impact a hundred years from now that and that's why I want to be a part of it.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (21:30.362)
Wow, super encouraging. Talk to us a little bit about kind of the nuts and bolts. I think it starts with two schools, girls school, all girls, all boys. Talk to us a little bit about curriculum and just some of the more specifics.
Chris Weir (21:43.718)
Sure, yeah, so there's three distinctive sort of pillars of the Camino schools. The first is the classical education. You know, we want the educational component to be thoroughly classical. The second is character development, very intentional character development, which again, good Catholic education, that would be implicit, right? But that everything we do from the books that we choose for the children to read, to the activities that we participate in, to the, just the way that we live the life of our school.
that it's constantly about this development of virtue and character. And then the third component is spiritual growth, of course. And so the spiritual care of the Camino schools will be entrusted to Opus Dei. And there's a handful of other Opus Dei affiliated schools around the country, which I know you're very familiar with, like the Heights in Potomac, Maryland. And it's Sister School Oakcrest. There's schools in New York, Boston, Chicago, Houston.
So traditionally, a lot of those schools that I just mentioned, like you said, found it as two separate schools, girls' schools and boys' schools. Because one of the distinctive features of these schools when it comes to character development is the recognition that all boy and all girl single sex education can be a very powerful tool in character development. And so that's one of the distinctive features of most Opus Dei schools. So.
The vision of the Camino school is a little bit different in that it wants to bring both of those schools together under one umbrella, under one founding. So the model that we're pursuing currently is to have a co-ed K-2 environment that then feeds a single sex, third grade through eighth grade for both boys and girls. And the girls would only have female teachers, third grade through eighth grade. Boys would have only male teachers. And that's a very distinctive, I think, vision.
just the way that we're structuring the school will be very distinctive in that regard, plus the classical, plus the spiritual care of Opus Dei. So, yeah.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (23:48.187)
Would it be different campuses or under one campus with different buildings?
Chris Weir (23:51.982)
Yeah, we're still, you know, being in our infancy, you know, there's been talk of both. I think a lot depends on the opportunities that get presented. That's the utmost priority of mine right now is finding a campus. I have a feeling it'll be more of a shared space, but a space that allows us to keep those two, you know, wings, you know, distinctive and able to.
to set up an educational environment that is suited for girls and lets girls be girls and similarly suited for boys and lets boys be boys.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (24:27.831)
Man, that's bold in California, right?
Chris Weir (24:29.71)
It is. Just to say that there's a difference is bold out here. So yeah, yeah. That's right.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (24:34.41)
Right. You're rebels out there. Well, if any of our listeners, who knows, maybe they have connections, they're in California. How could they get in touch with the Camino schools or with you if they wanna get involved in this beautiful project?
Chris Weir (24:49.814)
Yes, please. So obviously the easiest is our website, which is Caminoschools.org. And you can readily find, you know, my email address, phone number. I would love to speak with anyone who is, you know, and in particular, anyone who's maybe you're interested in the specific school endeavor, but just this, if you're interested in renewing the culture out here in California, we'd love to partner with you, whether that means you're a partner of the Camino school specifically or
or our broader hope to be a part of a larger cultural renewal out here in California. We'd love to connect.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (25:26.114)
You know, at CLT, obviously, we work with a lot of Catholic schools. So sometimes my colleague JP and I, we joke a little bit, you know, St. Peter's school, oh, which one? You know, there's a hundred St. John's. Yeah, there's so many. I don't know of any Camino schools. I don't know if you are the first one, but talk to us a little bit about the name and the rationale behind the name.
Chris Weir (25:35.511)
Chris Weir (25:39.684)
Chris Weir (25:45.954)
Yeah, I think, you know, the when you trace back the very founding culture of California, you go back to, you know, St. Unipro, Sarah, and the El Camino, the road that forged the path of the founding of all the missions up the coast of California. And I you know, as we were, you know, talking a little bit before we started recording, you know, the irony right now is, I don't know that there's a state in the Union that
at first glance, just from the things that you see on paper, is more Christian in nature, from the names of our cities to the way we were founded. And so the irony is we've really lost that. And so I think the intention with calling ourselves the Camino schools is that we want to go try to renew that and sort of draw from the inspiration and those, the initial efforts out here in California that were.
early on so wildly successful and try to bring that back and really tap into our roots out here in California.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (26:52.862)
Yeah, I mean, and just listening to you and maybe encourage our audience not to believe everything that they're hearing in the news about California, feel the same about maybe it's true for Portland, I don't know, you hear a lot. But not long ago I had the founder of the John Adams Academies on the podcast, Dean Forman, up in...and they talked so much about culture too and the importance of culture.
Chris Weir (27:00.162)
Chris Weir (27:11.366)
Mm. Yes. Yes, I listened to it. Enjoyed that a lot. Yeah.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (27:21.242)
And then I think in a few weeks I'll be in Valencia, California because there's a lot of classical Christian schools on the Protestant side, right? And they talk a lot about culture. So maybe we shouldn't always just look to our politicians, but what you're doing is from the bottom up, right, create community on the local level and have that kind of be a vehicle for cultural change. So very excited about the Camino schools and hope that our listeners are...
Chris Weir (27:27.398)
Chris Weir (27:35.284)
Soren Schwab (CLT) (27:49.246)
or getting connected with you and certainly be rooting and praying for that endeavor. We do have one more question as we always do in the Anchored Podcast, the hardest I know. And I feel like we're under that point where almost everyone cheats like, well, I'm gonna give you three, no, one, just one. If there's one book or one text that you can point to that has had the biggest impact in your life, what would it be and why?
Chris Weir (27:55.739)
Of course, of course. Yeah.
Chris Weir (28:05.891)
Chris Weir (28:14.97)
Yep. Yeah, and I am gonna cheat. I'm gonna give you one book like you asked, but I'm gonna mention two documents before that. And the first is, Edicatio Gravissimo Medicatio Ness from the Second Vatican Council. And I mentioned that just because that was the first time, again, when I was at Servite, we were talking about this formation program, and I went back to church documents and education. That was my first wake up call that way. The church is calling us to something that I did not experience in my 13 years of.
more than that of Catholic education. So I think the church documents are important. The second would be the St. Jerome Educational Plan. You know, when I read your question, really thought, I know this is the last question in the CLT podcast always, but when I really thought about how that has impacted your life, you know, just a shout out to Michael Hanby and that group that wrote that plan. If that didn't happen, the Catholic part of this movement would not have proceeded the way that it did. And so...
That leading to the way it helped ICLE take off and the way that impacted my life, that was huge. But as far as the book, the one that I would say would be Beauty and the Word by Stratford Caldecott. Because that just opened up for me the richness of what's possible with this kind of education. It's a deep, spiritual, philosophical, very reflective book.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (29:25.326)
Chris Weir (29:40.83)
really helps you understand that if this is done well, this is soul-changing for eternity. You know, that's what it's all about.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (29:51.346)
Wow, and I echo what you said earlier, if people are unclear, like what's the difference between your traditional versus your, just go visit a school. It just feels different. And so thank you so much for sharing. Again, we're here with Chris Weir, who's the executive director of the Camino Schools in Orange County. God bless you, brother, and all the best in your new endeavor.
Chris Weir (29:59.212)
Chris Weir (30:15.354)
Thank you, Sorin, and thanks for all the great work that CLT does to help us in this movement. Appreciate it.