I’m watching barges go up the Rhine River. The precious, early morning hours before official tour activities begin are my favorite, no matter where I am. Still, the joy of sitting here, looking out at the castles on the Rhine? That defies description.
By the end of the week, I will be back in Texas. But between this voyage and returning to Dallas, I’ll spend three whirlwind days at Highlands Latin School (Louisville, KY), working with teachers attending a training conference for the Classical Latin School Association. My thoughts are already focused on that adventure.
Why? Gathered together will be some of the most inspiring educators you could hope to meet. These are people on a mission. Pushing past today’s low expectations, they accept the realm of excellence as the only standard. These are teachers who make the neglected subjects of Latin, Greek, Rhetoric, and Ancient History spring to life. These are teachers who help turn the “average” child into a well-educated human being.
But that’s not the only reason I am thinking about this event. The second reason is dearer, and more poignant: the sudden loss of a great woman named Cheryl Lowe, founder of Highlands Latin School and of Memoria Press.
The Classical curricula published by Memoria Press served as the first inspiration for Hank and me as we started on the path towards Professor Carol. The year was 2008. We were considering taking up a challenge issued by a variety of my SMU students who had been homeschooled. They repeatedly lamented the dearth of serious secondary-school level curricula in the Fine Arts, not just in the homeschooling world, but in public education. They said, in effect, there was nothing.
I was just learning from them about homeschooling, but I really had no grasp of methods or materials. Still, when student after student seemed to echo the same assessment, I got curious.
So that summer Hank and I drove to Houston to attend a convention. Wandering through the aisles, encountering names like Math-U-See, ACE, and Sonlight, we were fascinated. We stumbled across two things that really stayed with us. One was called Greathall Productions featuring the delicious, incomparable master of story-telling Jim Weiss (I’ll save him for another essay). And the second was the booth for Memoria Press.
As I recall, their spread was significantly smaller than it is today. But what power emanated from their publications! With ever increasing surprise, we leafed through serious, attractive courses in Latin, Greek, Rhetoric, Ancient History, Poetry, and Handwriting. Raised with a strong background in Latin, I had watched with sorrow as these seminal subjects faded from public schools. I had proof of the damage left behind: bright students in my classroom at SMU whose education had been weakened, and I’d even say crippled in many respects by their absence.
But here it all was again: clean, crisp, clear, and powerful. I said to Hank, “If we do this thing, I want our materials to look like this.” Over dinner, we talked for hours about what we’d seen across the exhibit hall, but particularly at Memoria Press. Our conclusion? Memoria Press had the kind of materials we wanted to emulate.
Shortly thereafter we met Cheryl Lowe and soon were in conversation with her about possibly working together with Memoria Press in our venture. As it turned out, we moved forward independently to make Discovering Music, but kept Memoria’s vision squarely in mind. The rest, as they say, is history.
Cheryl Lowe’s death will be deeply felt by those who worked with her and depended on her, both locally and nationally. Last February we enjoyed her lovely hospitality at an elaborate reception held at Highlands Latin School for our Classical Consortium meeting, complete with some of Kentucky’s finest cuisine. As always, she was scheduled to be a guiding light for the conference this week. And suddenly she is gone.
There will have already been plenty of tributes to this woman who decided to homeschool her sons in an era when homeschooling was illegal in many states. She was in every sense of the word a pioneer: a woman who saw her children not challenged, and decided to move heaven and earth to do something about it.
And something about it she did! Not only did she find ways to teach them when curricular materials were not available to individuals, but also created appropriate Latin curricula for them. Soon, she was sharing it with others who thirsted for the same. Not surprisingly, but still wondrously, a small school sprang up which grew, and grew, and grew. That necessitated bringing in even more talent. And, accordingly, a press was required to keep up with the curriculum she and others were developing.
Today both Memoria Press and Highlands Latin School embody a level of excellence that shines like the North Star. The world of Classical Education and, for that matter, homeschooling has broadened and strengthened in ways those courageous trailblazers like Mrs. Lowe could have imagined only in their wildest dreams. And she is responsible for a great deal of those developments.
Everyone at this conference will be struggling to grasp the loss of this extraordinary woman. Her mission is complete. Her vision is secure. But her loss is inestimable. May the work we all do at this event be worthy of what she would have expected from each of us. Resquiescat in Pace.