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Artwork in Schools: Joe Cardenas on the Buildings that Build Us

From the very start, the founders of The Heights understood education to consist in the communication of a culture. As culture often enters a boy’s mind through his senses, an important means of this transmission is the art and architecture of a school. Indeed, in many ways buildings embody the ideals of an institution. 

This week Joe Cardenas, head of mentoring and long-time art history teacher, joins us for a conversation on the importance of beauty in education. Rooting the conversation in the American tradition, Joe helps us see why and how the art and architecture of schools is as important as the books in its curriculum. 

As we hear from Joe, the art on a school’s walls become the images adorning a student’s soul. If we want to help our boys be at home in their very selves, the art of schools is an indispensable means to this end.


  • 1:25 An evening of art for parents at The Hawthorn School
  • 4:40 Art and beauty in the American tradition
    • 5:35 Washington’s leadership at Valley Forge
  • 7:23 Why does beauty matter?
    • 9:00 The museum of our soul and the archive of our experiences
  • 10:43 What is the role of beauty in a school building?
  • 14:13 Pope Benedict XVI on Beauty
  • 16:00 Cardinal Newman on Beauty
  • 17:22 Beauty and the daily reality of boys
  • 21:25 Beauty in business
  • 24:00 Robert Jackson and the early years of The Heights
  • 28:30 Churchill’s speech on rebuilding the House of Commons

Additional Resources’s explanation of the Four Seasonal Marian Anthems (includes history and translation)

PDF of Music and Lyrics to Alma Redemtoris Mater from

Speech on the Rebuilding of the House of Commons by Winston Churchill

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty by Joseph Ratzinger

A Catholic Eton? by Paul Shrimpton

Also on the Forum 

School Tone, the Most Powerful Teacher with Alvaro de Vicente

Building Little Houses: Why Random Art Projects Are Awesome by Joe Bissex

Manners: The Art of Happiness by Robert Greving

Why Our Politics Needs Poetry with Dr. Matthew Mehan

Five Fruits of a Poetic Education by Nate Gadiano

About the Guest

Joe Cardenas

Head of Mentoring, The Heights School

Joe Cardenas is the Head of Mentoring at The Heights. Mr. Cardenas also teaches AP Art History, English Literature, and Freshman Theology.  Since coming to The Heights in 1994, he has organized cultural trips to Europe and service projects in South America. Mr. Cardenas completed his undergraduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a degree in American history; he received his M.A. in Private School Management from Columbia University in Manhattan. He taught at The Head-Royce School, an independent school in California, and at inner-city programs in Chicago and the Bronx before joining The Heights faculty.

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