Self-Mastery: Alvaro de Vicente on Fostering Interior Freedom in Schools

In this week’s episode, we talk with headmaster Alvaro de Vicente about a central theme from our faculty workshop: self-mastery. As Alvaro explains, self-mastery is a certain integration of action, words, thoughts, and desires that gives one the interior freedom to not only do the good but to want to do the good.

What does this self-mastery look like for teachers, for students, and for parents? How do we help our boys develop self-mastery? What is the role of a school in assisting parents with this great endeavor?

As man is not made virtuous in a day, Mr. de Vicente encourages us to think long term. At the same, he reminds us to focus on the little things, those small, daily realities where aspiration becomes actuality. In particular, he suggests dress code, punctuality, and language as three battlefields on which we can wage war alongside our sons—not against them—as they grow in interior freedom.

Self-mastery, Alvaro explains, is not about mastering the world or others. It is rather about mastery of oneself so as to be able to steward the little piece of creation which the Creator has given us. For some, this may be a team. For others, it could be a whole company or even a country. For most, this will be a family, for whom the father has a special kind of care—a care which is best lived out when he recognizes that he is both a father and the Father’s son.


  • 3:44 What is self-mastery?
  • 5:17 The role of the school in developing self-mastery of students
  • 7:47 Practical advice for developing self-mastery in students
    • 9:10 Dress code
    • 12:22 Punctuality
    • 13:17 Language
  • 15:59 School tone and self-mastery
    • 17:41 Advice for teachers
  • 18:02 Armando Valladares and interior freedom
  • 22:07 Trusting our students
  • 25:39 John Henry Cardinal Newman and the education of boys
    • 26:17 Two applications of Newman’s educational philosophy
  • 29:02 Self-mastery and the order of creation
  • 32:47 Living life to the fullest: how self-mastery can help us enjoy life more
  • 34:02 Advice for parents
    • 38:07 Implementing change in the home
  • 42:25 Stories from Alvaro’s upbringing
  • 45:07 Recommended reading
  • 46:37 A question to spark discussion

Also on The Forum

Respectful Dominion: Colin Gleason on Discipline with Colin Gleason

Learn to Turn: Tom Royals on Parental Prudence with Tom Royals

Manners: The Art of Happiness by Robert Greving

Why My Computer Science Students Should Master the Guitar by George Martin

Training the Hand to Train the Mind by Robert Greving

Additional Resources

A Catholic Eton? Newman’s Oratory School by Paul Shrimpton

Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag by Armando Valladares

Alvaro de Vicente

About the guest:

Alvaro de Vicente

Alvaro de Vicente has served as Headmaster of The Heights School in Potomac, Maryland since July 2002. Originally from Santander, Spain, Alvaro received some of his secondary education at The Heights and graduated from there in 1983. In 1987 he graduated cum laude from Georgetown University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Philosophy and received his J.D. from Georgetown University School of Law in 1991. As Executive Director of the Tenley Study Center from 1989 to 2002, he organized and managed supplemental development programs to several hundred students and professionals per year. Several of the Center’s programs were replicated and became standard programs for other supplemental education centers in the United States and abroad. While employed full-time by the Tenley Study Center, Mr. de Vicente offered his services on a part-time basis to The Heights School. Between 1992 and 2002, Mr. de Vicente assisted the School in various positions; coaching, establishing and running its college counseling office, school administrator overseeing contracts with vendors, and student advisor. From 1995 to 2001, Mr. de Vicente served on The Heights School’s Board of Directors, the last four years as its vice-president. In addition, Mr. de Vicente also serves on the Board of Trustees of two other educational groups; the Youth Leadership Foundation and the Texas Education Works. In his capacity as Headmaster of The Heights School he spearheaded and supervised the construction of the School’s signature building. But Mr. de Vicente’s most important work is in the classroom where he teaches Catholic Apologetics and in mentoring students daily.

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