As the school year winds down, Catholic school teachers – heroic leaders that they are – are already planning to make next year even better. Novice teachers have realized how much they themselves have yet to learn, and are looking for new tools and techniques. Experienced teachers will not be searching so much for new classroom innovations as for revitalization and reminders of the loftiness of their vocation. And all teachers want to bring fresh inspiration into the next school year.
Perhaps the most important source of annual inspiration should be a review of the core principles of Catholic education, and reflection on curriculum and methods in light of these principles. The Church has been educating – and reflecting on education – for over 2,000 years, and has a deep treasure trove to explore. This reflection has informed many different approaches within Catholic education – Benedictine, Dominican, Jesuit, parochial, etc. – which all share foundational principles. Here I have formulated seven principles – a good Catholic number. They are distinct but, of course, interrelated principles.
7 Principles Of Catholic Education
- Jesus Christ the Teacher is the source and summit of Catholic education. He is the center of both chapel and classroom life. He teaches and is known not only in the Eucharist, but also through words made flesh in classroom conversation.
- Each student is a person made in the image and likeness of God (imago Dei) to know, love, and serve God (capax Dei). Your relationship is thus not just with material to be taught, but with persons destined for eternity.
- The human person consists of body and soul, and knowledge – both natural and supernatural – comes to us through the senses. One corollary of this is that the world is a sacrament of God’s love. Our teaching of all subjects should reflect this.
- Wisdom begins in wonder, Aristotle taught. Christianity adds that the natural desire to know is without limit, and can only be fulfilled supernaturally. Good teachers foster wonder in their students by sharing with them their own love of books, the world, and of learning generally – especially through asking and showing students how to ask questions.
- All parts of the universe – seen and unseen – are united in a harmonious whole. Education involves ordering the ordering the mind to discover this order, and the soul to reflect it. This leads to further corollaries concerning economy in teaching – teaching the right things at the right time – and the need for beauty in all its forms to draw students forward through the curriculum.
- Charity is essential for education: genuine education happens in the context of friendships among students, teachers, and the author of all.
- Docility and humility are essential virtues for education. Both teachers and students must be humble: before each other, before texts, before times and traditions, and, ultimately, before the teaching of the Church – thus, before Christ.
Obviously, each of these principles requires long study to understand well. Fortunately, as I noted already, much has been written on each of these subjects within our tradition, and there are countless wise teachers available to guide us through books, talks, workshops, online courses, and graduate programs. These principles will not generate tidy lessons plans by themselves, or solve the practical challenges of keeping order in the classroom, but neither are they without prudent counsel on these more practical issues. Often the difficulties, tedium, and disorder of classrooms arise from forgetting the first principles and highest goals of education. So, teachers, take advantage of your summer break to drink deeply of springs of Catholic education!