Regardless of background, ethnicity or faith tradition, almost everyone in our society today would argue that education is important. We all acknowledge that becoming an “educated” person is worthwhile. We spend a huge portion of our earnings and savings (or all of them and more!) on achieving that goal. But, what does it mean to be an educated person?
This is an especially important question for those seeking a “Catholic” education. What does a “Catholic education” look like in 2014? What is its goal? How is it unique?
There has been a trend, of sorts, developing in the area of Catholic institutions across North America and particularly in the United States whereby a school tries to be more Catholic by becoming more isolated or removed. An attitude of protectionism from the disintegrating culture drives these initiatives. Granted, there aren’t many of them, but there are enough to draw attention and sway popular opinion towards a presumption that the attitude behind them is, in fact, that of the mainline Catholic Church.
In his address during the plenary session of the Congregation for Catholic Education in February of this year, Pope Francis warned that this kind of isolationism is not the answer to the problems facing our societies today, but rather, Catholic institutions must “know how to enter, with courage, into the Areopagus of contemporary cultures and to initiate dialogue, aware of the gift they are able to offer to all.” He went on to say that “education in our times is guided by a changing generation, and that, therefore, every educator – and the Church as a whole is an educating mother – is required to change, in the sense of knowing how to communicate with the young.”
When the topic of education arises, especially regarding Catholic education, it is important to be aware of these two approaches: the isolationist and the dialogical-adaptive. Catholics must ask themselves – not least because we are frequently being asked by others – what is a Catholic education? It is clear how Pope Francis would answer the question.
This question is also the theme of one episode of Salt and Light’s series The Church Alive. In the episode, we go to the foundation of the Church’s teaching on education and discuss how it must adapt to the modern world in order to effect change. This program is essential for educators at the high school and university levels, and for adult faith formation groups at parishes.