Savior of the World

Is There Such a Thing as Catholic Math?

Is there a Catholic way of learning something?

Math? Science? History?

It’s an intriguing question. We wrestled with the question this past year at The Cardinal Newman Society, while developing proposed Catholic curriculum standards for Catholic education.

It’s easy to understand that Jesus is the Master Teacher. “Rabbi,” His disciples called Him. A Catholic teacher should emulate Christ and should lead young people to Him.

But saying there’s a Catholic approach to mathematics evokes a vision of Jesus writing in the sand at the Sea of Galilee, attempting to teach pre-calculus to a school of fishermen. Oh, if only Catholics did have a divinely simple method of advanced mathematics! It’s not, at least, in my translation of the Bible.

I’ve never heard a historian suggest that Catholics should learn only about their own experience while neglecting other important world events. Salvation history deserves priority in Catholic education. But within the particular academic discipline of history, studying the Nazi Holocaust is arguably as necessary as studying the Exodus.

I’ve also never heard a scientist suggest that the scientific method works better for Catholics, or that the Old Testament is a textbook for scientific knowledge.

So what’s “Catholic education,” then? Is it a secular education on which we sprinkle prayer, catechesis and Christian values?

The promise seems much larger. Certainly there’s not much point of Catholic standards for curricula in math, history, science and English language arts, if the “education” in Catholic schools is not uniquely Catholic.

The truth is, there is indeed something very special in Catholic education about how and what a student learns. That’s in every subject — not just religion. It doesn’t mean rejecting knowledge that is truthful and worthy of a secular education. But Catholic education has priorities that are uniquely suited to human development and to the needs of the soul, and so our expectations for student learning are always and substantially different … and better!

A Catholic education is evangelical; it is one of the Church’s chief means of teaching the faith and bringing people to Christ. We find God in all things, inside and outside religion class.

A Catholic education is formational; it strives not only to teach useful knowledge and skills, but to prepare the whole person — body, mind and soul — for service to man and God. We want our students to be saints.

A Catholic education is empowering; it teaches students the knowledge and ability to think critically about the world and about human culture, so that our graduates can go forth and help transform family, society, business, government and Church in accord with the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, we expect students to come away from mathematics with something more than a means of engineering and astronomy. By studying math, we want our students to:

  • “Demonstrate the mental habits of precise, determined, careful and accurate questioning, inquiry and reasoning.”
  • “Respond to the beauty, harmony, proportion, radiance and wholeness present in mathematics.”
  • “Recognize how mathematical arguments and processes can be extrapolated to other areas of study, including theology and philosophy.”
  • “Propose how mathematical objects or proofs (such as the golden mean, the Fibonacci numbers, the musical scale and geometric proofs) suggest divine origin.”

These are just some of the student outcomes identified by my colleagues, Dr. Dan Guernsey and Dr. Denise Donohue, in developing Catholic curriculum standards. They had help from some of the best minds in the Church, like Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Anthony Esolen, Joseph Pearce and several others.

Such a project, of course, could go on forever and still bear much fruit. But the point is made: there is a uniquely Catholic approach to teaching math and other subjects, because God’s revelation opens up wonderful new ways of looking at the same data and methods. The world is so much more exciting and meaningful, given the gift of faith.

Therefore, science becomes more than the observations obtained by our five senses and “proved” (always uncertainly) by the weight of evidence. Paired with divine revelation, science becomes a means of better knowing God, by the analogy of His creation.

Graduates of Catholic education who study science should be able to, “Demonstrate confidence in human reason and in one’s ability to know the truth about God’s creation and the fundamental intelligibility of the world.” They should, “Relate how the human soul is specifically created by God for each human being, does not evolve from lesser matter, and is not inherited from our parents.”

And at the very least, they should be aware of the great Catholic contributions to science. They should know “Copernicus, Mendel, DaVinci, Bacon, Pasteur, Volta, St. Albert the Great, and others and the witness and evidence they supply against the false claim that Catholicism is not compatible with science.”

Upon learning history, a student from a Catholic school should know “the historical impact of the Catholic Church on human events” and “how Christian social ethics extend to questions of politics, economy, and social institutions and not just personal moral decision-making.”

And every student in Catholic education should have experienced great works of literature! By reading good literature, a student comes to a better understanding of “the proper nature of man, his problems, and his experiences in trying to know and perfect both himself and the world.”

There’s so much more to a Catholic education — indeed as much as completes the perfection of man, which of course is limitless. But unless Catholic families and educators seek answers to the question — What is unique and essential to Catholic education? — we will surely fail to prepare our young people according to the vision of the Church.

After considering all that should be present in Catholic education, the Catholic school or homeschool becomes more exciting and inviting than ever before. If the Church wants a renaissance in Catholic education, faithful Catholic standards are a great starting point.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Let’s Move Beyond the Common Core in Catholic Schools

By now, it should be apparent that the Common Core State Standards for schools won’t come close to fulfilling the grand promises of its proponents.

Parents, scholars, unions and the media all seem to be painfully aware of the fact — but after the mad rush to implement the standards, create new tests and market new textbooks, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of momentum to change course.

At least, that’s true of the nation’s public schools. But our Catholic schools can and should do much better, with standards that truly reflect their Catholic mission. I get the sense that most Catholics are eager to move above and beyond, and many dioceses are already working on it.

Last December, the Associated Press reported a “backlash” against Common Core in Catholic schools. Families want what’s best for their kids, and so do Catholic school leaders. Now’s the time to unite behind something better.

major new report on the Common Core might be just the catalyst that we need to finally break away. After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core is published by the reputable Pioneer Institute and the American Principles Project, whose founder Robert George of Princeton University joined more than 130 Catholic scholars in a letter criticizing the Common Core in 2013.

The new report presents a rather dismal picture of Catholic education under the Common Core, but its conclusion is hopeful, suggesting that Catholic schools may have a special opportunity amid the chaos to reassert their superiority. Urging the Church to embrace and celebrate faithful Catholic education, the authors claim, “Now is the time for Catholic schools to press their advantage.”

Nothing could be more welcome to beleaguered Catholics today, after the long slide in Catholic school enrollment and Catholic identity over recent decades. In today’s society, we greatly need strong Catholic schools.

Incompatible and unsuited

The authors of After the Fall know this well. Anthony Esolen is the insightful author and critic from Providence College whose expertise is literature — perhaps the worst casualty of the Common Core. Dan Guernsey is the visionary expert in Catholic education who is launching an outstanding teacher program at Ave Maria University and leads The Cardinal Newman Society’s K-12 education programs. Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project and Kevin Ryan of Boston University have made great contributions to education policy, especially in their criticism of the Common Core.

Together they have provided Catholics “a tremendous service,” according to two of America’s former ambassadors to the Vatican: Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon and former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn. In their preface to the report, Flynn and Glendon declare the Common Core standards “incompatible with and unsuited for a traditional Catholic education.”

The specific arguments are provided by the authors of After the Fall. They delve into three “insufficiencies” of the Common Core: its “misunderstanding of the nature of character formation due to a corrupting workforce-development view,” its “misunderstanding of the nature of literature due to a lack of understanding about man, creativity, and God,” and its “misunderstanding of the liberal arts due to a lack of understanding about the relationship of man and God to each other and to everything else.”

They could have simply written that the Common Core ignores what is most important to Catholics about God and man. But that’s the point that critics have been saying all along. What makes After the Fall such an important document is that it carefully examines and debunks arguments for the Common Core and then explains the case for faithfully Catholic standards of education, all in great detail. It should convince the most devoted fan of the Common Core.

The intended audience is clearly Catholic school leaders and scholars, but any Catholic will benefit from its outstanding defense of authentic Catholic education.

Toward better standards

After the Fall validates many of the concerns of Common Core critics, but it shouldn’t be used simply for an “I told you so” moment. Instead, as the authors strongly encourage, now is the time to more deeply examine the purpose of Catholic education and embrace educational standards that appropriately drive the curriculum and fulfill the mission of Catholic schools. The prospect is very exciting.

“A benefit of the Common Core to Catholic schools,” according to authors of After the Fall, “is that it has drawn attention to the need for Catholic educators to better articulate exactly what the unique standards and elements of Catholic education might be.”

Next week, The Cardinal Newman Society will be releasing Catholic curriculum standards to help move this process forward. Dioceses and other organizations have made important contributions as well.

After the Fall is what the Education Department of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recommended three years ago, when it warned, “The CCSS [Common Core] should be neither adopted nor rejected without review, study, consultation, discussion and caution.” The office also advised:

Catholic schools must consider standards that support the mission and purpose of the school as a Catholic institution. Attempts to compartmentalize the religious and the secular in Catholic schools reflect a relativistic perspective by suggesting that faith is merely a private matter and does not have a significant bearing on how reality as a whole should be understood. Such attempts are at odds with the integral approach to education that is a hallmark of Catholic schools. Standards that support an appropriate integration should be encouraged.

Well-intentioned Catholic educators have tried to contort Common Core to fit within Catholic schools. But as the After the Fall authors suggest, such efforts ultimately will not be successful, because the design and purpose of the standards makes them impossible.

Focusing standards on the mission of Catholic schools, however, is eminently possible — and necessary. It’s a great time to get it done.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

high school class

Common Core ‘Never Needed’ in Catholic Schools, Says Study’s Lead Author

Is the great debate over the use of Common Core State Standards in Catholic schools finally resolved? It should be, especially with this week’s publication of After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core, the first thorough academic critique of the standards and their impact on Catholic education.

Dr. Dan Guernsey, director of K-12 programs for The Cardinal Newman Society, was the lead author of the report, joined by education experts Dr. Anthony Esolen of Providence College, Jane Robbins of American Principles Project and Dr. Kevin Ryan of Boston University. The study was jointly sponsored by the Boston-based research group Pioneer Institute and the public policy organization American Principles Project.

Since the release of the Common Core in 2010, Catholic families, educators and even some bishops have expressed concern about use of the standards in Catholic schools. The Cardinal Newman Society strongly cautioned school leaders against rushing to adopt the Common Core and launched the Catholic Is Our Core initiative to inform families and educators about the standards’ failings. The essential concern is that the Common Core’s one-size-fits-all secular approach to education and its emphasis on preparing students for college and workforce training are incompatible with the much higher goals and mission of Catholic schools.

In After the Fall, Dr. Guernsey and his fellow scholars confirm the warnings of the Newman Society and many other critics of the Common Core.

In about 50 pages of analysis, the authors debunk key arguments that Catholic school leaders have made when adopting the Common Core in Catholic schools. The report explains how the philosophy behind Common Core simply cannot be reconciled with the mission of Catholic education.

I spoke recently with Dr. Guernsey about the findings in After the Fall and his thoughts about the Common Core’s impact on Catholic education:

What was the conventional wisdom at the time the Common Core was first adopted in Catholic schools, in terms of it being a good idea?

Dr. Guernsey: Conventional wisdom at first seemed to be: Common Core was just business as usual for Catholic schools, seeking to adapt to the latest state standards that had come their way — only this time the scale was national.

Previously, some dioceses had followed their individual state standards closely, in some cases not so closely, and many Catholic educators and parents did not overly concern themselves with their state’s standards. It seemed prudent to some professional educators to get out ahead of the new standards and do them better than the public schools, and thus ensure our competitive advantage.

The problem was that the standards obfuscated our real competitive advantage as Catholic schools: we educate the whole person and have access to full and transcendent views of man, his purpose and his ultimate good.

Also, the early conventional wisdom of some professional educators failed to predict the tremendous negative backlash that accompanied the Common Core and the concerns of parents who were seeking an elite education — that their expensive private school was now just “common” like the public schools they fled.

Overall, and compared to public schools, in what position were Catholic schools academically before Common Core?

Dr. Guernsey: The Common Core was purportedly designed to meet the perceived academic crisis in public schools. But no such crisis existed in Catholic schools.

Catholic schools have been outperforming public schools by double-digit margins for the last 20 years on federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math tests (often referred to as “the nation’s report card”). Catholic-school college preparation is outstanding, with over 99 percent of students graduating from high school and 84 percent going on to four-year colleges (almost double the public-school rate). Once they get to college, Catholic-school graduates are twice as likely as those from public schools to graduate from college within eight years of high-school graduation (62 percent vs. 31 percent).

These statistics suggest that in adopting the Common Core, Catholic schools were attempting to fix what was not broken. Why Catholic schools should plunge into an untested “solution” for a nonexistent problem has never been satisfactorily explained.

And what effect has Common Core had on Catholic school academics where it’s been implemented?

Dr. Guernsey: There is no specific published data on how Catholic schools’ standardized test scores per se have done post-Common Core. We do know that for all schools, five years into the Common Core experiment, the data is at best mixed. NAEP scores are dropping and below expectations, although causation is not yet clear.

But what we are not hearing is wide-scale applause and admiration for the Common Core. It has not delivered. Public school teacher support for the Common Core has dropped from 76 percent to 40 percent. So the bloom is off the rose.

So Common Core hasn’t led to test scores going through the roof and kids being more prepared for college?

Dr. Guernsey: There is no evidence that the Common Core has led to increased test scores. There is data to suggest that five years into the Common Core, professors report that students are less prepared for college.

Again, it is hard to prove strict causation, but according to the 2016 ACT National Curriculum Survey, while in 2009 and 2012, 26 percent of college instructors reported that their incoming students were well prepared for college-level work, by 2016 that the percentage had dropped to 16 percent. ACT also found that of those college instructors who reported a degree of familiarity with the Common Core, a full 60 percent reported that the Common Core expectations were not “completely” or “a great deal” aligned to what the professors expect of their college student.

What about Catholic educators? How has the adoption of Common Core in Catholic schools impacted their ability to teach and form students?

Dr. Guernsey: Those in the know have always been free to work around the standards as they see fit. Since the standards set minimums, Catholic educators can and should do more. A danger is that those not fully aware of the weaknesses in the standards or those not fully immersed in the Catholic intellectual tradition, might not know what they do not know.

In an effort to help address this potential need, The Cardinal Newman Society has been publishing several helpful resources available on our website. The most recent, being released this month, is a set of Catholic Curriculum Standards which seek to outline specific elements of the Catholic intellectual tradition which schools should include in their efforts to teach math, history, science and literature.

In terms of the mission of Catholic schools and overall student formation, what effect has Common Core had on Catholic schools?

Dr. Guernsey: It’s hard to say what has happened, but my sense is that Catholic educators as a whole are more attuned to figuring out what the specific mission of Catholic education is. The grief many Catholic schools who implemented the Common Core experienced caused them to dig deeper to justify to their customer base why they are different from public schools. This is a great development.

Here, again, The Cardinal Newman Society has developed crucial resources including our forthcoming Principles of Catholic Identity in Education which outlines the Church’s expectations for her schools.

Is it safe to say Common Core was never needed in Catholic schools and should have never been implemented?

Dr. Guernsey: It is safe to say they were never needed. If mission drives standards, then to the degree the Catholic schools’ educational mission is similar to public schools’ (e.g., in teaching basic math skills to second-graders), there can be some sharing of standards, if there is proof of their effectiveness. However, there is no proof the Common Core standards are an improvement over other standards.

Surprisingly, there is little data to suggest that better standards even result in higher test scores. Education is much more complex than that. But even if some still want to try to maintain that the Common Core standards are effective, they are just one set of possible standards among hundreds that are out there, many of which have stronger track records.

That being said, we also have to remember that to the degree that elements of the Catholic mission are broader than the public schools’, different or additional standards are required.

So what should Catholic schools do now?

Dr. Guernsey: As we wrote in the conclusiong of After the Fall:

To the degree that Catholic schools learn to articulate and embrace the Catholic intellectual tradition and their unique salvific mission, they have a pearl of great price. They have the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

A quality religious education is the number one reason Catholic school parents (the customer base) decide to enroll in Catholic schools; a safe environment and quality academics are close behind. Catholic schools have a competitive advantage in that they are free to offer all of these elements in an uncommon way — according to their standards of excellence. They can cater to parents’ natural desire for their child to experience excellence rather than basic common educational norms.

The Common Core helps throw this reality into stark relief. The distinct mission of Catholic schools is clearer and can stand out now more than ever. Now is the time for Catholic schools to press their advantage.

Catholic Schools Should Leave Common Core Behind

Nearly three years ago, The Cardinal Newman Society urged Catholic school leaders to exercise caution and refrain from rushing into adoption of the Common Core State Standards. In meetings with bishops and diocesan superintendents, we and other education advocates raised important concerns:

  • We said the Common Core was developed for secular public schools and fails to address key priorities in Catholic education.
  • We warned that its utilitarian objectives are contrary to the mission of Catholic education.
  • We noted that the untested Common Core has nothing to offer Catholic schools that already excel and score high on national tests.

Today our concerns are validated and confirmed by a new, thorough and scholarly critique of the Common Core’s use in Catholic schools. After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core is published by the Pioneer Institute in collaboration with American Principles Project and authored by Dr. Dan Guernsey, director of K-12 education programs for The Cardinal Newman Society, along with the impressive Dr. Anthony Esolen, Jane Robbins and Dr. Kevin Ryan.

After the Fall should finally and forever convince Catholic school leaders to move above and beyond the flawed Common Core standards by embracing truly Catholic standards of excellence in education.

For Catholic schools to thrive and fulfill their mission of forming the whole person — mind, body and soul — they must make the Catholic faith the core of all that they do. Sprinkling Catholicism on top of secular Common Core standards, as After the Fall describes the approach recommended by some Catholic educators, in fact weakens Catholic identity and denies students the formation that is essential to a truly Catholic education.

The fact of the matter is faithful Catholic schools already outperform secular schools and help prepare students not only for college and career, but more importantly for this life and the next. They do well because of their emphasis on Christian formation, which is absent from the Common Core and other government standards.

Because Common Core gets man wrong, it gets education wrong. Catholic insight into human nature and into man’s relationships with his fellow man, nature, and God allows for a more complete exploration of the world and not just all that is in it, but also that which transcends it as well. We are about a more substantial project and need more substantial standards. The Cardinal Newman society will soon be releasing resources to aid the discussion of what those standards might include.

Before the publication of this new scholarly analysis, there was already considerable momentum in Catholic education away from dependence on the Common Core and toward a more faith-centered approach to Catholic education. With After the Fall’s devastating critique proving accurate Catholic concerns about the Common Core, we hope this trend will continue.

It’s time for all Catholic schools to turn the page. Catholic is the core of Catholic education.

For more information about the Common Core click here

Child doing homework

10 Facts Every Catholic Should Know About the Common Core

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from a 2014 newsletter, which was based upon materials The Cardinal Newman Society provided to U.S. bishops at a November 2013 meeting.


In December 2013, The Cardinal Newman Society issued a statement expressing serious reservations about the rapid adoption of the Common Core State Standards in Catholic schools across the country:

The Cardinal Newman Society is concerned that adoption of the Common Core at this time is premature. Worse, it may be a mistake that will be difficult or impossible to undo for years to come.

We do not doubt the good intentions of those who advocate the Common Core in Catholic schools, and we acknowledge their confidence that Catholic schools can maintain a strong Catholic identity even while measuring their quality according to secular standards.

But we do not share this confidence, in light of the sad experience in recent decades of many Catholic colleges, hospitals, and charities that believed they could infuse Catholic identity into the secular standards that they embraced.

The Common Core standards — developed with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and promoted with federal grants from the Obama administration — were adopted rapidly by many states and have quickly become controversial, often in the political arena but also in Catholic circles. We responded to these radical changes in education by launching our Catholic Is Our Core initiative. We have also expanded our programs for K-12 Catholic education. Our added expert staff will promote and defend faithful Catholic education with regard to Catholic school standards, accreditation, teacher orientation, new school startup procedures while we continue our popular Catholic Education Honor Roll.

This has all moved so rapidly, and The Cardinal Newman Society continues to receive questions about the Common Core and Catholic education nearly every day. For your convenience, we have detailed 10 facts that every Catholic should know about the Common Core. In addition, our statement on the Common Core and many other helpful resources are available on our special Common Core website, We welcome your contributions of additional information and insights that may be valuable to Catholic parents, educators, pastors, and bishops.

1. The Common Core is not mandatory for Catholic schools.

No government has required the Common Core in private schools, and Catholic educators are under no obligation to conform. It is up to each state whether to adopt the standards as their own, and those standards are mandatory only for government schools.

Nevertheless, for decades many Catholic schools have voluntarily conformed their curricula and teaching to secular state standards — now Common Core in most states.

The lack of distinct standards for authentic Catholic education has long been a concern, but it is getting more attention due to the national controversy over the Common Core.

2. The Common Core is not intended for Catholic education.

The Common Core’s stated purpose falls far short of the Holy See’s rich vision for Catholic education: “The standards … are designed to ensure students are prepared for today’s entry-level careers, freshman-level college courses, and workforce training programs.”

While educators and reformers are hotly debating whether the Common Core’s objectives are appropriate for government schools, clearly the objectives were not developed with Catholic education in mind. Catholic education is much greater than college and career preparation.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, former secretary to the Congregation for Catholic Education, explained in a 2005 lecture at The Catholic University of America:

The enduring foundation on which the Church builds her educational philosophy is the conviction that it is a process which forms the whole child, especially with his or her eyes fixed on the vision of God. The specific purpose of a Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of this world, enriching society with the leaven of the Gospel, but who will also be citizens of the world to come. Catholic schools have a straightforward goal: to foster the growth of good Catholic human beings who love God and neighbor and thus fulfill their destiny of becoming saints.

3. Catholic schools already outperform public schools.

The Common Core is a response to the failings of government schools. It can’t be assumed that the standards will improve Catholic schools, which for two decades have outperformed public schools on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests. In 2013, eighth-grade students at Catholic schools had an average score of 286 in reading (as compared to 226 at government schools) and 295 in math (284 at government schools).

Likewise, in 2011, students from “religious schools” far outperformed those at government schools on the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT). They scored 531 in reading (government schools 449), 533 in math (government schools 506) and 528 in writing (government schools 483).

Some have expressed concern that national tests are adjusting to conform to the Common Core. This is true of many common tests like the SAT and the California Achievement Test (CAT). Others, like the ACT college readiness test and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, will remain stable for at least several years. Regardless, students with a strong Catholic education should continue to perform well on Common Core-adjusted tests.

Meanwhile, Catholic educators can and should develop national tests that measure success according to authentic Catholic education standards.  Testing companies will be eager to serve more than 2 million Catholic school students plus homeschoolers, and quality colleges will continue to be eager to recruit graduates with a traditional Catholic education.

4. Catholic schools already prepare students for college and career.

Even if the Common Core truly helps prepare students for college and career, Catholic education has no apparent need of such help. According to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), Catholic high schools already have a 99 percent graduation rate, as opposed to 73 percent in government schools. Most Catholic school graduates attend four-year colleges (85 percent), as opposed to fewer than half (44 percent) of government school graduates.

It is primarily two-year community colleges and government universities that have expressed enthusiasm for the Common Core standards, which aim for entry-level job skills. An authentic Catholic education prepares students for success in life as well as vocation, and the typical graduate is well-prepared for a college-level liberal arts education.

5. The Common Core is rushed, untested and experimental.

The Common Core was developed quietly by a few bureaucrats using Gates Foundation funds and then “sold” to the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to avoid public scrutiny and accountability. It became popular to educators and then legislators as the Obama administration dangled a promise of federal grants, causing many states to adopt Common Core standards even before they were completed. Catholic educators and bishops were warned that “it is important to get on board” with the untested standards.

The Common Core standards have never been tested, and there is no evidence that they will achieve their objectives of college and career readiness. Indeed, although standards influence how educational success is measured, even the “best” state standards — as ranked by the respected Thomas B. Fordham Institute — have no discernible impact on student outcomes.

Instead, the Common Core’s English language and “new math” standards were developed by little-known “experts” with no solid research basis, despite misleading claims. For instance, the push for reading more “informational texts” — such as manuals and scientific articles — relies upon distortions of NAEP data. The 2006 federal Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that higher NAEP scores for literacy in fact correlate to more reading of novels and less frequent reading of information.

6. The Common Core is (ultimately) about textbooks and curriculum.

The Common Core’s proponents note that standards are not the same as curricula, textbooks or teaching, and so adopting the Common Core does not — in itself — control what happens in the classroom. But it’s disingenuous to ignore the huge impact that standards can have on students. Textbook publishers and testing companies are already conforming to the Common Core, and the standards do prompt changes in curricula and teaching.

The Gates Foundation has committed more than $10.5 million in grants to develop Common Core-compliant curricula. In May 2014, the Foundation also granted $10 million to the New Ventures Fund to help implement Common Core with “lesson plan content, webinars, online platforms for sharing instruction plans, and networking events.”

Textbook publishers look to make millions of dollars with new products that conform to the Common Core, and many such texts are already in Catholic schools. Not surprisingly, publishers are among the leading supporters of the Common Core.

7. The Common Core may hinder students’ education and formation.

Hardly the least concern, critics have noted several ways in which the Common Core could do real harm to education. The standards demand greater emphasis on reading informational texts, with a corresponding decrease in great literature. Some recommended (not required) texts are morally problematic. The “new math” techniques ignore traditional and successful math programs. Math standards are lowered: pre-algebra or algebra is no longer the eighth-grade norm, nor pre-calculus or calculus for 12th grade. Some of the expectations are simply not age-appropriate.

The emphasis on skills and career preparation ignores other aspects of student formation that are key to Catholic education. Proponents argue that the Common Core can be supplemented with Catholic instruction, so weak standards do no harm. But if the success of schools and students is measured by the Common Core standards, the natural inclination is to reduce attention to Catholic identity and student formation. It is the same path taken by now-secularized Catholic colleges.

8. The Common Core violates the principle of subsidiarity.

National standards tend to confine educators to a particular vision for education, which stifles innovation and threatens the independence and unique mission of Catholic schools. In April of 2014, the U.S. bishops’ office for Catholic education issued a statement acknowledging their concerns about the Common Core:

In the Church, the principle of subsidiarity directs that human events are best handled at the lowest possible level, closest to the individuals affected by the decisions being made. … This principle provides a great strength for Catholic schools as it gives the local diocesan and school community the ability to make decisions at the school level related to guidelines and curriculum. It also allows for adjustments and adaptations to be made by teachers and administrators for the children under their care.

Subsidiarity also applies to the parents’ role as first educators of their children, a fact taught clearly in the Holy See’s teaching on Catholic education. Parents have been largely absent from decisions regarding the Common Core. Our Catholic Is Our Core initiative seeks to bring parents into the conversation so their concerns are heard.

9. The Common Core may endanger religious freedom for Catholic educators.

State and federal involvement in Common Core could lead to religious liberty violations. Catholic schools’ protection from threats like the HHS mandate depends on showing consistent Catholic identity, because First Amendment protections often depend on demonstrating a bona fide religious character. The Common Core may diminish a school’s Catholic identity by “crowding out” important elements of authentic Catholic formation, emphasizing skills and practicality over vocation, and failing to teach reasoning from a foundation of truth.

10. Our “common core” is our Catholic faith.

Catholic education didn’t become successful by striving for secular standards; its success begins with its Catholic mission. Traditional classroom methods and pedagogy in Catholic schools developed precisely because of the desire to form students morally, spiritually, intellectually and socially. “Reforms” that are not rooted in the Catholic faith are unlikely to bear good fruit.

Many educators see the danger. In a Cardinal Newman Society survey of Catholic high school principals, only 26 percent told us they prefer to adopt the Common Core as it is, without significant changes to protect Catholic identity. Among principals of our Catholic High School Honor Roll schools, 32 percent would reject the Common Core entirely, while 40 percent want the Church to pause and take more time to study the standards.

Our purpose, then, for our Catholic Is Our Core initiative remains “to provide those concerned about faithful Catholic education with solid information, analysis and arguments to more fully understand the potential impact of the Common Core on Catholic education and to advise caution about the Common Core until it can be further studied and evaluated.” It is our hope that the Common Core proves to be the catalyst that leads to more helpful standards and reforms, resulting in even stronger Catholic education.

Statement Regarding Common Core

December 20, 2013 – In recent decades, Church leaders, together with Catholic families, have come to better appreciate that Catholic identity is essential to Catholic schools’ mission, teaching methods, curriculum, and appeal.  It is because of their Catholic identity that schools are most attentive to the needs of students and their families.  “These Catholic schools afford the fullest and best opportunity to realize the fourfold purpose of Christian education, namely to provide an atmosphere in which the Gospel message is proclaimed, community in Christ is experienced, service to our sisters and brothers is the norm, and thanksgiving and worship of our God is cultivated” (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium, 2005).

Although Catholic schools in the United States—which have served students and the Church in an exemplary way for more than a century—have avoided many of the pedagogical and curricular trends in public schools, some Catholic educators have recently advocated for Catholic schools to adopt or adapt the untested and increasingly controversial Common Core State Standards Initiative.

We have grave concerns.  This school reform effort is nothing short of a revolution in how education is provided, relying on a technocratic, top-down approach to setting national standards that, despite claims to the contrary, will drive curricula, teaching texts, and the content of standardized tests.  At its heart, the Common Core is a woefully inadequate set of standards in that it limits the understanding of education to a utilitarian “readiness for work” mentality.

Well-intentioned proponents of adopting the Common Core in Catholic schools have argued that Catholic identity can be “infused” into the Core.  This approach misses the point that authentic Catholic identity is not something that can be added to education built around thoroughly secular standards, but that our faith must be the center of—and fundamental to—everything that a Catholic school does.

The Common Core revolution in American education was launched behind closed doors and rushed to implementation in public schools with the promise of tax dollars as an inducement—even though all the Standards have not yet been completed, and those that have been released are controversial among many expert educators and parents.  Catholic educators need not rush to follow this potentially dangerous path.

There is an ongoing, healthy debate about whether the Common Core is appropriate in public schools, and even more so in Catholic schools.  Let it run its course.  The Cardinal Newman Society—together with the countless Catholic parents, principals and pastors we have heard from—is concerned that we will be locked into the Common Core before it has been thoroughly and rigorously evaluated.

Most troubling in the public debate about whether Catholic schools should adopt the Common Core is that parents, whom the Church recognizes are the primary educators of their children, have been largely absent from it.  They lack sufficient information to make judgments about the Common Core.  And yet, as the Church has clearly taught, parents deserve a strong voice in deciding whether to embrace this “fundamental shift” in Catholic education, as the Common Core has been described by one leading Catholic advocate.

The Cardinal Newman Society is concerned that adoption of the Common Core at this time is premature.  Worse, it may be a mistake that will be difficult or impossible to undo for years to come.  We do not doubt the good intentions of those who advocate the Common Core in Catholic schools, and we acknowledge their confidence that Catholic schools can maintain a strong Catholic identity even while measuring their quality according to secular standards.  But we do not share this confidence, in light of the sad experience in recent decades of many Catholic colleges, hospitals, and charities that believed they could infuse Catholic identity into the secular standards that they embraced.

We seek to help inform the dialogue about the Common Core with our new project and website, Catholic Is Our Core (, while expanding the conversation to include parents, educators and principals who have largely been absent from the debate.  The Cardinal Newman Society’s mission is to promote and defend faithful Catholic education.  We are working closely with key Catholic education experts and others to provide analysis of the Core and its potential impact on Catholic schools.  We seek to provide those concerned about faithful Catholic education with solid information, analysis and arguments to more fully understand the potential impact of the Common Core on Catholic education and to advise caution about the Common Core until it can be further studied and evaluated.

NAEP Scores Suggest Some Concerns for Catholic Schools


While Catholic school scores continue to dominate public school scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), it is the internal trends of these scores that tell an interesting story. Grade 8 Catholic school math scores have seen a decline since 2009 after an almost decade trend of gains. Fourth grade math scores showed a steady decline in the differential between public and Catholic school scores from 2000 to 2013 with a rebound, finally, in 2015. NAEP is “the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas”. It serves as a common metric for states and stays essentially the same from year to year.


On October 30, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) published an article stating in its lead paragraph that “Catholic school scores continue to trend higher than public school scores overall by up to 20 percentage points.”  Highlighting the fact that Catholic schools “marry rigorous academics, faith formation and Catholic identity,” the article details the major comparisons between 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

That’s great news.  But while Catholic schools might still be outpacing the public schools in overall average NAEP scores, fluctuations and the continued decline in 8th grade math scores since 2009 warrant further study, especially in terms of the effects of the Common Core standards in many Catholic schools and instructional shifts required to implement the standards.

Scores for public school 8th grade students in both reading and mathematics showed a decrease this year, but so did Catholic school NAEP scores.  In both 8th grade math and reading, Catholic student scores dipped by 2 points.  On the other hand, 4th grade reading scores increased by 2 points and 4th grade math by one point.

8th Grade Math and Reading Scores Decline

Looking closely at the average math scores for 8th grade Catholic school students (see Table 1) reveals a decrease in the average score for Catholic students since 2009.  Catholic schools had enjoyed a run of an average 2 additional points per year, but in 2011 we saw a slide of 2 points that held steady in 2013 then declined again in 2015.  With the NAEP acting as the steady barometer of U.S. student abilities, not having been significantly changed since the early 1990s, we need to ask what’s happening in Catholic schools to cause the lower test scores.

Catholic school NAEP scores for 8th grade mathematics have outdistanced public school scores by an average 12-point spread since 1996, but when one examines the Catholic scores closely, the average increase per test drops from 2.4 (1996–2009) to -1.3 (2011–2015).  Calculating the trend for the full administration of the tests,1 Catholic schools saw a 1.11 per-test increase from 1996–2015.  Yet we have a 2-point drop in 2015.

The 2015 reading score for 8th grade Catholic school students has also declined. While it still represents a 20-point advantage above public school scores, this internal decline is worth noting, because it is out of the expected trend for 2015. The average point increase from 1998 to 2013 was .06 points, so one would not expect a 2-point reduction.

Table 1: 2015 NAEP (2013) – 8th Grade

2015 NAEP (2013) – 8 th Grade


4th Grade Math and Reading Score Trends

The difference in scores between 4th grade Catholic school and public school students (Table 2) remains substantial in reading, with Catholic scores averaging 16 points higher than scores for public school students.  The Catholic reading score increased a promising 2 points after some stagnation since 2009.

What is interesting is this year’s reversal of a trend showing a steady decline in the difference between Catholic and public school student 4th grade math scores since 2000.  In 2015 the differential increased 2 points, after decreasing in every assessment from 2003 to 2013.  The Catholic school average score increased one point this year.

Table 2: 2015 NAEP (2013) – 4th Grade

2015 NAEP (2013) – 4 th Grade


Changes to 8th Grade Math

One factor to consider with regard to math scores is the traditional pace in Catholic schools to move students toward Algebra I in 8th grade.  Catholic school data is not available when drilling down to compare scores of students who took Algebra I versus a basic math course in 8th grade, but it is possible to review the trends of public versus private schools as a whole, of which Catholic schools are a part.

With data available for 2007 to 2013,2 one can see that private school scores outdistance public schools in both 8th grade math and Algebra I (Tables 3 and 4).  It is also evident that students who took Algebra I as 8th graders scored better on the NAEP than students who took 8th grade math, especially since NAEP Algebra questions comprise almost a third (29 percent) of the math test.3  With some progressions toward delaying Algebra 1 until high school, Catholic schools would be wise not to follow this delayed progression, should these NAEP scores and entrance to STEM colleges be a concern.

Table 3: Average Scale Scores for mathematics,
Grade 8 by percent enrolled in 8th-grade mathematics

Average Scale Scores for mathematics, Grade 8 by percent enrolled in 8th -grade mathematics

Note: Private school data was not reported for 2015 and no separate Catholic school data is available.

Table 4: Average Scale Scores for mathematics,
Grade 8 by percent enrolled in Algebra I (1 year course)

Average Scale Scores for mathematics, Grade 8 by percent enrolled in Algebra I (1 year course)


Note: Private school data was not reported for 2015, and no separate Catholic school data is available.

Effects of Common Core

Has anything changed in Catholic schools to bring about these trends?  Certainly, the implementation of Common Core math and English language standards by more than 100 dioceses is the largest single change, but instructional shifts intended to implement the standards should also be reviewed along with other possible factors.

Some Catholic school systems may be using these instructional shifts — such as cognitively guided math instruction, close reading, and the shift between information and fictional texts as recommended by the publisher — and not the standards themselves.

Catholic school systems that participated in NAEP testing (not all Catholic school systems participate) might review the changes they have made since 2009 in both math and reading to begin to pinpoint areas for further inquiry.  By doing this review, a great service would be provided to the other diocesan systems.

States such as Maryland and cities like New York are themselves taking on this internal review task since, according to the data, “Not a single state had an increase in 8th grade math scores,” and, “Twenty-two states had declines in 8th grade math.”4

Some have suggested that the drop in NAEP math scores has to do with the misalignment of the NAEP with the Common Core Standards, but a recently released report (Oct. 2015) commissioned by the NAEP Validity Studies Panel, Study of the Alignment of the 2015 NAEP Mathematics items at Grades 4 and 8 to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), touts that the NAEP mathematics framework was developed to account for all the major curricula across the country (p. iii) and that the alignment in 8th grade math is “strong” and 4th grade is “reasonable.” Nevertheless, the report also suggests that perhaps now is the time for a major review of the framework in light of the Common Core Standards.

Standards and Testing

Catholic school educators cannot rest on their laurels and assume they will always outscore public schools, especially if they slavishly follow public school patterns and standards.  Parents in Catholic schools expect outstanding scores.  This is not unreasonable, since students who come from supportive, involved, and tuition-paying families are expected to score higher on standardized tests.  The academic setting lends to higher scores and demands higher standards.

Catholic schools should ensure that their standards have been created and specifically tailored to not only demand excellence, but also to promote deep, creative, and precise thinking as well as developing within students a sense of wonder about mathematical relationships and critical, convergent thinking in literature.  A re-evaluation, especially of the 8th grade math curriculum, along with the instructional approaches advocated by publishers and others, is recommended and long overdue.

Standardized tests should also be chosen to align with the instructional approaches and content standards used in Catholic schools.  Working with private assessment companies is extremely important now to ensure a valid assessment of student learning, as well as longitudinal data to evaluate student academic growth and compare against NAEP results.


The Call to Teach: Expectations for the Catholic Educator in Magisterial Teaching


There have been many changes in Catholic education in the United States since the first missionary schools were established in the Americas, and among the most significant has been the late-20th century shift to primarily lay Catholic teachers.  In recent years, efforts to strengthen the Catholic identity of schools in the United States have prompted measures to reinforce the expectations and formation for teachers in Catholic schools, emphasizing moral qualities in addition to professional competence.

The Vatican has consistently recognized that teachers—lay, clerical, or religious—have an essential role in Catholic education and must serve as witnesses to the faith, in both word and deed.  This constant appreciation for the role of teachers—of great importance to the Church’s leadership as well as to those parents who enter into a partnership with Catholic schools—is presented in the Church’s magisterial teachings.  A review of these teachings provides understanding of the importance of the Catholic teacher and the teacher’s role in fulfilling the mission of the Church by preparing students to live virtuous lives in service to society and the Church.

The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis (1965), outlines the basic principles of Christian education, acknowledging the Church’s reliance on Catholic educators and the importance of preparation in “secular and religious knowledge”.1 Twelve years later, the impact of cultural and social pluralism on Catholic education was addressed by the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Education in The Catholic School (1977).  Among its concerns was that, Often what is perhaps fundamentally lacking among Catholics who work in a school is a clear realization of the identity of a Catholic school and the courage to follow all the consequences of its uniqueness.”2

Historically, Catholic identity in schools was strong, as they were administered and staffed by men and women from religious orders, whose professional and spiritual formation created an environment of Christian witness with a program integrated with Gospel values.  However, after Vatican II and in the years following, the Church has become increasingly dependent on laity to serve the more than 6,500 Catholic schools in the United States, which educate approximately two million students.  There has been a gradual but steady transition away from clergy and religious—now just 2.8 percent of Catholic full-time professional staff, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.3

In 1982, due to increased reliance on laity to staff Catholic schools, the Sacred Congregation focused special attention on teachers in its document Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith.  It seeks to detail the “specific character of their vocation” and presents “a true picture of the laity as an active element, accomplishing an important task for the entire Church through their labour”.4

The Congregation expanded on the distinctive characteristics of Catholic education in 1988 in The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, restating, “Prime responsibility for creating this unique Christian school climate rests with the teachers.”5  Less than ten years later, to address the “crisis of values” in contemporary society, the Congregation issued The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (1997).  The document includes the fundamental characteristics of schools necessary to be effective agents for the Church and the need to recruit teachers who are “competent, convinced, and coherent educators” who serve as a reflection of the one Teacher, Jesus Christ.6

As America entered the twenty-first century, concern over Catholic school closures and waning Catholic identity was addressed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium.  Noting that ninety-five percent of those working in Catholic school were laity, the Bishops state, “The formation of personnel will allow the Gospel message and the living presence of Jesus to permeate the entire life of the school community and thus be faithful to the evangelizing mission.”7  The criteria they present for personnel in a Catholic school include being grounded in faith-based culture, being bonded to Christ and the Church, and being witnesses to the faith in both their words and actions.

Today, Catholic schools continue to struggle against secularization and moral relativism in every aspect of our society.  Laying out plans to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis, the Congregation for Catholic Education issued Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion, which describes the impact of contemporary culture as an “educational emergency”.  Along with the many issues facing Catholic education—identity, limited means and resources, legal, pastoral—the document discusses the challenge associated with lifelong training of teachers, noting that educators need unity and a willingness to embrace and share a “specific evangelical identity” and “consistent lifestyle”.8

Supported by these and other magisterial documents, this report explicates the teachings of the Catholic Church summarizing the role of lay Catholic teachers and their qualifications; pedagogical, educational, and cultural goals; relationship to the Church; and Gospel witness.  The purpose of the report is to provide an account of the qualities deemed important by the Church for teachers to maintain strong Catholic identity in schools and thereby fulfill the mission of the Church in this apostolate.

The findings are organized into five sections based on recurrent themes found in the magisterial teachings describing a Catholic educator.  Each summary is written using key phrases from the Church documents, followed by the complete citations to provide a contextual reference.  The first section considers the general mission of Catholic education as serving the mission of the Church.

Described in the second section is the vocational aspect of the Catholic educator, exploring how an understanding of this role is critical to fulfilling the Church’s mission in education.

The third section details the spiritual and professional qualifications required of teachers to effectively impart an authentic Catholic education.  Compared to their secular counterparts, teachers in Catholic schools have additional responsibilities associated with the spiritual dimension of their work.  Included in this analysis are pedagogical aspects associated with the “harmonious” development of students’ physical, moral, and intellectual talents,9 integrating Catholicity into subject areas, and ensuring the protection and the dignity of each child.  References to professionalism of the Catholic teacher refer to those qualities deemed important to the integral formation of students, summarized within the context of the magisterial teachings.  The reader will discover that multidimensional criteria for teaching in a Catholic school surpass the standards typically associated with educational credentialing.

Expanding on the spirituality of Catholic educators, section four explores expectations associated with apostolic witness and conduct of an authentic Christian role model.  In the formational years, the adage “actions speak louder than words” could not hold more meaning than for those who interact with children and young adults on a day-to-day basis.  Magisterial teachings detail the importance of faculty behavior based on Gospel values to prepare students for a life of moral and Christian living.

Building on the prior four areas, the fifth section investigates how the blending of instruction, pedagogy, and witness allow for the systematic and critical assimilation of Catholic culture.  This culture of conviction, where truth is fundamental in the search for wisdom, freedom, justice, and human dignity, is the foundation by which students learn their responsibilities to God, themselves, each other, and society.

The Church’s Mission in Catholic Education

A review of documents from the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops provides clarity on the Church’s mission in Catholic education.  Catholic education is an expression of the Church’s mission of salvation and an instrument of evangelization.  Through its schools, members encounter God, who in Jesus Christ reveals His transforming love and truth.  As a faith community, students, parents, and educators, in unity with the Church, give witness to Christ’s loving communion in the Holy Trinity.  With this Christian vision, Catholic education fulfills its purpose of transmitting culture in the light of faith, integrally forming the human person by developing each student’s physical, moral, spiritual, and intellectual gifts, teaching responsibility and right use of freedom, preparing students to fulfill God’s calling in this world, and attaining the eternal kingdom for which they were created.

The Salvific Mission of the Church:  In the fullness of time, in His mysterious plan of love, God the Father sent His only Son to begin the Kingdom of God on earth and bring about the spiritual rebirth of mankind.  To continue His work of salvation, Jesus Christ founded the Church as a visible organism, living by the power of the Spirit.

Moved by the same Spirit, the Church is constantly deepening her awareness of herself and meditating on the mystery of her being and mission.  Thus she is ever rediscovering her living relationship with Christ “in order to discover greater light, energy, and joy in fulfilling her mission and determining the best way to ensure that her relationship with humanity is closer and more efficacious”—that humanity of which she is a part and yet so undeniably distinct.  Her destiny is to serve humanity until it reaches its fullness in Christ.

Evangelization is, therefore, the mission of the Church; that is she must proclaim the good news of salvation to all, generate new creatures in Christ through Baptism, and train them to live knowingly as children of God.

Means available for the Mission of the Church:To carry out her saving mission, the Church uses, above all, the means which Jesus Christ has given her.  She also uses other means which at different times and in different cultures have proved effective in achieving and, promoting the development of the human person.  The Church adapts these means to the changing conditions and emerging needs of mankind.  In her encounter with differing cultures and with man’s progressive achievements, the Church proclaims the faith and reveals “to all ages the transcendent goal which alone gives life its full meaning.”

She establishes her own schools because she considers them as a privileged means of promoting the formation of the whole man, since the school is a centre in which a specific concept of the world, of man, and of history is developed and conveyed…  It is precisely in the Gospel of Christ, taking root in the minds and lives of the faithful, that the Catholic school finds its definition as it comes to terms with the cultural conditions of the times.  It must never be forgotten that the purpose of instruction at school is education, that is, the development of man from within, freeing him from that conditioning which would prevent him from becoming a fully integrated human being.  The school must begin from the principle that its educational program is intentionally directed to the growth of the whole person.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #5-9)

Catholic education is an expression of the mission entrusted by Jesus to the Church He founded.  Through education, the Church seeks to prepare its members to proclaim the Good News and to translate this proclamation into action.  Since the Christian vocation is a call to transform oneself and society with God’s help, the educational efforts of the Church must encompass the twin purposes of personal sanctification and the social reform in light of Christian values.  (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Teach as Jesus Did (1972), #7)

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.  Amen (Matthew 28:19-20)

Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News.  First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf.  Spe Salvi, 4).  (Pope Benedict, XVI, Meeting With Catholic Educators (2008), Washington, DC)

Christ is the foundation of the whole educational enterprise in a Catholic school.  His revelation gives new meaning to life and helps man to direct his thought, action and will according to the Gospel, making the beatitudes his norm of life.  The fact that in their own individual ways all members of the school community share this Christian vision, makes the school “Catholic”; principles of the Gospel in this manner become the educational norms since the school then has them as its internal motivation and final goal.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #34)

From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics…  The Gospel spirit should be evident in a Christian way of thought and life which permeates all facets of the educational climate.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988), #25)

The implementation of a real educational community, built on the foundation of shared projected values, represents a serious task that must be carried out by the Catholic school…  The preparation of a shared project acts as a stimulus that should force the Catholic school to be a place of ecclesial experience.  Its binding force and potential for relationships derive from a set of values and a communion of life that is rooted in our common belonging to Christ.  Derived from the recognition of evangelical values are educational norms, motivational drives and also the final goals of the school.  Certainly the degree of participation can differ in relation to one’s personal history, but this requires that educators be willing to offer a permanent commitment to formation and self-formation regarding a choice of cultural and life values to be made present in the educational community.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), #5)

When Christians say communion, they refer to the eternal mystery, revealed in Christ, of the communion of love that is the very life of God-Trinity.  At the same time we also say that Christians share in this communion in the Body of Christ which is the Church (cf.  Phil 1: 7; Rev 1: 9).  Communion is, therefore, the “essence” of the Church, the foundation and source of its mission of being in the world “the home and the school of communion,” to lead all men and women to enter ever more profoundly into the mystery of Trinitarian communion and, at the same time, to extend and strengthen internal relations within the human community.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), #10)

Since true education must strive for complete formation of the human person that looks to his or her final end as well as to the common good of societies, children and youth are to be nurtured in such a way that they are able to develop their physical, moral, and intellectual talents harmoniously, acquire a more perfect sense of responsibility and right use of freedom, and are formed to participate actively in social life.  (Code of Canon Law, 795)

To fulfill the mandate she has received from her divine founder of proclaiming the mystery of salvation to all men and of restoring all things in Christ, Holy Mother the Church must be concerned with the whole of man’s life, even the secular part of it insofar as it has a bearing on his heavenly calling.  Therefore she has a role in the progress and development of education.  Hence this sacred synod declares certain fundamental principles of Christian education especially in schools.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), Introduction)

Education today is a complex task, which is made more difficult by rapid social, economic, and cultural changes.  Its specific mission remains the integral formation of the human person.  Children and young people must be guaranteed the possibility of developing harmoniously their own physical, moral, intellectual and spiritual gifts, and they must also be helped to develop their sense of responsibility, learn the correct use of freedom, and participate actively in social life (cf.  c. 795 Code of Canon Law [CIC]; c.  629 Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches [CCEO]).  A form of education that ignores or marginalises the moral and religious dimension of the person is a hindrance to full education, because “children and young people have a right to be motivated to appraise moral values with a right conscience, to embrace them with a personal adherence, together with a deeper knowledge and love of God.”  That is why the Second Vatican Council asked and recommended “all those who hold a position of public authority or who are in charge of education to see to it that youth is never deprived of this sacred right.”  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Circular Letter to the Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences on Religious Education in Schools (2009), #1)

It is important for Catholic schools to be aware of the risks that arise should they lose sight of the reasons why they exist…  Catholic schools are called to give dutiful witness, by their pedagogy that is clearly inspired by the Gospel…  They have the responsibility for offering Catholic students, over and above a sound knowledge of religion, the possibility to grow in personal closeness to Christ in the Church.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating in Intercultural Dialogue in the Catholic School: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (2013), #56)

The young people we are educating today will become the leaders of the 2050s.  What will religion’s contribution be to educating younger generations to peace, development, fraternity in the universal human community?  How are we going to educate them to faith and in faith?  How will we establish the preliminary conditions to accept this gift, to educate them to gratitude, to a sense of awe, to asking themselves questions, to develop a sense of justice and consistency?  How will we educate them to prayer?  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (2014), III)

What Does It Mean to Be a Catholic Teacher?

The Catholic teacher’s vocation is to participate in the saving mission of the Church and to assist in the building of the Body of Christ.  The teacher is called by God to work for the sanctification of the world and to communicate truth.  The Catholic educator has special qualities of mind and heart and is led by the Spirit and the Gospel to make Christ known to others by a life filled with faith, hope, and charity.

Perfect schools are the result not so much of good methods as of good teachers, teachers who are thoroughly prepared and well-grounded in the matter they have to teach; who possess the intellectual and moral qualifications required by their important office; who cherish a pure and holy love for the youths confided to them, because they love Jesus Christ and His Church, of which these are the children of predilection; and who have therefore sincerely at heart the true good of family and country.  (Pope Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri (1929), #88)

Beautiful indeed and of great importance is the vocation of all those who aid parents in fulfilling their duties and who, as representatives of the human community, undertake the task of education in schools.  This vocation demands special qualities of mind and heart, very careful preparation, and continuing readiness to renew and to adapt.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), #5)

For, “they share a common dignity from their rebirth in Christ.  They have the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection.  They possess in common one salvation, one hope, and one undivided charity”.  Although it is true that, in the Church, “by the will of Christ, some are made teachers, dispensers of mysteries and shepherds on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ”.  Every Christian, and therefore also every lay person, has been made a sharer in “the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ”, and their apostolate “is a participation in the saving mission of the Church itself…  All are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself”.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #6)

One specific characteristic of the educational profession assumes its most profound significance in the Catholic educator: the communication of truth.  For the Catholic educator, whatever is true is a participation in Him who is the Truth; the communication of truth, therefore, as a professional activity, is thus fundamentally transformed into a unique participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, carried on through one’s teaching.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #16)

They live in the midst of the world’s activities and professions, and in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life; and there they are called by God so that by exercising their proper function and being led by the spirit of the Gospel they can work for the sanctification of the world from within, in the manner of leaven.  In this way they can make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #7)

When it considers the tremendous evangelical resource embodied in the millions of lay Catholics who devote their lives to schools, it recalls the words with which the Second Vatican Council ended its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, and “earnestly entreats in the Lord that all lay persons give a glad, generous, and prompt response to the voice of Christ, who is giving them an especially urgent invitation at this moment; …they should respond to it eagerly and magnanimously …and, recognizing that what is His is also their own (Phil.  2, 5), to associate themselves with Him in His saving mission…  Thus they can show that they are His co-workers in the various forms and methods of the Church’s one apostolate, which must be constantly adapted to the new needs of the times.  May they always abound in the works of God, knowing that they will not labour in vain when their labour is for Him (Cf.  I Cor. 15, 58)”.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #82)

Qualifications to Effectively Impart an Authentic Catholic Education

Those who oversee Catholic education recognize and depend on teachers to fulfill the goals and programs of the school.  Based on its divine mission, it is crucial for teachers in a Catholic school to be prepared to assume the responsibilities associated with both the spiritual and professional dimensions of their ministry in Catholic education.

The Spiritual Dimension

Catholic schools are called on to recruit teachers who are practicing Catholics and who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the Gospel, and contribute to strengthening Catholic identity and apostolic goals.  The Catholic educator is entrusted with and shares in the sanctifying and educational mission of the Church.  Each teacher must “consciously inspire his or her activity with the Christian concept of the person” in communion with the Church.  Participation and active engagement in the liturgical and sacramental life of the school provides a visible manifestation of their faith and commitment.  Catholic school personnel are called to be filled with Christian wisdom so as to guide students to Truth.  The Catholic educator is challenged to integrate religious truths and values into daily life, both in their private and professional lives, to personally guide and inspire their students into a deeper faith and more profound levels of human knowledge.

The instruction and education in a Catholic school must be grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine; teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life.  (Code of Canon Law, 803 §2)

Catholic leadership is called upon to “recruit teachers who are practicing Catholics, who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the Gospel, and who can contribute to the achievement of the school’s Catholic identity and apostolic goals.  (U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory for Catechesis (2005), #231)

And if there is no trace of Catholic identity in the education, the educator can hardly be called a Catholic educator.  Some of the aspects of this living out of one’s identity are common and essential; they must be present no matter what the school is in which the lay educator exercises his or her vocation.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #25)

In today’s pluralistic world, the Catholic educator must consciously inspire his or her activity with the Christian concept of the person, in communion with the Magisterium of the Church.  It is a concept which includes a defense of human rights, but also attributes to the human person the dignity of a child of God…  It establishes the strictest possible relationship of solidarity among all persons; through mutual love and an ecclesial community.  It calls for the fullest development of all that is human… Finally, it proposes Christ, Incarnate Son of God and perfect Man, as both model and means; to imitate Him… (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #18)

To this lay person, as a member of this community, the family and the Church entrust the school’s educational endeavor.  Lay teachers must be profoundly convinced that they share in the sanctifying, and therefore educational mission of the Church; they cannot regard themselves as cut off from the ecclesial complex.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #24)

The lay Catholic working in a school is, along with every Christian, a member of the People of God…  Every Christian, and therefore also every lay person, has been made a sharer in “the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ”, and their apostolate “is a participation in the saving mission of the Church itself…  All are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself”.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #6)

As a visible manifestation of the faith they profess and the life witness they are supposed to manifest, it is important that lay Catholics who work in a Catholic school participate simply and actively in the liturgical and sacramental life of the school.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #40)

Since the educative mission of the Catholic school is so wide, the teacher is in an excellent position to guide the pupil to a deepening of his faith and to enrich and enlighten his human knowledge with the data of the faith…  The teacher can form the mind and heart of his pupils and guide them to develop a total commitment to Christ, with their whole personality enriched by human culture.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #40)

A teacher who is full of Christian wisdom, well prepared in his own subject, does more than convey the sense of what he is teaching to his pupils.  Over and above what he says, he guides his pupils beyond his mere words to the heart of total Truth.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #41)

The integration of religious truth and values with the rest of life is brought about in the Catholic school not only by its unique curriculum, but, more important, by the presence of teachers who express an integrated approach to learning and living in their private and professional lives.  (U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Teach as Jesus Did (1972), #104)

Most of all, students should be able to recognize authentic human qualities in their teachers.  They are teachers of the faith; however, like Christ, they must also be teachers of what it means to be human…  A teacher who has a clear vision of the Christian milieu and lives in accord with it will be able to help young people develop a similar vision, and will give them the inspiration they need to put it into practice.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988), #96)

The Professional Dimension

In a Catholic school, a teacher commits to make integral human formation the heart of the profession, a calling that is enhanced by adequate preparation in both secular and religious knowledge and pedagogical skills.  Qualifications for the classroom include creativity, management skills, and the ability to create an effective learning environment in which each student’s gifts and talents are acknowledged and respected.  Through the synthesis of faith, culture, and life, the Catholic educator integrates Gospel values into all aspects of the curriculum to demonstrate the relationship between knowledge and truth.  Professionalism, within the context of the Catholic teachings, is one of the most important characteristics of the teacher in living out an “ecclesial vocation” and includes preparation and ongoing development in the pedagogical, cultural, and psychological areas of the teacher’s work.  Teaching and learning cannot be based solely on a professional relationship but one built on mutual esteem, trust, respect, and friendliness with parents, students, members of school communities, and fellow Catholic educators.

Every person who contributes to integral human formation is an educator; but teachers have made integral human formation their very profession.  When, then, we discuss the school, teachers deserve special consideration: because of their number, but also because of the institutional purpose of the school.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #15)

The task of a teacher goes well beyond transmission of knowledge, although that is not excluded.  Therefore, if adequate professional preparation is required in order to transmit knowledge, then adequate professional preparation is even more necessary in order to fulfill the role of a genuine teacher.  It is an indispensable human formation, and without it, it would be foolish to undertake any educational work.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #16)

They should therefore be very carefully prepared so that both in secular and religious knowledge they are equipped with suitable qualifications and also with a pedagogical skill that is in keeping with the findings of the contemporary world.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), #8)

Professional competence is the necessary condition for openness to unleash its educational potential.  A lot is being required of teachers and managers: they should have the ability to create, invent and manage learning environments that provide plentiful opportunities; they should be able to respect students’ different intelligences and guide them towards significant and profound learning; they should be able to accompany their students towards lofty and challenging goals, cherish high expectations for them, involve and connect students to each other and the world.  Teachers must be able to pursue different goals simultaneously and face problem situations that require a high level of professionalism and preparation.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (2014), #7)

The integral formation of the human person, which is the purpose of education, includes the development of all the human faculties of the students, together with preparation for professional life, formation of ethical and social awareness, becoming aware of the transcendental, and religious education.  Every school, and every educator in the school, ought to be striving “to form strong and responsible individuals, who are capable of making free and correct choices”, thus preparing young people “to open themselves more and more to reality, and to form in themselves a clear idea of the meaning of life” (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #17)

Professionalism is one of the most important characteristics in the identity of every lay Catholic.  The first requirement, then, for a lay educator who wishes to live out his or her ecclesial vocation, is the acquisition of a solid professional formation.  In the case of an educator, this includes competency in a wide range of cultural, psychological, and pedagogical areas.  However, it is not enough that the initial training be at a good level; this must be maintained and deepened, always bringing it up to date.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #27)

The synthesis between faith, culture and life that educators of the Catholic school are called to achieve is, in fact, reached “by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel […and] in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian”.  This means that Catholic educators must attain a special sensitivity with regard to the person to be educated in order to grasp not only the request for growth in knowledge and skills, but also the need for growth in humanity.  Thus educators must dedicate themselves “to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity”.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), #24)

The epistemological framework of every branch of knowledge has its own identity, both in content and methodology.  However, this framework does not relate merely to “internal” questions, touching upon the correct realization of each discipline.  Each discipline is not an island inhabited by a form of knowledge that is distinct and ring-fenced; rather, it is in a dynamic relationship with all other forms of knowledge, each of which expresses something about the human person and touches upon some truth.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating in Intercultural Dialogue in the Catholic School: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (2013), #64-67)

Teaching and learning are the two terms in a relationship that does not only involve the subject to be studied and the learning mind, but also persons: this relationship cannot be based exclusively on technical and professional relations, but must be nourished by mutual esteem, trust, respect and friendliness.  When learning takes place in a context where the subjects who are involved feel a sense of belonging, it is quite different from a situation in which learning occurs in a climate of individualism, antagonism and mutual coldness.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (2014), #3)

Active participation in the activities of colleagues, in relationships with other members of the educational community; and especially in relationships with parents of the students, is extremely important.  In this way the objectives, programs, and teaching methods of the school in which the lay Catholic is working can be gradually impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #51)

Apostolic Witness and Conduct Required to Be an Authentic Christian Role Model

The Church relies on those who work in the teaching vocation to fulfill the mission of Catholic education and serve the students entrusted to their care.  Teachers are called on in a special way to make the Church present and operative, as through their witness they impart a distinctive character to Catholic schools.  The teacher in a Catholic school is deeply motivated to witness to a living encounter with Christ, the unique Teacher, and then live out the school’s values and ideals in word and action.  The teacher writes on the “very spirits of human beings,” forming relationships that assume enormous importance as the teacher confronts the problems associated with imparting a Christian vision of the world.  Permeated by Christian spirit, the Catholic teacher integrates culture and faith as well as faith and life.  The lay teacher in a Catholic school gives a concrete example of what it is to be a Christian living in a secular world.  The teacher demonstrates what it is to be an “ideal person” through a habitual attitude of service, a personal commitment to students, a fraternal solidarity with everyone, and living a life that is integrally moral.  Living with integrity in a pluralist society, the teacher is a “living mirror” by which those in the school community will see a reflected image of a life inspired by the Gospel.

It seems necessary to begin by trying to delineate the identity of the lay Catholics who work in a school; the way in which they bear witness to the faith will depend on this specific identity, in the Church and in this particular field of labor.  In trying to contribute to the investigation, it is the intention of this Sacred Congregation to offer a service to lay Catholics who work in schools (and who should have a clear idea of the specific character of their vocation), and also to the People of God (who need to have a true picture of the laity as an active element, accomplishing an important task for the entire Church through their labour).  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #5)

Therefore, “the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can she become the salt of the earth.”  In order to achieve this presence of the whole Church, and of the Savior whom she proclaims, lay people must be ready to proclaim the message through their words, and witness to it in what they do.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #9)

Intimately linked in charity to one another and to their students and endowed with an apostolic spirit, may teachers by their life as much as by their instruction bear witness to Christ, the unique Teacher.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), #8)

The project of the Catholic school is convincing only if carried out by people who are deeply motivated, because they witness to a living encounter with Christ, in whom alone “the mystery of man truly becomes clear”.  These persons, therefore, acknowledge a personal and communal adherence with the Lord, assumed as the basis and constant reference of the inter-personal relationship and mutual cooperation between educator and student.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), #4)

By their witness and their behavior teachers are of the first importance to impart a distinctive character to Catholic schools…  This must aim to animate them as witnesses of Christ in the classroom and tackle the problems of their particular apostolate, especially regarding a Christian vision of the world and of education, problems also connected with the art of teaching in accordance with the principles of the Gospel.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #78)

The integration of culture and faith is mediated by the other integration of faith and life in the person of the teacher.  The nobility of the task to which teachers are called demands that, in imitation of Christ, the only Teacher, they reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behavior.  This is what makes the difference between a school whose education is permeated by the Christian spirit and one in which religion is only regarded as an academic subject like any other.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #43)

Catholic schools require people not only to know how to teach or direct an organization; they also require them, using the skills of their profession, to know how to bear authentic witness to the school’s values, as well as to their own continuing efforts to live out ever more deeply, in thought and deed, the ideals that are stated publicly in words.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating in Intercultural Dialogue in the Catholic School: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (2013), #80)

Thus, Catholic educators can be certain that they make human beings more human.  Moreover, the special task of those educators who are lay persons is to offer to their students a concrete example of the fact that people deeply immersed in the world, living fully the same secular life as the vast majority of the human family, possess this same exalted dignity.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #18)

Conduct is always much more important than speech; this fact becomes especially important in the formation period of students.  The more completely an educator can give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person that is being presented to the students, the more this ideal will be believed and imitated…  Without this witness, living in such an atmosphere, they may begin to regard Christian behavior as an impossible ideal.  It must never be forgotten that, in the crises “which have their greatest effect on the younger generations”, the most important element in the educational endeavor is “always the individual person: the person, and the moral dignity of that person which is the result of his or her principles, and the conformity of actions with those principles.” (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #32-33)

Professional commitment; support of truth, justice and freedom; openness to the point of view of others, combined with an habitual attitude of service; personal commitment to the students, and fraternal solidarity with everyone; a life that is integrally moral in all its aspects.  The lay Catholic who brings all of this to his or her work in a pluralist school becomes a living mirror, in whom every individual in the educational community will see reflected an image of one inspired by the Gospel.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #52)

Teaching has an extraordinary moral depth and is one of man’s most excellent and creative activities, for the teacher does not write on inanimate material, but on the very spirits of human beings.  The personal relations between the teacher and the students, therefore, assume an enormous importance and are not limited simply to giving and taking.  Moreover, we must remember that teachers and educators fulfill a specific Christian vocation and share an equally specific participation in the mission of the Church, to the extent that “it depends chiefly on them whether the Catholic school achieves its purpose.” (Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (1997), #19)

Assimilation of Catholic Culture

The Catholic educator aims for the critical, systematic transmission of culture in light of faith through the Gospel values conveyed by the Church.  Communication must be oriented toward truth to develop in students a deeper level of understanding of what it means to be a responsible human being and cultivate virtues characteristic of a Christian.  The Catholic teacher accomplishes this through the synthesis of culture and faith as well as of faith and life.  All subjects are integrated and explored in a Christian worldview and from a Christian concept of the human person.  It is through Catholic education that students are able to grasp, appreciate, and assimilate the values that will guide them toward “eternal realities.” The Catholic teacher is crucial to this task, for it is through personal contact and the teacher’s “witness to faith,” as revealed through actions, that relationships grow in a dialogue of openness which allows the teacher to make Christ known to students.

The specific mission of the school, then, is a critical, systematic transmission of culture in the light of faith and the bringing forth of the power of Christian virtue by the integration of culture with faith and of faith with living.  Consequently, the Catholic school is aware of the importance of the Gospel-teaching as transmitted through the Catholic Church.  It is, indeed, the fundamental element in the educative process as it helps the pupil towards his conscious choice of living a responsible and coherent way of life.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #49)

For the accomplishment of this vast undertaking, many different educational elements must converge; in each of them, the lay Catholic must appear as a witness to faith.  An organic, critical, and value-oriented communication of culture clearly includes the communication of truth and knowledge; while doing this, a Catholic teacher should always be alert for opportunities to initiate the appropriate dialogue between culture and faith—two things which are intimately related—in order to bring the interior synthesis of the student to this deeper level.  It is, of course, a synthesis which should already exist in the teacher.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #29)

These premises indicate the duties and the content of the Catholic school.  Its task is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #37)

The communication of culture in an educational context involves a methodology, whose principles and techniques are collected together into a consistent pedagogy.  A variety of pedagogical theories exist; the choice of the Catholic educator, based on a Christian concept of the human person, should be the practice of a pedagogy which gives special emphasis to direct and personal contact with the students.  If the teacher undertakes this contact with the conviction that students are already in possession of fundamentally positive values, the relationship will allow for an openness and a dialogue which will facilitate an understanding of the witness to faith that is revealed through the behavior of the teacher.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #21)

The cultural heritage of mankind includes other values apart from the specific ambient of truth.  When the Christian teacher helps a pupil to grasp, appreciate and assimilate these values, he is guiding him towards eternal realities.  This movement towards the Uncreated Source of all knowledge highlights the importance of teaching for the growth of faith.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #42)

Let them do all they can to stimulate their students to act for themselves and even after graduation to continue to assist them with advice, friendship and by establishing special associations imbued with the true spirit of the Church.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), #8)


The Church’s magisterial teachings convey the immense responsibility that teachers assume in the ministry of the Catholic education.  In addition to professional qualifications, a Catholic school teacher must have an understanding of and commitment to the Church and be a “living mirror” of Christ by modeling a life inspired by the Gospel.10  In contemporary society, the challenges associated with imparting a Christian vision of the world, which is often seen as counter-cultural, require Catholic school teachers to be spiritually stable and faithful Christian role models.

Concern for the preparation, recruitment, development, and ongoing formation of Catholic teachers is a recurrent theme throughout the magisterial documents.  In 2005, the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops in Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary & Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium stated, “The preparation and ongoing formation of teachers is vital if our schools are to remain truly Catholic in all aspects of school life… [to] allow the Gospel message and the living presence of Jesus to permeate the entire life of the school community and thus be faithful to the school’s evangelizing mission.”11 Reliance on laity to fulfill the educational mission of the Church requires not only teachers who have educational and managerial skills, but also teachers who are spiritually prepared to be witnesses of the faith to their students.

With today’s renewed focus on Catholic identity in schools, it is critical to encourage the witness of those who are tasked to impart education that is faithful to the teachings of the Church.  In Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion, the Congregation for Catholic Education laments the decline of “believers” among educators and asks, “How can a bond with Jesus Christ be established in this new educational context?”12  The Church in the United States must recommit to hiring policies that identify teachers who are suited to advancing the mission of Catholic education and to forming teachers as witness of the faith.  This is what the magisterial documents expect and what Catholic families deserve.

Our hope is that by making the Church’s rich and deep understanding of the role of Catholic teachers accessible to Catholic school leaders as well as the teachers themselves, enhanced discussions, new programs, and clarified expectations will assist in a new springtime of evangelization and a resurgence of Catholic education.


Many Diocesan and Private Catholic Schools Find Success Outside of Common Core

This publication is part of a series of reports on the Common Core State Standards Initiative and how those standards potentially impact Catholic education.

At least 33 Catholic dioceses and scores of private and independent Catholic schools across the United States have decided to take a cautious approach to the relatively new and untested “Common Core” and have opted out of using it so far. They have continued to use their own standards and curricula that have kept them at the top of the academic charts for decades. Their courage and conviction in not following the latest educational reform and sticking to what has been field-tested and fully vetted is worthy of review.  Here’s a brief overview of what some of these dioceses and schools have done.

The Archdiocese of Denver was among the first to acknowledge concerns and withhold acceptance of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Denver was soon followed by the Diocese of  Fargo and then the Dioceses of Pittsburgh,  ManchesterLansing, Madison, and Superior. Each of these confident and high-performing dioceses issued formal statements justifying their decisions not to jump on the Common Core bandwagon. Many published statements by the bishop or superintendent.

In some cases, statements came after thoughtful and heartfelt input from parents and from concerned faithful Catholics who had grave concerns about bringing the Common Core standards into Catholic schools. The parents’ concerns included a worry about a decline of Catholic identity; that the strict college and career focus of the utilitarian standards did not properly focus on the integral development of students; that the standards were in places less rigorous, slowed math progression and reduced exposure to great literature; that the standards were untested; and that the standards were thrust upon the nation without full disclosure about their impact and even their content. One of the earliest and most insightful groups of parents was Pittsburgh Catholics Against Common Core, who appealed to Bishop David Zubik to rely on the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s more complete Catholic standards.  Bishop Zubik, after careful consideration, later issued a statement assuring that only fully Catholic resource materials would be used in the schools and participation in any federal student data sharing would not occur.

Other dioceses have followed with similar policies, since the Common Core standards starting manifesting themselves in Catholic schools in 2012.  The Diocese of Baker, Oregon, is among the most recent to reject the full implementation of the math and English language arts standards, stating earlier this spring, “there are more than a few reasons to be cautious about adopting Common Core.”  These include the lack of endorsement by some English and math professors present on the original validation committee and concerns about potential content issues with history, health education and social studies.

Other dioceses not using the CCSS include Little RockNashville, and Wilmington. They have elected to continue the use of their own diocesan designed standards and curriculum guides. These tested and successful guides not only include specific standards but also resource material, formal and informal assessments, instructional approaches, student accommodations and suggestions for parental involvement.  Many of the standards, while self-selected, take into account some secular and professional standards and incorporate them into the diocesan designed program of study; the dioceses do not operate in a complete vacuum, although they do operate with a distinctly Catholic paradigm.

While it is uncertain from their websites whether other dioceses in Texas use the CCSS, the Diocese of Galveston-Houston and the Diocese of Dallas indicate that they use their own internally designed curriculum guides based on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and the International Reading Association (IRA).  The Diocese of Austin bases its standards on the TEKS.  These three dioceses educate 39,462 school children or 51 percent of the total Catholic student population taught in Texas (McDonald & Schultz, 2015).

Adjacent to Texas, the Dioceses of Tulsa and Oklahoma City use their own internal, previously generated curriculum guides and make no reference to the use of Common Core standards. Similarly, the dioceses in Nebraska and Virginia, whose state school officers never elected to incorporate the standards, do not use the Common Core. The dioceses in these four cities and states add another 63,953 Catholic school children being educated without Common Core (McDonald & Schultz, 2015).

At least seven of these non-Common Core dioceses have their curricula online:  CharlestonDallas, Denver, Galveston-HoustonNashvilleSuperior and Tulsa. Some dioceses have offices for curriculum and instruction and are able to work on these areas full-time. These dioceses use the existing professional, state and national standards along with the professional expertise of curriculum designers, members of the clergy, religious orders and input from teachers to create guides or standards for their school systems.

One problem faced by these non-adopting dioceses is how to steer clear of both the Common Core standards and the instructional approaches the standards employ, when using textbooks and materials created by publishers whose goods are stamped “Common Core aligned”. This has raised, and continues to raise, concerns among parents who see these books and worksheets coming home after having been told Common Core standards are not utilized in their diocese.

Sandra Leatherwood, director of Catholic education for the Diocese of Charleston, addresses this issue by saying that although it’s awfully hard to get around the use of Common Core- marketed materials, schools don’t have to teach the Common Core Standards when they use these books. They can use their own created curriculum guides. Like most dioceses that work under the concept of subsidiarity, in the Diocese of Charleston, representative teachers from each school gather first to develop the math and English standards and then bring them back to the individual schools for internal review and comment. In her Diocese, Leatherwood said the local teachers have the autonomy to select the textbooks that best align to their own created curriculum.  Leatherwood emphatically stated that the issue is not whether the textbook is aligned to Common Core, but whether the textbook aligns to the diocesan curriculum.

A number of Catholic schools and dioceses have come to see that choosing the best materials and using the best instructional methods means not incorporating all of the instructional “shifts” required by the Common Core standards, such as reducing selections of classical literature or implementing a recreation of the 1990s  “Math Wars”..  These schools and dioceses require instructional approaches that promote rigor and perseverance by forcing students to think for extended periods of time, pushing their developmental capacity.  Reducing classical selections that portray man in all the scenarios of his perpetual struggle to survive and buying literature anthologies that look like commercials are something these dioceses and private independent schools have chosen not to do. Rather they focus on the use of proven pedagogy and proven curricula that facilitate the search for authentic and transparent truth, whether inside or outside the specific text that children encounter.

Most of the dioceses that have not implemented the Common Core emphasize on their websites and official statements the desire to prepare students for more than college and career. These dioceses have taken to heart the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops clarification that the Common Core standards are “insufficient” to guide Catholic education.  These dioceses are upfront that the purpose of their schools is to educate the whole child in a unique Catholic worldview, where educational accomplishments sit alongside other milestones of life. They emphasize that their educational efforts are ordered toward the fulfillment of the whole person, and they do not view knowledge as primarily a commodity to be bought, sold and amassed for worldly success.

A Catholic school’s primary concern is not that students measure up to the standards of the world so that they can compete in the race for economic security and academic stature. Rather, Catholic schools fulfill an evangelizing mission of providing opportunities for their students to encounter Christ in a personal and intimate way.  Instilling virtue, integral formation and development of the soul and pursuing authentic truth in a culture of relativism are all central to a Catholic school’s standards and curriculum.  Catholic schools are much more than the Common Core.

Acknowledging this, and the fact that the vast majority of schools in the nation are singing from one sheet of music and following one “way” of going about the complex human activity that is education, some dioceses have gone a little further and are exploring a liberal arts/ classical curriculum model using original source documents and a structured developmental pedagogy.  And both the Diocese of Marquette and the Kaukauna Catholic School System in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, have decided to move toward the integration of English Language Arts and Social Studies into a combined Humanities program.

As with the best Catholic schools in the country, faith permeates the curriculum in these schools, but curriculum is framed around the historical development of Christianity and the developmental aptitudes of the child.  These schools are more concerned with process and excellence of content, rather than standards.  They are more concerned with setting a child’s imagination and creativity on fire, rather than unending mind-numbing assessments designed to quantify and measure learning so as to weed out bad schools and teachers.  Their classical, liberal-arts model emphasizes the use of inspired learning and authentic teacher-based assessment of student (not teacher or school) progress. Individualized attention, focus on tried and true stories emphasizing what is noble and normative of human excellence, happiness and flourishing, these schools are places of joy and intense academic growth.

There are many examples of individual schools seeking to break out of the cookie-cutter Common Core curricula and reclaim their rich heritage—and in the process, reclaim their market share.  Families stuck in Common Core schools are looking for something unique, something uncommon, something that will help their child stand out in a crowd, and more importantly help their child love school and love to learn for learning’s sake. Near-failing Catholic schools such as St. Jerome’s in Maryland have seen dramatic turnarounds by boldly proclaiming a Catholic and classical identity. Other schools formerly on the brink of closure such as St. John the Baptist Parish School in Ottsville, Penn., are seeking to follow suit and fight their way to prominence by being boldly Catholic and boldly counter-Common Core.

It’s not only existing Catholic schools that are recovering a sense of education that is beyond college and career; new schools are starting up to meet the need for something more than the Common Core.  The National Association of Private Catholic Independent Schools has seen a dramatic increase in membership since the Common Core started gaining a foothold in 2012. New private schools teaching the Catholic faith have sprung up in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina and Wisconsin.  Many of these schools are using a classical pedagogy and courses of study from foundational homeschool programs such as Kolbe Academy, Mother of Divine Grace and the new Chesterton Academies.  It is undetermined how many students these recognized members plus autonomous up-starts are teaching, but theirs is an upward trend (Donohue, 2014).  A newly formed support organization called  The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education has also seen rapid growth in the last two years, as it seeks to expose a hungry market to a comprehensive approach to education which is wholesome, weighty, meaningful, tested and soul-nourishing.

In time, there may be some fruits that come from the Common Core, but there is already plenty of good fruit on the table of classical and faith based-liberal arts schools.  The children are happy and well-fed.  Room for more fruit, once ripe and deemed healthful, can perhaps be made in the future with care.  Until then, there is much to feast upon while we wait—and waiting is something we Catholics do well.


Donohue, D. (2014). Private independent Catholic schools: Components of successful start-up schools. Accessible at

McDonald, D. & Schultz, M. (2015). The annual statistical report on schools, enrollment and staffing: United States Catholic elementary and secondary schools 2014-2015. (Arlington, VA: National Catholic Educational Association).

Disconnect between Common Core’s Literary Approach and Catholic Education’s Pursuit of Truth

Many of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts are, when taken in isolation and at face value, fairly innocuous.  Who, after all, could be against a fifth grader being  asked to “Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact)”?  Other Standards are more disconcerting; for a detailed review, see the NAPCIS Annotated Common Core Standards.

But a substantial concern is with the guiding educational philosophies behind the Common Core. These philosophies are present in what the Common Core describes as its “instructional shifts” and are the promise behind the standards:

These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards based reforms. It is time to recognize that standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep. (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010, Intro.)

The Common Core is about new ways of doing business (i.e., new ways of educating). They are a new promise, the next step, in education.  As has been argued elsewhere, the Common Core was unveiled nationally even though, as a whole, it was untried and untested. However, far from delivering a new way of doing business, what the Common Core has done is privilege one way of educating. The designing consultants have simply taken one side in ongoing, com- plex, pedagogical issues.  The Common Core’s national scope has thereby crowded out other voices and philosophies and hampered intellectual and pedagogical diversity.

In the highly idiosyncratic, dynamic, complex and necessarily personal world of human intellectual formation, there are many paths to excellence.  Catholic schools, with their unique focus on integral human formation and the celebration of truth, beauty and goodness, should protect their voice and their viewpoints. Catholic schools should understand and be aware of the Common Core shifts, reject their narrow and utilitarian philosophies, and seek to counter the Common Core’s effects with a distinctly more holistic and complete Catholic educational experience.

This report focuses primarily on the English Language Arts (ELA) standards, as those tend to have a greater immediate effect on Catholic identity.  (However, math too is affected, as one side in the ongoing  “math wars” has unilaterally claimed power.)  The Common Core has taken one side of a complex debate about different literary and interpretive theories and the nature and purpose of literature.

It is possible, of course, that the authors of the ELA standards are not even fully aware of what they have done.  The standards’ main architect, David Coleman, is neither a professor of literature nor has he ever taught literature in the K-12 environment.  He is an educational consultant who happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right connections with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to take the lead in transforming American literary education. And—like Common Core funder Bill Gates, who never went to college—Coleman seems to have little regard for the transformative or transcendental power of literature.  He once advised educators in a Common Core presentation: “[A]s you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a s–t about what you feel or what you think” and, “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’” For Coleman and Gates, reading seems to be about distilling facts, writing is about reports and education is about college and career readiness.

According to this utilitarian approach to education, we need to fix America’s schools to ensure that we are able to produce workers who can compete in the 21st century global economy.  In order to ensure our success, the logic goes, we need extensive testing to ensure quality control both in student learning and in teacher efficacy. Enter the computer-based, massive, Common Core testing system being rolled out across the country this spring. Two versions of a new test being used to assess both the students and teachers in their mastery of the Common Core have been unleashed on our schools, teachers and students.  Much more, no doubt, will be said on this subject as the scores and uses of the scores become evident.

It is perhaps in the challenge of computerized high-stakes testing that we find one of the reasons for the Common Core’s alignment with one literary theory over all others.  The method advanced by the writers of the standards is what they call Close Analytic Reading or Close Reading and is very similar to a literary approach used in the 1940s and 1950s called New Criticism (Brizee & Tompkins, 2011).  According to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the two testing consortia funded by the federal government to assess the standards:

Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately.  Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details.  It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (PARCC, 2011, p. 7)

Close Reading/New Criticism allows for easier computer testing. There is the perception that if all we are testing is the text on the page, this will somehow be more objective.  Words are what they are.  The text in isolation can supposedly be tested in isolation with few variables and thus more accuracy. We can get to a simpler, fill-in-the-bubble “objective” response. This method may also be perceived as fairer to those who may not have robust life experiences to think about the meaning or implications of the text, even if the text comports with reality or truth outside of the text.  No opinions need to be considered or evaluated, which computers would have a hard time doing anyway.

So it’s an apparent win/win—the test gets more objective answers, and teaching gets easier since variables are reduced—but in fact the cost is quite high.  It is the eviscerating and over- simplification of the literary and reasoning experience.  Testing is often about limiting variables; education, on the other hand, is often about multiplying variables, about complexity, depth and richness that a student may very well miss if we are striving to get to the one, right bubbled answer.

The Close Reading/New  Criticism approach used by the Common Core not only assists in standardized testing, but it can also be used as a way to make sure that literature serves the pragmatic college and career focus of the Common Core.  From this perspective, the value of literature is not so much what it teaches us about how to live well, but that it teaches us how to read well (e.g. Just tell me what’s in the report, Johnson!).

Elements of New Criticism can be used as a means to this end by focusing simply on a systematic analysis of the text, objectifying the relationship between the text and its form, limiting the text to itself, and negating the reader ’s response and/or  the author’s intentions (Delahoyde, n.d.; Murfin & Ray, 1998).  New Criticism does not invite external socio-political or historical perspectives. As Delahoyde (n.d.) states:

The goal then is not the pursuit of sincerity or authenticity, but subtlety, unity, and integrity—and these are properties of the text, not the author.  The work is not the author ’s; it was detached at birth.  The author ’s intentions are “neither available nor desirable, [and] …meaning exists on the page, the meaning of the text is intrinsic and should not be confused with the author ’s intentions nor the work’s affective dimensions”. (Delahoyde, n.d., para. 3)

Here we see a limiting of the pursuit of truth by the actual formula used to analyze the text. Not only is the pursuit of truth limited in this approach, but the author ’s actual position is disregarded as well.

While the Close Reading approach advocated by the CCSS authors does rely heavily upon the search for the author ’s explicit and implied themes, many aspects of Close Reading are comparable to the New Criticism approach.  For instance, teachers are to give the text to the students with little to no background information and are not to add additional pieces of information to the discussion—something that other reading experts recommend doing (NCTE, 2004; Steven, 1982). The selected text itself sets the parameters of the discussion, and students are to answer questions from evidence within the text.

For example, here’s a Close Reading lesson from the Teaching Channel titled, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat by Michael Pollan.  In the YouTube video (Stabrowski, 2014), the teacher demonstrates how to guide a group of students through a series of questions to see how the author has personified corn as an evil King and how corn has chased poor innocent animals and other crops off of the farm.  If the students do not arrive at the conclusion that corn is evil, then the teacher rewinds (meaning re-teaches) that portion of the lesson so that the students all understand this fact. Students read the text once to get the gist of the text. Then the teacher, or a good reader, reads the text aloud while the students listen and think about the text-dependent (pre-made) questions they are given to answer. When discussing the questions and answers, students are not to go outside of the text to research whether corn has any nutritional benefits or how it is exported to feed other countries.  They are not to bring up any personal thoughts about corn, only evidence from the text.  They are then instructed to correct or add to their answers, so that they are in conformity with the class discussion. Here we have a very concerted effort, and an entire class period, directed to making sure students have an exact understanding of the author ’s intentions, both explicit (with evidence from the text) and implied.  It is pretty hard for an elementary or middle school student to disagree, after this much effort has been put into understanding the author ’s viewpoint.

Pearson (2013), a member of the Common Core Validation Committee and proponent of the standards, has stated that Close Reading seems to squelch the activation of students’ prior knowledge (since all knowledge is remanded to the text), and the freedom to evaluate and compare is based upon this prohibited “outside” knowledge.  While he is concerned about the fact that cognitive learning theory is being neglected by this approach, he raises a more important issue: the suppression of freedom among the students and teachers to include other perspectives and considerations in addition to those advocated by the text and the author. Pearson explains this as the authors’ misunderstanding  about the process of comprehension and the fact that prior knowledge cannot be turned off or on at will. Pearson wonders if once a student learns about the authors’ points, can the student then use that information in the next selected reading of the author—extending the first selected text into the second, into the entire chapter, into the book—or must the reader be remanded to the selected piece in front of them?

In college and university literature departments around the country, discussions about the validity and applicability of various literary approaches in the pursuit of meaning are ongoing.  But for the teachers and students in American schools, the discussion has ended: Close Reading is it.

Our goal in teaching literature to kids is not just to prepare them for possible graduate school in English; our goal, especially in Catholic schools, is to form them and expose them to great, engaging, formative and normative literature and in the process instill in them a love and passion for reading great literature.  (See The Story Killers by Terrance Moore (2013) for an extended discussion of this point.)  Important to K-12 students is reading and engaging in well-crafted stories that will assist them in becoming wiser and better people, leading to more satisfying and richer lives. For our children, stories are not just about texts and techniques, but also about people and relationships.  Stories are not just about literary styles and interpretive complexities, but also about exploration into the imaginative and powerful terms surrounding the nature of reality, morality, faith and virtue. Great literature presents images of nobility and excellence—and their opposites—for our judgment and self-judgment, as we engage in deep and meaningful discussions about what it means to be a fully actualized, good human being. The textual technicalities and techniques, which are more easily tested and discussed using New Criticism and Close Reading, are means rather than ends in the K-12 literary experience—and this is most especially true for Catholic schools.

In Catholic schools, knowledge is attained when the human intellect, informed by the senses, judges things rightly.  Confining students to their own background knowledge or the point of view of the text rewards subjectivity and relativity, instead of Truth.   Concluding a lesson without having the opportunity to discuss other viewpoints that might in fact contain Truth, allows doubt, misinformation and even fallacy to solidify in the student’s mind. In catechesis, this would be like leaving students adrift after speaking about Creation and the Fall, putting off until later the promise of the Resurrection.  If these texts are so important to be analyzed in the light of close reading, then they are important enough to be read in the light of all of the viewpoints and perspectives that surround them.  As Fr. Robert Spitzer (2011) notes in a discussion of the pursuit of truth, there are far more errors of omission than commission, which means that leaving out data is just as harmful to the pursuit of truth as getting the wrong data or making logical errors.

Catholic educators, especially if they are using Common Core-developed texts and questions, need to look carefully at what texts and what questions are being left out. Their focus needs to be on the pursuit of the true, good and beautiful, not on getting the right answer on the Common Core test-inspired questions at the end of any publisher ’s provided worksheets. Catholic educators need to look deliberately and carefully at the real, rich and wonderful world outside the text. For the text, in combination with reality, may prove a mighty formative weapon. The text, in context, may very well brilliantly unveil reality—sometimes with life-changing effect. The purpose of reading is more than downloading text-limited knowledge. In addition, reading can sometimes simply be for pleasure, joy and wonder.  There is life outside of the Common Core and its tests.

Teachers in Catholic schools must move well beyond the Common Core in their much more profound efforts toward the integral formation of their students in mind, body and spirit. They do this through their intellectual and moral example, living the truth with love, and exposing their students to complex reality in all of its glorious manifestations.  In the Vatican’s document The Catholic School (1977), we read:

The school considers human knowledge as a truth to be discovered. In the measure in which subjects are taught by someone who knowingly and without restraint seeks the truth they are to that extent Christian. Discovery and awareness of truth leads man to the discovery of Truth itself.  (para. 41)

It also leads students to a discovery of Truth, Himself.  The purpose of our Catholic educational institutions, according to Pope Benedict (2008), is to first and foremost be a place where students can encounter the living God. Pope Benedict (2010) also reminds us that the purpose of our Catholic schools is to make saints!

Overuse of the methodology of Close Reading and a reconstituted literary approach of New Criticism is insufficient in the much broader and more complex pursuit of truth in which we are called to engage in our Catholic schools. There are other analytical tools and approaches in the field of literature that are also helpful to address the richness and power of literary possi- bility, creativity and passion. Among these are Reader/Response, Moral Criticism, and Struc- turalism (Brizee & Tompkins, 2011). Catholic students need rich exposure to Moral Criticism, which is more open to an analysis of the text’s teachings related to topics of wisdom, grace, beauty and virtue. (See for more on Moral Criticism.)  This broader interpretive framework will better enable Catholic schools to avoid unnecessarily or unwittingly narrowing their efforts.

Former Secretary for the Congregation for Catholic Education, Archbishop Michael Miller, C.S.B., describes this dynamic when he warns:

All too many Catholic schools fall into the trap of a secular academic success culture, putting their Christological focus and its accompanying understanding of the human person in second place.  Christ is “fitted in” rather than being the school’s vital principle (2006, p. 26).

He goes on to say, “This conviction about the nature of truth is too important for Catholics to be confused about,” (p. 46) and “Unlike skeptics and relativists, Catholic educators share a specific belief about truth: that, to a limited but real extent, it can be attained and communicated to others.”  He warns that:

Catholic schools (should) take up the daunting task of freeing boys and girls from the insidious consequences of what Pope Benedict XVI has called the “dictatorship of relativism”—a dictatorship that cripples all genuine education. Catholic teachers are to cultivate in themselves and develop in others a passion for truth that defeats moral and cultural relativism.  They are to educate “in the truth.” (p. 46)

Our standards, Catholic school standards, are not synonymous with the Common Core State Standards. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has pointed out, the Common Core Standards are in and of themselves insufficient to guide Catholic educational efforts (USCCB, 2014). Solomon (2003) states that standards represent a culture’s explicit statements that it “finds worthy of transmission” (p. 3). Our culture, as enshrined in the ubiquitous Common Core and its oppressive testing regimen, values a utilitarian approach to education that only half-prepares our students for life beyond high school graduation.  According to Archbishop Miller, “If a Catholic school is to deliver on its promise to provide students with an integral education, it must foster love for wisdom and truth, and must integrate faith, culture, and life” (p.45) by using instructional approaches that focus on much more than evidence from the text and whose horizon includes more than college and career.

There is much more to say regarding weaknesses in the Common Core ELA standards, especially another of the ELA shifts – graduated percentages of informational text.  The Common Core designers have errantly, without clear data or clear direction, mandated an increase in informational texts in all levels or all schools.  This, by necessity, means a  decrease in great literature.  More on this travesty will be forthcoming from The Cardinal Newman Society.

The Common Core’s dismissive attitude toward the transcendent power of literature is hopefully exposed not just by these articles but in reflecting again on Common Core architect David Coleman’s remarks, “[A]s you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a s–t about what you feel or what you think,” and “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’”  We can see how Catholic schools must completely reject these notions and their enshrinement in the Common Core.  We believe we are about authentic human excellence and human flourishing. We will, by happy circumstance, produce better workers and better scholars because we will produce better, more integrally developed, human persons.

Johnson may have a job, but will he have a life? Johnson’s boss may not care about what Johnson feels or thinks: but his wife will, and his children will, and his friends will, and his neighbors will, and if he is a teacher, his students will, and if he is a politician, his constituents will. And even his cynical boss may not care what Johnson thinks or feels, but his boss will care that Johnson thinks or feels. Johnson will not only be a stunted human being having learned under the Common Core, but he will also be a poorer employee.

Even public schools exist to produce thoughtful, productive and independent citizens in a democratic republic, not just workers and college students.   A strong democracy requires strong people, not just strong workers.  We need students to be more humanized in order to address the crisis and challenge of today’s world, not less.  This is not a time to set our sights on the “common” or the cultural status quo.  This is a time requiring vision and excellence.

In Catholic schools, we know we are not just producing workers and scholars, we are producing living, breathing, complex, contradictory, eternally destined, unrepeatable and immensely valuable human beings.  Our bishops and parishes do not support schools and keep them open to provide better “career and college readiness”.  They keep Catholic schools open to provide the liberation that comes from a thoughtful, loving and free encounter with the living God.  Catholic schools exist not for their pragmatic worldly usefulness, but rather to actuate the authentic freedom to which each person is called and to provide skills at apprehending and integrating reality, including that which transcends the text, in all of its fullness and glory.


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