Education for Zombies - Cardinal Newman Society

Education for Zombies

All too often, Catholic schools in America resemble the “walking dead” (excuse the crass popular culture metaphor)—soulless versions of themselves that merely exist to spread the very entity that killed them.

This phenomenon is discussed by Richard Weaver in his book Visions of Order, in a chapter entitled “Gnostics of Education,” in which he traces the carefully orchestrated demise of public education: “There has been an extraordinary experience, a virtual educational coup d’état carried out by a specially inclined minority… the result has been an educational system not only intrinsically bad but at war with the aims of the community which authorizes it” (p.114). This revolution has metastasized and become the standard for all secular government education.

Tragically in the last fifty years, many Catholic schools have silently succumbed to this destructive trend with nary a shot being fired. Rather than standing in bold contrast to the government model and philosophy that has been foisted upon America and wounding its citizens, many Catholic schools have adopted a policy of collaboration worthy of Vichy France.

The problem with teacher certification

The simple fact is most American Catholic school educators believe that their secular education training and state certification provide the basis of Catholic schooling; that education is a field for “experts,” and thus all Catholic educators must submit to a state “certification” board of “experts” in a subject called “education.” According to Weaver, this blind trust in the keepers of the educational establishment and the necessity of degrees from those experts in “education” is where the doctrinal revolution really took place: “Here was an educational system within the educational system, committed to a body of methodology whose goals were defined by a philosophical sect” (p.115).

This is the means by which the modern secular educational model and agenda have infected Catholic schools across the country. Essentially the Catholic Church has staffed its schools with administrators and teachers whose educational worldview has been formed by institutions at odds with the Catholic faith. In consequence, when faced with the prospect of providing an authentically Catholic education, Catholic schools have simply adopted the model of giving a public education with a religion class attached like a caboose.

What makes the current state of Catholic education all the more grotesque is that, for the most part, the Catholic educational establishment has no idea that it is no longer Catholic. In fact, if you were to poll most Catholic school administrators and teachers about the Catholic identity of their school, they would most likely list it as one of the school’s strengths. After all, they pray with their kids for two minutes at the beginning of class, they attend Mass once a week (or once a month depending on the school), they do service projects collecting coats for the homeless or starting a recycling program for the school. And isn’t this the essence of the Catholic life: semi-regular Mass attendance, basic charity, and caring for the environment? Like a zombie still wearing their Catholic school uniform, they claim full Catholic identity while simultaneously being—well, dead. They have maintained many of the trappings of true Catholic identity but have lost sight of its essence.

The lie of secular objectivity

Education suffers especially from the schism of thought and action, belief, and lifestyle that the secular culture prescribes for societal harmony. The basic assumption of modern education is that belief and knowledge (faith and reason) are two entirely different fields, which are both perverted whenever they accidentally meet. This artificial but stringent separation teaches the student to completely divorce what they believe from having any influence over what they say and do in the “real world,” thus rendering their beliefs impotent. In this way, professing Catholic students blithely do and say things on a daily basis that are in direct conflict with what they profess to believe.

But this dichotomy also affects teachers. Teachers are trained to approach their subjects “objectively,” to avoid tainting their learning with the prejudice of un-empirical beliefs or presuppositions about other areas of reality. This has led to the epidemic of good Catholic teachers who feel that they must approach their subjects and classrooms as “practical atheists,” as if their Catholic beliefs had nothing to say regarding the subjects they are teaching. This, in turn, trains their students to think and act as practical atheists as well

And yet all is not lost. As Edmund Burke wrote of cultures, “at the very moment when some of them seemed plunged in unfathomable abysses of disgrace and disaster, they have suddenly emerged” (Two Letters Addressed to a Member of the Present Parliament, on the Proposals for Peace with the Regicide Directory of France). Through the grace of God and the strivings of good men, seemingly impossible change can happen.

Practical solutions

To that end, Catholic schools must take several practical steps to combat this epidemic and once again approach all aspects of education through a truly Catholic worldview. First, they should start looking for administrators and teachers outside of state university education programs and immediately stop the ridiculous practice of requiring state certification. If you want a great Catholic school, hire some teachers from Hillsdale College, the University of Dallas, Christendom College, Thomas Aquinas College, or Wyoming Catholic (the list goes on). Hire teachers that, regardless of state certification, are experts in their subjects and possess an authentically Catholic worldview. It is ultimately much easier to train an inexperienced teacher in the art of pedagogy than to instill a Catholic worldview (the delicate fruit of years of formation) in an experienced state educated teacher.

Furthermore, Catholic school administrators and teachers need to start systematically challenging the accepted wisdom and standards of public education. They need to relentlessly explain to parents why a Catholic education that stands in true contrast to a secular public education is something worth sacrificing for. As Catholic schools understand (and public schools do not), parents are the primary educators of the child, necessitating  a partnership with parents. The good news is that an authentically Catholic education is in fact superior, so the sell has truth on its side.

This is perhaps the most essential battle in the Catholic Church today. If Catholic schools can be reclaimed, the exciting potency of Christ, His truth, and belief in it will not just spill into every aspect of the Catholic school, but into the Church as a whole. The students going forth will begin to see everything with Christ’s eyes and think about things with a Christ-like mind, and in this way remain in the Truth, in the knowledge that it is the Truth that sets us free (John 8:32).


TIMOTHY NIELSEN serves as the executive director for the Center for Evangelical Catholicism in Greenville, S.C.

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