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Wrong Way to Teach About Race in Catholic Education

Human dignity and justice were topics in Catholic education long before the racial division of 2020. They are especially important today, as students need to understand an accurate history of racism and prejudices, learn Christian anthropology that teaches the dignity of all persons regardless of creed or color or origin, and strive for the communion to which Christ calls all of us.

And teaching these topics will remain central to Catholic education long after “critical race theory” has gone away.

But for now, the divisive, political ideology that seems opposed to nearly everything in Western civilization — simply because it is associated with white Europeans — is making headway into public schools. It’s difficult to thwart such efforts by activists, politicians and teacher unions to push false ideologies into public schools, because there is no clear authority or basis for truth in public education — only political power and public opinion.

But Catholic education is different. It is rooted in the truths of our faith, which reveal the foundations of reality, and it embraces classical philosophy and the West’s insights about human society, freedom, conscience, law and more. Therefore, Catholic education and critical race theory are simply incompatible.

There is a “radical disconnect between the Catholic worldview and critical race ideology,” which is why Catholic educators “must remain vigilant and faithful” to avoid allowing falsehood and division from corrupting the classroom, explain Dr. Denise Donohue and Dr. Dan Guernsey of The Cardinal Newman Society in their appeal against the “cancel culture.”

“Critical race theory misapplies personal sin to groups, irredeemably condemns those it labels as oppressors, condemns those who may happen to look like those oppressors, and makes moral demands of those it believes have privilege resulting from historic oppression,” write Donohue and Guernsey. “It also attempts to empower itself by manipulating race-based feelings of guilt and self-loathing in those in any way it connects to these claims. It provides these group-based sinners with a chance to feel righteous and pure in relation to their fellows once they acknowledge their guilt.”

This is “close to the heart of the pharisees whom [Christ] criticizes for their condemning legalism and self-righteousness.” But Catholic education strives to provide students “a clear understanding of sin and human agency and Christ’s expectations of those whom He has forgiven.”

Rather than adopting critical race theory, Catholics should rely on clear instruction provided in Vatican documents, the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letters, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to address complex topics like justice and human dignity. We have more than 2,000 years of wisdom to draw from!

“Catholic education offers Christ and the Gospel to the world as the ultimate solution to the sufferings and ills of humanity, including areas of social justice,” write Donohue and Guernsey. “The Church does not simply echo programs and agendas inspired by others’ values but brings to the table her own values of faith, forgiveness, mercy, and justice based on the divine revelation she is called to proclaim to all nations.”

Another concern is that critical race theory would trade studies in classical literature for contemporary books that are “shallow” and “politically correct.”

“Great literature provides a forum to explore the depths of the human condition,” explain Guernsey and Donohue. “Unfortunately cruelty, oppression and injustice are a perennial part of that condition. Educators wishing to explore these and related concepts will find no shortage of them throughout classical literature, where students can enter into a grand conversation through the ages with the best thinkers and most artful works humanity has produced.”

Classical literature and Catholic education have withstood the test of time. Critical race theory may have some popularity today, but not for long.

In a culture that constantly embraces new and even radical ideologies, Catholic students need to be taught how to find and hold onto truth across every division and through every age. They should be taught truth especially in the most divisive and heated situations. While critical race theory seeks to divide the world into racial categories, faithful Catholic education by promoting charity, community and rational dialogue can bring about healing through a deep encounter with the Divine Physician.

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

On Racism and Cancel Culture

Amid high racial, social and political tensions in America today, Catholic parents and educators are eager to teach students about race, gender, justice and human dignity. That’s a good thing.

But adopting divisive and ideologically driven innovations like “critical race theory,” “woke-ism,” “gender ideology” and the “cancel culture” is not the way of faithful Catholic education.

The Newman Society has studied these topics and published new guidance at our website to hep educators confront sins of racism, unjust discrimination and bullying while rejecting dangerous ideologies. Instead of adopting new and popular approaches to difficult topics, Catholic educators should rely on faithfully Catholic materials including the clear instruction in Vatican documents, U.S. bishops’ pastoral letters and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Critical race theory 

“Critical race theory (CRT) asserts that America’s legal framework is inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of color,” explains Dr. Denise Donohue, the Newman Society’s vice president for educator resources, in her recent Catholic World Report article that summarizes a more substantial backgrounder on critical race theory published at the Newman Society website.

CRT rests on a view of society as oppressors and oppressed, with emphasis on imbalances of power instead of the inherent dignity of each individual and the complexities of a pluralistic society. Donohue’s backgrounder explains the development of CRT from “critical theory” and its foundation in Marxism, which the Church has rejected as a dangerous political ideology. CRT’s introduction in the classroom therefore manipulates education for political ends. The theory calls for dismantling and rebuilding American legal and social structures, and its critique of Western society sometimes charges the Church and Christian notions of God, marriage and gender as inherently racist.

“Students taught with critical race theory materials can become racists in the literal sense of the word: they may treat others (the perceived oppressor race) unfairly because of skin color or background,” Donohue warns. “Division into categories of good and bad based on skin color is a reversal of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and antithetical to a Catholic understanding of human dignity and equality.”

Cancel culture

Another concern is the “cancel culture,” which hastily labels even the most rational and sympathetic commentary on topics like gender and race as either “bigoted” or “leftist,” often with severe social consequences. In an increasingly secular society, Catholics are especially at risk of unfair judgment—even among fellow Catholics.

Catholic education must not fall into this trap.

“Authentic Catholic education does not cancel culture; it elevates, redeems and transmits culture,” writes senior fellow Dr. Dan Guernsey at The Catholic Thing. “It seeks out and celebrates truth, beauty and goodness, wherever they are found—and if they are missing, Catholic education points that out as well.”

Guernsey’s helpful list of things that Catholic educators can do to counter ideology and division (see the full list at TheCatholicThing.org) include:

  • Relate discussions to a Catholic understanding of the human person through a clear and convincing Christian anthropology, which affirms our creation by God as male or female and the union of our bodies and spirits, as well as our common humanity and destiny.
  • Teach students to analyze the morality of human acts (including separating the sin and the sinner), properly attribute degrees of culpability based on individual awareness and freedom, ascribe sin (in the proper sense) to individuals not groups, and affirm the possibility of repentance and forgiveness.
  • Help students discover the religious dimension in human history and compare the actions of peoples according to Catholic morality and virtues, but also according to the level of development of a person or culture and the impact of surrounding conditions, knowledge, and understanding of the time.

Bottom line: Catholic educators already teach authentic Catholic moral and social doctrine and Christian charity. By confidently teaching and witnessing to the Gospel, Catholic educators provide an outstanding education and formation for their students under every circumstance.

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Why Critical Race Theory is Contrary to Catholic Education

Catholic education offers a truthful and morally sound framework for considering issues of race, human dignity, and social justice. Yet cultural norms, historical developments, commonplace and novel assumptions, and associated passions all have some influence over Catholic education—sometimes for the good, but often distorting and even contradicting sound Catholic teaching. The human condition and social inequities and injustices can and should be addressed in Catholic education, with confidence in the Church’s wisdom and the ability of societies to respectfully unify around racial and cultural differences. In times of heightened concern and emotion, it is necessary that Catholic education inform and guide students’ understanding with great caution against divisive ideological and political influences.

Today emotional and heated discussions and protests focused on race seem to fill social media, endless news cycles, and opinion journalism. Concepts including “wokeness,” “intersectionality,” and “systemic racism” may be explicitly advocated or implicitly underlie conversation and classroom teaching. Terms such as “racist,” “hate,” “intolerance,” and “oppression” belong to the conversation, but they can at times be harmfully wielded as hasty moral judgments and powerful rhetorical weapons.

Continue reading at the Catholic World Report…

The Remedy for “Canceling” and Division: Catholic Education

In the present moment, much of the popular culture is taken up with concerns about race, gender, and equity. But these questions are unfortunately complicated by radical ideologies and an intolerant “cancel culture,” a type of religion that separates the woke from the un-woke, the privileged from the oppressed.

The cancel culture surrounds us and now threatens to infect Catholic schools, colleges, and homeschooling. But we should not yield to it.

Authentic Catholic education does not cancel culture; it elevates, redeems, and transmits culture. It seeks out and celebrates truth, beauty, and goodness, wherever they are found – and if they are missing, Catholic education points that out as well. The transcendentals are not bound by culture, time, race, or gender. They do not flourish equally at all times, among all members of all cultures, but can always be celebrated in God’s Creation and the best human works.

Continue reading at The Catholic Thing…