Revolution or Renewal

Once again, I heard a speaker paraphrasing Chesterton in reference to his idea about a revolution, particularly, a revolution is always a return, a re-turning to some ideal that was lost. 

The Catholic University of America welcomed the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education this summer as host of the National Catholic Classical Schools Conference. The conference theme, this year, was Educating from the heart of the Church. More than 250 educators from twenty-seven states and two Canadian provinces attended the conference in order to grow in wisdom and understanding of the Church’s great hope and plan for Catholic education. What was on display was a deep fellowship, the kind that can only be found when based on Eternal Love, and an abundance of Joy! One thing that was common among superintendents, priests, principals and teachers was—regardless of which moniker they used: classical, liberal arts, Catholic intellectual tradition, or just Catholic education—they were all convicted that a true Catholic education must derive from the heart and mind of the Church, and that is decidedly different than what the vast secular educational machine wants our schools to do.

Following are excerpts from my opening address.

As we celebrate the conference theme “Educating from the Heart of the Church,” I implore you all to open your hearts this week to learn the wisdom of the ages, hear and take to heart the Church’s beautiful hope for education—her hope for us as educators, her hope for our children who will carry on this flame of truth, and her hope that the whole world will come to know the fire of divine love. Nobody knows the truth of this more than the Church, because the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. He himself desires us to be one with Him. College and career readiness, while a fine thing, is not high enough or noble enough a goal for us or our children—we as Catholic educators must turn back to the heart of the Church and adopt her goal as ours, eternal beatitude for all. Catholic identity today seems to have come to be understood by too many as prayer, sacraments, crucifixes and retreats, on top of the exact same curriculum and teaching methods of the public schools. Rather, if we follow the heart of the Church, we will understand that Catholic education has to do with a worldview—it affects every element of our curriculum, and even our very pedagogy. Archbishop J. Michael Miller, former secretary of education for the Holy See, states something that on the surface seems radical and strange: he states that “Catholicism must permeate the entire curriculum.” He also states that if education does not derive from a Christian anthropology, it cannot be a complete and true education. Again—radical. Strange. Yet, if He created all that is, how could this assertion be anything BUT true?

We must subject the evaluation of what we are doing in Catholic education to this essential truth which comes from the Heart of the Church.

In order to accomplish this, we need to remake our schools to form children in an imagination rich enough to imagine heaven, so they can desire it enough to live for it. We need to teach them great ideas and form them according to their nature, developing in their minds the “tools of learning,” as Dorothy Sayers says: grammar, logic and rhetoric. We do this all so they can embrace those transcendentals of truth, beauty and goodness. If this becomes the mission and character of our classrooms and schools, our students will graduate still as imperfect beings, but they will have a direction, a fundamental orientation, a compass point north, true north, all the way to heaven. Then, as I like to tell my seniors, they will now be infected with the Augustine virus—the restless heart. They will know that their hearts will be restless, until they rest in Him.

The conference enjoyed speakers such as John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America; Dr. Jake Noland of St. Thomas More Academy in North Carolina; Msgr. Charles Pope and Fr. Paul Scalia; Dr. Diana Philpott of St. John the Baptist, Notre Dame, Ind.; Dr. Christopher Perrin of Classical Academic Press; and Michael Ortner, a tech entrepreneur who has turned his energies to become a forceful proponent of educational reform in the classical liberal arts tradition. It is beyond this writer’s ability to capture the energy, spirit and hope which animated this gathering of Christ’s disciples devoted to Catholic education. If I must try to capture what we experienced, I would have to quote one teacher who was new to the movement and was experiencing one of these conferences for the first time: “I feel as if I have drifted into Heaven—all the joy and all the serious purpose that I imagine Jesus wants for His children on earth, so those children can be with Him forever, starting now!

A revolution, in the right, beautiful and good sense of the term, is gaining steam. We are seeing Catholic schools, private and diocesan, re-turning to the Catholic intellectual tradition. It is a great time to be in Catholic education!

MICHAEL J. VAN HECKE, M.Ed., a seasoned headmaster and educational speaker, is also the founder and president of The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education and the Catholic Textbook Project. In their spare time, he and his wife farm avocados.

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