Here in Aotearoa New Zealand we are preparing for the start of the new school year. School staff will meet in the next few days and students will soon arrive to begin the 2018 school year. It’s an ideal opportunity for us to reflect on the goals we have for the educational endeavour within a Catholic school.
I offer a couple of starter thoughts in the video below. Feel free to use this in any way you think might be helpful.
The Catholic Church has always held education, especially of the young, as a very high priority. This education is centred on the person of Jesus Christ, God with us, within the active life of the sacraments of the church.
Today parents choose Catholic schooling for a variety of reasons, often more centred on NCEA results and a values-based educational process. In some Catholic schools the charism of the school founder and a focus on social justice has replaced explicit emphasis on Jesus Christ and the breadth of Catholic life, (ie Sacramental practice, intellectual and spiritual faith formation, spiritual development, prayer, moral theology…)
A school’s website can indicate something of this shift when the emphasis is on one aspect of Catholic life (for example social justice) without mention of the breadth and beauty of life in personal and communal relationship with Jesus Christ.
If you wanted a further starter for discussion you will find it helpful to return to the NZ Bishops’ inspiring document on Catholic Education published in 2014: The Catholic Education of School-age Children. In the document (beginning at paragraph 11) the bishops list eight goals of Catholic education and you might find these a helpful starter for reflection. You can also find these goals copied below the video.
The Goals of the Catholic School
- The primary goal of the Catholic school was clearly stated by Blessed Pope John Paul II in an address to Catholic educators in the United States in 1979: “In order that the Catholic school and the Catholic teachers may truly make their irreplaceable contribution to the Church and to the world, the goal of Catholic education itself must be crystal clear. Beloved sons and daughters of the Catholic Church, brothers and sisters in the faith: Catholic education is above all a question of communicating Christ, of helping to form Christ in the lives of others.”
- The significance of this goal for all Catholic educational institutions was re-affirmed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008: “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.”
- A genuine and ongoing encounter with Christ gives rise to a desire to know more about him and his teaching. Facilitating that encounter is an essential function of the Catholic school. Without it the student will not have a passion for those things which pertain to Christ and his Church, and religious education will have little effect on the heart, the mind and the will.
- The encounter with Christ and a growing knowledge and understanding of his teaching naturally lead to a “new life characterised by all that is beautiful, good, and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord’s disciples, the Church”8 . This progression from encounter, to growth in knowledge and to Christian witness is the framework of the disciple’s journey.
- The faith required for Baptism, either as an infant or an adult, is not a perfect and mature faith. It is a beginning, a seed which needs to be nurtured and developed. Over time Christian education deepens the faith of the believer, unfolding the “new creation”10 he or she became in Baptism. That faith enables believers to bear witness to the Christian hope that inspires them.
- Coming to know the true God means to receive hope, and those who have hope live differently. The hope which characterises Christian witness is inclusive rather than individualistic; it is a leaven which builds relationships and community: “Hope that turns to God is never hope only for me, it is always also a hope for others; it does not isolate us but makes us supportive in goodness and stimulates us to reciprocally educate each other in truth and in love.”
- But what of that goal which is of intense interest to parents as they exercise their right to choose an educational institution for their child? Parents instinctively look for an education of a high standard which will fully develop their child’s talents, and enable him or her to fully participate in society. Academic standards matter to parents and educators alike.
- Achieving the best possible academic standards is a goal for all Catholic schools. In its academic standards the Catholic school is required to be “at least as outstanding” as other schools in its area. Parents should not have to choose between the best academic standards and a Catholic education; the Catholic school should embody both. Expecting and facilitating the achievement of the best possible academic standards for all children, whatever their ability, is part of enabling each student to use his or her God-given talents in promoting the good of society and the spread of the kingdom of God.
A reflection on staffroom and classroom prayer is available at this link