In our diocese, Bishop diLorenzo has chosen not to adopt Common Core but rather to continue to develop the diocesan curriculum that is profoundly catholic. The letter by Professor Gerard Bradley of the school of law at the university of Notre Dame and many other Catholic scholars and professors, to the American bishops, opposing Common Core, has captured my attention and has given me a moment to sharpen my understanding of the educational philosophy that underlies Catholic education.
First of all, the Catholic church upholds that the education of children is the primary responsibility of the parents. The Church is there to assist the parent and not usurp their proper role. Secondly, Catholic education sees the primary importance of the orientation toward God in the education of children.
Consequently, the Catholic school has to address more than the 3 Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic, or to be more current, more than science, technology, engineering and math. It must provide moral instruction, and moral instruction cannot be reduced to a system of rules, precepts, commands and prohibitions*.
The wisdom of the Greeks and the Christian church corrects that error. The Catholic approach is to focus on remarkable individuals who manifest moral excellence in a striking way.
Now what does this have to do with Catholic education in an elementary school? A Catholic school must provide moral instruction through books and stories about morally virtuous lives. That is why a well-developed reading path is essential to the shaping of the moral imagination of the child. Such reading both fosters literacy and promotes virtue. Such stories exemplify the virtues of which Saint Paul speaks in his Epistle to the Philippians: whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely , whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think of these things (see Phil. 4:8). This is why our parish elementary school has been implementing in the school the University of Chicago Junior classics to attain this end.
The purpose of teaching a child to read is not simply to help him or her to achieve an ability to reading technical manuals but rather to inspire a child to a life of moral excellence, that is a life rooted in God.
And that is the purpose of education – not simply to equip our children with science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills so they can be prepared for jobs of the 21st century.
People are not simply workers, but persons who embrace the dignity of work with a well-developed conscience so they can be successful in moral decision making that leads to human flourishing.
Thus the mission of Catholic education is to assist parents in their responsibility to orient their children to the realty of God and to rear them in the love and the worship of the living God, so as the children grow into mature adults they can navigate in the world with moral integrity and embrace the challenge with a conscience informed by faith.
* Ryan Topping has an excellent article on this in the journal Logos. The article is available only to subscribers, but there is an excerpt here http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/logos/summary/v014/14.4.topping.html .