Sunday, 20 February 2011

Education Sunday

The influence of the Church in the field of education is shown in a special manner by the Catholic school. No less than other schools does the Catholic school pursue cultural goals and the human formation of youth. But its proper function is to create for the school community a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity, to help youth grow according to the new creatures they were made through baptism as they develop their own personalities, and finally to order the whole of human culture to the news of salvation so that the knowledge the students gradually acquire of the world, life and man is illumined by faith. So indeed the Catholic school, while it is open, as it must be, to the situation of the contemporary world, leads its students to promote efficaciously the good of the earthly city and also prepares them for service in the spread of the Kingdom of God, so that by leading an exemplary apostolic life they become, as it were, a saving leaven in the human community. [Vatican II Gravissimum Educationis n.8]
Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has come to articulate its understanding of the work of education in Catholic schools as being one of promoting a "synthesis of faith and life" and a "synthesis of faith and culture" for its students and for the communities in which the school is located. See in particular The Catholic School nn.37ff:
These premises indicate the duties and the content of the Catholic school. Its task is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian.
The General Directory for Catechesis n.259ff summarises the Council's statement of the purpose of Catholic schools as follows, and goes on to indicate two particular situations in which a Catholic school might exist:
The Catholic school is a most important locus for human and Christian formation. The declaration of the Second Vatican Council, Gravissimum Educationis "makes a decisive change in the history of Catholic schools: the move from school as institution to school as community". Catholic schools "are no less zealous than other schools in the promotion of culture and in the human formation of young people. It is however, the special function of the Catholic school to:
– develop in the school community an atmosphere animated by a spirit of liberty and charity;
– enable young people, while developing their own personality, to grow at the same time in that new life which has been given them in baptism;
– orientate the whole of human culture to the message of salvation";

The educational task of Catholic schools is bound to be developed along the basis of this concept proposed by the Second Vatican Council. It is accomplished in the school community, to which belong all of those who are directly involved in it: "teachers, management, administrative and auxiliary staff, parents—central in that they are the natural and irreplaceable educators of their own children—and pupils, who are participants and active subjects too of the educational process".

When most students attending a Catholic school belong to families who associate themselves with the school because of its Catholic character, the ministry of the word can be exercised in it in multiple forms: primary proclamation, scholastic religious instruction, catechesis, homily. Two of these forms, however, have a particular importance in the Catholic school: religious instruction in the school and catechesis whose respective characteristics have already been discussed. When students and their families become associated with Catholic schools because of the quality of education offered in the school, or for other possible reasons, catechetical activity is necessarily limited and even religious education—when possible—accentuates its cultural character. The contribution of such schools is always "a service of great value to men", as well as an internal element of evangelization of the Church. Given the plurality of socio-cultural and religious contexts in which the work of Catholic schools is carried on in different nations, it is opportune that the Bishops and the Episcopal Conferences specify the kind of catechetical activity to be implemented in Catholic schools.
In the context of the United Kingdom, historical circumstances and the policy of the Bishops mean that our schools are funded and run on the basis of the first "model"; that is, on the assumption that most families associate themselves with the school because of its Catholic character. One can wonder at how true this assumption really is but, nevertheless, it provides in effect the specification by the Episcopal Conference of the kind of catechetical activity expected in schools. In the context of some current controversies with regard to Catholic schools, I believe that it is worth recognising the possibility of the second type of Catholic school. And, whilst much of the current controversy speaks out about the responsibilities/rights of parents with regard to the education of their children, it should also be recognised that there is also a responsibility of the local Bishop to oversee educational provision in his diocese - there is a duty of educating that belongs to the Church as well as a duty of educating that belongs to parents, though the two are distinct in nature (cf Gravissimum Educationis n.3, The Catholic School n.70 ff). According to The Catholic School n.70:
...The Catholic school in this sense, therefore, receives from the Bishops in some manner the "mandate" of an apostolic undertaking.

The essential element of such a mandate is "union with those whom the Holy Spirit has assigned to rule God's Church" and this link is expressed especially in overall pastoral strategy. "In the whole diocese or in given areas of it the coordination and close interconnection of all apostolic works should be fostered under the direction of the Bishop. In this way all undertakings and organisation, whether catechetical, missionary, charitable, social, family, educational, or any other programme serving a pastoral goal will be coordinated. Moreover, the unity of the diocese will thereby be made more evident". This is something which is obviously indispensable for the Catholic school, inasmuch as it involves "apostolic cooperation on the part of both branches of the clergy, as well as of the religious and the laity".
In the context of present controversy, there are clearly those who do not go along with the diocesan authorities in their coordination of educational work in the diocese, their "overall pastoral strategy". I am not in a position to comment on the rights and wrongs of their views, knowing nothing directly of the situations involved. I do, however, think that the public debate about such situations should give a greater allowance to the rightful responsibilities of a Bishop in his diocese towards educational policy.

1 comment:

Fr John Abberton said...

A question was posed some time ago by the book, "The Ebbing Tide" as to just how far the bishops of England and Wales have followed the instructions of the Holy See. The word "catechesis" appears in your extracts. I remember, not many years ago, being told by a bishop that Catholic schools were not involved in catechesis, but religious instruction - the point being, of course, that RE, so understood, does not have to be so closely aligned to the actual content of the faith (in the sense of following the catechism). In a more recent book, "Catholic Schools" by Gerard Grace, it is clear that some schools, and I think it is fair on the basis of his analysis to say most Catholic Secondary schools, have developed a faith community that is not entirely aligned with the catechism and would therefore not be in line with the vision proposed in the Vatican instructions. Gerard Grace is aware of this but does not see it as a serious problem (which it is). Having been a priest for 35 years, a member of governing boards and a school chaplain (and visiting chaplain) to several high schools, and having struggled with both heads and RE staff (not ALL RE staff) over certain issues, and seeing no improvement in the presentation of the WHOLE faith in Catholic schools, I tend to sympathise with the parents involved in trying to save a premier Catholic school that is worthy of the name.