My kids love to dance. You put a song on that has a good beat and all three of my kids will start to bop and sway and before long my house turns into a dance party. My daughters, who are 7 and 5, are showcasing their moves, my son, who is 1, is moving his head, even my wife and I are dancing. And the best part is that the room is filled with smiles, laughter and joy.
Now, a disclaimer: no one in my family has formal training in dance. And, at least in my case, I’m not sure that you can actually qualify what I do at these family dance parties as dancing. So, the joy is not a by-product of dancing prowess. It is not because we’ve executed some move perfectly or nailed the choreography.
But none of that matters. We dance.
This is the difference between a dance party and a dance audition (https://www.rjgrune.com/blog/shut-up-and-dance-with-me).
At a dance party everyone is invited. All are welcome. There are no qualifications or prerequisites. There’s no admissions test. Show up and enter the dance.
Dance auditions, however, involve judgement. Most likely the invitation to audition is the result of a dancing pedigree or resume listing out one’s experience. Even if the auditions are open to all, the criteria to enter the dance are limited to those with the abilities, with certain gifts and talents that are conducive to dancing. Lack the necessary qualifications and you are sent home, you are turned away, you are left out of the dance.
I think our Catholic schools need to stop acting like dance auditions and start functioning as dance parties.
The word catholic means “universal” and this is one of the four marks of our Church - one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Our schools need to represent our universal Church and live out this universality. Our Church doors are open to all, but oftentimes our schools are limited to those with enough money and enough skill - think dance audition - to uphold our high academic standards. We set the limits and despite an open invitation, some are turned away.
In the 19th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel account people are bringing their children to Jesus so that He might lay hands on them and bless them. To the disciples and others in Jesus’ time this was scandalous. Children were beneath everyone but especially someone of Jesus’ importance. Matthew recounts that the disciples rebuke the people bringing their children to Jesus, to which Jesus responds, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Let the little children come to me. Notice that Jesus isn’t asking for their Math or ELA scores. He’s not interested in their lexile number. The invitation is open to all and all of the children brought to Jesus receive His grace. Enrollment actually has moral implications. As Catholic schools, we must ensure we have the resources to meet the needs of the students we accept. No matter how noble our reasoning, if we don’t have the resources to support the students entrusted to our care their potential failure is on us. This isn’t an excuse or rationale to help perpetuate Catholic school elitism. Instead, it is an imperative to have educators within our schools who can meet the needs of students with exceptionalities. If we are to let the little children come to Jesus, we must ensure that we have the appropriate mechanisms in place to guarantee that all students can and will learn. We must fulfill this important need - families and students require and deserve it.
Let the little children come to me.
And do not prevent them. We must courageously live out these words of Jesus. We must enable our schools to “let the little children come to” Jesus. We must heroically allow our Catholic schools to cast a wider net and increase the number of people on the dance floor. Catholic schools must make incarnate Jesus’ words. We must remove barriers. We must provide access. We must ensure that nothing stands between students with exceptionalities and their learning.
So, the next time you’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed or thinking about just how hard this work really is, I encourage you to dance. Dance and know that our work in Catholic education is about a dance party, not a dance audition. Dance in the joy that you are following the command of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Dance and remember that you, like your students, aren’t invited because you’re qualified. But rather, we are qualified because we are invited.
Let the little children come to me. And do not prevent them.
The music’s playing. The floor is wide open. It’s time to enter the dance.
This was a part of a reflection for the Program for Inclusive Education within the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame: https://vimeo.com/240057745