Monday, March 11, 2013

The Chicken or the Egg?

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

If God is all powerful, can He make a rock He cannot lift?

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a noise?

In a school, specifically a Catholic School, what is more important: high academics or high climate?

In other words, is it better that a school stress academic excellence or climate / school culture / Catholic identity?

I pose this question about academics and climate in the same context as these brain teasers purposefully. Picking one of these school qualities over the other either: creates a high performing school that caters to point counting, GPA's, class rankings, perfect attendance, and potential burnout, academic dishonesty and unhealthy competition between and among students and teachers; or creates a school that participates in many non-academic activities and focuses on things like class parties, celebrations, incentives, rewards, field trips, guest speakers, dress down days, bake sales, school dances, pep rallies and other such "party-school" type events.

Catholic schools that wager on either side over the other do not fulfill their purpose: education and evangelization. Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B. states:
The specific purpose of a Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of this world, enriching society with the leaven of the Gospel, but who will also be citizens of the world to come.
Catholic schools must be founded and focused on Christ. His humanity elevates all that we do in schools.

Catholic schools must be more than institutions; they must be communities. Archbishop Miller cites a passage from The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School writing:
Elementary schools "should try to create a community school climate that reproduces, as far as possible, the warm and intimate atmosphere of family life. Those responsible for these schools will, therefore, do everything they can to promote a common spirit of trust and spontaneity."
Catholic schools should be places where educators, religious, parents, families and students join together to accomplish the mission of educating the whole child.

Catholic schools should do more than sprinkle in religion classes. They need to make their Catholic education more than the study of theology. They must be Sacramental. They must be intentional. They must focus on the whole person - mind, body, and spirit. They must allow this values infusion to permeate all aspects of the curriculum and seep into every moment of every school day.

Finally, and most importantly, Catholic schools recognize that while advances in technology, pedagogy, instruction, planning or assessment are important facets of their overall education, the teacher is still the heart of the school. Teachers make the delicate balance between high academics and high climate possible. They are models of a balanced lifestyle and challenge their students yet offer enough support, encouragement and correction to meet those lofty standards. Teachers are the ones that make incarnate the spirit of Christ within the walls of their school. They make the faith come alive. They make academic subjects worthwhile. They give life to a school.

They are the answer to the riddle: what came first the Catholic educator or the Catholic school?

*Please visit: for more on the marks of a Catholic school. 

*And, please pray for Catholic school teachers!