Friday, December 15, 2017

Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School

I was blessed to be invited by Dr. Timothy Ulh, Superintendent of Schools in the Diocese of Montana, to be a guest blogger for his podcast, Catholic School Matters, where he has been unpacking Church documents on Catholic education over the past few weeks. This post is in response  to his podcast on:

In his latest podcast, Dr. Uhl and John Galvan, Director of Schools from the Diocese of San Diego, address three areas of The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School: Guidelines for Reflection and Renewal for ongoing consideration:
  1. The need for Catholic schools to respond to the dangers children face
  2. The importance of establishing a vibrant Catholic identity within the school
  3. The responsibility of teachers to be authentic witnesses of Jesus Christ
1.  This document opens with a call to action. The opening paragraphs speak of the trials faced by children and how Catholic schools must heroically respond to their needs. The Congregation recognizes that young people find themselves in “radical instability” (#10) and “in an environment devoid of truly human relationships; as a result they suffer from loneliness and a lack of affection” (#11). Written almost 30 years ago, the urgent need for Catholic schools to offer to students "something of value in their lives" (#13) has both lingered and intensified. Our kids need what Catholic schools offer.

2. Given this urgent need, there is grave importance to establish an unabashedly Catholic climate within the school so that
"From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics" (#25). 
This Catholic school climate “must create favorable conditions for a formation process” and includes: “persons, space, time, relationships, teaching, study and various other activities” (#24). The Congregation covers each of these facets of the Catholic climate with a heavy emphasis on the role of the teacher in creating this atmosphere, stating, “Prime responsibility for creating this unique Christian school climate rests with the teachers, as individuals and as a community” (#26).

3. The Congregation, in highlighting the importance of teachers within Catholic schools, echo the words of Bl. Pope Paul VI in 1975, when he proclaimed:
Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. 
Bl. Pope Paul VI installing Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as a Cardinal in 1977.
By brak -, Public Domain,
The responsibility of teachers to establish and uphold this Catholic culture and to be authentic witnesses of Christian discipleship "includes such things as affection, tact, understanding, serenity of spirit, a balanced judgment, patience in listening to others and prudence in the way they respond and, finally, availability for personal meetings and conversations with the students" (#96). The teachers within our Catholic schools must make Jesus incarnate in every interaction, relationship, and moment.

Dr. Uhl and Mr. Galvan highlight the quote-worthiness of many passages within this document from the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education while also recognizing that it merely reinforces and extends concepts and ideas from documents that preceded it.

Nonetheless, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School centers itself on ensuring that Catholic schools maintain, harness and ultimately unleash the qualities and characteristics that make our schools, along with grace, instruments that can and will change our world.

For the Guest Blog page at Dr. Uhl's site, visit this link:

Monday, December 4, 2017

Enter the Dance

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 ( 

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: