Talking up our Catholic schools

As any parent knows, Catholic schools face a daunting task today. Their primary role is to assist parents in the faith formation of young people – a role that cannot be fulfilled by other education providers. They also have their educational mission to ensure the effective and excellent education of young people. In the Catholic tradition of education these two roles cannot actually be separated – education in the faith has to be linked to education as a whole. Catholics hold that education has to be holistic – educating the whole person: body and mind, affective and spiritual domains. Schools differ in their effectiveness in this objective but all Catholic schools have it as the core of what they do.

In 2007 the Catholic Bishops of NSW and the ACT issued a Pastoral Letter entitled Catholic Schools at the Crossroads, in which they declared that these twin goals were still the essential dimensions of Catholic education. In that letter the Bishops also highlighted that about 50 per cent of the children of Catholic families are enrolled at state and non-Catholic independent schools. Generally the poorer end of this demographic are seeking education in state Schools, while the wealthier end are seeking education in non-Catholic, non-government schools. If this were a political race and 50 per cent of the electorate were choosing someone else, then the sitting member would know they were in trouble.

Of course, this is not an electoral contest – it is much more serious and more confronting. Those who are most vulnerable in our society do not believe they will be welcome in Catholic schools and those with significant aspirations are not seeking education in our schools either.  It is deeply worrying.

Catholic schools need to prioritise the quest for educational excellence within the Catholic tradition.   It is the pursuit of knowledge, not for its own sake but to deepen our understanding of the human person and the human condition. For this reason it encompasses the humanities and the sciences, the arts and technology, wisdom and integrity. In the Catholic worldview, education is about a personal encounter with Jesus the Christ. This cannot be authentic unless it is at the service of the poor, the disadvantaged and the most vulnerable, and unless it takes place within a genuine community of faith which seeks excellence in knowledge, creativity, skills and application.

We have to continue to prize excellence and ensure that our curricula enable the best and the brightest to shine; we must do this while demonstrating that there is no such thing as individual excellence – real excellence occurs within communities and lifts the whole community to new heights. At the same time a Catholic community is open to and welcoming of those who are poor and disadvantaged – there cannot be any excuse for not doing this since it is central to the mission of Jesus.

What do we say to those who are sending their children to other schools? That they are welcome with us; that their children will be nurtured and enabled to flourish; and, that academic excellence is important. We can say that if you really want your child educated in a holistic way only an education which pursues excellence within a faith community can achieve that goal.

Some things to think about:

  1. Do I regularly encourage excellence in the curriculum at the school my children attend?
  2. Is academic excellence something I prize?
  3. Do I want an “education for the whole person” for my child?
  4. Do I regularly talk positively about my children’s school or about Catholic schools to my friends?
  5. How does my school welcome those who are disadvantaged? Am I aware of school policies about this?
  6. Is my children’s school a genuine Catholic community, welcoming to all?Talking up our Catholic schools