The nature of Catholic education

By  Bernard Murray and John Stunt, Catholic Register Special
  • October 12, 2007
{mosimage}There has been in recent weeks much focus and discussion on Ontario’s strong publicly funded school system. Catholic schools are an integral part of that system, supported by 2.4 million Catholic ratepayers and the province’s three major political parties.

What is missing from the current provincial discussion is information about the nature of Catholic education. These schools offer education in the Catholic tradition to hundreds of thousands of students who reflect Ontario’s diverse cultures and ethnic groups.

Every school day, some 670,000 young people make their way into 1,650 English and French Catholic schools that dot our province, in large and small, urban and rural centres. Whatever else awaits them in these schools, the intention of their parents and of Catholic school trustees and educators is that these young people find themselves in the distinctive learning environment of a Catholic Christian community.

The first message relayed to these young people is that each one of them is worthwhile, possesses great dignity and is of infinite value. They learn that this comes to them ultimately because they reflect in their lives the image and the mystery of God, who is at the heart of the world they inhabit and for which they are responsible. They learn this throughout all aspects of the curriculum — not just the religious education and family life courses.

Catholic education views human life as an integration of body, mind and spirit. Rooted in this vision, Catholic education fosters the search for knowledge as a lifelong spiritual and academic quest. The expectations of Catholic graduates, therefore, are described not only in terms of knowledge and skills, but in terms of values, attitudes and actions.

In a society where conflicting values pull young people in all directions, Catholic schools speak words about the sacredness of life, the beauty of love, the dignity of work and the importance of family. These teachings offer guideposts for human behaviour that flow from the Ten Commandments and the message of the Gospel.

Young people hear of honouring their parents and of parents honouring their children. A consistent life ethic encourages them to see the relationship among all the world’s peoples, especially the marginalized and the disadvantaged.

Our students are taught to opt for the protection of life at all stages, to avoid the wrongness of bullying, to support the need for just social structures and to decry the folly of war.

Putting these lessons into practice is a formative part of a Catholic education. Our students are expected and encouraged to participate in a variety of community service projects to help the less fortunate in their communities. Outreach projects to less developed countries or those areas affected by natural or man-made disasters are a hallmark of the Catholic school curriculum.

Our schools hold out to our young people the sacredness of promises and the meaning of fidelity, particularly in marriage and the family. They learn the value of truth and respect for the beliefs of other people. They learn this within the context of a curriculum focused on academic excellence.

This pursuit of academic excellence has been a hallmark of Catholic education from its inception. The goal of Catholic schools is and always has been to help all our students, whatever their unique gifts, talents and challenges, to achieve their full potential and to experience success.

Through the dedication and hard work of some 43,000 teachers and administrators, Catholic schools today are a vital part of the success story of Ontario’s publicly funded education system.

Our schools and school boards consistently meet or exceed provincial expectations in student achievement and program delivery. Many Catholic school boards have numbered among those showing the highest improvement rates as measured by the provincial testing program.

In addition, our Catholic schools and educators have been widely recognized as innovators in providing excellent integrated programs and services for students with special needs.

We are not suggesting that graduates of these schools and the educators within them escape the weaknesses and woundedness that are part of human life. These young people are exposed, however, to a view of the human journey that offers meaning and direction.

Ontario’s Catholic schools have maintained that their distinctive educational approach offers an ongoing contribution not only to Catholic children and their families but to society as a whole.

Graduates of Catholic schools are active and often outstanding contributors to public life in Ontario. As leaders and workers in politics, business, arts, education, health care and volunteer services, they make meaningful and important contributions to improving their communities. Without a doubt, Catholic education is embedded in the very social fabric of Ontario.

(Murray is president and Stunt is executive director of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association.)

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