I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to teach in the toughest schools and be the next Jaime Escalante, relating to my students in a way that would inspire them to want to learn. I went to school and got certified. Once I had entered the world of education, I found myself teaching from a perspective of looking at the whole person. When creating my lessons, I took into consideration the soul, intellect, emotions and spiritual needs of my students. This was in part due to the influence of my Catholic upbringing and the teachings of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
To What End?
In the field of education, there is a constant flow of teaching methods being introduced, including project based learning, student-centered instruction, Montessori, and many more. All propose to be the answer to the problems we are facing in the classroom with respect to differentiating instruction and student engagement. Why do we continue to spend time and energy introducing these new methods to our schools? Why have we developed an education system in which standards and data have become the driving force behind the development of curriculum, instead of the whole human person? The answer is simple: because we care. We want better for our students, but we have been misguided in how to go about addressing what “better” means. This is where the Catholic liberal education method of learning comes into play.
I first encountered this method last summer at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. Sitting in an amazing workshop that was opening my eyes to a whole new world of thinking, I felt fascinated and angry at the same time. As I listened to each instructor share and define wonder as an essential component of Catholic liberal education, explaining how to build lessons with this in mind, I was affirmed in the way I was teaching—but I also felt a sense of injustice. How had I graduated from a credentialing and masters program without ever encountering this philosophy? Why had my teaching program not mentioned any of these concepts or approaches to take with my students?
While I appreciate that my program focused on diversity and approaching student realities with care and compassion, there was still a heavy focus on curriculum developed to meet standards. Since then, the question I keep coming back to is, to what end? To what end do we develop curriculum? More importantly, what is the end of education? My time with the ICLE brought an answer to these questions, and that answer was found in Catholic liberal education.
The Catholic Intellectual Tradition
The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education aims at defining the purpose of education. This purpose is the formation and integration of the whole human person through the pursuit of faith, wisdom, virtue, and truth. What guides each lesson are not mandated standards, but the pursuit of truth through the lens of wonder and Christ.
What effect does this have on a classroom? It slows down the teaching rhythm of the class and opens up time for more discussion. It becomes less of a race against time to teach all curriculum. We must also choose curriculum with this end in mind, and for that we turn to the classics. A work is classic for a reason. It has withstood the test of time, and people in diverse cultures have come to learn truth, beauty, and goodness from it. It has impacted their way of thinking and worldview. Classical curriculum ignites the moral imagination, through which a student learns what is evil and what is good.
This model of education is not something new. It is part of the Catholic intellectual tradition, and it is proving capable of transforming students in all settings. As the case study by the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education states, “urban and rural, affluent and low-income, ‘high-achieving’ and otherwise—the model works because it is catholic, with both a large and a small ‘c.’ It is universal because it is rooted in our human nature and in the nature of the world God made.” This model is Christ centered and therefore truth centered. That is what also distinguishes it from other classical models of education. You cannot teach the truth without acknowledging where that truth comes from. We may not be able to apply this model in the public school setting at this point in time (though I remain optimistic), but we must apply it in all of our Catholic schools. Our dioceses should support this transformation in teaching methods.