The purpose of Catholic education is not just to provide the cognitive but also the historical, aesthetic, liturgical and spiritual dimension, we must lead in all these aspects and determine systems for evaluating success or otherwise beyond the obvious secular measures where we can hit the target but miss the point. When working in a climate where the school is in many respects the first call for the transmission of the faith we have to develop a spiritual narrative that we can articulate with confidence and engage our students, staff and parents to shape our culture. Our guide in this deeply serious mission will be found in the liturgy and how the Spirit speaks in the lives of the faithful because the Truth commends itself.
The Catholic school in the 21st Century has a very important mission to fulfill. We must ensure a ‘be more’ rather than a ‘have more’ culture, we must be active agents of change in the community and we must prepare our children for the onslaught of the post modernistic society that trivialises our faith as a mere therapy. This will inevitably place serious demands on our resources and organisational structures and we must be aware that our mission cannot be completed by a select few. We must develop a school organisation that is sustained by distributed leadership, where all stakeholders are learning and ready for the challenge of change and able to respond flexibly.
We must be conscious of the profound impact that the new technologies have on the daily lives of our young people. I had my parents and teachers to ask for help, information and wise counsel. Today children seek the media and google for answers. The truth may be out in this digital playground but we are too far removed from helping and guiding the young in this rich, diverse and sometimes very dangerous virtual world. As John Paul II said on a world communications day ‘we must not be afraid to put out into the deep’ and embrace the modern technologies. In the age of the ‘blog’ and the ‘wiki’ where the internet has become increasingly social rather than solitary, Catholic schools have a duty to be present in this space to engage, challenge and journey with the children.
Christ has always been at the centre of any vision for Catholic education, regardless of which century. Christ is always new, always alive and restates the traditional truth in a contemporary language, as educators we just need to spot Him in the context that our young people find themselves today. From this flows a respect for the person; as Christ is in everyone, therefore we must be entirely inclusive. Inclusive is not just the ‘narrowing the gap’ or the ‘personalised’ agenda, it is the determination we must have as Catholic educators to set out a personal pilgrimage for the children in our care.
We have a real opportunity to work with young people in strengthening community by creating knowledge and understanding not consuming it. Actually, young people are already doing it! Many children are developing social networks that work across the globe, they work with a distributive and in many cases altruistic code, people are valued for the things that they share and the help they can give, not what they charge. These affinity groups are springing up all over the place, whether it be a video game forum or a political statement, Catholic educators do not seem to be at the forefront of this new, powerful force for good.
Young people are desperate for recognition, respect and a deeper authenticity to their lives. They do not want to be patronized and they want to be taken seriously, they are keen to collaborate and ‘make a difference’ within the family, school and wider community. They are searching for the connections to make sense of the true meaning of their lives. They in turn are bombarded by a secular consumerism that leaves them feeling shallow and in many respects empty. Hitting the education targets that are vital for their life chances and choices seem to provide them with little understanding of the bigger picture.
Catholic education is charged with a vital responsibility to set young people on a pilgrimage and provide them with the space and language to develop a real sense of worth and purpose.
As we progress into this new century the Catholic School must be at the forefront of this new collaborative, networked style of communicating and creating. We can be confident that young people want to find a deeper sense of worth. Through our service and sacrifice as educators, developing an understanding of the uniqueness of all students with our loving kindness, they will find that enlightened path.
Have we made any real progress?