The Catholic Classical Vision pt. 10: Whose Job Is It?

This series outlines the purpose, structure, curricular content, and communal origins of a Catholic classical education, for the sake of establishing a School dedicated to such an education in the Diocese of Wichita (Kansas). It discusses both the general principles of Catholic classical education as well as some particular points regarding that School. We begin by explaining the purpose and educational vision of the School, then consider the reasons for the order and structure of its curriculum, before discussing each class in the curriculum. Lastly, we describe the community required to achieve the goals of Catholic classical education.

The above curriculum aims at fulfilling to the degree possible the end, or telos, of Catholic classical education—to cultivate virtue in the entire person so that one is better able to know, love, and serve God through Christ and His Church. To reach this end, the curriculum outlined above not only forms students in a pious and musical education (broadly conceived), but in the liberal arts as well as in the beginnings of philosophy and theology.

It should also be noted that its subjects are, in some ways, comparable to contemporary, non-classical schools. One can therefore see how Catholic classical education can non-competitively achieve its own ends alongside different ends found in other curricula, college preparation, or state and federal requirements. However, the curriculum described above is only externally similar to those of non-classical schools.  The substance of an education does not consist in, nor is it adequately reflected by, externally verifiable parts or the metrics used in student assessment. The good of education is intrinsic, something that inheres in the soul.

This intrinsic character is the final element of our discussion, and it includes those who will carry out the education proposed by this curriculum, both the teachers and the community of the school itself. The common good of the School—the end of Catholic education and the means to seek it—is not perfectly possessed by the students. Rather, achieving this end requires the various stewards of the School community.  Thus, in this final section, we shift our focus from the curricular elements to the School teachers and its broader community.

The community supporting such a School, including the teachers and staff that help to bring about its aims, must be of a certain unanimity. The teachers must live out and embody the curriculum not only when in class with students but also as members of a faculty. The integral nature of the curriculum itself calls for collegiality among the faculty at the School. Otherwise, the students hear and read words about the harmony and unity of truth but never see it lived out—or worse, contradicted—in the relationships between their teachers.

Raphael, The School of Athens (detail)

For instance, it is one thing to speak highly of the notion that the modern sciences and the Catholic faith are not in conflict. Yet if teachers of Religion and Science never understand this harmony for themselves and attempt to lead students to its truth, or if students hear contradictory things from their teachers in various classes over the years, then the curriculum would be fatally undermined. By contrast, the ideal is a collegial faculty where teachers are fully competent in more than one area of the proposed curriculum. If teachers are not themselves able to teach across the curriculum, then they must at a minimum exemplify the wonder and disposition towards learning that students can imitate as they are formed by the curriculum as a whole.

The reason for this requirement is that the form of a liberal education must be possessed in order to be imparted. A cause cannot give what it does not in some way already possess. The teachers at such a school are called to imitate in their relationships the same virtuous pursuit of and participation in the whole of truth that is asked of the students. The plans and vision of the School depend upon finding such capable teachers.

Nonetheless, the School’s teachers are not the sole educators of its students. Parents are the primary educators of their children. Now, “primary” or “first” can be meant in different senses. Here, it means that parents bear the primary responsibility of providing an education for their children and thus have the authority to make decisions about that education on their behalf. Parents are also first in time, since from the youngest ages they teach their children truths about the world, about right and wrong, and about the Catholic faith. However, this principle does not mean that parents are the best educators in all subjects or at all times and places.

Thus, parents generally seek out others to help educate their children, because, while the family is the fundamental unit of society, it is not a complete community.  It needs other families, associations, and civil society at large not only in order to achieve its own ends but a flourishing life as well. That is, more complete forms of community are required for achieving the good life and not just a life that only meets daily needs.[1] In this hierarchy of communities the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity are at work.[2] Subsidiarity directs the broader community or higher levels of organization to aid the activities of the more local level when the latter cannot achieve its own end-goals. Solidarity directs individuals and smaller communities to contribute to the common good, that is, to the just order and peaceful flourishing of the community as a whole. In subsidiarity, a higher whole aids a lower whole to achieve its good; in solidarity, the parts of a common whole contribute to a good of a whole.

The solidarity of the parents with the School and the subsidiarity of the School towards the parents integrate the two as a community ordered to the end of Catholic education. As a smaller association within civil society and serving the Church, the School aims to complete—and not merely supplement—the parents’s role as primary educators. Since the School does not replace the life of the family, the School’s schedule must reflect this. The day-to-day operations of the School must be structured so that the good of family life is not harmed—for instance, by long school hours, after-school or Sunday activities, or undue amounts of homework. 

The School can also help the parents themselves become better primary educators (for instance, through parent outreach nights or other school-sponsored educational events for parents). The School ought also to participate in and contribute to the life of its local parish. In this nomadic age of ours, it should help to build up that community by its dedication to the common end of formation in the Catholic faith and its promotion of various activities at the parish. At the same time, family involvement in the School is essential. Just as students will be harmed—malformed in their education—if they are taught conflicting things in different classes, so too are they harmed if they are taught opposing things at home and at school. Indeed, the complementary role the School plays in educating its students would fail without their parents’s involvement.

[1] See Aristotle, Politics, I.2. Traditionally, the forms of complete community are one’s city or state, at a natural level, and the Catholic Church, as a supernatural community, the Mystical Body of Christ.

[2] See Pope St. John Paul II, Gratissimam Sane, Letter to Families, February 2, 1994. In particular, consider the following paragraph from n. 16: “Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: they are educators because they are parents. They share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the State. But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and their actual capabilities. The principle of subsidiarity is thus at the service of parental love, meeting the good of the family unit. For parents by themselves are not capable of satisfying every requirement of the whole process of raising children, especially in matters concerning their schooling and the entire gamut of socialization. Subsidiarity thus complements paternal and maternal love and confirms its fundamental nature, inasmuch as all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization.” (Emphases in original)

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