Catholic Education – A reflection

[ 12 ] March 1, AD 2012 |

I have had a bit of difficulty gathering my thoughts on the subject of Catholic Education.  At first I blamed my allergies, as this is usually the case when my thoughts seem jumbled (or at least that is my excuse).  But eventually I discovered that my issue lay in two questions.  What is “education?”  And why do we pursue it?  To me these questions must be answered in reverse order to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.

So why do we pursue education?  Like with a lot of other issues our culture is quite confused about why education is important.  The responses you will hear revolve around the mundane (to get a job) or the vapid and shallow (how sexism ruled the world until today).  Upon a cursory glance we see that perhaps our children are justified in rejecting the importance of education.  Our universities become glorified and expensive trade schools.  And if one does not conform to these uses then one is “wasting one’s education.”

Let me offer a corrective.  The purpose of education is to be able to find objective truth.  The pursuit of the truth in all things and the training of the mind to find such.  Far from being exclusively a “Catholic” belief, education was looked upon as the pursuit of truth in the universe and beyond.  It was a noble and worthy goal of all mankind.  The earliest pagans understood this even if the capacity for such was greatly limited.  And up until recently in human history the pursuit of the truth was believed in and honored by people of all religious, philosophical and cultural backgrounds.

The rejection of objective truth has led to this great confusion about what exactly an education is for.  Without the concept of objective truth, education becomes little more than job skills training combined with a great deal of trivia.  The liberal arts, once the foundation of a classical education, is a joke and a mere shell of its former self.

So if the purpose of education is to learn objective truth, what then IS an education specifically?  I would say there are two components to education.  The first and foremost is the teaching of how to think and learn.  Lest I be accused of brainwashing, let me explain.  Real thinking is hard.  It requires discipline.  There is logic and philosophy involved.  And a proper grounding in how one views the world and the ability to examine that view is essential to furthering our knowledge of objective truth.  Like developing virtues real thought takes time, discipline, and humility.  It does not come easy.

The second follows from the first.  In order to understand and explore the truth, we must be exposed to it from a variety of perspectives.  Art, history, sciences, philosophy, religion.  All these things speak the truth to us (ideally) and their study yields fruit in allowing us to explore the universe through a variety of disciplines.  A well grounded education relies on this diversity of exposure to truth under the disciplines of these forms.

It is not surprising then that us moderns are so “uneducated.”  We may hold Phds or Masters, but who among us can talk to another about his field?  We have become so specialized, so restricted.  Because of our specialized training we lack the ability to communicate what we learn to others, and others lack the knowledge to understand.  By rejecting the value in other disciplines, we sever another aspect of disciplined study, collaboration.

As far as a “Catholic” education this to me means that we hold to a particular perspective when it comes to the pursuit of truth.  We see the world through the Church’s eyes.  And we look for the hand of God in all that we do.  This is not to say that “God did it” is appropriate when studying various scientific properties, but that we do not sacrifice the Primary Cause for the sake of the secondary causes.  We see the Truth in a fuller sense, and we pursue the Truth in all things.

As the rejection of objective truth continues to take its toll on society we would be wise to reclaim this basic understanding of both truth and education.  As Catholics, we possess a more complete Truth that God in His goodness has bestowed on us.  It is our duty to remind the world that there is such a thing as truth.  And once that is accomplished “education” will be restored to its proper meaning.  And the value of education will be shown in its proper light.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Colin-Gormley-e1313149728861.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Colin Gormley is a 30 something Catholic who is married. By day he is a software developer for the state of Texas. By night, or whenever he’s trapped with his wife in her biology lab, he blogs about the Catholic faith from an apologetics perspective. He often strays into politics given the current debates in the country, but he tries to see all issues with the eyes of the Church. His website is Signs and Shadows.[/author_info] [/author]

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Category: Catholic Education, Columnists, Symposiums

About the Author ()

Colin Gormley is a 30 something Catholic who is married. By day he is a contract worker for the state of Texas. By night, or whenever he’s trapped with his wife in her biology lab, he blogs about the Catholic faith from an apologetics perspective. He often strays into politics given the current debates in the country, but he tries to see all issues with the eyes of the Church. His website is Signs and Shadows.
  • http://virtuouspla.net/ Nathaniel Gotcher

    I was struck by your use of the phrase “trade schools” because the trades are, strictly speaking, for the most part not addressed in today’s Universities. Careers, yes. Jobs, yes.

    But even if I might quibble with your use of the words “trade school”, I think that it brings up an excellent point. The fact is, an education at a “trade school” or being the apprentice to a tradesmen or entering the workforce without college in a trade can teach you quite a lot and more than enough not only to glorify God, use your mind in a thoughtful way and even raise kids to do the same. Some people want to work in the trades, however they are still looked down on as “less” than a University degree and the office jobs it can get us. The fact is, being apprenticed to a tradesman would establish a relationship with a mentor and would teach you a skill for life as well as not being that expensive. If I wasn’t so into the intellectual aspect of architecture, I would go become a stone carver or a builder or something like. Some of the best architects in history started out in the trades.

    I’d love to see the trades as another branch of the educational system that actually meant something. Maybe I’ll write about it….

  • http://virtuouspla.net/ Colin Gormley

    “But even if I might quibble with your use of the words “trade school””

    Quibble away. It may be more important than either of us realize. :-) You are right. What I was trying to get at was that our universities, far from providing the well rounded education needed to pursue the truth, are simply very expensive “jobs skills” training programs these days. Not that job skills aren’t important, but I could accomplish the same at a fraction of the cost by going to an actual training school.

    The university has a purpose. Our current universities reject what that purpose is.

  • Chet MacDonald

    One beautiful aspect about God that that I’ve learned not to take for granted is that the truth he calls humaninty to explore is not only a private contemplative endeavor, but meant to be shared and explored in the public square. Studying english at a liberal arts school as a Christian has enlightened me to the fact that my generation, those recently graduated, have very little personal understanding of traditional and personal religious study. Instead they supplement the cross with an ersatz second-hand ‘completion’ of religion that their parents generation has taken as an appropriate attitude.
    I’ve come to understand the mystery of faith as a powerful awakening in today’s world that always defers to the greater understanding of God’s glory and reality, not the lesser. St. Paul helps me to understand this as he portrayed our spiritual lives in Christ as a race to achieve spiritual gifts and to make ones self worthy of Christ’s promises. Did God not say in Genesis that Adam’s fate for disobediance was to provide food for himself by the sweat of his brow? Did Christ not say that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God? What greater joy then, can humanity attain, individually and collectively, than knowing the desires of our hearts, and the paths that lead to that realization?

  • Edward G. Radler Rice

    Mr. Gormley,

    Even though I’m on my way to earning my second graduate degree, I still think of myself as “uneducated.” However, permit me to talk about my field.

    First, I agree with you when you write, “We have become so specialized, so restricted. Because of our specialized training we lack the ability to communicate what we learn to others, and others lack the knowledge to understand. By rejecting the value in other disciplines, we sever another aspect of disciplined study, collaboration.”

    On the other hand, from my perspective, the key to authentic education is contemplation. Thinking is not primary. We should not be advocates of Descartes.

    “So if the purpose of education is to learn objective truth,” you write, “what then IS an education specifically? I would say there are two components to education. The first and foremost is the teaching of how to think and learn.”

    Again, thought does not precede being. To contemplate reality is the touchstone of holiness and intellection. Lectio Divina is a perfect example of this “kind” of contemplative learning…

    Contemplation requires a docile spirit, a willingness to be guided.

    Also, in regards to education, the post in this symposium on the Montessori Method is very good.

    Sincerely yours in Christ,
    Edward
    High School Theology Teacher
    San Antonio, TX
    B.A. Philosophy; M.Div.; currently completing Masters in Catholic School Leadership

  • http://virtuouspla.net/ Colin Gormley

    “On the other hand, from my perspective, the key to authentic education is contemplation. Thinking is not primary. We should not be advocates of Descartes.”

    It depends on what you mean by “contemplation.” Could you define this please?

    “Again, thought does not precede being.”

    Never said it did. What I am addressing is specific to “education”. And the basic building blocks of rational thought.

    I don’t think our ideas are in opposition, but what you are suggesting is simply another perspective on the matter. I would consider contemplation to be a particular category of what I would term “thought.”

  • Eddie

    Mr. Gormley,

    You wrote in your original post, “But eventually I discovered that my issue lay in two questions. What is ‘education?’ And why do we pursue it?” Later, you wrote, “As far as a ‘Catholic’ education this to me means that we hold to a particular perspective when it comes to the pursuit of truth.”

    This particular perspective is first and foremost a contemplative perspective. I do not consider contemplation to be a particular category of “thought.”

    Here’s the Catholic Encyclopedia on contemplation:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04329a.htm

  • http://virtuouspla.net/ Colin Gormley

    Mr. Eddie,

    From the New Advent article:

    “Contemplation, the object of contemplative life, is defined as the complacent, loving gaze of the soul on Divine truth already known and apprehended by the intellect assisted and enlightened by Divine grace.”

    The Catholic perspective is one of axioms that state the nature of the Divine and the ordering of the universe among other things. These things are first learned by the intellect, then contemplated over. Now we can quibble about what “thought” means in such contexts but I don’t see this as an either/or. Contemplation needs the intellect to first obtain the truth that must be grasped by the intellect.

  • Edward G. Radler Rice

    Colin,

    First, forgive me for latching onto only one point in your solid article. I also apologize for connecting what you were saying with Cartesianism.

    However, the link below focuses on what occurred to me as I read your essay, precisely when you wrote, “The first and foremost is the teaching of how to think and learn.”

    http://maritain.nd.edu/jmc/ti99/hittinge.htm

    A principal question of Hittinger’s article is: “What is this era, and what characterizes the climate hostile to faith?” He continues, “The new era is characterized by a ‘great anthropocentric shift’ in which subjectivity and reduction prevail–the cogito as the motto of modern rationalism signifies the plan for subjectivity and separation–the Cartesian method.”

    I have spent a lot of time trying to break through the stranglehold of rationalism that holds a lot of graduate students in its grip. Trying to get them to reflect on their own thinking is something I’ve tried to do.

    I understand what you’re getting at when you write, “The Catholic perspective is one of axioms that state the nature of the Divine and the ordering of the universe.” The axioms, however, arose from and were purified through encountering and living in the person and grace of Christ Jesus.

    Here’s a link to a book on the Catholic philosophy of elementary education.
    http://www.amazon.com/recovering-catholic-philosophy-elementary-education/dp/0970402287
    It’s very good…

    Have you read Kreeft’s Philosophy of Jesus?
    http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Jesus-Peter-Kreeft/dp/1587316358

    Lastly, a First Things article that gets at the problem I confront in some of my graduate courses in which I’m only a student:

    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2010/03/science-reason-and-catholic-faith

  • http://virtuouspla.net/ Colin Gormley

    Edward,

    No apologies necessary. I want to make sure that I understood your objection if there was one.

    “I understand what you’re getting at when you write, “The Catholic perspective is one of axioms that state the nature of the Divine and the ordering of the universe.” The axioms, however, arose from and were purified through encountering and living in the person and grace of Christ Jesus.”

    Indeed. Though IMO the intellect and contemplative work in harmony when properly exercised. I tend to focus on the intellect far more in my personal experience with the Faith, and that is probably reflected more in my writing that I realize.

    I see now what you are getting at. And I will take this under consideration when addressing this topic in the future. Thank you for your comments. It has given me something to think about.

  • Edward G. Radler Rice

    Colin,

    Our discussion actually led me to Aquinas…Have you read his work, “On the Teacher,” in the Summa Theologiae?

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-2005.2001.tb01745.x/abstract

    http://www.edocere.org/articles/st_thomas_on_teaching.htm

  • Edward

    As I was falling asleep, I realized that I had written that Aquinas’ “On the Teacher” is found in the Summa Theologiae…

    “On the Teacher” was written earlier, but has the same layout as the Summa.

    Ralph McInerny has it in his “Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings”:

    http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Aquinas-Selected-Writings-Classics/dp/0140436324

    http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Aquinas-Selected-Writings-Classics/dp/0140436324

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