The Relevance of a Classical Catholic Education in the 21st Century
Education in the 21st Century is undergoing a significant transformation as our culture continues down a path of fragmentation caused by secularism—i.e. the attempt to build a society independent of public discourse and commitment to God. For example, secularism’s fragmentation of thought caused by its denial of Truth–replacing it with relativism’s ‘each one’s truth’, destroys the basis of human reason’s search to know—ultimately, to know the one God in which all creation is synthesized in one Truth.
This cultural fragmentation has similarly fragmented the purpose of modern education into that of ‘equipping’ the child with particular knowledge and skills used to perform a specific task. Education thus becomes methodized and measured, with curricular texts, pedagogy, assessments, and grading being characterized by the principle that knowledge is a means to an end. In the 21st Century when Truth is valued for what it does over what it is, education becomes mechanized and so does the learning child.
And yet the Catholic Church has always been the source of a revolutionary leaven that challenges our world. And so it is with education today. Drawing from centuries of wisdom, learning, educating and informing culture—thus the term classical–the Church today offers an alternative to 21st-century principles of education.
As Catholic, a Catholic education is not merely religious instruction, or the availability of the sacraments, nor an environment of children with a shared Catholic heritage. A Catholic education is in its essence a worldview that understands learning as the development of a relationship between the child, the created world, and God. This relationship is nothing less than what a child was created for—their soul is meant to learn in an environment where their unity with the world and with God is continually spoken, demonstrated, encountered and explored throughout the school day. Without a Catholic worldview, education quickly becomes a means to an end, and Truth, Beauty, and Goodness simply relative to the learner. In a classical Catholic education, learning is an end in itself. It is a relationship of wonder and awe of Truth, Goodness and Beauty, and a vulnerability to being changed and inspired by them—an inspiration that will lead a child to God.
In a truly Catholic education of mathematics, of reading and literature, of nature studies and history, of each of the arts, of socialization and service, the revelation of an eternal unity in the temporal is always on the horizon. Its curriculum, pedagogy, spoken and visual environment, and organization are all intentionally dedicated to bringing a child into an ever-growing awareness, experience, and appreciation of the holy unity of their self, the world, and God. Creation is sacramental, and education is meant to lead a child to encounter God within and beyond it. Through an education grounded in inspiration, a child’s heart comes to desire the Good, their reason seeks the True, and their imagination delights in the Beautiful. When education leads a child to participate in this unity, through disciplined thought, creative imagination, and a courageous heart, a child can become who they truly are: Human. This is the relevance of a classical Catholic education in the 21st century