Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Pius XI On What Catholic Education Ought to Be, And What It Ought Not to Be (Public Education)

Lessons for Today: Why critical race theory and gender theory destroy education, and why even many classical education, liberal arts, and Great Books curricula are not Catholic enough.

In his encyclical on Catholic education, Divini illius magistri, published in 1929, Pope Pius XI told us what Catholic education should aim to do, and what it should not be.

First what it ought to be:
95. Christian education takes in the whole aggregate of human life, physical and spiritual, intellectual and moral, individual, domestic and social, not with a view of reducing it in any way, but in order to elevate, regulate and perfect it, in accordance with the example and teaching of Christ.

96. Hence the true Christian, product of Christian education, is the supernatural man who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatural light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the current term, the true and finished man of character.

This means that whatever else appears in the curriculum, what makes the education Catholic is the formation that equips the student to be a good Christian. The goal is to equip the student to be free to seek union with God, and so be supernaturally transformed and informed by divine wisdom. Aside from knowledge of the content of the Faith, this means giving all that the student needs to actively participate in the sacramental life of the Church, and most especially the worship of God in the sacred liturgy. This would mean adequate catechesis prior to receiving the first sacraments, and continued mystagogical catechesis afterward. The deep study of Scripture would be an essential part of this, although it is often missing, even at Catholic schools.

 What it is not:

60. Hence every form of pedagogic naturalism which in any way excludes or weakens supernatural Christian formation in the teaching of youth, is false. Every method of education founded, wholly or in part, on the denial or forgetfulness of original sin and of grace, and relying on the sole powers of human nature, is unsound. Such, generally speaking, are those modern systems bearing various names which appeal to a pretended self-government and unrestrained freedom on the part of the child, and which diminish or even suppress the teacher's authority and action, attributing to the child an exclusive primacy of initiative, and an activity independent of any higher law, natural or divine, in the work of his education.
Catholic and non-Catholic classical schools:

Pius XI does not tell us that there is any requirement for a classical curriculum, a Great Books program, or a Liberal Arts program. These can be complementary to the Faith, but do not teach the Faith directly.

I am an advocate of such traditional curricula, but only if they are taught in such a way that students understand in clear simple terms how what they are learning relates to their participation in the sacramental life of the Church.

If the direct connection to the Faith is not made in such programs, or if they are taught at the expense of more essential subjects that impart a deepening knowledge and understanding of the content of the Faith, then they become, quite simply, alternative forms of pedagogical naturalism, to use Pius XI’s words. Their main value is that at least they are not directly undermining the Faith as public education generally does now.

Good public education?

Until very recently, most public education was based upon the ideas of the American educational reformer John Dewey (1859-1952). He denied the supernatural, so his theories also represent pedagogical naturalism. The main thrust of his thought is that students should be trained for work, and that the only verifiable truth is scientifically proven. This is a diminished understanding of truth and of the role of education, but not necessarily anti-Catholic. Catholic education, as Pius XI stated, can include giving people the skills to earn a living too, and I would argue that it should do so.

However, what Dewey didn’t appreciate is that the supernatural can, to use Pius XI’s words, elevate, regulate, and perfect our activities at work by ordering them to our ultimate end. So a Dewey curriculum will teach life skills, without equipping the student with the wisdom to develop them beyond what is taught and to do so well.

Nevertheless, provided the student is not indoctrinated with Dewey’s worldview and is allowed in addition to study and participate in the necessary aspects of the Faith, then in principle, an excellent Catholic education is still open to him. In many ways, one might argue, a Dewey-plus-Catholicism education would be preferable to a classical education that does not incorporate the Faith. The Catholic elements that are added to a Dewey curriculum might be provided by additional classes at school, through the words and examples of other members of the family, or through a formation at the local parish. This will not always be easy, but at least it is possible.

Jaques Maritain, who critiqued Dewey in his day, thought so. Where this older form of public education prevails within the context of a firm Christian or Catholic culture then a good public education is still available.

In principle.

In practice, however, this is rarely possible for long, given another contradiction inherent with the scientism of Dewey. The scientific method relies on fundamental assumptions, which will only withstand philosophical inquiry if bound to the principle of objective truth, which in turn is only preserved when anchored to the Christian faith. The scientific method grew directly out of the Christian understanding of reality and is inextricably tied to the Faith. When science is separated from Christianity philosophically, it is susceptible to distortion.

I am not referring here to the immoral application of the truths of science. This runs deeper. I am saying that the very capacity of natural science to discern truth, even within the materialistic parameters of the natural scientist, is diminished when the axiomatic truths that form the basis of the scientific method are cast adrift from Truth.

Science imparts an understanding of the natural world; it does not, and cannot, make us masters of it, despite what some might think, for no scientist can alter the natural order that he observes and turn it into the pattern of truth that he or his political masters would like it to be.

However, when separated from the Christian understanding of reality, which is the only one that is consistent with Truth, the scientist is free to assert anything he likes and alter the scientific theories to say what is required, regardless of objective truth. He does this by altering the premises of the scientific method, in accordance with his own, subjective worldview. This is the science of the bureaucrat, the leftist politician, the public health professional and the atheist materialist of any description.

Dewey was guilty of the heresy of scientism, which asserts that the only truths we can know are those that are scientifically verifiable. But this heresy, which is bad enough, leads inevitably to an even greater and more destructive one, that of what I will call, Scientist-ism.

Scientistism is the heresy that says that the truth is what the scientist says it is, regardless of what the science says. It is a form of argument from authority, that rests on a weak authority. Frustrated by the fact that science won’t behave as the Marxist theorists want, they strive to get science to tell them what they want to hear. Corrupt scientists who are controlled largely by government funding (for there is so much of it) assert that the false is true on behalf of their paymasters and call it science, in order to convince us of the truth of their assertion that black is white. Sound familiar?

This brings me to the worst form of education I have seen. This is worse than no formal education at all:

Bad public education

In the most recent iteration of public education, the curricula have been handed over to neo-Marxist theorists, and their ideas dominate public education today from K through to the university level. In the United States it is only relatively recently, as I understand it (I am not American and so I might be wrong), with the Supreme Court decision of Everson v. Board of Education (1947), that Christian prayer was removed from public schools. Regardless, as long as there is no Christian prayer in public schools, and Christianity is not taught by believers to believers or potential believers, then there is nothing to stop the vacuum being filled by any quasi-religious ideologies, provided it is not defined in law as a religion. This is precisely what Marxist ideology is. The goal of the modern manifestations of Marxist ideas, those that have developed since 1947 and are pushed by teachers’ unions, such as Critical Race Theory and Gender Theory, is to form people to be revolutionaries who will destroy every institution they participate in. It is remarkably good at doing this. The theories themselves are not studied directly in classes in public schools; this generally only happens in degree programs such as Gender Studies. Rather, they are assumed to be true, without this being stated explicitly, and then the whole curriculum is built upon its premises at all levels of education, so that each subject is distorted and reflects the Marxist narrative.

No subject, whether it is natural science, fine art, or humanities, is safe from being tainted by this evil. For example, good science that contradicts the Marxist narrative is ignored or condemned, while false science that confirms it is lauded as objective truth.

The moment any of this woke nonsense is tolerated in any form, it steadily works its way into every aspect of the curriculum like an ideological parasite eating away at its host. Teachers and students alike see themselves as victims who endlessly complain and compete with each other for greater victim status, demanding ever-greater concessions to what they demand, which inevitably promotes the Marxist narrative. The teachers are then, in turn, regarded as oppressors by the students. Eventually, all who dissent from their woke worldview will be hectored and chastised as oppressors and haters until they either conform or are removed.

Above: the familiar credo of the progressive left. On the face of it, few would disagree with the sentiments, but the words love, rights, science, kindness, women, and human are not used as a Christian would use them, so in fact, most of these slogans actually mean, in Marxist theory, the opposite of the common use of the word and run against common sense.

The Marxist theorists who developed these ideas and the methods by which they are applied in our schools were very clever. What is presented as the search for justice, and so appears relatively benign and hard to object to, is, in fact, an anti-Christian ideology. It is designed to create angry conflict, by encouraging in its adherents a false perception of oppression, injustice, and deep resentment about every aspect of society, and in every personal relationship in which they participate.

The end game here is not justice, but the creation of conflict, initially with the threat of violence, but ultimately leading to violence. The greater aim is the total destruction of Western values and the world order founded on them. Razing institutions of authentic justice and order to the ground is, they believe, necessary for a new, better order to come in. They never say exactly how the new society will be built or what it will look like. Never, has such an order been observed when they implement their methods, only the destruction and misery that this evil ideology asserts is the means by which the mythical utopia is achieved.

Its power to persuade derives from the fact that it provides a quasi-religious narrative about our lives and our destinies, indulging us in our grievances and resentments and allowing us to blame others for our woes. The false premises of this Marxist narrative are accepted on faith, at the same deep level that we accept the truths of the Faith in our hearts.

Once the desired conflict within an educational institution has been created, the goal is to destroy the capacity of the institution to offer any decent education, as we would understand the word. Instead, students are formed as miserable, bitter, and angry leftist political agitators on a mission to destroy Western society. They go on to cause trouble in every aspect of society in which they participate to an end: greater misery for themselves and those they engage with.

The only way to stop this spread is to stand up to it at first sight and not tolerate it in any form. Otherwise, once it gets a toehold, it will spread like cancer in any institution. This is why Christians must be clear that at every level of life, they refuse the various manifestations of these modern Marxist ideas and the organizations that promote them, whether it is modern Democratic Socialists, teachers’ unions, or the progressives in the Democrat Party who espouse such theories, Black Lives Matter, Jane’s Revenge, or Antifa.

If educational institutions try to accommodate or work with these ideas, they will eventually be destroyed, and being a classical, Great Books, or liberal arts school, or even a Catholic school, is no protection against this effect once these ideas are present.

It takes courage to stand up to it. Verbal abuse, threats of violence, and ultimately the use of it are part of the armory of the left. I pray for God’s grace daily that I will have the courage if needed.

Those who want to be involved in authentic Catholic education might consider taking the Master of Education in Catholic School Administration at Pontifex University - www.Pontifex.University, which has been designed by Fr Peter Stravinskas of the Catholic Education Foundation

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