Catholic School's are ministries of the Catholic Community that exist to provide education rooted in the Catholic faith and Christian values. Such schools are developed to offer assistance to families regarding the intellectual, spiritual, and physical development of their children. The Congregation for Catholic Education [CCE], 1998) explains the function of Catholic schools as "a place of integral education of the human person through a clear educational project of which Christ is the foundation," (p. 4). Thus, in general the vision of any particular Catholic middle school is to foster the development of Catholic values through prayer, learning, and stewardship toward the Church and the community. To prepare students for life goals the schools attempt to set the stage in their students for the development of life-long learning, strong moral decision-making skills, and well-being in mind and body for all learners. Catholic middle schools attempt to provide students with a superior academic preparation for their secondary school education which will hopefully lead to them serving and becoming valuable members of the church and civic community. Unlike public schools, the primary goals of Catholic schools are not primarily concerned with academics.
In Catholic schools evaluating academic achievement represents only part of the overall picture for assessing mission effectiveness. The title of "Catholic School" implies a dual perspective for which the institution is fully accountable; there are both the religious dimension and the educational dimension for which these institutions are held accountable. However, to interpret this to infer that there are two separate missions or sets of core values for Catholic schools would be a mistake. Instead, the core values for Catholic schools are synthesized into a set of values that reflect both of these dimensions. This blend of educational, social, and spiritual values places the mission of the Catholic school on a higher plane. On a practical level there are two masters to whom the Catholic schools are held accountable: God and Caesar if you will. These represent separate and important challenges for Catholic school leaders. Catholic school's core values basically represent a synthesis of the current culture and faith as well as a synthesis of faith and life (CCE, 1977).
When looking at core goals from other religious persuasions one may get a sense that it is difficult to specify what gives Catholicism its distinctive character. The core values of Catholicism give it is identity. Likewise, these core values are what gives Catholic Schools their distinctive character and sets them apart from other schools. However, many features of the different Christian faiths are amazingly similar, but there are some characteristics of Catholicism that when taken together give Catholicism its distinctiveness. Gilky (1975) put forth four distinguishing features in this unique configuration of Catholicism which were heavily borrowed by later Groome:
1. Catholicism has a deep commitment to tradition. Catholicism places a heavy emphasis on the sense of the importance and weight of tradition and history in the formation of its goals, its religious truths, religious experience, and human wisdom.
2. Catholicism's positive anthropology, as he termed it. This is a pragmatic but optimistic understanding of mankind as capable of sin but still fundamentally being good and wanting to do good. Catholicism emphasizes the relational nature and communal grace of human existence and is therefore quite optimistic in its approach.
3. Catholicism's sense of the conviction that God's grace.
4. Catholicism's commitment to rationality. Catholicism puts a high regard on reason in life and in faith.
Core values are esteemed and collectively accepted ideals which a group holds in common. Four of the cited building blocks of cultural architecture are core values, language, symbols, and traditions (Deal & Peterson, 1990). These values give the school meaning and identity. There are several sources can help a Catholic school leader identify Catholic school core beliefs and values:
1. Church Documents are a primary source for Catholic school core values.
2. Scholarship can help. For example, Groome (1998) identifies eight core values of Catholicism to Catholic schools in a comprehensive volume (more on Groome later in this paper).
3. Religious Charisms for community-sponsored schools. Core beliefs and values often reflect the charism of the sponsoring religious community. The charism often puts its own slant on Catholic values (Cook, 2001).
In his discussion on why Catholic schools represent communities Strike (1999) makes the presumption that the values of Catholic schools are constitutive educational values. These values possess two properties: First, they embody the notion of the ends of a good education. Second, constitutive values create common projects. These constitutive values must be pursued cooperatively because it is impractical to try and reach them individually. Thus, while many may agree on what comprises the ends of a good education (property number one) in order to marry educational goals with the principles of God's will require cooperation and teamwork (property number two). Such goals require a type of working cooperation in a similar manner that sports teams must work together. If the goals are not researched it is the team that suffers. Therefore, constitutive values produce a sense of belonging. On the contrary, agreeing that a good education leads to better jobs and a better income does not necessarily unite people together towards one particular common educational project.
Groome (1996) in an often cited work proposed five particular and distinguishing characteristics of Catholicism that were important for educational values and goals. His five core values are:
1) Catholicism's positive anthropology of the person;
2) Catholicism's sacramentality of life;
3) Catholicism's communal emphasis regarding human and Christian existence;
4) Catholicism's commitment to tradition as source of its Story and Vision; and
5) Catholicism's appreciation of rationality and learning, epitomized in its commitment to education.
These bear elaboration. Groome referred to these as the theological characteristics because they were grounded in the Catholic understanding of God and human existence. The first characteristic relates to the Catholic theological understanding of the human condition. This recognizes our inherent tendency to sin and yet at the same time the capacity for good. People are always in need of God's grace and have the capacity, with the help of God, to make a positive contribution to both our own personal and the common welfare (in line with the constitutive goal later discussed by Strike, 1999). Further, we are held responsible for the choices we make, and our graced efforts for goodness and truth have historical significance. This relates to education in terms of affirming students' basic goodness and to develop their gifts to the fullest as God reflections; educating students to live in a responsible manner and to convince people to live worthwhile lives that have historical significance.
Groome's second value/characteristic, the sacramentality of life (based on Gilky, 1975), purports that God's creation is essentially good even though people we can misuse or abuse it, whatever God makes can never be inherently evil. Thus students are encouraged to look for the good in life. Groome believed that this should foster a sort of critical thinking in students. Education from a sacramental consciousness should lead to students employ the critical and creative powers of their minds to look at every subject and life itself so intensely and thoroughly that they begin to look through it as opposed to looking at it.
The communal value emphasis of Groome means that people find their identity and true selves only in relationship with other people. This principle emphasizes the social responsibility of Christians to contribute to the common good. From the teaching aspect of the school, the Catholic school influences people's identity perspectives and values by socializing them through the implicit curriculum.
The fourth value states that Catholic education should make every effort to eventually relate all human culture/affairs to the news of salvation. In this manner the light of faith will illumine the knowledge which students accumulate about the world. Of course the core of this message of salvation is the person of Jesus Christ. In the Catholic school the functions of worship cannot be consigned to the chaplaincy, a particular period, or a particular department, but should pervade the entire curriculum. The school, in keeping with this value, should offer opportunities for prayer, collective worship, and other spiritual experiences through every aspect of its communal life.
The fifth value might surprise some, but Groome relates to a long history of Catholicism possessing a steadfast commitment to rationality. Groome states that a Catholic education should not tell students what to think but instead prepare students to think for themselves. A Catholic education should mold students in the habit of critical reflection, a kind of questioning that engages their reason, memories, and imagination. This reasoning is critical in the sense of being aware of the historical source and responsibility of all knowledge.
Groome termed these five values "theological characteristics" because they were grounded in Catholic awareness of God and of human existence. But he believed that there were three other cardinal core values that were specifically relevant to Catholic education; these three values were the hinges that…
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