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The spiritual goal of Catholic education

Philippe Lissac | Godong

Education should involve not just the memorization of facts, but the inculcation of virtue.

For nearly 200 years, education in the Western world has been focused almost entirely on the memorization of facts or the success of the student on standardized tests. This is not always the case, but a large portion of schools have been historically more concerned about grades than anything else.

While it certainly is important to be well educated and have an ability to recall facts about particular subjects, Catholic education should stand out for its insistence on the importance of a virtuous life, not just a life full of “head knowledge.”

St. John Paul II emphasized this spiritual goal of education in an address he gave to a group of bishops from the United States.

Catholic education aims not only to communicate facts but also to transmit a coherent, comprehensive vision of life, in the conviction that the truths contained in that vision liberate students in the most profound meaning of human freedom…“In the Catholic school there is no separation between time for learning and time for formation, between acquiring notions and growing in wisdom. The various school subjects do not present only knowledge to be attained but also values to be acquired and truths to be discovered.”

Facts are important and have their place, but should not be emphasized over the practice of the moral life.

In the book The Curriculum of the Catholic Elementary School (published in 1919), George Johnson comments on this necessary element of education.

The school must aid the child in developing proper attitudes. It is vain, for example, to teach the child many things about the duties of a citizen, unless the child is at the same time brought to feel the necessity of maintaining the ideals of good citizenship. A child may be able to pass a very creditable examination on the nature of Christian virtue, but unless he comes to feel in his own inmost soul the value of Christian virtue, his knowledge will prove empty indeed.

Tests certainly have their place and should be used, but is that how we will be judged in the end? Will God be concerned about our knowledge of the Catholic faith? Or will he look to our actions?

The spiritual goal of education should always be kept in mind and serve as an underlying principle when educating young people.

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