Today’s Guest Blogger is none other than John Galvan himself, the guest on the “Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School” podcast on the Catholic School Matters podcast.

A Cause to Pause

Formative and summative assessments are critical in a student’s learning and growth processes. We think of “formative” as assessment for learning, while we distinguish “summative” as assessment of learning. If we were to apply this same understanding to the improvement of our Catholic schools, one might argue that the formative approach takes near exclusive precedence, because there really is no end to the cycle of continuous improvement. Even if we hit all the targets along our school’s strategic planning timeline, is there ever a moment when we can honestly say, “Well, our work is done; time to shut it down”? In assessing what we know, it is equally important to assess what we don’t know and what we still need to know in order to advance. The truth is we never arrive. We are always in process of becoming what we are called to be. In this instance, the Church acts as Teacher.

In 1965, the Second Vatican Council promulgated the “Declaration on Christian Education” (Gravissimum educationis). At that time the Council declared that what makes a Catholic school distinctive is its religious dimension, and that this is to be found in: 1) the educational climate, 2) the personal development of each student, 3) the relationship established between culture and the Gospel, and 4) the illumination of all knowledge with the light of faith. 20 years after the fact, the Congregation for Catholic Education acted to check the pulse on this declaration in its guideline for reflection and renewal entitled “Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School” (1988). This document explores five aspects of the religious dimension of the Catholic school: 1) in the lives of today’s youth, 2) in the climate of the school, 3) in school life and work, 4) in the classroom and the religious dimension of formation, and 5) in the formation process as a whole. This was our collective, formative assessment of a lesson that began 20 years prior.

What I find fascinating is that we are now 50 years out from the Second Vatican Council and 30 years removed from the promulgation of “Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School”.  Based on what we know, what we don’t know, and what we still need to know, I have to ask: Are our Catholic schools any better today than when we were handed the assessment 30 years ago? With respect to enrollment being only one indicator, in many respects the answer is “yes.” This document is a reminder for us to move from being mere institutions to genuine communities, to allow students to be active participants in their learning instead of passive recipients, to inspire our schools to be transformative rather than static. Of course, the ultimate Transformer is the person of Jesus Christ, who is alive and well in our Catholic schools.

Through documents such as these the Church pushes us to think, to assess, and wherever necessary, to pivot. In the end, the Congregation concluded: “Educators will know the best way to respond to [these] expectations, knowing that, in a world of cultural pluralism, dialogue always gives grounds for hope.” To be clear, “Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School” hits the reset of inviting us to walk as witnesses alongside our students in their total education and formation. Our life is Mission, and that Mission garners hope in our world. This can never be lost in our work serving our Catholic school students.