Sister Mary Grace Walsh, ASCJ, PhD, joined me on the Catholic School Matters Church Documents Series to discuss Principles for Education Reform in the United States (1994). The Bishop’s Committee on Catholic Education published this short pamphlet in order to insert the bishops into the school reform conversation.
Sister Walsh and I discussed on the podcast three things which have stuck with me. First, we discussed the best practices which have made Catholic schools so successful—a theme touched on in my podcast with Dr. Kevin Baxter the previous week. We (Catholic school leaders) need to claim and name our successes.
Second, Sister Walsh and I discussed the notion that the needs of children should come first. The Bishops state, “The true needs of children are to be the basis for all decisions related to their ongoing education” (page 5). How often do the needs of adults (pastors, principals, teachers, parents, alumni) take precedence over the needs of children. Here’s an example. Schools will discover and decide that their mascots (e.g. “Redskins”) are offensive and thus are sending their students the wrong message. If you pay attention to the decision-making process, often the needs of alumni and community members take precedence. Why?
I reference the book Management Lessons from the Mayo Clinic. This hospital system puts the needs of patients first and thus all decisions must go back to this benchmark. How would our schools change? This type of questioning points to the purpose of the pamphlet—it was to insert the best practices and educational vision of the bishops into the national education reform debate.
Speaking of vision, the bishops seek to impart a moral vision for all types of education. “The goal of education is to foster the development of the total person. Educational policy decision makers, including boards of education and system administrators, need to provide students with opportunities for moral and spiritual formation to complement their intellectual and physical development” (7). The bishops were successful if you measure the insertion of kindness and character formation programs. In the area of spiritual formation, however, American schools have fallen short.
It’s a short document which speaks to the mission of the Church after Vatican II—to engage the entire world.