This week’s guest blogger is Sr. Mary Grace Walsh, PhD, ASCJ, the Provost for Education, Evangelization, and Catechesis in the Archdiocese of Hartford and the guest on this week’s Church Documents podcast.

Last summer when Tim Uhl asked me to participate in a podcast for the series on Church Documents, I was very happy to accept his invitation since I am one of those people who always wants to go back to primary sources and the excellent and inspiring work which the Congregation for Catholic Education and our own United States bishops have developed over the years. A week or so later I admit some disappointment when I was assigned to “Principles for Educational Reform in the United States” since many other Church documents are very familiar to me and this one was not even on my radar.  When I realized that I did not have a copy of it and internet searches provided no help, I asked a member of my staff to contact the publication office of the USCCB since the USCC was the original publisher.  Imagine my surprise when they said they could not locate a copy of the pamphlet!  Our seminary library did find it for me and the USCCB came through eventually but it was an interesting few days hunting for this statement.

It is important to note that this is not a pastoral statement for those of us who serve in Catholic schools but rather a statement in response to the educational reform in the United States- especially in light of the poor academic performance in reading, math and science in the United States.  The bishops were clear that they wrote this document because they were very concerned about the educational well-being of all children whether they attend public, private or religious schools. They echoed the Church’s belief that parents have the right to choose the education best suited for their children and should not be burdened economically for choosing a private or religious school.  More than two decades have passed and we are still emphasizing this point as we strive to support programs for school choice, tuition tax credits and the like.

The bishops challenge all those reading to remember that parents are the first and foremost educators of their children and that parents need assistance in providing a quality education for their children. Later the document affirms the need for a strong curriculum and regular and varied assessments and state that quality teaching and professional development are key components in schools. The bishops call all those responsible for education to develop a public moral vision that involves the whole community.

I encourage you to find the time to read this short statement from 1995 and you will be amazed at the prophetic voice of our shepherds. Much of what they wrote more than twenty years ago is still applicable today. Looking at education from a broader perspective and collaborating with all those who educate young people will help students to reach their full potential and will positively impact the future of our nation.

I hope that the USCCB will consider drafting a new pastoral letter and perhaps an accompanying statement for a more general audience to help all those involved in education in the United States.