Educators Re-Emphasize Catholic Contribution to Western Civilization

Agroup of Catholic educators and academics has united to promote a new appreciation for Catholic content and social teaching in school textbooks and related teaching materials.

The Catholic Educators’ Resource Center (CERC), established in 1996 and based in Mission, British Columbia, includes prominent representation from a number of U.S. and Canadian Catholic academics and educators. Originally known as the Catholic Social Studies Project, the center is hoping to counterbalance a prevailing secularism which many perceive in the teaching materials used in most North American schools, and to improve the general perception of Catholic education throughout the continent.

CERC officials are concerned that, without a return to the “unity of truth” concept in traditional Catholic education, news of salvation and the Gospel message will increasingly meet with popular indifference. According to CERC executive officer J. Fraser Field, the inspiration for the establishment of the center was a growing recognition that the Catholic contribution to the teaching of history and Christian culture in general has become woefully inadequate.

Much of this shortcoming has been ascribed to an increasing secularism in public education curricula. Many of the textbooks and teaching materials currently used in North American elementary and high schools downplay or ignore altogether the Catholic contribution to Western civilization. Unfortunately, Field said, many of these secularized teaching materials have found their way into Catholic schools.

A professional educator in British Columbia, Field said CERC is aimed at helping teachers fill in the gaps in their own education, especially with regard to teaching the Catholic-Christian contribution to the social sciences. Many teachers employed in North American elementary and high schools are products of state universities where there is little emphasis on Catholic values and sensitivities, he said.

Field noted a study by the National Institute of Education in the United States which suggested that Christianity's impact on the study of history and civilization has steadily declined in recent decades. The most glaring example, he suggested, is seen in the fact that the word “Christian” rarely appears in modern school texts and related teaching material.

Many of the textbooks and teaching materials currently used in North American elementary and high schools downplay or ignore altogether the Catholic contribution to Western civilization.

Field noted that many Protestant faith groups have made efforts to produce their own teaching materials, but that Catholic educators have been slow in following suit.

CERC is now working to produce Catholic-centered educational resources for the elementary and high school levels, especially in social studies and history. In addition, CERC has been working closely with the Society of Catholic Social Scientists to identify areas of weakness in teaching materials. The group is now gathering lesson plans and teaching units which more adequately reflect the Catholic perspective to liberal arts education.

CERC will take advantage of the Internet not only in the gathering of materials, but also in the dissemination of such materials to interested parties.

“The Catholic Educators’ Resource Center provides an Internet library of journal articles, essays, book excerpts, and other texts chosen for their objective, concise and clear presentation of Catholic teachings, history and culture, particularly in those areas in which the Church's role is unknown or misunderstood,” Field said. “These texts have been selected to assist teachers in Catholic schools [and] home-schooling parents, as well as other interested educators, to supplement and refine their current texts and curricula, as well as provide them with scholarly yet accessible resources for themselves and their students.”

Field said CERC is eager to expand and refine its resource center through contributions and input from interested parties. The center now provides between 60 and 70 teaching-related articles, but it hopes to expand on this number as time, resources, and technology permit.

“We would like people to help us by sending in their favorite stories about the early days of Catholicism in their respective state or province,” Field said. “We want to post a good number of such stories from each region, so that Catholic students can come to know the proud history of the Catholic missionary effort in both the United States and Canada. While students usually know the main stories of the major saints, the events surrounding the establishment of the Church in their own area, inspiring stories of faith and self-sacrifice of a more local interest should also be part of the Catholic student's foundation.”

Field said the resource center is eager to increase the material it makes available to educators, home-schooling parents, and other interested parties. “While before we were concentrating on history and social sciences, our categories now include art and literature, politics and government, ethics and religion, and science,” he said.

The Catholic Educators’ Resource Center has received operating grants from the New York-based Homewood Foundation and from the Knights of Columbus. The organization is seeking additional benefactors.

CERC officials are guided by a number of major principles, including contacting individuals and organizations to establish existing suitable resources, maintaining a library of material which gives proper treatment to the Catholic-Christian contribution to social studies and history, and developing and distributing such a teaching plan to Christian educators.

In addition, CERC is inspired by Vatican II's Declaration on Christian Education, which defines a Catholic school as one “striving to relate all human culture eventually to the news of salvation, so that the life of faith will illuminate the knowledge which students gradually gain of the world, of life, and of humankind.”

While CERC has the support of a number of Canadian clerics and academics, including Archbishop Adam Exner of the Vancouver, British Columbia archdiocese, and Professor Thomas Langan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League (Canada), Field said it would be misleading to suggest that the organization is a predominantly Canadian initiative. Don D'Elia, professor of history at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is a member of the CERC advisory board. He said the creation of CERC is well timed to take advantage of the Internet and its ready access to information and the exchange of material. “I see it as putting communications technology at the service of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

D'Elia said any effort to divert education from its current secular course should be welcomed by anyone concerned about the future of Catholic-Christian education.

“If our culture is at variance with the truth of our faith, then we can become a divided or nihilistic people,” D' Elia told The Register. He suggested that, as products of state and public universities, many of today's teachers have only partial or distorted views of history and the social sciences. As a result, it can be difficult for even well-meaning teachers to impart to their students a proper understanding of the Catholic contribution. “Unfortunately we are getting a number of teachers who have been grounded in a pseudo-reality,” he said. “What we need is a way of bringing a greater Catholic perspective to our schools and teaching methods.”

Similarly, Dominic Aquila, chairman of the Department of History, Humanities, and Catholic Culture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, believes the creation of CERC can help offset the pervasive secularism in schools and textbooks.

Aquila, who also sits on the CERC advisory board, suggested that a certain intellectual laziness has contributed to the diminished role for Catholic education among today's academic elites. “I wouldn't suggest that there is a conspiracy to suppress the Catholic contribution in the teaching of history and the social sciences,” Aquila said. “It is probably more the result of indifference than anything else.”

Nonetheless, Aquila agreed that the marginalization of authentic Catholic-Christian teaching in public schools and institutions poses problems for a culture in search of meaning and significance. He expressed hope that CERC and related efforts will help students, teachers and parents re-emphasize the Church's role in relating all human culture to the news of salvation.

CERC can be found on the Internet at Submissions can also be forwarded by e-mail at [email protected]

Mike Mastromatteo writes from Toronto.