The success of St. Jerome Academy, Our Lady of Lourdes, and others has inspired many Catholic schools to consider embracing a Catholic classical liberal arts education. If you are a pastor, principal, teacher, or parent involved in this process, here are some typical steps that might help you along the process.
Understand the difference between secular and Catholic liberal arts education
Oftentimes, after a brief introduction to Catholic classical liberal arts education (or, more simply, Catholic education), many educators will respond with, “We already do that.” We have found this to be the case because the intentions and desires of most dedicated, well-meaning Catholic educators are in alignment with the Church’s vision. Sadly, by no fault of their own, they have been cut off from the Church’s time-tested approach, rooted in the classical liberal arts and sciences. Instead, they have been subjected to a secular, industrialized model of education that discourages teachers and fails to inspire students.
With that in mind, it is important to understand the stark differences between secular and Catholic education. Begin by watching our NCEA-sponsored webinar, “How Recovering Church Tradition Transforms Schools.” Take time to contemplate this accompanying handout to assist your understanding.
A review of the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools, by Dr. Arthur Hippler, ICLE Board Member, is also a helpful resource.
Become acquainted with the movement
Download and read our Case Studies report as well as this article from NCEA’s Momentum magazine. Familiarize yourself with the reasons these schools felt compelled to transition, the challenges they faced, and the fruits they are experiencing as a result. Often, their success is evident not just in surging enrollment, but in the vibrant communities of faith and learning that result when “Catholic identity” is not just added on, but is instead woven through the school culture, curriculum, and pedagogy. You can also visit the Articles page of our website to read about the successes that schools are having all over the country.
Gain trust and support
It is vitally important to gain trust and support for this vision of authentic Catholic education from all constituents through communication, education, patience, and prayer. The higher the level of support, the smoother the transition. Ideally, a school will have the support of the local diocese and their pastor (or, for independent schools, the Board). If not, lines of inquiry must be open with pastors and diocesan superintendents in parish and diocesan schools and Board members in an independent school. Often, there are misconceptions about “classical” education, so there is always a need for education.
It should be noted that pastors, as spiritual leaders, have the most vital interest in ensuring that the schools under their care realize the full implications of what it means to have “Catholic identity” woven through culture, curriculum, and pedagogy.
Be especially mindful that before any decisions are made, teachers first need to be introduced to this freeing approach to their vocation in Catholic education. Without their openness, implementation cannot proceed. Once the educators have explored and grown more comfortable with the beauty and simplicity of this approach, parents can and should be introduced in a manner that fits the local situation.
Visit Catholic Classical Liberal Arts Schools
There is nothing like seeing the joy in learning that a school steeped in the Catholic classical liberal arts tradition offers.
The best opportunity to do so is by attending a “School Leaders Forum.” Offered several times a year, the program is co-sponsored by ICLE and a flagship member school. The program was specifically designed so that educators from around the country can see what the Church’s vision of education looks like in practice.
If you are unable to attend a “School Leaders Forum,” use our Catholic Classical Liberal Arts Schools Map to find schools in your area to visit.
Provide the opportunity for as many current teachers and others as possible to participate in visiting one of these schools. This will help them to overcome anxieties that often arise from hearing the term “classical.” They will see that this model excites students of all levels of ability and reduces the obstacles the current test-driven culture places in the way of teachers who want to focus on truly reaching their students. Faculty at these schools are usually eager to share their experiences.
Form your faculty
The most important thing you can do is form your faculty who are forming your students. Faculty should begin reading and discussing two types of works: 1) works that explain ideas central to Catholic liberal education and 2) classic texts themselves.
To expose teachers to the riches and beauty of Catholic liberal education, use our Reading List as a starting point. While there is no single book that captures everything, we have found that the aforementioned Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools and Ryan Topping’s The Case for Catholic Education are two excellent, easily-digestible places to start.
At the same time, educators can often get caught up on the practical side of things and forget to take the time to experience this form of education themselves. To prevent this, our Academic Retreat for Teachers is an excellent resource, usually offered a few times a year and also available to be customized and brought on site for your entire faculty.
Review your curricular materials
The Educational Plan of St. Jerome Academy offers excellent guidance for curricular development.
Memoria Press has pre-packaged curricular materials for each grade level that will ease the transition for schools. Its curriculum is easily tailored to Catholic classical liberal arts schools through the use of supplementary materials.
Begin looking to fill open staff positions with teachers attracted by the idea of Catholic liberal education. Post position openings on the Employment Opportunities page of our website as well as in the education section on CatholicJobs.com, using the keywords “Catholic classical liberal arts.”
Become an ICLE member school and design a customized transition plan
Included with school membership is an initial consulting call during which we can assist you in designing a customized transition plan that includes initial communication and roll out, professional development for teachers, and ongoing support and consultation.