What is Catholic Liberal Education?
Using the tools of the classical liberal arts tradition, and focusing on Christ, who is the beginning and the end of all wisdom and virtue, Catholic liberal education cultivates individuals who are free to be holy, happy, and healthy.
The crisis of modern education points to what is missing at its foundation: a real understanding of the nature of a young person and his or her ultimate purpose. In contrast, the Catholic intellectual tradition rests on a deep conviction about that nature and purpose: we are made in the image and likeness of God, and we are created to be with Him forever.
Authentic Catholic education is ordered toward the only source of true happiness, fostering the intellectual, moral, and theological virtues that make us fully human because they lead us to grow more and more like Christ. The primary focus, then, is not on mere facts and skills to be acquired for college and career readiness. Rather, Catholic liberal education respects the dignity of the young person. It connects children’s minds, hearts, and souls with the truths beyond the facts so that what they know will transform their lives.
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for. … But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, “an upright heart”, as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 27, 30)
For centuries, liberal education (Latin, libera, free) provided the traditional tools of learning that equip students to act in a free, intelligent, and responsible manner. This formation aims to make them free from the interior confusion of scattered experiences and opinions, free to think logically and express themselves clearly, free from manipulation. Liberal education prepares a student to be, not only a carpenter or a chemist or a CEO, but also the best person he or she can be. In the process, it develops the habits of mind and character that allow success and satisfaction in a chosen career.
Until a hundred years ago, education was ordered toward the pursuit of two goals: wisdom and virtue. Liberal learning was understood as essential to form leaders and citizens for a free and just society. It inspired students to contemplate all that is true, good, and beautiful, and to apply those lessons to their lives. Over the last century, however, schools have abandoned the tradition that shaped some of the finest minds in history. Instead, they have begun to take as their model the modern factory and assembly line. These methods of production have proven efficient for products, but deadening for people. Products on an assembly line are not free. They are confined to a process. Modern education confines students and teachers to a process that presents unrelated information and overemphasizes grades and test scores. Even more concerning, however, is the hostility to faith and reason that permeates the contemporary classroom. Young people may lose heart in the spiritual confusion of our times when they are denied the chance to explore the meaning behind what they learn, and are prevented from developing the ability to discern what is true and what is false. The current secular model of education does not develop children who are wise and virtuous; it develops children who are anxious and uninspired.
The Catholic Church took up the ancient tradition of liberal learning and oriented it toward Christ, uniting reason and faith. In classrooms and homes across the country, a growing number of Catholic educators and parents are now discovering how Catholic liberal education offers the antidote to a system that drains wonder and purpose from the lives of young people. The result? Inspired teachers, joyful students, and communities that are flourishing in faith.