Catholic Education

Catholic Intellectual Tradition and 21st Century Education: Substance or Twaddle?   

By Richard Thompson, Former Superintendent 
Archdiocese of Denver Office of Catholic Schools 

A buzzword is defined as "a word or phrase often sounding authoritative or technical, that is a vogue term in a particular profession, field of study, or popular culture." Words, like people, are often known by their associations.  In a thesaurus, the word companions for buzzword include balderdash, bunk, gibberish, mumbo jumbo, and twaddle.  This is a questionable bunch of word friends for our latest buzzwords in Catholic education—"21st Century Education" and "Catholic Intellectual Tradition." These two phrases have substance and meaning.  But sometimes in today’s usage, or rather misusage, they can become twaddle. Herein, I attempt to briefly clarify these terms as they relate to our Catholic schools today. 

The Catholic Intellectual Tradition (CIT) does not reside in books with neatly packaged lesson plans.  It lives in the minds and hearts of our teachers and students as together they search for truth.  Rigorous academics, regardless of curriculum area, are not measured only by test scores but by knowledge to be attained, values to be acquired, and truth to be discovered.

Threads of CIT that are counter to the smart-phone-140-character-text-driven culture so prevalent today include knowledge, then reflection, discussion, and action based on that knowledge.  Scholarship is embraced; human dignity is affirmed; reason and faith inform and energize each other.  The journey toward truth, thus God, is joyous, optimistic, and spiritual. 

21st Century Education aspires to be a global classroom framework with defining characteristics that include student-centered synthesis and analysis; active learning; high expectations.  It is not driven by standardized testing mania.  It is research driven and collaborative where students and teachers are co-learners engaged in a culture of inquiry. This is all good. 

As is often the case Catholic education serves as a model for education reform and the newest trends. As one can see from these descriptions, our intellectual tradition serves as the foundation and guiding principles for what today is conveniently termed 21st Century Education. Unfortunately, the secular humanism and relativism that have hijacked public education make it impossible to form the whole child and truly deliver this model effectively. 

In our Catholic schools, Catholic Intellectual Tradition intersects with 21st Century Education.  Embracing Christian humanism and thus anchored in tradition with spiritual underpinnings, these schools strive to assist parents in fully forming their children to live, work, and serve in a globalized high-tech twenty-first century society, evangelizing in the name of the Gospel.  We are so blessed to have abundant charter documents and guidelines to assist our school in aligning our tradition with 21st century education.  These charter documents range from Scripture to the new National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Catholic Schools

We must always remember that our Catholic schools exist to cultivate a love for Jesus Christ, fidelity to His church, and respect for the dignity of the human person.  Anything less is to render Catholic Intellectual Tradition and 21st Century Education nothing more than a vogue term and nothing more than twaddle.