Educating Catholics in a secular culture: a Canadian Internet initiative

Educating Catholics in a secular culture: a Canadian Internet initiative

J. Fraser Field

Vatican II's Declaration on Christian Education directs Catholic schools to integrate the Christian faith into the whole pattern of human life in all its aspects. However, in countries like the United States, Canada and Australia, 35 years on, this remains one of the major unrealised ideals of the Council.

The average young person leaving our school systems has no conception of the positive influence Christianity has had on society and culture. As citizens of the modern world our young people are destined to live off the spiritual and cultural capital of our Judeo-Christian heritage without ever recognising or acknowledging their debt.

As the State system has increasingly committed itself to an exclusively secular vision, school resources have become less and less reflective of Christian values, Christian content, and, in the areas of history and social studies, Christian-based criteria of interpretation. Recognising this problem many Protestant educational organisations have developed their own resources which emphasise a Christian perspective.

Secularised resources

For some reason Catholics have been slow to react to the secularised content of the resources being used in schools. Most Catholic schools have come to depend on the same textbooks and other resources as those used in State schools.

This situation is a serious concern because the relationship between instruction in Catholic faith and instruction in Christian culture is a critical and interdependent one. In a sense faith requires culture to incarnate itself. If Catholic students are not made aware of the great wealth they have inherited in terms of culture, they may well end up, as the great Catholic historian Christopher Dawson predicted, "divided personalities with a Christian faith and a pagan culture which contradict one another continually."

The challenge and importance of the study of Christian culture for Catholic education can hardly be overstated.

Sharing my concerns about these matters I found I was far from alone and in 1998 a group of teachers, priests, and academics in the Vancouver area joined together to form the Catholic Educators' Resource Centre (CERC). Presently working under a grant from the Homeland Foundation, out of New York, and the Madonna Foundation here in Canada, CERC is compiling 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.

Our Internet library has been divided into ten major categories: Arts and Literature, Education, Culture and Civilisation, Current Issues, Facts and Misconceptions, History, Miscellaneous, Politics and Government, Religion/Ethics, and Science. Articles are selected to assist teachers in Catholic schools, home-schooling parents, as well as all other interested Catholics.

Our current issues section deals with multiculturalism, homosexuality, environmentalism, feminism, parenting, persecution of Christians, marriage and family, medical ethics, euthanasia, population control, sex, and the media.

The site draws from a range of books, academic journals, and popular periodicals to provide some of the most articulate and cogent resources available explaining the Church's position on a broad range of social, moral, and historical issues. Any of these articles may be downloaded and copied for use in the classroom as supplementary reading materials for the students, or used sirnply as background by the teacher wishing to be better informed.

The response to this initiative has been most encouraging. Some thirty-five leading Catholic academics from across North America have signed on to our Advisory Board. Well-known Catholic historian, James Hitchcock, has written: "I believe that this project is one of the most promising of the past thirty years and will contribute greatly to the genuine renewal of Catholic education at all levels."

Our CERC Weekly Update allows interested subscribers to receive an email letter every Monday listing all the new articles posted to the site, including a short abstract and link to those articles. Over the next year we will be adding to our website library hundreds of the best articles available on a wide range of issues as well as lesson and unit plans designed to help teachers better present the Church's history, culture and moral and social teachings to their students.

On the technical side, our entire site is being revamped to better meet the demands and better service our public (expected date of completion 10 July 2000). Eventually, we would like to offer online courses whereby students could sign on to the site and take a lesson that would help them better appreciate the reasonableness of the Church's teaching on homosexuality, the environment, euthanasia, population control, chastity and a whole range of other issues.

We believe that in order to better approximate the high ideal of Catholic education, Catholic educators will have to work much more closely with Catholic academics, in order to develop resources which tell our Catholic story and represent Gospel truths in new ways that are challenging and compelling.

This article was adapted from a longer one published in the Fall 1999 issue of 'The Catholic Social Science Review', Volume 4. It is published with the permission of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.

J. Fraser Field is Executive Officer of The Catholic Educator's Resource Centre, E-mail: info@catholiceducation.org. The Resource Centre's website is at: www.catholiceducation.org

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