The choice of theme for Catholic Education Week in 2009 – Bringing Values to Life – could not be more appropriate at this time. For, as we look around the world, we see overwhelming evidence that society’s awareness of values is significantly lacking.
We see the massive impact of a global financial crisis which has resulted from individual and collective greed, dishonesty and a lack of integrity. We see international conflicts which originate in human envy and culminate in repression, violence and death. We see a growing contempt for the dignity of human life in the relentless scientific search for human perfection. And we see the disintegration of the family unit which cherishes children and teaches them to know what is right and good and true.
Pope Benedict XVI, speaking at the start of 2009 to political leaders from the city of Rome, insisted that the current economic crisis was a direct consequence of “an educational crisis” – specifically a crisis of values – which the Church had been highlighting for some years. The Holy Father lamented a weakening of human and Christian values in young people who are often beset by “ephemeral desires and fleeting hopes” which only lead to boredom and failure. He urged political leaders to dedicate themselves to educating young people to understand the value of life and to appreciate the need for personal responsibility, for the formation of conscience and for a commitment to justice for all, in particular the weakest in society.
Scotland’s Catholic schools are well aware of their responsibilities for nurturing values and virtues in young people so that they are equipped to lead lives of discipleship, personally contributing to the building of a world of justice, love and peace. The Catholic Education Commission developed the ‘Values for Life’ resource in direct response to the publication of the Scottish Government’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ proposals and it has been used to inspire the themes and resources for Catholic Education Week in the past two years. It is intended to equip teachers with an understanding of how young people can experience and develop human and Christian values today through their classroom learning and their participation in various school activities, supported by Family and Church.
Much of the thinking behind Curriculum for Excellence is well-suited to the Catholic school because it recognises that an excellent school has a coherent vision which underpins both classroom learning and the wide range of experiences offered across the school. The Catholic vision of education recognises and values the dignity of each person and promotes the development of all our talents, our gifts, our capacities. It sees that the core capacity of each human being is to love God and neighbour, in direct response to God’s love for us.
Pope Benedict XVI, in a letter entitled Vanishing Youth? Solidarity with Children and Young people in an Age of Turbulence, highlighted the duty of parents, educators and community leaders “to set before children and young people the task of choosing a life project directed towards authentic happiness, one capable of distinguishing between truth and falsehood, good and evil, justice and injustice.”
The Catholic school will meet its responsibility in various ways. Addressing its mission to develop as a community of faith and learning, it will provide young people with experiences of being loved, building on the loving care received in the family. It will promote relationships of respect, trust and care for others. It will highlight the dignity and sanctity of all human life. It will promote the cause of justice and the need for solidarity with the disadvantaged and the oppressed. It will help young people to commit to positive and hopeful action to meet the needs of others, both locally and globally. In these ways it will teach the meaning of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, for they will be satisfied.”
More than this, though, it will accompany young people on their faith journey as they search for meaning, purpose and truth in their life experience. Through religious education it will integrate their knowledge and understanding of Jesus with the knowledge and experience of the world gained in other curricular areas. It will help them to grow in self-understanding and develop a language of prayer and an understanding of liturgy and of the sacramental nature of God’s presence in our lives. It will teach young people to recognize the difference between right and wrong in their personal lives and in their relationships. In nurturing qualities of personal integrity and moral courage in young people, it will develop their capacity to respond to the many complex moral issues which they will meet in life.
Our young people are growing up in a world where conflicting forces and values operate, a world where there is great goodness and where there are great virtues and great achievements, but where there are also unjust structures produced by human weakness. The Catholic school which lives out the ideals of Catholic education will surely help its pupils to “act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God” and thus find true – and eternal – happiness. Such a school, in “bringing values to life”, will indeed be providing a curriculum for excellence.
Scottish Catholic Education Service