The Ideal of a Catholic Education in a Secularized Society

By Cuypers, Stefaan E. | Catholic Education, June 2004 | Go to article overview
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The Ideal of a Catholic Education in a Secularized Society


Cuypers, Stefaan E., Catholic Education


This paper argues that the progressive, revisionist reaction within Catholic education and schooling, as well as within Catholicism at large, to the challenge of modernity is a mistake. In view of modernity's malaises, it advocates instead the affirmation or reaffirmation of the ideal of traditional Catholicism as the only authentic response for Catholics to modern progress. In order to justify the distinctiveness of a traditional Catholic identity and educational project, the paper offers an outline of a distinctively Thomistic educational philosophy. Its defense of the (re)affirmation of the ideal of traditional Catholic education and schooling in secularized society is neither ultra-conservative nor romantic.

INTRODUCTION

Catholic parents and teachers have enormous difficulties in upholding and maintaining a Catholic education in today's enlightened, secularized, industrialized, consumer society. The mission of Catholic education is in competition with other religious and non-religious educational projects for the preservation of its age-old venerable position within a modern multicultural and pluralist society. The aspiration of Catholic schooling to educate the whole person in light of an all-embracing worldview based on divine revelation is challenged by secular and liberal ideology in contemporary Western democracy. The Catholic Church in Western Europe presently faces a decline in the number of people practicing and a disintegration of long-standing ecclesiastical structures and hierarchies. So in their endeavor to safeguard Catholic truths, values, and observances, parents and teachers loyal to Catholicism are swimming against the tide of the modern Zeitgeist.

One widespread reaction within Catholicism itself to these and related difficulties lies in the attempt to adapt Catholic doctrine as well as ritual to the demands of modernity and, consequently, to revise traditional Catholic education and schooling accordingly. This paper will argue, however, that this progressive reaction to the challenge of modernity is a mistake. In view of modernity's malaises, such as individualism and hedonism, it will advocate the (re)affirmation of the ideal of traditional Catholicism as the only authentic response for Catholics to modern progress. Catholic educators and schools should, correspondingly, hold fast to the distinctiveness of their traditional Catholic identity, of which an account will be offered by outlining a distinctively Thomistic educational philosophy. As a final point, the paper will explain why its plea for the (re)affirmation of the ideal of traditional Catholic education in the upbringing of youngsters in modern secularized society is neither ultra-conservative nor romantic. Although the topic dealt with here will primarily be of concern to Catholics, the discussion may also engage other Christian and non-Christian believers as well as non-believers, given the general interest taken in the problem of modernity (or, for that matter, post-modernity) and its possible solutions in the contemporary debate on meaning and value-constitution.

ENLIGHTENED MODERNITY AND PROGRESSIVE CATHOLICISM

The vast majority of Western Europeans living today accept the claim that Catholic education is orthogonal to the modern mind. This claim can, of course, be generalized to include other types of Christian (e.g., Protestant) and non-Christian (e.g., Judaic) education as well. This paper will focus primarily on Catholic education. Traditional religious education and monotheistic religion as such are considered to be unsuited to modernity because they are opposed to the enlightenment ideals that characterize the modern world. In addition, it is claimed that the modern, enlightened mentality is cause as well as effect of the process of secularization. Western culture has undergone a gradual process of secularization over the last 200 years or more. That is to say, religion gradually lost its influence in the realm of Western science and technology, economics, and socio-politics, as well as in the public and even in the private life of Western Europeans.

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