Most people care about education, but those who are not committed Catholics are likely to take a very different view from the Church when it comes to defining the stages and setting of education. In this interview, R. Jared Staudt explain the books that he believes will help us understand the nature and situation of Catholic education.
Dr. R. Jared Staudt specializes in systematic theology, the evangelization of culture, catechesis, Catholic education, Church history, and Thomas Aquinas. He has taught at the Augustine Institute since 2009, teaching part-time since 2014. He has also served as the director of the Catholic Studies Program at the University of Mary, director of religious education in two parishes, co-founder of two high schools, as associate superintendent for Mission and Formation at the Archdiocese of Denver. He is currently Director of Content for Exodus 90, a ninety-day spiritual exercise for men.
In its broadest sense, education is everything that a society does for the self-development of its members. However, we normally associate it with schools and university. Do the books that you have selected take the narrower or the broader focus? Most of the books that I chose reflect a broader understanding of education: education as an entering into a whole way of life and thinking. Some of them do look at what we need to do within the school itself. Good books on education will hit at both aspects. There is initiation into a culture or group of people. But then, there is the question, “Okay! How do you do that effectively within formal education?”
How would you define Catholic education? Is it just conventional education plus catechesis or does it work with a radically different conception of education? In the Early Church, there was a providential coming together of two ways of viewing education. The Church accepted the Greek ideal of paideia, the formation of the person through the liberal arts. It blended that with its own understanding of catechesis. So, in a way, Catholic education accepts the ideal of paideia, the formation of the person through humane learning, while also understanding education as an initiation into the life of God through the Church. There may have been tensions between the two through time. Tertullian is often quoted in this regard: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” But in general, the Church has said, “Athens does have something to do with Jerusalem.” When we look at the formation of the human mind according to reason, according to the Logos, we see that it does relate to the soul. Right thinking and virtue are in accord with our nature. They, of course are the aim of paideia. They are related to Christian life.
Now, could you ever reduce catechesis to liberal arts learning? That would be a gross distortion. We know that Catholic education must be rooted in Christ. It is not simply about the education of the mind. But Christ is the Logos. Catholic education does extend to the formation of the mind.
"The overarching goal of Catholic education is to bring people into an encounter with Christ"
Who do you have in mind when recommending your top five books on Catholic education? Parents who are thinking about their children? Teachers? Catholics who want to improve their own education? All of the above? All of the above. I have seen dedicated laypeople make a profound effect on Catholic education in many ways, even if they are not working in a Catholic school or do not have school-age children.
There was a retired woman, elderly and with health problems, who helped inspire the founding of a Chesterton Academy in the Denver Metro area, particularly by influencing me as part of that project. There was also of a bunch of dads. They had young kids who were not even in school yet. They formed a group in their parish called First Educators and began sponsoring talks. That was another factor that led to the founding of this high school. Catholics who are serious about formation and who care about education can certainly support the great work of Catholic education in different ways.
First on your list is A Reason Open to God, edited by J. Steven Brown. This is a collection of speeches, letters, and homilies that Pope Benedict XVI delivered on education and the university. A university professor by training and inclination, he speaks with first-hand knowledge. His main point is that we need to go abandon the reductively positivistic conception of reason that has become dominant in modernity and restore God to his rightful place at the centre of education and the sciences. What are Benedict XVI’s fundamental teachings on education and why have you chosen him as an authoritative guide on this subject rather than one of the other recent popes? In my mind, Pope Benedict has articulated the Church's whole tradition of education: the recent magisterium both from the last one hundred years and even back to the Early Church. He has articulated that vision better than anyone else.
In particular, his talk at Catholic University of America and his meeting there with educators (it was with college presidents and superintendents from throughout the United States) has really been the magna carta of our work. He has a great gift of being able to synthesise and transmit so many principles in a succinct way. As a Microsoft Word document, that speech is about four pages long. However, it engages in all the major themes of education so quickly. I have used it in so many different settings with educators.
It states that the overarching goal of Catholic education is to bring people into an encounter with Christ. It deals with the topic of faith and reason and how that extends to human freedom. Freedom is one of the great themes of this short talk. Benedict XVI says that we have emphasised the formation of the mind but perhaps overlooked the importance of the will and, therefore, of the good. This draws on a whole reflection on education that goes back to Plato: that education should shape our desires. Then, he talks about hope. Right now, Catholic education can provide hope for young people because it grounds them in the truth. The truth is liberating for us, because it provides the right ground for the adventure of life. I love how he calls life an adventure. He is pointing to how Catholic education calls young people into a great discovery of the truth and then to the great adventure of living in communion with Christ in the Church.
Beyond that one lecture, his writings and talks on education are known for the integration of faith and reason through the Logos. The Word of God is the truth through which the entire universe was created and the one who comes to reveal the Father to us. This shows that there must be a profound harmony between faith and reason in the work of Catholic education. We can see the whole of reality more profoundly than anyone else. We need to help our young people to enter into the full breadth of this tradition. Of course, that does not mean that we simply add the knowledge that comes from faith onto the regular approach of a school. It is about freeing reason itself. Reason can do more when it is not locked into a positivistic view. It can consider the deepest truths of human. It has an important role to play in the life of faith. Our youth will come to know Jesus Christ more fully when they are able to think clearly, coherently, and deeply about reality.
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