"Big Four" Highlights


Catholic Core

High curriculum standards proposed for Catholic schools

The rapid acceptance of the controversial Common Core standards by many U.S. Catholic schools was a wake-up call for Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which for more than two decades has monitored the religious identity of Catholic schools. In response, his organization worked with top educators to produce the Catholic Curriculum Standards, which can be used by primary and secondary schools to ensure Catholic identity and draw upon the wealth of Catholic tradition and wisdom in every academic subject. The society also publishes annually The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.

Reilly, the father of five homeschooled children, spoke to Fathers for Good about the new standards and the beauty of Catholic education.

Fathers for Good: Are these curriculum standards just a response to the Common Core, or do they stand on their own as guidance for Catholic educators?

Patrick Reilly: Long before the controversies over the Common Core, we promoted Catholic education that integrates our faith into every area of study – not just religion class. It’s what the Church has always proposed. But the rapid introduction of the Common Core in most Catholic schools around the country woke many of us up to the fact that Catholic schools have for too long relied heavily on secular state standards.

Catholic education is supposed to be fundamentally different from public education in purpose and philosophy. Yet we’ve been using public school standards to help set objectives and test our students. A “Blue Ribbon” school does certain things well, but a faithful Catholic education promises so much more.

Many dioceses have developed supplemental Catholic standards, but still we wanted to propose these Catholic Curriculum Standards to get to the heart of a sometimes difficult question: How do I teach math in a Catholic school? What’s unique about science in a Catholic program? History? Literature?

The standards are presented in a technical format for easy integration by schools with their existing standards, but they are still a fascinating read. They were developed by our K-12 education experts, Dr. Denise Donohue and Dr. Dan Guernsey, with help from several outstanding Catholic scholars such as Father Robert Spitzer, Anthony Esolen, and Joseph Pearce.

FFG: What is the purpose of Catholic education?

Reilly: Put simply, Catholic education’s purpose is to advance the Church’s mission of evangelization. It does this by formation in mind, body, and soul. Our young people are called to the fullness of humanity, to a life with Christ, and we do great harm when we think of children solely as future workers. Catholic education also prepares the student to think reasonably and critically about culture, with appreciation for Christian contributions to culture and the Christian worldview.

FFG: Doesn't every diocese already have standards for their schools?

Reilly: There is a wide variety of Catholic school standards in dioceses across the United States, all trying to fulfill the Church’s call to faithful education. Our Catholic Curriculum Standards are available to be used, adapted, and edited, and they might be useful to dioceses, independent schools, homeschool programs, and parents. What may be unique for some dioceses is the Catholic emphasis on particular disciplines, as opposed to general school standards. Plus there’s the high quality of these standards. For any Catholic educator, the Catholic Curriculum Standards should be inspiring and helpful.

FFG: How can parents – the primary educators of their children – use these standards?

Reilly: I am eager for Catholic homeschoolers to use the Catholic Curriculum Standards and to hear their feedback. The formal standards process is not something that is familiar to many homeschoolers. But the homeschooling movement is innovative and has accomplished wonderful things in Catholic education, so I expect that they could do some exciting things with these standards.

Parents who have kids in Catholic schools really ought to be familiar with the objectives and methods of faithful Catholic education. Most of us experienced a modern education that emphasized fact-learning and was rooted in secular philosophies of education. These Catholic standards can help us open our eyes to the possibilities and the advantages of a more robust Catholic education. It’s up to us to make sure our children get it. As a parent myself, I want my kids to be more than successful in college or a career, which is what the Common Core emphasizes. I want them to know Christ, to be deeply in love with him. I want them to have virtues as well as skills, faith as well as facts, and the ability to reason – which seems to be lacking in our society today.

For more information on the Catholic Curriculum Standards, visit the Cardinal Newman Society website.