This blog was contributed by Kevin Baxter, Chief Innovation Officer at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA.
As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, it is important to be grateful to all aspects that make our schools such wonderful learning environments. We are blessed to live in the United States where, since its founding, it has struggled through fits and starts and trials and tribulations to form a more perfect union. The foundation of liberty and freedom has enabled human flourishing to take place. That is unparalleled in history and we are grateful to live in a country where we can educate and worship in faith.
Catholic schools have played an instrumental role in moving the country toward the ideal of a more perfect union. St. Katherine Drexel established 50 schools for African Americans and 12 for Native Americans in the late nineteenth century when the memories of slavery and the Civil War were still fresh. From the beginning, Catholic schools have educated newly arrived immigrants, providing them with a great education and a stable acclimation to society. Families from Italy, Germany, Ireland and Poland came to the U.S seeking a better life and Catholic schools were so successful in educating their children that you would be hard pressed today to find leaders and influencers in any major industry who weren’t educated at some level in Catholic schools, from elementary through graduate school.
Today is no different as Catholic schools educate students from the Philippines, Mexico, Korea and many countries in Central and South America. We know from our history that our students of today will be the leaders of society tomorrow. Our schools educate students to be leaders in both their Church and in society at large. We expect our students to be of service to their communities and we know because of the strong faith formation they receive in Catholic schools, they will lead with virtue and compassion and transform the organizations in which they associate.
This all is expressed clearly in this year’s theme: Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed. We know that Catholic schools educate students effectively in both faith and academics and inculcate within them a sense of service. When Catholic school students succeed, the entire nation benefits from both their intellectual and spiritual contributions to society. We are grateful to the 29 states that have some form of parental choice legislation that assists parents in making the choice to send their children to Catholic schools. We know educational pluralism is a gift and we hope more states will enact similar legislation in the coming years.
We are in a period of great division in our nation and Catholic schools can contribute to bringing about more constructive dialogue through our education of young people and parents. Catholic schools teach that each person is graced with dignity and is entitled to respect and we know that society will be truly transformed when all recognize that God is present in every human being’s heart and we treat others with the respect merited by that reality. Our nation may then truly reach its ideal of a more perfect union through the grace of God and the work of Catholic schools.