Thirteen years as an educator taught me that formation, not necessarily education should be the task of Catholic schools. Principals and coaches seem to preach winning at all costs, thus grades and touchdowns may dominate the unofficial missions of Catholic schools. This climate could lead to a culture where Christian values might be neglected. Poor performance on entrance exams led a Catholic high school principal to refer to students from feeder schools as “weaker product” during a meeting I attended. This principal’s comment highlights what William J. Hudson asserts: “…focusing upon school achievements, teachers, and administrators sometimes lose track of the very reason our schools exist: to live the gospel with our young people by entering into relationship with Jesus Christ.”[1]

Catholic identity seems to have been neglected to such a degree that students find religion classes unnecessary and unappealing. A renewed approach to Catholic education demands a reanalysis of curricula and spiritual programs. Some dioceses emphasize the religious thrust of education: “The Religious Formation Program is the core of the school’s educational mission.  Its purpose is to lead the student to a conscious, living, active, and mature Catholic faith.”[2]  Yet, Catholic education does not seem to allow students the opportunity to engage their hearts and spirits in programs where faith is put to practice.

An educational philosophy that presents education as a commodity cannot be liberative. James J. Digiacomo calls this educational consumerism and asserts that, “…education is not about exploring and questioning, enjoying learning… [i]t is about getting good marks, excelling in sports, padding college applications, and cheating compulsively in desperation to gain admission to colleges that guarantee success. It’s not what you know, but how high up you go. This is education’s peculiar brand of consumerism, where the product must be purchased at any cost, including the loss of honesty, integrity, curiosity and culture.[3]

6798714787_d621138ce5_zFor education to be effective, it must liberate. It must lead to reflection, investigation, and an inquisitiveness that challenges oppressive structures in society. I contend that to have any other approach to education that is not critical, inquisitive or reflective does not provide liberation for students or for the society that they are called to transform. There are some philosophies and worldviews that prevent schools from creating programs that liberate. The idea of educating students so they can become “productive members of society”[4] may come from a worldview that is outmoded. According to Roberto Goizueta, modernity’s relentless pursuit of productivity has hindered our search for authentic liberation. Goizueta identifies a tension between modernity’s understanding of the person as human makers or homo faber and postmodernity’s concept of Homo ludens, a being who acts, plays or celebrates. [5]

Students enrolled in schools are postmodern in their outlook while teachers, administrators, parents, and clergy tend to educate from a modernist perspective. If Goizueta is correct, then the friction that may arise from having these two approaches to understanding the human person may bring about oppressive structures in schools and society. If the process of education is not filtered through a critical approach, it runs the risk of perpetuating oppression. If formation is to be liberative, those who teach “need to become humble students of postmodern culture and critically examine their ministry practices, with input and feedback from postmoderns on their effectiveness.”[6] Since postmoderns tend to consider religion, spirituality, and faith as positive dimensions of life, and they usually are more experiential, and spiritual,[7] school administrators should capitalize on these positive attributes. To awaken students from their religious slumber, schools must place greater emphasis on forming their spiritual lives by offering tangible opportunities to act, play, and celebrate in a setting where service, social justice, and ritual take primacy over producing touchdowns and grades.

2015 © Dr. Francisco Castillo.  All Rights Reserved.

Featured image by the author. Photo of Catholic Students by Saint Francis Academy.


[1] Dennis Wermert, SC, Connecting on Campus:  Designing and Sustaining Effective High School Campus Ministry (Washington DC:  NCEA, 2004), v.

[2] Archdiocese of Miami, Archdiocese of Miami Administrator’s Handbook: Archdiocese of Miami Department of Schools.  Volume I (Miami: Archdiocese of Miami, 2003), 27.

[3] James J. Digiacomo, S.J., “Educating for a Living Faith,” America (September 10, 2007): 12.

[4] Archbishop McCarthy High School, Inc., Parent-Student Handbook (Bellingham: Premier School Agendas, 2007), 22.   

[5]  Roberto Goizueta, From the Heart of the People. Orlando Espín and Miguel Díaz, eds. (Maryknoll:  Orbis Books, 1999). 86.

[6]  Ibid.

[7]  Ibid., 45.