Vatican II's "Declaration on Christian Education" (Gravissimum Educationis), directs Catholic schools to integrate the Christian faith into the whole pattern of human life in all its aspects. It enjoins Catholic educators to strive "to relate all human culture eventually to the news of salvation, so that the life of faith will illumine the knowledge which students gradually gain of the world, of life, and of humankind."(1)
Dominic Aquila, Provost of Ave Maria University, develops this thought when he writes, "Rather than seeing Catholic education as merely the addition of a religion course to the usual academic subjects, we want our students to make Christian sense out of what they learn in their natural science, math, and history courses, in their study of art, music, and literature,"(2). While clearly stated in the documents of Vatican II, and in many other places, this vision, which would see Catholic faith and culture integrated into all subject areas, remains the great, largely unrealized ideal of Catholic education in North America today.
Outside the subject of religious education, Catholic schools in both the United States and Canada, have come to depend almost exclusively on textbooks and other resources developed primarily for use in the secular public schools.
A research study, funded by the National Institute of Education in 1986, concluded that public school textbooks are both biased and censored, in that they fail to report the important indeed central role Christianity has played in our history and culture and rarely represent, either explicitly or implicitly, the social teachings of the Church. In this, the only systematic study of religion and traditional values in public school textbooks, Paul Vitz and his research group concluded that religion and traditional family values have been systematically excluded from our children's textbooks.(3)
No one even vaguely familiar with the direction American and Canadian public education has charted for itself over the past 35 years could be much surprised by this finding. What may surprise, and should certainly concern Catholics, is the fact that Catholic schools, in both the United States and Canada, are using these same resources resources which are predictably silent about the Christian perspective on how social life should be conducted and on the contribution of Catholic faith and culture to the progress of history and our current cultural context.
Of course, the fact that the resources we are using were written with the public schools in mind shouldn't make any difference. Paul Vitz has pointed out that the central issue is a question of the facts of our past and present. Those facts are clear, "...religion, especially Christianity, has played and continues to play a central role in our culture and history. To neglect to report this is simply to fail to carry out the major duty of any textbook writer the duty to tell the truth."(4) The study of Western civilization remains incomplete and distorted without an adequate consideration of the influence of Christianity upon it. The Holy Father puts it forcefully, "The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man."
Surely then one of the great tragedies of public education today is the fact that the average young person leaving our school systems has no conception of the positive influence Christianity has had on society and culture. As citizens of the modern world our young people are destined to live off the spiritual and cultural capital of our Judeo-Christian heritage without ever recognizing or acknowledging their debt. Yet given the ideological agendas now driving curriculum development in public education, it is hardly surprising that public schools fail to give Christian faith and culture their rightful place; the reaction against Christianity is just too strong.
As the public system has increasingly committed itself to an exclusively secular vision, public school resources have become less and less reflective of Christian values, Christian content, and, in the areas of history and social studies, Christian based criteria of interpretation. Public school textbooks today, can in no way be considered sufficient to the task of helping our students "…make Christian sense out of what they learn in their natural science, math, and history courses, in their study of art, music, and literature."
Recognizing this problem many Protestant educational organizations have developed their own resources which emphasize a Christian perspective. For some reason we Catholics have been slow to react to the secularized content of the resources we are using.
Another problem facing us in the Catholic schools, is that having received their training in secular universities, most Catholic teachers are poorly equipped to appreciate the positive historical and cultural impact of Catholicism and are therefore generally lacking in the background necessary to share these riches with their students.
We therefore find ourselves in a situation where most Catholic schools in the United States and Canada, having come to depend on the same textbooks and other resources as those used in the public schools, and staffed for the most part by graduates of the same universities as the public schools, are outside of the subject of religious education teaching almost exactly the same content as the public schools, content that is decidedly impoverished in the rich heritage and meaning of Christian faith and culture.
This situation is a serious concern, because the relationship between instruction in Catholic faith and instruction in Christian culture is a critical and interdependent one. In a sense faith requires culture to incarnate itself. If Catholic students are not made aware of the great wealth they have inherited in terms of culture, they may well end up, as the great Catholic historian Christopher Dawson predicted, "…divided personalities with a Christian faith and a pagan culture which contradict one another continually." The challenge and importance of the study of Christian culture for Catholic education can hardly be overstated.
In response to this situation a group of concerned Catholic educators, academics, and clergy working in conjunction with the Society of Catholic Social Scientists has organized as the Catholic Educator's Resource Center (CERC) to identify areas of weakness in teaching materials and to develop supplementary and primary instructional resources which treat fairly the Catholic contribution and perspective.
CERC USA is a registered nonprofit Catholic educational apostolate incorporated in the state of Colorado and existing under the patronage of the Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Denver, Colorado.
CERC Canada is registered under the British Columbia Societies Act and is a Catholic organization under the patronage of the Most Reverend Adam Exner, O.M.I., Archbishop of Vancouver, B.C.