This is the conclusion of Dr Lennox Bernard’s keynote address, ‘Developing a Catholic pedagogy inclusive of diverse learning contexts’ delivered at this year’s CREDI Graduation ceremony on November 27 at the Our Lady of Fatima RC Church, Curepe. Part one appeared in the December 16 issue.
Catholic education must continue to embrace formal learning as provided by the national curriculum but in all its innovative approaches to learning, to non-formal learning through our various Church organisations and national organisations e.g. Boys’ Scouts, Girl Guides, and informal learning that seeks to interrogate the ‘lifeworld’ of our learners, that is, their cultural experiences, predicated on poverty not solely aligned to economics but to health and wellness, exploitation and isolation, cultural experiences related to social class, race and ethnicity, social justice and civic responsibility, using what Habermas calls ‘communicative action’.
Incidentally informal learning has gained greater prominence as an attribute of teaching and learning.
Some wonder if our current approach to education is about mission or retreat. We can hardly be in retreat in a world where the Christian worldview is under siege. If we are truly about mission then the Church will have to confront the ‘lifeworld’ of our flock and determine the types of intervention needed as we seek to institute the beliefs, principles and conventions developed by our Church in pursuing the work of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Fr Gerry Pantin of SERVOL understood this approach in ‘his journey up the hill’. This philosophy must inform our pedagogy and must be integral to our special character.
Religious knowledge must be the ideational scaffolding of Catholic education with heightened interest given to our catechists and authorities at the CEBM. Religious knowledge must represent a meaningful learning set that has as its attributes conciseness and coherence, psychological (and may I add digital) and sociological relevance. It must be the basis for the development of a spiritual imagination in our children.
Our students at all levels of the system must be provided with opportunities within the learning culture of the school and home to live their faith through core values.
Curriculum engineering will require that those attributes are immersed in a curriculum that is seamless, from ECCE to the primary and secondary school system.
Teach boys differently
Ingrained in our psyche must be the concept ‘equity’ that is about justice and fairness. It is not the same as equal opportunity. It is about outcome and results.
Surely dear graduands, there is inequity in our schools if a disproportionate number of failing schools serve the poorest and the most disadvantaged children. The achievement gap between the pupils in the urban fringes and rural communities is too significant; failure is normalised in many schools where there is entrenched poverty.
There is comfort in an academic elite and little concern about the growing number of ‘drop-outs’ that straddle the primary and secondary level. Equity would require us to perceive, ‘difference’ and ‘fittedness’.
I am reminded of this verse from Matthew 25:40 “I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me”. Manuel Castell in his book The End of the Millennium notes that we live in a world that is seeking to divide us into valuable and non-valuable people with the non-valuable people digging their trenches of resistance.
A seamless Catholic education beginning with ECCE, a system we have not sought to penetrate (save the few private prep schools). It could be established on our parish compounds at reasonable rates with a curriculum steeped in our faith while not neglecting some proselytising zeal. Some of our enterprising graduates in ECCE can develop cooperative ventures profitable to all.
At the primary level, we should maximise the benefits of single-sex schooling by teaching the boys differently from the girls because they do learn differently. They are wired differently.
Further exposure of this could be gained by visiting Michael Gurrian’s website. Informal learning via profound rituals should be routinised—rituals such as morning prayer at assembly, stories of the saints at assembly, ‘grace before meals’, the Angelus, school-day attendance at Mass whenever possible, school Lenten retreats and acts of charity, penance and fasting. Emphasis should be placed on the reception of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
Similar activities should be instituted at the secondary level with the Sacrament of Confirmation as a prime focus at the first cycle secondary level. We can give greater credence to social justice by ensuring that every student attending a Catholic secondary school practises a form of service learning of at least 40 contact hours. This approach to social learning has been highly successful in many jurisdictions, especially so in Toronto, Canada.
Earlier we mentioned values. Values begin as ideas of what is right and what we ought to say or do. They are also emotional commitments. They contain a ‘strong’ feelings component.
In various parts of our scriptural texts, Old and New Testaments, we are provided with guidance as to many of our core values. In Matthew 22: 37–40, love as the greatest but often mentioned is kindness, honesty, justice, truthfulness. For example in Galatians 5: 22–23, we are told that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Values can be immersed across the curriculum. Teachers must provide students with opportunities to talk about their feelings, to identify with the feelings of other people, and to react emotionally themselves. Teachers would need to increase student sensitivity of how others feel in a variety of situations.
Service learning at the secondary level would encourage and help students to participate in experiences that allow them to feel many different kinds of emotions, to meet different people to do different things, and then to share their perceptions of and feelings about their experiences.
At the national level, we can enhance a Catholic charter of education by implementing Catholic Education week to coincide with the professional Teachers’ Day held annually—an exhibition of our special character in education.
In the final analysis, Catholic children should know that in being good, they are fulfilling God’s will as sons and daughters of God. They should value their relationship with families, friends and others as a reflection of the Divine.
They should learn that God is present and active in their lives by recognising Him in their daily experiences, especially in the midst of life’s challenges. Finally, they should know that they are their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, especially in the midst of life’s changes.
We owe this to the next generation. Let us truly take back our schools and make them Catholic schools.
If you can show me how I can cling to that which is real to me while teaching me the way into the larger society, then I will not only drop my defences and hostility, but I will sing your praises and I will help to make the desert bear fruit.
Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man, 1986.