Responsibilities of the Salvatorian Classroom
From its founding, Divine Savior Holy Angels High School has dedicated itself to the promotion of Catholic values expressed through the Salvatorian charism, and to the development of believers, self-advocates, critical thinkers, communicators and leaders who make known the goodness and kindness of Jesus Christ in the classroom.
In the Catholic classroom, students learn we are all created in God’s image and likeness, as every one of us is part of the same human family. In their formative years, they also learn that living this solidarity out in their lives amid the material realities of society and politics can be overwhelming. To that end, Cardinal Wilton Gregory encourages us as educators: “Our schools are the privileged places to learn the Gospel. We cannot shy away from the hard questions and conversations our children bring to the classroom.” (Address to Catholic Educators, 2020).
What does teaching look like, then, through a Catholic lens?
“No human joy, no human sorrow is a matter of indifference to the community created by Jesus. In today’s world this requires that the Christian community be involved in seeking solutions to a host of complex problems, such as war, poverty, racism, and environmental pollution, which undermine community within and among nations.” (To Teach as Jesus Did: a Pastoral message on Education, USCCB).
In fact, all of Catholic Social Teaching invites us to look at personal sin, social sin, and “structures of sin.” The “Pastoral Constitution in the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes)” , a document of the Second Vatican Council states that our “social nature makes it evident that the progress of the human person and the advance of society itself hinge on one another…the subject and goal of all social institutions is and must be the human person.” As educators and critical thinkers, we know that education and critical thinking challenge preexisting worldviews. As Catholics, we urge the examination of conscience and guard against the assumption that everything is fine. Sound, faithful education disdains comfort and is necessarily critical of the society that surrounds us.
In the past years, it has become clear that the faculty of DSHA must articulate a mission statement that underpins what it hopes to accomplish with regard to academic discourse, faithfulness to its Catholic, Salvatorian mission, promotion of civility and the place of objectivity and neutrality. We present in this document a hierarchy of concerns and considerations and the path forward that we will take.
First of all, the matter of fidelity to our Catholic identity must take precedence over all other considerations. As a Catholic school we are biased. We are political. To be apolitical or objective is to fail in our mission to inhabit a Catholic identity, which is concerned with a pursuit of justice that spans stage of life, race, sex and class. We have a responsibility to the totality and complexity of this body of beliefs. We will not abridge them or simplify them to make people comfortable. Where there is honest, good faith disagreement over teachings or priorities that seem to be in conflict, we trust our teachers, who are informed by Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Social Responsibility, prayer, discernment and expertise at selecting content within their subject area that aligns with these goals.
Our next highest priority is care for the whole person. We acknowledge that every human being, made in the image of God, is a completely unique person in a different place in their journey to adulthood. We have been entrusted with the care of each unique person, mind, body and soul. Every student we encounter will have unique needs and will require a unique style of care. We are responsible for determining where each unique student is on this journey, meeting each student where they are and finding a way to care for them spiritually, intellectually and socially. To assist in this goal in the classroom, where we must engage and discuss weighty topics and reckon with real material conditions that govern the world outside, we will establish and enforce civil standards, which we will model and reinforce. In a world of finite resources and competing priorities, we will always err on the side of pastoral care for our students, as per our obligation to Catholic Social Teaching.
After this standard has been considered, our next-highest concern is the encouragement of critical thinking and problem solving across disciplines. Critical thinking not only informs the conscience but prepares the Catholic for navigating the world outside the Church. The Catholic school is thus not a place where every answer is clear cut or where every imperative is easy to act upon. Gray areas, frontiers and quandaries are always going to rightfully attract the classroom’s attention because in these areas active critical thinking is being done. Students should expect to feel moral and intellectual discomfort in a Catholic classroom and should also be expected to develop the maturity and resilience to deal with this discomfort. Finally, we have a responsibility to prepare students for the intellectual rigors of the world outside of DSHA, including college. That means exposure to history, social sciences and theories that may not flatter a preexisting political or religious worldview but that are a part of the secular world and that must be addressed and understood in the name of college preparatory education. A well-developed faith should be able to brook challenge and dissent without fracturing, and we expect our students to build resilience in the face of challenge.
Only after these three standards have been met do we consider neutrality and objectivity. After we have fulfilled our responsibilities to our Catholic identity, to care for the whole person and to the development of critical thinking, we wholly agree that a teacher should not unduly influence students. However, we see these standards of neutrality and objectivity as specifically applying to partisan politics and the endorsement of specific candidates for office. We are not obligated to frame issues in a way that comforts or sanctifies any political worldview that exists outside the classroom. We present civic issues fairly and leave room for students to discern and think critically alone as they participate in civic life.