In the wake of Covid-19 and the disturbances following the death of George Floyd, the people at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) seem not to know which end is up.
This conclusion naturally arises when looking at the material on its website titled “Catholic School Resources for Combatting Racism,” and especially the videotaped panel discussion, “For A Time Like This: The Catholic Response to Systemic Racism.”
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The NCEA was founded in 1904. For most of its history, it has had a dual function.
One function is, in their own words, “leadership development for superintendents, presidents, principals, pastors, and governing bodies; professional development for teachers; and serving as the voice for Catholic school education.” It works closely with the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
NCEA speaks less of its other function. The organization tries to legitimize Catholic schools in the eyes of the educational establishment. In this role, it translates the educational philosophy of John Dewey and his followers into terms that do not unduly disturb the Catholic clergy and laity.
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The relationship between those roles came into full fruition with “the Spirit of Vatican II” that progressives have long promoted inside the American Church. Their goals meshed easily with those of Deweyite educators. In the name of unity, both seek to divest Catholicism and society of those ancient truths that chaffed against modern sensibilities. Under this program, many Catholic schools became smaller reflections of public schools with daily religion classes and occasional celebration of Mass. The religion classes were tailored not to offend Protestant parents. The Masses were always accompanied by “contemporary” music and messages of false “ecumenism.”
The result is predictable. There are about half as many students in Catholic schools today than there were in 1965. Every year has a new list of Catholic schools that close their doors permanently.
Despite that woeful record, the NCEA sails along its progressive course. However, the progressive waters became a lot choppier in the spring of 2020. Progressive movements are in disarray, and the NCEA is no exception. Today, liberal is never liberal enough.
In Search of a Non-Existent Solution
The “For a Time Like This” video reflects this chaos as it struggles toward a solution. It is introduced by NCEA’s John Reyes, the “Executive Director of Operational Vitality.” He takes less than a minute to call the death of George Floyd “a pivotal moment for the life of the Church.”
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According to NCEA, “The panel is made up of black Catholic school educators prepared to address the inherent inequality and systemic racial injustice in Catholic schools and how to take effective action to create change.” The panel consists of a priest, a principal, a counselor, a teacher, and an “educational consultant.” The moderator is Rodney Pierre-Antoine, Executive Director of Lumen Christi Academies in Oakland, California.
However, the discussion does not define “inherent inequality” or “systemic racial injustice.” Nor do any of the panelists attempt to prove that they exist in Catholic schools. No one defends the record of Holy Mother Church or her schools as bastions against racism throughout her history. The outstanding educators, Saint John Bosco and Saint John Baptiste de la Salle have no home here.
An overwhelmingly leftist slant is apparent from the beginning. One of the few mentions of God comes when the moderator opines, “We are designed to be counter-cultural. Jesus, our leader, was counter-cultural. He was inclusive, welcoming all.”
No one explains the context in which Our Lord was counter-cultural. The panelists appear to have no idea that their brand of progressivism has become the culture of modern America. These discussants seemed to want Catholic school students to become Antifa-like “social justice warriors.”
Testifying to this social change end, the moderator made his allusion to Our Lord after quoting James Baldwin – a black author and activist of the mid-twentieth century. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” He did not mention that James Baldwin saw Christianity as hypocritical and racist. Mr. Baldwin’s autobiography described an occasion when he was asked if he was a Christian. His response was “I? Now? Nothing. I’m a writer, I like doing things alone.”
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Modern Catch-Phrases Disguised as Wisdom
The discussion was replete with common modern catch-phrases. Objective truth was lost in a flurry of “our truths,” “my truth,” and “the students’ truths.” Students were not to look to God; they need to find and speak their “authentic voices,” “their stories,” and “our black identities.” The classroom focus should be “lived experience.” Teachers should be “speaking truth to power.”
The Marxist obsession with power and struggle was present. “[S]hift the voice in the classroom, the power in the classroom to those who are owning their learning, which is the students.”
Such notions reflect John Dewey’s distortion of the student-teacher relationship. “How does a classroom teacher make that shift, from being the voice of knowledge to recognizing that everyone in that classroom, the kids, are coming with their own knowledge, their own story, their own truth?” Teachers simply need to facilitate this by being “their authentic, true, and vulnerable selves.”
A Far Better Path
Unfortunately, no one on the panel represented the traditional Catholic vision of history, which cut through the confusion and doublespeak. Far better would it be if students learned history informed by the love of God and neighbor. Such a Catholic reading of history is the best way to understand the just and harmonious relationships that can and should exist among humanity’s various races and ethnicities. Resorting to Marxist egalitarianism provides a platform that is fueled by hate, not love. It sets the stage for the hate-filled suburbanites that fill the ranks of Antifa terrorist protesters.
The Catholic position is truly counter-cultural. Indeed, throughout history, the Church has been counter-cultural, especially as it confronts the universal tendency to exalt sin and vice. This is the message that students need now. Students deserve better than the watered-down Catholicism that they were taught, courtesy of the progressives at the NCEA.