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The Catholic Culture Advantage

In a recent blog for The Catholic World Report Russell Shaw, prolific author and former secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, tackles a new controversy: Common Core Education – a modern cure for academic deficiency. He writes, “Why is it that the academic performance of American students so often is so poor? While the culture of poverty is frequently blamed, the culture of self-indulgent affluence is hardly less at fault. Causal factors include parents who don’t read to their kids, homes with several TVs and heaps of electronic gear but hardly any books, a youth culture that encourages frittering away time via social media and values quick-fix gratification at the expense serious intellectual work, and the emotional fallout from the breakup of marriages and homes” (http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/3296/what_common_core_cant_fix.aspx) Shaw also notes that Catholic Schools have been spared much of the devastating effects of American education fiascos through the years. Most students receiving a Catholic education have learned to read and write with excellent proficiency, go on to higher mathematics and sciences successfully, and have competent skills for addressing social issues. Shaw’s argument is that students in mainstream education perform at lower standards, not because of poverty in America alone, but because of affluence. The missing piece in our American culture, according to Shaw, is the solution to problems in the “home, neighborhoods, and the culture at large.” Shaw is not suggesting that Catholic students have not faced problems in the home or neighborhoods, but that if we wish to raise the standards of American education we need to focus on raising the standards of our American culture. While the Microsoft Corporation boasts the millions of dollars it pours into improving education (from a technology standpoint, of course), Shaw challenges the tech-gurus to tackle the actual problem. So what, if anything, does Catholic Culture have to offer that mainstream America lacks? What kind of enrichment does the Catholic faith suggest to improve the quality of homelife, neighborhoods, and the civilization in which we live? Self-indulgent affluence can be restrained by adherence to the basic virtues: Prudence – learning what is good from what is bad, not following the trends of the moment that sanction behavior that is harmful to society-at-large; Justice – learning about fairness, human dignity, and liberty – which ties in very neatly with understanding right from wrong; Fortitude – having the courage to stand up for what is right; and Temperance – this is the big one which tackles the problems of over-indulgence – learning about self-discipline and self-control. The Catholic faith teaches us about charity through a hands-on approach to those in need; it teaches us about love and forgiveness, about respecting life from conception until natural death, about chastity, about the sanctity of marriage, and about overcoming vices. Can these practices improve the quality of education? Can students benefit academically from a more self-disciplined approach to learning? Can they succeed scholastically when standards are set to respect them as a person worthy of human dignity? Can students grow in an educational environment that values a relationship with God? Perhaps Shaw is right – the Gates people might learn something new as well.