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Could Catholic Education Save America?
By Dr. Frederick Liewehr
February 4th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
A child's soul is looking for God, and it is our duty as parents to ensure that it finds Him, which is the mission of catechesis. As the Catholic Encyclopedia says, "The teacher should endeavor to influence the child's heart and will, and not be content with putting a certain amount of religious knowledge into its head; for, as Aristotle would say, the end of catechizing is not knowledge, but practice. Knowledge, indeed, there must be, and the more of it the better in this age of widespread secular education; but the knowledge must lead to action."RICHMOND, VA (Catholic Online) - Last week I received a couple e-mails plugging an upcoming webcast of a debate which you can watch here between Dinesh D'Souza, a bestselling author and producer of "2016", the top grossing documentary film of 2012, and Bill Ayers, founder of the Weather Underground that attempted to blow up the Pentagon, the NYC police headquarters and the Capital Building among others, roughly 72 bombings in all, so I decided to tune in.
Dinesh is a great proponent of America and unabashedly proud to have emigrated from India and become a legal American citizen. He is not a Pollyanna who does not see the flaws in our nation, but he sees them with the outlook of someone who intimately knows another culture and can put those flaws in perspective. His view is the same as Ken Hamblin's, a black conservative who liberals like Ayers would say should, like D'Souza, be "disenfranchised" due to the color of their skin, in his book "Pick A Better Country". The perspective of both of these men is that while America is not without faults, it has many redeeming characteristics and on balance you cannot point to another nation in the world that has done more for the progress of man and the welfare of its citizens than the good old USA.
D'Souza explained that people around the world are aware of America's flaws, but they are also aware of the flaws of their countries, and choose to emigrate none the less. If this were not the case, why would we be having the problem with illegal immigration that we do. D'Souza offered the experience of a friend of his, also from India, who has been trying for years to get a visa to come here without success. When asked why he wants so badly to come to America, his friend explains that he wants to live in a country where the poor people are fat.
D'Souza went on to say that what is important is not comparing America to some dream utopia but rather to what other nations have achieved. A quick glance at the 20th Century will demonstrate that the Left has always endeavored to create heaven on earth, and all they have accomplished is killing millions of people who supposedly stood in their way. Their planned economies always fail because the economy is simply too big and too many decisions need to be made to be managed by central planners. On top of that, without the market to adjust prices and thus supply, they are working in the dark. Hence factories of shoes nobody wants and long lines to get the things they do.
There is simply no question that America and the capitalist system have done more to raise the living standards of its citizens in particular, and for the entire world in general, than any other nation in history. In fact, if one looks at the 80's, to which the Left refers as the "decade of greed", it was not just the so-called wealthy, but everyone who benefited. And that is the point. Instead of coveting their neighbors' goods, people should be focusing on whether or not they are better off than they were in the past, and the answer is "yes".
Ayers, appearing in his signature "I don't care what you think" t-shirt, over which he had put a rumpled jacket for this appearance at prestigious Dartmouth College, looked and sounded tired and angry, perhaps being tired from being angry for so many years. D'Souza, on the other hand, was neatly attired in a coat and tie, and was full of energy and enthusiasm. In his opening statement Ayers droned on endlessly, repeating a litany of worn-out anti-American complaints ranging from Europeans purposely bringing disease to kill the natives, to slavery and the racism that he assumes motivates all white people, to global warming that has brought disastrous "climate change" to his home town of Chicago. He was careful not to use the term "global warming" because with the current arctic weather we are experiencing would have revealed his ideological rather than factual orientation.
Listening to his pedantic anti-capitalist rant I tried to imagine what it must be like to be one of his students. I could barely bring myself to listen to his diatribe, because besides being nothing but Leftist clichés, it was coupled with the pompous arrogance of a man who knew he was unassailable in his ivory tower position at the University of Illinois.
Just as in the 1960's, Ayers offered no constructive solutions to any of the supposed problems he decried. His message was more veiled than in the past, but it was still "down with the system", not "how can we improve the system". His actions speak volumes - exactly how was bombing those buildings supposed to improve our country?
Ayers did explain a little about his philosophy of education, which included a nod to the Socratic teaching method, and to students learning to think for themselves. But this was smoke and mirrors, and the reality of his "philosophy" was evident when he twice posed more or less rhetorical questions to the audience of mostly students, and met their lack of enthusiastic response with condescension and derision. Similarly, when the moderator informed him, as is protocol in a debate, that he has two minutes remaining, he said, "Well then, I'll just take three" and proceeded to unapologetically exceed his time limit.
The reality is that there is no Socratic method in Ayer's classroom. Students are not presented two sides of an issue and encouraged to examine, compare, and contrast various solutions. Students are presented ideas like interspecies evolution and man-made "global warming" as facts rather than as constructs about which many respected people differ. Ayers' attitude was clear - I am right, and if you don't agree, you are wrong. Fifty years ago, he would have added, to paraphrase Jeff Dunham's "Achmed the Dead Terrorist", "And I'll blow you up".
So what does all of this have to do with Catholic education? As you know, last week was Catholic Schools Week, and the fact that people like Bill Ayers are not relegated to the dust bin of history along with their failed ideas has everything to do with the importance of a good education, particularly an early one. True Catholic education is about more than just education; it is about formation or catechesis, helping each person to know and love Jesus Christ, inviting deeper intimacy and communion with Him in and through the Catholic Church, in the words of the NCEA.
This is where Catholic education diverges from secular education, of which Ayers is an unfortunate example. To understand the basic problem with secular education, we simply have to realize that intellect, the faculty of thought, signifies the higher, spiritual, cognitive power of the soul, which may be defined as the ultimate internal principle by which we think, feel, and will, and by which our bodies are animated. It is our essence; it is us. We are made in God's image, and our souls long to be united with Him. As the psalmist says in Psalm 63:1, "You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water."
The process that occurs as a child develops is reminiscent of what is called "imprinting" in the animal world. The classic example is ducklings or goslings that, when taken from their mothers, look around and "imprint" on whatever seems to be acting in that capacity, which is often the human being that is feeding them. So, you see pictures of the little birds following their human "mother" around the barnyard.
A child's soul is looking for God, and it is our duty as parents to ensure that it finds Him, which is the mission of catechesis. As the Catholic Encyclopedia says, "The teacher should endeavor to influence the child's heart and will, and not be content with putting a certain amount of religious knowledge into its head; for, as Aristotle would say, the end of catechizing is not knowledge, but practice. Knowledge, indeed, there must be, and the more of it the better in this age of widespread secular education; but the knowledge must lead to action."
What is critically to the point is that people like Bill Ayers, the US Department of Education, and various teachers' unions are well aware of this fact, too. They know that whatever they implant in their student's heads will ultimately lead to action, and this action will determine the future of our nation. This is why there is such resistance to voucher systems, tax breaks for educational expenses of a Catholic school, and to home schooling. The secular equivalent of catechesis is indoctrination to the "values" of the State. The child will be formed; the question is whether he will be formed or malformed.
Education without catechesis reminds me of my dear departed mother who learned to drive, but never learned to parallel park. I can remember in the days before big Walmart shopping centers sitting next to her as she drove repeatedly around the block waiting for someone in an end spot to leave so she could slip the car in. She could drive, but her knowledge was incomplete.
Our secular schools are turning out children who have no moral compass save for the leftist ideology imprinted in them by teachers like Bill Ayers. They are lacking the intellectual skills they need to be able to discern where the truth really lies, as well as any moral foundation to weigh the arguments, so they are prisoners of ideas that have no basis in fact other than to be politically correct. They are sad examples of what are currently known as "low-information voters". Our culture correctly identifies education as crucial in developing responsible citizens; it just doesn't know how to go about it. Catholic education does.
Dr. Frederick Liewehr is an endodontist who teaches and works in private practice. He converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in 1983, having been drawn ineluctably to Christ's Church by the light of Truth. He is a member of St. Benedict parish in Richmond, a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus and a Cooperator of Opus Dei.
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