Written by James Gumataotao, Catholic Schools of Fairbanks

Growing up in a family of educators, I attended public school from Kindergarten through 5th grade. After 5th grade, my family chose to send me to Bishop Baumgartner Memorial Catholic School. Later, I would go on to attend Notre Dame High School Inc; and then attend the University of Portland. It was not until senior year of college, when applying to graduate programs, that I asked myself what was the value of a Catholic education?

Catholic Education in the Era of Pope Francis

As I reflected on my entire experience, from sixth grade to college, I realized that a good Catholic education offered more than just rigorous academics. Catholic education strives to educate the whole child enabling them to engage the world through eyes of faith. This goal is seen across the education pedagogy in our Catholic Schools today. In 2014, Pope Francis addressed the those attending the Plenary Session of the Congregation for Catholic Education, by saying:

“Catholic educational institutions offer everyone an education aimed at the integral development of the person that responds to the right of all people to have access to knowledge and understanding. But they are equally called to offer to all the Christian message — respecting fully the freedom of all and the proper methods of each specific scholastic environment — namely that Jesus Christ is the meaning of life, of the cosmos and of history.”

This echoing call for Catholic education is part of a new vision for the Church under the pontificate of Francis.

Theology of Encounter

Without question, the papacy of Francis is a new “springtime” for the Church. Wheels are turning in a new direction, this new direction allows the church to fully engage the world. Fully engaging the world requires that bishops/priest become pastors, transmitting an inclusive and holistic faith through meeting people where they are. In this era of Pope Francis, we are building a Church defends the right of all people to participate in the reign of God. What is the value of a Catholic Education?

So this begs the question, “How am I teaching my students to engage the world through eyes of faith?” This question constantly comes back to me. Three methods I have found are:

1. Dialogue

Looking at just the term “dialogue,” we notice a few things. Dialogue implies a relationship, as educators, we are no strangers to relationships. Emmanuel Levinas would agree that dialogue requires us to understand the other as wholly other without murdering them. We must understand our students not just as students, but humans who carry with them a unique perspective and story. So how do we engage dialogue in our classrooms and curriculum?

2. Culturally Responsive Assessment

Everything we do as teachers in the classroom is assessment or collecting data. Through being Culturally Responsive educators, we make an effort to understand the diversity of our students. As we attempt to understand the diversity of our students, we also begin to appreciate our students for who they truly are.

3. Kinship

Through building dialogue and being culturally responsive we lay a foundation for kinship. The idea of “kinship” can be seen as sharing of our common humanity. Seeing the other as kin we recognize them as human. In our constant collection of data, we must not forget that our students are not just sample numbers or measurements for growth. Our students are human beings, who carry their stories of burdens and triumphs every day into class. When we teach, the effectiveness of our teaching is influenced by many factors, some personal. Despite how hard we try, the reality is that we are affected. We must remember the same applies to our students.

How does dialogue, culturally responsive assessment, and kinship prepare our students to engage the world with eyes of faith? As teachers bear witness to our students of an inclusive world where people can express who they are and still belong. We help them to understand the importance of encountering people as they are. Pope Francis challenges us “to help others to realize that the only way is to learn how to encounter others with the right attitude, which is to accept and esteem them as companions along the way, without interior resistance. Better yet, it means learning to find Jesus in the faces of others, in their voices, in their pleas.”

Speaking of Catholic education, for insight into the Catholic curriculum standards, read our blog Understanding and Implementing the Catholic Curriculum Standards.


Contributing Author
James Paul Gumataotao, 22, is a current High School Theology teacher at the Catholic Schools of Fairbanks. A native son of Guam, he studied theology at the University of Portland, and is now an MAT candidate through the Pacific Alliance for Catholic Education.

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