A friend – a professor at a leading Catholic university – was one of only two members of the faculty senate not to vote for adopting anti-racist measures to shape the school’s curriculum. The senate consists of thirty-two members.
These overwhelming numbers showcase the trend that has enveloped many Catholic universities and schools: promoting D.E.I. (diversity, equity, inclusion) and its more aggressive counterpart, anti-racism, have become the overarching goal of academic curricula.
In their most benign forms, D.E.I. curricula seek to introduce students to “diverse perspectives” by means of being “more inclusive” of “diverse authors.” “Diverse” and “inclusive” sound harmless, but are code words for authors who are racial or sexual minorities. Their perspectives are taught to increase empathy for these groups and, in some cases, to point students toward political action to benefit them, not only in secular politics but the Church.
The more contentious anti-racism pedagogy, as clearly explained, for example, in this frightening video from another leading Catholic university, “seeks to acknowledge and confront: The fundamentally racist underpinnings of our society and educational systems.” The narrator continues:
The necessary starting place in our thoughtful use of anti-racist pedagogy is a deep appreciation for how racism and white supremacy have informed and built all components of our social lives. From there we can turn to reckoning with this reality through deliberate action to dismantle racism in our institution and our classrooms.
As if these declarations have not wandered far enough afield from the essence of Catholic education, the video includes a slide: “Jesuit Values necessitate Anti-Racist Pedagogy.” (Emphasis in original.)
In truth, neither the thinly veiled political posturing of anti-racist pedagogy nor the gentler D.E.I. curricula that promote racial and sexual diversity measure up to Catholic curricula steeped in the liberal arts. In fact, if we wish to end racism – an authentic goal that all Catholics should support – the best way to do that is through traditional Catholic education.
For a liberal arts education to be effective, its overarching goal has to be transcendent rather than temporal. “Ending racism” or “promoting diversity” are temporal goals that reduce liberal arts education to vocational training, as in the teaching of a trade such as accounting or plumbing. Of course, trades have their place for individuals so inclined. But as ends in themselves, temporal goals for education close students off to the “big picture” that the liberal arts exist to convey.
Temporally driven curricula have another limitation: they turn teachers and students into navel gazers who subject the wisdom of the past – including revelation and Church teaching – to the Inquisitors of the Present who confirm their superiority by pronouncing anathema any former idea or practice in conflict with current orthodoxies. This approach not only eschews intellectual humility for a narcissistic Presentism, but, with the speed at which intellectual fashions change, sets students up to be rudderless in an ever-shifting world. As the saying goes, “One who marries the Zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) is soon to become a widow/widower.”
So lessons and books on temporal topics of any kind are not, and cannot be, ends in themselves. They are most effective when they are set within a broader, transcendent vision of God, Creation, and truth. Catholic education exists to convey this vision.
One of Vatican II’s most famous sentences declares that everything temporal takes its starting point and end from Christ, the eternal Word: “The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings.” (Gaudium et Spes 45) Catholic school curricula, therefore, also take shape from Christ. If we desire peace and justice, then our curricula and programming must be shaped by, and lead students to, the Prince of Peace who “loved justice and hated wickedness.” (Hebrews 1:9)
Whether we teach science, mathematics, history, languages, or literature, the particulars of each should have one eye on God from whom all these things come. Particular lessons on, say, World War I or botany can highlight the destructive nature of pride or the wonder of God’s creation. They should not be used to contradict Catholic teachings, as a determinist historicism or atheistic theory of evolution would.
The same goes for teaching about racism and the experiences of minority groups. These have their place along with other topics and should be chosen because they emanate from the Church’s teachings on God and the human person. Books should not be read merely because an author is a racial minority; students are keen to notice this and will belittle the book if they perceive it is being forced on them for ideological reasons.
Obviously, books should not contain graphic sexual content, and an author’s minority status cannot justify including such material in courses, especially secondary school courses – Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Beloved are the two most frequently chosen offenders here.
Lastly, Catholic curricula should never showcase authors who try to normalize abnormal sexual desires, such as James Baldwin, Alice Walker, and George M. Johnson. Catholic schools must present God’s plan for human sexuality while both identifying aberrations as sinful and teaching charity toward all those who struggle with irregular sexual desires.
If Catholic schools want to end racism and incorporate students of all backgrounds into their communities, they don’t need more diverse authors and perspectives. They need more theology faithful to the Magisterium, more sacramental opportunities, more prayer, more grace – this is the essence of Catholic education. For it is only Christ, and not any human creation or program, that can make all things new.