Catholic schools uniquely contribute to a better society

The new year has begun as families are settling into post-holiday routines and children return to school.

For Michigan families with children in Catholic schools, January also marks the celebration of Catholic Schools Week. The annual event, observed this year from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, highlights the unique contributions of Catholic schools. The theme for 2016 is “Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.” Each day of this special week highlights the value of Catholic education — for students, the parish, the community and the nation.

This year, while celebrating Catholic Schools Week, there is also an opportunity to reflect upon a vital education document in the Catholic Church, Gravissimum Educationis (also known as the Declaration on Christian Education). Last October marked the 50th anniversary of the document, which provided an outline of the value and purpose of Catholic education. Much has changed about education since 1965, especially with new technologies that allow knowledge to be easily accessed and shared. Yet the purpose of education, and specifically Catholic education, remains the same.

All education should be oriented toward helping students grow academically and socially, regardless of their background, family income, geographical location, race or gender. Catholic education, as outlined in the document, has an additional purpose of helping students become more aware of the gift of faith and teaching them to serve God with their lives.

The Church, specifically, is called to inspire the spirit of Christ in all students and to build a world that is more human. In an address to the American bishops in November, the papal representative to the United States, Archbishop Carl Vigano, called Catholic schools “an essential means for the Gospel message to be woven into the very fabric of our people’s existence.”

Catholic school students learn to apply their knowledge to the world around them. They are learning to view others in the community as brothers and sisters in the greater human family. And they are learning to become involved in public dialogue and promotion of the common good.

The Michigan Catholic Conference, as the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan, supports policies that allow parents educational options for their children and allow all Michigan’s children access to a quality education. One such measure became law last month when Congress replaced the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. The new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, directs federal education aid in an equitable way toward all students in need, regardless of the type of school they attend. This act improves the consultation requirements between public and private schools regarding the use of federal funds and other conditions connected with providing educational services and benefits for students and teachers in religious, private, and independent schools.

Likewise, MCC will continue to call for school choice options for all families and for the elimination of discriminatory language in the state constitution against non-public schools. As Michigan is surrounded by states that allow and promote greater educational opportunities, it lags behind every one of them in educational achievement. Michigan must adopt 21st century education policies if it hopes to compete economically.

With Catholic Schools Week drawing nearer, let the celebration be more than a blur of school uniforms and activities. Instead, let us take the time to recognize the contributions of Catholic schools to the community as Gravissimum Educationis outlined, especially as a place that helps families find “identity, meaning, and nourishment in a new world” (Vigano).

Paul A. Long is president and CEO of the Michigan Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.