Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lisa Sotomayor and the Decline of Catholic Education

So, Lisa Sotomayor has never thought about the rights, if any, of an unborn baby. I believe her, even though she went to Cardinal Spellman High School. Such a change has occurred in Catholic education, in just a generation! When I was in high school, at a regular old diocesan school in a working class neighborhood, we studied concepts like natural law, proofs of God's existence, evolution, the soul and human nature, abortion and sexual ethics-- moral questions of all kinds. We did it in religion class, training our minds to work within the framework of Aquinas, which is really Aristotleianism. (Nowadays, Aristotle is that benighted old fool in the front of your glossy science textbook.) We actually thought about things, or at least learned how to think, and we did it in high school, and those who went on to college did it on an even more nuanced level. Or at least they did up till the sixties and seventies--I caught some wisps of the old-style education, enough to give me a taste of what I had missed. In The Closing of the American Mind, Allen Bloom praised Catholic universities for keeping the classic, Aristotleian methods alive. Of course, when he wrote, in 1987, the tradition had largely passed. I've always said I think I learned more in high school than I did in college (Thank you, Oblates of St. Francis de Sales!). At least, the foundations had been properly laid.

Further reading: James Burtchaell's The Dying of the Light, the individual histories of the devolution of Christian education at a number of famous and not-so-famous institutions.