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Catholic education stresses virtues

January 26, 2017
Most Reverend Salvatore J. Cordileone

In the United States many boys and girls enjoy basketball. No parent is surprised that when a child gets home from school and has done his homework, he wants to go out and shoot baskets in the backyard or the playground with his friend. The child can do this five days a week and never become bored. The thrill is in seeing improvement and being able to make shots that his friends cannot make.

Some children like practicing on piano, violin, or some other musical instrument. They will spend many hours a week practicing and trying to improve. They have a sense of what good, wonderful music sounds like and they strive at least to sound a bit like someone who is an excellent musician. Another example is a surgeon who takes great delight in each surgery because she wants to complete the surgery as perfectly as possible.

Whether young or old, people engaged in these or similar activities understand three basic things about human beings. First, they understand that any innocent activity that is fun, beautiful, helpful, good, educational, healthy, or praiseworthy helps a human being become more deeply human.

Yes, even playing basketball with others is a worthwhile activity, though not the only worthwhile activity, and a young student certainly should not spend too much time just playing basketball. Second, they understand what constitutes progress in these various activities. That is, they readily understand the difference between an excellent basketball player or violinist and one who does not move beyond the beginner level. And third, they know that practice makes perfect.

So even young people know three important things: that many activities are good in themselves, that some people are better at performing these activities than others, and that one improves by practicing a lot. Catholic schools apply these insights to learning in the classroom. A famous proverb for educators is: Repetition is the mother of all learning. The way to learn the times tables or correct spelling is to practice, in your mind and on paper, many times a week. The only way to learn to write well is to write a lot, hundreds of sentences a week.

Why is it, then, that so many children love practicing various sports but not practicing multiplication tables or writing? Of course, sports is enjoyable even at the most basic level of competence; it is much more difficult for a child to appreciate why mastery of mathematics and writing are important.

Catholic education stresses virtues. Any virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. One can only be disposed to do good things if one has lots of practice in doing good things.

Children in Catholic schools are trained to be well-disposed to do good things so their regular inclination is to do good things. For this reason Catholic schools emphasize good behavior in school, at home, or wherever one is, not merely in the classroom. In a Catholic school, the three most important virtues are faith, hope, and charity. These three theological virtues are invaluable because they help people get to heaven! Now that’s a valuable education!

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