Religious Identity & Culture
From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics. The inspiration of Jesus must be translated from the ideal into the real. The Gospel spirit should be evident in a Christian way of thought and life which permeates all facets of the educational climate
(Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 1988, n.25).
Jesus Christ is central to understanding Christianity. Catholic and ecumenical schools introduce students to a view of the world founded on scripture and the ongoing tradition of the Church and embedded in the religious identity and culture of the school. This worldview is expressed through its beliefs, values and practices, quality relationships, the aesthetic, social and physical environment and its organisational structures and procedures. These expressions are shaped and developed in such a way as to maximise their positive impact upon the religious and spiritual formation of all members in the school community. Knowledge and skills of staff and students in dance, drama, digital technologies, music and visual arts are utilised to effectively communicate and promote elements of the religious identity and culture of the school.
The school derives its identity and culture from its Catholic Christian character. The school is called to be a real and living expression of the Church’s pastoral mission in the world.
The complexity of the modern world makes it all the more necessary to increase awareness of the ecclesial identity of the Catholic school. It is from its Catholic identity that the school derives its original characteristics and its ‘structure’ as a Genuine instrument of the Church, a place of real and specific pastoral ministry
(The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, 1997, n.11).
Thus, a true test of the school’s authentic identity and culture is the extent to which the Church is present in the school and the school is present in the Church.
The curriculum (i.e. all the activities and experiences that promote students’ learning and development as whole persons) is also an expression of the school’s religious identity and culture. This is especially so in the ways in which areas of learning are presented and timetabled, classroom pedagogy is experienced, student engagement in learning is promoted, assessment and reporting processes occur and student wellbeing is nurtured.
The tone and tenor of a school’s religious identity and culture make a statement about what is important and valued in a particular community and what things are excluded or ignored. As Elliot Eisner (1994) has reminded us, the explicit or formal curriculum is a small part of what a school actually teaches. Revising the content of this explicit curriculum does nothing to address the implicit curriculum.
The implicit curriculum of the school is what it teaches because of the kind of place it is. And the school is that kind of place [because of] various approaches to teaching…the kind of reward system that it uses…the organizational structure it employs to sustain its existence…the physical characteristics of the school plant…the furniture it uses and the surroundings it creates. These characteristics constitute some of the dominant components of the school’s implicit curriculum. …These features are…intuitively recognized by parents, students, and teachers… because they are salient and pervasive features of schooling, what they teach may be among the most important lessons a child learns (p.36).
Catholic and ecumenical schools need also to be cognisant of what Eisner refers to as the null curriculum. What religious leaders and teachers choose to leave out of the school’s religious identity and culture is no less important than what they choose to include.
A Catholic perspective can be infused into all areas of learning to promote a school identity, which is informed by Catholic intellectual and aesthetic traditions. For example: aspects of Catholic social teaching make an important contribution to studies of business and economics; Catholic poets and writers can assist the study of literature; hymns and religious music can assist studies in music and performance; the sciences are informed by scripture and Church teaching, particularly in areas such as bioethics and the origins of the universe. Thus, all areas of learning contribute to the religious identity and culture of the school. It cannot be left to the classroom religion program to be the only learning area that contributes to the school’s religious identity and culture.
There are three elements of the religious identity and culture of the school. They have been identified as: developing the school’s ethos and charism; building authentic Christian community; and creating a sense of the sacred.