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Developing a Catholic pedagogy

Dr Lennox Bernard gestures during his keynote address. Photos: Elmo Griffith

The following is part one of Dr Lennox Bernard’s keynote address at this year’s CREDI Graduation ceremony on November 27 at the Our Lady of Fatima RC Church, Curepe.

I am pleased to speak with you for a short while on this important milestone as you continue to name your world and to autograph a positive path in your search for truth.

I congratulate you and I thank you for choosing CREDI, an institution geared not only to meet your demands in the realm of knowledge and skills but with an ethos that includes the values of love, respect, servant leadership, integrity, service, spirituality, family-centred, tolerance, dignity, social justice, ethical standards and community.

The title of my address is ‘Developing a Catholic pedagogy inclusive of diverse learning contexts’. I am sure it is clear to you what is ‘pedagogy’: it is the art and science of teaching children.

And the concept of diversity brings to the fore our multiculturalism, our varying social and economic statuses, how we learn, and of course, our religious differences in what is a pluralistic society.

It is never an easy task to navigate diversity and it is made more difficult when we fail to recognise that it exists, or we fail to deal with our difference. A sure measure of how we deal with diversity, is justice and fairness or equity.

As Catholic teachers, you must have reflected on the fact that we are losing Catholics to crime (including white-collar crime), violence, other serious crimes, minor infractions and to a growing lack of social graces.

Members of our flock represent a fair number of prisoners in all of our prisons including the remand yard and women’s prisons; Catholics live in many of our communities that have been unfairly referred to as ‘hot spot’ areas or ‘high risk’ communities.

Some of our male students have imbibed some negative value frames that include low self-esteem, learned helplessness, ambivalent self-regard, victimhood, hopelessness, anger, rage, impulsivity and lack of empathy. As passers-by, you would have observed students arriving or leaving Catholic schools or in our shopping areas displaying poor social graces.

On reflection, we need to question what has brought us to this point; beautiful babies that came to the church at baptism to experience the beginning of supernatural life; students who entered our schools, crucibles of learning, in a sharing of trust with a parent or parents, not only for the provision of knowledge and skills but the instilling of values and whenever possible to act on those values.

Our attendance at the sacrifice of weekend Holy Mass now stands at 14 per cent of the Catholic population (Catholic News’ Editorial, January 28, 2018,) and if we drill down, we may find that the majority of the 14 per cent comes from the 50-plus age cohort.

This is not meant to be a bashing exercise nor an exposé in doom and gloom. Our secondary schools continue to perform creditably and I congratulate the recent success of St Joseph’s Convent POS, as the top producer of scholarship winners and an interesting story coming out of Holy Cross College.

It is true to say that we are not, as in the past, the main provider of our academic elite but it is also true to say that almost 47 per cent of our primary schools are performing below the mean in the SEA and these schools are located mainly in depressed communities on the urban fringe, and in rural communities in the north-eastern and south-eastern educational districts.

Schools of special character

Some may argue that the problem starts with the parents. True, and therein lies some of the work of the Church in our parishes. But our mission requires us to engage in a shared responsibility in the growth and development of God’s children through schooling and education.

In the current scenario mentioned earlier, we need a charter for Catholic schools within the Archdiocese, with emphasis on a Catholic pedagogy, including of course, at the tertiary level, CREDI, with concomitant work in andragogy that is the art and science of facilitating learning in adults. Scant emphasis is placed on this feature in all our tertiary institutions and CREDI is poised to be a flagship institution in this regard.

Such a charter for Catholic schools, would seek to remove the ambiguity around mission and identity and provide our schools with a special character. There is dissonance between government and the Church and their expectations about this special character.

There is lack of clarity about our existing special character (if any) among our principals who incidentally should be our faith leaders at our schools. There is lack of clarity about the precise meaning of our special character that sets us apart from all the other educational institutions.

If you do not believe me ask the many parents who choose our institution as their first choice at the SEA, are their main reasons related to love of God, and love of our neighbours? Is it about the relationship of their young ones to the Divine? What features most— scholarships, academia?