Yesterday, I was blessed to be with the faculty of St. Joan of Arc school in Aberdeen, Maryland, which is beginning the new school year as one of the Archdiocese's new "STEM" schools. "STEM" refers to the model of curriculum for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The goal is to help the students learn the technical skills needed in an increasingly technological world. The principal asked me to lead the day of reflection, hoping to help us all focus on the continuing Catholic identity of the school, and the moral aspects of the use of these new technologies and learning. Questions of what we can do and what we should do, were heavy on their minds, and the day served to help us focus on the true purpose of Catholic education.
While I thought I had some good thoughts - which I intended to pepper with thoughts from the pope's talk to university professors at World Youth Day - I found that the Holy Father said it best. So I used his stuff, and peppered it with my own contextualization for the faculty there. Here's that part of the talk (my additions are in italics):
[W]here will young people encounter those reference points [i.e., of being "rooted and built-up in Christ and firm in the faith] in a society which is increasingly confused and unstable? At times one has the idea that the mission of a [teacher] nowadays is exclusively that of forming competent and efficient professionals capable of satisfying the demand for labor at any given time. One also hears it said that the only thing that matters at the present moment is pure technical ability. This sort of utilitarian approach to education is in fact becoming more widespread … promoted especially by sectors outside the [school]. [A few years ago, I attended an awards banquet for Baltimore County teachers that was intended to recognize the gifts and achievements of various teachers. One of our own teachers was receiving an award. As is usually the case, there were many politicians, both state and local, as well as those who aspired to be politicians like them. During their speeches and congratulatory addresses, they all spoke of the teachers’ good work of preparing effective and educated “contributors” to our economy – pointing often to education’s role in preparing productive members of society. I can recall even then being struck by the utilitarianism of their attitudes and feeling that it was not all that different than some communist manifestos. The students were not there, and it was just as well, since they were seen as mere “products” rather than persons of infinite worth and potential.] All the same, you who…now are members of the teaching staff, surely are looking for something more lofty and capable of embracing the full measure of what it is to be human. We know that when mere utility and pure pragmatism become the principal criteria, much is lost and the results can be tragic: from the abuses associated with a science which acknowledges no limits beyond itself, to the political totalitarianism which easily arises when one eliminates any higher reference than the mere calculus of power.In truth, [a school] has always been, and is always called to be, the “house” where one seeks the truth proper to the human person. The Gospel message perceives a rationality inherent in creation and considers man as a creature participating in, and capable of attaining to, an understanding of this rationality. [Education] thus embodies an ideal which must not be attenuated or compromised, whether by ideologies closed to reasoned dialogue [such as a fundamentalist view of religion] or by truckling to a purely utilitarian and economic conception which would view man solely as a consumer [as many in the public sector see education’s goal]. [In fact, this is precisely why the Church sees no problem with the task you are undertaking as a STEM school. The skills you teach and the knowledge you will impart are part of the adventure of discovering the greatness of God and His plan for us all. Rooted in faith, you participate in that plan and help your young students to embark on that adventure themselves.]Here we see the vital importance of your own mission. You yourselves have the honor and responsibility of transmitting the ideal of [education]: an ideal which you have received from your predecessors, many of whom were humble followers of the Gospel and, as such, became spiritual giants. [How many here went to Catholic schools at any point? Did you have the nuns? God bless the nuns (even the ones who kicked my butt!). They taught us reading, writing and arithmetic, science, social studies and history. Because of them, we know who Christopher Columbus was, how many meters in a kilometer, where India is, and what a schwa is (you do know what a schwa is, don’t you?). But also because of them, we know the seven sacraments, we know the story of Joan of Arc, we know about Moses and the burning bush, the Jesse Tree, rice bowls, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and, above all, who Jesus is.] We should feel ourselves their successors, in a time quite different from their own, yet one in which the essential human questions continue to challenge and stimulate us. With them, we realize that we are a link in that chain of men and women committed to teaching the faith and making it credible to human reason. And we do this not simply by our teaching, but by the way we live our faith and embody it, just as the Word took flesh and dwelt among us. Young people need authentic teachers: persons open to the fullness of truth in the various branches of knowledge, persons who listen to and experience in [their] own hearts that interdisciplinary dialogue; persons who, above all, are convinced of our human capacity to advance along the path of truth. Youth is a privileged time for seeking and encountering truth. As Plato said: “Seek truth while you are young, for if you do not, it will later escape your grasp” (Parmenides, 135d). This lofty aspiration is the most precious gift which you can give to your students, personally and by example. It is more important than mere technical know-how, or cold and purely functional data.[This quote has been all over Facebook on my teacher friends’ statuses] I urge you, then, never to lose that sense of enthusiasm and concern for truth. Always remember that teaching is not just about communicating content, but about forming young people. You need to understand and love them, to awaken their innate thirst for truth and their yearning for transcendence. Be for them a source of encouragement and strength.For this to happen, we need to realize in the first place that the path to the fullness of truth calls for complete commitment: it is a path of understanding and love, of reason and faith. … If truth and goodness go together, so too do knowledge and love. This unity leads to consistency in life and thought, that ability to inspire demanded of every good educator.In the second place, we need to recognize that truth itself will always lie beyond our grasp. We can seek it and draw near to it, but we cannot completely possess it; or put better, truth possesses us and inspires us. [This is what we call the Spirit’s gift of wonder. Do you remember wonder? I pray that during this coming year you find the joy of rediscovering that wonder in the faces and hearts of your students.] In intellectual and educational activity the virtue of humility is also indispensable, since it protects us from the pride which bars the way to truth. We must not draw students to ourselves, but set them on the path toward the truth which we seek together. The Lord will help you in this, for he asks you to be plain and effective like salt, or like the lamp which quietly lights the room (cf. Mt 5:13). [So make prayer the center of your life and an essential part of your day.]All these things, finally, remind us to keep our gaze fixed on Christ, whose face radiates the Truth which enlightens us. Christ is also the Way which leads to lasting fulfillment; he walks constantly at our side and sustains us with his love. Rooted in him, you will prove good guides to our young people.
Science and faith, faith and reason, are not opposed to one another. Both faith and reason flow from the same Source. The path to Truth demands both.
Of course, not everyone feels that way ...