Common Core is Terrible for our Republic

“Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. “

— Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (1931)

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In my two decades in education, I have heard many cockamamie ideas.  Recounting all of them would not only take more space than I have here, but would also cause you to think that I am exaggerating.  But trust me: however bad you think the Academic Left and the American Educracy are, they are worse.  Common Core is the culmination of many decades of work by people who have political agendas—not education—as their aim.

The origins of Common Core date to the early 1980s, when, in the first years of the newly-formed U.S. Department of Education, activists moved quickly to turn that agency into a vehicle for federal control over education.  Keep in mind that the federal government has no authority to be involved in education, in the first place.  And yet the Department of Education has spent $88 billion since its inception in 1979.

During that span, the effect of increased federal control has not been improved educational quality—in fact, if anything, the United States has regressed in all international metrics.  For those of us who understand the factors that must be present for excellent education—stable families, involved parents, well-educated teachers (that is, experts in their fields, not in pop-educational psychology), and curricula that have as their basis the foundational literature, documents, and ideas of civilization—we know why American education is declining.  By turning local control over to the federal behemoth, we have allowed our kids to be sacrificed at the altar of technocrats and relativists.

Unfortunately, some well-intentioned people find Common Core appealing because of the ostensible focus on improving education.  This was the aim, apparently, of a number of governors whose involvement in the early days of Common Core is cited by proponents as “evidence” that states’ rights are not being infringed.  If anything, that is evidence that more governors are products of an American educational system that values self-esteem and identity politics more than the substantive content that once was a hallmark of American schools.

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Others have been duped by the mantra that Common Core is not a curriculum but a set of standards.  Even some of my conservative friends have fallen for this twaddle.  They fail to realize two important facts.  First, for anyone who works in education, we know that “standards” beget curriculum, which in turn frames lesson plans.  The notion that the Common Core is merely standards, and therefore preserves state and local control, is utter nonsense.  Just talk to a local teacher or school district official to determine how little influence teachers and local districts have under this ruse.  Second, the architects of Common Core—the College Board, which stands to be enriched exponentially by its implementation; the Gates Foundation, which has poured $160 million into it; and the Chicago political machine that propelled an undistinguished state senator to the presidency—knew well that they could dupe the American populace with the standards vs. curriculum distinction, however artificial it is.

So let’s call a spade a spade: the aims of Common Core are to control, not educate; to increase federal influence, not to improve student achievement; and to advance a nefarious sociocultural agenda, not to preserve what has worked for millennia in education, the cultivation of all that is good, beautiful, and true.

So what can you do?

Start with your local school board.  Attend meetings.  Ask questions.  Cultivate friendships with board members who share your concerns, and educate those who turn a deaf ear to those concerns.  All across the country, where just a few, committed citizens have organized, they have won.  As frustrating as this project is, it is also a reminder that citizens still have power.

As St. John Paul the Great wrote in 1997, the American Founders “clearly understood that there could be no true freedom without moral responsibility and accountability, and no happiness without respect and support for the natural units or groupings through which people exist, develop and seek the higher purposes of life in concert with others.”  The irony, of course, is that if more citizens do not stand against Common Core in their locales, then the very means by which we transmit this understanding of freedom, responsibility, and limited power of the government will, in fact, be lost.

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Being “All in” for God and Country

When we hear the popular phrase “being all in,” many of us may think of popular culture—perhaps even card games.  But this past weekend, when Rick Santorum used the phrase at two special events for the College, he meant something far more important: “being all in” for God.

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This is a theme that I write about often.  I do so because what I see happening at Wyoming Catholic College reflects this mantra.  Whether exemplified by our completely integrated liberal arts program, by our ambitious leadership formation, or by the intensive preparation of our faculty for each class they teach, WCC has made “being all in” for God an institutional expectation.

We do so not only because it is inherently good to honor our Lord with such zeal, commitment, and excellence, but also because our culture needs it.  For that reason, a small college in Wyoming, through the daily example of its faculty, staff, and students, does, in fact, serve as a “city upon a hill” that inspires others to follow suit.  I know that Sen. Santorum concluded as much after spending the weekend with the extraordinary people of WCC.

But beyond what the College does every day, what can each of us, as faithful Americans, do to further the goal of “being all in” for God?  For some, so doing might involve becoming more active in their church parish.  Others may see an opportunity to assist a civic organization.  Some may be inspired to continue their education, whether formally or informally.  And yet others may do what many men and women have done, sacrificing some of their personal time and career plans to serve in public office.

Regardless of which specific steps we take, the point is to do just a little more.  This ironic pairing of supernatural zeal and practical incrementalism can, collectively, change the culture.  The key, as Sen. Santorum reminded us, is to avoid making the assumption that it’s someone else’s duty, as if God has not called each of us, to some degree or another, to share our unique gifts and interests for the sake of the common good.

And, if you’re like me, you’ll notice that participating lukewarmly only contributes to the problems we see around us.  “Being all in” is, therefore, a supernatural calling.

The Apostolate of Friendship

“Those well-timed words, whispered into the ear of your wavering friend; the helpful conversation that you managed to start at the right moment; the ready professional advice that improves his university work; the discreet indiscretion by which you open up unexpected horizons for his zeal. This all forms part of the ‘apostolate of friendship.’”

— St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way (#973)

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We Americans can make matters so complicated.  When contemplating our Christian duty to be “powerful proclaimers of a faith in things to be hoped for” (Lumen Gentium, #35), we often conclude that we must build or participate in some complex project of the New Evangelization.  In other words, we forget that our Christian duty to evangelize begins with those nearest us.

That is what St. Josemaría meant by the “apostolate of friendship.”

The good news is that practicing this ministry is simple.  In any workplace, even those that are extremely secular and even hostile to Christians, the savvy “apostle” can discover means of conversing and sharing informal time with colleagues.  With openness toward, and authenticity in, understanding our coworkers’ (or friends’ or family members’) worldview, frustrations, and goals, our apostolate of friendship can, over time, move closer to the Lord’s truth.

Put another way, if we are serious about participating in the New Evangelization, we ought not require a “Catholic litmus test” to begin conversations with others.  Through our supernatural joy—and, we hope, attendant grace from God—we ought to attract people of all walks of life to conversations with us.  It is this precise action that I am thinking of when I speak of “getting out the trenches” and “fighting the bunker mentality.”

Practicing this personal ministry will naturally lead to a growth in virtue, starting with ourselves.  In fact, the more time we can spend in contemplative study and prayer while performing our ministry of friendship, the better.

On the other hand, too often I hear people say that contemplation comes first—as if the goal of supernatural quietude were somehow incongruous with an active life of evangelization.  As Lumen Gentium states, the laity are called “to expend all their energy for the growth of the Church and its continuous sanctification, since this very energy is a gift of the Creator and a blessing of the Redeemer” (#33).

Let us not seek excuses for avoiding the heavy-lifting of attracting souls to Christ, for the culture will not change if we adopt a passive, “wait-and-see” attitude.  One friend—one soul—at a time, we can, in fact, refashion society into the image and likeness of Christ.

Fighting the Bunker Mentality

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The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times. Therefore every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of culture, or more correctly of cultures. They have to be regenerated by an encounter with the Gospel. But this encounter will not take place if the Gospel is not proclaimed.

— Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975)

You don’t have to be a pessimist to be gloomy about the state of modern culture.  Whether measured by statistics, such as the rapidly-declining marriage and birth rates, or by qualitative means, such as the depth of our friendships and civic involvement, even the eternal optimist can have fleeting moments of despair.  The danger is not so much in our outlook, but in the actions prompted by it—namely, whether we retreat into our homes, cutting off as much contact as possible with the world, or bravely engaging the culture, however wary we may be of its effects.

Being “in the world, but not of it” is, no doubt, a daily challenge.  And each of us, according to our family needs, vocational state, and professional avocation, must determine what that balance will be.  But I must say that we, the faithful, will never win a sufficient number of souls for the Kingdom if we adopt a “bunker mentality”—that is, drawing into ourselves, “circling the wagons,” and letting no one else know the truth, goodness, and beauty of God’s love.

In other words, removing ourselves from as much of the world is not living out our obligation to build civil society in God’s image.  So doing requires not only participating in, but engaging with, society in more than a superficial way.  We have little hope of victory in the “culture war” if we adopt a purely defensive position; the rapid increase in popularity of public policies based on a disordered understanding of natural law has as much to do with our silence and inaction as it does with the activism of the secular Left.

What, though, about families with young children?  Shouldn’t they remove themselves from society?  No!  While we can make our own homes quasi-monasteries, protected from the worst of television, the internet, and technology, we also need to teach our children how to engage the world without being duped by it.  Furthermore, the most powerful witness—even in modern society—is a joyful, enthusiastic, Christian family whose mere cheerful presence attracts others to God’s truth.  Let us not be afraid to be show our joy for His love!

Consider, for example, what Pope Paul VI said about this point in Evangelii Nuntiandi:

The Gospel, and therefore evangelization, are certainly not identical with culture, and they are independent in regard to all cultures. Nevertheless, the kingdom which the Gospel proclaims is lived by men who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the kingdom cannot avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures. Though independent of cultures, the Gospel and evangelization are not necessarily incompatible with them; rather they are capable of permeating them all without becoming subject to any one of them.

While I understand and even appreciate the impulse to retreat, we simply cannot.  As military history proves, bunkers work for only a short while.  The problem?  They eventually get overrun, for with their resources diminished, and their hope for victory dwindling, surrender is appealing.  In a social and cultural context, the “bunker mentality” may seem promising at first, but we’re witnessing the results of too many years’ of the right side being in retreat.

As I have said before—and intend to repeat often—let’s get out of the trenches and storm the fields for the Lord.  The other side never sleeps.

Discerning our Role

“We are only Christians if we encounter Christ, even if He does not reveal Himself to us as clearly and irresistibly as he did to Paul in making him the Apostle of the Gentiles. We can also encounter Christ in reading Holy Scripture, in prayer, and in the liturgical life of the Church – touch Christ’s heart and feel that Christ touches ours. And it is only in this personal relationship with Christ, in this meeting with the Risen One, that we are truly Christian.”

— Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

One of the pitfalls of following current events more closely is that we are tempted to devote our time and energy into too many causes.  We have no doubt witnessed others—if not guilty of it ourselves—fluttering frenetically from one cause to another.  Even with the best of intentions, this activism heals only our human impulse that action, whatever the form, will solve problems.

In fact, what must occur prior to our action is deep contemplation about our gifts, our limitations, and what God is calling us to do in our earthly life.  At its most fundamental level, this discernment concerns our vocational state.  Having been involved, in one way or another, with youth formation programs for more than two decades, I know that our culture presses young people for answers to subsequent questions before providing sufficient time (and, in Wyoming, we’d add space) for proper discernment.  The result is the aforementioned problem of equating any activism with solving cultural problems.

To combat this human, and distinctly modern and American impulse, we have to nurture a contemplative, discerning, interior life regularly—preferably, daily.  Otherwise, the “fire in the belly” that causes us to jump into the cause of the day will be easily extinguished.  Moreover, in the absence of prayerful discernment about what we ought to be doing, how can we be sure that we are engaged in the right activities and work?

For Christians, therefore, discerning our role—whether in the workplace or in the public square—begins with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Even for Roman Catholics, who enjoy the particular blessing of receiving our Lord, fully present, in the Holy Eucharist, our relationship with Him ought to be, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says, “Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience His closeness, His friendship, His love; only in this way does one learn to know Him ever more, and to love and follow Him ever more. May this happen to each one of us.”

This simple but often elusive relationship has an additional benefit: when we do discern what our calling is, we will be sustained, not only by our earthly relationships but also by our Lord Himself.  Given all the reasons and ways in which we can witness the Lord’s truth in the public square, we can use all the help we can get!

With these points in mind, be careful about a very different, but equally prevalent problem: perpetual discernment.  Just as we ought not jump from one activist cause to another, with no order or purpose, we ought not discern that our vocation is to discern forever.  The Lord needs us, and soon, to perform our role, whatever that may be.  If each of us does so, then the heavy lifting will be done by a crowd, rather than by a few.

As my students over the years could attest, I’m fond of saying that when it comes to discernment, make a decision.  That does, indeed, require contemplation, but you should be doing that anyway.  The Lord, after all, is waiting.  Listen, and then move forward.

The Public Square Needs You (Yes, YOU)

“Like it or not, American Catholics are part of a struggle over our country’s identity and future….We have obligations as believers.  We have duties as citizens.  We need to honor both, or we honor neither.”

— Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Render unto Caesar (2008), p.12

Were anyone to question that human beings have a fallen nature, merely observing modern American society would be sufficient evidence to remove any doubt.  And yet, to quote an oft-quoted 19th-century American president, the United States is “the last best hope on earth.”

Our nation will come closer to fulfilling that promise if, and only if, Christians unify their faith with their duties as citizens.  There have been many periods in American history when this fusion was particularly important, and this era is one of them.

Let us remember that American independence, and its subsequent fulfillment with the ratification of the Constitution in 1789, require a virtuous citizenry.  And virtuous citizens, in turn, are formed by an understanding that faith informs citizenship.

Russell Kirk, in his magisterial work The Conservative Mind (1953), reminds us of this fact: “Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.”

That reality, however, also means that citizenship can inform our faith—a fact lost on many modern Christians who have essentially given up on political and cultural action.  For the country, for our culture—and for the Church—this is a mistaken, if sometimes-understandable, conclusion.

Unwittingly, this attitude of apathy fuels the strategy of the secularists, who have steadily eroded the space in the public square formerly held by Catholics and other Christians.  As a result, contemporary public policies that violate our beliefs are not only the product of the secularists’ agenda, but of the inaction of so many lay people, whose involvement might just be the linchpin to securing a republic that is, indeed, “the last best hope.”

Let us, therefore, not be diviners of doom, but heralds of hope.  And let us ensure that our hopefulness is combined with real action, rather than mere words, that is rooted in our Christian duty to participate.

A Very Successful Pro-Marriage Picnic

In little Lander, Wyoming, with just a few days of planning, we had 330 people show up for a pro-marriage, pro-family picnic.  In a town of 7,000 people, that’s a pretty significant proportion of the populace.  I think this should prove that when right-minded people refuse to concede the public square to a vocal few, we can gain momentum on important issues.

Have you been reluctant to take action?  Act now, while you still can.

As the Fortnight for Freedom comes to a close, may the courage of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher be with us!

A New Battlefront against Religious Liberty?

“The whole fruit of their [educational] endeavors should consist in the testimony of God and a good conscience. Thus they will be inwardly calm and at peace and neither stirred by praise of flatterers nor stung by the follies of unlearned mockers of learning.”

— St. Thomas More (1518)

I suppose it’s fitting that at the beginning of the Fortnight for Freedom, we received news that the Obama Administration may deliver yet another blow to religious liberty and to the Catholic identity of hundreds of Catholic apostolates.  Last week, the president announced that he is preparing to sign an executive order that would require federal contractors to adhere to the notion that same-sex relationships have the same status as traditional marriages.

When most people read the phrase “federal contractors,” they think of businesses—and rightfully so.  And if this imminent policy were to be applied only to private businesses, then the repercussions would be bad enough.  The problem, however, is much worse, for the president has signaled his administration’s intent to define “federal contractors” in a manner that would also include Catholic dioceses and their ministries, most of whom receive the citizenry’s money, in the form of tax revenue, to address needs in their communities.  As we have seen regarding Catholic adoption agencies and hospitals, this level of imposition by the federal government has led to the closure of scores of effective, Christian ministries.

If that same trend continues, then the results will be catastrophic for the people whose lives are improved—even saved—by the involvement of Catholic ministries.  Undoubtedly, there will be considerable media coverage on those results, for even those outlets hostile to Christians will be unable to ignore the impact.

What has been largely overlooked—and what concerns me the most, for obvious reasons—is the potential impact on Catholic colleges, considering that almost every Catholic college in the country accepts federal funds through Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965.  If the administration decides to define those schools as “federal contractors,” then the impact will reverberate nationwide.

At my school, Wyoming Catholic College, we are monitoring this news very closely, as we approach our own decision later this year regarding Title IV funds.  For now, suffice to say that the proverbial writing on the wall is not good—for traditional marriage, for a proper understanding of the human person, for religious liberty, for a just government, and, potentially, for Catholic schools who have become addicted to federal funds.

Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, pray for us!

Celebrating the Feast Day of St. Josemaría

Today we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Josemaría Escrivá (1902-1975), who is widely admired as the patron of ordinary life.  Scores of Catholics–and Christians of denominational faiths–see the founder of Opus Dei as a reminder to live out our professional avocation first and foremost as Christians.

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Being involved with the formation of youth, I have found St. Josemariá’s writings to be extremely helpful in mentoring high school and college students, particularly in that phase of discernment which focuses on their Christian vocation.  Knowing that we can serve others, and build God’s Kingdom, in almost any avocational setting is a crucial step to uniting our will with the Lord’s.

In a workplace, St. Josemariá is a fitting patron, for his teaching poignantly–and sometimes, painfully–reminds us that by doing small tasks well, we prepare ourselves to perform larger duties well.  And among the possible “larger duties” are not just major projects at work, but supernatural callings that our Lord wants us to perform.

In short, by being heroic in our ordinary, even mundane, tasks, we can began to emulate, in our limited human way, the divine suffering our Savior on the Cross.  As St. Josemariá remarked in his 1967 homily “Passionately Loving the World,” our “Christian vocation consists in making heroic verse out of the prose of each day.”

May we, this day and every day, be inspired by this exhortation, for our work in this life–however seemingly large or small–can, indeed, impact the world.

 

What LIberty Really Means

Surely it is important for America that the moral truths which make freedom possible should be passed on to each new generation. Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.

— St. John Paul the Great, Homily in Baltimore (1995)

This week, Wyoming Catholic College initiated what will become a fixture in Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain West: our first “Liberty Lecture Series,” featuring engaging talks by our faculty on the subject of building a free and virtuous society.  We have committed to this project because we want to practice what we preach by getting out of the trenches, and “storming the field” for the Lord.

In other words, while all of us at WCC would be perfectly content to teach our classes, mentor our students, and hope for the best regarding the future of society, we know that the challenges of modern society demand an active discipleship.  Furthermore, with so many misguided explanations of liberty today—particularly in relation to public policy debates about the human person—it is imperative that the College do what it can to halt the advance of relativism’s battle line.  The secularists and relativists have certainly left their trenches.

The topics of the lectures are timely—and timeless.  Rooted in an ancient and Christian understanding of liberty, these talks reclaim “freedom” and “liberty” from those who equate them to autonomy, as if community, order, and responsibility were inconsequential.

This idea is at the forefront of my mind this week, as I am attending Acton University, a gathering of more than 1,000 religious, education, business, and political leaders from around the world.  In fact, the namesake of the Acton Institute—the 19th-century Catholic scholar of liberty, Lord Acton—provides a fitting summary for our Christian understanding of liberty, duty, and the state:

There is a wide divergence, an irreconcilable disagreement, between the political notions of the modern world and that which is essentially the system of the Catholic Church. It manifests itself particularly in their contradictory views of liberty, and of the functions of the civil power. The Catholic notion, defining liberty not as the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought, denies that general interests can supersede individual rights .… It is founded on the divine origin and nature of authority. According to the prevailing doctrine, which derives power from the people, and deposits it ultimately in their hands, the state is omnipotent over the individual, whose only remnant of freedom is then the participation in the exercise of supreme power; while the general will is binding on him. Christian liberty is lost where this system prevails.

Preventing the loss of Christian liberty is precisely what the College’s new Liberty Lecture Series is aimed at doing.  By ensconcing the College firmly in the public square of our state and region, we will increase the impact we are having on the culture—not just a century from now, but right now.  And by making video and audio recordings of the talks available to all our friends around the world, Wyoming Catholic College has, indeed, arrived at the step of changing the world, one soul at a time.

May we reinvigorate this Christian understanding of liberty in the public square before it’s too late.  Failing to do so will guarantee that we lose all our public policy battles, for each rests upon this disordered understanding of the human person and human freedom.