In his latest column, Monsignor Owen Campion writes that history indicates that the law, the…
Catholic educators make plans to address racism in America
Some Catholic schools are amending their summer reading lists to include books on racism. Faculty and teachers have been brainstorming new lesson plans and curricula to reflect the contributions to American culture by African Americans.
“We are very grateful for all of the schools out there who are working hard to make sure that this topic is something that we don’t have to discuss 50 years from now,” said Kathy Mears, the interim president and CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association.
Mears addressed a virtual panel of Catholic educators on June 10 to discuss “the Catholic School Response to Systemic Racism,” a topic that has taken on new interest as protesters across the country take to the streets to demonstrate against police brutality and systemic racism.
During the online dialogue, hosted by the NCEA, Black Catholic teachers, guidance counselors, school principals and others shared their ideas about what their schools can do to create welcoming environments for minority students, fashion education to be racially conscious and for school administrative teams to reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of their student populations.
“Part of helping with Black Lives Matter means providing excellent schools, for all the students to know who they are, to know that they’re loved and they’re called to love and serve others, and to form wholeheartedly the hearts and minds of kids,” said Rodney Pierre-Antoine, the executive director of Lumen Christi Academies, a network of seven Catholic elementary schools in Oakland.
Pierre-Antoine told the panel that individual Catholic educators need to undergo a serious self-examination, recognizing their own intellectual blindspots, to effectively engage “the radical change in society and education that we’re talking about.”
“There are difficult conversations that need to be had not only at the classroom level or the school level, but also the institutional level,” said Pierte-Antone, who added that pedagogy — the method and style of teaching — will also need to be examined.
“It’s worth taking a look at the curriculum and asking: How culturally relevant is the literature that our kids are exposed to? How much do we focus on celebrating the identity of all within our programs?” Pierre-Antoine said.
Catholic bishops, scholars, pastors, ministry leaders, social service directors, university leaders and others over the past month have been issuing statements, celebrating special liturgies, leading processions and organizing various initiatives and dialogues centered on the institutional nature of racism in the United States and the related challenges of reforming institutions and culture. Those efforts were sparked as long-simmering frustrations with law enforcement boiled over when a white police officer in Milwaukee last month knelt on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody.
“Racism has been a part of the fabric of our America’s foundation,” Pierre-Antoine said.
The rising tide of anti-racism activism has spurred the NCEA — an organization that represents around 150,000 Catholic educators in the United States — to record podcasts and publish blog posts on addressing racism in an educational context. Mears said the NCEA is looking to also offer related professional development for Catholic school administrators and teachers.
“One thing I know we can do is we can talk to the bishops’ committee about the frameworks for the religion for Catholic high schools and talk about how racism is addressed in those,” Mears told the June 10 panel.
Brandi Odom Lucas, the principal of Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles, said during the virtual panel that Catholic school leaders who are serious about tackling racism need to analyze the population of students who are being disciplined, the underlying issues and if any particular teachers are sending minority students more often than their white peers to the principal’s office.
Taking a close look at any achievement disparities — “Who’s in AP classes? Who’s not in them? Who’s on the Honor Roll? Who’s not?” — is another important element of anti-racism reform, said Lucas, who also emphasized fostering open communication between students, teachers and administrators.
“How are faculty members talking about race? How are they engaging students about the topic of race? What is being omitted?” Lucas said.
Vincent Hale, a music and theater teacher at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in New York City, spoke about the importance “to step out of our comfort zone and to be able to welcome each other with joy and love and offer peace in finding solutions to the systemic things that are going on in our country.”
Hale, whose school is affiliated with the Partnership for Inner City Education, told the panel that his top goal as an arts educator is to bring his students’ lived experiences into the classroom.
“I believe students know way more than we give them credit for, and they also have a wealth of knowledge that they can share with others who possibly have a different lived experience,” Hale said.
Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.