Peter Jesserer Smith, writing for the National Catholic Register, reports that 100 out of 195 American dioceses have adopted the Common Core National standards for K-12 education in their Catholic schools. Debate over this most recent educationalist fad is heated, the division stark, and in essence revolves around a simple question: is the Catholic heritage in itself sufficient for educating our children in the modern world? 

The answer to this question often proceeds in typically modern fashion, by looking at the current society and planning education backwards in light of that “real world” that our children need to be prepared for. Not only is this method of answering the question not Catholic, as opponents of Common Core would argue, but it is also not actually realistic, humane, practical, or truly formative.

St. John Henry Newman would have us answer the question with a different method, one that is centered on the “real world” of the child, and his or her capacities as a human being made in the image and likeness of God. To reduce the “real world” to a socially engineered educational program based on the current make-up of society and politics ignores this deeper “real world” of children and humanity. It also fails by its own standards, since it is not in fact based in true reality. Ever since John Dewey championed this kind of educational thinking in the early 20th century, his system has been doomed to a fatal flaw: the current “real world” of society and politics is inherently unstable, constantly changing, and therefore a curriculum based on it will likewise become unstable, prey to fads and fashions, always shifting and never centered on anything of lasting value, and ultimately damaging to the young minds it claims to serve. 

Newman’s starting point is not “what is of practical value in today’s world,” but “what is true,” “what is good for the child’s mind, his or her human nature,” and “how can the child’s mind be opened to the beauty of God’s creation?”

In pursuing these questions, Newman lays out very important first principles in the Idea of a University, to which the reader is heartily commended. Here are some of his most important points relevant to this discussion of younger children:

  1. Knowledge is its own good. To seek knowledge is self-justifying, it is intrinsically good, and does not need some other value or practical application for its justification although these may arise in their turn.
  2. All knowledge is connected. Knowing about God’s good creation means understanding “facts and their relations.” To know one part of the created order leads one on to other parts, and to a bit of the whole. 
  3. Since God is the Supreme Being, All-good, All-knowing, Eternal, Perfect, Love, etc., study of God – Theology – is at the center, is the glue, of all knowledge. If knowledge of God is left out of a curriculum, all other disciplines of knowing, physics, history, math, poetry, etc., will be damaged and diminished. The Creator must be at the center of learning about his creation, and study of Him is essentially connected to study of everything else. Interestingly, Newman thinks this is true in a purely Natural sense, and that even secular schools should require Natural Theology, or at least study of Christian history. 
  4. The Catholic Church is the ultimate and sole authority of Catholic education; it is not sufficient for a Catholic school to only teach Catholic truth; but to truly be Catholic, a Catholic school must be actively guided by the living apostolic authority of the Church, and to let her spirit animate every part of what it does. (cf. Ex Corde Ecclesia, St. Pope John Paul II)
  5. Liberal education, by which Newman means “cultivation of mind” or acquiring a “philosophical habit of mind;” in other words, learning how to think, requires formation of the whole mind, not just parts of the mind that might be of pragmatic service to some temporal authority. This is why, for example, many even in the secular world are arguing that sciences and humanities should be valued equally.


This might seem like a tall order for our day. The solution is challenging, but in philosophical terms, simple: cultivate well-formed students with sharp minds, through the personal influence of well-formed instructors. Perhaps the Common Core or other systems for government standards seem attractive because we lack good examples of excellent instructors and engaged students, and out of a sense of hopelessness think we are better off having government machinery do the work for us. Big Government standards appear comprehensive on paper and feel easier, as if a lot of hard-work has already been done.

The real substance of education is much more challenging, and much better: a highly knowledgeable instructor, with an attentive eye, warm spirit and personal presence, holds a student accountable for attaining real knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. This personal cultivation of a “discipline of mind” is not only our Catholic heritage, but is also in tune with human nature, the family, and is far more practical—it is the only education that really works.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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About Cardinal John Henry Newman

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A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

Review by Serenheed James
(Antiphon, April 2023)

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Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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