Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Widening the Catholic educational tent



Synodality, we are told, supports authentic listening, opens exchange and builds co-responsibility in decision-making between providers and participants in Catholic services. All the documents that underpin the provision of Catholic schooling cite the value of genuinely collaborative outcomes (for example, ‘The Catholic school’).

In Australia this has been achieved at the expense of the Catholic principle of educating the poor by offering a choice-driven, fee-free school system. A major problem for the Australian body politic has been the development of a binary school system that separates the wealthy from the poor. Paradoxically, our state-aided Australian education system boasts the largest non-government school sector in the world: one which is responsible for embarrassingly class-differentiated results and unequal opportunities for many Australians.

This school system has obscured the fact that in a post-statist world, the major agency through which citizens are inducted into membership of society — through compulsory attendance at school — is now increasingly hived-off to a state-aided private sector, with diminishing resourcing of state schools. This accounts for Australia’s very long ‘tail’ in global school rankings, in which selective state and private schools top every table, and rural and remote schools cluster at the tail end (PISA, 2022). Critical in explaining this trajectory has been the co-option of the state as the major driver of public-service deregulation, school-marketisation and privatisation.

We might ask ourselves: Is there scope for Catholic involvement within the wider education policy discourse? To what extent might we publicly engage with the range of educational solutions beyond those that attract the attention of standard-bearers forced into taking sides in such an ideologically-contested policy site? How might Catholics and others of good will promote an authentically open and well-informed conversation on questions of educational justice? And how might such impulses support politically and ethically literate engagement in decision-making about school funding policy beyond toeing a positional-advantage line?

To what extent do we guard against too close a proximity to the ideological interests of those who have the ear of the neoliberal state, whether Liberal or, increasingly, Labor? How do we test for a clear commitment to Catholic Social Teaching and the seminal role it plays in enunciating the guiding principles of Catholic education, particularly in regard to it being offered, ‘first and foremost … to the poor’?

In other polities, Catholic educational administrators are exposed to a wide range of complex formative experiences that enable them to understand, discern and approach this policy minefield, critically-informed by the research of reputable scholars. At several Jesuit universities in North America and Europe, the public character of the Catholic school is at the forefront of leadership action and reflection.


'Our state-aided Australian education system boasts the largest non-government school sector in the world: one which is responsible for embarrassingly class-differentiated results and unequal opportunities for many Australians.'


In Britain, Europe, Canada and New Zealand, Catholic schools are 'integrated' into deregulated public systems. This locates them at the centre of policy discernment within a more ethically and politically egalitarian place from which to focus and exercise their responsibilities.

In recent years, several suggestions — attracting no discussion in Catholic educational circles other than blanket opposition — have been made to make Catholic schools more affordable and accessible. One was from George Berkeley, a former Director General of Education Queensland, in his review of the funding of ACT schools. 

The Berkeley Review recommended the ‘integration’ (in the style of New Zealand) of Catholic school provision, but it was defeated by an alliance of private school interests that maintains a stranglehold over school-funding decision-making in Catholic education. Former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh showed there were no constitutional obstacles to single-source disbursements of school-funding to bring transparency to the divisive state-aid debate, but her address was manifestly ignored. 

A major story recently addressed in the national media was about educational reform measures enacted by Catholic Education Canberra Goulburn, where their entire teaching workforce has been ‘retrained’ to teach by Direct Instruction, with a view to improving student outcomes.

Improving student outcomes is a commendable objective, and it feeds into Minister for Education Jason Clare’s intention to revamp every Australian teaching degree to ensure coherence between teacher training and job-readiness. Such a story would have passed muster had it not been for the ideological terms in which it was reported. And while a stemming of the high attrition rates of teachers within their first five years of educational service is laudable, there may be other reasons for this attrition.

The above article was soon followed by another championing a 'reading revolution,' and seemingly pursuing an agenda that distracts from more complex explanations for Australia’s poor reading results in comparative global school achievement tables.

This coverage firstly highlights the ABC’s biased understanding of what is happening in the early literacy area. Many factors contribute to some children’s poor reading results with inequality, lack of a home culture of reading and access to and ownership of books, etc. being major causes for the one in five who are living in poverty. Indeed to the experienced educator, the focus on phonics first and in isolation of a variety of factors linked with financial poverty and cultural deprivation is not new but this current iteration of a hackneyed debate is very damaging and has become so invasive as to impose a silencing effect on many teachers. I have written about these issues on a number of occasions over the years in several internationally-refereed journals.

The key factor that should attract the eye of the experienced educator is to scrutinise both articles for critical evidence of commonalties, such as who is driving the critique. In a highly contested research site, what ideological forces frame their politics?  What evidence is there of key aspects of critical moral and political literacy guiding teacher decision-makers? What policy-formative experiences on offer from Catholic and other universities, might they have? What engagement with Catholic Social Teaching?

As the above ABC news items suggest, a senior Catholic educator is now at the forefront of championing educational methods that are the legacy of years of marketisation, privatisation and neoliberal influence in educational provision without much evidence as to their widespread beneficial impact on educational performance in a socially and morally just society. Retraining teachers to teach by Direct Instruction privileges a method that is ideal for teaching technical aspects of the curriculum and which dismisses learner-centred pedagogy.

I know of no Catholic or other philosophy that proposes an exclusive recourse to such a didactic and teacher-centred approach. Indeed, such a policy risks jeopardising a fundamental Catholic precept about the professional autonomy  of the teacher in the classroom as well as a preferential option for the poor. And yet it has for several years offered the sole foundation on which Australian school reform has proceeded with the aim of achieving improvement in Australia’s global educational standing.

Meanwhile, more and more parents, following the logic of neoliberalism’s selfish impulse, withdraw their children from state schools and enrol them in the private sector. Any Catholic engagement with the public sector (which strenuously criticises the unfair advantage conferred on the private sector by its ability to attract both public and private funding) manifestly exerts a silencing effect on Catholic discussion.

One can but hope that our Synodal investment in the intervention of the Holy Spirit will raise our hearts and minds to a more inspired and altruistic understanding of what constitutes an authentic Catholic mission to educate all — and especially the poorest — Australians.




Michael Furtado studied Catholic Social Teaching at Oxford. As Education Officer (Social Justice, Brisbane Catholic Education) his focus was on the role of human rights in Catholic education. Michael’s doctorate in school-funding is from The University of Queensland.

Main image: (Getty images)

Topic tags: Michael Furtado, Education, Schools, Catholic, Training, Pedagogy



submit a comment

Existing comments

The education models of the last 50 years which have been adopted by most English-speaking democracies have, despite massive funding, seen standards decline alarmingly. Yet when one British teacher declared in 2011: "The system is broken because it keeps poor kids poor", she was sacked. After years of fighting activists and receiving vile abuse on social media, she opened up Michaela school. Michaela has almost no white and/or affluent children, most are poor and black, yet it is now ranked fifth in the country. 82 percent of its graduates go to universities like Oxford and Cambridge, and it is ranked "Outstanding" in all categories by Ofsted, the UK's federal school ranking body.
It was pleasing to read that "several Jesuit universities in North America and Europe" are being praised, because those in the USA perform abysmally when it comes to free speech. The 2024 ratings by F.I.R.E place Fordham and Georgetown at 244 and 245 respectively out of 250 rankings. John Henry Newman noted that the "enlargement" of the mind required "a comparison of ideas one with another", yet many universities have replaced open-minded learning with stultifying orthodoxy that benefits neither students nor society.

Ross Howard | 29 September 2023  
Show Responses

Thanks for replying. I invite readers of my article & your response to check out Michaela School UK on the internet to judge for themselves if you have addressed my concerns. Thanks

Michael Furtado | 29 September 2023  

Yes, Ross - ironic to see how the atrophying Comtean experiment of society's secularisation is producing a political orthodoxy every bit as extreme and restrictive as the excesses of the Inquisition.

John RD | 30 September 2023  

Always good to encounter John's forays into a vital foundation of Catholicism that is known for it 'stick-at-it-ness' than its 'critical' engagement with the world of ideas: the latter a Jesuit 'habitus' famed for its openness to debate as well as critical acceptance of those aspects of contemporary philosophy that help shed light on the still unfolding mysteries of the Universe and the gifts these potentially bestow on the complexity that is Catholic education, one corner of which my article seeks to explore for solutions that may unleash its enormous potential to address the plethora of challenges facing the People of God and how we might develop a conversation about solving them.

Incidentally, I am sure that John would know that, for all his mistakes Auguste Comte and his philosophy directly influenced the work of Wittgenstein, without whom there would be no Universal Doctrine of Human Rights, one of the pillars of the United Nations Organisation, commended for its foundation by no less a Pope than Pius XII who, in the aftermath of the horrors of WWII, and as presaged in 'Gaudium et Spes', set the pace for opening up the Church to an attitude that favours conversation over closure.

Michael Furtado | 02 October 2023  

I'd welcome, MF, a supporting reference to Comte's supposed influence on Wittgenstein and their contribution to the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" with which the name of neo-Thomist natural law philosopher Jacques Maritain is more commonly associated.
Also, it is Gottlob Frege whose conceptual realism is usually regarded as the most decisive influence on Wittgenstein's philosophical development. (Cf., Malcolm, N, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (2nd ed). Oxford University Press, 2001).

John RD | 03 October 2023  

In his post of October 3, JRD challenges my reading of the origins of Wittgenstein's positivist philosophy. Positivism has many streams, some of which are derived from the considerable earlier work of Comte.
While Maritain is undoubtedly the neo-Thomist most closely associated with a Catholic view of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, philosophy's schisms, in the last three centuries mainly associated with the differences between theists, now in the minority, and secularists, such as the logical postivist AJ Ayer, have effectively made the absolute disagreement and stand-off that JRD implies between Comte & the neo-Thomists an argument of the past.
For instance, the Aristotelian and implictly neo-Thomist philosopher, Martha Nussbaum is, as far as I am aware, of secularised Jewish background and works illustriously in the same field of jurisprudence that Aquinas made his similarly illustrious contributions in an earlier era in which there was no consciousness of or scientific explanation for the complexity of the still-unfolding cosmos.
Philosophy didn't expire with Maritain, with major contributions to it, both moral and political, made by scholars, Catholic and otherwise, who have bypassed the elderly and atrophying stand-offs that hallmark the traditional disagreements between philosophic atheism and Fortress Catholicism's Cold Warriors.

Michael Furtado | 05 October 2023  

Both Reimarz's exposition of the "new evangelization and the pontificate of Francis emphasize the indispensability of Christology - and not a version that presents Christ simply as an heroic philanthropic social justice advocate driven by an eschatology confined to this world only - in the presentation of the Good News.

John RD | 19 October 2023  

I fact-checked Ross' allegations against Fordham & Georgetown, where I once spent a wonderful sabbatical, and which offer a range of pre-service & in-service courses for teachers that immensely surpass in number & arguably in quality what our equivalent Australian Catholic universities offer.
FIRE, which stands for Foundation for Individual Rights & Expression, is an organisation at the possessive-individualist end of the US universities civil liberties spectrum. No Catholic university that I know of globally either teaches or endorses the philosophy of possessive individualism, as promoted by that maverick American possessive-individualist guru, Ayn Rand.
Understandably, some non-Catholic universities, unaccustomed as well as unaware of the limits to unbridled personal liberty (which has no place in Catholic Social Teaching) are parodied by FIRE for setting limits on extreme expressions of personal liberty on campus, and accordingly are ranked by FIRE as failing in their assumed responsibility to protect personal freedoms, which any literate reading of mainstream human rights deems 'fictitious' rather than 'authentic'.
While JRD supports Russ' false logic, JRD's own position similarly collapses into contradiction. My social responsibility position is consistent. Despite claiming Wittgenstein's imprimatur, JRD's persistent binarialism simply doesn't earn the endorsement of contemporary human rights philosophers like Gaita.

Michael Furtado | 09 October 2023  

politics, funding and teaching methodologies, important as they are, are ancillary to Catholic education's mission and raison d' etre of making Christ known and loved (or "evangelization", as formal ecclesial documents declare it).
Fr Jerry Golden SJ, former chaplain to Sydney and Melbourne Universities, when once asked to define the purpose of "Catholic education", replied in his succinct manner: "Developing the baptismal character of its recipients' souls."
Fr Golden understood that "character" to involve inherently relationship with Christ through prayer, scripture, sacraments, Church teaching and active participation in the service of others, especially the needy.
While the demographics of Catholic educational institutions, especially schools and university colleges have diversified significantly since Fr Golden's passing, his sacramental understanding of education still has radical relevance for the Catholic educational enterprise, for both the baptized and the unbaptized among us. He emphasized constantly the integration of the spiritual and practical in the process of education and living - hallmarks of the Jesuit tradition.

John RD | 29 September 2023  
Show Responses

I welcome John's reference to Jerry Golden, one in a long line of Jesuits who have gifted Catholic education globally with charisms much needed at the junctures in which Jesuits are called upon to comment.

As a beneficiary of a Jesuit education, both consolidating as well as open to change over five centuries while alive and still challenging in this one, I wholeheartedly endorse John's evocation of Golden's plea never to lose sight of the twin commitments to mission and evangelisation.

I am sure that John will recognise that mission, the rank opposite of maintenance, while relying on sound foundations, urges all and in particular those with the Jesuit brand of missionary zeal, to work critically alongside others from all quarters of research and the unveiling of new knowledge - a commitment to the scientific method, which Jesuits, above all Catholic others are so good at - in order to improve our understanding of the spiritual and practical in the process of education and living, both for the Baptised and un-Baptised.

Without this, for example, ES couldn't host a discussion on, say, Digital Technologies, which currently hallmark knowledge-transfer in Catholic schools, while religious formation becomes ignominiously assigned to the doldrums.

Michael Furtado | 02 October 2023  

Two brief responses, MF:
(i) "Twin" notwithstanding, why the distinction between "mission" and "evangelization"?
(ii) "Religious formation" involves the whole person and directly interpersonal means in its transmission, not only "knowledge-transfer", as is assumed in Digital Technologies, particularly AI.
Catholic schools are currently grappling with this - and will be, I imagine, for some time.

John RD | 03 October 2023  

The religious educators, Jim & Therese D'Orsa, answer your first question in their new book, 'New and the Old: Christian Communities Recontextualise Faith in a Change of Era', (Garrett Publishing, 2023) which while valuing the links between the two offers detailed aspects of the theological trends that distinguish them.
In sum, Missiology explores a catechesis that challenges your static view of Church, emphasising 'renewal' rather than 'maintenance' in particular regard to a dynamic and progressive promotion of Catholic Social Teaching in all aspects of ecclesiology, including catechesis.
Evangelisation focusses on conversion, in the main of non-Catholics, bringing them to a fruition of understanding the Catholic Faith as a logical extension and culmination of their faith journey.

I accept your definition of 'Religious Formation' as encompassing a journey that engages with the personal, interpersonal and 'structural' particularities of a complex entirety.
As to the impact of Digital technologies and especially Artificial Intelligence, I take issue with you about the degree of success with which Catholic educators are equipped to grapple with the hold they have over the curriculum and pedagogy of Catholic schools, where their 'instrumentalism' appears in many instances to undermine and replace the proclaimed values of the Catholic school.

Michael Furtado | 05 October 2023  

While there is evidence of Comte's influence in the early thinking on Wittgenstein, MF, his work after 1921's publication of his "Tractatus..." evidences a relinquishing of Comte's radically empiricist assumptions that underpin scientism (a phenomenon widely recognized as enjoying the status of a "weltanschauung" in the outlook of contemporary atheistic scientists such as Richard Dawkins), and the subsequent development in his own distinctive understanding of "language games" - disciplined analysis which values clarity and reveals close attention to linguistic context in the transmission of meaning: an intellectual preoccupation open to metaphysics that Comte, like you, no?, in the interests of 'progress', deems anachronistic.
Wittgenstein's 'language game' theory, particularly in the opportunities it offers for further exploring the relationship between theological language and ritual - especially in the context of liturgical celebration, the life-blood of ecclesial life and a living faith that recognizes the indispensability of the development of dogma in the Catholic Church's tradition.

John RD | 08 October 2023  

Thank you, Michael.

Staff in Catholic schools today, especially those founded by Religious Orders, are likely to be more familiar with the term now commonly used for "evangelization": "making Christ known and love", the latter making explicit relationship with Christ as foundational to Catholic life and formation.

This development has arisen partly to distinguish "evangelization" from understandings associated with Dr Billy Graham-like crusades, but more so to redress a growing trend to regard "social justice" - a prominent part of all Catholic school activities - as an alternative or substitute for sacramental participation, since sacraments are vital for the nourishment and sustaining of life in Christ initiated in baptism and expressed in "mission" (that can also include individual charisms) which proceeds from this relationship. Without mention of and grounding in Christ (Cf. Paul VI's seminal encyclical "Evangelii Nuntiandi" invoked by all of his papal successors since its release in 1975), even CST effectively becomes an exercise of social philanthropy in one or other of its secular forms.
I'd add, too, either term constitutes both challenge and opportunity in Catholic schools today far more diversified in clientele than when you and I, Michael, were privileged to attend them as students.

John RD | 09 October 2023  

'Evangelization focusses mainly on conversion, in the main of non-Catholics . . .' (MF, 5/10)

The "new evangelization" called for by Pope John II, is more extensive in its scope in that it expressly includes the need for renewal in nations and communities where the Gospel has long been planted but the harvest, once thriving, has waned.

Professor Richard Reimar's book "The New Evangelization" (Connor Court Publishing, 2012) offers a thorough exploration of the implications - challenges and constructive proposals - for Catholic schools today.

John RD | 12 October 2023  

Perchance you mean John-Paul II's encyclical, 'Redemptoris Missio' (1990)? It's more pertinent precursor, 'Evangelii Nuntiandi' (Paul VI, 1975) proclaims a dynamic Vatican II Catholic missiology that is built upon in the work of Pope Francis in his three encyclicals, 'Lumen fidei' (2013), 'Laudato si' (2015) and 'Fratelli Tutti' (2020).
All three encyclicals reflect change and development in Catholic theology with a particular emphasis on the sacral interconnectedness of all creation.
They also contain hitherto novel references to the work of evangelisation in the new papal context, in which we are promised an update on 'Laudato si', undoubtedly the most dynamic encyclical so far of the Franciscan papacy and which is expected to reflect changes in the Holy Father's own teaching as influenced by the work of synodality, which has preoccupied global Catholic attention over the last four years.
Rymarz's book, to which I think you allude, recognizes that Catholic schools need to reconfigure themselves to meet new challenges, can no longer rely on passive socialization as a primary means of catechesis, when religious beliefs and practises are increasing marginalized, and 'aint' a private concern. By emphasizing a reconceptualisation of religious education, Rymarz identifies significant challenges the New Evangelisation addresses.

Michael Furtado | 18 October 2023  

Some fair points - As we learnt from Gonski, an under representation of disadvantaged children in some schools produces an over representation in others. I agree that this leads to unequal opportunities as you suggest Michael. What also leads to unequal opportunities is dreadful reading instruction soaked in ideology and not evidence. I am familiar with the Canberra Goulburn approach and I think this article has characterised it unfairly.

Brendan | 01 October 2023  
Show Responses

Apologies, Brendan, if I've misled you. I like what Ross Fox offers: he breaks the cautious mould of the typical Catholic education leader.
That makes him vulnerable as well as inviting in the sense that he's hardly anonymous and offers scope for others to discuss his work and policy preference.
Ross' Centre for Independent Studies background concerns me: with people like Jennifer Buckingham shaping the ideological agenda there it makes him vulnerable.
Better that, though, than the stream of Labor apparatchiks who have hitherto controlled the Catholic Education's policy agenda, privileging funding consistency over all else and stifling RE debate, largely obliterated during the Pell years.
This greatly stymied the formation of good leadership by robbing it of a say in religion, which is the lifeblood of the Catholic school.
The consequence? A worrying shift to the other end of the ideological spectrum.
I took Ross on when he adopted the JFK mantra, borrowed from Ayn Rand and proudly trumpeted without evidence by CIS, that a 'rising tide lifts all boats'.
My 20-yr experience of working with schools in Western Queensland shows up the two ABC articles I cited as grossly unfair.
Proximity to the CBD unequivocally explains PISA results!

Michael Furtado | 03 October 2023  

I'm interested to learn more about the "fundamental Catholic precept about the professional autonomy of the teacher in the classroom".

Where can I find info about this Catholic precept?

Rita | 03 October 2023  
Show Responses

Try 'LAY CATHOLICS IN SCHOOLS: WITNESSES TO FAITH' (Rome, 1982). In Catholic professional circles this document comes under attack at both ends of the theological spectrum, which sometimes trend towards it being punitively used as a club to enforce compliance and conformity or to regard it as inconsequential rhetoric.

It is revealed in the professional autonomy of the principal, in those experienced in the living tradition of the religious institute founding the school and who have exposure and wisdom to assess the Christ-like vulnerabilities and forbearance it takes to serve in it.

Some insightful nuances, most of them indefinable, are to be glimpsed where least expected, in, say, the relationship of those on tuck-shop duty with the kids, the attitude of ancillary staff and, especially, in approaching the registrar or bursar, who must account for the inevitably challenging task of balancing the books and, tellingly, in the atmosphere of the staff-room.

You'll find tons speaking to 'professional autonomy' in the risk-taking teacher and 'lowly' teacher-aide, in hair let down at the staff 'do', in staff partners and in how kids treat one another, especially after school.

All such indicators indelibly constitute the bricolage of an otherwise hidden Catholic school curriculum.

Michael Furtado | 04 October 2023  

Thanks, Rita, for your question. The answer initially derives from the Roman document, 'Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith' (1982, downloadable from the internet).
Since the Catholic school must secure the compliance of the teacher, this depends on the quality of school leadership. Such a thing influences the impact of the relationship between the Principal and the teacher in the classroom, since the effective transmission of the values of the school critically depends on the teacher. No principal can be ubiquitously present and monitoring in every situation and context in which learning takes place. Without such consciousness, the teacher is reduced to the status of an automaton.
Confidence is secured by the Principal attending to the provision of in-service opportunities to avail of frequent and regular 'formation' for all staff, since the role of a Catholic teacher is essentially ministerial.
Accordingly, the Principal allocates the professional responsibilities of the staff to a matter of establishing teacher professional competency, which is done through meeting the requirements of professional subject-based bodies.
Finally, the professional behaviour of teachers, both within and outside the classroom, is governed by a Code of Conduct, external to the school and determined by a Teacher Registration Board.

Michael Furtado | 05 October 2023  

"I know of no Catholic . . . philosophy that proposes an exclusive recourse to such a didactic and teacher-centred approach."
Well, I do , MF, and I'm surprised that you, a former Jesuit student, don't: that was the standard method of elementary school instruction in literacy favoured by Jesuits at least until the 1970s; one which is fast being reinstated in many schools in response to the demonstrated deficiencies of alternative experimental
Commitment to the poor and understanding of Catholic Social teaching which informs it are greatly enhanced by a competence in literacy that complements the various "Solidarity" opportunities and community service outreach in contemporary Catholic schools.

John RD | 15 October 2023  
Show Responses

I certainly agree that, until Vatican II, Jesuit institutions were bastions of privilege and of unjustly exclusive school practices obtaining at the time, in consequence of which the work of educational inclusion was conducted in the main by other religious institutes and diocesan school systems.

At the time one highly positive result of Vatican II and especially of the document, 'Justice in the World' (Synod of Bishops, 1971), itself co-authored by a Jesuit in keeping with the exhortations of his superior general, Pedro Arrupe, was to place 'justice' at the epicentre of the Church's priorities in every aspect of its evangelising mission, until then manifested in non-Jesuit Catholic schools' admission and other practices.

So prominent and obvious is this imperative that it hallmarks a major distinction between what Catholics and others mean when they refer to evangelisation, by which Protestants proclaim an exclusively personal salvation.

Regrettably, there appear still to be those, in the main locked into inequitable and unbudging modus operandi, that lay claim to an exclusive way of pursuing virtue and, especially, of how to achieve it in through an authentically Catholic curriculum and pedagogy.

I challenge you to produce evidence of Jesuit schools doing things your way.

Michael Furtado | 18 October 2023  

Some Jesuit schools, as Michael Furtado says, were "bastions of privilege" before Vatican II - Fr Arrupe, the Jesuit General, ordered the closure of some - but not all. And the synodal document "Justice in the World" of 1971 was indeed an important statement in calling for alignment between witness and credibility in the life of the Church and the integration of faith and justice (or "a faith that does justice" as the Jesuits proclaim now).

The bishops' document encourages an "educational method" (49) which accords with " evangelical principles of personal and social morality . . . expressed in the vital Christian witness of one's life."; and urges
"participation in vital contact with the reality of injustice." (53).

Jesuit educational institutions of my acquaintance in Australia and abroad have since structured such exposure and experience into their curricula. However, the challenge remains of connecting "Immersion" or "Solidarity" activities with regular sacramental life if the integration specified in the bishops' synodal document is to be realized and "justice" is to be promoted and understood within the context of the Church's broader teachings on "evangelization" which include the necessity of sacramental life.

Finally, the evidence MF seeks (18/10) is based mainly on discussions over recent years with teachers of literacy - experienced and beginners - in Jesuit primary, middle and senior schools in Victoria, Adelaide and New South Wales whose preferred method of teaching reading is phonetic and who value the explicit teaching of grammar, recognizing these methods as consistent with producing a central aim of the Jesuit "Ratio Studiorum": a discerning eloquence much needed in the tumultuous times when the Society of Jesus came into being and just as critical to the debates of our day - especially if "newspeak" and social media bytes are not to dominate public discourse and its outcomes.

John RD | 19 October 2023  
Show Responses

My own research & analysis would suggest that the real challenge is to extricate Jesuit schools & colleges from the vicelike grip held over them by those very cohorts whom the Society and its members have helped socialise and obtain entre to the professions and which attract the wealthiest and most status-hungry cache.

While the Society has initially succeeded in this aspect of its mission, it is arguably the case that the hold that grammar, especially that aspect of it which counters the parsing of inequality and palpably unjust structures of a deregulated global society and economy, that insufficiently accounts for the 'Men for Others' that is the proud mission of the Society.

As for the teaching of literacy, John should know that the most prominent literary scholar and critic in the UK and probably throughout the Anglosphere over the last half-century is Distinguished Professor and Catholic, Terry Eagleton, the one scholar to singularly break the hold that the two Amises had over English literary studies, exposing the moral insipidity of their writing and ideas as well as those of a host of others whom they influenced.

In my own lengthy and intense experience of Jesuit education across three continents I am critically aware, as many Jesuits are, of the allure that the privileged and elitist cache that Jesuits schools have in the eyes of the public.

One has only to consider where they are situated to realise that 'immersion and 'solidarity', still less 'awareness' and 'exposure', play a counter-productive role in proclaiming the Jesuit imperative to seek justice.
Major structural reforms such as locating Jesuit schools in low-SES areas simply haven't worked. They palpably thrive where there is conspicuous wealth!

Michael Furtado | 30 October 2023  

I regard your estimation of the influence of both Eagleton and the Amises (presumably Kingsley and Martin) on "the teaching of literacy" as more than a little exaggerated, MF. Nor do I share your sweeping dismissal, based their locations, of the counter-productivity of Jesuit schools' initiatives to engage staff, parents and students in the pursuit of justice.

John RD | 31 October 2023  

While clearly your opinion matters both to me as well as to the editors and readers of this journal, it constitutes no more than a claim in search of evidence as yet unavailable to any of us; whereas mine offers evidence of an imminent and illustrious Catholic literary scholar who overturned the entire canon of English Literary criticism to privilege an analysis that critiques postmodernism as well as nihilism, thereby exposing the hollowness at the heart of modern Eng Lit.

Eagleton commands an impressively well-informed and admiring literary audience globally; whereas your claim to information about the preferred method of teaching in Jesuit primary, middle and 'senior schools' in Australia, asserting that their preferred method of teaching reading is phonetic and who value the explicit teaching of grammar, is not one that I contest.

Phonetics plays a technical role in assisting inchoate readers with word recognition & rule-based sentence construction. That said, it happens that the Society focuses its efforts on the teaching of critical thinking throughout its post-primary pedagogy, which concentrates on the interrogation of the text in ways that I have already described and as first championed, among others, by the literary criticism of Eminent Professor Terry Eagleton.

Michael Furtado | 01 November 2023  

For "Eureka Street" readers interested in a well-written, informative picture of contemporary Catholic schooling, I strongly recommend the recently launched book of Bernadette Mercieca and Ann Rennie, "Witness Specialist, Moderator" (Mulgrave: Garratt Publishing, 2023) - a work that has the advantage of a dual authorship steeped in highly experienced and dedicated classroom practice and research, and motivated by an obvious and deep care for students, a love of the Catholic faith and a desire to share it with integrity and effectiveness in a world that poses challenges in some ways significantly different from those that confronted previous generations of Catholic schools and their staffs.

Both authors are particularly well-placed and qualified to articulate and assess, first-hand, contemporary schooling developments and needs; particularly in the critical areas of teacher-student relationship, teacher formation, and appropriate pedagogies and classroom resources and their role in the maintaining a living educational tradition.

While - most commendably - Mercieca's and Rennie's work does not side-step real issues, it stimulates reflection and points the way to constructive responses and initiatives.

John RD | 27 October 2023  

Let's listen to Eagleton himself, MF:

"Chaucer was a class traitor
Shakespeare hated the mob
Donne sold out a bit later
Sidney was a nob . . .
( from "The Ballad of English Literature").

Lines such as these do nothing to convey the impression of a disinterested scholar of judicious literary sensibility; let alone one deserving of unreserved kudos. Rather, they convey the crude political bias of a Marxist pamphleteer for whom literature (and art generally) is merely an instrument of class-dominated ideology.

Despite his disavowal of allegiance to "vulgar Marxism", in his "Ideology of the Aesthetic" (1990), a work replete with the neo-Marxist terminology of Gramsci, Adorno, Althusser, et al, Eagleton is still prone to bright red-mint sloganeering denunciations of ". . . a petty bourgeois liberal humanism, academically dispossessed and subordinated yet in intellectual terms increasingly hegemonic [which] occupied the bastions of reactionary criticism from within as a dissentient bloc."

'Old Marxist' hangover notwithstanding, Eagleton's hermeneutic shift signaled in his "Criticism and Ideology"(1976) marks a parting of the ways with Britain's 'Old Left' represented outstandingly by his earlier Marxist mentor, Raymond Williams, whose groundbreaking 1958 work, "Culture and Society: 1780-1950", the eminent literary critic Frank Kermode acclaimed as: "Of quite radical importance . . . mature seriousness and unflagging candour . . . magnificent."

Eagleton's 'graduation' by the 1970s into the developing Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School is manifest in the adoption by Eagleton turgid and rhetorically subversive prose style characteristic of its leading exponents; for instance, "Kant's Oedipal protectiveness towards the maternal body places the real reverently out of bounds, prohibiting the impious coupling of subject and object for which Hegel's dialectical programme will clamour." Whew!

Prolific Terry Eagleton may be in his output and lionised among the New Left. However, serious students, in my book, deserve more philosophically rigorous and cogent educational mentors.

John RD | 02 November 2023  
Show Responses

Your deconstruction of the development of literary theory is not as fool-proof as you would have us believe. The transition of Lit Crit, and indeed its response to new culture, was much more accretional than you aver and gloss over.

For instance, Richard Hoggart ('The Uses of Literacy', 1957) highlights the massive swing away from an attachment to a so-called canon.

('Cannons To Right of Them! Cannons to Left of Them! Volley & Thunder!' perennially insists John RD, as his underlying leit-motif in all his posts, doesn't he?)

Whereas the Jesuits, their colleges hopefully and certainly in my experience (St Xavier's Calcutta and Stonyhurst, Lancs) as well as Eureka Street are at the forefront of opening up the discourse so that the evolution, as much of literary criticism and its appreciation and application, keep pace with the development of culture as well as an alive theology, rather than in the atrophied and embattled world I maintain that you occupy and promote.

This exchange commenced with my criticism of a CEO Executive Director proudly claiming that he has actively intervened within his administrative domain to 'retrain' all 1500 teachers in his system to teach by Direct Instruction. I think that extreme.

Michael Furtado | 03 November 2023  

Unlike Terry Eagleton, Richard Hoggart, as his "Guardian " obituarist John Ezard notes, was "no ideologist" in his approach to literature and criticism. "The hallmark of his writing", says Ezard, was a sensitivity rare in English prose: an almost unfailingly respectful attention (or "reverence" as he sometimes put it) to the speech and writing of people in all walks of life, coupled with a poet's sense of the nuances of such language."

Hoggart was indeed committed to the recognition of working class contribution to British life and culture, especially the virtue he recognized as "fraternity." Birmingham University's Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, of which he was a founder and first director, adopted neo-Marxism only after his departure.

Under Hoggart's direction, while promoting new authors, the Centre pursued relatively traditional methods of literary criticism. Birmingham's Dr Kieren Connell and Prof Matthew Hilton say of Hoggart's departure: "A disconnect had developed between the project of cultural studies as Hoggart had originally conceived it and the direction of travel at the Centre. Younger generations . . ., formed in close proximity to the countercultures of the 1960s, turned to Marxist theory."

Enter Eagleton et al, New Left conduits and developers of the deconstructive educational methodologies already advanced in Germany, the United States and France - by now well established as "Critical Theory", characterized by the analysis of literature in terms of race, gender and class (and, more recently, climate) to ends of radical political, social, cultural and economic action.

An agenda now popularized as 'Woke' - and one, I imagine, unrecognizable to Richard Hoggart.

John RD | 04 November 2023  

The Centre produced many key studies and developed the literacy of prominent researchers and academics. JRD omits to mention its most illustrious administrator, Stuart Hall, who became the Centre's director (1968) and who developed his seminal Encoding/Decoding model of communication there. Of critical importance is the collective research that led to 'Policing the Crisis' (1978), a study of law'n'order campaigns that weaponised chronic anti-poverty street-protest as 'mugging'. Hall anticipated the shift from community policing to the punitive policies of the Thatcher-Reagon neoliberal 'reforms' of the 1980s.

In this exchange, JRD seems determined to blacken the character of Terry Eagleton, who has graced many a literary occasion at Blackfriars, Oxford in the 1970s and chaired by such eminenti as Herbert McCabe, Fergus Kerr & the illustrious former Dominican Master General Timothy Radcliffe, a great friend & colleague of Eagleton's and who never ceases to quote from Eagleton's keen application of Catholic social ethicism to the field of popular culture. e.g. Eagleton described the popular attack on feminism as lifted from the right-wing cultural idioms of Clint Eastwood.

In every socially and morally literate sense Eagleton is currently the main theorist plausibly critiquing the political conservatism inherent in JRD-style fundamentalism.

Michael Furtado | 05 November 2023  

Your highly personalized construction of my intent is mistaken, MF.
My purpose is to contest what I regard as your uncritical estimate of Critical Theory's
value to Catholic schooling and its mission to foster the knowledge and love of Christ which I regard as fundamental but not "fundamentalist" in its pejorative usage.

John RD | 06 November 2023  

You misread my use of the term 'fundamentalist', JRD, which has descriptive rather than pejorative significance, employed by leading theologians and moral philosophers, like Timothy Radcliffe OP, the former Master General of the Dominicans, who locates fundamentalism at the opposite end of the scale to holism.

Thus, a fundamentalist would cleave to one or other end of a scale that allows for many other positions. For example, when the late US Cardinal Bernardin, who shepherded the largest See in North America, cited Micah 6:8 ('Act justly, love tenderly & walk humbly with your God') in exhorting his flock to unite rather than bitterly divide on 'Left-activist/social justice' and 'Right-conservative/Pro-life' concerns - a disagreement that currently splits the American church, he, like Radcliffe, was proposing, as Micah did, that Christ's all-embracing Shroud is indivisible.

My theological position - no different to their's - is that, unlike you, the case I make in this correspondence relates to the importance of both charity AND justice in Catholic & especially Jesuit education.

On evidence the awareness-raising on show manifestly attests to widespread support for the awareness-raising model, while fee-structure & school-catchment realities suggest an insufficient attention to the social analysis of the Frankfurt School.

Michael Furtado | 12 November 2023  

Our faith is much more than a public confession. In the same way that you are right to remind me that Cardinal Bernardine was making an appeal for Christian Unity, might I do the same with you?

In an earlier exchange you alerted me, in my ignorance at the time, to the immense contemporary theological contributions of Ilia Delio.

Delio is currently the top-ranked theologian on the links between science & religion. She is the leading English-speaking Catholic expert on cosmogenesis and its development since the groundbreaking contribution of Teilhard de Chardin.

At the time that he wrote, & certainly throughout his lifetime, Teilhard, always a Jesuit, was the subject of extremely severe restrictions from the Vatican which, today as in the instance of many other scientists & philosophers, has apologised for the narrowness of the lens through which it once viewed his/their work.

While I consider and applaud your role in these columns as that of a Catholic, well-read in his theology and unquestionably loyal to the Catholic cause, the hallmark of your commentary is essentially apologetical, especially in terms of its insistence that the magisterium be obeyed.

Were that always to be the case where would we be?

Michael Furtado | 15 November 2023  

MF: The only definition of "fundamentalist" by Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP that I'm aware of is the following: "a closed, intolerant and violent way of reading the Scriptures." - Hardly a disinterested description, I'd suggest, when personally directed.
Further, while I appreciate Cardinal Bernadin's appeal for ecclesial unity, I fail to see how the image of "Christ's all-embracing Shroud" (or "seamless garment" as you've called it in previous posts) can helpfully be employed as a throw-over that obfuscates real divisions - ones which are deeper than ideological, as they pertain to faith itself and the truths to which it is oriented and connected, forming the basis of its public confession.

John RD | 13 November 2023  

Thank you, Michael.

"Obedience" in relation to the Christian faith, is, according to St Paul who speaks of "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1: 5), a real assent that acknowledges that the source of faith and discipleship is God, revealed in Christ. That to which faith responds is knowable doctrinally through the Holy Spirit's influence in Scripture and its interpretation and promulgation by the Church's Apostolic magisterium, along with the witness of the faithful in the living tradition of the "People of God" as articulated in Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.

I accept that actions speak louder than words, but not that words are dispensable in Christ's mission conferred on all the faithful in baptism; and that while our words cannot exhaust the mystery of God, they are able to lay hold sufficiently of
what has been revealed in creation and in the person of God's Word made flesh, Christ, to ensure that the affirmation of faith and the God to whom it responds is not unintelligible nor incommunicable.

In an address to teachers some years ago, Fr Peter Steele SJ, himself a teacher, posed for reflection the question: "What do you have to teach?", the focus of which turned his audience's attention to the importance of content and conviction and the grounds for both in the exercise of the teaching vocation.

When I reflect on my years as a teacher - particularly, but not exclusively in Religious Education lessons - the three main questions posed by students over courses were: "What do you believe? Why do you believe it? How do you live up to it?" - all personally searching, and ones that, taken together, assume a relationship between word and action. Ones, too, inviting to some extent apologetic responses, insofar as "apologetics" are a part of instruction and witness to faith and hope (see 1 Peter3: 15) - especially in times when misinformation is freely disseminated.

John RD | 17 November 2023  
Show Responses

Dear John

Thank you for your careful and detailed statement on what you regard as the apogee of Catholic doctrine in regard to Catholic education.

During the fortnight since ES decided to post your's of 17/XI and today, I have replied no less than three times to you, regarding this as both a matter of acknowledgment and topicality, as well as to avail of an opportunity afforded by the Moderator, presumably available to all our readership, and hopefully not precluding me, to respond to you.

Given the absence, so far, of a response from others I feel that I have tried my level best to defend a point of view, highlighted in the title of my article which, after all, points to the direction in which I would wish Catholic education to explore, including the formidable foundation that you are undoubtedly right to emphasize, and which I have consistently argued over many articles and posts in this august journal, may not generate the kind of initiatives that I see as beckoning after the lengthy and determined discussions and deliberations covered in the synodal process.

I hope you will not see my contribution as antithetical to your's if agreement is possible.

Michael Furtado | 02 December 2023