David Coleman on the Value of Religious Education
David Coleman on the Value of Religious EducationCrystal Barrick, Assistant Director, Communications
On March 28, David Coleman delivered a keynote address to more than 5,000 educators at the National Catholic Education Association’s annual conference. Coleman’s remarks focused on two themes: the unique value of religious education, and the College Board’s responsibility to ensure assessments deliver opportunity to all students.
“Education is a soul craft,” Coleman began. And religious education in particular, he continued, cultivates a set of values that can benefit all students. “I think religious schools have gifts to give and habits to instill that can help the broader public and the larger education system."
Below are five of those values, according to Coleman. (Remarks have been lightly edited and condensed.)
- Productive solitude: In our age, the technology of interruption has far outpaced the technology of concentration. And it's time to admit that being serious about academic and spiritual work requires being alone, and being productive alone.
- Reverent reading of shared texts: When facing a difficult and beautiful text, without submitting to it, without patiently allowing it to insist, without reading it with care again and again, I think you cannot read it. To read well is a kind of supplication. The ability to see the crafted thing is so beautiful that you experience text with reverence. As C.S. Lewis said, ‘In the face of the work of art, look and look again. See exactly what is there. Forget yourself. Get out of the way.’ And having a few shared texts in common, that everyone reads, allows us to have a dialogue together. I think that is worthwhile and is something we are increasingly losing.
- Restful excellence: Restful excellence is the conscious ability to balance education with life— to not only cultivate knowledge but to also experience resilience. The other extreme — frenzied excellence, when students fill their schedules doing many things but do not cultivate passion for one or two things — is not the answer to success at the college level and beyond. We should give students space to focus on sustained excellence, which allows them more time for family and faith and to enjoy life as a kid.
- Grace and gratitude: I was with admissions officers from elite schools from around the country, and they were lamenting the lack of gratitude in many students today. In the face of this trend, instilling in students a daily sense of gratitude — the grace to pause and be thankful — is a remarkably valuable gift that religious education can give to students.
- Dignity and pricelessness: Many forces in the world tell you we should only do things for the sake of other things, or when it counts for something. But the best of worldly success is a highly crafted, soulful self. Every great business, nonprofit, and institution has behind it a vision or a set of ideas; at their finest, great leaders understand what it means to be animated by something larger than themselves. Religious educators are engaged in the sacred crafting of this kind of character, of this kind of engagement — to serve something deeper. They are investing in the habits that not only make for success, but also for a life that is satisfying.
Coleman closed his remarks by discussing the College Board’s focused efforts to foster opportunity for all students. Watch the full keynote address online.