One of the fundamental characteristics of our humanity is the need to discern meaning within our experience. That meaning, however tentative, once embraced, seeks expression in such a way that it becomes accessible to others. Critical, then, are the choices that we make around the language we will employ to convey the significance of our experience. As our understanding of our experience changes, it becomes necessary to find other, if not new, ways to express our understanding.
For Catholic educators in Ontario, the introduction of the Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations by the Institute for Catholic Education represents such a linguistic shift. As such, it is the purpose of this document to provide Catholic educators with tools by which the connections between these Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations and the curricula might be more easily realized. Curricula, in this sense, includes not only the subject specific learning activities in the classroom but all activities in the life of a Catholic school community. In our present Ontario context, such a spanning of this divide will give clearer voice to the genuine distinctiveness that is Catholic education.
For Roman Catholics, the core of life's meaning, and therefore the heart of Catholic education, is always to be found in the relationship between our lived experience and the Paschal Mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ. The milieu of our faith experience, however, has been ever changing. In the twentieth century, the Second Vatican Council marked a series of historic moments in the life of our Church. Our collective experience of the profound changes in our world compelled the Bishops of the Church to review our understanding of the relationship between the Church and the modern world. Indeed, the insights of the Council continue to guide us in the face of continuing and often dramatic changes. To suggest that the impact on Catholic education has been no less profound is an understatement. Within the experience of the post-Vatican II Church, Roman Catholics have witnessed a significant linguistic evolutionary process within a culture of continuous change. As the Bishops of Ontario have noted in their important pastoral letter This Moment of Promise (1989),
... although Catholic education must prepare students to live in this culture and to embrace all that is good in it, this effort should not be reduced simply to learning how to adapt to the world. While we are called to be constructive and creative in our contribution to society, we must also be critical of those aspects of our culture which are contrary to the values of our faith tradition. (p. 14)
The need to create a consensus around a Catholic language of education is critical to this effort (see essays in The Philosophy of Catholic Education, Caroline DiGiovanni (ed.), Novalis, 1991, especially contributions by Richard L. Laplante (The Catholic School: A Community with a Changing Language) and Larry Trafford (The Evolving Language of Catholic Schools: Its Relationship to the Catholic Community). Without such a common language, there is a risk that the goals of Catholic education will not be advanced, as they should. Again, as the Ontario Bishops have articulated:
Our students cannot do this alone. We cannot do this alone. We need to be members of a community, which encourages each person in the difficult task of living according to faith values, which are often at odds with the prevailing values of our society. Within a society, which is increasingly secular, there is more need than ever before for an educational community, which stakes its existence on the infinite promise which Jesus Christ, has offered through his death and resurrection. He came that we may have life and have it more abundantly. (p.16)
The Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations have come to occupy pride of place in the work to articulate our distinctive Catholic role and identity. The recent and ongoing creation and implementation of distinctively Catholic curriculum profiles proclaim the unique character of our schools. But herein lies another challenge. With the rapidity of curricular reforms, we must be certain that the manner in which we employ religious language is authentic both in terms of the accuracy with which the teaching of the Church is reflected as well as its pedagogical soundness. In terms of both, Catholic educators must have opportunities to develop for themselves a competent understanding of this new religious linguistic landscape as it points to the truths of our Catholic faith as these appropriat ely are integrated into all Catholic curricula. Herein again lies the purpose of this resource; to build a bridge, as it were, between the language of the Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations and all those curricular contexts, both inside and outside of the classroom, in which the employment of this language proclaims the distinctiveness of Catholic education.
Why Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations? (PDF
The dramatic announcement of the government of Premier William Davis in 1984 that it intended to extend provincial funding for Catholic schools to the end of grade 13 generally was received as good news. Two years later on June 24, 1986, Bill 30 was passed into law. When the cheering had subsided somewhat, it became clearer that, if not for the sake of the integrity of our Catholic schools, then as much to respond to those critical of the existence of two fully funded public school systems, Catholics had to, as it were, justify their educational existence. Beyond the constitutional arguments, most agreed that we had to be able to articulate and demonstrate the unique qualities of our Catholic school system. Discussions then became even more focused on what distinguished our schools from other publicly funded ones. To orchestrate these efforts, the Bishops of Ontario established the Institute for Catholic Education (I.C.E.)
. in 1986 with representatives from the associations of Catholic Bishops, teachers, trustees, parents and administrators.
But with a new government came further significant education reform initiatives. Transition Years, Grades 7, 8, and 9 made its impact in 1992, followed in February of 1993 by The Common Curriculum, Grades 1 - 9. As important as these measures may have been at the time, it was not until the government's creation in May of 1993 of a Royal Commission on Learning that the full extent of this reformist tide was beginning to be appreciated. The Commission released its findings, For the Love of Learning, in January 1995. Among its 167 recommendations was #23 - a call for the development of a set of "graduation outcomes" and "that they be subject and skill orientated". The glaring absence of any mention of values reinforced the impression that had already been created by their exclusion from The Common Curriculum. While the province began to reflect upon the broader implications of these initiatives, the Catholic community's collective response was to embrace The Catholic Common Curriculum (November, 1995) with its explicit inclusion of Catholic values. And while discussions around identifying Catholic graduate outcomes began, I.C.E. also facilitated the publication of two other seminal documents in 1996, Writing Curriculum for Catholic Schools - A Framework and Curriculum Matters - A Resource for Catholic Educators. The Catholic curriculum house was quickly and effectively assuming a new and more explicitly integrated order.
But the systemic reforms did not end there. Two elections later we moved from outcomes to expectations, a change in language that has proven to be more than symbolic of the changes in political regimes. The newly elected Harris government speedily proceeded with the largest overhaul of publicly funded education in the history of Ontario. A particularly acute shock to our collective system came with the arrival late in the summer of 1997 of new elementary curricular documents, the implementation of which was to begin that September. If the sheer breadth of those curricular reforms was not enough, Catholic school boards were faced with the additional task of integrating Catholic values into these initiatives. Needless to say, this challenge was embraced and efforts continue with the able assistance of teachers and administrators, particularly through the work of the three Ontario Catholic Curriculum Cooperatives, OECTA, and even some private publishers (e.g. Many Gifts by Gage).
In 1998, with educational reforms extending into the secondary level, the province, in response to demands by Catholic school boards, for the first time provided funding to produce distinct curricula for Catholic secondary schools. As further guides to the development of this curricula and related resources, I.C.E. released Educating the Soul - Writing Curriculum For Catholic Secondary Schools and shortly thereafter the current version of the Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations. The result of an intense dialogue involving all of the partners in Catholic education, this guideline (along with the Catechism of the Catholic Church) exists to insure that Catholic school boards throughout the province assume a common starting point for the review, development and implementation of Catholic curricula.
With the ongoing demands of educational reform and the need to in-service a growing cohort of new teachers, the importance of finding meaningful opportunities to reflect upon these graduate expectations remains. Moreover, the sentiment expressed by some that these expectations are the concern of only secondary school teachers still must be addressed. School councils, in general, and parents, in particular, along with the clergy also must be given ongoing opportunities to become better acquainted with this vision for Catholic education. It is hoped that this resource will advance fu rther these considerations.
Why These Twelve Catholic Themes? (PDF
The rationale behind the selection of these particular twelve Catholic Themes is based on a number of considerations. Insofar as the majority of these Themes reflect the Catholic Church's social teaching, they present appropriate opportunities to link the Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations more authentically into the broader curricula. It is recognized that these Themes capture only in part the richness of the vision of the Catholic faith. They are expressions of social options derived from our Catholic tradition and rooted in the Gospel. They represent humanizing orientations that defend human dignity and the common good as we make choices in the social, economic, political and cultural milie u as well as in our familial and social relationships. Their selection also recognizes that many of the other critical aspects of this vision are addressed in the religious education curriculum (e.g. redemption, incarnation, conversion, grace, church, forgiveness and eternal life).
Why Anchor Concepts? (PDF
Units of study are useful organizers for the Ministry-mandated learning expectations. Whether an individual unit is built around a central Theme, a specific topic, an issue, problem or a particular genre (such as in a novel study), at the heart of each unit will be some conceptual frame of reference. This is what we will call an Anchor Concept. It can be used to focus subject integrity from a Catholic perspective. The set of twenty-one Anchor Concepts provided in this resource is one other possible entry point for classroom, school and system plann ing. This list of Anchor Concepts for unit design is rooted in the Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations, and thus lies at the heart of the vision for students graduating from Catholic schools. In addition, Anchor Concepts provide important links to the twelve Catholic Themes in this resource, which express key aspects of the overall vision of the Catholic faith. Anchor Concepts for some teachers can serve as the conceptual link between this broader vision of the Catholic Church's faith, as expressed in Scripture and Tradition, and specific Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations.