Since the Acton Institute’s work to build a free and virtuous society includes serving future religious and moral leaders, it makes sense to begin where these leaders are first formed in social and economic issues: high school.
Why Catholic high schools? Because they provide a starting point for broader educational work we plan to do with religious-based high schools.
Catholic schools are also of particular focus because they have shown an increasing trend toward secularization in recent decades. Having long set the benchmark for moral and academic formation as well as education in the classical liberal tradition, many schools now see a loss of traditional Catholic identity, a weakening of academic standards, and the support of views contrary to church teaching. It is no surprise that the majority of Catholic secondary students are taught to be suspicious of business and the free market.
To generate some positive momentum, we saw an obvious need for an ongoing, independent, and rigorous assessment of Catholic high schools in the U.S. —and Acton is well positioned to serve this need. Our staff of serious Catholic scholars with backgrounds of business, law, theology, philosophy, economics, ethics, history, and education is more than equipped to evaluate schools based on the church’s teaching.
By using the power of incentives and competition, the best schools are highlighted to inspire imitation and encouragement among all schools. By examining academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education, the Catholic High School Honor Roll (www.chshonor.org) calls on all Catholic schools to scrutinize themselves in relation to the church’s educational calling—and to other schools.
In turn, schools earning this recognition use the honor roll to tell the country that they excel at defying the trend. Since the program began in 2004, over 200 media stories—in major newspapers, magazines, and on TV and radio— have highlighted the fact that these schools have earned this distinction and are remaining faithful to their calling. Even more, schools use the honor roll to promote and strengthen themselves, all because the bar has been held high and they’re proud to have risen to the occasion.
By recognizing Catholic high schools excelling in their purpose and mission, the Acton Institute is planting a seed for broader work in secondary education —work that will encourage sound moral preparation for America’s youth and promote virtuous vocations in business, politics, and theology for years to come.
Kris Alan Mauren
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