Vocation and Education

Glad I clicked on this article by Elizabeth Scalia at First Things.  (I almost never click on anything that doesn’t arrive whole and entire in my feed reader.  This one was worth it.)  She writes:

A sense of calling is an idea to which our children often lack an introduction. We tell students they can plot their futures based on test scores measuring information regurgitation; we have no means of measuring their imaginations or their dreams, yet is from these that their deepest and truest longings—and thus their vocations, the things they were born to do—are discovered.

Last year I tried discussing vocations with the fifth graders.  I began by asking, “What are you good at?  What do you love to do?”

My own children have a clear sense of these things by late-elementary school.  They know what they like — military history for that one, emergency medicine for the other.  Even younger, they know what they are like.  This one reads massive quanitities of everything, writes satire, and loves hard manual labor; that one has a talent for teaching and connecting with small children; this one wants to know how it works and then make her own; that one feels everything very, very deeply.

Those were the types of answers I expected from my 5th graders.  Instead, they produced a list of academic subjects and school sports.  They were a room full of people who like math and play soccer.  Very few had a hobby other than an organized sport or club; even fewer had an interest in a field of study beyond whatever passes for “social studies” or “language arts”. The idea that you might, say, love poetry and have developed a taste for this or that type of poem? Nope.

Their worlds, it seemed, were so narrow. No room in the schedule for finding out who they were and what they loved.

Sometimes I feel like the music instructor pushing the talented kid to attend a thousand workshops and camps, when I take parents aside and tell them that this son or daughter has a talent for theology, and needs to be given more instruction, above and beyond the regular parish offerings.

I tell my DRE that if we don’t offer a serious high school religious ed program, we are like a school praying for more pre-med students, but never offering high school biology.  Do we really want more priests and religious?  We have to give our students a chance to discover the depth and riches of an adult faith.  And then, if they are called, to fall in love.


8 thoughts on “Vocation and Education

  1. Some Catholic schools seem to do a fairly decent job of teaching the concepts of vocation vs. career vs. job. I wonder though if the predominance of lay people in the schools might be part of the reason it’s not consistent. It’s one of those feed loop problems. No vocational ed = fewer priests and monastics = insufficient voc ed.
    I’m speaking still of Catholic ed because in public education vocational education = FFA type classes.

    1. I imagine it is more a question of the focus of the school (or parish, for parish RE). Not that the presence of priests and religious isn’t important — it certainly is. But I think the overall priorities of the organization are the biggest thing. Does the school advertise itself as “high test scores and college acceptance rates”, or is it their mission about following Jesus and teaching students to know their faith and love God wholeheartedly?

      There are both kinds of schools. I think this post sums it up:



  2. “Do we really want more priests and religious?”

    I hit on this theme regularly although not always explicitly in my class.

    “We have to give our students a chance to discover the depth and riches of an adult faith.”

    Probably my #1 class goal.

  3. I think that religion should never be a marginal aspect of our interaction with children. It was in my family and it made me become an agnostic. The focus should be on living the faith and experiencing Jesus’ presence in our life.

    1. I have a similar story. I can remember in high school reading in the diocesan newspaper that the family was the “domestic church”. I was utterly puzzled by this.

      Years later, after Jon & I had since left and later returned to the Church, there was a very weird moment visiting my grandparents. They had said grace at dinner the first evening. In the kitchen the next day at lunch, Jon began to say grace before eating. “For pizza?” my grandparents said. They were completely surprised by this unusual person who gave thanks for *all* his food, not just the nice meals in the dining room.

      1. For pizza? I’ve seen that attitude and it makes me sad. Even my parents who wouldn’t be shocked at praying for pizza tended to limit prayer to mealtimes and bedtime and Mass. Learning how to pray throughout the day has been a challenge.

        On the other hand, my sister-in-law always says grace for the baby both before nursing and before spoon-feeding a baby in the high chair. I think that definitely sends the right message. I wish I were that thoughtful. I’m terrible at remembering to say grace before the kids eat if I’m not sitting down with them. And I never remember it if I’m eating standing up or on the go. But if I sit then I give thanks. Even for snacks.

        1. It never occurred to me to say grace before nursing the baby. Hehe. But a lovely idea. (Not something to scruple over though.)

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