From The Getting-Our-Asses-Kicked Department

The startup Minerva Project to me embodies everything that is wrong about the way the Church sees and does education. This is the kind of stuff we should be doing, not Silicon Valley startups. Catholic education is hopelessly wedded to conventional thinking–exactly the opposite of what we need, exactly the opposite of what the Gospel demands.

I strongly recommend that you read this story on Minerva by the excellent writer Graeme Wood.

I would highlight two points, resonant with themes well known to regular readers:

  • Minerva hopes to replace and redefine liberal-arts education, but actually provides no such thing. Its mandatory curriculum focuses on “ways of knowing”, and I have no doubt that it will be very effective in teaching them, but ways of knowing, necessary as they are, and as bad as current liberal arts curricula are at teaching them, are a how, and a liberal arts education is supposed to teach also the what–that is to say, what we traditionally mean by “liberal arts”: philosophy, and so on. Minerva will produce relentlessly talented but intellectually shallow technocrats. Can you imagine how much better a Catholic version of Minerva would be?
  • Minerva is thoroughly scientific, in both senses: both in the sense that it makes use of the latest science to define how it does things, and in the more important Baconian sense of relying on rigorous experimentation and iteration. This is the key mix, the powerful mix, the tremendous mix, the one that creates progress–the one that Silicon Valley understands deep within its bones, and the one that is completely ignored within the Church.

We invented the university. Education hasn’t been changing, and has been hopelessly conventional, for 100 years, without anybody noticing. It is an everlasting shame that we didn’t notice the outrage. But now, other people–people with tremendous resources, talent and ambition–have started noticing, and they are on the march. We need to get our stuff together, and pronto.


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  • More of the modern education approach. I agree, it will not work and it will be more detrimental than positive. There is nothing like good old fashion repetition.

    • Can’t tell if this comment is a joke or not…

      • No, no. I was not being sarcastic. All these new educational methods of somehow teaching intelligence instead of specifics don’t work. In my humble opinion.

        • claycosse

          I think we can all agree that kids need to both memorize their multiplication tables and learn to think critically. Let’s not let ourselves get forced into false choices. We’re Catholic–we embrace the “both/and”!

          • I can support that. 🙂

  • claycosse

    What should we do with this as Catholic lay people? I’m chairman of the advisory board for a small Catholic school in a poor neighborhood in south Dallas, but even I don’t know what I can do to affect wholesale change to Catholic education. We need some kind of a blueprint. Maybe prototype schools in every diocese? Or should the bishops recommend a return to Montessori education in grammar school and liberal arts education in high school? I don’t think the bishops really have the authority to tell the schools to do that. Is it consistent with subsidiarity?

    • Hi,

      Thank you very much for your comment. Yes, this is a key concern. I’m sorry that I couldn’t touch on it in this post, and you’re right that this is the part that actually matters.

      Yes, implementing Montessori for ages 3-12 (including CGS!), and doing a liberal arts program (suggestion here: but there are ) would be key steps. But more generally, a deep cultural awareness of the need for difference and, in particular, experimentation. The drive to try new things is at least as important as the things done. Do not conform yourselves to this age.

      W/r/t the bishops, I am sure they can at least *recommend* things. W/r/t their authority over schools, I don’t really know how that works. I think it depends from diocese to diocese and school to school (e.g. parish school vs religious order school, etc.). But already *talking about it* would be huge.

      Of course, one of these days, I’m gonna *start* a school…

  • BTP

    With what?

    Catholic education is provided for that sliver of the public who can afford to pay twice for it – once in property taxes and once in tuition. That leaves an awfully thin market to support this sort of innovation.

    To get such an environment of excellence, first we must kill the government monopoly on education – the provision of education. What do you suppose the odds are that American bishops would support such an idea?

    • Oh come on. There’s lots of stuff we can do in the meantime.

      • claycosse

        I think the point is well taken that Catholic education needs to be made more affordable/free in the poorer parts of town. At the school I serve at, I see the problem firsthand. Some parents can only afford to send one kid to Catholic school and they do. They make that heart wrenching decision. What we can do right now is that those of us from the “have” side of town need to provide for those on the “have not” side. That can be done and to a certain extent is being done. My parish has partnered up with a poorer parish and sends them cash every year. Also, the bishop’s new strategic plan is supposed to take donations from the have side for the have not side. These are things we can (and to some extent are) doing right now.

        • BTP

          I think those are positive steps. Still, in just the same way that small towns have only a few radio stations and big cities have lots of niche stations, the idea of creative education is going to be seriously hindered by the fact that around 88% of the entire market is served by the government schools.

          Put it this way: how much innovation would you expect if the government taxed you for the price of a car and delivered to everyone who asked for it a government-built car?

          That’s American education. To allow the room for innovation, we have to allow the demand for education to be realized — not stifled the way it is now.

  • mochalite

    Ha! Read this after commenting on your Forbes piece. Clearly, you’re saying the same thing … Knowledge without wisdom is mechanics, and Christians have a big reason to love Wisdom. We need to re-integrate the two!

  • Philemon

    I’vebeen thinking about this in the context of adult catechesis. I’m not sure how Minerva could be used for RCIA, but something Like what Khan Academy does certainly could. RCIA programs could focus on discipleship. Instruction received online could be top notch, meaning there would no longer be the excuse of “bad catechesis.”

    I wonder if it would work?