For over 2000 years, the Catholic Church has proclaimed that every human person has inherent dignity and inestimable worth. Though one of the greatest gifts handed down to cultures and societies across history, this proclamation is perhaps the most audacious the Church announces in the modern world. Amidst the violence and chaos of the world, the Church consistently calls on each one of us to recognize and act in accordance with the dignity of each and every human being, from conception to natural death. Catholic school educators, regardless of the subject they teach, have a responsibility to inculcate this fundamental belief in their students.
There are two important dimensions required for a student to respond to this call: knowledge and will. A student must know that the dignity of a human person is due to his or her having both an origin and end in God. It also requires the formation of a person’s will (in Latin, voluntas) or a desire to act in accord with this understanding. Although the family is the first place where children learn about the sanctity of life, this education and formation necessarily, extends to the school. In Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II urges educators to fearlessly take up the work of promoting human dignity (cf. §88). This educational mandate is not simply the provenance of theology alone, but must be taken up by the entire school faculty and integrated across the academic disciplines.
In order to support Catholic educators in this vital work, Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame has collaborated with teachers, educational design experts, and content area experts to support this important work. Its Teaching Human Dignity series is a free, online collection of resources (e.g., units, lesson plans, videos, etc.) that promote the culture of life through education. It addresses life and human dignity issues as they organically occur within the secondary education curriculum. The philosophy guiding this initiative is simple: authentic, meaningful learning occurs when students have the opportunity to discover truth themselves. In other words, it is not enough to directly teach students that every human being possesses incomparable worth. Rather, the students must make sense of this themselves by engaging the complex concept of human dignity as it surfaces while studying social studies, science, language arts, and the other content areas. Doing so equips students with a deep appreciation and love for what the Church teaches as well as its implications for their own lives and the human family. In this way, students fully grasp the truth of human dignity at the level of understanding and will.
The task of teaching human dignity in the classroom may feel daunting—even more so if one’s disciplinary expertise is not in theology; and yet, as St. John Paul II reminds us it is the responsibility of educators to create the conditions for students to grow in knowledge, desire, and love of the good. The resources in the Teaching Human Dignity series, freely available online, are designed to support the essential work of Catholic school teachers. They provide the creative, professionally designed materials that will allow them to present a life-affirming message in the classroom.
Interested in checking out our Teaching Human Dignity Resource Contest? Visit our contest webpage by clicking the button below:
Editorial Note: This post originally appeared on NCEATalk, the blog of the National Catholic Education Association on February 16, 2021. It is republished here with permission.