Browsing The Northern Cross

Jesse Murray: How do Catholic school standards differ from other schools?

As a reader of this publication, you have an interest in our faith, what is taught, and what is learned. How much do you know about the curriculum outcomes (also organized as standards) fulfilled by the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Duluth? What do the Catholic schools use as compared to the secularized and government mandated state standards? How do they differ? How often are they reviewed and updated? Where can I find them? What is the educational philosophy they are built upon?

Each subject area set of outcomes (found at has been established by a committee of Catholic school teachers and administrators with the belief “that God has placed within the human heart a desire to know and love him.” The instruction and learning is directed toward the discovery of truth, beauty, and goodness of God and his creation. Our identity as Catholics can shine through the integration of our faith in academic study and life experiences. Our outcomes do just that.

The subject area philosophies that guide our outcomes reference scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools. For example, the purpose of including language and cultural instruction in our schools is prefaced with this statement: “In cooperation with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:5-12), we enable students to acquire a world language and arrive at an understanding of, and a respect for, other cultures.” In technology: “Science and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all (CCC 2293)” and “Science and technology by their very nature require unconditional respect for fundamental moral criteria. They must be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights, of his true and integral good, in conformity with the plan and the will of God” (CCC 2294).” And in math: “We believe the focus of the mathematics program is to help students to see math as a quest to find the order of God in the natural world.”

Subject area outcomes are reviewed every 5-7 years, with music, art, technology, world languages, and mathematics being the subject areas completed in the last few years. In each review cycle, the committee studies the current state and national standards for a subject area, identifies shifting educational structures and trends, reviews and evaluates the outcomes of the diocese through the lens of 2,000 years of educational traditions, and organizes the content into a sequence of concepts and skills that helps our schools and teachers elevate their learning environments. Potential gaps can be eliminated and unnecessary overlaps prevented.

The outcomes take a whole-child approach, recognizing formation of both a body (with mind) and a soul (with spirit). This is the key difference in the approach of diocesan outcomes when compared to the state standards. Integrated into the content and skills of the outcomes are the lives (and “standards”) of the saints: St. Augustine for music, St. Isidore of Seville for technology, St. Cyril of Alexandria for world languages.

Subjects like mathematics reference Catholic mathematicians like Leonardo Pisano Bigollo (known for the Fibonacci sequence), Gerolamo Cardano (who was the first to make systematic use of numbers less than zero), and Augustin-Louis Cauchy (after whom more concepts and theorems are named than any other mathematician).

In addition, specific virtues are organized with the stories of saints to relate the history of humanity with the great (and unique) plan God has for each of us.

Our desire is to inspire each other to become closer to God and be positive contributors to our society. We are each on a mission to identify and fulfill our God-given plan (vocation). The recent inclusion of a Christian Discipleship section to each subject area is an intentional effort to help teachers and students see themselves as the future men, women, moms, dads, priests, sisters, brothers, mathematicians, musicians, scientists, writers, and artists who will share in life experiences that will one day bring us and our friends to heaven, the ultimate goal and purpose of our efforts.

Jesse Murray is principal of the St. John’s campus of Stella Maris Academy, Duluth.