EXCLUSIVE: Private Catholic School Quietly Introduces Social Justice Course, 'Disguised as Religion Class,' Required for Graduation

A private, Catholic school in Maryland quietly introduced a new social justice course, alarming parents who fear it is 'woke' ideology in the guise of religion.
EXCLUSIVE: Private Catholic School Quietly Introduces Social Justice Course, 'Disguised as Religion Class,' Required for Graduation
A crucifix stands on the grounds of The John Carroll School in Bel Air, Md. (Courtesy of Tom Fletcher)
Patricia Tolson

A private Catholic school in Maryland has quietly introduced a social justice course for seniors that's required for graduation. One mother calls it social justice indoctrination "disguised as a religion class." The curriculum is vague; much is kept secret.

Now, she's demanding answers.

Speaking under the name Anne Fletcher, for fear of having her daughter targeted at school or jeopardizing her job—her employers aren't friendly to conservative values—she shared her concerns regarding the school's new direction. She also provided documents to support her claim that the new class is little more than critical race theory (CRT), with no academic benefit.

"We chose this school because we thought it was more conservative compared to some of the others," Mrs. Fletcher told The Epoch Times.

The John Carroll School (JC) is a private, independent Catholic school in Bel Air, Maryland. She pays more than $20,000 per year for tuition and related costs.

The contradiction in the class's title bothers Mrs. Fletcher.

On the "syllabus," it's called "Religion 12-Catholic Social Teaching" (pdf). However, on the student's schedule, it's called "Social Justice-101."
 Religion-12 class shows as "Social Justice 101" on a student's class schedule (Screenshot - Anna Fletcher).
Religion-12 class shows as "Social Justice 101" on a student's class schedule (Screenshot - Anna Fletcher).
Catholic social teaching promotes a person's Christ-like responsibilities in caring for others in society. In 1891, Pope Leo XIII wrote what is considered the foundational work for modern Catholic social teaching, "Rerum Novarum," which emphasizes the need to care for the material needs of one's fellow men, yet firmly rejects communism and "the main tenet of socialism," community of goods.

Social justice training, on the other hand, frequently pushes students to see the world through the lens of systemic racism and inequity, in other words, that of CRT.

JC Assistant Principal Danica Attanasio told Mrs. Fletcher the social justice class is required for graduation.

Religion 12-Catholic Social Teaching

The "syllabus" is particularly vague, and Mrs. Fletcher is unsettled by the ambiguity surrounding the curriculum.

The document states that classroom assignments, tests, and homework will be done primarily in the form of essays.

"There aren't even any books," Mrs. Fletcher said. "For three years, I bought religion books and books for English class. But this year, no religion books. I've never seen a class with no books. How will I know what's being covered in class?"

Grades are based on an equally vague points system.

Students receive up to five points at the end of each eight-day cycle based on their level of "participation" in the class.

Mrs. Fletcher questions whether "participation" refers to the student's level of involvement or the degree to which a student agrees with the teacher.

"With the social justice course being mandatory and disguised as a religion course, she's already being brainwashed by it," Mrs. Fletcher said. "That's why I reached out to you."

School Secrecy

Knowing that CRT often goes hand in hand with transgender ideology, Mrs. Fletcher worries that JC could be indoctrinating her daughter through a secretive social justice course.

"My daughter came home yesterday and said she was confused," she recalled. "When I asked her to show me what confused her, she wouldn't show me. That's because she knows it's something I won't want to see. You shouldn't want to hide things from your parents."

The Epoch Times has previously reported on children who were secretly indoctrinated into the transgender lifestyle at their schools.

Another document, the "Reflection Rubric," thinly explains the teacher's expectations and his scoring system.

Up to 10 points are possible for students who can "explain the key points of his or her reflection" when answering questions.

Handwritten notes taken by Mrs. Fletcher's daughter during class show the definitions students were given for four topics: Catholic Social Teaching, Economics, Politics, and Prudential Questions. The last topic deals with political issues "where the Church can offer guidance, but does not have a universal teaching."

"What does any of this have to do with religion?" Mrs. Fletcher asked.

Bishops' Curriculum Guidance, 'Left-Leaning Philosophy'

To justify the course, Ms. Attanasio told Ms. Fletcher that it came directly from "The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Curriculum Framework" (pdf).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is the episcopal conference of the United States.

Page 41 of the bishops' 2007 document promotes social justice concepts under the guise of "Catholic Social Teaching," defining "the appropriate use of wealth and other resources," and advocating for "solidarity" in that "all people should participate in society" to "work for the common good."

An even more revealing look at the promotion of social justice by the USCCB is its version of the Catholic meditation called the Stations of the Cross.

In the USCCB's version, a spiritual pilgrimage through the stages of Christ's torture and death through crucifixion is turned into a reflection on our "persistent sin of racism" (pdf).
The reflection on the 13th station cites the USCCB's 2018 pastoral letter (pdf) on racism:

“The roots of racism have extended deeply into the soil of our society. Racism can only end if we contend with the policies and institutional barriers that perpetuate and preserve the inequality—economic and social—that we still see all around us.”

The Religion Teacher, an idea go-to source for Catholic schools and teachers, says: "While not a commonly taught course, learning about social justice or Catholic social teaching is a priority for the USCCB."
Episcopal conferences, says an explainer from the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, have certain "limited areas" of authority, including the financial administration of dioceses and some norms such as fasting and holy days of obligation.

It calls the USCCB "mostly a forum for bishops to share ideas with each other, pray with one another, and discern together the will of God as they lead the dioceses with which they have been entrusted."

However, Church Militant founder Michael Voris, quoted recently in The Epoch Times, expressed skepticism about the USCCB's role, saying, "It's a political lobbying arm here in the states and that's all it engages in."

Knowing that JC has chosen to follow the USCCB's curriculum guidance confirms Mrs. Fletcher's concerns.

"This goes against the principles of Catholic school as we knew it," she said. "It seems that they're bending to suit the ideological and political narrative of left-leaning philosophy and Marxist principles. Individualism is discouraged, as is thinking for one's self, to fit some collectivist bent in the church and government elites."

'It's a Disaster!'

Mrs. Fletcher was most disturbed by an assignment her daughter recently received.

She was given a story to read, for which no author was identified. After reading the story, her daughter was told she would be expected to share her "key points of reflection." Her answer, whether through an essay or class discussion, would determine how many points she received.

The story was based on the hypothetical story (pdf) of Jim Driscoll, a man who begrudgingly judges a beauty pageant "every year."

In the tale, contestants are asked if they are "Republican or Democrat."

One says she is a Democrat because her family has always been Democrats.

The contestant who proclaimed she was "a proud Republican" says she "became a Republican" when she saw "how much better the Republican Party handled the terrible events of January 6th."

She's asked to "expand on that."

"America is the greatest country in the world," she replies. "The Republicans believe that, and so do I. This became clear to me on January 6th."

A third contestant claims to be "a monarchist."

"Democracy debases the character of the public," she states, blaming the "vitriol and violent rhetoric" on the fact that America's citizens are allowed to vote and elect their leaders.

"Monarchy," she says, "would breed healthy skepticism of power," arguing that "it's not an accident" that "the People's Republic of China, and the Mongolian People's Republic" "boast about their representative nature." To her, these governments "make for a healthier body politic."

"Jim found himself clapping ..." the story continues.

While the self-proclaimed monarchist doesn't win, the story ends with Mr. Driscoll complimenting her on her answer and inviting "a woman with half his years and twice his IQ" out for coffee so he can "hear more."

The so-called monarchist's description of  "the People's Republic of China, and the Mongolian People's Republic" is full of inaccuracies.

Neither of the countries are ruled by a monarchy.

The People's Republic of China is ruled by a dictator in a communist system. Unlike a monarchy, where rulers are based on royal lineage, dictators claim power, often through the violent overthrow of the prior ruler.

According to the CIA's World Factbook, the Mongolian People's Republic became a socialist state in 1924 and existed as a satellite nation of the Soviet Union until 1989, when it transitioned to an independent democracy.

In 1992, Mongolia adopted a new constitution and established for itself a free market economy. Since then, like the United States, Mongolia has conducted numerous elections to choose its own presidents and legislators.

The Revolutionary War was fought in order to escape the oppression of England's monarchy and to become a free and independent nation.

"It's a disaster!" Mrs. Fletcher said of the Jim Driscoll story. "I don't even know who wrote it."

Whether the story is meant to raise questions about democracy or promote monarcho-socialism, one thing is certain to Mrs. Fletcher:

"It's glorifying communism. If my daughter keeps getting tidbits like this every day, she's going to walk out thinking this is normal."

She also doesn't like the way the story references Jan. 6 and the way it "mocks Trump with the beauty pageant."

'It's Unacceptable'

Michelle Christman, a JC alumnus and 2022 candidate for state senator, says she isn't a fan of "social justice warrior programs."

She also doesn't like that the school appears to be hiding things from parents.

"The school needs to be transparent," she told The Epoch Times. "When you're talking about a private school, a parent is paying for that. There needs to be clarity as to what is being taught. Especially in today's day and age.

"We are absolutely seeing what these social justice warrior programs have done. They're taking the United States' history and sweeping it under the rug. Children don't even understand what freedom is, or what's in the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights."

Ms. Christman is also alarmed that parents such as Mrs. Fletcher are reticent to come forward publicly.

"A lot of these parents are afraid to speak out because they're afraid their kids will be targeted," she said. "That's such a shame, in America, that we feel like we have to remain silent when our First Amendment right is the freedom of speech. It's unacceptable."

A Moms for Liberty member advised Mrs. Fletcher that she has two choices.

"You can go full force and your kid doesn't graduate, or you can play it cool and gather as much information as possible," Mrs. Fletcher was told.

She's choosing the latter.

She doesn't want her daughter to fail "just because someone has an axe to grind."

The irony here is in the school's history.

The school is named after Archbishop John Carroll, who laid "the foundation for the Catholic Church in America" and established a Catholic educational system in the fledgling nation, according to the JC website.

He knew Ben Franklin and was a cousin of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The archbishop also is credited with urging America's newly formed legislature to include the provisions for religious freedom in the U.S. Constitution.

Pushing Back Against Woke Toxicity

While JC and other Catholic schools may be sneaking "woke" ideology into their classes, as reported in National Catholic Register and National Review, Catholic educator Michael Van Hecke says there are a growing number of Catholic schools that are doing exactly the opposite.

Mr. Van Hecke is president of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, which promotes classical Catholic education and has a membership of more than 200 schools nationwide.

"While some Catholic schools chase the latest political trend, we are pleased to see the rapid growth of renewal, which arises from myriad schools fleeing the ideology of CRT and other politically charged demands," he told The Epoch Times.

The president, principal, assistant principal, and assistant principal of student affairs at The John Carroll School didn't respond to multiple requests by The Epoch Times for comment.

Patricia Tolson, an award-winning national investigative reporter with 20 years of experience, has worked for such news outlets as Yahoo!, U.S. News, and The Tampa Free Press. With The Epoch Times, Patricia’s in-depth investigative coverage of human interest stories, election policies, education, school boards, and parental rights has achieved international exposure. Send her your story ideas: [email protected]