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John Paul II’s “Culture-First” Approach: The Pope-Saint’s Lessons for Parents, Teachers, and Leaders

“Education,” wrote G. K. Chesterton, “is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.” If Chesterton is right, then education is about transmitting a culture, for what is culture if not the embodiment of a society’s soul? And what “soul” can be passed on from one human to another if it is not first embodied?

To discuss the importance of culture both to society generally and education specifically, we welcome to HeightsCast George Weigel, a distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a New York Times bestselling author. In the episode, Mr. Weigel speaks about Pope St. John Paul II’s “culture-first” approach. Contrasting the late pope’s view with Marx’s view of economics as the primary driver of history and the Jacobin view of politics in the driver seat, Weigel explains the historical and philosophical roots of John Paul II’s view of culture as the driving force in history.

Along the way, he discusses what culture is and what education has to do with it.


  • 3:06 What is a “culture first” approach? 
  • 7:16 What is “culture”? 
  • 11:13 Freedom and culture in the thought of Pope St. John Paul II
  • 16:46 The early education of Pope St. John Paul II
  • 18:01 Cultural resistance during World War II
  • 22:41 Pope St. John Paul II’s 1997 visit to Poland
  • 24:41 Lessons for teachers and school leaders 
  • 28:01 Families and culture
  • 29:51 Reasons for hope

Recommended Resources

Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel

John Paul II and the Priority of Culture by George Weigel

Also on the Forum

Family Culture with Alvaro de Vicente

Creating a Culture of Learning in the Home by Alvaro de Vicente

About the Guest

George Weigel

Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, George Weigel is a Catholic theologian and one of America’s leading public intellectuals. He holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

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