Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Perils of Pollyanna

This is Catholic Schools Week, or as some Catholic homeschoolers like to call it, Outsourced Catholic Schools Week. At Amy Welborn's blog yesterday a post about (mostly) negative experiences people have had in the recent past involving their Catholic educations received many thoughtful comments; the comments, I see, have continued today as well. Most of the people commenting seem to be aware of the tremendous changes which occurred in Catholic education in the period following the Second Vatican Council; many of them relate that their education actually contributed to a loss of faith.

But there are a few people, there and elsewhere on the Internet, who seem to chide the others. Catholic schools are fine now! they insist, smiles firmly planted. Oh, maybe there were a few problems in the guitar-strumming felt banner days, but We've Fixed All That! Our kids love their Catholic schools! True, little Jenny's sex-ed books are a bit much for third grade, and little Billy's coach uses the 'F' word in front of the children, and not-so-little Susan has informed us that she's an atheist and doesn't want to go to the Catholic high school when she graduates from eighth grade at Our Lady of the Lexus SUV's, but what a wonderful education they've all received!

There are perils to being a Pollyanna parent. Our pastor, in his 'Catholic Schools Week' homily this past Sunday, pointed out the most serious of them when he reminded parents that our duty to educate our children in the faith is so important that we parents will be judged on how well we've accomplished this at our particular judgments. In other words, we will answer to God for how well we've managed to pass on the Catholic faith to our children.

Unfortunately, his attempt to link this duty to a preference for the parish school was, to me, a huge non sequitur, because the problems mentioned by Amy's posters are real and continuing problems in Catholic education. Watered-down religious instruction, moral problems among the student body, lay teachers who openly dissent from one or more Church teachings (Humanae Vitae being the most popular target, as always), skyrocketing tuition costs that turn Catholic schools into snobby elitist private schools--the list goes on and on. And there's been no real progress. Can't we be honest here? There has been no real progress. It's worth repeating, because it's one of those uncomfortable truths we like to sweep under the carpet.

Further, I can't see there being any significant changes anytime soon. There have been some wonderful new Catholic textbooks written, for example--and many diocesan officials in various places ban their use. There have been courageous Catholic teachers and principals who've tried to re-introduce old Catholic customs and devotions, only to have their decisions overturned on the grounds that we mustn't offend our non-Catholic students. Too many of the people whose actions and attitudes helped create the current dismal situation are still in place in positions of authority. Do they still hum 'Kumbaya' and dream wistfully of a female priesthood? Only they know, but as long as they're in charge at the schools and chanceries, Catholic education will be the same morass it is today.

The real danger of being a Pollyanna parent is the danger that your children will lose their faith. It may be that I'm wrong, that Catholic schools really are better than they were in my day, that they will be turning out legions of Catholic saints quite soon. But I still hear from far too many people who say they remained Catholic in spite of, not because of, their Catholic school education. As Father said, God will hold me responsible for my children's faith, and I don't think He will nod understandingly and give me a pass if I claim, "But, Lord! I was trusting the Catholic school to teach them!" That excuse might have worked a generation ago, but the Catholics in my generation have no reason not to know better than that.

1 comment:

AnnonyMouse said...

O, you hit the nail on the head! I wanted to be that Pollyanna mom, I really did.
How fortunate we are to be able to homeschool. What a blessing.
During Catholic Schools Week I usually become depressed. This year is the first year that it has been "OK". I believe one reason I become depressed is because these children and the education is held in such high esteem that they forget, as you pointed out, their faith. A good friend of ours still sends their daughter to Catholic Schools (and is always trying to get us back). I wanted to have a heartfelt talk with her about the "progressive" sex ed classes, etc so she could combat these at home with her daughter. Her response was, "Silly woman. I don't want my daughter REAL religious, just to be exposed, nothing deep." After I picked my chin up off the floor, I told her she probably chose the best place then.