Thursday, May 26, 2011

The two biggest problems with diocesan Catholic education

Many thanks to the reader who shared this link with me, concerning the friction that sometimes exists between homeschooling Catholics and their local dioceses:

According to the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis), parents are the primary educators of their children, and Catholic home-schoolers take that commitment seriously. For them, their homes are places where authentic Catholic education occurs, and many members of the clergy and hierarchy agree with them. Several dioceses explicitly recognize home schooling as a valid option for Catholic education.

But not all priests and bishops agree. At the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, the bishops wrote that parents have an obligation to send their children to parochial schools, and some clergy members today say Catholic home-schoolers abrogate that responsibility.

The latest skirmish flared earlier this year when the Holy Family Homeschoolers Association invited Austin Bishop Joe Vásquez to celebrate a blessing Mass at the beginning of the next school year. The response came not from the bishop’s office but from the Catholic schools superintendent, Ned Vanders, who wrote:

“Bishop Vásquez received your invitation to celebrate a Eucharistic liturgy for the fall home-schooling blessing Mass.Bishop Vásquez believes Catholic education, and in particular Catholic school education, is an essential part of the life of the Diocese of Austin. As you know, Catholic schools are at the heart of the mission of the Church.“Bishop’s presence at the home-schooling Mass would convey a contradictory message equating the importance of Catholic school education with Catholic home schooling; therefore, Bishop Vásquez must respectfully decline the invitation.Sincerely in Christ,Ned F. Vanders, Ed.D.” [Links in original: E.M.]

Of course, no article about Catholic homeschoolers would be complete without quotes from the militantly anti-homeschooling priest, Fr. Peter Stravinskas:

Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas, executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation, has become something of a bete noire for the Catholic home-schooling community, championing the idea that Catholic children should be educated in Catholic schools. [...]

“On the same property where they go to church on Sunday is a school where the parents don’t wish to send them,” he said.

That leads to a subtle anti-clericalism, he said, because the children learn that priests cannot be counted on to hand on the faith. It shows in what he sees as a dearth of vocations from home-school families. “Why would you want to join the club if its members can’t be trusted to their jobs?” he said.

He also believes it is psychologically unhealthy for mothers to spend 24 hours a day with their children as they get older, and it’s academically nearly impossible for one person to teach all that is included in a modern high school curriculum.

What’s more, he said, some home-school families say they have no issues with the faculty or teaching at their local Catholic schools, but they don’t want their children exposed to others whose families might not have the same values as theirs.

As respectfully and pro-clerically as possible, Father S.: bunkum.

There is an interesting omission in this article, one which is mentioned almost immediately by the article's many commenters: if parents are committed to being open to life and possibly welcoming many children, and if they are also committed to the idea that a child needs his or her mother at home during his or her young years, that family is rarely going to be able to afford a Catholic education for their children. In other words, the one-or-two child, two income family can frequently afford to pay $5,000 per year (and up) for grade school, and $10,000 per year (and up) for high school for each child. The single-income family with many children will find this same price impossible unless they are independently wealthy or have some relative or friend who is financing the children's education.

It is my honest belief that some--possibly many--priests do not get this at all. I had a conversation with a priest online about this some years ago: here in the Fort Worth Diocese most people pay $5000 per child per year for K-8 at the Catholic schools, and therefore our tuition price would have been $15,000 per year at the time (it would be more than $25,000 per year now, with two in high school!). The priest responded that when people make Catholic school a priority it is usually possible, but people don't want to give up their expensive cars and annual vacations. I told Father that we had one older car fully paid for, no second car, and have taken no vacations in 15 years of marriage that didn't involve driving to and staying with family (and precious few of those, as my mother and mother-in-law would each swear to), and that further the annual payment on our modest home was $5000 per year less than the tuitions would have been back at the time (today, of course, tuition would cost us more than double our annual house payment). I don't, however, believe that he was convinced that we truly could not afford Catholic school tuition in our diocese.

Of course, some of Fr. Stravinskas' claims are laughable. Savvy commenters to the OSV piece quickly pointed out that 4% of today's ordinands were homeschooled at some point and that less than 3% of all children are homeschooled, which means that homeschoolers' vocations are booming--and we're barely at the edge of young people old enough to have been homeschooled during the years when homeschooling has risen in popularity and social and legal acceptability. As far as psychologically healthy--how healthy was it for me, over two decades ago, to sit in a health class in this Catholic high school (which now costs close to $13,000 per year not including fees) and have the health teacher ridicule the Church's teaching against contraception, make fun of NFP (which she thought of as the "rhythm" method), and insist that yes, we were going to need condoms and pills soon if we didn't need them already (because, apparently, nobody actually takes the Church's teaching against fornication seriously or values chastity or virginity anymore)?

But the crux of the matter is this: if Catholic homeschooling parents don't trust the local diocese to do a good job of educating our children in the faith, we have good reasons. The Catholic school of today teaches religion as a separate, free-floating subject. They then take the exact same secular approach to all the other subjects as the local public school does; they have to. Parents who pay Catholic school tuition in most dioceses are paying for one religion class and an atmosphere "in the Catholic tradition," which essentially means some school Masses and a little more orderliness than the public school can offer. Is that even worth $5,000 to $10,000 or more a year?

The statistic I want to see is this, but as far as I know it hasn't ever been tracked: what percent of Catholic grade school and high school graduates lose the faith, stop going to Mass, or leave the Church for another religion or for no religion at all? How does that statistic compare to Catholics educated in public schools and to Catholic home schooled students?

Without that data, the Catholic schools advocates tend to focus on things like how successful their former students are in life, how many of them receive a college education, how many of them go on to become famous in some career or occupation. But I'd really like to know how many of them remain Catholic. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the number is not large, but I'd love to see hard data.

Do I think that Catholic homeschooled children never leave the Church? No; but I'd be vastly surprised if the percent of those who do is as high as the percent of diocesan Catholic school students who do. And it's a pretty Faustian bargain to pay somewhere around $80,000 for twelve years of Catholic education per child only to have those children reject the faith and stop going to Mass within a few years after their high school graduations.

The two biggest problems with diocesan Catholic education today are that it doesn't produce very many strong Catholics and it costs entirely too much. Surely, if our goal is to educate a few generations of kids who will go on to leave the Church in droves, we could do it for a lot less money. Or, for even less money, we Catholic homeschoolers can teach our children at home, give them an authentic Catholic education in which every subject is permeated with the presence of God and His great plan for our salvation, and know that we are doing our best to hand on to them, intact and without alteration, the real gift of faith that was given to us by a generous and loving God.

CORRECTION: I am informed that tuition around here is now slightly more than $5000 per child per year at at least one local school, while the diocese's only Catholic high school is more than $12,000 per year (with a discount to "parish supporting" families; I have no idea what level of annual donations is considered "supporting). The high school also charges a $500 non-refundable registration fee which is not applied to total tuition; students purchase their own books at a cost of $500-$800 per year, and fees are between approximately $150 to approximately $300 per year. Students are also required to purchase uniforms from a uniform company; shirts run $30, skirts $45, and jumpers almost $60 for girls; boys' shirts run from $20-$30, pants are also around $45, and shoes run $42 (for the cheapest pair of girls' shoes) to almost $75 a pair.

This is not Catholic (which means, after all, "universal") education. This is education for the wealthy. I'm tired of Catholic bishops not being realistic about, or even aware of, that fact.


John Thayer Jensen said...

I don't know what Catholic schools in the US are like, but many in New Zealand are pretty bad. We home-schooled our four children for most of their educational lives. One girl never went to school. She went straight to University (and did well). Our two boys both went to public schools in forms 5-7 (about equivalent to grades 11 and 12 and freshman year in college in the US) and did fine.

Our younger daughter decided she really wanted to go to school, so went to forms 3 and 4, then got sick and had to quit. She didn't do well, though I don't at all blame the school.

But the school appears to have been no better educationally than the public schools - and the RE was really pretty bad. She would bring stories home about what her RE teacher said - one was the choosing your religion was like choosing which rugby team to support. You make your choice and then you GO TEAM for them. But you don't think the people who chose the other religion/team are wrong.

And so on. I am pleased to say that she told us the story, and then said, "that's not right, is it??"


John Thayer Jensen said...

PS - the school our younger daughter went to was said to be the best Catholic high school in Auckland.

I also know stories about some of the boys' schools that are supposed to be pretty sad.


John Thayer Jensen said...

PPS (and then I'll stop :-))

Our local parish elementary-cum-intermediate school - fairly typical, I think - has only about half the staff who are Catholics. No religious, of course. For several years, one of the teachers was openly living with his girlfriend. Nothing was done. He finally moved. I am told, but don't know the details, that one of the women teachers is living with her boyfriend.

There are a number of reasons for Catholics to homeschool - and they don't only come down to money.


Anonymous said...

There are also plenty of reasons to choose a Catholic high school. They do not include enjoying the prospect of spending $40K that could be spent on vacations or saving for retirement or given to the poor.

Developing meaningful, spiritual friendships with like-minded Catholic kids. Being taught by a diverse group of faithful, committed educators. Learning to accept and even embrace expressions of Catholicism that our little family just doesn't do well. Learning leadership in an environment that recognizes justice and respect as strengths instead of weaknesses.

Yes, of course these things can be learned in home schooling environments. And Catholic schools don't all do well at all these things. But come on ...

I respect your choice, as parent and primary educator of your children, to educate them at home. I hope the same respect is afforded to those of us who make a different choice ... Catholic education, warts and all.

Paul Pfaff

Red Cardigan said...

Respectfully, Paul, I think you miss my point. If I were to have our children in Catholic schools this year (two in high school, one in grade school) the cost would be over $30,000. Per year. And it would go up to nearly $40,000 the year we would have three in high school.

To put it quite bluntly, we cannot possibly afford on one middle-class income even half that amount in tuitions. Our biggest single budget item is our house payment which is about $12,000 per year (and over $3000 of that are the homeowner taxes we pay in Texas for public schools).

In other words, it's not merely that we don't choose Catholic schools: we can't choose them. They have always been priced completely out of our reach--and we have only been blessed with a small family. I know families with six or seven children who earn what we do (again, a single income)--the idea that we're all somehow being "lesser Catholics" who are disloyal to diocesan education is obnoxious, nauseating, and risible.

If you are lucky enough to have a school that is worth its price tag in that Catholicism is solidly taught by teachers who don't openly defy the Magisterium (as mine did), religion is not relegated to one class period, and students who graduate are still practicing Catholics a year or two later, and you can afford this school, that's lovely. But, as I said, this is not an option for the majority.

The median income in the US is $46,000 per year. Only about a third of Catholics, according to a recent study, make more than $75,000 a year. How many Catholic families can actually afford to spend between $20,000 and $40,000 per year for diocesan schools? Percentage-wise, hardly any.

Yet many of the dioceses in America continue to treat homeschoolers as traitors who keep our children out of the diocesan schools just to be ornery, or something. They treat Catholic homeschoolers like second-class citizens for not using the parish school, and display a charming "Let them eat cake!" ignorance about the financial realities and hardships of middle-class Catholic America.

Rebecca in CA said...

I think you make great points, Red, but I think your response is too defensive. It almost sounds like you're admitting that if the Catholic schools were really solidly Catholic, and if we could afford to send our kids there, we really should do so. Maybe this should be the topic of a different post, but I truly believe, and I believe the Church teaches, that we as parents have a right to teach our children as we see fit, and to delegate teaching to others as we see fit. Even apart from the money or the Catholicism issue, I simply disagree with the approach to education that the schools take, and I dislike the extreme age segregation, the time and energy that is taken from children, and I don't see that situation as a better ideal than the informal learning we do among friends and family. I see the Church teaching that Catholic children have a right to a Catholic education, and the parent is the primary educator. I don't think we need to apologize or defend the choice to base our education at home and choose other resources as we see fit.

That being said--to speak to your point about the financial consideration, I have a brother-in-law who taught at a Catholic school in a very wealthy town in CA. Their rent, for an older, kind of broken-down home, was $1800 per month. All but the youngest of his seven children attended the school, and he was paid $40,000; the rational being that tuition costs for his children (with a discount) was $30,000, and a median teacher's income in CA is $70,000. They're home schooling now in another state and much happier--the kids have better friends, better educational opportunities, and they all have enough to eat now.

John Thayer Jensen said...

I take Paul's point about Catholic companionship, but that was, in fact, one of the problems at our daughter's high school. The girls there were, many of them, what my grandmother would have called "no better than they should be." My wife, when we were home-schooling, started a local home-schoolers' group, and they met fortnightly with all their kids, put on little dramas, that sort of thing. You can do quite a lot on your own.


Archaeology cat said...

I agree with Rebecca, really. The lack of an orthodox education is definitely a major reason I am choosing to home educate, but not the only one. I'm in England, and the majority of Catholic schools are voluntary aided, which means parents do not have to pay tuition (a flat fee per parishioner is collected from the parish, and the rest is made up from the government, so from taxes). This means they must follow the national curriculum, unfortunately. There is one private Catholic primary school in the area, but we can't afford it.

Those reasons aside, though, I want to be able to tailor the curriculum to my children, so if my son is reading at a 5th grade level, doing math at a 4th grade level, and loves fish, I can take him to the museum and aquarium and have him do math and reading at the appropriate level. Unfortunately this isn't possible in most traditional school settings, even if the teacher is willing.

Of course, home educating also doesn't mean we go it alone. If you look, you can often find people who have the skills you lack and thus can impart that knowledge to the kids.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comment by Paul Pfaff.

Our children's Catholic diocesan school is fantastic.

Also the tuition maxes out, I believe at $8K per year. So you could have as many children as you had at the school, and you would never pay more than $8K.

And people are absolutely kidding themselves if they think that there is no difference between a Catholic diocesan school and a public school!

Anonymous said...

My son attended private Kindergarten this year at the neighborhood parish school - I should say first that they were very accommodating as far as finances went, and we were in the process of enrolling all three of our children for next year (we've been h/sing our daughters for the last two years)when we found out we were moving. In our new community, the expense isn't so much the trouble (around 20k for all three before assistance, which we would absolutely be relying on) as the attitude. Even the enrollment application was odd - a series of interviews for a first grader, really? It's not that I don't believe private schools shouldn't have a sense of who will be attending their schools, and since we have yet to receive the Sacraments perhaps we deserve even closer scrutiny, I can absolutely see that being important. But - still - are we now evaluating suitability for religious elementary school from a secular exclusionary posture, or do we want Catholic children in Parish schools? I find that at least as off-putting as the tuition and fees. Yes, Catholic friends, we realize you'd like a religious education for your child, but first we must make sure you're the right sort of family. That seems to me to be another level of disconnectedness. Continuing to home school is our inclination based on our experience so far.

JMB said...

My children have attended public, private Catholic and parochial schools here in NJ. Our situation is this: local property taxes in NJ fund over 90% of public education. The average property tax in my small town is 14K per year. Our property taxes hit 20K this past year. They have gone up 85% since we bought our house 11 years ago. Our town spends 18K per student on education. NJ is seriously screwed up.

My husband and I would have loved to have kept our children in parochial school, but the 4K in tuition added to the 20K that we spend on property taxes per annum made that impossible, lest I take a full time job to pay for the 16K extra in tuition (4 kids).

So who's at the parochial school besides children of hedge funders? Pretty much any kid who lives outside of our town where the property taxes aren't so exhorbident. There is an urban city less than 3 miles from my town that has terrible schools so a lot of kids come in from there.

I don't see much of a future for the old time one parish - one school model in my area. The schools that have flourished do so only because they are magnet schools. They are drawing from children from many towns, not just one parish, one school.

And I guess the question I have, is what is the point of Catholic elementary education, anyway? The majority of the minority students in my area aren't Catholic, yet they attend Catholic schools. There doesn't seem to be a massive conversion of Protestants to Catholicism. Is the mission of the schools to convert other Christians and Muslims, or is it to provide a decent education in the model of a public school?

Our son is now at a private Catholic all boys high school. We are shelling out 15K per year so that he can attend this school. We are sending him there because we believed an single sex education would only benefit him, the Irish Christian Brothers know how to educate boys and the school has a great track record for college placements.

But I lightheartedly disagree with Erin and Rebecca; public school Catholic kids seem to be the lowest on the totem pole with regard to the Catholic heiriarchy:)

Bathilda said...

I second JMB's totem pole. Our priest used to call them the "Township School Kids", and then in a Seinfeld-esque moment, he would qualify it with, "not that there's anything wrong with that..." When clearly, there was. I don't have a clue how many in our parish homeschool. It's never referenced, and I have never seen any homeschooling groups or anything mentioned in the bulletin.

My kids go to the parish school. It's about $7,500 per year for both of them. Our school has a sliding scale for how many kids you have. By the time you have five kids, the fifth one is free! The fourth is only about $500 per year, and the third is about a $1,000... There are also many families on some sort of tuition assistance. I am not sure what income level qualifies for assistance, nor do I know if the assistance is very much money...

Red, I think that you are right about some things here. I agree that you might be a tad defensive, but this is such a personal matter, it's no surprise. I know a family in another parish who homeschools because she feels that the parish schools are not "catholic enough" and her particular parish school has a lot of non-Catholic kids.(it's in the city public school district, which is not good)

If our school was orthodox, we wouldn't send our kids there. It does have religion as a subject, and I'm not sure how religion should be put into every subject all of the time... What about Math? I am ignorant on this...I'm not trying to be too snarky...I just get visions of story problems involving disciples...12 disciples were walking in the desert at a speed of three miles per hour. They stopped for 30 minutes to long did it take them to get to Jerusalem? I think that our school tries to build some morality into studying history in the middle school as kind of a "what went wrong, and how does morality play into this situation..." But some subjects just aren't about religion per se...You can put them into context, but I don't really expect school to be hyperfocused on religion. I know that others do.

We are considering leaving our school, as the cirriculum, decided on by the archdiocese, is weak. Yes, the kids do well on standardized testing, but that's no surprise, 95% are in a good income and have parents who are at least paying attention... but they are not pushed to excel if they are high acheivers. The middle of the road is taught because there are no funds for special programs on either end of the spectrum.

I think that homeschooling gives kids a huge advantage academically if the parent teaching them is qualified, and I think that you can get online lectures for high school subjects. I know that many homeschoolers have amazing networks and they get together often which makes up for the lack of social interaction. I know some fundamentalist christian homeschoolers, and I'm guessing it's the same in the Catholic homeschooling community. (and the hippy homeschooling community as well) I don't want to homeschool, but I totally respect those who do. The priest who says it's unhealthy for children to spend so much time at home simply does not know what he's saying. I find it hard to believe what these priests are saying. Perhaps they should be concentrating on getting these schools up to snuff and making them affordable. Perhaps if the Church didn't have to spend so much money defending child rapist priests, she could use that money to subsidize schools to make them affordable for all.

Anonymous said...

This is an important post and that OSV article was highly inadequate.

There is no such thing as a generic "Catholic school" which is the same everywhere.

Some Catholic schools are excellent - others are nothing more than private schools for the upper middle class and wealthy with a saint's name attached.

Their use of Stravinskas is unfortunate. This Catholic Education operation associated with him looks quite sketchy to me from the website and looks like not much more than another front for Stravinskas to make money. Something OSV should know about from their own experience with him.

If Catholic schools were all sound and orthodox and truly counter-cultural and inexpensive we'd have something to talk about. But they're not.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I think another problem is that Catholic Schools, even the good ones, are staffed with ed-school graduates. And so they've taken on a lot of the bad pedagogical methods that have crept into our nation's schools at large.

So, you get full-day, academic Kindergarten with no half-day "learn to play nicely" option. You get the same reduced recess times and focus on test prep. You get the same educational fads that have ruined the public schools.

So even if the school is Orthodox, it's the same broken system that prevails throughout US elementary education, just more expensive.

Nathan said...

Erin, good post. Another often overlooked item--at least in my diocese, Catholic schools are not an option for a number of children of Catholic parishoners because the schools are aimed at the "great middle range" of student abilities and needs.

I wanted to send all my children to Catholic schools, but could only send two. Because my oldest was on the autistic spectrum and because a couple of younger children needed some additional attention from staff, we were told by the then-principal in no uncertain terms that those children were not welcome. The policy and philosophy of the dioscean schools superintendent were in line with the principal's.

You make a good point that suburban Catholic schools can easily exclude families because of cost. In places where they are seen as inexpensive private education instead of a way to teach all Catholic children regardless of what they bring to the school, you see more exclusion.

In Christ,

Red Cardigan said...

Great comments, all! I appreciate the civil tone here.

I think any defensiveness on my part comes from the fact that my parents struggled, scrimped and saved to send their nine children to Catholic schools (where, of course, we were laughed at and ridiculed by our peers for having so many siblings)--until I reached high school, when the cost, the obvious heresy being taught in the classroom, and the weakness of the Catholicism being taught combine to create the perfect storm which led my parents to begin the grand adventure called homeschooling.

If Catholic schools really were what they once were long, long ago (e.g., taught by dedicated religious sisters, supported by the parish and open to *all* the kids of the parish including the poor and the handicapped, and uninfluenced by Dewey's poisonous educational model) then even dedicated homeschooling moms like myself might find them tempting. Of course, if they really were like that, I think the good Sisters would find homeschooling rather neat, and would work with us to let our children take some classes here and there--what a concept!

That model of Catholic education died an ignominious death by the late 1970s (I know because I was there). I doubt it will ever be resurrected--but stranger things have happened.

Finally, having a real Catholic school doesn't mean math lessons laden with Biblical passages (though those things are rather fun; a lesson on volume for my junior high girl required her to convert a standard unit of measurement to cubits, for instance). It means crucifixes and statues in the classrooms, prayer before lessons, celebration of saints' feast days (at least some major ones), reminders of the importance of Sunday Mass, the humanities (history, literature, etc.) deeply informed by Catholic thinking, and so on. There may be a handful of Catholic schools in the country that do this sort of thing--but I suspect most of them are not diocesan schools!

Deirdre Mundy said...

Red-- as far as I can tell, the humanities at most Catholic elementary schools have been pushed out by "phonics, language arts, and reading strategies"--the exact same curriculum you find at the public schools. If we had access to a great-books, affordable Catholic school where I felt I could trust the teachers judgement about curriculum choices, I might send my kids.

BUT part of the problem is that Catholic homeschoolers are outside the mainstream. Most modern Catholic parents WANT the dewey-esque curriculum. When out local Catholic school tried to go to Montessori pre-K instead of 'academic' pre-K a few years ago, the parents revolted! How could little Taylor get ready for the rigors of the Kindergarten curriculum if she was allowed to go the 'easy' montessori route instead of having lots of dittos in her seat?

I think most home-schoolers are in a similar jam--we have educational philosophies (Trivium, etc.) that are out of place in modern Catholic schools-- and yet, we're not concentrated enough that a half-day-great-books-elementary school could make ends meet!

Also, I'm not sure why priests always go after the homeschoolers, since what the parish school is offering is completely opposed to homeschooling ethics. Since the parish schools are "pedagogically like the public schools, but Catholic!" it would seem more natural to try to get the Pub school parents to switch over.

But, I guess we're considered the low hanging fruit b/c we're active in the parish. But if my parish could actually OFFER the sort of educatioon I want for my kids, they'd lose all the OTHER families who LIKE the status quo.

Anonymous said...

I'm on the same page with JMB but this does bring up the next question, which is: if your vocation is to be a father and provider for a family, which may or may not be large, don't you have a responsibility to figure out a way to seriously up your earning ability? For the good of your family? For the freedom to make some more expensive, but sometimes better, choices for them?

What I'm really saying is we need more Catholics in higher-paying, more prestigious fields, those that almost always get you much larger salaries. The kind of salaries that could have you send all your kids to the school of your choice. I know that that amount is different for every neighborhood, but too many Catholic men - usually homeschooled! - think that it's perfectly acceptable to become yet another Franciscan U theology or philosophy graduate. For the majority of men out there, it's just not. So let's have more Catholic doctors, lawyers, orthodontists, architects, judges, CEOs, engineers, etc.

I grew up lower-middle-class; I worked like an animal to get out of that, for the sake of my kids-to-be.

Now a mom

Deirdre Mundy said...

One problem is that a lot of very high paying jobs also require crazy hours---so you get a dad who can't be around much b/c his work takes him away.

I think a lot of homeschooling families recognize that the model of 'kids never see dad because he's out earning money' is not an ideal one, especially in this modern age where so many kids never get to know their dads.

But being a present dad means working at jobs that pay less (because regular-hours mean lower pay.) "Supporting" a family doesn't mean "upper middle class"-- I mean, we're supposed to aim for the Holy Family, right? And that means good stewardship of our resources.

For some families, good stewardship means sending the kids to catholic school...not just rich families, but also families where the mom doesn't feel called to homeschool, can't homeschool, or simply despises homeschooling. For other families, good stewardship means homeschooling. But I don't think, from the outside, you can look at a man's career and make the blanket statement that he should just get a higher paying job. There are tradeoffs involved, and different trade-offs are necessary for different families.

Geoff G. said...

taught by dedicated religious sisters

I might ask where all of those dedicated religious sisters have gone. My dad and I attended the same Catholic school some 25-30 years apart. In that time, it went from entirely being run my nuns to about 50/50. Checking the website now, I don't think there are any religious in the school at all anymore.

I'll also point out that my elementary school had just about everything on your list, in addition to attendance at Mass together as a class once a week during school hours and religious instruction classes run by one of the local parish priests (they actually had two priests in the parish back then).

I wonder if the problems you describe are a symptom of a lack of vocations, not just among priests but religious as well. And given that, I wonder if any of your daughters have given any thought to taking the habit and going out into teaching, where she can touch lives well beyond those of her immediate family.

Red Cardigan said...

Geoff, we've always been open to vocations in our family, and I have a sister who is a nun, though not in a teaching order. I would be delighted if any of my girls were called to that life; and I agree, the lack of vocations in general is a huge part of the problem here.

Anonymous, with all due respect, I think your comment betrays an attitude I've sometimes encountered among my fellow Catholics, an attitude that dismays me. It can best be characterized as a belief in three things:

1. It is part of the duty of a Catholic father to become economically wealthy;

2. It is possibly for any/all Catholic fathers to do so;

3. Any failure to earn a high two or a three-figure income is a failure of a Catholic father to do the minimum to support his family properly, given what American society requires in terms of education, opportunities, and lifestyle.

This is so wrong. It tempts the one who believes it to think that he is really in control of his own destiny; that his successes and wealth are his own doing, owing to his "smart choices" and ability to take advantage of lucrative opportunities; that God wants material success for His children as a primary good, and that those who fail in this regard are failing in a spiritual as well as a material way; and similar bad notions. From there to the "Prayer of Jabez" nonsense or the idea that God materially rewards those whom He's pleased with is one short step, and in the other direction a similar short step will take you to atheism (e.g., what do I need God for, when I've earned all this myself?).

What do we say to the person whose wealth was erased by our economic downturn--"Too bad, sucker?" What do we say to the family who embraces simple living and material paucity with poverty of spirit--"You're just a slacker?"

The Bible and the Church warn us again and again against seeing wealth and material possessions as of central importance to our lives. Yet another reason I find diocesan schools disquieting is that there is an open celebration of wealth and success within their walls, and a tendency to sneer, rather, at the "scholarship" students who are there on sufferance (and everybody knows it).

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I was going to observe that this sounds a lot like what other home schoolers say about public schools... but the presentation on the sheer COST of Catholic schools had me applauding (quietly inside my own thoughts).

The most I've ever made in a year is $28,000, which wouldn't even cover tuition for three children. In fact, I don't know how the people I worked with who had children to support managed it on $13 an hour or less.

Anonymous said...

Red you have made an excellent point and I completely agree.
I offer a different perspective. I probably could afford catholic schools if we made major sacrifices. Or rather comfortably if my wife worked outside the home.

Frankly, I enjoy the financial benefits of home schooling. We like to have fun. Our occasional modest vacations are a nice break from daily life, and our kids get to enjoy traveling. And my wife loves protecting/being with the kids and keeping a lovely home and cooking great meals. No cleric has the right to tell me it is wrong to enjoy life a little more instead of scraping by for even a very good catholic school.

Anonymous said...

When there were more religious vocations, sisters, who ran and taught at these schools, you could charge a lot less. Even if we lived near a very good catholic school, we still would not be able to afford it. It amazes me how some of these schools takE pride in the fact they are allowing lower income noncatholics to go free, charity, but the normal folks can't even afford it.
I agree. It is sad and frustrating. There are a few places where the parish picks up the tab, if you are members, but those are few and far between.

Mick said...

Excellent post, Red. I'm coming to many of the same conclusions myself, as the father of two preschoolers in a one-income family.

Where we live, the cost of owning a home is still outrageously expensive, even post-bubble, and the average Catholic grade school tuition is around $7500 per kid, with no breaks for the second child. My wife and I simply can't justify spending over 20% of our income on Catholic school, when the VAST majority of our friends from school are ex-Catholics, and we can't afford to own a house. And that's assuming we don't have more kids (although we definitely plan to have more).

As hard as it was to admit at first, we've concluded the parochial school era is almost over, and right now, homeschooling is the best alternative.

Anne said...

Great post. Here I go... Our choice was entirely financial and I was treated rather coldly by the priest when I mentioned, "What if we can't afford tuition?". His reply: "These walls don't pay for themselves. Do you think because you are cute you should get in for free?"
Obviously, that one still stings as he was missing the point entirely. And I can't help but roll my eyes just a little during the Catholic Schools week during which the homily is replaced with a speech by the local Catholic school principal or parent who said, "How can we NOT afford to send our children to Catholic schools?" How adorable! But it just doesn't work on paper. (And yes to your update: This school was around $7500 last time I checked.)

I was sent to Catholic schools until college and I had the same experience in Health class, with our Baptist teacher telling what she was obligated to say and then what she really believed regarding contraception. My parents struggled to send us to this school which they thought was solidly Catholic and I came out ignorant. I am still grateful - I loved our schools but you can't argue that they are the only or best way to learn about our faith.

To anonymous: I suppose it would be great if all Catholic men were wealthy. I married for love not earning potential. It hasn't always made things easy, but I've never regretted my decision.

Martha said...

Do you mind my asking if you ever approached your pastor or the school principal about the cost of enrolling your daughters in the parish school? I ask because I put off our parish's school for years, knowing we could never afford it. And lo and behold, when it became clear homeschooling was NOT the answer for us, like I had hoped it would be, the school principal told us, "Apply and we will make something work out." And would you believe, they did? I have sent 2 kids for the price of one to that school for a few years now. I know that parishes vary and financial situations vary, but I was surprised how things worked out. No one has sneered at us once. At least, not for that! :) But I wonder if you knew if your parish was as welcoming or if we are a fluke.
I can tell you that your description of a "real" Catholic school sounds like ours, with the possible exception of humanities deeply informed by Catholic thinking... but I think that probably applies more to upper grades than elementary.

Martha said...

Another thought - while I agree it would be wonderful if parish schools could educate all of the children of the parish, no matter their abilities, that would be a very unusual situation. Public schools certainly don't do that. I know it can be heartbreaking for families to be told the parish school cannot educate their child, but I think it's sadly true, and it's not realistic to hold Catholic schools to a standard no public school or private school meets. The diocese here does have a school staffed by religious sisters for children with special needs, but even it cannot serve *every* special need there is. I know many families who wanted to send their child to the parish school but could not due to Asperger's, autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, deafness, or seizure disorders. I don't think there exists one school that can teach all those children and the typical ones in the same place.

Anonymous said...

Martha, you are correct. Children with special needs cannot be accommodated in the typical parochial school. Public schools, by law, must provide an education for all children. I know that our parochial school tries, when they can, to work with a special needs child's IEP developed from the public system. Trouble is, tuition is the same no matter what your issue. The school does charge a $200 per semester "resourse fee" if you use the resourse department. This is usually for kids who need pulled out of class for more individualized instruction. That's a pretty cheap fee for getting what is either a private instructor and/or instruction with five or six kids. However, selfishly, it's troubling to see so many kids with issues at our school because we really don't have the capability to deal with them. Three kids with issues in one classroom of 25 make it hard to teach everyone else. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. So either the parish can more heavily subsidize schools, or they can charge more tuition, and that's only only going to push more people away. Tricky, tricky.

MightyMighty said...

I work at a Catholic school, and the longer I teach, the more convinced I am that homeschooling should be the first thing a Catholic family considers when looking at school.

When our 8th graders answered questions on a test about Theology of the Body, the teacher simply graded them based on whether or not they got it right. There was no follow up with the majority of students who somehow thought that "if a married couple has really thought about it and decides to contracept, that's okay," was true. How are grades more important than simple knowledge of the truth?

We have a lot of discipline issues, largely arising out of our non-Catholic families, who seem to think they're doing us a favor with their presence. Kids with learning disabilities are easier to deal with than kids with behavioral problems. One badly behaved kid can derail a whole classroom.

My kids will go to the local Presbyterian preschool, known for being the best in the area for widening schema, etc. and then I will homeschool K-12. I don't want to be in charge of all of the glitter and playdough that have brightened my nieces' lives, but once we're working on some academic stuff, I know I can do this at least as well as any of my local options.

Also, homeschoolers should make friends, but the idea that they need to be socialized is bull. Studies show that homeschooled kids are actually *better* socialized than any of their peers, due to less aggression and a better notion of responsibility toward the group (family). So no need to pretend that you are "making up" for that problem with special playgroups. The family is the ideal social setting!

Also, Red, I agree that it is not appropriate to say men should pursue high paying jobs without regard to their family's real needs. My husband and I greatly reduced our salary by going into teaching, him at a ghetto public school and me part-time at a Catholic school. However, we actually are better off financially because we can do so many things ourselves, and spend way less money trying to de-stress. Most importantly, we have a great deal of family time and our children will be well rooted at home. Certainly parents are obligated to support their children. But why wreck one's quality of life just to go to a lukewarm Catholic school?

Anonymous said...

Oh thank you so much for this article. I am not the only one in the whole wide world with these problems. I just took my child out of a Catholic school in Australia because of much the same issues and reluctantly put her into a Christian school which accepts allreligions.
"..meaningful, spiritual friendships with like-minded Catholic kids" .. ha ha I wish this were true. Most of the children at the Catholic school were being exposed to completely inappropriate media by their (supposedly Catholic) parents and she came home with concepts and language completely inappropriate to her age group, not to mention her faith. The school then reinforced all this e.g with hip hop dances for 5 year olds and top 40 songs at assembly. When I went to a Catholic school the nuns would never have allowed this to happen, but in our country, the religious sisters do not teach in or manage Catholic schools any more, unfortunately

The Dodson Family said...

What an interesting post! My husband is a catholic school teacher at the high school level and on his tiny salary there is no way we could send our son to catholic school. The problem as I see it in our situation is the result of the school being diocesan run. There is plenty of money at the school, all earmarked for nonessential improvements. Every year it's some other big ridiculous spending project - water filtration stations throughout campus, solar panels...the list goes on. Other teachers at my husbands scool have daughters attending public scool because they can't afford to buy the very product they produce! Lawsuits against the diocese and other failed or failing programs and elementary schools pull resources away from the high school that could be used to reduce tuition for families and provide cost of living increases for teachers. I want to know - what steps can a catholic high school take in breaking away from the diocese? I expect my husband's school will soon fail if a change is not made. He is the only person in his dpt (theology) with an advanced degree and he's on his way out after four years of a broken compensation contract resulting from a bishop mandate. From purely educational qualifications, in this situation my kid WOULD have a better education outside the catholic schools either by me or even in a public school. At least in public school every teacher has a credential and a guarantee of some post-college education!

The Dodson Family said...

P.s. is it being anti catholic to say a split for catholic schools from diocesan control would be a good thing? It is not my intent to attack the church, only to speak honestly abut the problem as I see it.