Dear Red,First of all, I'd like to thank my reader for writing. School decisions are never really easy, and when you've decided that homeschooling just can't work (and I do know some situations where it really can't), it can be hard to figure out how best to fulfill the obligation of Catholic parents to see to it that their children are instructed in the faith.
My husband and I have one child (close to kindergarten age) so far, and we've decided that homeschooling is not for us. The reasons are many and varied; the decision is pretty much made.
The public school system in our area is atrocious and considered either the worst or second worst in the state. Thus, that's not an option for us, and actually, based on principle, never really was. Neither my husband or I benefited from our own time in public schools and we just don't generally believe in them, period.
Obviously, we'd love to count on local Catholic parish schools, but quite frankly, we're not impressed. Our child has been in a pre-K program at our parish, and while it's fine, it's not outstanding from the perspective of teaching the Catholic faith, even if at a basic preschool level. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we believe our child is at either the best or second best Catholic parish school in our town. So the fact that we're not overly-impressed with it isn't saying much.
What to do? Well, we started investigating that weird class of independent Catholic schools that are termed "authentic Catholic schools." Generally these are small schools run outside of connection with a parish - some have the blessings of local dioceses and some don't. We could care less whether or not a school has the local bishop's approval or blessing if it's authentically Catholic.
In our area, there are four "authentic" Catholic grade schools. We've ruled out three of them for reasons dealing with distance/traffic, too much of an SSPX presence (students, not staff), and being too small. The fourth school is a dream-come-true, but quite a drive. We're willing to do it.
But then it came to our attention that there was a fifth "authentic" Catholic school on our radar screen that we didn't know about. In a nutshell, it's a Legionnaires'/Regnum Christi associated school - but it's not (more on that below.) So as not to leave any stone unturned, we toured the school (a 2-day process), and absolutely fell in love with the place. Although we're not in love with the price tag nor the drive/commute to it. The cost of this school is naturally the most of the five schools.
Going in, we were aware of the potential financial dimensions that might accompany anything associated with the Legionnaires. You know what I mean: Stories of discrimination by the Legion against families that don't "look good" on financial paper. In fact, we were direct and upfront with the school administrators about that topic and are satisfied with their answers.
Additionally, we were also aware going in of the rumored poaching techniques used by Regnum Christi members to get others into the organization, etc. This, too, we discussed with the administration and are satisfied with the responses we received. As I mentioned above, the school is "no longer" considered an official Legion associated school. As a technical matter, it never really was. But since the scandal, even while the priest serving the school is LC and has chosen to remain with the Legion, the school's only association is that they follow the Legion's-based educational method, which is from the National Consultant's for Education (NCE).
Seeing the Holy Spirit at work in this school was an eye-opener. Even better, the educational techniques and results at this school were almost too fantastic to be believed. Yet, with our own eyes, we saw what can be done with children when teachers who know what they are doing expect nothing but excellence from their students. As an example, this year's 7th grade class have just completed a sophomore-year high school Spanish text book.
Other than the exorbitant cost (for us), we're sold. This is where we want our child, because attending this school would be a golden ticket to life. Our child could basically get into any private high school of our choice and probably on scholarship.
So the problem? Everything in this school looked a little too perfect, straight, and ordered. Which, as I read around the internet, is a signature style of anything associated with the Legion and Regnum Christi. For a while, we were thinking they were putting on quite a show, but then realized they weren't: All the children wearing the exact same pair of shoes, and children rising when we entered their classrooms and saying things like, "Good morning, Mrs. Jones. My name is Richard. Welcome to our school." Examples like this are fine and laudable. We liked it.
But what about three and four year olds being constantly physically guided and turned towards their teacher by a cadre of aides all day - everytime they wiggled or squirmed? Or kindergarten boys wearing formal ties to school? Isn't that sort of unnatural? And what of children who looked happy and well-adjusted, but didn't seem to have the energy and joy of "normal" children as we encountered them at any grade level? I'm not implying that the children in this school seemed like robots or zombies, but something was just "off."
I brought this up to one of the administrators and felt that he was slightly puzzled or offended by my questioning. He explained that the youngest children in the school are indoctrinated into a certain mode and expectation of behavior so that they are primed and ready for the advanced educational curriculum they will experience as they move through the school. This answer made sense to us, as the educational caliber of this school is fantastic, and to achieve what they do there you can't have an unruly, distracted bunch of kids. But still, I'm bothered by the seamless, perfect facade of the school as a whole. Even the teachers were dressed perfectly with big smiles on their faces all the time, which I can't believe is normal. The only "normal" people I encountered there were the Regnum Christi (?) consecrated single women who assist at the school with religious education.
Some would argue, as we have in our discussions between husband and wife, so what? Children are little sponges and capable of great things if they are given the right opportunities and the proper environment to learn. Why not expose your child to such an environment? We'd be idiots not to, right? Parents today push too little and expect even less. What's wrong with setting the bar higher?
But still, what if the price of absolute educational excellence and stellar Catholic catechesis is breaking the individual will and spirit? This is the question I'd like to know your thoughts on: Is a school like this unrealistic? Is it bad news in terms of the Legion connection, or what?
I know you won't hold back, Red. So thanks in advance for your response!
I remember when our oldest, Kitten, was approaching school age. I was torn and agonizing about a lot of things: should we start kindergarten when she was four-and-a-half (December birthday) or wait until she was five? Should I use a pre-packaged curricula or make things up as I went along? Reading and math were the most important things, right? How could I make sure Kitten was progressing properly in these areas without neglecting others?
The result was that our first year was way more stressful than it needed to be, for both of us. I was trying to do things like science and history with a child who should probably have been spending 30 minutes a day printing letters and numbers, followed by some read-aloud and craft time. Instead, I was stubbornly clinging to a math program that was far too advanced for her, doing phonics drills, and insisting on seatwork. Eventually, I got hit upside the head with some common sense, and we slowed down, simplified, and didn't worry about what grade level she was in--and the results were a child who started reading eagerly, still struggled (still does!) with math but found it doable anyway, and slowly recaptured her initial delight with the idea of learning.
What I learned--and this applies to the LC/RC affiliated school my reader mentions--is that trying to make all children embrace a heavy academic, structured program in kindergarten or even first grade is not going to work for every one of them. Some, certainly, will thrive. Others will shut down, and you'll have to spend time undoing the damage.
Now: on to the Legion matter.
My advice here to my reader is as it always is when people mention Legion-related things to me: be very, very, very careful.
Here are the red flags I see in my reader's letter:
1. Cost: the fact that this is the most expensive of the five schools the reader mentions is fairly typical of LC/RC institutions. And certainly the appearance of good educational value is being given--but the LC is so good at appearances. My worry here would be twofold: one, that there will be "hidden costs" (e.g., mandatory fundraisers, "emergency" appeals, etc.) that will only crop up after my reader has decided on this school and her child is attending it. And two: that the cost will continue to rise each year until the reader's family can no longer afford the school, which will have "priced" them and other families out of it. Both of these are things people have experienced with LC affiliated schools.
2. Level of Legion involvement: My reader says the school isn't really LC, an impression the school itself apparently gives. But the priest serving the school is LC, the school uses an LC-based educational method (and some of my readers may have experience with that), and there are Regnum Christi "consecrated" (not really) women serving as (probably) low- or unpaid classroom aides! To me, this sounds like a school that is more Legion than not.
3. Too perfect: Maybe I'm just getting cynical, but when things seem too perfect to be real they generally are. There is nothing wrong with expecting standards of polite and well-mannered behavior from children; I spent a lot of years instructing my children in those things. There is something a little wrong with complete conformity outside of the military, in my mind (and especially when children are involved).
4. Physical correction: My reader mentions that when three- or four-year-olds (!) wiggled or squirmed, they were physically turned toward the teacher by aides! This is just wrong for the following reasons: a) the child's physical boundaries are being violated at a time when he or she is supposed to be learning not to let strange adults touch him; b) three-year-olds should be playing, not sitting in classrooms; c) four-year-olds who are not squirmy are unreal, and d) no method of instruction for the very young should rely on physical reinforcement of a stiff and unnatural posture. What really worries me here is that the administrator my reader asked about all of this acted, in her word, offended by the question! My reader's gut instinct is right, here: no matter how terrific the academics of the school might be (emphasis on might), it is not reassuring to see children as young as three being forced to go through the physical motions of remaining still at a desk for hours at a time just so they will be prepared for the harder material they will encounter in approximately six to eight years.
If I were this reader, I'd choose school number four, and give this one a pass.
Now it's your turn, readers: what advice would you give this reader? I'm especially interested to hear what those who have experience with the Legion, particularly Legion-run or Legion-affiliated schools, have to say.