Thursday, January 23, 2014

What good are today's Catholic schools?

Msgr. Pope has a thoughtful post today about Catholic education:
Indeed, one of the great tragedies of modern Church life is the demise of Catholic Schools. They were founded at a time when Catholics did not want their children indoctrinated in Protestant and secular settings, largely inimical to the Catholic faith. Since faith and the salvation resulting from it was most precious gift of all, the thought of exposing their children to these dangers was of such a concern that parents, along with priests and religious made tremendous sacrifices to built, maintain and support Catholic Schools for their children.
The government, then as now, saw this as a threat, realizing that it could not easily influence Catholic children with modern sectarian notions and thereby build “good citizens” (read: loyal party members).
There were many showdowns where government officials spoke menacingly of Catholic Schools and sought to compel either public education, or to severely marginalize Catholic and other sectarian schools.
Most notably, President Ulysses Grant in 1875 indicated in a presidential address to Civil War veterans that, now that the Civil war was won, “The dividing line will not be Mason and Dixon’s but between patriotism and intelligence on one side, and superstition, ambition and ignorance on the other.” He was referring to the Catholic Church when he said ‘superstition’ and went on to insist that there be no funding for Catholic schools and that Church property be taxed. (quoted in McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom pp. 91-93). [...]
The demise of Catholic Schools is complex. It is not merely that Catholic parents no longer rate the handing on of the faith as important as in the past, but also that many, parents and priests alike, had come to doubt that Catholic schools were any longer doing that effectively. The handing on of the Catholic faith to the young has become difficult in a broken culture of broken families. Further, some argue that Catholic Educational leaders became too enamored of public school ideologies and techniques.

There are a couple of areas where I disagree with Msgr. Pope; for instance, he points out the poisonous errors the public schools teach (particularly about issues dealing with the sanctity of life and moral virtue) but fails to note that some (perhaps most) Catholic schools have been making those same errors for the last thirty or forty years or so.

And there are a couple of things he doesn't mention, that I think are important.  One of them, brought up by many of his commenters, is the prohibitive cost of Catholic education in most areas.  In our diocese, for instance, grade schools run about five thousand dollars per year per child, and high school is more than fifteen thousand a year.  Uniforms, mandatory fund-raising or volunteer hours, and other costs add to this total until it becomes out of reach for many families.  Sadly, the families for whom Catholic schools are most out of reach are the families who are open to life and who try to live on a single income so Mom can stay at home with the youngest children.  It doesn't help these families to be told at Mass (as I personally experienced) that if you just gave up luxuries like fancy new cars and annual vacations you could easily afford tuition at the Catholic schools; it also doesn't help when some young moms get the idea that their pastors think they are lazy and selfish to want to stay at home with their children instead of earning that second income to pay for diocesan schooling.

Another is the implosion of the teaching orders of religious nuns; the lack of religious sisters willing to dedicate themselves to the teaching of Catholic children primarily for the purpose of instructing them in the faith has had a devastating effect on Catholic schools, not only by increasing their cost, but also by resulting in the hiring of lay teachers, some of whom are not only not Catholic but actively inimical to the Church.

But the biggest problem of all is the one I keep mentioning: Catholic schools no longer produce Catholic graduates.  They produce ex-Catholic, former Catholic, "Catholic but dissenting," or lapsed Catholic graduates.  Since this is a violation of their mission so deep and profound it can almost not be overstated, the question arises: what good are today's Catholic schools?


Anonymous said...

Excellent article. I'm new to your blog. Found you through a google search on restored sacramental order. I'll bookmark and read more as time allows. Thank you for articulating some of the very thoughts and experiences I've found to be true.

Kevin Combs said...

Excellent commentary. We had the same frustrating Catholic school experience as a family of 6 with a stay at home. We applied for and were denied tuition assistance. Yet, there were numerous families with two incomes, fewer children, and $60k SUVs that received some form of financial aid. The application process is very opaque, but apparently we didn't carry a high enough debt load. I could handle one child at full tuition, but I was afraid to go down that road with another child entering the system every one to two years. It wasn't purely a financial motivation to avoid Catholic school, but I felt we wouldn't get our money's worth for the 'Catholic' component. In fact, I could tell from pre-K experience that the system would be actively working against me, a Catholic parent. My children were taught prayers thanking God for the Earth, trees, and recycling, but not much else. It appeared to me to be public school academics with a Catholic veneer slapped on at fundraising time.

Muscovite said...

The sole reason we didn't put our children in the local Catholic school was because we wanted our children to remain Catholic. We (as converts) don't know any local Catholic school graduates to hold up as examples for our children. Not one. I'll echo Kevin Combs: "It appeared to me to be public school academics with a Catholic veneer slapped on at fundraising time."