The Perils of Catholic Education

This June our excellent parochial school is being closed after a hundred years. My live in granddaughter Perry went there for the last eight years and has just moved to the local public school. I am grateful that she had the advantages of Catholic education that sociologists have described; these schools are rich in "social capital" because students, teachers, parents, priests and parish members form a supportive community for learning and faith. It was wonderful to attend First Fridays and see the whole school together, with the big ones shepherding their young "prayer partners." Each grade prepared the mass and our pastor gave great sermons, perhaps on this year’s theme of peace. I love even more seeing Perry as an altar server. Celebrating together makes community and community creates the future church. How sad, as Andrew Greeley has noted, that now that Catholic education has incorporated the best the faith tradition has to offer, it is being shut down. Why? I don’t blame the parish, or the Archdiocese who can no longer afford the $450,000 yearly subsidy or the parents who have struggled to support the school. I blame our government and voters who won’t support religious education in the way other democratic societies regularly do. Great injustices are perpetuated in our country by unequal financial support of educational systems. Poor children get poor public schooling and rarely manage to escape poverty. Dedicated teachers and administrators in Catholic schools like ours do not get equal pay or working conditions. (And our small Cinderella school had more diversity and children of color from immigrant backgrounds than the whole public school system combined.) In our super affluent educational campus there is a separate science building, a large theatre, an elaborate cafeteria, a large well equipped gym offering among other things rock climbing, computer rooms, etc., etc.-- along with guidance counselors, consultants, administrators and well paid teachers. To their credit the middle school is stressing community service and character education assemblies. But I see no way that this faith free environment can help but perpetuate the religious illiteracy that plagues American society. The huge population of Catholic children in this school are hardly going to get what they ought to know from after school CCD programs. I think here of our own public schooled children and my seven years of teaching in the after school religious education program; more time and instruction is needed--no matter how hard parents try. Struggling to counter our secular culture’s ever growing "expressive individualism," as Charles Taylor labels it, is no joke. Last week Perry came home from her new school and announced with an ironic gleam in her eye that in health class they were told to construct "self-esteem collages." Ah, a Lenten project perhaps? We had a good laugh over this, but still.... How is the faith going to survive? What to do? Sidney Callahan
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