In our current issue Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan calls upon all Catholics to recommit themselves to the mission of Catholic education. "The truth is that the entire parish, the whole diocese and the universal church benefit from Catholic schools in ways that keep communities strong," Archbishop Dolan writes. "So all Catholics have a duty to support them. Reawakening a sense of common ownership of Catholic schools may be the biggest challenge the church faces in any revitalization effort ahead." In the interest of continuing the conversation, we have asked a panel of educators, scholars and parents to respond to the archbishop. Their responses are now online.
Melanie M. Morey, codirector of the Catholic Education Institute, writes that while the financial viability of Catholic schools is a major concern, "another critical issue that also must be addressed if we hope to have vibrant Catholic schools in the future. It is the religious character, identity and culture that distinguishes Catholic schools and makes them so successful. To meet the challenges of our own time we need Catholic schools, not simply schools operated by Catholics."
Maureen T. Hallinan of Notre Dame questions one of the premises of the archbishop's article, namely that Catholic schools offer a superior education to public schools: "Public schools have implemented a number of educational reforms, some of which have been quite successful in raising test scores. In contrast, under-funded Catholic schools are struggling to provide a solid education for their students within strict monetary constraints and typically cannot implement many of the reforms adopted in public schools."
John J. Convey of the Catholic University of America writes that the state of Catholic schools may be more dire than the archbishop indicates: "While the total population of Catholic schools is about 2.2 million (2008-2009), Catholics number only 1.6 million in grades 1-12, a decline of more than two-thirds since the high point 45 years ago and this despite a larger and wealthier Catholic population."
Finally, Robert Sullivan, a parent and author, offers an unconventional response, questioning whether Catholic schools should be in the business of evangelization: "What if...these schools deemphasized religious education? In so doing, the school itself—educating young people to be thinking, interested citizens, conversant in the arts and history, in addition to perhaps theology and philosophy—would be an act of social justice, and, as well, a continuation of the American church’s historic role as host to immigrant communities."
We hope to post additional responses in the coming days, so keep your eye on the blog.