As we trend toward the end of January, Most dioceses sponsor some sort of “Catholic Schools Week” activities. With that in mind a few thoughts occur to me with regard to both the need for alternatives to public school, and the increasing difficulties related to Catholic schools.
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).
Hence public schools, (read: government schools) have long been seen as a necessary vehicle of the secular State, and others with secular agendas, to lay hold of the minds of young people. Catholics understood this and resisted it in an era when our faith was more important to us that it collectively is today.
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.
Nevertheless we need Catholic schools more than ever before, and yet, just when we need them most they are going away, closing by the hundreds every year. Some say home schooling is filling the gap. For a few, yes, but the vast majority of Catholic children now go to government run secular schools where they are daily indoctrinated with trendy and often sinful teachings to include the immoral agenda of the homosexual lobby, condom obsessed sexual “teachings” and all sorts of deconstructionist and syncretistic notions that discredit faith, the Scriptures, and the meaning of the human person, and the existence of God. There is also the exaltation of science in a way inimical to faith, bogus notions of tolerance, agenda laden curricula etc.
I was recently made aware of an article in the Reader’s Digest. And while the article has several purposes beyond the scope of this article I write, I would like to excerpt aspects of the Reader’s Digest article that pertain here and encourage you to read the rest here: American Schools Damaging Kids?. As usual, the original text of the article is in bold, black italics. My comments are in plain red text.
Parents send their children to school with the best of intentions, believing that formal education is what kids need to become productive, happy adults. Many parents do have qualms about how well schools are performing, but the conventional wisdom is that these issues can be resolved with more money, better teachers, more challenging curricula, or more rigorous tests. But what if the real problem is school itself? –
Yes our public schools are failing at almost every level. But the fact is they have become a closed system wherein the goal is really not that your kid knows anything at the end of the day, but that his “ticket gets punched” and he can go to the next level of the failing school system, and then to a “noteworthy” college, and get something called a diploma that supposedly opens doors to him after getting even more pieces of paper called a Masters Degree etc.
So the point isn’t really that your kid knows anything at the end of the day, but that they get their ticket punched for access to the American scene. Obviously the less tedious the process the better, so why care about higher standards? Why care if the kid has ever read the classics, knows their times tables, or can read or write above a 5th grade level? The point isn’t skill, its the punched ticket. Its an unhealthy symbiotic agreement.
The unfortunate fact is that one of our most cherished institutions is, by its very nature, failing our children and our society.
Yes, frankly most come out our schools performing very poorly in terms of basic skills such as reading, writing, grammar, basic mathematics, and the ability to think and communicate well.
Compulsory education has been a fixture of our culture now for several generations. President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are so enamored of it that they want even longer school days and years. –
And this is an old government technique, not unique to America, wherein the government wants more time with your kids than you. They want to be the main source of information, values and influence. Why? Power, party loyalty, an ability to craft the future and and bring the citizenry in line.
…Schools as we know them today are a product of history, not of research. The blueprint for them was developed during the Protestant Reformation, when schools were created to teach children to read the Bible, to believe Scripture without questioning it, and to obey authority figures without questioning them. –
Fair enough, the earliest schools in this country were founded with this religious purpose, prior to the American Revolution when most of the colonies had an official religious loyalty. But after the Revolution and the Constitution, things went more secular:
When schools were taken over by the state, made compulsory, and directed toward secular ends, the basic structure and methods of teaching remained unchanged. Subsequent attempts at reform have failed because they haven’t altered the basic blueprint…. The top-down, teach-and-test method, in which learning is motivated by a system of rewards and punishments rather than by curiosity or by any real desire to know, is well designed for indoctrination and obedience training but not much else. …
As a society, we tend to shrug off such findings. We’re not surprised that kids are unhappy in school. Some people even believe that the very unpleasantness of school is good for children, so they will learn to tolerate unpleasantness as preparation for real life. But there are plenty of opportunities to learn to tolerate unpleasantness without adding unpleasant schooling to the mix. Research has shown that people of all ages learn best when they are self-motivated, pursuing answers to questions that reflect their personal interests and achieving goals that they’ve set for themselves.
The article goes on to encourage other methods separate from government schools. To which I utter a hearty Amen.
My “Amen” is not regarding methodologies of education, (I am NOT a pedagogical expert); but anything we can do to dismantle the secular and/or government stranglehold over modern education which has become little less than indoctrination and a big money grab is to be encouraged.
Am I too cynical? You decide. Comments are open both for rebuttals and different options.
Yes, I deeply regret the loss of Catholic schools but admit that too many of them had become weak on faith and were mere clones of the government schools. This is not true everywhere, but sadly it was too often the case. We can only pray that the ones that do remain open will focus on being true alternatives to government schools where the Catholic Faith is effectively handed on. In the mean time it can only be hoped that Americans in general and Catholics in particular become more sober about the increasingly negative trends in public (government) education. Higher priority needs to be given to Catholic alternatives.
128 Replies to “In an age of many problematic trends in public education Catholics need to work harder to provide educational alternatives.”
My children attend cyber charter schools and although they are technically a part of the public school system, they allow for a custom designed curriculum for their students. As a parent, I have access to all their lessons and grades and I can always appeal if I find any problem with the courses. So far, I haven’t found anything problematic. My children are with me every day and I am able to teach them the Catholic faith. A lot of friends and family worry about my children’s ability to socialize and communicate because they think that the children can only get such skills if they go to a brick and mortar schools. I am slowly proving them wrong as they see how well my children perform in school, how much they know about the faith, their behavior and how they interact with others, compared to children we know, who attend public/private/parochial schools. My children have developed a strong work ethic as early as 4 years old. They know that education is important and so they know that they have to do well and be responsible about it. They also know that straight A’s mean nothing if not done to please God. I am certainly not generalizing, as I know there are students/children who do very well in most, if not all aspects of learning/growing. This is based on my family’s experience. Availability of cyber schools in my state is definitely a blessing to our family. I do not have to worry about my children’s safety, they are provided with the flexibility in learning and it also gives us a lot of opportunities to grow together in our faith.
You could not have said it better Monsignor. I always wish that I had the family support and self confidence to home school my daughters.
We are sending our children to Catholic schools, but I am sorry to say that the sheer expense makes it prohibitive for most families. Most of our friends homeschool. I suppose that if our children were in the previous Catholic school they attended in WA, we’d have taken them out as well due to the increased secularism that has crept into it. So we are grateful to God for being in the South. The smaller Catholic schools are still very Catholic.
Good article, but I’d suggest that we’re pricing Catholic Schools way out of reach for most people. Given that, we need to stop making Catholic parents who send their kids to public schools feel like they’re doing second best by their kids. Putting all our eggs in the “revive the Catholic school” basket is probably going to backfire. Strong religious education programs which inspire and educate our children and include training in critical thinking for people of faith will become more and more important and yet we still talk as if Catholic schools are the only alternative for the well-formed Catholic. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Jennifer, you raise an excellent point. We need strong religious education programs especially in the urban areas where the Catholic schools are becoming extinct. That means more people and resources for CCD/PREP. You would think this is a no-brainer but it’s not. In our area, most of the energy and resources in the archdiocese are committed to damage control and legal fees.
While the scandals were unfolding, the urban parochial schools were entering a death spiral as those who could moved out of the cities to put their kids in better schools, parishes merged and eventually closed and the parish schools closed with them.
I don’t think it’s impossible to build a strong program without a lot of money, but you do need the people who are willing to commit to making this happen. We are all commissioned to spread the Faith through the sacraments of initiation but very few choose to become directly involved in the teaching of our children. And from my experience over the past 7 years, this is not easy to do.
The urban schools that are becoming extinct? In my diocese the urban schools — that hardly have any Catholics in them — are the only ones the Bishop will keep open! The suburban schools are getting closed or merging even when they are operating in the black. No wonder that so many Catholic parents are sending their children to public school.
That’s interesting to hear. Where I am it is the exact opposite – very few urban schools are left while new schools are being built in the suburbs. I live a mile away from the city limits and the Catholic school right across the border has just built an addition on to its existing grade school. Two new high schools opened in the suburbs in the last 5 years and there’s talk of more being planned.
The USCCB has issued a framework for High School children, http://old.usccb.org/education/framework.pdf ,but unfortunately (& stupidly) this is only available if parents are willing to pay the very high price (11k-16k per child) for an education in a Catholic HS (CHS), where in some cases half the children are not Catholic, just looking for high SAT scores. This HS Teaching in effect only reaches a small percentage of HS Catholic young adults. Then some wonder why few young persons today really understand their Catholic Faith. (?!)
We are blessed with a wonderful Catholic school in our parish. It is not perfect, but it has been a wonderful experience for our family. I was commenting to my children about how their teachers have been praying for them since before they were born–now that is a level of commitment, no public school will ever match. I want to comment on how important Catholic schools are for our children, but also for our parishes. I see our Catholic school as integral to parish life. As young parents, families are connected through our school to become a parish family, and that moves on as they mature and become more available for faith formation programs to deepen their faith. However, I am seeing a trend in our parish that is probably true in many places, where two parent families can not devote the time that a stay-at-home mom can. Our monthly PTO meetings have dropped to 1/quarter or less. PTO meetings were very much a social event, but now they are more business like. Families are still involved, but I think in another generation that will become less, and we will begin to suffer like our inner city parishes which are about to close down. I think I am seeing the end of a golden era. I think there are a lot of trends that are coming together, but it will be increasingly difficult to fund our school. The answer I think is the New Evangelization that we hear so much about. We need to fill our churches and our parish schools. I do not have good answers to the downward trend in Catholic education, but I think that Catholic education is so important for our children but also for our lives as Catholics to sustain our parishes and to pass on the faith.
OK, I’ll admit, Common Core (as a curriculum) does seem like a power grab.
Having said that…I am the daughter and granddaughter of public school teachers. I teach at a Catholic college where many students are preparing to teach in those public schools. All of them went or are going into teaching for the most altruistic reasons. It certainly isn’t for the money or prestige. It’s usually because they love education or their subject or both and want to share that learning. Teachers do hard and wildly unappreciated work (public and private).
If Catholic laypeople are called to sacralize the secular order, Catholics can teach in public schools and be part of the solution. My mother in law worked in an inner city high school in Minneapolis for years, and did more “social justice” work in that position than most Catholics I know–simply by being present to her students (she taught emotionally disturbed kids, and regularly mentioned that one of her students had been shot, or arrested, etc.). She talked to students who discovered they were pregnant and counseled having the baby, and offered to get them in touch with Birthright and social services. She helped another walk through immigration issues (he was brought into the country illegally when he was six months old, as I recall, and now couldn’t apply to colleges or get a job at 18). Her students knew she loved them. Often, no one else did.
As for sending kids to these schools, I think families need to discern well in this regard. I do think Catholic schools should provide genuine, effective, and affordable alternatives to public education, rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition. There are schools that do that. They are rare, because it is hard to strike that combination. Frankly, what I see in my area is that the majority of people who send their kids to Catholic schools want them to be safe (this in an already low crime area) and “with their own kind.” It’s very disturbing. It contradicts the basic gospel message.
Personally, I think the key is to empower and frankly remind parents that it is their responsibility to catechize their children. If children are well loved and catechized, they can go to most schools (or be home-schooled) and be a positive influence. The whole situation requires a multi-faceted approach–home, society, curriculum, Church support. We all need to do the hard work of digging in our heels and committing to our community’s children.
“I think the key is to empower and frankly remind parents that it is their responsibility to catechize their children. If children are well loved and catechized, they can go to most schools (or be home-schooled) and be a positive influence. The whole situation requires a multi-faceted approach–home, society, curriculum, Church support. We all need to do the hard work of digging in our heels and committing to our community’s children.”
This. I couldn’t agree more. We the parents are the primary educators of our children. We must pass on the faith. But the problem is that many parents do not have the faith. You cannot give something to your children you don’t have. It is a sad situation.
You can’t be part of the solution if you are not permitted to speak truthfully. My sister tried her best to be faithful to Catholic principles while teaching in the public schools, but failed because you may not teach moral principles.
We have thriving Catholic schools in Dallas, K-12. Classrooms are full. The one issue we have is they are too expensive. I have paid $17K per kid per year x 3 kids for Catholic high school. Paid about $5K per kid per year for K-8. Total it up, it comes to over $320K for school before college. And I still paid property taxes to the local school district every year. Very, very few can afford that. But, these days we don’t have the nuns and have to pay market rate for teachers.
The problem with hiring secular teachers is that the vast majority are not Catholic. The vast majority aren’t even Christian. Here in Indiana, many Catholic schools are under fire for dismissing teachers who: 1) Practiced IVF to get pregnant, 2) Had abortions and were proudly public about it, 3) Out and loud homosexuals/lesbians, 4) Avid atheists who desecrated the faith in the classroom daily. The Federal government is jumping in with both feet to force the dioceses in question to rehire these teachers, claiming the schools are “not a religious function, thus Equal Opportunity laws govern hiring/firing.” (Question: Who in the h#$& hired these people in the first place?)
Having teachers hostile to the faith, along with aping the atheist/hedonist government indoctrination camps, is what killed Catholic education. IMHO, it won’t be long before the US Gov’t will simply outlaw all non-gov’t schools as well as homeschooling. They will use the German government education laws as their model.
As former teachers in one of the “highest-rated” school systems in our state, my wife and I can fully attest that the public schools are a failure. I’m convinced that the good kids that do manage to come out of the system with their heads on straight and go on to succeed in life do so despite the system, not because of it. We have run into so many parents and/or friends who admit that the schools are a failure but insist that their children go to “one of the good schools.” This may be the biggest fallacy of the whole thing. I’ve been an integral part of the “one of the good schools.” I know many other teachers who have been faculty members of the “good schools” in their towns and states. Trust me. They aren’t good schools. They’re just less horrific than the others. Still horrible, and only good in a relative sense. (As an aside, parents with their children’s schools are a lot like people buying cars. Everyone knows that people get taken when buying cars, yet everyone you meet insists they got a “good deal,” just like they insist their children go to a “good school.” Something to think about…)
What do two former teachers with over 25 years of combined teaching in the public schools do for their children? We tried Catholic schools, but found that, as Monsignor alluded to, ours in particular was a poor teacher of the faith. We even had teachers brag to us that they were adopting a large portion of the public school curriculum. As if emulating the public schools would impress us! Less than a week after that, we pulled our kids and have been home schooling them since. It is hard financially, but it is easily the best decision we’ve ever made. And the most rewarding. We may not ever have a lot of money as a result of this decision, but better to be poor and try to raise your kids to be children of God than to have the money and turn them over to those who don’t have a the same commitment to their morality.
I’m a DRE in a large northeastern city. Our parish school closed several year ago and the neighborhood we’re located in is considered one of the best areas to live in the city. There is a mix of public and charter schools here and the kids in our PREP program come from both.
Two years ago I was teaching the 5th grade class about the Ten Commandments. When we got to the 5th Commandment, I mentioned that abortion is considered a sin because it ends a human life. One of the 11 year old girls raised her hand and told me “My teacher tells us that abortion is good for women.” That started a discussion amongst the entire class about certain teachers that they had had over the years at this public school that is considered the “best” school in the neighborhood. The use of the “F-word” by an angry teacher was consistently mentioned.
I know that there are many, many fine and caring teachers in public schools and that these incidents are most likely in the minority. But it shocked me at how casually the kids mentioned them.
A few years ago I attended a meeting prior to our parish merging with two other parishes in the area due to plummeting attendance figures. The PREP programs in our area are little more than afterthoughts in the life of the parishes that have survived. I asked the archdiocesan representative what they intended to do now that the majority of our Catholic children in our city do not attend Catholic schools. I have yet to receive an answer.
My daughter has two children and would love to send them to a Catholic school. He husband divorced her and she is struggling financially so she can’t do it. But honestly, I don’t know. I struggled to send my children to a Catholic school (my former husband was cruel and abusive) but neither one of them practice their faith. I will pray for them till I die.
In our very rural area we are fortunate to have a very Catholic K-6 school. Tuition is kept within reach of most members of our county parishes. Through fundraising we are able to cover the other 50%. The school Isn’t dripping with technology but has things much more important to the formation of our youth: Caring teachers and staff as well as parents who work to make it all possible. I just need to figure out what to do with my son after 6th grade. The public school system is a moral wasteland.
Don’t worry about the “dripping with technology”. Hopefully there is some. Exposure is useful but thinking is done by the brain and technology is just a tool.
I agree with Msgr. that Catholic Education is more vital now than ever. WE have homeschooled our 6 children up to the 8th grade. They have attended a small parish school for 8th and Catholic high school. The High school is new and deeply dedicated to integrating the faith into all areas of the curriculum. It is worth every penny in tuition.
The elementary school has a strong spiritual element, but sadly is enthusiastically on board with a modified “catholic” Common core curriculum. We have to raise money for ipads, and smartboards…not textbooks. These gadgets do little to enhance learning but much to increase tuition and fees.
Having homeschooled my kids for so many years, I know that kids can learn what they need to know very well with very little technology. Having 6 children, with two in catholic school, I worry about how we will pay for high school. We have followed the Church’s teaching about being open to life and face the real dilemma of how to provide the best catholic education for them.
I fail to see how a Catholic education can ever be affordable if the schools insist on embracing technology at the expense of affordability. Catholics have a long and proud tradition of education…we wrote the book so to speak and know what works…why can’t Catholic educators and bishops see this and embrace poverty for the sake of equal access? It is essential, in this world of soo much information, that we train out children to think, to process information according to their faith. This type of education must be available to all Catholic families. Your should not have limit your family to 1.7 children, or your husband be a doctor to afford this type of education.
I pray that the Church will see this need and some new movement (lay or religious) will arise to meet the challenge of education. I see homeschooling as a partial answer to this, but it is not for everyone. It is an emergency response because the answer is not here yet. The Church itself needs to be more self-critical in this regard and search for answers in tradition…not educational fads. Drop out of the race with fancy private schools. Make the school more affordable and you will find more diversity (racial and socio-economic.) and better educated children.
Sadly, most parents send their children to Catholic schools, not so they get a catholic education, but so they do not have to attend the public schools. Case in point, my oldest child is in third grade. Her teacher remarked to me that in her ten years of teaching there, my daughter is her only student that ever knew the Fatima prayer. If parents were concerned with rearing their children in the catholic faith, wouldn’t more than one student in 10 years have known the Fatima prayer?
When I pray, it usually takes a long time to receive God’s answer…. but not this time!
I homeschool my youngest child, who is 12 years old. I do it because I do not trust the public schools at all. I am a high school English teacher who trained in the public school system in order to obtain my certification, but I was troubled by what I witnessed in it. As an English teacher, I was forced to teach from books that undermine Christian principles, and I was strictly forbidden from sharing my faith. To me, it seemed morally wrong to check my faith in at the door each day when I went to work. When I go back to work, it will be in a Catholic school, where I hope to make a positive difference.
I wanted to put my son in a Catholic school, but I could not find a school that took the faith seriously. In fact, many of the teachers themselves weren’t even Catholic!!! Also, I found the same books that I complained about in the public schools in the Catholic schools. Not good.
Lastly, the culture in these schools is depressing. Very few kids thrive. Most feel harassed and anxious. My older kids have told me this, and I saw it every day in my classrooms. The hallways and locker rooms are filled with bullying, crudeness, sexual harassment, talk of drugs, alcohol, porn, et cetera.
I started praying about high school for my youngest son a few days ago. I was feeling that perhaps I’m doing my son a huge disservice by keeping him home. On the one hand, my son is getting a fantastic Catholic foundation from Seton Home School, but on the other hand, he is “missing out” on many of the things that “going to school” has to offer. One of my husband’s friends just sent me this Readers Digest article, which I read last night before going to bed. And now I’m reading about it here on your blog. I guess God is telling me to continue with homeschooling!
When I was writing my thesis on Christian education, I learned some interesting things. One of them was that Christian educators of the earliest centuries of Christianity taught the sons of both Christian and non-Christian families. However, they kept the Christian children separated from the non-Christian children. Why? Because they knew that the non-Christian children would corrupt the fragile, budding faith and good character of the Christian children.
I feel like the emperor has no clothes when it comes to Catholic schools. Church and educational leaders keep telling us how great the Catholic schools are, but there is no real empirical evidence to show that Catholic schools are successful in their primary function: passing on the Faith. Furthermore, the Catholic schools are trying as hard as possible to imitate public schools and their ever-changing fads (see Common Core) instead of embracing their heritage as leaders in classical education. Yet we are constantly indoctrinated to accept the party line that Catholic schools are something special.
Add to that the exorbanent costs, especially for large families, and you can see why fewer and fewer families (including my own) see Catholic schools as a viable option.
Amen, Bro. I’m tired of Bishops and priests touting Catholic schools as a moral obligation, or at least a morally superior choice, with very little evidence to back them up. God instituted the Family and the Church, but not the school. It’s a tool, which the family and Church can use if it is helpful, but can (without guilt) abandon if it is not. My responsibility is to my children, not beefing up the numbers of failing Catholic schools.
I think you miss the main point of the article which is that the public schools are poison. Catholic schools were the historical answer but other options are now in motion such as home schools co-ops and charters. Catholic schools are still part of the answer but this article is not a shill piece for that option alone.
I didn’t mean you, Monsignor. In fact, I found your article quite refreshing in your honesty about the problems with Catholic schools. I was just explaining that a big problem with Catholic schools is that no one in leadership wants to admit the problems with Catholic schools.
Also, I agree that public schools are poison.
I’m sorry, Msgr., I realize you weren’t writing a “shill piece for that option,” but in fact many people in the Church do give that impression, which doesn’t help the situation. As Francis stated, you were being honest about the situation. If administrators could all be honest and be open to solutions, then maybe those of us outside the school would be interested in helping. But right now it’s an “us vs. them” mentality in many places.
If public schools are poison then why aren’t Bishops doing something about parents who have been open to life and have more than 1 or 2 children not being able to afford “catholic ” school?
Why is it always the bishops who have to do something? I know that in this diocese we do a lot to assist with tuition but there are not unlimited funds. When our school closed I told the angry people that our school could stay open if they would like to pay for it. The diocese would continue its supplement (but it was no longer enough. At the end of the day, the people did not want to pay what it would cost going forward. So it closed. Thats on us, not the bishops
I know a devout conservative Catholic couple with a large family. They felt that the local Catholic schools were so bad and so much like the public schools that they decided to send their kids to a conservative Lutheran school. Imagine that!
To bring back affordable Catholic schools, we will need some things that will not happen overnight. We need to bring back committed religious (male and female) as teachers (that will help hold down the costs of operating the schools). We need to have a serious conversation about funding (at the parish and diocese level). We need to talk about spending priorities in our families (and whether two-paycheck households are benefits to the family or to those who are working). We need to address as well the myth that by sending our children to public schools or working in public schools we are “seeding” Catholicism or Christianity in the schools. I have been hearing that argument for 30 years now, and those seeds are not bearing fruit. It won’t be easy and it won’t happen quickly; but it can happen, because all things are possible in Christ. On the other hand, i don’t remember the passages in the Old or New Testament that life or faith would be easy — I do know it will be rewarding, both in this life and the next.
Interesting article, though it omits one major point – the cost of obtaining a Catholic education. For those of us who work two full time jobs and still cannot make ends meet, the prospect of sending our children to Catholic school quickly fades when tuition approaches $4,000 per year for a single child (and even more for an entire family). This is a major structural problem that is part of the complexity mentioned in the article. The entire system has changed so drastically with the loss of vocations, lack of parish financial support, etc., that tuition has increased exponentially. One local Catholic high school in my neighborhood charges tens of thousands of dollars per year to attend. So, while some of us desperately want to send our children to Catholic schools, we just cannot afford it, even with financial aid. This reality must also be addressed.
I also echo the concerns about cost, and am surprised that the article does not even mention this factor! The cost for a Catholic education here is incredibly high, and there is no way that we could afford to send one, much less all three, of our children to a Catholic school.
I am often thrown by so many of the “oh geez, why is there less enrollees in Catholic school” articles – it’s not just *a little* more expensive to go to Catholic school – it’s COLLEGE LEVEL COST to go.
We have school vouchers that help. But I think it is important that the parishes recognize the importance of Catholic education and subsidize the schools. In my community that has many 3rd through 5th generation parishioners, that may not be a hard sell because they are supporting their grandchildren. It may be somewhat more difficult in a struggling parish. However, we have a wonderful Catholic history of providing education.
My husband and I took our (then) two boys out of our local Catholic school two years ago to begin home schooling. Many reasons led to that decision, but the main one was that our Catholic school was not Catholic enough. It uses state textbooks, teaches tolerance as a virtue, and basically treats the faith as a separate subject -one taught with the vague, meaningless aphorisms that have plagued catechism for years – instead of infusing the faith into every subject area and making it clear that the true goal of education, and life, is heaven. The year after we left, the principal announced the school was increasing the length of the school day and adopting common core standards. No input from parents.
Another main reason was the appearance of a lesbian couple among the parents of the kindergarten class, whose son became fast friends with our son. This raised many unforeseen (at least by me) problems : do we allow our 5 yr old to be exposed to this lifestyle? If no, how do we limit this friendship? If yes, how do we explain what is sinful about this situation, and then what to do if he begins talking about this with his new friend? And among the parents, we seemed to be the only ones who viewed this situation as problematic. Everyone else either pretended to ignore it or were eager to accommodate the two ladies. I agree that children of homosexual couples should be welcome in Catholic education (though I frequently wondered how old the boy would be when he finally realized he would have to choose between his moms and his faith as to where to place his loyalties), but there was no acknowledgment of the inevitable difficulties this might raise for other Catholic families.
Thanks for your note. I found it very enlightening.
Thanks also for your enlightening article, Msgr.
My first child is about to hit school age, and I am struggling to determine the best education option for her. I assumed we would send her to Catholic school, but as I’ve been digging into it, I’m not sure that will work for us.
There are some major doctrinal problems on display at our Catholic institutions in Seattle. While these schools are not handing grade schoolers a how-to handbook for immoral sexual practices, they are certainly downplaying the Church’s countercultural teachings about morality as well as promoting tolerance of the gay agenda. Our archbishop has been faithful to the Church, but many of those in charge at the school level have not, and most of the school kids are terribly confused. We’re currently dealing with a firestorm of controversy about Catholic faculty members who are choosing the get “gay married” in the wake of Washington’s redefinition of marriage. (Background here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/23/us/gay-marriages-confront-catholic-school-rules.html)How’d these kids get so confused? Though most of them have gone to Catholic school for many years, they’ve never learned anything but the “tolerance” tripe. If I wanted that, I could send them to public school.
Also, if I choose to educate just two children in Catholic schools from K-12, I am looking at $300,000+ of cost (assuming 0% inflation over the years, which obviously isn’t realistic). That is just the cost to educate the two kids I currently have; we don’t know how many children God will give us. I expected to make sacrifices to pay for education, but when the monthly payments for Catholic school are higher than a mortgage, how is this feasible for anyone but the wealthy?
We decided to homeschool as well after being more and more non-plussed with our Catholic school. As someone else mentioned, most parents seem to send their kids there just to avoid the public schools. The scary thing is that I’m pretty sure our Catholic school is better than most. They do use Faith and Life for religion, thanks to a good pastor, who has now moved on to another parish. One very frustrating thing is that I introduced two principals to the excellent history series produced by the Catholic Schools Textbook Project, but over a 5-7 year period, they chose to continue with use of the secular program they have been using.
The concerns about cost are very good ones. It is scandalous to price Catholic schools so only the upper middle class and above can afford them. It probably won’t change, though, until and unless we have a return of the teaching nuns.
What a wonderful article and discussion, Monsignor!
I am the product of Catholic Schools. I attended a small Catholic school in the 70’s and our textbooks were from the 50’s. Never the less, by the time I graduated from my Catholic Highschool, I was better educated than my public school peers. That is not so today. Today, many so called Catholic schools in my area have lost the faith, as it were. One local parish has gone so far as to limit pro-life discussion on campus. Limit Pro Life? Really? Not too surprising, this same school has fallen WELL behind it’s public peers in basic reading and math skills taught to its students. I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out who is behind that.
Still, this article gives me hope, because I now have disucssion points to raise with my publicly educated (but CCD taught as well) children about what they are learning at school and why. With two of them “hating” school, I can now see that this dislike is most likely the Lord at work in their souls telling them that there are wrong things being taught to them. It is my job as a parent to guide them toward recognizing and rejecting those wrong teachings, pointing them toward the right path.
There is a current “epidemic” of ADHD in our schools. I have always told my children who have it that they have a gift. Since they do not like to be “in the box,” they will push boundaries. How wonderful that God has instilled this subtle rebellion in our student population! I pray that as parents we encourage these children to think beyond what the government run education systems tells our children to think and believe and push toward a better future for themselves and the world.
I will instantly take hold of one’s rss as I cannot to locate your e-mail subscription hyperlink or newsletter service. Do you may have any? Kindly permit me have an understanding of in order that I may well just subscribe. Thanks.
My problem with Catholic schools is that they are rediculously expensive for a Catholic family with more than one or two children. You only get a discount if you are a minority with divorced parents. This shuts out middle class white families with more than two kids out of Catholic schools. My mother and all of her brothers and sisters went to Catholic school in the 1950’s and 1960’s for free. Their father was an NY cop and they had an intact family. There is nowhere in this country that a cop, whose wife stayed home with the kids, could afford to send his 5 kids to Catholic school these days.
Since my children are effectively shut out from Catholic schools for this reason I am now against these schools. They are elitest schools.
Actually, the diocese of Wichita, KS is a stewardship diocese. Meaning that if you are a registered, tithing parishioner, the schools including high school are free. No, they don’t check your W-2 either. 32 elementary and four high schools.
Umm…middle class black families are shut out as well!
Maria: how do you figure that?
Myself, I’m occasionally check the Wichita Diocese website for a job opening in my area. The Diocese of Lincoln has priests for school presidents and principals, and I check there as well.
Easy. I am the mother of a large middle class black family and we are priced out of our Catholic school. The school is affordable if you have the typical 1.7 children, but not for my family that is open to life. It’s not rocket science!
I second those who cite the prohibitive expense of Catholic schools. And while market rate for teachers might not be cheap, I’d suggest that the main culprit is the obsession with sophisticated facilities and technology (and the support staff needed to make them all run well). What’s really needed for a great Catholic education is a faculty of great teachers. classroom technology, state of the art gyms, laptops for students: these are part of the public school ideology Msgr. Pope rightly decries. Let’s focus on what’s essential: good, solid, faithful teachers, and pay them well. Let the other, secondary (and expensive!) matters slide. The other problem is that priest and bishops jut aren’t very invested in Catholic education any more. They focus on parish religious ed, but that can only ever be a stopgap, an attempt to do instructional triage. Parish religious ed programs are much cheaper and require a lot less of the priest’s time and energy, but they’re also correspondingly less effective in forming the parish’s children than a school.
I see the expense for the school as a big issue, and suspect it is patially driven by the fact there are fewer nuns teaching and involved with the schools. We here, had laypersons teaching, and, rightfully so, they had to receive a decent wage.. Having not been Catholic till my adulthood, did nuns get paid like teachers today get paid? I also noticed that the materials were not the same as a good public school, as far as computers and science materials. The good thing about the school, is that they certainly exposed the kids to the Faith and , as a general observation, were far more kind, polite, disciplined that their secular counterparts.
To be honest, I could not have afforded to send my kids to Catholic School, not at 15k a year per child, not counting the cost of books and other materials on top of that. I seems to be more for well off parents these days, even non Catholic ones.
It’s simple. Get members of religious orders back in the classroom at a nominal salary. The Dominicans in particular should give up their trendy “social justice and peace” thing and get back to their original charism. As for laymen, aren’t there any plain old Catholic people who can devote a few hours to teaching on a voluntary or low-pay basis? Or are they just working for the big bucks to buy new SUVs?
.(correction)…… It sems to be more for….
We don’t just need Catholic Schools. We need our Catholic School to teach unflinching Catholic Doctrine, to teach Catholic history, to imbue our children with theology in every aspect of their lives, to bring them to Christ, not to dumb down theology for the masses. it’s why I homeschool.
Bless you, Msgr. Pope, for addressing this issue so squarely!
I homeschool my 5 kids, and although my parish does have a vibrant homeschool community and is very supportive, I sometimes feel like we are second-class citizens in the eyes of the archdiocese and other Catholic families. As much as I hate to think it, I feel the reason is because we are being judged as selfish and disloyal for not making every possible sacrifice to send them all to a parochial school.
A good overview of the situation facing both k-12 education, plus higher, is Glenn Harlan Reynolds’ “The New School”. Although he specifically addresses the troubled (!) public schools, much of what he writes is applicable to Catholic families exploring educational alternatives. (And no, I don’t work for his publisher!)
And for anyone who is hesitant about trying homeschooling, trust me, it’s MUCH EASIER (and more natural) than it’s detractors would have you believe!
I’m in the same boat with you, Sarah. I think there is an unspoken bias against homeschoolers among many (though not all) bishops and priests.
People in the comments section here keep clamoring for religious to come back to the schools and teach for free. But in fact, if that happens, it won’t be for years as the now depleted religious orders rebuild. In the meantime, they have at their disposal parent/teachers who have taught for free virtually every subject in every grade at their homeschools and who could possibly be approached for great advice on how to educate on a budget. If that was something the administrators actually wanted….
Msgr.’s piece got me thinking—-why can’t parishes try lowering the cost of Catholic schools by experimenting with hybrid approaches that combine flipped classrooms and online courses with some actual classroom time?
With all the exciting alternatives coming onto the educational scene, there should be some viable solutions out there for folks who are willing to think “outside the box”!!!
Yes, Sarah, I think there is a lot of room for creative thinking. I think that is why some families have taken it upon themselves to build Catholic schools separate from parishes and diocese, because they can actually make it work outside the “system.” I wonder what would happen if they took one of the schools they are closing and give it to a group of homeschoolers?
Maria L, that is exactly what I am hoping for – former homeschooling parents are a tremendous resource. What might be done to tap into that pool of expertise and dedication?
I am a very big supporter of Catholic schools. Unfortunately, as one involved in religious education, I am all too aware that these schools are the sole educational interest of our diocese and, sadly, many pastors. We need to start putting some value on the faith formation of ALL our children. Otherwise, we will have ignored the spiritual development of the vast majority of our Catholic youth. That does not bode well for the future.
I live in Ontario. We’re Americans. My oldest is attending the local Catholic school next year. Its publicly funded. They divert your tax dollars. I wish that the states had a nation wide vochure system. I want him to continue his Catholic education when we return to the States but the cost…. I’m hoping we can get a scholarship or me a side job so he can stay in a Catholic school. But we may have to seek out a charter or online school.
A big current problem for Catholic schools is the willingness of the dioceses (over a hundred of them now in the U.S.) to embrace Common Core standards, seemingly upon the advice of the NCEA, which is spending over $100,000 of Gates Foundation money to push the standards in Catholic schools. We are so pleased with the work the Cardinal Newman Society is doing in informing about the dangers of using Common Core standards and in spreading awareness about the problems with them: http://www.catholicisourcore.org. We pray that it is not too late for these dioceses — including the one where our grandchildren live — to turn away from using Common Core standards. Our daughters and their husbands feel as if they have almost no recourse left to keep secular influences out of their kids’ “education.” Our daughter’s appeals to several local Catholic Schools’ superintendents and principals to more deeply examine the problems with Common Core standards are falling on deaf ears. Part of the problem is that there has been a perversion of the language used to sell the lofty-sounding goals of Common Core. “College and career readiness” and “academic rigor” do not mean what you might believe they do. This website (http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-state-standards/ccss-content-issues-reviews/lowering-the-bar-how-common-core-math-fails-to-prepare-high-school-students-for-stem/) about Common Core math’s failure to prepare students for STEM includes a link to the excellent paper “Lowering the Bar,” written by ELA and math experts who were on the Common Core validation committee and refused to sign off on these problematic standards, which Catholic schools now seem to be racing to embrace. The very reason our daughter was given to switch to these standards was the college and career readiness that these standards will provide. The “Lowering the Bar” paper proves that Mr. Zimba himself denied that their standards could do this (a statement he now denies having made).
Yes, yes, but only about half of you vote in presidential elections. Fewer of you vote in state and city elections. Almost no one votes in school board elections. Under the Constitution you ARE the government, but you complain about the entities you helped elect by your passivity in not voting. Don’t gas off about “government schools” as if they are a separate construct; that evasive lie does not free you from your failure as a citizen.
Voting in democratic elections is like choosing between death by strangulation or death by drowning. The government doesn’t suck, the people do. Every society gets the government it deserves.
I totally agree. How many times has the Lord raised up solid, moral leaders that the people refused to vote for? Astounding.
The future of Catholic schooling IS homeschooling.
I’ve said it many times: If you want Catholic schools, then expose the teachers’ unions to be the hypocrites they really are. They oppose vouchers for private schools EVEN THOUGH THESE VOUCHERS WOULD MEAN MORE MONEY PER STUDENT FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS, AS WELL. Do the math: Public schools average spending $10,000 per student, per year. A typical $4000 voucher leaves behind $6,000 in ‘free money’ with no student to have to spend it on. That money could be applied to raising teacher salaries and doing a better job with the (admittedly, fewer) students who remain behind in the public schools.
The schools do need to be strengthened from a faith perspective and that has to be led by our bishops and filtered down. The people cannot do that on their own, we need our bishops to lead in that way.
On the other hand, even the most watered-down Catholic school is better than a public school, from a faith and culture perspective. To send your children into an institution every day that does not mention God, never stops for prayer and of course espouses all of the things you mentioned above…how do Catholic parents think that their children will grow up and remain Catholic? Maybe they really don’t care…
Children will grow up and remain Catholic only if they live and practice their faith at home. It doesn’t matter where they go to school because parents are first and foremost educators of their children in the Faith. So if parents are doing their job, children will grow up to be practicing Catholics. If parents send their children to Catholic school and then don’t go to Mass on Sunday they should not be surprised when their children do not practice as adults. The Catholics school’s of today are not the Catholic schools staffed by religious orders of years past. The Catholic schools of today are just trying to replicate all the bells and whistles of the public school programs and not focusing on what use to make them so special – the faith. My children attended 12 years of public school and out of many of their friends from both public and parochial schools, they are the ones that continue to practice their faith because they lived it at home with Sunday Mass, monthly confession,Stations of the Cross during Lent, outstanding religious education program, a high school youth group that consisted of classes taught by the parish priest. Parents have to remember they are the most important person in handing on the faith to their children not the school.
I agree with your first sentence, that is the most important thing. It is not impossible to raise a Catholic child in public school, but it is much harder. I completely disagree with this part of your comment…”The Catholic schools of today are just trying to replicate all the bells and whistles of the public school programs and not focusing on what use to make them so special – the faith.” Have you been in a public school lately, and a Catholic school? If so, I can’t see how you would believe that statement.
In other words, if you think there are no differences between public schools and even the most-watered down Catholic school, well…
Don’t worry, all of the Catholic schools will be shut down soon at the rate they are going.
Public schools are a direct reflection of the culture we live in. There are wonderful teachers that care about their students wellbeing, just as in the Catholic school system. If Catholic young people are to remain Catholic they must be able to function in the culture in which they live. So, if parents are forming their sons and daughters in the home in the Catholic faith, these young people can be the light and the evangelist in their school communities. We need Catholic’s everywhere to witness to the faith and young people that are strong Catholics because of their faith life at home can be that witness in the public school arena. There is nothing better for a young person to be able to articulate their faith during discussions in school where there are various positions. It’s a great experience to be able to explain to those of other faiths why you have ashes on your head on Ash Wednesday. Catholic schools are failing because they no longer focus on the faith. So rightly so, the church has stressed that parents are the primary educators of their children in the faith. I can only speak from my experience, but after 12 years of public school, my children are practicing Catholics because of how they were raised at home. They had an excellent public school education and excellent faith formation from their parish programs. Parents can’t abdicate their responsibilities to the school in either arena and parishes need to support all of their young people with programs with substance. The young people are the future of the church.
In the mission statement when one walks in the door of my kids school, it says something about the “teachers and staff supporting the parents role as primary educator.” But between the homework, tuition, and volunteer hours, *I* don’t make the decisions in my children’s lives. If *I* don’t want my children doing more than 30 minutes of homework, the kids are “not punished” at school the next day. (but they are still sitting on the bench during recess with the kids are in fact needing disciplinary action). I pulled my daughter out of the music class because the teacher was have them sing Journey songs. 2000 years of Catholic music, and THAT is what you come up with?? There is a difference between supporting and replacing.
1. As you said, the Catholic school system is collapsing because they didn’t pass on the faith. That was the primary reason for their existence. They utterly failed to do this (I say this having once attended a Catholic elementary school that is now closed), and so they disappear from the scene. It hurts to say it, but they deserve what they are getting.
2. That said, I wonder how many of these school closures are not just a Catholic issue, but are somehow affected by the declining birth rates. In case no one noticed, people aren’t having kids like they used to. Fewer kids means fewer elementary schools. I have no doubt that the dismal religious education in the Catholic school system is why they failed. But perhaps this had an ancillary effect as well. Does anyone know the public elementary school statistics out there?
I got a collection of Bing Crosby films as a Christmas present. I’ve just been watching ‘Going My Way’ and ‘The Bells of St Mary’s’. They show priests at work in their parishes, how the secular world related to the Catholic world and how the nuns ran Catholic schools. I would imagine that there is a mixture of reality and idealisation in both films. In TBOSM Fr O’Malley wants a child to be allowed to graduate although she had not achieved the required marks in her exams. There is an interesting exchange between his view and that of the nun in charge of the school. I haven’t seen the end of the film yet so I don’t know who wins.
Here in the UK, Catholic schools are state schools. This is leading to more and more problems as the schools come under increasing pressure not only to teach the state’s ideology but even to provide information about services which are totally immoral from a Catholic point of view. Indeed, I suspect that the strategy of those who dislike Catholic schools is to undermine their Catholicity in order, effectively, to abolish them.
But wherever people are educated, please, please, save them from having the noun ‘trend’ turned into a verb which just means ‘to move’.
When my wife and I got married and we had our first two children, we moved to the Arlington Diocese, specifically because of the Catholic Schools and the ecclesiology of the Priests tends towards the traditional.
We put our first child in Kindergarten at a Diocesan School. (We had four kids at that time nd could not figure out how we would ever do the tuition for all of them, specifically since they stopped listing tuition at 3 children. – And note, the diocesan schools in Arlington are cheaper than many… but it was still probably 4K a year per kid after discount.) The whole experience was horrible.
Firs, we were told there was no whole math or whole English approach to education…. that they focused on phonics, arithmetic tables, etc. The very FIRST week of school though, we were told that we should not correct our kids letters, spelling, numbers, etc. The kids would simply eventually discover the right answers.
What other things did my daughter learn that year?
1. We have to constantly raise money for the school as tuition doesn’t cover it.
2. We have to raise money for social justice organizations – like the Kidney Foundation – that supported embryonic stem cell research at one point. (I ended that one by creating a ruckus.)
3. Kindergartners cannot play on the jungle gym because they might fall. Reason cited for this policy was “diocesan lawyers”.
4. They didn’t want to teach the kids about Confession because they didn’t want to mention the “scary box”.
5. White boards are of utmost importance and we must raise money for more white boards.
6. Keyboarding is an important skill.
7. “Hip-hop” is an important cultural experience and a whole day must be dedicated to “hip-hop” education. This culminated in break-dance show with vidoes by Nas. (I found out Nas was most famous for a record named explicitly with the N-word and a video he made where he was crucified upside down.
We removed our daughter. The exit interview was interesting. The Principal admitted many of the problems, but she felt helpless to do much. (She was stuck in a system that didn’t share her own vision.) The parents “demanded” technology and infrastructure, leading to the constant fundraising. She felt at a loss to review every group they raised money for. Many of the kids were not Catholic so they could not be explicit in the Catechism.
The parish also reduced support for the school and told it to operate more on its own, o there would be little financial support. She told us she needed “people like you” as we provided an example of a healthy Catholic family.
I told her that I couldn’t in conscience send my kids there as it would harm them. I didn’t care if they were educated on a dirt floor, but they needed to learn their Faith, reading, religion an arithmetic and that the school failed miserably.
The problem was that the school no longer inculcated a belief or respect for families like mine. We ended up at a private school “in the Catholic Tradition” in Manassas, VA that has Mass and rosary every day (with diocesan Priests coming in). The kids learn the Faith and they also now that a family of five or six kids is simply average for practicing Catholics. Some have fewer, some have many more.
And what’s different about this school? The teachers teach there not for the money, but to form souls. The good, the true and the beautiful are emphasized. They are taught the basics. Does it have the infrastructure others have? No. Is it a better school? Yes.
It still costs a good amount, but I know my children will be educated and raised in the faith at school – and it is cheaper for me to have 6 kids in the school than just 4 in diocesan schools.
My sons’ experience with Catholic grade school in Phoenix was not good. In a word: preferential treatment for the well-to-do. (I’ll leave unmentioned the teachers’ eccentricities). One is now in military school and another in a Christian high school in Tucson. They both really enjoy their schools and are successful students. I don’t think that would have happened at Brophy.
Catholic schools are a fraud. The Church teaches “Be fruitful and multiply”…maybe the Church should teach “Be fruitful and multiply unless you want to send your kids to Catholic schools because at $10k/yr per children you will go broke”.
You don’t need Catholic school to teach your children the faith. Nor do you need CCD to do it. It is the job of the parents. If parents teach and live the faith…their children will turn out fine. If parents don’t live the faith, sending their children to Catholic schoo won’t matter a bit.
By the way, public schools are less poison than the rest of secular society. The majority of Fairfax County Public School teachers are honest, trustworthy and, in many cases, fellow Catholics.
Avoid using words like fraud. They generate more heat than light.
Sadly, I must agree that Catholic schools, as currently configured, do not stand much chance of surviving as places where ordinary Catholics (working class, or impoverished professionals such as my husband and me) could send their children.
And what is ironic is, it is those of us who are committed to living the Church teaching on openness to life who are going to have the hardest time paying even part of the tuition for Catholic school. Sure, if I were willing to go to work full time, and my husband were willing to work even longer hours than he does, perhaps we could afford to pay some tuition. But then, what’s the point? You might get a fine education for the kids, but you’d never see them, and more importantly, they wouldn’t see you nearly as much as they need to when they’re small.
However, the sad fact is that many Catholic schools (and I say this as an alumna of them as well as a parent) don’t provide a fine education, even in a secular way. The best public school in our area is a classical charter, and it is busting at the seams with Catholic kids because the archdiocese hasn’t yet figured out that the classical curriculum — paired with a strong, consistent discipline — is far more conducive to good education.
If dioceses really cared about Catholic formation of children, they would drop the public school model and ask themselves why so many Catholics don’t choose to send their children anymore. Why are there so many homeschooled children in areas with a plethora of Catholic schools to choose from? Why are classical schools doing so well? And finally, what does it really mean to impart the faith? (Answer to the last one: a lot more than a public school curriculum and atmosphere with a religion class thrown in.)
Many years ago the great Jesuit sociologist Joseph Fichter wrote “Southern Parish,” a study of one Catholic parish in New Orleans (Mater Dolorosa) and its elementary school (which has since closed its doors.) Fichter’s most dramatic finding was that the nun who ran the parochial school was able to take the charisms of her teaching order and apply them in the running of the school, in her own way, without being beholden to bureaucracy. In Fichter’s judgment the non-bureaucratic character of the school was the crucial element in its effectiveness as an instrument of education. In the 60-odd years since Fichter wrote, all too many of our Catholic dioceses have bureaucratized their schools, and all too many Catholic educators are utterly unaware of the rich heritage of the charisms of teaching orders. What an irony it was when the Vatican Council Fathers asked religious orders to get back in touch with the charisms of their founders! Some of the orders themselves have abandoned education. Our crucial task now is to call forth many more intentional disciples to become the heads of our Catholic schools, burdening them with as little bureaucratic interference as possible, and we must give these intentional disciples the resources they need to teach Catholic kids how to defend their Faith in the teeth of a hostile secular world. Among other things this will call for much more sophisticated catechesis. The task looks daunting, perhaps almost overwhelming. But with God all things are possible.
I’ve written frequently about this issue on my blog, and I appreciate Msgr. Pope’s post here.
A few thoughts, in no particular order:
-Today’s Catholic schools, especially the high schools, are full of glossy brochures and sleek websites talking about the percentage of their students who go on to achieve great material successes. The one metric they don’t dare publish is the percentage of students who remain practicing Catholics after graduation. I suspect the number is dismal–perhaps 5-10 percent. In a real sense, Catholic parents are paying Catholic schools significant amounts of money to oversee their children’s loss of faith.
-As many commenters have already pointed out, the cost of a Catholic education is prohibitive for many Catholics, most especially for those committed to two very Catholic ideas: being open to many children, and having one parent stay at home full-time at least during the children’s infancy and toddlerhood whenever possible. Our Texas diocese is one of those with 5K a year grade school and 15K and up for high school. Few single-income families with more than one or two children can afford this, and even some *double* income families with incomes of less than 60K a year would find those tuitions difficult if they have more than two children. Yet it has been my experience that pastors are simply unaware of the financial realities families face: one pastor I had insisted that if families simply gave up their annual vacation they could afford Catholic schools for their kids; as someone whose lifestyle has never included an “annual” vacation and whose travel has been limited to very infrequent visits to extended family in another state (which we can’t afford, but try to do anyway) this insistence by the pastor was a bit less than helpful.
-Public schools may indeed be poison especially when dealing with issues involving the sixth commandment, but I am afraid that Msgr. Pope may not realize that Catholic schools are often peddling the same poison, and doing so under Catholic auspices. I’ve told this story fairly frequently recently given the issues involving Seattle’s Catholic high schools, but at a Seattle Catholic high school (Holy Names Academy) about 30 years ago, our health teacher, who said she was Catholic, ridiculed the Church’s teaching against contraception and insisted that we learn all about birth control including how to use it and where to go get it. When some of us objected on moral grounds, she snapped, “Take that stuff up with your religion teacher. I’m teaching health.” Given the huge number of dissenters against Church teaching on contraception who themselves attended Catholic schools, I am guessing that my experience was a fairly common one, and considering the situation in Seattle today I highly doubt anything has improved.
To sum up: it would be difficult for many Catholic families to afford Catholic schools even if Catholic schools were teaching and promoting the faith, safeguarding the precious gift of faith of their Catholic charges, and preparing their students to witness against the dangerous spirit of our age. But since the Catholic schools are charging all that money while they oversee the loss of faith of their students, not only fighting against that loss but, as in the example of my health teacher, actively contributing to it, there is seldom a good reason for most Catholic parents to send their children to Catholic schools in America today.
(I know there are a tiny handful of exceptions to this rule. They should be praised, emulated, and supported. But few of us live anywhere near such paragons, and must face the reality of the dismal situation where we are.)
If you were in a Seattle Catholic high school 30 years ago, you got a double-whammy: you got the awful catechesis of the post Vatican II “anything goes” mentality, and you got it in Seattle. Seattle has a long history of Marxist hatred of religion, and it shares with the rest of the west coast of the U. S. a powerful culture of agnosticism and moral relativism. No wonder, then, that your views are so negative.
Surely it is the lukewarm Faith of parents and the post-high-school relativism of the college and university world that leads so many kids to abandon their Faith. Catholic high schools do a lousy job of fostering Faith and helping kids to overcome these other negatives, but they themselves are not the root cause of the crisis. Then there’s your negative view of seemingly unaware pastors, clueless as you think they are about the financial realities. Perhaps the pastors you know are reacting to the fact that the parents who gripe about the cost of Catholic education often show up for Mass in $60K sport utility vehicles.
You’re right about one of the root causes of our Catholic school crisis: money. If only (1) the bishops could agree on common policies for awarding financial aid to parents (including tuition forgiveness for the third and fourth and fifth child) and pressure the religious orders which operate Catholic schools to agree, and (2) we worked much harder to recruit bright college graduates who are people of Faith, and (3) free them from bureaucratic rules and regulations (including the absurd requirement of a meaningless state teacher-certification which more and more diocesan school boards are now requiring), and (4) pay them enough to allow them to marry and have families of their own (to include, let us say, higher pay for married teachers with children)–and if we could do all these things in a systematic way–what wonderful Catholic schools we could have!
This is less a story of few Catholic schools and more a store of the vocations crisis of Nuns..no teaching Nuns orders…no Catholic schools
We would love to send our kids (ages 7, 5, and one on the way– and we’d like more, God willing) to Catholic school. Unfortunately, on one modest income, this is impossible. Our parish school costs about 15% of my income, per year, per child. We tithe 10% to our parish and are living on a tight budget. We homeschool.
As a, possibly/likely attached issue – imagine the cashier tills of an entire city going down due to a solar flare, elecromagnetic puse, or some such. Then the management of stores decide to keep the marketplace open as the clerks accept cash only and figure out how much change to fgive for large denomination bills in their heads.
Forty years ago it would be slow but do-able. Today?
Oops, rushed and forgot to mention. As I was getting into this article a friend mentioned, seemingly out of the blue, this possibility. He had no (secularly known) way of knowing what the article which I was reading was about. Divinly inspired? Mystery!
The other side of the problem is the decline of trade classes at public schools. Today, public education positions itself as a college prep factory. There have always been kids who do not excel at book learning. Now those kids do not have productive avenues for their talents.
Thank you Msgr. You have touched upon a topic that my wife and I have contemplated for 40 years. We have each been involved in education at all levels and types (parochial, public, private) on a professional capacity. We have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly from the inside. If I were a bishop, (and it is the bishop that must lead the reform for it to work) this would be my list of 10 commandments:
1 Make Catholic education the highest priority in the diocese after the sacraments; higher than catholic charities, higher than any social service ministry or youth ministry. I think this is what the Counsel of Baltimore did, and it was a hugely successful evangelization. I would dare to say make the school initiative higher than finding seminarians, because, they will be your real seedbed for priest/religious vocations.
2 Make Priorities in education philosophy in this order: The True, the Beautiful, the Good. After these focus on sports and the practical. The Faith & Morals come first, then fine arts (classical only – art and music), then practical academics, then Sports. Don’t worry too much about the math and language test scores. If you have dedicated parents and competent teachers, these will happen… the real action is in the putting Faith and Morals into all the courses, along with strong emphasis on the fine arts, especially music. (if a kid gets good instruction, but his tastes are in the gutter, he loses his docility, and you usually lose him to the city of man.)
3 Think quality, not quantity. Better to have a few really good small schools than a large student body with no Catholic esprit de corp. Many bishops tend to focus mostly on the balance sheet, the finances. This is a mistake, because it minimizes the defining element of education, which is spirit. Yes, the balance sheet must balance, but the CORE is in #2 above.
4 At the start of the new initiative, the bishop announces that if a school doesn’t demonstrate it’s commitment to the Faith, and have a true Catholic Spirit, it will not remain open. Downsize schools to collect a core of administrators and teachers who are known for the excellence in teaching, their commitment to the Faith. You can’t develop a nucleus of Faith with teachers or administrators who don’t have “buy-in”.
5 Train ALL teachers in-house in religious doctrine and history (do not require the secular education license as a requirement to teach unless the state requires it ). Don’t give raises based only on seniority, or advanced degrees. Focus instead on results in student morale, and achievement.
6 Require testing of ALL teachers in catechetical knowledge, AND church history AND apologetics. –most teachers in parochial schools are invincibly ignorant– it’s not their fault, but it is a fact that must be remedied. This will probably require that the bishop open a special school or small boutique college in the diocese dedicated only to teaching his teachers. AVOID AT ALL COST relying on the local catholic colleges–they carry a virus deadly to the Faith, which is highly contagious. Even if the local college has a good theology or philosophy department, assume that education dept is a disaster.
7 Require an oath of allegiance of all teachers, something like the mandatum.
8 Provide a living wage for lay teachers who are heads of households, (which will require the contributions of local business leaders.)
9 Provide forums for students to show their knowledge in Church history, theology, philosophy, corporal & spiritual works of mercy, and classical Church music and art. DO NOT give priority to academic test score results in math, English etc. (e.g. SAT, ACT). Rather, have yearly proficiency testing of student in catechetics and church history and the Bible. Academic rigor is a good thing, but, alas, in many schools the rigor focus has pushed religious/spiritual issues and the arts to the side.
10 Let all parents know that as bishop, your teachers and administrators have your highest support (this will be an sincere and meaningful statement since you were directly involved in their formation.) This will offset the tendency of parents to browbeat teachers and administrators with frivolous ideas–parents who nag or bully teachers are very common today, and they destroy the morale of good teachers.
I second the call for teachers to take an oath of fidelity. That would be a good start.
Rick, I wholeheartedly agree with your recommendations and would like to add one more. The Church needs to also think about children with special needs. We ask mothers not to abort their children with Down syndrome, but to nothing (in most dioceses) to assist or include them in Catholic education. I have been homeschooling my daughter since early elementary school. Next year she is to enter high school. I feel like I can’t homeschool her for ever – she needs to be among her peers. But I cannot get myself to place her in the public high school. The Catholic high school in our area does not accept children with Down syndrome. (And even if they did, I wouldn’t want her to be there….it is one of those school that you describe. Accept for religion class, it is basically a secular education.) You have excellent suggestions; please don’t forget about those who have special needs, especially those who are in the cross-hairs in the womb.
Please see my response to Pauline Williams.
Thank you. I completely understand the problem of funding. But could the Church possibly have a nationwide annual special collection for the purpose of funding special education? I realize that Catholic schools may not be able to take every student, depending on the degree of disability. But there are children who just need a bit more intervention, and whose behavior is fine. To me it goes along with being pro-life. If the Church is going to teach that aborting babies with Down syndrome is wrong (which of course, it should), it just seems like we ought to do more to include these children in Catholic schools. It would benefit those Catholic school children as well. There are a few schools that do it. There are a few in Virginia and as I recall there was a high school in Kentucky.
There is one in St. Louis, Annunciata. It is a wonderful, special needs school!
I believe authentic Catholic schools can be and sometimes ARE successful in passing on the faith … until it is dropped at home. The problem lies in US the adults not being catechized and not continuing to study scripture and tradition beyond the 8th grade level. Thus, as our children grow into young adulthood they follow the adults into oblivion.
Who did Jesus teach? Who learned the faith and passed it on before the compulsory school system started (in full in America in the early 1900’s)? It was the adults. If we don’t push hard for adult catechesis our schools will continue to fail in passing on the faith.
One more point, who is given the grace through a sacrament to teach our children the faith? Yup, it’s parents through marriage. Not the parish priest, not the brothers or sisters, certainly not the hired layperson, it’s our job and we’d better start doing it!
I think you are correct in what is happening today. However, we arrived at today by core mistakes that were made over 50 years ago within the Catholic educational establishment. Parents were actively deceived by catholic educators and priests, who bought onto a progressive agenda and the sexual revolution. Only a handful of parents at the time had any idea of what was happening in the classroom, and NONE of them knew what was happening in the bedroom or the back seats of cars. They simply trusted the teachers to do what the Church taught, and naively trusted their kids to behave as they did when they were kids. Most of the kids that were educated in my cohort lost their Faith going through high school and into college, largely due to issues over sexual behavior and progressive philosophy.
Thanks Monsignor!. I taught at an “independent” Catholic high school. A parent committee ran things starting over 20 years ago when the Diocese couldn’t handle the finances. Teachers were supposed to start and end each class with a prayer. One teacher would say the end-of-day prayer over the intercom. One day a voice read the prayer and said “in the name of the Father” and a different voice said “and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I said to my students “Hey, what was that?” They explained that teacher was Mormon and they don’t believe in the Trinity. Wow.
I yearn to teach in an authentic Catholic setting.
Part of the problem is pride. In the 1960s we received the Land of Lakes Compact where the Catholic universities such as Notre Dame decided they didn’t really need close supervision from the Church. Almost all Catholic high schools became college-prep. Many Catholic high schools are the envy of public high schools. The Jesuits have started the Cristo Rey schools which seem promising.
The Land O’Lakes declaration was a theological revolt to be sure, but the shifting in the Catholic school curriculums to the more modernist/utilitarian approaches had already began to take hold in the 1940s when colleges had abandoned the traditional philosophy requirements. Catholic school teachers, including nuns and priests, were often required to have secular credentials to teach in the Catholic schools. Bishops did not push back on government regulations that were taking hold. Diocesan superintendents were trained in finance and law, and had little if any knowledge of the classical syllabus that ties together the “arts and sciences”.
Catholic schools use to be so good because they had priests, brothers and sisters teaching the kids. Well educated, religious teachers at a low cost to the school. Helps keep tuition down. Now Catholic schools have to compete with public schools for lay teachers. The calapse of Catholics schools can be directly related to the collapse of the Church since Vatican II. Fewer children per family, poor catechisis of those children equals less religious vocations. The solution is for bishops and priests to start teaching the faith clearly, have parents be willing to be open to God’s will in their lives, have more children and raise them correctly in the faith and teach them to be open to vocations. Short term solution evangelize young single teachers to the traditional Catholic faith and see if any are guided to religious life. Either way with such federal control over our public schools and no tax breaks for parochial school or home schooling it is going to be tough. The Feds want your children and they want to control what they learn. When your kids are in public school it is a constant combat of the secular world and secular values. It is ironic but in Russia they have asked the Russian Orthodox Church to come into their state schools as a moral anchor as the Federal Government here continues to keep Christ out of public schools, who is more communist/socialist now? Public school for us was not working, so my wife started homeschooling our younger children and then about their sophmore/junior year we have started sending them to a Catholic High School at our parish school. My wife loves teaching the kids which is essential for homeshooling and a good traditional Catholic corriculum. Shoot I love her classes when I have a chance to set in. (6 kids, oldest in college, youngest in 2nd grade)
My generation (coming of age in the late 50s and 60s) was educated entirely by priests and nuns who were not superior educators to their public school counterpart, except perhaps in the large inner cities on the east coast. Even in the boutique Jesuit and Christian Brothers schools of my day (Regis HS 1970), the education was only mediocre by the 1960s. The rigorous religious and classical language requirements of the early 20th century had been jettisoned. These schools became trendy with trendy priests and nuns running them…. just open up an alumni magazine from your typical Jesuit school over the last 40 years, the message is that Catholic religion is toned down, and the secular academics is ramped up.
I teach students who have Severe Disabilities at a public school. Will Catholic schools accept these students? No, they won’t… I am not poison, and I resent those comments that refer to my lifelong ministry as such.
Pauline, the costs of educating DS kids is enormous. Even local public school districts can hardly afford to do it on their own local tax base and require both state and federal funds. To be fair to the Catholic schools, they are not allowed to receive direct tax-payer funding in most states. In the states that allow for public fund transfers to parochial schools, the legal entanglements are dangerous. In the few instances of direct funding that I am aware (e.g., the Franciscan Hospital for Children in Boston has a program for the medically impaired severe and profound kids) it was probably a special arrangement made because of deep political connections that go back years–the hospital/school was started by Rose Kennedy in the 1940s. Also, remember that it was an order of Catholic nuns, the St Coletta sisters, and Helen Devereux, a private philanthropist, that pioneered special education… it was not the public schools.
ps: I have been in SPED services professionally for over 30 years (as a consulting psychologist)
Father, I agree with all that you have written. However, just because you call a school “Catholic” in NO WAY makes it so. Here’s some suggestions of mine:
#1 ALL Catholic schools must hire ONLY practicing Catholics who sign an oath that they agree with and believe all that the Catholic Church professes and believes. Catholic school educators and administrators must see their profession as a vocation within the Church
#2 All Catholic schools must be defined by the mission to prepare its students to go out into the world to evangelize the culture. If all that distinguishes a Catholic school from a government school is the word
Catholic” then it ain’t worth supporting.
#3 Parishes and dioceses must get serious about placing financial support of Catholic schools as the highest priority. Doing so supports Catholic marriage and family life. When was the last time a diocese took up a special collection to support its Catholic schools. Instead, we get collections for CCHD that funds groups like ACORN. The Church has her priorities – well, a** backwards.
#4 What are parishes doing to support home schoolers with funds, physical space for meetings, promotional advertisement, materials, etc? NOTHING. Instead their is a subtle (perhaps not so subtle) antagonism between the parish/ diocese and home schooling parents. This must end and be reversed.
Hello Deacon Ed,
I think you make some important points. I would, however, be careful in circumscribing your #2. Church history clearly teaches that formal education in schools is at heart of the intellectual virtues. These virtues are not directly active, or evangelical in the young student. Obviously, a well educated Catholic is called upon to evangelize, but it must be done at the right time. Elementary and High School is not the right time to emphasize evangelization as such, but rather to cultivate the tools that will make the evangelization more effective. Schools that emphasize evangelization at the expense of forming the intellectual virtues end up at cross-purposes, and tend to do neither very well. An example of effective training in evangelization is a local mother who has done a pro-life apostolate with a local private school that involves saying the Rosary outside a Planned Parenthood clinic, once a week after school. The school is supportive because it does not interfere directly with the formal education, and because it is time-limited. It’s also great experience for the kids, who see, up close and personal, what it is to suffer a little for the Lord (lots of profanity tossed at the kids who go.)
Your point #4, is close to home because of many many friends of mine who homeschool. However, do understand that the Parish has to devote limited resources very carefully. this might include some support for homeschoolers, but with the struggles so common to parish schools, this support would need to be circumspect. it would be nice to see if the parishes can open up their libraries and gyms to the homeschoolers, but it’s hard to see what else they could afford. I have directly seen the antagonism you mention, and it stems from a distrust of parents toward the diocesan educational bureaucracy–many of these have been pretty secularized. Parents emphasize the spiritual orthodoxy, the parish bureaucrat emphasizes solidarity.
Thank you Deacon Ed. I especially like #1. The school I taught in asked nothing in the teacher application about the candidate’s faith life. Otherwise it was identical to the local dioceses’ application. The application for the diocese asked where the applicant worshiped, how they contributed to parish life and the name of the priest.
“name of the priest” ??
you comment…-One of the great tragedies of modern Church life is the demise of Catholic schools…-
actually I think the greater tragedy is the failure of the Catholic to identify himself as a Catholic and used the generic – Christian term – or the trendy popular term – Catholic Christian – . What is happening is the dumbing down of our identity..even Catholic Answers Radio makes a bigger deal out of -non-catholic religions than they do of Catholicism. We as Catholics need to identify ourselves as such and not pander to the general common generic all encompassing generic terms. When we include ourselves in the generic – christian – term it lends credibility to the groups that have man-made religions instead of the ONLY religion founded by Christ himself – Catholicism !
Our daughter went to Catholic school for one year, unfortunately. we could not afford to send her back, but the rich non-Catholics love it! The school itself is “small and not-too-Catholic” and many of the staff do not go to church at all.
I do really appreciate the article and your passion. Here are some of my concerns:
1. I work for a local parish and cannot afford to have both my wife home and pay for Catholic education.(Sad)
2. There are many “Catholic” schools where Catholic identity is in question.
3. Catholic schools in my neighborhood are placing more children per room than public school classrooms.
4. Finally, where are all the religious that used to teach in the class? Often, hard to distinguish the difference where hiring practices are just not that different.
If Catholic education were more affordable and solid identity assured Catholic edu would be more attractive.
Catholic education will only become affordable when people whose kids are finished with school, still contribute to keep the school going. As long as we continue to only be concerned about our kids, and not all kids, this situation will continue. Catholic school was more affordable in the past because many people contributed selflessly. Also, we should be Catholic education, not private education. Catholic education is a mission of a parish or group of parishes and we should be promoting the total parish life to the whole family. Too many times parish schools concentrate on the youth and do little for the adults when it comes to ministry and outreach. We need to value all the people in our parishes and then maybe more people will get onboard with supporting the parish.
As a Catholic school teacher, I’m sure teachers are more than likely college graduates and I’m sure they can probably understand what a contract calls for – even if they went to a Catholic college – if not, why are they teaching? Finding Catholic teachers and administrators shouldn’t be that hard.
I have seen a staff, who were mostly not Catholic, make fun of what was being said and done at a Mass, but nothing was said or done in response – except the priest apologized for the readings after they verbally “moaned” at the passage! Another instance involved an in-service where these same people openly questioned the Church’s stance on birth-control. Again, nothing was done, except to the Catholic teacher who complained about those belittling our Church.
Likewise, I have heard principals, teachers, and diocesan staff indicate their dissent from Church teachings – everyone should have to adhere to the Magisterium. Teachers and staff are role models and all need to be Catholic. It’s unreasonable to believe that Catholics can’t be found for every position that might become available.
“We must provide a sufficient number of programs of the highest quality to recruit and prepare our future diocesan and local school administrators and teachers so that they are knowledgeable in matters of our faith, are professionally prepared, and are committed to the Church.” (From the USCCB, 2005, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium)
One further suggestion and one that always meets with opposition from the powers that be: require an exit exam on Catholicism by middle school, high school and college/universities. This scares principals, deans and presidents because it is sure to point out how lacking in “Catholic Identity” their school is.
I have three kids in Catholic school, and one soon to be, all in San Francisco. The cost for three is $18,500 per year when I volunteer and donate to the parish. And, Catholic high schools here run about $20,000+ per year.
That puts me at $150,000 per child to educate them, BEFORE college. Times that by four kids and you are looking at $600,000 to educate your family not including college.
I don’t expect Catholic schools to be free, and believe in the sacrifice for my children. But, I sure would appreciate if priests and bishops truly understood the sacrifice families make, and prioritized accordingly.
Rick is right on above.
Dear Msgr. Pope,
Please also include the education of children with special needs. Please see my comment to Rick at January 24, 2014 at 9:18 pm.
I always enjoy your blog posts. Thank you!
I note that commenters here, like blogger Erin Manning, complain about the cost of Catholic schools. We have just gone through the closing of almost 30 parochial schools in the Archdiocese of NY. It is not true that these schools were unaffordable, or that the Church could not find the money to keep them open. There were lay people in our parish who had tried for years to get the parish to let us put our school on a strong business footing. When we were given a month to put together a plan to keep the school alive, the best business minds in our parish came up with a plan that would have made the school self-sufficient. The teachers (all lay people) gave up a month’s salary to help the cause. Our school was closed anyway. We are now in a self-sufficient school in a neighboring parish. Like our former school, this one is faithfully Catholic. Tuition is one-tenth of that at secular private grade schools in our region. Many of the pupils go on to Catholic high schools in the region. Yes, these Catholic high schools tout their academic successes. Why not? When my Dad was going through Catholic schools in the free system of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia during the Depression, the Catholic schools stressed academic excellence. It is not incompatible with Catholic identity — after all, we are the ones who invented the universities! Again, Catholic school tuitions are far below those of the secular private schools in the area. I have seen families make major financial sacrifices to keep their children in the Catholic school system, and they are not doing it simply for worldly success down the road. Our parochial schools already receive subsidies from parishes and dioceses. Our parish school offers substantial discounts for larger families. The richer parishes subsidize schools in places like the Bronx, where the Catholic schools are the only hope for many poor children. Whining about tuitions, which are already held as low as possible in most schools, does not solve anything. Neither do accusations that students lose their faith in Catholic schools. I see no evidence for that. So, what solutions would the critics suggest? Those of us who have been clipping box tops and holding tag sales and writing checks to keep Catholic schools alive would love to hear what we could be doing better. Where are the good ideas?
It seems to me that you are already part of the solution, not part of the problem. You can’t do anything more except what you are already doing.
And yeah, parents are going to whine about tuition. Thanks to tuition, we have $40=$60 a week for groceries for 5. And we are packing lunches everyday. That’s with tuition assistance from local parish.
You are very kind! But I would like to help put the Catholic school system back on a path of growth, not just help to save the schools that are left. I wish the bishops would make this a top priority, and issue a call to action!
You need those selfless, dedicated, orthodox, identifiable-as-Catholic, teaching sisters again.
There are plenty of dedicated, working-for-a-low salary lay Catholic teachers in our diocese. A whole bunch of them have been thrown out of a job when over 50 schools were closed in the last 3 years. What is needed is a commitment to make Catholic education a priority again.
I think one of the great hallmarks of America is that every child — without regard to religion, race, income, or any other factor — is entitled to a free education. The fact that a public education system co-exists with private education, Catholic schools included, makes it an even stronger system. We should work to boost education. Teachers on all levels should be commended. I think they are doing the Lord’s work no matter if they are working in a Catholic school or not. A public school teacher in the inner city did not take that job for the money. They did so to make a difference in a child’s life. The same for our teachers in Catholic schools.
Catholic schools are indeed very different than when I went to school. The school I went to, in a tough section of Providence, RI, burnt down and the parish too poor to rebuild. A Catholic school education was in reach of many low and middle income families. Many immigrant families that build the parishes and built the schools. Today it seems that the better Catholic schools, or even Catholic Schools at all, are located in affluent suburbs, not in the areas where our newer immigrants live. There are economic realities, but we can all do more to support education. As Catholics we should support strong and vibrant Catholic schools. As Americans we should support excellence in public education. We all benefit.
We still have a good number of schools in the poorer areas of our Archdiocese, but they need support. The Inner City Scholarship Fund is a wonderful charity that helps needy NY students stay in Catholic school. We need more such efforts across the country.
Thank you, Rick for such a full and complete solution to this problem. The time we are given to raise our children is so short; I’m not willing to give any of that time to any ‘Catholic’ school that does not have my child’s ETERNAL SOUL as it’s first and foremost priority. Homeschool.
Homeshooling is an excellent vehicle for transmitting the True, Beautiful, and the Good. Difficulties crop up around middle school, however, when it comes to teaching math and science, and doing the more advanced fine arts (especially things like chant or choral singing) since many parents (it’s usually the mother) don’t have the education, time, or resources to pull it off. Competitive sports also is very important for boys at this age. Also, the normal psychological development of kids begin to look outward from the family, and into the community, in search of broader network of friends; this is a natural need that begins around puberty and can be met in a school with a solid base of good families; it must be factored in to the decision to continue to homeschool. Also, most parents i know experience push back, especially from the boys, at around this age and start to look for ‘greener pastures’ especially in sports. Some parents arrange to have their older boys attend some select classes in math or science or sports at the local public school, and sometimes this turns out OK.
My husband and I along with the parents of a few other families have “solved” this challenge. We enrolled our children with the city and state as homeschoolers, and then rented some classrooms at a local Protestant church (the Catholic diocese won’t allow us to rent on their property.) Then we hired teachers–all devout Catholics who take an oath of fidelity to the Church, her teachings, and the Pope–to teach an already complete Catholic classical education homeschool curriculum. The teachers are all part-time and passionate about their faith, and therefore work for a very modest amount of money. We teach grades 7-12, just the time period that can become difficult for homeschooling. In addition to the academic courses, we also have gym class, life skills (sewing, cooking, woodworking, survival skills, etc…) and choir with sacred music. And, most importantly, the Faith is taught in all its’ purity. The kids have peers who come from devout families, and that is great both socially and in the classroom for the discussions. We go to daily Mass and pray the Rosary every day at lunch. All of this is accomplished for between $2500 and $3200 per student, plus the cost of books and enrollment with the accredited homeschool program. Anyone can do this, but it takes thinking outside of the box and a willingness to do something different than what everyone else is doing–the adult peer pressure keeps many families who have misgivings about the education system from going against the mainstream and joining us. Be brave–step out in faith in Christ! The souls and the futures of our children and our Church are at stake!
We are taxed for government schooling whether we go to it or not. I think many Catholic schools teach a non-Catholic/cafeteria “catholic”/sola scriptura religion I didn’t want to learn from them or pay for it plus government school taxes.
The Syllabus of Errors Condemned by Pope Bl. Pius IX mentions this problem too. He condemned this sentence as error: “48. Catholics may approve of the system of educating youth unconnected with Catholic faith and the power of the Church, and which regards the knowledge of merely natural things, and only, or at least primarily, the ends of earthly social life.”
A work by Pope Bl. Pius IX titled The Syllabus of Errors Condemned mentions this problem too. Pope Pius IX condemned this sentence as error: “48. Catholics may approve of the system of educating youth unconnected with Catholic faith and the power of the Church, and which regards the knowledge of merely natural things, and only, or at least primarily, the ends of earthly social life.”
Blessed be God! The fact that we are having this conversation is reason to hope. When we were first married about 20 years ago (we now have ten children), our bishop was not supportive of a strong, orthodox liturgy or of the Catholic schools. Our own parish school was surviving, but they were arguing about sex ed at the time. Thank God, I had a strong inclination to homeschool from the moment of conception. Not from fear, but out of excitement and anticipation of seeing our children’s minds and souls grow under our own eyes! Thank God for Mother of Divine Grace, Seton, CHC, and many other Catholic curriculum providers!!! I know from many friends that these homeschools are not only bringing solid faith to children, but they are rejuvenating a holy Catholic lifestyle in many, many families! This, unfortunately, is something Catholic schools cannot do. I think the biggest problem resides in the lack of faith and the broken family.
I believe that the solution to the crisis of Catholic schools can be solved at the pulpit, or ambo. Priests must preach joyfully and with enthusiasm the True faith!!! Tell it like it is! We want it! If we don’t, at least make us question it. If people never hear the Truth, how can we complain about how we live?! We all must be willing to suffer for one another! How else will we become saints?
If you know your faith, live it, yes, but joyfully spread it, as well! Having ten children, we have attended many baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation classes. Why? We could teach these! Yes, but, while I may not have time to help in the catechesis, my husband and I gladly come to support the DRE. We have many friends who teach NFP and marriage prep. They are on the front lines!!! Yes, they meet many contracepting couples, engaged couples who are living together. Still, with the backing of the pastor and the bishop (VERY important), they charitably tell it like it is. “Have you considered that you are living in sin? You are missing out on something very beautiful! Go to confession and live as brother and sister until your wedding.” Many, MANY have never been told this! It is possible that they have and didn’t listen. Still, we all need to participate to change the culture. With God all is possible! My friends have awesome stories of conversions they have witnessed in this regard.
Our own diocese now has a fabulous bishop who supports homeschooling (he himself says a Mass for graduating homeschoolers and gives them their diplomas!). In return, these homeschoolers are active in many parishes and many eventually place their older children in the Catholic schools, helping change the culture there. Meanwhile, others, like ours, who do not put the kids in the schools, generously support the schools financially. I know for a fact that our parish school does not turn families away who cannot afford it. They help everyone, even middle class families.
We now have a parochial vicar, thank God, who is helping our pastor, and is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College. He has an enthusiasm that is contagious, and has challenged the parishioners to bother him, ask him questions, come to him with their needs. This joy and generosity speaks volumes to many souls longing for Truth and Love Himself!
Times are getting tougher, it seems, but that will only make the Light brighter. We must not despair! God is good, and He needs our hands, our feet, our mouths! Please forgive my wordiness! God bless you, Monsignor!
I have found that many Catholic schools these days are interested in talking about how “excellent” their students do academically. They also care a lot about their sports programs. Other than learning lots of rules and high theology, they don’t much seem concerned with helping all children discover their vocation in life and live it joyfully — the attitudes of love, hospitality and joy are missing!!! They don’t take the disabled, and they don’t even seem to want the kids that aren’t scoring in the 80th percentile or above…The excuse is always the expense. But the problem is that by not being places where everyone is accepted — they cease to be CATHOLIC (universal)!!!!! They undermine the Church’s prolife message because they don’t even try to take kids with minor disabilities…They need to adjust their teaching methods, maybe even their overall academic goals, and be Catholic (universal) first. As of now, I’m no longer for giving my parish donations to “prep schools”.
The Catholic HS near us has become a very expensive super prep-school for upper-middle class parents with 1-2 children, (most of whom use contraceptive and abortifacients.)
Being middle-middle class, NFP teachers and 4 children my wife and I simply cannot afford the HS. Not homeschooling, we send our children to public school and run the gauntlet. We really don’t think it would be a good idea to send our children to the Catholic HS anyway, the school pushes the kids to go to big expensive schools (50K+/year) colleges -I think for the single reason it looks good on the HS brochure. Take a look at the HS alumni magazine and you’ll see big colleges, big debt, no children -as the future for these unfortunate children.
I think there is another point to be made here. Catholic schools for children have only really been around for about 100 years, first implemented in the US to combat the imposition of public schools with Protestant doctrine. I think with the implosion of the number of sisters and brothers teaching in the schools have brought many effects including:
1. The parents are often not involved with the transmission of the faith to their children. For the first 1900 years this was most often not the case.
2. Most parents are not well catechized themselves. Most only have the 8th grade CCD class.
Yes, catechizing children is important, but the parents are those who have the first responsibility to do this and the most grace available from their marriage vows. Also, what about catechizing adults so they can catechize their own children? Why all the focus on children? And why only to 8th grade CCD?
Is Christianity a religion for children or Adults? To whom did the Apostles and Jesus Preach and Teach?
Here is a great tribute to Catholic schools by columnist William McGurn: http://nypost.com/2014/01/31/catholic-schools-secret-love/
Thanks Msgr. As a catholic school teacher of almost 30 years I have found that $ is the main problem. Some priests don’t push for catholic education knowing the expense it is for the parish and the parishioners. The tuition keeps people away to save money for college. I thank God every day for our parents that sacrifice to send their children to our school.
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