Let me be clear from the start. I am an advocate of Catholic education. And yet, as of now, my children might not attend a Catholic high school. Here’s why.
Reason #1: There is another option in our community that we hope will assist us more fully in meeting our family’s goals. A local public charter school has reclaimed the intellectual roots of the Catholic education of ages past. The school incorporates logic and philosophy into its course of studies. Students read the early Church Fathers and ancient Greek thinkers because their writings are of primary relevance for all times and cultures. Catholics in particular should find them an important part of a well-rounded education because they provide a foundation for Catholic theology. I was not blessed with this type of education, and I want my children to have it.
Reason #2: This charter school aims to weed out modern pop culture from the daily school environment. I do not want my daughters constantly assailed by the latest fashion trends, consumer must-haves, and false heroes consisting of pop music singers, reality TV and movie stars, and professional athletes of questionable moral character. While the concrete attainment of this goal is difficult to measure and results will vary depending on each child’s particular social contacts, at a minimum I want a school that attempts to keep the baser elements of our culture at bay.
The problem that I will face is that it will break my heart to take our daughters out of the Catholic surroundings they have known and loved during the early years of their education. If we decide to enroll our children in this high school, I will struggle with the lack of all of the elements that make Catholic education Catholic. There is no prayer and no Catholic art to remind students of the heroes of our Faith. There is no religious instruction and no Mass. There is nothing Catholic about it other than that the level of intellectual development its students eventually attain will readily lend to their understanding of Catholic doctrine should they later engage in more rigorous study of Catholic theology as adults. Without question, the school teaches about truth, goodness, and beauty, but they can’t mention Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. They cannot legally make the connection to the Giver of all Truth.
One mitigating factor that might ease my discomfort is that many members of the school’s administration and faculty are Catholic, and the school was founded by Catholics who saw the need in our community for this type of education and filled it, somewhat courageously. They built a successful academic alternative from the ground up. I believe that a lot of love and sacrifice went into its founding. Many Catholic families whom I admire greatly send their children to this school. These families are prayerful and exemplify virtue. I have to believe that they carefully considered the spiritual consequences of moving their children away from a Catholic environment for 35 hours each week.
The ideal high school for my children would be one in which an academically excellent classical curriculum is integrated into an authentically Catholic culture with a parent population that is guided by its own Catholic nature to seek first and foremost the formation of young Catholic men and women who are strong in conscience and striving toward holiness. The school would seek to remove the barriers to sanctity thrown at our young people by the secular culture at large, and the curriculum in its entirety would reflect Christian virtue. A tall order by any stretch, I am praying for such a high school option by the time it becomes relevant for our family. I also pray that the exceedingly talented faculty and administration members who successfully built the charter school alternative for our community will share their enthusiasm and energy with others who may decide to work toward improving the curriculum and environment of our Catholic schools.
Money and Mission
I know that one factor for both large middle class and lower income Catholic families is the cost of the diocesan high schools. But there is a diocese in the United States in which Catholic schools are tuition-free. Yes, tuition free—and high quality. After establishing an aggressive diocesan-wide stewardship campaign in 1985, the Diocese of Wichita was able to offer tuition-free Catholic education to children of active parishioners in all of its elementary and high schools by 2002. Note the key words: active parishioners. In doing so, the diocese has not only ensured Catholic education across economic lines but has also created schools with an authentic Catholic identity that fosters more completely the primary goal of Catholic education: to form Catholic children into faithful Catholic adults who will know, love, and serve God.
The following quote is from an in-depth look at Catholic education in the Diocese of Wichita, Chapter 1 of “Who Will Save America’s Urban Catholic Schools?”
“The big ‘C’ Catholic comes before the little ‘s’ school,” [Diocese of Wichita Superintendent of Schools Bob Voboril] says. “We are schools that if you come here, you are going to be formed as disciples of Jesus Christ. It is going to be taught every day. You are going to be surrounded by it in the environment. Your teachers are going to be trained that way and you’re going to live it out in service. We are going to worship daily. We are going to pray daily. And in the end you are going to be expected to turn into a young person who knows that the gifts they have are going to be put into the service of the entire community, not just to enrich themselves,” Voboril says. In many struggling dioceses, the opposite is more the norm. The schools’ Catholic identity has been slowly eroded, replaced with focuses on athletics, academics or whatever other educational avenue the tuition-paying families desire. “These schools become subject to market forces,” he says. “If you’re going to charge someone $8,000 or $12,000 in tuition, then you are going to have to listen very carefully to the people who pay that kind of money.” What frees Wichita of those pressures is the parish and stewardship model. With the parish providing the funding and no wealthy donors (or government program) calling the shots, the schools can retain a strong Catholic focus.
And the mission for which the Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Wichita were created:
“Together with the family, the parish, and each other, we will FORM EACH STUDENT INTO A DISCIPLE OF JESUS CHRIST who seeks the Truth, grows to love It, and learns to live It.” (capitalization theirs)
That’s it. Wow. It’s a simply stated mission, really, but my husband and I cannot think of a more appropriate one to help us achieve our goals for our children.
Many in our community have perceived a three-way divide in our diocese on the issue of education and are greatly troubled by it. Catholic education is more critical than ever right now as we and our children face the increasingly dangerous anti-Catholic disposition of the government and media in our country. I believe that 54% of Catholics voted for President Obama in 2008 in part because our own schools for the past 40 years have failed to properly form the consciences of young Catholics. Catholic education must, first and foremost, be Catholic, conceived and carried out by Catholics, for Catholic children.