Friday, May 18, 2012

Catholic Education: Their Future

High School Options:  The Choice We Face
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.

“We are not academically elite prep schools,” Voboril explains. “We are not schools that cater to athletes. But we are able to do what we can because parishioners are committed to the notion that Catholic schools should be available for every active Catholic, not just those who can pay for it and not just for those who are academically talented. That changes the nature of the school in a good way. It exists for the mission for which it was created instead of morphing into something because that’s all it can afford.”  (boldface mine)

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.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Catholic Education: Her Present

Why I Love My Daughter's Catholic School

I love my daughter’s Catholic elementary school, and so does she.  Like the mission statement of virtually every Catholic school since John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio was published, her Catholic school recognizes parents as the primary educators of their children.  This community means it.  This school organizes itself around and actively mirrors family life.

The children with siblings at my daughter’s school have more time together during school hours.  They have recess at the same time and eat in the same lunch room.  They pray together as a group three times per day.  This familial way of arranging time during the school day also allows children to see the interactions of other sibling combinations, both good and bad, so siblings can recognize the blessing of each other and model their relationships toward virtue.

When I did the math, I was surprised to learn that my daughter and I are separated for 29% less time than at other schools.  That’s 29% more time with me, learning the values that I want to teach instead of those that society-at-large wants her to learn.  The school achieves this reduction by cutting out the conspicuous inessentials that have crept into the modern U.S. educational system. 

Here are just a few of the many blessings my family has received during our time at this school:

1)  The Playground

During my daughter’s Kindergarten year, I was able to embrace the opportunity to observe lunch recess at least once per week.  I have witnessed all of the following beautiful things:

  • I have seen crowds form around newborns as though they were rock stars. 
  •  I have seen teenage and pre-teen boys mentoring younger boys. 
  • When I inquired into the nature of some very loud roaring between two groups, I was informed that they were playing the “lions against the Christians game.”  Another mom nearby cheerfully chimed in, “I hope the Christians win.”
  • Whenever children incur minor playground injuries, their siblings are immediately at their sides.  Don’t bother to tell them that you’ve got it handled because they’re not going anywhere until they’re satisfied that their brother or sister is fully recovered.
  • Most of the kids interact with adults successfully on a consistent basis, as opposed to larger schools where visiting adults are routinely ignored. 
  • Disputes, disagreements, and general unkindness do occur.  However, the subject matter of the disputes is far more innocent than I have experienced elsewhere.  Additionally, because the staff and supervising parents are immediately accessible and develop relationships with the kids and each other, situations requiring intervention are handled immediately.  The children seem to interact with each other more like siblings and cousins, with all of the predominantly positive aspects unique to those familial relationships.

2) Heroes

These kids know their Saints.  Heroes elsewhere generally consist of actors, pop music singers, and professional athletes.  For each of these children, a time of testing will eventually come.  It matters whose example they turn toward when the chips are down.

3)  Authentic Catholicism

This school is permeated with Catholicism.  All of our beautiful traditions are taught, such as the power of Novenas and scapulars. Catholic teaching is not watered down—missing Mass as a mortal sin is discussed because it is true, and the parents do not object.  Catholicism is not limited to formal religion class.  Textbooks include references to God and our Church and are classical in nature, enabling this school to reclaim the intellectual roots of the Catholic education of years past.

4)  Keeping Life Simple

Using this school as a model for other (diocesan) Catholic schools presents some challenges.  Some of the accomplishments of the school come because its class sizes are limited to 15 students per grade, which is not readily replicable at other schools.  Many families cannot arrange life around Friday at-home study days.  Some families will want foreign languages taught before fourth grade.  Others will decry the lack of sports teams and formal art and music classes.  I find none of these issues worthy of sending my daughter anywhere else, and I considered all of them before placing her at the school.

As for sports, she plays soccer, softball, and basketball in community programs, and because we are not counting on college sports scholarships, she participates for fun and exercise while enjoying camaraderie as a team member.  She is also improving her social skills by playing with kids she doesn’t already know.. 

As for art, one of my first experiences with another school mom was an invitation to join her children in a parent-led art class.  The mom had taken a relevant course at the Phoenix Museum of Art and willingly shared the time she was spending instructing her own children with my children.  Her lessons did not consist of craft projects, but rather of learning the basic elements of art, identifying styles of art, and memorizing some of the paintings of the masters. 

As for music, the kids learn traditional Church hymns and practice singing in rounds.  They sing and recite in a Christmas program.  If I believe that my daughter needs more musical instruction, we will pursue it elsewhere using our Friday at-home study time.

The bottom line is that this school helps us achieve our goals for our daughter.  This school works with us, the primary educators of our child.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Catholic Education: My Past

Why My Daughter Goes to a Catholic School

Other than attending Mass every Sunday, there is little that I remember about the Catholic part of growing up in California in the 1970s and early 1980s.  I remember the big moments, such as First Holy Communion, my Confirmation retreat and the day I received that Sacrament, and having the privilege to be one of three girls chosen to crown Mary in May of my eighth grade year.

I attended Catholic schools for all eight years of my primary education and all four years of my secondary education.  I remember next to nothing of my formal religious instruction, but I do remember this:

Our lunch break at my parish Catholic grammar school was from 11:30am to 12:30pm.  All 240 students successfully coexisted on the large, tarry, black-top playground.  There were many activities available to us:  hopscotch, four square, the currently much-maligned dodge ball, jump ropes, kick-ball, etc.  But at noon, every ball was picked up, every hopscotch marker was left on the ground, and every jump rope ceased its twirling. Silence took over, we all turned toward the school’s white stone Mary statue, and led by the principal’s voice over the loudspeaker, we prayed the Angelus together.  The image is powerful for me now, and the experience was powerful for me then, despite the fact that my play-time was interrupted.

I believe that this one daily experience with prayer later saved my life.  As a young adult, I fell away from the Church.  I didn’t renounce it, but I no longer cared much about it.  It didn’t seem to hold any relevance in my modern life at a liberal public university.  Later, as a 28 year old woman, I faced a major life crisis, the kind of which I pray daily my children will never face.  But in the midst of great suffering, I fell to my knees.  I begged God to intervene and alleviate my pain, because at that moment He was the only one who could.  I didn’t remember or pray the Angelus, but I instinctively knew that the best thing I could do in that moment was to be silent and turn my attention to Him.

That is the instinct that I want my children to develop, and that is why I will continue my daughter’s exposure to as authentically Catholic an environment as possible, both at home and in school.  I have never read Aristotle, Plato, or even St. Thomas Aquinas, but in the darkest moment of my life, I remembered to pray.  If my children one day do the same, that’s enough for me. 

If they turn toward Him, He will carry them through.

Delivering Themselves from Evil

My daughters are afraid of things that are ... scary.  There, I've said it.  I've completely failed to desensitize them to all of the horror that the entertainment media is so eager to show them. 

They refuse to walk down the dark, narrow hallways at the movie theater because on previous such treks they have glimpsed posters of people on fire and vampires with blood dripping from their mouths.  For this, they've been called "timid."  At Disneyland, they prefer the carousel to the Tower of Terror, causing some to question their "willingness to try new things."  Perhaps my kids are just too literal--after all, the word "Terror" is in the title.  Daughter #1 once corrected an adult who tried to placate her fear of war by telling her that the only modern wars are being fought in other countries, far away from the United States.  Daughter #1 knows better:  her Mama lost a cousin in the Twin Towers, and her Daddy travels to New York too often for her liking.  Daughter #2's radar for evil is so finely tuned that she actually leaves the vicinity of the TV when Curious George starts to misbehave.  She knows that the Man in the Yellow Hat is not George's father, but she's convinced the fourth commandment applies anyway.

When did fearlessness become the measure of a child?  What about prudence and rationality?

Many around me subscribe to the idea that a well-rounded child will try anything once, and that her failure to do so foreshadows a narrow life.  I am teaching mine that they don't have to do anything that seems evil or unnatural.  I tell them that under normal circumstances they control what their eyes see and what their ears hear, and as a result I have seen them consistently refuse to be assaulted by the negative visual and auditory stimuli that many take for granted.  I am teaching them that evil is aberrant--that we are sinners, but that we were made for good, not bad.  And I do this while the entertainment media culture tries repeatedly to teach them that evil is commonplace, unavoidable, and nothing to get upset about.

I don't yet know if, how, or when they will or should lose their drive to block out the more upsetting side of life.  But for now, they recognize evil, they are afraid of it, and they will go to great lengths to avoid it.  I dont call that too timid.  I call that one shot on goal.

Check It Off

Today is our 20th wedding anniversary, and suddenly I’ve become a writer with no words.  I dug for prior content and found most of what I've written about my husband to be too personal to post. 

Here’s what’s shareable:

2011:  Words I used to describe him to a friend:
  • Strong
  • Committed
  • Logical
  • Very funny
  • Smart
  •  Calming
  •  Protective  
  • Generous

2009, notes for an essay:  Little Things He Does To Make Me Feel Bigly Loved
  • He leaves his car radio on K-LOVE when he knows I’m going to use it next.
  •   Recognizing that I can no longer stomach movies with graphic scenes, he carefully researches and selects movies that are uplifting, include a positive spiritual message, and are void of all the garbage that seems to infatuate the Hollywood crowd.
  •   He loves one line from Fireproof as much as I do: “Never leave your partner behind.”
  •  For a few nights in a row last fall, he played “Dancing in the Moonlight” from the beautiful movie “A Walk to Remember” on his iPod for us to listen to together as we drifted off to sleep.  Never said a word.  Just did it.
  • He gives me his jacket or coat when I’m cold while we’re out…every time.  Only recently has he started to suggest, in a gentle way, that perhaps I should plan a little better next time.

May 16, 2012:  A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words

Steve, your faith since your conversion has become an anchor for our family as you lead us in a whole new way.  I know it’s a bit self-indulgent, but last week I found some video-making software that is really easy to use.  In practically no time (i.e. this is why the laundry isn’t done--picture inserted smiley face here), I was able to create a summation of the beauty with which God has blessed us.  Hope you like it.


“Put me like a seal over your heart,
Like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death"
--Song of Solomon 8:6

Twenty years: