Close the Catholic Schools

Okay, I’m a product of Catholic Education. So are my kids, for the most part.  While they were in elementary school I sat on the local school board and then on the Diocesan Board of Education.  In fact I was awarded a Board Member of the Year by the NCEA way back when…

Why the bonafides?  Because I think most Catholic schools should be closed.  Most, not all.  And many will count this heresy.  But here are my reasons:

1.  Our Catholic high schools test incoming freshmen and, while recommendations and elementary grades are taken into consideration, students with the lowest scores are least likely to get in.  “The least among us.”  Should our measure for service and resources not be who needs it most, not who needs it least?

2.  While there are scholarships, most Catholic high schools charge tuitions that are a hardship for middle class and nigh impossible for minimum income families.  Despite exceptions, those who attend Catholic high schools represent a more narrow–and wealthier–slice of the student population than the communities they serve.

3.  Although perhaps a stereotype, my experience of the families with students in Catholic high schools is of families that care more–on the whole–about education that the average public school population.  These families are willing to pay more, donate more, volunteer more and demand more effort and results from their children than the average public school.  It sounds prejudiced and mean when I read it.  But bear with me…

4.  The Catholic high schools have drained the school population in the communities they serve of the brightest, wealthiest and most education-dedicated families.  In classrooms throughout the public shool system, many of the students who would ask better questions, raise class curves, challenge other students and teachers are gone,  sitting together in Catholic school classrooms.  There are MANY students like this in public schools, certainly.  But drawing the private school students out of the public schools drains some of the excellence out of those public schools.

5.  The same is true of pulling these education-committed parents out of the public school communities.  Many of the families who care most are disengaged from the public schools.  Their demands for better classrooms, better books, better teachers…they take that power off to their Catholic school communities where expectations are collectively higher.

6.  Public schools budgets are predicated on student populations.  Every student drawn away from the public schools reduces school budgets by approximately $10,000.

7.  Many of the Catholic high schools have instituted a Friday mass that is increasingly becoming the defacto worship experience for what were local parish families.  Students and their families are increasingly less present in local congregations and more involved with the high school’s spiritual, worshipping community.  Not a terrible thing, but one in which the schools are complicit.  As students move away from parish experiences in high school, and then in college, their parish experience can be lost forever.

8.  As a church focused by Jesus on the least among us, upon the beleaguered, marginalized and poor of our community, what do we teach our children by pulling them out of real communities and cultures and instead insulate them in the homogenous hallways of well-managed and maintained campuses.  Yes, we haul them down to Mexico once every couple years to find the poor hundreds of miles away, or to the streets for an adventure with the homeless.  But, back in the public schools they have abandoned, the poor and uncared-for are present by the thousands every single day.  And the care, treasure and love that Catholic families can bring to them is absent.

Our Catholic schools train leaders for our communities.  Hopefully they inculcate our Catholic children with the values to go out into the world to care for those least among us.  But, as a church, we are finding fewer and fewer returning to the pews.  We divide these luckiest from the least-lucky at our great peril, both as a church and as a community.

To where, I wonder, would Jesus wander in search of the lowliest in Portland and in our other US cities?  Would he find his way to Jesuit?  Or to Roosevelt?

Here is a radical idea.  Test students and gather their school performance records.  Take those with the lowest scores, the lowest grades and build the finest school possible to give them the best chance for education.  Find the poorest families and put them, too, in the school.  Put our best effort, our treasure and our love, into these least among our students and leave the smartest, the best performers, the wealthiest…leave them in the public schools where parents have the will and resources to demand quality and performance.  Is that not, really, the Christian way?

Impossible?  I send $20 each month to St. Andrew Nativity School in Portland.  No tuition.  I’ve sat in a classroom and watched 3 English classes in which students are LOVED, challenged, encouraged and educated.  It can be done.


1 Response to “Close the Catholic Schools”

  1. September 5, 2010 at 12:16 am

    I agree with the writer’s ambivalence about Catholic schools, in spite of the statistics provided by NORC & Andrew Greeley that show that Catholic schools have far more impact than any CCD program on the child’s future commitment to the Church. I believe that this is true of parish schools. These are usually local and parish supported and less expensive than high schools. But I am convinced by personal experience (I have no stats to draw on) that Central Catholic High Schools dilute the identification of the students with their home parish community and frequently compete with the home parish for the loyalty and support of the best families in the community.
    Om the other side I have seen that a good teen-age program can build the teens’ loyalty to their parish, their active involvement in and identification with the Church. Their need to defend their religious faith, values and practices to their non-Catholic classmates leads then to a deeper study of their faith and in many cases (to my own knowledge) to actibe evabgelism among their peers.
    I’m not sure what state the writer lives in but in my state the county gets about $5,000 p.a. for any student enrolled ANY school in the county, so it makes an extra $5,000 per year for each child in private or parochial or any church schools.

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