On Catholic Education (Part 3)

66 0

You can’t entirely fault the schools for the increase. It is expensive to operate a school. No longer can the schools rely on religious sisters who teach for a token salary. There are fewer sisters available to teach and they must be paid a living wage, not only out of justice but because their income supports a community of sisters, some of whom are elderly and ill. The lack of sisters to teach means that a school must hire lay teachers and administrators, who also require a living wage. There are school facilities to maintain, increasing levels of educational technology to purchase, insurance to cover liability and general inflation.

One consequence of the cost of operating Catholic schools is that the schools must pick and choose those aspects of education upon which they focus. They simply can’t afford to provide a broad range of educational opportunity or special educational services.

At the high school level this means that most Catholic schools focus on college prep, as about the only parents who can afford to send their children to Catholic high schools are middle-class professionals who make enough money to pay the tuition. They are psychologically invested in having their children go to college and enter the ranks of middle-class professionals upon graduation.

Catholic prep schools do a decent job of preparing youth for college, both in the quality of education they provide and in a strong expectation to attend college. Attending a Catholic high school was a big factor in my successful college education and multiple graduate degrees. It gave me the study skills I needed to succeed and motivated me to want to graduate college.

There are negative consequences of this narrow range of students from which to draw. One consequence is that many of the assumptions the students, teachers and administrators bring into the school setting reflect their social context and reinforce the values of that social context, rather than challenging them.

For example, at a recent “Right to Life” march in Washington a group of students from Covington Catholic high school encountered a Native American march, as well as a group of protesters that had little respect for either the Native Americans or the high school students. Many of these high school students were wearing MAGA caps (Trump campaign “Make America Great Again”) and seemed confused at first and then disrespectful toward a Native American elder who was present and trying to diffuse the situation. While the situation was confusing, their behavior came across on the videos of the event as entirely inappropriate.

Pundits blamed the adult chaperones and teachers for failing to properly herd their young charges away from the confrontation. Certainly, allowing the youngsters to wear MAGA caps at a pro-life march was totally inappropriate. It politicized an event that was supposed to be “pro-life” and endorsed political positions that are entirely “anti-life” in the support of capital punishment, anti-migrant rhetoric, white supremacy, and disregard for the environment. 

Other commentators spoke of white privilege and a general ignorance among the students at the Catholic high school of minority communities and voices.  The term parochial implies a parish and a religious sponsorship, so in this sense it is accurate to describe a Catholic high school as parochial. However, the term also implies a very circumscribed and self-focused view of the world. One of the dangers of Catholic schools is that they can become too parochial in the second sense of the term. The values common among the students, faculty and administration can easily reflect the values and attitudes of the social context from which they come and not the demands of Christian discipleship and Catholic social teaching.

A recent article in America magazine, that was sparked by the Covington High School incident, describes how many Catholic school curricula lack any significant information on minority communities in general and indigenous people. This is an egregious failing when an essential Catholic teaching is respecting the dignity of all people. Ignorance of a people and even the basics of their culture makes it impossible to appreciate and respect their dignity as a people.

One of the unintended consequences of this is that members of minority communities are functionally excluded from a Catholic education. The operational culture of the school is white middle class and all students are judged by that standard. Those from a different cultural context don’t easily fit into this foreign culture, come into conflict with those values and expectations more often and are pushed out of the school before graduation. If they can remain in the school until graduation, many have been unable to integrate the two cultural contexts effectively.

My youngest child entered the local Catholic high school along with about a dozen other minority students out of a freshman class of about 500. Out of that group of minority student freshmen two graduated. One was a star football player and the other was an exceptionally gifted student who did well academically. The football player frequently came into conflict with the administration and developed an alcohol problem but was kept in the school because he was a good football player. After high school his drinking problem got worse and he failed out of college, even though he had started out with a football scholarship to the school.

My experience with juvenile justice programs in the islands and Karidat is that with effective adult supervision and encouragement to develop a strong sense of identity that respects one’s culture, youngsters with behavior problems can he helped to a significant degree. The high school had no such programs to help these minority youth to adjust, in large part because the administration was blind to the need for such programs.

Related Post