Saturday, June 26, 2010
The Case for Catholic Schools (Part Two): Integrating Personal Faith in Life, Education, and Community
Following up on
the discussion I began with yesterday’s post, I come today to the first of five
reasons I will propose over the next week for why, all things being equal,
Catholic parents should choose Catholic schools for their children. As before, the comments are turned on.
The first and
most important reason for creating and maintaining any Catholic institution is
to build the faith and point the way to Jesus, to the Church that He founded,
and to the Sacraments that He established. Catholic schools serve that mission in wonderful and diverse
Catholic parent wants to raise children who will be faithful Catholics. We earnestly hope that our children will be
committed to the Church, live Christian lives, and contribute to the
Catholic witness in their work and public lives. And even the father or mother most confident in his or her
own parental skills knows that we need help in doing so. We are blessed by the support of others
who are part of our Catholic community and able to offer guidance and teaching
that may be beyond our own limited set of skills, to offer a perspective that
had not occurred to us but that may resonate with our children, and to demonstrate
through their own lives yet additional examples of walking with Christ. Catholic schools are designed toward
those very ends, with teachers who often have made considerable economic
sacrifices because of their commitment to Catholic education and their heart
for teaching in a faith community.
Together with the
nurturing of children in our family homes, Catholic elementary and
secondary schools offer the best venue for our children to learn to integrate
their faith into all aspects of life. Children in a Catholic school are encouraged to consider, express,
and live their faith in each part of the day, in religion classes that are
part of the regular curriculum and in their other courses. From morning prayers in home room
class to the sharing among children of what God is teaching them in religion
class and on to the integration of Sacraments into the school week, the student in Catholic school learns in an atmosphere of faith.
To be sure, a
person with a strong religious faith will try to do some of the same in a public school
setting, as was true for many of us on the Mirror of Justice (including me) who
attended public schools. And parents can play a role in encouraging their
children who attend public schools to proudly uphold their faith. But we must
admit that it is difficult as parents to do so effectively, at least in a manner that best
facilitates children to grow up with a holistic understanding of faith life.
And public schools rarely invite children of faith to be themselves in a public
school environment, certainly not in any way equivalent to the manner in which
public schools otherwise tout their openness to, support of, and pride in other forms of
The child in
Catholic school also learns to integrate that faith as part of a faith
community. Our Catholic faith is
one of community, built around both the family and the parish, in which the
Catholic school should be at the heart of parish.
As Catholics in law and public life, we should advocate for public
policies and legal protections that uphold the rights of parents to make
educational choices for their children, most definitely including those who choose
home-schooling. As Catholic
parents, however, and assuming a quality Catholic parish school is available (which may not always be the case),
we should participate with our fellow believers in supporting the parish
school. As I’ll discuss further on
another day with respect to the other benefits of Catholic schools,
home-schooling simply is not an option for most parents, especially those in
difficult and disadvantaged settings. More importantly, for today’s
discussion, our faith is to be lived out with others, so that our children learn to
care for their neighbors and to join with them in Catholic teaching and
worship. Catholic schools make that practically possible.
Nothing can substitute for the growth in faith that comes when a teacher shows the love of Christ to the child who is struggling in class or comes from a difficult family setting. Knowing that our children will live in community and must learn to work with others, the faithful atmosphere of a Catholic school affords the opportunity to not only learn about but practice peace-making and forgiveness after the unfortunate episode on the playground or the childish taunt in the hallway. And how precious it is to see our children working with classmates in preparing the readings and prayers for school Mass. Our faith should equip us for effective participation in community. And students in Catholic school are immersed in community.
Some are quite critical of our Catholic schools, finding them to fall short of the mark (even if superior to the public schools). In a setting where the only available Catholic parish school is woefully inadequately, I understand why a parent would lean to alternatives. I must also say, however, that living in two major cities, and having carefully explored many, many Catholic parish schools when joining the Church and then when moving to a new city, I have yet to find one that was educationally inferior or that could justly be denigated as "nominally Catholic." To be sure, as one would expect, some surpassed others in academic quality, and some were more vibrant or more orthodox in Catholic faith. But not one of the Catholic schools that I visited and investigated was a discredit to the parish to which it belonged. Sadly, I appreciate that others may have had different experiences, and I do sympathize with those who face such difficult burdens in educational choice.
In the end, however, withdrawal is not an option for Catholics (we're not Protestants after all, who start a new church whenever a flaw is identified in the existing church). As we must resist the temptation to withdraw from parish life when we are disappointed with our local Catholic Church, I submit that the truly Catholic response is to become even more engaged so as to prayerfully and energetically work to correct any problems with Catholic education. When we work with other parents and parishioners to strengthen the Catholic school at the heart of our parish, we just may find that God is working dynamically and deeply in that school and that the rewards, temporal and spiritual, for our Catholic kids are great!