Catholic Schools are Better. Period.

I thought that title might entice some discussion!

My dad just sent me this article from Public Discourse comparing religious private schools in the US to public and charter schools.

You should read it, and I’d love to hear what you think:

The Data Are In: Religious Private Schools Deserve a Second Look

Jeynes begins his article this way:

An inquisitive elementary school student asked his teacher, “Is it wrong to steal?” The teacher replied, “I don’t know. What do you think?” This incident in a major midwestern public school alarmed thousands of parents, and reminded myriad others why they value religious private schools: these schools are usually guided by a moral compass for academics and behavior that public schools patently do not offer.

As a Catholic school English teacher, I of course find this particularly interesting (and edifying). What is not explicitly stated in the article is the fact that the “religious private schools” Jeynes is referring to are largely the Catholic schools.


That’s right.

Four thoughts though:

1) I am interested as well if there have been studies that also include home-schooled students. Due in large part to doubts about the quality of public and private education, a large number of my UD friends were home-schooled for most if not all of their lives before going to college. For more thoughts from an actual home-schooler, see Amy Welborn’s post on her wonderful blog, Charlotte Was Both: Homeschool Notes.

2) Additionally, despite the apparent benefits of religious private schools, there are some obvious problems. I can really only speak to my experience, but many Catholic schools do not have adequate resources for students with learning disabilities, English language learners, or other students who do not fit a certain mold. I cannot tell you how hard and frustrating it is to be a teacher who sees students struggling, but who is unequipped to really help them succeed. And to be honest, I know some of these students leave Catholic schools for public schools in hopes that they were be able to find the resources they need there.

3) Catholic schools cost money! Oversimplified version of the story: while originally founded and run by religious sisters and brothers to serve the poor and the immigrant families, Catholic schools over the course of the last century have had to make up for the lack of unpaid employees by raising tuition. So, many of those whom we originally sought to serve can no longer afford a Catholic education.

4) The voucher program. See what ACE has to say here: Program for K-12 Educational Access. See the Indiana Supreme Court’s recent decision here: IN Voucher Program Upheld.

A last thought, and the most important one, according to the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education:

The Catholic school is committed thus to the development of the whole man, since in Christ, the perfect man, all human values find their fulfillment and unity. Herein lies the specifically Catholic character of the school. Its duty to cultivate human values in their own legitimate right in accordance with its particular mission to serve all men has its origin in the figure of Christ. He is the one who ennobles man, gives meaning to human life, and is the model which the Catholic school offers to its pupils. (The Catholic School)

mother seton
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.

6 thoughts on “Catholic Schools are Better. Period.

  1. If you’re looking for a real discussion, I have a few objections that may be worth considering!! I really do appreciate the Vatican’s vision of what a Catholic school should be, but I think the de facto operation of parochial schools is often problematic. Speaking generally – when a school is attached to a parish, the vast majority of parish funds get poured into the school, which creates a very insular and inward-looking community: when parishioners tithe, they basically just give money to themselves and their own children. My family stopped attending a parish populated mostly by upper-middle-class families when at the end of each Sunday Mass they started praying to St. Vincent de Paul for the $3 million in funds necessary to build a new gymnasium. It was a little bit repulsive. We started attending an inner-city parish that did not have a school attached, and the community there was like a breath of fresh air.

    Also, I think it is often the case that when parents send their children to Catholic gradeschools, they slough off onto the school the responsibility for educating their children in the faith. This is problematic because the religious formation in many Catholic schools is not particularly good. And regardless of the quality of religious education in school, it requires reinforcement in the home. But many parents these days are not well enough formed in the Catholic faith to provide this reinforcement…and many parishes do not emphasize continuing adult religious formation because, as mentioned, they pour all their attention and resources into their gradeschools. There is a kind of vicious cycle here.

    I have no doubt that religious schools are, on the whole, more academically successful than public schools. But I guess I’m just concerned that they are damaging to parish life and to other crucial aspects of the Church’s mission — like evangelization, religious formation and spiritual direction at ALL levels (not just children), and charity that looks outward to meet the needs of the larger community.

    1. Thanks for your objections, Theresa. They gave me a lot to think about. I think you’re right about the dangers of parish insularity and the emphasis away from the family as the Domestic Church where a child’s faith is primarily formed.

      However, I don’t think the dangers are actually inherent in catholic schools themselves. Parents fail in their responsibilities in faith formation for many reasons, and if they use the catholic school as an excuse for their own negligence, that is hardly the schools fault. Moreover, in many cases school is the only place where many children learn about the faith at all.

      The insularity problem you mention occurs at too many parishes, regardless of whether or not they have a school.

      As the document indicates, catholic schools are called to be centers of evangelization. That is, when they are truest to themselves, they overcome the insularity tendency and reach out to share the good news. The fact that so many of them fail in this today is one of the many self-inflicted sins the church suffers from, but it is all the more reason for the renewal of catholic schools. Programs like ACE, when they are faithful, are hopeful examples.

      1. Thanks, Maura! Yes, I do think you’re right that my complaints fix not so much on the schools per-se, but on the failures of parishes and lopsided parish-school relationships. It’s true that the problems I mention are not inherent in the schools; though I still think that attaching a school to a parish can be a sort of distraction or temptation to self-indulgence which, as you mention, needs to be overcome.

        This fiery little article criticizing parish-based religious education caught my eye yesterday: At the end Mrs. Nicolosi gives a few suggestions, and interestingly, part of her programme involves giving public-schoolchildren a taste of Catholic schooling by offering some sort of religion classes in the afternoons. I don’t know how practicable that is, but I kind of like how it involves opening up the Catholic school to serve the needs of the parish community — as opposed to what my family has experienced, in which parishes often seem to exist to serve the needs of the school.

        I think what you say about the Church’s “self-inflicted sins” is, sadly, right on. As with all missions of the Church, Catholic schools will be most successful when priests, teachers, and parents alike are animated above all by the love of Christ and dedicated to carrying out God’s will. I can’t even express how grateful I am for those wonderful teachers like yourself who are animated by this love! And from my limited experience with ACE, I agree it does really marvelous things for schools and for the Church in this country. =)

  2. Maura – I am so happy that you are teaching in a Catholic school and your answers are well-formed, positive, hope-filled and on the mark. Well done. 🙂

    1. Thank you! Having taught in an under-resourced Catholic school for the past two years, I have seen a lot of the troublesome issues first hand. Yet I think Catholic schools are worth saving, for the sake of our children’s faith and also for the sake of sound education. I think Catholic schools continue to provide a challenging alternative to public and other forms of private education. Indeed, I suspect the success of many charter schools is in some part due to their acknowledgement of the importance of virtue-centered education and a cohesive moral vision.

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