Saturday, June 14, 2014

Catholic Schools--Should We Have Them?

My Sunday Snippets Question of the Week last week was about Catholic Schools.  I said I'd answer in another post and I just realized I never did.

The review won't be published for a while, but I read a book last week about the integration of the local high school in a small town in Virginia.  One thing I noticed is that all the the African-American teens would have been better off staying in the Black schools.  In the Black school they would have been the leaders, taken advanced courses and participated in a variety of extra-curricular activities.  They would have had their homecoming and their prom and all the other things high school kids consider important.  In the White school they were abused outcasts stuck in remedial classes and the prom was cancelled because of them.  In many cases it wasn't the kids' choice to go to the White school; it was their parents'.  While the decision to integrate was better in the long run and better for the majority of African-American children, the decision, in essence, made sacrificial lambs of those first students.

What does that have to do with my opinion about Catholic schools?  In both cases I think there is a choice that is right for society and a different choice that may be right for individual kids.  I've made the choice I think is best for my daughter--she attends my parish school, but I have serious questions about whether we as a church should be investing so many resources in our schools.  Once upon a time parish schools were for all the kids in the parish and they were supported by the parish, not by the parents.  Even when they started charging tuition, there was a note that you should see the pastor if there was a problem paying, that money shouldn't be the reason your child wasn't in the parish school.  That note isn't there anymore.  While there is some tuition assistance for emergency situations, you don't sign your child up for the parish school if you can't afford the substantial tuition.  While that situation has led to parishes spending a smaller percent of resources on the school, it has also led to higher tuition.  Still, in many parishes the CCD program is a second-class citizen to the school--and even if it isn't, the fact that the school kids don't go means the kids of the parish (and their parents) are in different groups--two communities, not one.  On the high school level, at least around here, the schools don't even pretend to be for all kids--they want the best and the brightest, and they don't provide the classes or the services the non-college bound kids need.

While there are those who blame the increased cost of Catholic schools on the lack of religious sisters, even if I could wave my magic wand and give every parish the number of sisters it had in the early 1960's, costs would still be substantial.  Those sisters taught 40+ kids in a class, and few parents would tolerate that today, even if the state would.  A Catholic school I attended in sixth grade had one class per grade, grades 1-6.  There were 35 kids in a class.   The office staff was a principal who taught part-time and a secretary.  There was one teacher per grade, two moms who worked part-time in the library and one special ed teacher and one aide.  Compare that to my daughter's school where there is a principal and assistant principal (both teach a class or two), a counselor, a secretary, an account clerk, two librarians (one teaches a religion class or two and the other is the technology guru) and the classes (one per grade Pk3-8) have under 30 kids (and in a couple of cases, under 20 kids).  There is also a music teacher, a PE teacher and a part-time Spanish teacher.  Besides having to pay all that staff (and provide health insurance for them) we have to buy computers etc and keep replacing them.  Schools are expensive to run and they are't going to get cheaper.  I just don't think they are the best use of a parish's resources, but as long as I can afford it, and as long as I believe that is the best education for my daughter, that's where she will go.


  1. How did I miss this post? I'm glad you pointed us to it. I feel a pang for the lack of integration of faith into my daughter's education in the public schools compared to the way it is in the Catholic school--but the opportunities are much more wide and varied in the public schools. For me Catholic education is important because of that integration aspect, and for no other reason at all. Having seen both sides of the spectrum, I'm bowled over by the quality of the teachers on both sides. And what I've gained by my boys having the integrated education is offset, to some extent, by the lack of diversity in the kids they interact with. There are positives and negatives to both.

  2. Thanks for this post, Ruth. This is a very important discussion; you inspired me to write an "Apologia for Catholic Education": . As you can see, I have definite views on this topic!


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