Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why a Catholic School?

Why a Catholic School?

          I teach in a Catholic school.  My first two years of teaching were in a charter school.  Growing up, my education was completely in public schools.  And we are homeschooling our children.  When it comes to education I have experienced a pretty wide variety.
          One of my greatest concerns is the development of extraordinary, authentically Catholic schools.  In that regard I have been quite blessed personally.  Like all schools, the school at which I teach is not perfect.  But there is a real effort being made that the kids receive not just a good education, but a Catholic education, and we are supported by wonderful priests and a great parent community.
          However, I had an interesting conversation the other day with a friend of mine who teaches at another Catholic school in my diocese.  We were “talking shop” and she shared with me the struggles her school has because about half the student population is not Catholic and about half of the remaining population is non-practicing.  She is the junior high religion teacher and at a recent open house two parents came up to her and confided that they were happy their daughter attended that particular school since it would help her get into a good college (how?), but they really would prefer it if religion was not part of the curriculum.  They want her to have a good GPA, but they aren’t concerned about her actually acquiring any faith.
          My friend wasn’t sure how to respond.  Why would you tell all that to the religion teacher?  So she would understand if the daughter didn’t really try?  As a veiled threat not to ruin her GPA?
          The bigger question to me is, why did they enroll her in a Catholic school in the first place?  Although I have rarely come upon this situation, my friend tells me for her it is commonplace.
          Why should someone send their child to a Catholic school?  I teach in a very good neighborhood with highly ranked public schools.  Why should someone send their children to my school?
          To prepare them for high school?  The public schools can easily do that.  To prepare them for college perhaps?  The charter school across town can do that.  Maybe to prepare them for 21st century jobs?  The secular private school can do that, and give them the status of being a private school student to boot.
          No, there is only one reason for any child to attend a Catholic school, especially in a neighborhood with good public schools.  To prepare that child for eternity.  The public schools will not do that; the charter schools are forbidden by law from doing that; and the secular private schools distinguish themselves from us precisely by promising not to do that.
          And yet, ultimately, that is what matters.  High school lasts four years, college maybe six, a 21st century job maybe 40, but eternity lasts forever.  Preparing children for eternity is the number one task of every Catholic school.  That is what parents are passing on the free public schools and paying for.  And if it’s not, it should be.
          It is what the last two popes have been repeating over and over.  Of course the other academic subjects are important, and no school trying to be faithful to Christ would neglect them, but you can get those anywhere.  A Catholic school, however, has the power to prepare students for eternity.
          As we all know, many schools are failing miserably in that charge, which is why it is so critical to pick the right Catholic school.  The problem is even worse among our universities.  And parents who have children in Catholic schools should be asking questions, finding out what their kids are learning in religion and other disciplines.  Every school is made up of many classrooms, each with its own culture.  But a school with a parent body that is involved and actively interested in the Catholic identity of their school, can go very far in ensuring that their kids are being prepared for eternity. 
          It is also, of course, important to remember that the Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children.  The schools are supposed to play a supporting role.