This is Catholic Schools Week in the USA. This year's theme is "Catholic Schools: The Good News in Education." And so, we honor those who teach our children, and help us to pass the Faith of our Fathers on to them.
Elsewhere at St Blog's, Rich Leonardi is asking advice on whether to send his kids to Catholic high school, or to a reputable college prep school under the local public school system. Gerald Augustinus is asking for stories from Catholic school teachers. This one takes the cake:
"I'm in my third year as a Theology teacher and coordinator for liturgies at a co-ed Catholic high school in Louisville. The principal is an older, '70's-era Dominican sister who shares a house with the 'campus minister,' a prototypical squat, buzz-cut ex-gym teacher who wears a lot of flannel... It would take me days to vent about what's done here. Suffice it to say for charity's sake that the leadership of a school definitely sets the tone, and if the leadership doesn't care about Catholic identity in a Catholic institution, everything else - from gym to science to sports - is a pale version of what it can really be... Pray for us here - the demoralized faculty, the shrinking student body (325 at present), the frustrated parents who hope to see their kids succeed."
My son Paul was in a Catholic preschool. We took him out for first grade, to send him to a private Christian day school that used textbooks from a Florida publisher called Beka (I know, I know, don't even go there with me!), where he stayed until he finished third grade. The marriage had already gone south, and Paul's mother was filing for divorce. Meanwhile, despite my additional support for his tuition, she fell two months behind in payments, and the pastor sent a private bill collector after her. She called me in tears, like I'm supposed to feel sorry for the mess she had created. But beyond that, it wasn't how I expected these things to be handled. I called the pastor up and basically tore him a new one for not speaking to me first, a registered parishioner who had been instrumental in the parish school merger the year before. I already had a beef with him anyway, as I had been removed as a lay reader for refusing to use "inclusive language" in the readings. The "parish liturgist" told me I was in violation of "parish policy," one which the pastor denied in our subsequent conversation. (You think our excruciatingly orthodox chancery gave a rat's behind? Guess again.) Fifteen years after the episode, Father Fuzzball is at another parish, still trying to find his ass with both hands.
After Paul "graduated" from the private school, he went into the county public system, reputedly one of the best in the country. For all the challenges we faced with that system, I don't regret the decision, as it could only have been worse with a bunch of arrogant little $#!†s using religion as an excuse. (I don't suppose that's ever happened anywhere else lately.) There is one exception; I wish I could have sent him to Gonzaga for high school. Running boys' prep schools may be one of the few things the Jesuits have yet to totally screw up. He might also have been spared much of the excess of pop culture that rules life in a public high school, and which proved his undoing. (Wearing a coat and tie with everyone else every day does wonders for a boy's character.)
We never enrolled Paul in a Catholic school again. It's a shame, really. I believe in them in principle to this day, and have lent financial support to at least two Catholic colleges (neither of which I ever attended) in recent years. But in the present situation, I consider the vast majority of Catholic schools to be a perfectly good waste of money. In some cases, groups of parents have started their own independent academies, and some go on to be very successful. Barring that, however, most parents would be better off teaching their children the Faith at home. I did it with Paul, on those occasions made available to me, from when he was seven and helping me in my work as a sacristan, to when he was seventeen and learning about Thomas Aquinas for the first time. What do you imagine a high school religion teacher would make of the latter?
In the end, it all comes down to the parents. If you're both in it together, you're already a leg up on me.