Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Bill Bennett on Catholic Education

With the no child left behind act leaving millions behind, the public education system in America stands on a precipice in terms of direction and doctrine. Millions of people - especially in poor rural and urban areas, are getting what we in South Carolina mandate - a minimally adequate education.

Conservative commentator Bill Bennet recently wrote an article for the National Review about the State of Catholic primary and secondary education in the wake of the Papal Visit. Mr. Bennet suggests one facet of the dumbing down of America is the sharp rise in closure of Parochial Schools and increased burden on an already overburdened broken education system.

"300,000 students have been displaced due to Catholic-school closings since 1990, and that taxpayers have spent upwards of $20 billion to pay for public schooling for these students whose Catholic schools have vanished. Most of those kids are poor and needy, the very youngsters whose futures are most precarious and whose educational attainment is the focus of most school-reform efforts of the past quarter century. (“A Nation At Risk” appeared 25 years ago this month.) Far too many of them were forced to move from good Catholic schools to mediocre (or worse) public schools. If the trend continues, hundreds of thousands more will soon follow in their unhappy wake."

Mr Bennet suggest though that there is already a model available to stem the tide of closure for Catholic schools that is a makes-to-much-sense-to-be-ignored argument - the diocese of Wichita. Yes, Kansas where the great Scopes Monkey Trial began the debate of teaching evolution in public schools stands as a beacon model for Catholic Educators in preserving and possibly expanding their education efforts.

Consider Wichita. There the archdiocese promulgated a simple principle: Catholic schooling would be free to all parishioners. To make the economics work, the bishop asked all Church members to tithe from their salaries, money that went largely into school operations. Parishioners responded willingly. Today, all Wichita Catholics can send their children to parochial school; tuition is no barrier.
Mr. Bennet suggests that with a persuasive Bishop or voice of reason that many parishioners would be more than willing to pay for Catholic education whether they had children in the programs or not because most Catholics (88%) believe in the foundations of Catholic education - building moral character. Mr. Bennet suggests that even with the influx of poorer Hispanic immigrants that as long as the focus is not on the make up of the student body but the ideals of the centuries of education provided that people will still open up their pocket books.

Mr. Bennet of course has an angle to this article of not only Catholics supporting Catholic education but with a push for some governmental vouchers and he promotes this with the understanding that it's not enough for Catholics to only educate Catholics.

As for the education of non-Catholic kids in parochial schools, if we do not push hard for more of that, it will keep withering as well. Stemming that decline, especially in America’s inner cities, is a great social justice issue for our time.

One thing Mr. Bennet points out and which I find to be the crux of the problem in Catholic education but one which - I won't say he doesn't put stock in, but at least doesn't emphasize is the lack of priests, nuns, and brothers teaching in Catholic schools and the rise of lay professional teachers. As part of their vocation it was up to their mother houses, parishes, and such to stipend these educators and work out deals for funding with their orders and the dioceses that the schools were located. With the rise of the lay teacherate it shifts the burden of funding away from a mix of sources completely on the parishes and the students families in the form of higher tuition as competition for teacher retention and other "market factors" are in play. Mr. Bennet didn't address it, but with the Holy Father's visit now over we are seeing a spike in vocations, and I hope and pray that his visit with young people in Yonkers inspires many more vocations especially to the religious life where persons commit themselves to such varied aspects of the social gospel - including, Catholic Education.

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