Last week, we celebrated Catholic Schools Week. While this post would've been much more appropriate had I posted it then, the editorial calendar simply wouldn't permit it. I would still like to share some thoughts about Catholic Schools in America and the role that they had in forming me.
With the exception of when I was in 4th and 5th grade, when there were no Catholic schools around us, I attended Catholic schools from Kindergarten through College. I believe, in total, I attended 9 different Catholic schools which is an unusually broad educational experience for a student. Each school had its strengths and weaknesses, but they all worked in a common direction.
Catholic schools are not immune to the social ills and societal forces that impact students in charter or public schools. Many parents mistakenly believe that if they send their children to Catholic schools, they'll be sheltered from drugs, sex, and violence. Sadly, these societal issues are prevalent even among the Catholic school population. Some parents also believe that sending their child to Catholic schools will result in instant sainthood. Any experience of a Catholic school Mass will quickly dismiss that belief. So what makes Catholic schools so special and what makes them unique?
Like the Church, Catholic schools exist in the world. It's impossible to shelter children from everything that is wrong or contrary to truth. A better approach is to share opposing viewpoints with students and, through discourse and academic study, help them to understand why a certain truth is able to be known. This is where Catholic school shine.
A strong Catholic identity helps schools to form young minds. Catholic schools partner with parents, who are the primary educators of children, to advance a student's intellectual formation in the pursuit of reason. With a basis of logic, students are able to better identify truth and reject falsehood. Further, through a full integration with the Church's saving mission, students are exposed to different aspects of the life of the Church. They experience Mass on a regular basis, perhaps even adoration. Mandatory service hours and retreats help them to better understand social justice and take time to work on their relationship with God. This Catholic identity, if it permeates everything a school does, provides a distinct advantage over public education.
Sadly, not all Catholic schools have this strong identity. When schools fall short in sharing the faith, providing opposing viewpoints, and helping to form young people within the context of truth and reason, they not only do a disservice to students, but they are effectively stealing from their constituencies and giving scandal to the Church.
My parents didn't send me to Catholic school to be away from the world. They sent me to grow as a person. In that regard, they found success.