It is Catholic Schools Week and I am trying to keep a smile on my face. I am a product of Catholic Schools. My older children all attended Catholic schools at one time or another. We have spent the last twenty years moving all over the country, so the kids have changed schools often. Catholic schools have not always been available. When we moved to our current home, I thought it would be a great time to start my youngest in our parish school. Unfortunately, the school was “full” and there was no room for one more third grader. The school staff made it clear they had no need or desire to include my son in their elite school. Our short time as members of the parish did not qualify us for an advantageous spot on the waiting list, in spite of the fact we were already financially supporting the parish and volunteering at every opportunity. So this brings me to my current dilemma.
We are exhorted to financially support the Catholic school. We are told of the wondrous virtues these children are taught. The great sacrifices parents make to send their children to Catholic schools are extolled in the diocesan newspaper. Truthfully, our CCD program educates more children in the Catholic Faith than does the parish Catholic school. The children going to public schools are every bit as Catholic as their plaid-skirted peers. Their parents have to work even harder to keep them Catholic. They cannot depend on the public school to get them to Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation or to teach them about the sacraments. Public school parents have to make time in their own schedules for Catholic education. Parents of public school children have to be ever vigilant for anti-Christian and anti-Catholic bias in their children’s school lessons. Morals contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church confront public school children every day. So where is our annual CCD week? When do the bishops take the time to acknowledge the hard work of parents and catechists in shaping the Faith of public school students? And don’t forget the Catholic home-schoolers. They can be really invisible to the diocesan and parish leaders.
I really hate sounding like such a whiner. But I also hate being treated like a second-class Catholic because my children are in public schools. The majority of Catholic children do not attend Catholic schools. Their CCD program needs to be more than an afterthought of the parish educational focus. As a catechist, I am usually treated as an unwelcome tenant by the parish school teacher whose classroom I use. The CCD program has no permanent space. Why can’t we claim one bulletin board in the hallway or one corner of the classroom? The days of most Catholic children attending their parish school ended a couple of generations ago. Unfortunately, our system of parish education has not caught up with the change.
Amy Welborn’s post today about choosing to send her daughter to the public high school rather than the Catholic high school brings it all back. She describes the Catholic high school she used to teach in that emphasized the private school experience over the Catholic school experience. Her daughter’s current school similarly played down the Catholic part of its identity.
Reading the comments it is clear that choosing between Catholic school, home school, and private school can be a gut wrenching experience. However, as I noted in my last post, going to a private Catholic school is no guarantee you will have an orthodox Catholic education. Sending them to a public school can be like sending them through a moral mine field. I am constantly sweeping the environment and lessons for inappropriate content. Home schooling is an option but it has to be a good fit for both parent and child. And what works one year may not be the best option the next. Schools change. Teachers change. Kids change. Parents change. Needs change.
School starts up in September. Once again my children will be attending public schools and attending the parish CCD program. However, even if they were attending Catholic schools, it is my job to be the primary catechist. My husband and I build the foundation of their Catholic faith. Ideally, the formal instruction in CCD class or in a school religion class is a supplement to what they receive at home.
I guess after all this I can offer no secret to choosing the right education option for your child. Like any other life decision it begins and ends with earnest prayer and discernment. As parents we can make life easier for each other by respecting one another’s decision. Parents are making the best decisions they can under their own unique circumstances.