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Monday, February 23, 2004

Shooting the Messenger

Many people have written me personally and provided comments in this space concerning my articles on Catholic education. Here is an outline of my argument. You can look at it minus the rhetorical flourishes that drew both so many boos and bravos.

There are two parts to the Catholic educational system as it has commonly been used in this country over the last two centuries: the parochial school and the university. Because they are treated in quite different ways, they need to be studied separately. The USCCB informs us that the bulk of parish resources is to be devoted to adult education and formation. That is, they add a third leg to the traditional two-tiered Catholic educational system.

At one point in history, the parish school was totally funded by the collection plate and totally staffed by men and women with formal theological training. In most parishes, neither of these are true anymore. Today, the parish school absorbs between 60-90% of the total parish budget and still comes up short. Tuition, often quite high, has to make up the difference. Furthermore, it is staffed either entirely or largely by men and women without any theological training at all.

While individual school teachers may be uniformly outstanding in delivering individual subject areas, a Catholic school is characterized by the fact that the Catholic Faith permeates every subject taught, from math through science, reading, writing, music, art, etc. Unless every subject presentation is permeated by and integrated into the Catholic Faith, the school is not Catholic.

Catholic schools generally require university training, i.e., a teacher's certificate, in a subject area in order to teach the subject. One would expect the same level of education would be required in order to teach Catholic Faith. Since every subject has to be permeated with Catholic faith in order for the school to be a Catholic school and not just a private school, this means every Catholic school teacher needs two areas of concentration, or a double undergraduate major: one degree in either elementary education or a secondary school subject area, the second degree in Catholic theology.

Even if all of these conditions are met, it is the case that parents have the responsibility of doing the sacramental preparation for their own children themselves. This does not mean the parents need to homeschool their children in all subjects, or even that they need to do religious education for their own children entirely by themselves. Indeed, the very description of a Catholic school indicates that the integration of all subjects into a Catholic worldview is the purpose of the Catholic school. However, in the very narrow area of sacramental preparation, that is, preparation for First Confession, Confirmation, First Communion and remote preparation for Marriage, all of these supposed to be done by the parents. Introducing our children to the life-giving nature and principles of the sacraments is part of what makes each of us a fully Catholic parent.

Obviously, these conditions create problems. Let's make a short list of these problems:
1) If the parochial school takes 51% of the budget, it is impossible to do what the bishops request.
2) Virtually no Catholic school teacher has that second area of formal training. Indeed, many Catholic school teachers are not Catholic, those who are Catholic may not have had any formal training in Catholic Faith since their grade school or high school confirmation. Thus, it is not possible for subjects like math or science to be fully integrated with a presentation of the Faith.
3) It is not unusual to discover that even the individual who teaches religion has had no formal training in the Catholic Faith since confirmation. If an adult who only had a grade school education were asked to teach math, reading or social studies at the Catholic grade school, few parents would be pleased, yet when it comes to the Faith, that is often exactly what we get at the parochial school level and it is not uncommon even at the high school level.
4) Catholic parents have no more formal training in the Faith than most of the teachers at the Catholic school.

Now, when we examine these problems, we see a common theme to three of the points. Points 2, 3 and 4 are all problems in adult formation. If we can solve the adult formation problem, our parochial school problems might largely go away. Indeed, with proper adult formation, even the funding problem would go away, as Catholic adults would be more likely to give generously at the collection if they felt the Church were actually vital to their lives. Adult formation is clearly the problem to be solved.

Parochial schools do not do adult formation.
That leaves the parish and the Catholic university.

Let's look at the parish first.
We already know that there is not enough resources in the parish to do adult formation well. The parochial school eats the majority of the parish budget, and needs tuition besides just to stay afloat. There is no money for adult formation. As long as this financial situation continues to obtain, adult formation cannot really be done at the parish level. No one will come because the quality will not be good enough. There aren't enough resources left to make it good enough to entice adults. That leaves the university.

So, let's look at the university. Here are some facts.
Catholics who attend Catholic university are more likely to lose the Faith than are Catholics who attend secular universities.
A survey of Catholic elementary school books in 1997 showed that most of them were heretical.
A survey of Catholic high school texts in 2003 showed that most of them were heretical.
These heretical texts were written by graduates of Catholic universities.
The bishops investigating these texts admit that catechists are not being properly formed in the Faith at the university level.
Now, the ones who study the Faith aren't properly formed. So, we can only assume that the ones who don't study the Faith in formal university coursework are doing at least as badly.
Professors of theology and philosophy at Catholic universities are supposed to take the mandatum, an oath of obedience to transmit accurately and vibrantly the truths of the Faith to the students in attendance.
Only twelve universities are known to do this. The rest refuse to answer when parents ask. When parents ask the bishop who has taken the oath, most bishops also refuse to answer. The universities claim it is a matter of academic freedom.

So, the universities also appear to be out of action. Apart from twelve American universities, we have no evidence that the other universities are doing a good job in forming adults in the Faith, and quite a bit of evidence to demonstrate that they are not.

To sum up:
The parochial school is no longer likely to be Catholic in any real sense because adult formation has failed.
Despite the bishops' cajoling, the parish cannot solve the adult formation problem, because the parochial school eats the majority of the resources, leaving insufficient resources for adult formation.
The universities won't solve the adult formation problem because they see it as an infringement on their academic freedom. The bishops largely refuse to intervene.

Worst of all, this situation is not new. Given the evidence from the 1997 study, and the fact that it takes at least four years to get an undergraduate degree and a position as a textbook writer, we can assume that the Catholic school system has been broken since at least 1993, probably earlier. So, even if the resources were sufficient to put on a good adult formation program, we have at least a generation of adults who think Catholic formation is exclusively for children. In fact, as anyone who has Catholic parents knows, adult formation at the parish level has been dead for decades (plural, not singular). Thus, the very culture of the parish has already destroyed the idea that adults need formation.

All three segments of Catholic education have been severely wounded: parochial school, university and parish.

Those are the facts. Given these facts, how do we dig our way out? I suggest closing the parochial schools in order to free up the resources necessary for the parish to do the job that most desperately needs doing: adult formation. Parochial schools cannot work unless the teachers and parents involved in them are as capable in passing on the Faith as they are in passing on a proper understanding of math or English. If lengthy higher education is required for the latter, how can we honestly require any less for the former? You may disagree with this solution, but if you do, you should at least suggest an equally viable solution of your own.

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