Currently, the Catholic school system is the largest private school system in the nation. By 2012, there will be more homeschooled students than any other kind of private school student in the nation. Parents are slowly returning to their roots. The days of the warehouse school are numbered.
To see why, we need only look at history, using Catholic education as our model. There are a lot of ways to discuss the history of Catholic education. For today's reflections, I will divide it up into four phases: pre-printing press, pre-industrialization, pre-Internet and Internet.
Period I - Pre-Printing Press: The Ascension to 1450.
During this period, there were two forms of education: one for children, a different kind for adults. Prior to the printing press, the creation of a book was a one-off, highly expensive undertaking. A book the size of the Bible could cost as much as the church in which it was kept. Consequently, literacy rates were low and most children didn't get much training in that particular skill.
While Romans and Greeks not uncommonly brought in tutors to educate their children, Jewish households homeschooled. For the first 1500 years of the Church, Catholics tended to follow Jewish tradition. Children were taught by their parents. While Catholics did establish schools, these were almost exclusively oriented towards educating adults, training them in adult skills like literacy.
Keep in mind the definition of "an adult." Until the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, anyone twelve or older was considered an adult. Most people married and started their family somewhere between the ages of twelve and twenty. Indeed, an unmarried twenty-year old, especially a woman, who was not a member of a religious order was considered odd.
Unbaptized adults were taught the Faith in a several-year long process. After baptism, adult instruction was dedicated to the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, dialectic), and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music). "Grammar schools" were called that because they taught grammar first.
For the first 1000 years, there were no parish schools because there were no parishes. Most schools were built around monasteries and cathedrals (one cathedral per city). Provision was made for poor adult students who did not want to enter orders but did want to learn. Still, training in literacy was mostly confined to those under religious vows: clerics. That's why we still refer to "clerical staff" today.
By the tenth century, parishes were being erected, generally around monasteries and monastic schools in the countryside. In the cities, universities came into existence around the twelfth century: Salerno, Bologna and Paris in the twelfth century, Oxford by 1170. These universities dedicated themselves to three main subjects: theology, the law, and eventually medicine.
Period II - Pre-Industrial: 1450 to 1800’s
The invention of the printing press and the discovery of America fueled a sea-change in education. The printing press allowed inexpensive books. Literacy became affordable for most people. It also made heresy much more pernicious. Once most people could read a book themselves, without an instructor, they could also interpret that book in ways the book was never meant to be read.
Historically, nearly every major heresy the Church faced came from a priest or a bishop, i.e., someone who was both literate and had influence. Their literacy allowed heretical priests to mis-read the Book, their influence allowed them to spread this mis-reading widely. But, for the first time ever, unbridled literacy allowed the theologically insane to seriously distort Catholic society in a much more profound way than had ever been possible earlier.
The Council of Trent agreed that children should be taught, but it did not advocate the creation of schools for children. While it did ask priests and parents to offer regular instruction in the Faith, literacy education was left to the marketplace.
Trent created exactly one new kind of school - a training school for priests called a "seminary." Eventually, every diocese was supposed to have it's own seminary for priestly formation. Theoretically, this would head off theological insanity among priests.
But by now, literacy was so cheap it could even be affordably taught to most children. Martin Luther, an Augustinian priest, was one of the first to realize that the best way to spread his crazy ideas was to propagandize children. His small catechism was designed in a question-answer format for children, he advocated church-state separation, and he pushed for children to be educated at the earliest possible age.
With the discovery of the Americas also came the discovery of its indigenous peoples.During the previous 1500 years, the Church had placed almost all its effort into evangelizing adults. For the first time since 380 AD, when the Catholic Faith became the official faith of the Roman Empire, the Church faced a large number of un-baptized peoples who would listen (Moslems didn't listen).
Now that cheap books were available, She began to put some effort into directly teaching children (i.e., those under the age of 12). She set up a new kind of school: the mission school. Mission schools were dedicated to teaching unbaptized adults and children the tools they needed to enter civilized society, which now included literacy. These schools were also meant to prepare children and their families for eventual baptism.
The Church had always promoted literacy, creating written Germanic and Slavonic long before Gutenburg's birth. But, while literacy was wonderful in helping to spread the Faith, it also created enormous difficulties. Increased literacy increased the probability of doctrinal distortion. So, over the course of time, the Church developed some rules for how schools should work in order to limit the distortions:
- All teachers must be Catholic (the term “professor”, which means "one who professes the Catholic Faith" comes from this rule),
- The Catholic Faith must permeate every aspect of the curriculum,
- Baptized and unbaptized students must be kept strictly separated,
- Girls and boys must be taught separately.
Back in the Americas, Catholic missionaries flooded in, trying to teach the illiterate natives through mission schools. They are everywhere: both coasts, the Midwest, South America.
They create their own problems. The Jesuit schools in South America are so successful at civilizing the natives that the entire Jesuit order is eventually suppressed. After all, it is nearly impossible to enslave well-educated natives, and the Jesuits were creating far too many well-educated natives to suit Moslem-influenced Catholic slavers in South America.
Protestants, who were, by definition, almost all literate, settled primarily on the Eastern seaboard of North America. They ignore the Indians, using them only for occasional trade or killing them when they get in the way. Protestant schools are meant for literate Christians. The "school year" is generally only about 12 weeks long, and they really only provide "finishing" skills - students are expected to have been taught literacy and basic math at home before they enter. By the mid-1800’s, these schools are becoming Protestant evangelization centers against waves of poor Catholic immigrants.
During this time, higher education, like the Catholic university system, is still pretty much unique to Europe. In 1900, United States' high schools and universities will permit entry to no more than 2% of the population. Still, the entire population, being mostly Protestant, is extremely well-read, with a 100% literacy rate. Butchers and farmers read Thucydides and Plato.
Period III - Pre-Internet: 1870’s to about 1980’s
The advent of industrialization deeply affects education since industrialization requires the destruction of family artisans and crafts, splitting up the family. In country after country, effective industrialization follows the same pattern. First, children are legally forbidden to work. Then, the newly-idled children are legally required to attend warehouse schools to keep them off the streets while the industrial floor snaps up both parents for a 12-hour workday six to seven days a week.
Vatican I attempts to respond to effects of industrialization by promising a statement on marriage, but it is pro-rogued by the war of Italian unification. Over time, the wage-earning capacities of most adults, whether mother or father, are captured for the corporations.
As a result, family trades and stay-at-home work, the mainstay of the family for thousands of years, largely disappears. Family-based education is essentially wiped out. Family life is distorted in brand new ways.
Industrialists push for warehouse schools across the nation by appealing to Protestant leaders. Protestant communities are able to proselytize the hordes of Catholic immigrants through the schools. The Third Baltimore Council (1884) responds to the threat by mandating parish schools.
Unfortunately, the parish schools do not draw on the trivium, quadrivium tradition. Instead, they imitate the public school warehouse format. Protestants respond by outlawing Catholic schools around the country through Blaine Amendments.
Industrialists end-run both religious groups by subsidizing the creation of teacher "certification" programs and teachers’ unions, which in turn encourage the removal of religion from the curriculum entirely.
The teacher certification programs are meant only to instill in adults the ideas necessary to successfully warehouse children and school them in factory attitudes. Teachers are meant to manufacture factory workers, cogs in the machine, not students liberally educated in the trivium and quadrivium (the disaster that was Jesuit success in South America will not be repeated).
As I outline in my book, the factory schools (both Protestant public and Catholic private) together create America's modern contraceptive society. Seminaries were the first to collapse. Although every diocese is still supposed to have its own seminary, by the mid-1980's most American dioceses can't afford the expense. A handful maintain seminaries. The rest now export their priestly training.
Period IV – 1990’s to now
Once the contraceptive society is firmly established, the number of children in school necessarily flatlines. You can't enroll a child that doesn't exist. Today, with population rate of 2.1 (no growth), public schools experience essentially no growth, apart from the small increase or decrease obtained from the infusion of immigrants' children.
The population of “Catholic” schools not only flatlines, it has actually begun to drop. The reasons are straightfoward. The contraceptive society strips away not only Catholic children, but Catholic identity in general, so the raison d'etre for the Catholic schools disappear. Catholic "intellectuals" worked for years to get rid of the "Catholic ghetto." When the "Catholic ghetto" disappears, so does the Catholic school.
Catholic school losses can be attributed to essentially three major problem areas:
Social: The Desire to Integrate Into Protestant-Secular Society
- Even at their height, Catholic warehouse schools never had more than 50% of Catholic children. Most Catholics wanted to "get out of the ghettoes" and integrate into a largely non-Catholic society. They have succeeded.
- The post-Vatican II loss of Catholic identity means the already weak parental impetus to send children decreases. In order to stay open, schools need pupils - they invite in non-Catholic students.
- Today, nearly 15% of Catholic school students are non-Catholic. Catholic identity is further watered down to attract even more students in a vicious downward spiral.
- Post Vatican II loss of religious orders means loss of cheap labor,
- Schools eat up parish income. School tuition is now nearly universal, further depressing demand,
- Catholic schools serve increasingly wealthy student population as only affluent parents can pay the bills. This further destroys the medieval Catholic ethos that required making room for poor Catholics.
- Loss of trivium and quadrivium (the classical education), means loss of Catholic identity,
- Most schools and parishes violate the Catholic principle of subsidiarity in sacramental education by removing sacramental instruction almost entirely from the parents' shoulders,
- Virtually no "Catholic" school adheres to the Vatican documents on Catholic education.
- Teachers are not restricted to actively practicing Catholics, but to whoever will take the pay.
- Children are not segregated along baptismal or belief status, nor according to sex.
- The curriculum is not permeated by Catholic viewpoint, it uses texts, teachers and teaching philosophy identical to that of secular schools.
- The Catholic Church now runs a string of private schools that are Catholic primarily in label, not content.
We've seen the effect of literacy and industrialization on Catholic education. What effects does/will the Internet have on all of this?
The internet allows home-based businesses. It also allows the dissemination of information at an even lower cost than the printing press and the public library. Information is now essentially free and parents can return to home employment as artisans/craftsmen to an extent that hasn't been seen since the mid-1800's. This is slowly being reflected in the effects on the nation's school systems.
The public schools per pupil cost hovers between $5000 and $10,000 depending on how the numbers are counted. The are not particularly effective at educating children, but then, that was never really their purpose. Their primary advantage is their ability to warehouse children while the parents work. As a secondary bonus, schools tend to disrupt family life, making all family members dependent on goods and services provided by corporations.
Today, Catholic schools comprise the single largest private school system in the nation. By and large, they do not handle special needs children. They lose 7-10% of their students every five years. Per pupil cost is about the same as public school when straight educational offering is compared. They are 37% more effective than public school in educational outcome. While there is slight growth in suburban areas (where the affluent clients live), that growth is more than offset by losses in the inner city and rural areas. Their primary advantages are their ability to warehouse children while the parents work, and to provide a better educational outcome than public school, albeit at an obvious direct tuition cost to the client.
Since 1999, homeschooling has experienced growth of 8% per year, every year. Per pupil cost is 5% of public school ($500 vs. $10,000) and 10% of Catholic school ($500 vs. $5000). Burgeoning Internet resources and on-line courses will only improve the cost numbers. It is nearly 75% more effective than public school in educational outcome, and 35% more effective than Catholic schools. The primary advantage is the educational outcome, albeit at an obvious direct cost: no two-income or single-parent use of homeschooling is really possible. Given the number of broken families in American society, this is a real roadblock to the growth of homeschooling.
Homeschooling transforms education from a school year endeavor controlled by corporate bureaucrats back into the year-round, home-based, family-centered pursuit that augmented the Church for nearly 18 centuries.
Today, the Catholic parochial school system is the largest single private educational entity (12% of total school population in 1960, 5% in 1990).
Given current trends, by 2012, the homeschooling population will be bigger than the population in the Catholic school system. Assuming Catholics comprise 25% of homeschoolers, by 2035, more Catholics will be homeschooled than will attend parochial school.
If Catholic bishops want to get on board, the train is leaving the station. The school model proposed by the Third Baltimore Council in 1884 has never really worked; at best it never schooled more than 50% of the Catholic children in the nation. Today it is slowly closing down.
Homeschooling is an imperfect return to an educational model that was successful for thousands of years. Given the demographics, it will probably be at least another decade before Catholic bishops can publicly move their support away from the dying Catholic school parochial system and decisively move toward support of Catholic homeschooling. Until then, bishops commission blue-ribbon panels to natter on about What Should Be Done (tm). And they wait.
In 2007, the number of homeschooled students was about 1.5 million, an increase from 850,000 in 1999 and 1.1 million in 2003. The percentage of the school-age population that was homeschooled increased from 1.7 percent in 1999 to 2.9 percent in 2007. The increase in the percentage of homeschooled students from 1999 to 2007 represents a 74 percent relative increase over the 8-year period and a 36 percent relative increase since 2003.
Homeschooling $500 per pupil cost
Year Enrollment Percent Increase
1999 850,000 or 1.7% of nation's total school population
2003 1.1 million
2007 1.5 million or 2.9% of nation's total school population.
36% increase since 2003, 74% increase since 1999
Catholic School $5870 per pupil cost $10,228 2ndary pupil cost
2008-2009 2,192,531 17.4% decline since 2000
84.5% of Catholic school population are Catholic students (1,852,635).
14.9% of Catholic school population are non-Catholic students ( 325,835).
This is an increase from 2.7% in 1970 and 11.2% 1980.
Public School K-8 Public School 9-12 Total Private School Enrollment
Year Enrollment Year Enrollment
1995 32.3 million 1995 12.5 million 1995 11.7% of public school total
2005 34.2 million 2005 14.9 million 2005 11.0% of public school total
2006 34.2 million 2008 15.1 million