Saturday, April 25, 2009

Vanishing Catholic schools

Bruce Watson, "Vanishing in America: Catholic schools" (WalletPop, April 2, 2009), observes that Catholic schools are vanishing, but has "mixed feelings" about this when he compares his own Catholic education with "the outstanding public-school education that my youngest sister received."

Part of the problem, in my view, is that Catholics have largely forgotten the main reason that makes Catholic education worthwhile in the first place. It's not that Catholic school children wear uniforms, which makes getting dressed in the morning easier. It's a little thing the Dutch Reformed used to call "antithesis." In the case of Catholic schools, its receiving formation in the "Catholic Mind," which is in significant ways antithetical and inimical to the "Secular Mind," which considers the Catholic religious point-of-view anathema.

Searching for a Catholic school for our daughter, however, has been illuminating, if often disappointing. All-too-often, the Catholic schools we've considered have given the impression of bending over backwards to play down their Catholic affiliation. Their rationale, obviously, has been to appeal to "a wider base." Religious iconography is minimized, if not completely absent. The same with prayer and religious instruction.

There are, of course, some happy exceptions to this pattern. But it's easy to see why Catholic schools are vanishing. Catholic schools, where they do exist, increasingly resemble mainline Protestant schools that retain only the most tenuous ties of affiliation to their denominational tradition. Like many Catholic school administrators, Catholic parents have increasingly Protestantized and secularized understandings of education. Small wonder they have so little interest in the financial sacrifice in sending their kids to Catholic schools. They've lost a "Catholic Mind" and a sense of the importance of what it means to be formed in a Catholic understanding of things. They've lost the "antithesis." Besides, public schools are free.

[Hat tip to R.B.]

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