By Bob Sullivan
Why are Catholic schools not thriving when Catholic schools are free of many of the problems public schools struggle with such as violence, poverty, untreated mental health problems, and other factors which make education very difficult?
Some might claim it is lack of money, lack of resources, lack of leadership, training, etc… I propose it is none of these things. While money, resources, and other things certainly help, they would all fail Catholic schools just as they are failing public education.
Catholic schools are not thriving because Catholic parents have not stepped up in their role as the primary educators of their children in matters of faith and morals. In fact, many parents send their kids to Catholic schools so their children will be taught faith and morals. Many Catholic parents feel ill-equipped to teach their children the faith. Where Horace Mann devised a system which wrestled the primary educator role from parents, many Catholic parents are voluntarily relinquishing this responsibility to a Catholic school which does not want, and cannot fulfill the role. This undermines one of the fundamental reasons for Catholic schools in the first place, and it sets Catholic education up for failure.
If you live in a town or city with a Catholic school, you have likely watched its enrollment stay steady or decrease over time. In fact, the public school in your district likely has a higher number of Catholics enrolled than your Catholic school does. Catholic schools were established not only to prevent losing Catholics to the melting pot of Protestant America, but to assist with evangelization and catechesis. It was anticipated that graduates of Catholic schools would send their children to Catholic schools as well. It was expected that we would just build more or larger Catholic schools over time. That happened for decades, then it stopped. Now things are shrinking, schools are closing, parishes are consolidating.
There were about 2.8 million students enrolled in K-12 Catholic schools in the U.S. in 2018. This is a little more than half the number of students enrolled in Catholic schools in 1970. In the same 48-year time span, the total population of Catholics in the U.S. has increased from 54 million to 76 million. With such an increase in Catholics, Catholic school enrollment should have increased substantially. Paradoxically, the exact opposite has occurred.
It is not uncommon to see Catholic schools close. It happens every year across the country. Two Catholic schools closed this year in Lincoln. We don’t like to see a Catholic school or parish close. More will close unless we change the way we do things with regard to Catholic education.
For various reasons, more than 50% of Catholics are choosing to send their children to public schools and many of the parents who send their children to public schools went to a Catholic school when they were children. We have a problem when a Catholic education cannot propagate the next generation of Catholic students.
If I am correct, the solution is not money, resources, and all the other things public schools are trying. Is the solution simply forcing Catholics to send their kids to Catholic schools? No. Not only is that not possible, it would likely have a negative impact on the children or the children of those children. Many a CCD teacher will attest to that.
The solution is to get back to the basics. Catholic schools were originally established to protect the parents’ role as primary educators, to nurture the family, and to prevent the assimilation of Catholics into a Protestant culture.
Clearly, Catholics have largely assimilated into the melting pot of America (which is no longer Christian), many parents have tried to make their child’s school the child’s primary educator on faith and morals, and the family is faltering under assault on all fronts.
As a result, Catholic schools are educating a lot of children who may receive the authentic faith at school, only to go home to a watered-down experience of the faith. In fact, their family may be doing all the same things as the non-Catholic neighbors, including weekends without going to a church.
“Our kids go to Mass all week anyway. We don’t always have time. God understands.”
When a school’s catechesis and evangelization are met with disinterest year after year, morale declines, ruts are established, and fervor is for fanatics.
Catholics have always been called to shape the culture, not to be shaped by it. While there are some excellent things in our culture, there are many very destructive things which Catholics often embrace in identical ways to non-Catholics and non-Christians.
Around 90% of American Catholics do not attend Sunday Mass on a regular basis. Most American Catholics do not pray, read Scripture, try to learn about their faith, fast, or support their parish. Most American Catholics rarely go to confession, with many waiting five, 10, 20 or more years without the sacrament of confession.
However, it is not only what we don’t do. It is what we do, which diminishes the effect of Catholic education. Whether it is pornography, contraception, abortion, adultery, promiscuity, greed, avarice, or any other vice, Catholics are about as likely as non-Catholics to be involved. Yes, we are all sinners, even the holy rollers in the Church, but when you combine the vices with the fact that most Catholics are not even pursuing grace, it is the perfect recipe for a crisis.