There are 62 million students in Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the world today. That might be an impressive number, but it means that at least 225 million Catholic students are not attending Catholic Schools. And the number does not include what percentage of the 62 million students are not Catholic. And finally, the number doesn’t tell us anything about how Catholic those Catholic schools are.
62 million Catholic schools students is still a number to be reckoned with, and the problem is that there are people involved in Catholic education who want reckon with it on a global basis rather than on a local basis, an approach that tends to ape that of public education. This is all the more important considering that Catholic education is the largest alternative to public education, a force which only promises become more onerous with a U.S. President proposing to throw a trillion dollars into it.
There is an international conglomeration of Catholic educational organizations that prepares an annual Global Catholic Schools Report. Its main objectives: “to bring world-wide knowledge to Catholic schools about how to improve education outcomes, especially under our challenging current circumstances; and to make the international education community better aware of the valuable contributions made by Catholic schools to education systems.” If you like reading stuff like that, this report is your cup of decaf. It is full of “edu-speak” and loaded terms. I’m not sure who the intended audience is, or even if there is an audience, but as head of the Chesterton Schools Network, I was invited to respond to the report. So I responded.
The report expresses a concern over the unprecedented drop in Catholic K-12 enrollment this past year due to the COVID pandemic, laments the closing of many Catholic Schools during this period, and states that the damage caused by the COVID crisis has been massive, and the crisis may be an existential threat, especially in countries where they do not benefit from state funding. It asks rather ominously: “Has Catholic education in the U.S. peaked?”
In my response I pointed out that everything about the Chesterton Schools Network runs contrary to the trends they reported. We have not only kept our schools, we have opened new schools. We presently have 30 schools open, with 10 more scheduled to open this year, and another 10 the following year. These include schools in Erbil, Iraq, and Sierra Leone, Africa. We continue to get weekly and even daily inquiries about starting new schools. Chesterton Academies do not rely on state funding, and provide a Catholic education at a reasonable cost for all families. One of the pillars of our philosophy is to keep Catholic education affordable and independent of government funding. This creates autonomy, freedom and even a wider accessibility for Catholic schools.
Why are we going against the trend? Since no one behind the Global Catholic Schools Report is likely to read my response, I will share its conclusion with you:
We suggest that there is a difficulty in reaching “global” solutions if we do not acknowledge that Globalism itself is a problem. It was Globalism that brought us the pandemic. It is Globalism – at both the commercial and the state level – that pressures and even bullies local populations to compromise their own values and virtues in exchange for economic assistance. The solution, not only in terms of education, but in other aspects of social life, lies in Catholic Social Teaching and its principles of Solidarity, Subsidiarity, Human Dignity, and the Common Good. These established and well-defined terms seem more useful than the terms we have fallen into at present. “Solidarity” is better than “fraternal humanism.” The “Common Good” is better than “covenantal pluralism.” “Human Dignity” needs no explanation.
And “Subsidiarity” is perhaps the most pertinent to this discussion. It can best be understood as Localism. This has been the key to the success of the Chesterton Academies. We have actively taken on the problems identified in the Report, and have demonstrated that concerned parents don’t have to wait for these problems to be resolved at a higher level. We provide tools and resources to help them respond quickly and effectively at their local level.
We would prefer the word “universal” to the word “global.” It is after all, a more Catholic word. In fact, that is what “catholic” means. We have provided a model that can be implemented locally. Each school is locally driven, locally supported and locally staffed and serviced. Chesterton Academy is often a choice in a community in which there are already public and private schools, thus increasing the educational pluralism that this study requests. Chesterton Academies are affordable as compared to nearby local Catholic schools, which sometimes charge twice the tuition of a Chesterton Academy. In addition, most Chesterton Academies have endowment and scholarship opportunities for those experiencing educational poverty in their area. In addition, Chesterton Academies place schools in areas currently underserved, and thereby offer more educational opportunities for the community, which gives more children access to education.
[W]hat is the true mission of Catholic Education? Are we really going to settle for the aim “to educate towards fraternal humanism”? Besides having a not very measurable goal, it seems to be a very secular approach, an attempt to accommodate the world with education, instead of evangelizing the world through education. We cannot address our various secondary desires without addressing our primary desire, which is communion with God, a communion horribly broken in today’s world.
With a secular approach, we are setting ourselves up for failure. G.K. Chesterton says that every time the Church has been wedded to the world, it has been widowed by the world.
The word “doctrine” is entirely missing from the document. The word “truth” is found once. “Beauty,” not at all. Nor “goodness.” While I understand that not all Catholic schools use a classical model, the principles of truth, beauty, and goodness should be considered integral to all Catholic education. Again, our emphasis on these has had a direct impact on the growth of the Chesterton schools.
What is Catholic Education apart from the Catholic faith? The emphasis on Pluralism comes at the expense of Evangelization (which must be understood as different from proselytization, which is unwelcome, but being Catholics, we are called to evangelize.) Furthermore, Pluralism as an ideal is wishful thinking, unless Catholic students first learn their own faith. (The Report, to its great credit, alludes to this.) If Catholic students do not learn their own faith, they cannot have any meaningful dialogue with people of other faiths. But the document uses the term “religious literacy,” rather than the word “faith,” as if to keep the Creed (another word never used) in a separate compartment from the rest of the intellect.
Why is it unusual for a non-Catholic attending a Catholic school to expect that they will not be exposed to a Catholic philosophy as well as Catholic doctrine? In other words, what is wrong with Catholic schools being Catholic? If we don’t believe the truth of what we are teaching, or if we have stopped teaching it, why are we in Catholic Education?
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