Thursday, January 30, 2003

As you may have discerned, the Catholic secondary schools with which I have been associated, both as a student as a parent, have not exactly been emblematic of the reputed general “excellence” that Catholic schools are supposed to embody.

I know that my experience isn’t normative - it’s not, is it? – and I don’t present it as such. There are many excellent Catholic secondary schools out there, but I present my own experiences merely as a caution for parents to look carefully beyond the brochures to the curriculum, priorities and, most important, culture of the school before decided if it it’s a place that’s going to support their child’s growth in faith and intellect.

And – very importantly – to not feel guilty if you find the school wanting and you decide to send your child elsewhere.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why I happen to hook up with such problematic Catholic schools. They’ve all been in the South, all diocesan, all struggling, all small. I don’t think the high school I attended is struggling any more – it moved from the poorer east side of town, where it was when I attended, to the happening and rich west side of town a few years back, and seems, by all reports, to be thriving.

But the other two? Oy. I’ve concluded that the problems with these schools lay in a)a history of poor leadership, especially at the Florida school b)being small anyway and serving a minority (Catholic) population and c)not being able – because of their size – to offer the programs that the larger public schools offer.

I didn’t teach in areas where there were scads of Catholic high schools, run by the diocese and religious orders, schools which had long histories and traditions of success. I taught in schools that were diocesan stepchildren – in towns far from the center of the diocese, places that seemed almost forgotten sometimes.

And so these schools are left scrambling for the teachers that they can get, some of whom were the typical valiant sacrificing Catholic school teacher, but most, unfortunately, were folks fresh out of college who couldn’t get a job in the public schools that year. They’re left scrambling for students, and most of the time caught in the place where they have come to believe that raising standards and really and truly pursuing academic excellence and a strong Catholic identity would harm, rather than help them.

They were both quite frustrating experiences

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