Although Catholic schools sometimes struggle with declining enrollments, limited budgets and rising operational costs, they remain a sound investment for families who take their Catholic faith seriously. Here’s why:
No. 10: Cool uniforms.
Catholic schools often require school uniforms, which provide a sense of order and discipline. Fashionwise, they also level the socioeconomic playing field for K-Mart families who are familiar with neither Abercrombie nor Fitch, and they give the entire student body a whole new appreciation for khaki, plaid and navy blue.
No. 9: Pomp and circumstance.
Public school children miss out on wonderful communal activities such as May crownings, All Saints Day Masses, Ash Wednesday and the Living Rosary. Then there are the sacraments — first penance, first Communion and confirmation, all grace-filled bonding moments that a child experiences with his or her classmates.
No. 8: Three letters:C-Y-O.
They go by various names, but I’m talking about the sundry Catholic athletic leagues that pit teams like the St. Felicity Avenging Angels against the Immaculate Conception Battlin’ Saints. Such intrafaith rivalries provide contexts for learning sportsmanship and teamwork.
Is there anything more beautiful than witnessing players and coaches of both teams gather before a game to pray the Hail Mary?
No. 7: Affordability.
Don’t assume that you cannot afford a Catholic education for your children.
Tuition can be expensive, but you’d be surprised how many schools and dioceses offer very generous tuition-assistance programs for parish families who need help. Some charge no tuition at all! It’s worth investigating before you send little Johnny or Jill through the metal detectors at the entrance to P.S. 143.
No. 6: Discipline.
Despite negative publicity, not all public schools are war zones. Still, their students tend to be a bit rougher around the edges than Catholic school students, and so major behavioral problems are more common there. Catholic schools will attempt to reform problem pupils, but when all else fails, a student can be expelled — especially if he or she presents a danger to other students. Where does he/she enroll next? That’s right. Public schools.
No. 5: Automatic backup.
You are the primary teachers of your own kids, mom and dad, but you need support. Catholic schools can provide independent affirmation of the moral values and cardinal virtues you try to instill in your children. What’s more, parish school children will see their friends and classmates at weekend Mass, which may make them more willing to attend without a fuss. That’s what I call “positive peer pressure.”
No. 4: Birds and bees.
Awkward, ain’t it? By the time you get the nerve to discuss sex with your kids, they’ve already heard the wrong message from peers, porn and prime-time television. Fortunately, at some point Catholic schools step in to teach the real story of human sexuality as God intended it and begin to clear up their confusion. (You still need to do your part, though.)
No. 3: Dedicated teachers and administrators.
Where else will you find such talented, underpaid and underappreciated individuals entrusted with the academic and moral formation of your children? In the rectories and convents, true.
But those mostly laymen and women who share their gifts of teaching with your child will be among the most influential persons in your child’s life — and they’re not in it for the money, I assure you.
No. 2: Better academics.
Here’s one of the “Top Ten Things Your Local Paper Won’t Tell You”: Most Catholic school students, even those from the poorer neighborhoods, perform significantly better in standardized tests, graduation rates and college admissions than most public school students. (Stats reported in the local media usually exclude nonpublic schools.)
Cynics may say: “Of course. That’s because Catholic schools only accept the elite and the affluent.” That’s generally not so — and even if it were, it’s still demonstrably a better education.
No. 1: Planting seeds.
Eight, 12, even 16, years of Catholic education do not guarantee a virtuous life. Nor do they automatically prevent your child from straying off the right path, missing Sunday Mass, leaving the Church, joining a cult, having a bad marriage, living in sin, or winding up in jail — or, God forbid, in hell.
What Catholic education does, we hope, is plant a seed of the Catholic faith — a well-formed conscience which, despite the ravages of opposition and neglect, may someday experience a rebirth of grace that leads your now-adult child back to the full embrace of the Church and the road to salvation that it illuminates.
Gerald Korson writes from Indiana.