Thomas Griffin 11/17/22
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The realm of education in America has been the source of constant debate and egregious malfunction for decades. As a result of the pandemic and discussions concerning what type of morality should be taught to our youth, the conversation has escalated.
It is no secret that Catholic schools have been on the decline for decades now. School closures and decreasing enrollment have been an issue for quite some time. Recently, however, there has been an uptick in enrollment and a deeper appreciation for what these schools provide. The reasons why reside in the transparency of the public school system that COVID provided as well as a focus on truth that Catholic schools anchor themselves in.
Parents who have flocked to Catholic schools in their neighborhoods note that the structure, community and faith are top reasons for their children’s success. Danyel, from Melbourne, Fl, remarked that her daughter “had struggled for many years trying to find the structure, the support, the love, the patience and the care needed to get her to not only love going to school, but feel like she can actually do it. My daughter is finally happy and she is succeeding.
The National Catholic Educational Association reported that 99% of Catholic high school students graduate and 88% go on for a college education. This can be attributed to smaller classroom sizes as well as the dedication of the teachers.
The ugly aspects of some selfish teachers were another sore eye of the education system throughout COVID. Teachers unions were at the center of national headlines because they were clearly prioritizing the self-centeredness of teachers over the well-being of students who needed to be in school for a variety of reasons. Catholic school teachers are invited to view their careers, not as mere jobs, but as a vocation – a calling to change lives. That difference changes everything.
Along with being cared for by teachers and being placed in the best possible position to succeed academically, Catholic education, at its finest, builds wisdom and virtue by allowing students to discover the truth. The CARA Institute at Georgetown University confirmed that the most common reason why parents send their children to Catholic school is because they desire them to have strong moral values.
A study from Duquesne University called “Why Parents Choose Catholic School: A Social Theory Understanding,” confirms this as well. The number one ranked motivation for sending children to their Catholic schools was: “the school teaches values and morals.” The constant debate ensuing over gender identity and sexual orientation being taught to elementary school students showcases this point. Numbers of students enrolling in Catholic schools and numbers of parents choosing to homeschool their children is increasing the more that this debate ensues.
If there is no God and there is no truth, then it does not matter what is taught to students. But if God is real and we can know Him personally, then morality and virtue are real. The divide between Catholic schools and the public school system rests on this point.
The public school system is founded on the ideas of John Dewey, an atheist, who did not view education as discovering truth, but rather as the crafting of oneself for the future. Humans have the power to make reality what they want it to be, said Dewey and says our public educational model. Catholics schools are grounded in God, and therefore, they know that truth is unveiled to the mind not determined by one’s feelings or subjective opinions.
A close second reason to send their children to Catholic schools is the fact that parents “have a good feeling about the spiritual mission of the school.” Other important points revolve around parents believing that their child will be most safe at Catholic school as well as the individual attention they will receive from their teachers.
St. Mary of the Lakes Catholic School in Medford, New Jersey compiled quotes from parents in the surrounding region to gauge why they are choosing Catholic schools. Top reasons included the tight knit community, the focus on spiritual and character development, and academic excellence.
Arguably, the most insightful remark is found in a statement from this research in New Jersey. One parent said, “Our main reason to put our children in Catholic school is because we think it will help make them better people.” This line of reasoning is rooted in the thought of Aristotle who said that education ought to bring the student to know what is true so as to become good, and therefore, be truly happy. As depression, anxiety, and suicide continue to spike among young people perhaps the answer lies in knowing the truth and becoming a person driven by virtue.
Catholic schools can renew education and schooling as a whole for the reasons quoted above from real parents. They focus on forming the whole student – body, mind and soul while treating students with respect through a focus on the truth will only highlight the strengths of our Catholics schools. As the culture continues to disintegrate from lifeless and illogical philosophies, Catholic schools can be a refuge for families who desire to be deeply connected to Christ, each other and the truth.
That is the recipe for the next generation to be virtuous and happy. Not a novel reason for education, but one that is gaining traction once again. Thank God.
Thomas Griffin is the chairperson of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and son. He has a masters degree in theology and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Empty Tomb Project: The Magazine. He writes for several media outlets.
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