Tag Archives: Gallup Poll

Sunday Sermon: Are Catholic Schools ‘Better’ Than Public?

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See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ” ~ St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (New Testament, Colossians 2:8)

It’s a question that does not have a simple answer: are Catholic schools “better” than public schools here in the United States?

You will hear and read many Catholic school parents and students make the claim that they are indeed better in every way.

But you can also find many proponents of the American public school system who will claim that there is nothing inferior about the education they provide.

There have been a number of formal studies made on the issue. Mai Miksic with the CUNY Institute for Public Policy took on the question in his June 2014 piece “Is the ‘Catholic School Effect’ Real“?

Miksic’s piece concludes that “there is no lack of rigorous research…indicating a possible Catholic school advantage.”

However, Miksic also correctly points out that many proponents of Catholic schools point to simplistic statistics such as higher standardized test score results achieved by their students.

Education is, in the end, about much more than test scores.
And a system that works for one student is not necessarily going to work for another. One thing that we know about our kids is that they are not cookie cutter products.

No matter what argument that you want to make for or against Catholic schools, there is one area of education that is far greater in those institutions. One area that the vast majority of Americans agree upon.

In a June 2016 survey by the Gallup organization, a full 89% of Americans said that they believe in God. If given the choice of “not sure”, the figure remains overwhelmingly high at 79% who are believers.

In research conducted by the respected Pew Research Center, their “Religion Landscape Study” found that over 70% of Americans today still identify as Christian.

If your kids attend Catholic school, they are going to learn about God, about Jesus Christ, and about a whole host of other Christian ideas.

Gaining a respect for the truth that God exists is vital for a child’s appreciation of his or her special place in the world. Learning the teachings of Jesus Christ in a proper setting provides an introduction to foundational principles to guide them through life.

Public schools in today’s America are allowed to teach about religions, but they are not permitted to teach religion. They begin from the false premise that all religions are the same or equal, and that to teach one as more “true” than others is prejudicial at best, and simple indoctrination to fantasy at worst.

This is not the way that it always has been here in America. There was a time – a long, long time – when teaching the precepts of the Christian faith was a vital part of every American child’s education.

Only in the previous century, when so-called progressives began to gain control of American academic institutions and made inroads into the court systems of our country, was God largely banished from public classrooms.

No matter what is taught in schools, a sound religious home life is important for children. It is the parents responsibility to educate their kids from the youngest age. That education must include a strong faith component.

We all come to our faith at different times and in different ways. Despite my own Catholic education through the entirety of grade school, high school, and even college, my faith was not an important part of my life until recent years.

There are no guarantees. Just because your child attends Catholic schools does not mean that they will become a model citizen. It does not mean that they will automatically make all good choices, that they will never sin.

It certainly does not mean that they are “better” than kids who attended public schools.

But on the whole, the numbers don’t lie. Your kids are generally going to be better and more fully educated at a Catholic school.

National test scores, high school graduation rates, college acceptance and attendance, and a variety of other educational areas all favor a Catholic education for your kids.

There is, of course, a cost for this education. Catholic schools are not free.

Tuition is high in many cases. That can be a challenge for many families who would, except for this one major drawback, prefer to send their kids to Catholic schools.

This is one reason that school choice is such an important issue, and that the area of school vouchers is such an important one for folks to educate themselves on.

This is the beginning of Catholic Schools Week. The theme this year is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service.”

All during the week, schools and parishes across the country will be involving their students and communities with activities in this theme.

If you are the parents of a child preparing for their school years, or the parents of a child who is currently attending public school, take the time to look into the possibilities offered by your local Catholic school.

I have personally had the experience of attending Catholic schools, and of sending my children to both Catholic and public schools. There have been good and bad experiences at both. In my opinion, the good of the Catholic school experience far outpaces the alternative.

Book Review: Killing Jesus

A few months ago, I finished reading Bill O’Reilly‘s outstanding work “Killing Lincoln” about the assassination of the 16th President of the United States and the events surrounding and leading up to that event.

The book was so well written and informative that it inspired me to purchase for my Kindle his other two similar books: “Killing Kennedy“, about the assassination of our 35th President of the US, and “Killing Jesus“, about the events surrounding our Lord’s death.

I held off actually reading “Killing Jesus” until this time of year, the time surrounding those actual events. Today is Holy Thursday, when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Tomorrow is Good Friday, when he was nailed to a cross and died for our sins. And then, of course, Sunday is Easter, when he rose again.

But O’Reilly does the subject a most honorable turn. Despite his own Roman Catholic upbringing, and that of his co-writer, Martin Dugard, he does not approach the matter of Jesus’ death, and all of the events leading up to that event, from a religious or spiritual standpoint. Instead, as with Lincoln and Kennedy, he takes a purely historical look at the events.

O’Reilly and Dugard have taken the telling of these types of important events, the untimely murder of the most important figures in history, and made them completely accessible at every level. They do this with an almost conversational tone to the story-telling, mixing in the necessary known and verifiable facts with other discernible information based on the times of the events.

The end result, in “Killing Jesus” (and “Killing Lincoln“, for that matter) is a book that is well written, easily understood, and that stands on it’s own as an important new resource for anyone that has any interest in the topic. And who can say that they have any interest in human history without being interested in Jesus?

Whether you are one of the billions on the planet who believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, who came to free us all from our sins, as I believe, or you are a complete atheist, one thing that you cannot deny and remain credible is that Jesus did indeed live, and that his teaching has indeed had a profound effect on human history.

As O’Reilly puts it in his introductory ‘Note to Readers’:
To say that Jesus of Nazareth was the most influential man who ever lived is almost trite. Nearly two thousand years after he was brutally executed by Roman soldiers, more than 2.2 billion human beings attempt to follow his teachings and believe he is God: That includes 77 percent of the U.S. population, according to a Gallup Poll. The teachings of Jesus have shaped the world and continue to do so.

I am in the midst of reading this book now, at Easter time, and should be finished over the weekend itself. I can already say that I highly recommend it to true believers, as well as to simple fans of history. It is, at the very least, a great story of an important world figure who lived during a most interesting time for humanity – the Roman Empire era.

I have a number of books lined up for reading on my Kindle once finished this excellent read. After his treatments of Lincoln and Jesus, I am absolutely now looking forward to reading the Kennedy book. That sound like a great one to put off, however, for the fall, as the 51st anniversary of JFK’s own assassination rolls around come November.

Low times for Catholic Highs

North Catholic students in 1954 during the school’s heyday

 

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced the other day that two of its long time iconic high schools, North Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty, would be closing at the end of the current school year.

Reaction from students and their families at the two schools, each of which had once held the distinction of being the largest Catholic high school for boys by attendance in the world, as well as from alumni of the two schools, came swift and strong.

Many of the students had dreamed of graduating from North and Dougherty, some of these students as ‘legacies’ who were the sons and grandsons of alumni. The loss of the schools would break family traditions stretching back for generations.

There would also be day-to-day changes for the students, such as travel arrangements to new schools and trying to fit in socially at an entirely new environment.

For alumni, the issues included the loss of tradition and a perceived elimination of a large slice of their own teenage memories. These former students and graduates had walked the ‘hallowed halls’ at North and Dougherty. They had competed for the sports teams, participated in the clubs, attended the religious services, and got their groove on at the dances and proms.

When North Catholic opened in 1926 it enrolled approximately 450 students. By the post-World War II years the school enrollment had swelled to more than 4,000 young men. By 1953, that enrollment had grown over 4,700 students, and North Catholic was recognized as the largest Catholic high school for boys in the entire world. It was a slow downhill from there as far as attendance figures.

By the late-1970’s, with North Catholic celebrating its 50th anniversary, total attendance had fallen to about 2,700 students. The total dropped below the 2,000 mark by the early 1980’s.

Though there are now approximately 40,000 alumni of North Catholic high school, the actual 2008 attendance had plummeted to just 750 total students.

The story is similar at Cardinal Dougherty, which opened in 1956. By the 1960’s, Dougherty enrollment had swelled past the 6,000 mark as the school took over the title of largest Catholic boys school in the world. But attendance plunged in the same way it would over at North. By 2008, there were just 784 total students at Dougherty.

When you consider these figures, it is really not that hard to figure out why buildings and facilities originally created to hold between 4,000-6,000 students and now held a little more than 700 each could not continue.

But many students and alumni are placing the blame elsewhere. The rise in tuition costs. The cost of legal defense for Catholic priests accused and convicted in the sex abuse scandals.

Sadly, these Catholics are completely missing the real reasons why enrollment has plunged to the point that schools need to be closed.

For the America of the ‘Baby Boomer’ years during the two decades immediately following World War II, the Catholic Church was a major institution and a concrete part of family life. Families were still together, and many of those were large and thriving.

Divorce was almost unheard of at that time, and a typical Catholic family would have four or five children or more. These kids grew up to attend the neighborhood Catholic elementary and high schools as a matter of course.

Tuition in the 1960’s was approximately $200-250 per student at most Catholic high schools in Philadelphia. Today those figures have risen into the thousands, in some cases to more than $10,000 per year.

Of course, people who earned a salary of $5,000 per year back in the 1960’s are now making $50,000 in those same jobs today. Few people ever consider this fact when harping on tuition rises. The fact of the matter is that costs have soared for most of the same inflationary reasons that salaries have soared over the past five decades.

Catholic schools have an additional burden in that they continue to provide the best educational opportunities and resources. That includes the quality of teachers, facilities, programs, and the overall learning environment.

The cost of providing that quality is, however, now spread out over hundreds of students rather than the thousands of students attending the schools in earlier generations.

There is one major reason for all of the problems that leading to not only the anticipated closings of North Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty high schools here in Philadelphia, but also to closings and mergers of other Catholic elementary and high schools in recent years.

This one major reason also applies to the merger of my own alma mater, St. John Neumann boys high school in South Philly, with St. Maria Goretti girls high school back in 2004.

That one major reason is that Catholic families simply have fallen down on the job.

Catholic families began to have fewer and fewer children, to the point now where most Catholic families have approximately two children rather than the half dozen or more kids that was common a half century ago.

Reproductive demographics is only a part of the problem,  just a symptom of the bigger problem that I personally believe is spiritual in nature. Catholic families have not drifted away from the Church over the decades, they have sprinted away.

According to the results of a Gallup Poll released in April of 2009, attendance at Catholic churches has leveled off at approximately 45% after falling slightly below that figure in the immediate aftermath of the priest abuse scandals. In 1955 that figure had been a full 75% attendance for weekly Mass services.

The fact was, if you were a Catholic in our grandparents day, you went to Mass on Sunday – it was obligatory. The sad fact today seems to be that people take Mass attendance far too casually.

Also, where in those previous decades the idea of divorce was almost unheard of, today approximately 21% of Catholic Americans have been through a divorce according to religioustolerance.org figures.

The combination of the deterioration of Catholic family size, structure, and practice is at its core a spiritual problem.

Many Catholics have become more self-centered, more materialistic, more cynical and more willing to surrender to or flee from the problems posed by evil in the world rather than standing by their faith and fighting back. They have fled to other Christian denominations, or to no religious practice whatsoever, and have taken their smaller families along with them.

It is easy for people who want to assign blame, whether it be in the current struggles of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia or in any other area of life, to point at others. There may even be some validity to such accusations. But those same people need to sincerely look themselves in the mirror and ask some hard questions of the person looking back at them.

Do you go to Mass every week, or at least most weeks? Do you make it a priority for you and your family? Do you receive the Sacraments, especially Communion, but also including Confession/Penance?

Are you committed to your family, and especially if a young Catholic, are you committed to growing that family in number and raising your children as strong Catholics?

Did you, do you, or will you send your children to Catholic schools? Do you find a way to support the Church outwardly and proudly despite the shortcomings of some of its leadership?

If you can look yourself in the mirror and answer all of these questions positively, then congratulations, you are not really a part of the problem. But unfortunately you are also not in the majority of American Catholic families over the past few decades.

The answer to the problems which are now requiring the closings of North Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty, that required the merger of Neumann and Goretti, and that have required the closings and mergers of other Catholic elementary and high schools can be found within ourselves, not in protest or in demonstrations.

We the people who make up the body of the Church need to return to our basic fundamentals of faith, prayer, and support for the Catholic Church. If we are not willing to do that, then more and more Catholic schools will meet the same fate in future years.

The official school motto at North Catholic is “Tenui Nec Dimittam” which translates to “What I have, I will not lose” which should be taken on as the new motto of all Catholics in Philadelphia and all across the United States of America.