Last week was "Catholic Schools Week" in the United States; a program dedicated to celebrating and promoting the vast amount of good that Catholic schools have done in this country.
I think that's all to the good--Catholic schools should be celebrated and promoted. They are a wonderful gift. I do get a little worried, however, when the celebration and promotion takes the form of generalized contempt and pity for students who attend public school. I am not disinterested: my father was a public school principal, I attended public school, and got a good education at public school. And I know lots of fine, upstanding Catholics who also attended public school, and either Catholic or public or private colleges.
I think most parents try to make the best decision for their child, given their resources. I think the decision about where to send a particular to child to school is always highly specific, looking at the child, the schools, the options, and the needs of other kids.
If I'm not mistaken, the majority of Catholic students in the U.S. actually attend public schools at this point in time. But they are still Catholic, and they deserve attention from the Church.
So here's my question: what are we doing for the majority of Catholic children? Catholic schools were founded to meet a need--legal historians have highlighted the militantly Protestant, anti-Catholic animus in public schools that created a barrier for little Catholic immigrant children.
Is that particular need still there? Some people would say that rampant secularism creates a parallel need. Maybe in some places. Public schools aren't all the same.
But there are other needs too, needs that have emerged in our modern era. I always wondered: rather than starting a parochial school, would not it be a good option for at least some parishes to put together reliable afterschool care that could be there for students from 3:00 p.m. to (say) 6:30 p.m.? Why not run full-day summer programs? Many teachers pick up part-time jobs in the summer; Hiring them in the summer would be cheaper, since their benefits are already covered all-year by their full-time jobs.
I think after school and summer are big challenges for many parents. Wouldn't they appreciate a strong, religiously based context for their kids after school? And wouldn't, from a Catholic perspective, the sustained informal interaction with students be 1) cheaper for the parish/diocese; and 2) at least as effective at transmitting Catholic culture; and 3) likely to be used by busy parents trying to work and take care of their children?
I don't know. I'm no expert in this. But I do wonder from time to time, why don't struggling Catholic schools go for the after school and summer markets?