Why Catholic Education in America is Totally Screwed Up

Even in the 1990s, we were hearing of Catholic schools being closed left and right, and it’s gotten worse with all the lawsuit garbage of the past decade. Meanwhile, the sense of Catholicism in Catholic schools, the orthodoxy of teaching, and the spiritual life have all been steadily declining since the 1960’s. Some of this is due to intentional agendas like the ones Dietrich von Hildebrand addresses in _The Charitable Anathema_, but, these days, it has less and less to do with intentional malice as it has to do with a system that’s just totally screwed up by a variety of factors, such that people don’t even know where to begin to reform, and a lot of people don’t even have a clue that reform is necessary.

1. Lack of Religious, and severe lack of them living their vows:
Let’s face it; priests and religious used to be and should be the backbone of Catholic schools. Education is one of the top four reasons religious orders exist. Education is *how* Orders recruit. We hear too much of how horrible “the nuns” were. Whenever someone talks about how “bad” the nuns “were” with their discipline, I have to point out the contrast to today’s children.
Then, the ones we *do* have of course, are largely ideologically liberal and, worse, they’re using the “relative to your society” interpretation of “poverty.” It’s like the recruitment ad I saw a few years ago for one of the Daughters/Sisters of Mercy/Charity orders: “We’re just like ordinary people. We wear ordinary clothes and work ordinary jobs for ordinary salaries. We just live in a community with other unmarried women and come home at the end of the day to share community and prayer.” Basically, “Hey! Join us! We’re a Coven of Lesbians!”
The point is that, besides the question of orthodoxy and declining vocations, religious are basically demanding the same salaries and benefits that lay teachers make. This takes away the financial advantage Catholic schools used to have of religious teaching there for poverty-level wages.
[While rising orders like the Dominicans of St. Cecilia or Dominicans of Mary Mother of the Eucharist are handling the “vocations shortage” and “lack of orthodoxy” issues, and while the nuns are living in a much truer spirit of poverty–our friend who’s a Nashville Dominican told us the motherhouse didn’t have A/C the first few years she lived there–I can’t say one way or the other if they’re helping on the financial side. The schools they teach at tend to have pretty high tuition.]

2. Catholic identity: the basic criticism that Catholics like us have against most Catholic schools is that they aren’t Catholic in *all* aspects of life. A Catholic education isn’t just supposed to be about 1-5 hours of “religion” per week–let’s ignore the fact that such “religion” is usually watered down milquetoast mush about “Jesus is nice.” It’s about integrating prayer–Catholic prayer–into the daily life of the school: school Masses (with proper liturgy and proper homiletics), school Adoration, school Rosary and maybe even school Divine Office. It’s about talking about the regular subjects from a Catholic perspective (i.e., intelligent design in the science classroom, morality and religious symbolism in the literature classroom, discussing Catholic figures in the history classroom).

Catholic schools celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., in January and talk about the pagan god Janus instead of talking about the Feast of the Most Holy Theotokos and what that means, or talking about the Saints of the month. They’ll talk about “Christian Unity Week” but not about the anniversary of _Roe v. Wade_. They’ll celebrate Native American History without talking about Archbishop Charles Chaput being the first Native American archbishop, or about Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, or St. Juan Diego, or St. Martin de Porres. Do they talk of Chief Seattle being a convert to Catholicism? Does talk of African Americans or Native Americans deal with St. Katherine Drexel and the many other great Catholics who have worked to help minorities in this country who were being oppressed by the Protestant Overlords? What about Mother Mary Lange?

A Catholic school should teach the students to exemplify Catholic virtue in all aspects of life. What we usually get is “Christian virtue,” with the same “values” that are taught at public schools willing to teaching “values,” of the sort expressed by Thomas Merton’s teacher who said, “Being a Christian is much the same as being a gentleman.”

There are three reasons for this problem, but I’m listing it, and them separately.

3. “Accreditation”: Secular Accreditation, as many Catholic homeschool associations and independent Catholic schools argue, is a big hammer used to suppress faith formation. First, in order to be accredited, schools have to teach certain subjects a certain way. This leaves out the question of teaching them in the aforementioned *Catholic* way. We’re talking about Martin Luther King instead of Martin de Porres precisely because the accreditation rules require talking about MLK and forbid talking about subjects that aren’t on the approved curricula for accreditation. Accreditation requires having “accredited” teachers, which means Catholic schools are hiring teachers based upon secular credentials, rather than on those teachers’ credentials as members of the Catholic faith. That gets to my favorite statement by Bishop Vasa, regarding how he requires a mandatum of all employees and volunteers in his diocese: “If I let a known child predator serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Communion or a CCD teacher, people would rightly accuse me of neglect of my duties. If I require, though, that the people distributing Communion and teaching CCD actually believe in transubstantiation, they criticize me for it.”

As I noted in an earlier posts and in many posts in the history of this blog, I get so sick of hearing that I should praise a given principal or teacher or other school employee because of secular credentials. Tell me about the person’s moral practices, prayer life and personal habits.

Just as accreditation means the curricula have severe deficiencies from a Catholic perspective, so too does it mean that the teachers have adhered to a particular course of education that probably means they’re deficient in other areas. Everything I’ve said about “accreditation” applies to the EEOC and several other government entities, as well.

Even more deeply than that is that education is about formation of a person. We forget that theories of education are to be based upon philosophies of human nature and how best to form human beings. The Classical Theory, the Ignatian Theory, the Scholastic Theory, the Liberal Arts Theory, and the Great Books Theory are all very traditional or neo-traditional methods that in different ways conform to the Catholic view of the person. Today, they get lip service from having textbook snippets about Plato or something, and they get lumped into vague categories by the schools that even bother to try, so that no one bothers to explore their nuances or differences. In any case, a school that is following the rules for “accreditation” cannot, by definition, adhere to any of these methods of education. It can try to adapt some principles of those methods to fit the Modernist, Masonic view of education that “accreditation” comes from, but no “accredited” school can be truly Classical, Ignatian, Scholastic, Liberal Arts, etc., and therefore no “accredited” school can be truly Catholic.

4. The people running the schools are badly catechized. The declining Catholic education system of the last 50 years is the system that produced the people doing the teaching and administrating these days. First, they’ve been taught by their teachers, pastors, etc., to shun “that stuff that Vatican II got rid of,” like Saints, Feast Days, sacramentals, devotions, dogma, etc. They’ve been horribly catechized, so they often don’t know what to do even if they want to. For the most part, the people who *are* properly catechized, whether by formal or self-education, are some combination of a) resigned to ostracism, b) homeschooling, c) not “accredited” as teachers according to secular standards (see above).

They’ve been taught that evangelization is “forcing your religion on other people.” They’ve been taught that “all religions are basically the same,” that we’re “multiple boats on the journey to the same place.”

Again, most of them are well meaning–they’ve just been totally brainwashed by the institutional rot in our culture and in our Church, and they don’t know any better. They probably sincerely believe that birth control and chastity are optional, that women’s ordination is on its way, that the Eucharist is just a symbol, etc., but unless someone sits them down and corrects them, they won’t change.


A school operating according to Catholic principles shouldn’t need much money. Good old books don’t cost that much money–keeping up with the “latest curricula” costs money. Technology and facilities cost money, OK, but those are the kinds of things that can be directly donated. Hiring “certified” lay teachers who need to support their families costs a *lot* of money.

Getting back to point 1, hiring nuns and monks who went straight into the monastery out of high school and received their education and training from the Church would cost a fraction.

So, if it weren’t for the desire for secular accreditation or the lack of vocations, the cost of running Catholic schools would be a *lot* less.

The Supreme Court ruled at some point that government money can go towards religious schools so long as the money is applied to non-religious activities. This ruling helped destroy Catholic schools in the 1960s and helped create the long-term problem. Prior to that ruling, there were extensive publishing houses of Catholic textbooks–on all subjects. After that ruling, Catholic schools started using completely secular textbooks in all their non-religion classes. This killed the Catholic education textbook publishing industry, so the books aren’t even available except for a handful of publishers like Seton.

All the various ways that the government supposedly “helps” Catholic schools–tax exemptions, grants, vouchers, scholarships, Title Whatever, etc., serve as subtle tools with which to undermine a school’s ability to incorporate Catholicism into all aspects of academic life. (This is the argument against vouchers raised by Maggie Gallagher and others). Even when the government *doesn’t* forbid religious activities in connection with some funding, the schools still fear being audited or whatever, so they stand their guard.

6. Parish Money:

A Catholic school *ought* to be getting the majority of its money from the parish and diocese, from tuition and from donations from well-to-do Catholics. The goal of most parishes and diocese, however, is to minimize the money they have to pay, since their budgets are so strapped. Therefore, they rely on secular grants and the aforementioned government money.

7. Confusion of Mission:

Lastly, there’s the confusion of mission. Catholic schools exist for two reasons: to give Catholics a safe environment for raising their children and to provide a good education to poor children (hopefully evangelizing them and their parents in the process). All the factors I’ve previously listed point to the fact that schools are *not* in general evangelizing their non-Catholic students. We were once involved in a Catholic school where the priest told the kids, “God doesn’t want everyone to be Catholic.” Now, we’re at a school where the priest clearly teaches Catholic dogma in his school homilies, and encourages the students to take that home to their parents, and that’s a great blessing to have these days.

However, there’s still the problem that when you have Catholic kids mixing with non-Catholic kids, or even Catholic kids mixing with other Catholic kids, no matter how good the school is, there’s still the issue of peer pressure. This brings us to


Dr. Z. is an OB/Gyn who prescribes birth control pills and gives a great deal of money to the parish.
Mr. Y. has 8 kids, is theological orthodox, and politically conservative, *BUT* tends towards the “preppy” view of education, and gives a great deal of money to the school.
Mrs. X. is on her third husband and has 2 kids in the school.
Mr. W. isn’t even Catholic but is one of the wealthiest people in town and sends his kids to Catholic school for the “quality.”
Ms. V. is a non-Catholic racial minority mom trying to get her kids a good education.
Miss U. teaches at the school, is a registered Democrat and “volunteers” at Planned Parenthood (and not by praying the rosary on the sidewalk) on the weekends.
Mr. and Mrs. T. have a number of kids in the school, they struggle to make ends meet on a middle class salary while adhering to the teachings of the Church. Z, X, W, V and U consider them to be “goody two shoes” and “judgemental” and “Pharisaical.” Y doesn’t like them because they don’t dress nice. They’re the constant gossip of parent meetings and teacher meetings. They bring up any topic about the Faith, and it’s “Oh, they’re at it again.” They get virtually ostracized from the school and parish community for being “troublemakers.”
Miss S. is a young teacher who grew up in a family like the T’s, or maybe even like the Y’s. She never went to Catholic school but was either homeschooled or public schooled, or a mixture of both. She recently graduated from Christendom or FUS. She chose to teach at Catholic school because of her commitment to the faith. She gets in the classroom, and here’s a kid who’s parents are divorced and remarried; that kid’s parents have a mixed marriage; that kid’s parent is Dr. Z; that kid’s parent is an *ex*-Catholic; that kid’s parent is a Baptist minister; that kid’s parent is fighting in Iraq; that kid’s parent is a stockbroker. One kid is from the T. family, and the rest are non-Catholics. Miss S. finds herself walking on eggshells on every subject.
Principal R. wants to run an orthodox Catholic school but most parents, particularly the ones with money, are only interested in an elite prep. school. If any of the alternatives I’ve suggested (i.e., dropping accreditation in favor of Catholic identity, dropping some of the trappings to save money, hiring all religious to teach there) is implemented, then they lose their “elite prep school” aspect. If they get more orthodox in their teaching or practice, the various parents I described get ticked off and pull their kids.
Fr. Q. has recently transferred into the parish and gives firebrand homilies.

Mr. & Mrs. P. have just transferred their kids into the school after years of homeschooling. Suddenly, their kids who grew up on VeggieTales and EWTN and a carefully selected dose of secular entertainment are talking about iCarly and Hannah Montana and boyfriends and jewelry and make-up and “Justice” clothes. They want to know why their parents won’t let them do the “fashionable” things. They aren’t interested in watching _VeggieTales_ or _EWTN_ anymore. Even the youngest kids in the family are saying that _The Wiggles_ is a “baby show.” They find that their second grader’s classmates are talking about Stephen King movies and playing “werewolves and vampires” on the playground. Their kids get teased for dressing up as Saints for All Saints Day, for not participating in “vampires and werewolves,” etc.

They appreciate that Miss S., Principal R and Fr. Q are really doing their best. They wish the school would do more to integrate a Catholic life in all aspects of the curriculum, but that, for the various reasons I’ve listed in this article, they know the school is afraid of losing its government money, accreditation, rich supporters, etc., if it does so. They realize that maybe the faculty and staff don’t even realize how much they *could* be doing, but fear that if they suggest anything, even constructively, they’ll be ostracized just like the T family.

In any case, it boils down to the bad influence the other kids are being on their kids. The P’s don’t really know any of the other parents well or know how to address things. How do you tell another parent, “The shows you’re letting your kids watch aren’t only endangering your children’s salvation, but they’re endangering *my* children’s salvation by your kids’ bad influence”?

The P’s know that, when they homeschooled, they could just steer clear of families in the homeschool association whose parenting methods they disagreed with. If their kids had issues with other kids teasing or fighting or whatever, they could go straight to the parents and get the issue resolved, where at the Catholic school, they have to go to the overworked teacher and bring it up and hope for the best.

So the P’s go back to homeschooling, and the cycle continues.

7 responses to “Why Catholic Education in America is Totally Screwed Up

  1. And then, of course, you end up with other issues such as the kid who is “too dumb” or “too disabled” for the elite preppy Catholic School, who needs the kind of one-on-one services that can only be received in public school after badgering the public school board under federal law into granting an IEP.

    • Special Ed. is the Catch-22 of the issue. Of course, it’s government money, so a Catholic school receiving government money *has* to offer Spec.Ed. (however, the problem we’re dealing with is that our Catholic school is technically in a different state–they can offer some special services to students who live in the school district they’re in). OTOH, if a school is not accepting government money for the sake of purity, then it needs to accept disabled children out of charity and give them services out of charity.

  2. pat columbus

    I don’t know where you got all your information, but I have been teaching in Catholic education for 30 years and only once taught with a “nun”. The rest of our staff is well educated mothers, fathers and single people with Masters in education. My classroom is named after Bl. Kateria T. and we talk about her all the time. We have current copyright dates on all of our text books, and the public schools time and time again tell us what a great job we are doing. Just thought you should know you have some misinformation.

  3. What misinformation? Did you even read my post? I was criticizing Catholic schools for being too concerned about secular standards, and all you did was brag about how your school follows secular standards.
    1. I don’t give a flip if you have a Master’s in Education–I’d rather you didn’t. I want Catholic education *by* nuns, real nuns of course, not the LCWR types who just got their long-overdue crackdown by the Vatican.5.
    2. Dietrich von Hildebrand describes the dismal state of Catholic education in _The Charitable Anathema_, and he was talking about the situation in the late 60s and early 70s.
    3. I went to Catholic school, and my kids go to Catholic school.
    4. What do “current copyright dates” have to do with children’s education AS CATHOLICS? I’d far rather see an old book that’s in accordance with the Church than a “current” book that’s full of secularist garbage.
    And the textbooks put out by fine Catholic educational publishers like Seton are current, so I’m not sure what your claim is there.
    Does your school teach the UNADULERATED Catholic faith? Do non-Catholic students, if you have any, know that you’re not teaching “religious tolerance,” but that there is one Church established by Jesus Christ? Do you teach the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus? Do you teach them about the evils of contraception and abortion and sexual license? Do you promote chastity and the other virtues?

    Do you promote authentic charity or “fundraisers” that are more about teaching capitalism than charity? Do you teach reverence for the liturgy or balloon masses?

    If your answer to these questions is positive, then I say, “Hoorah for you!” However, I would think that if you *did* teach at such a school, you’d agree that your school is in the minority and agree with my assessment of the majority.

  4. In short, I’m really baffled by your comment because you claim I’m misinformed yet you validate everything I said. You just obviously think it’s great for Catholic schools to be secular.

  5. Former Catholic Turned Atheist

    ALL catholic schools should be closed down! Generations of children have been emotionally and physically abused by mentally imbalanced nuns, lay teachers and priests. Wasting a child’s time by teaching them absolute rubbish, sheer fiction in terms of religion. My hope is that more people come to their senses and realize what a waste catholic school is. Public schools teach the truth (reality) not the idiocy of religion which corrupts the mind and body. Since so many catholic schools have closed up, and the ones in my area all have, and have for a longtime, huge banners for open enrollment. The public schools are packed. The public schools have superior, caring and mentally stable teachers. What do the catholic schools offer? Rubbish! Religious people are poison in my book. How can anyone call themselves intelligent by believing in sheer rot!

    • I’m sorry for whatever pain you’ve suffered that made you so bitter and warped your own mind, such that you feel the need to post such an off-topic screed that really doesn’t have much if anything to do with what I was saying.
      The Catholic Church is the foundation of Western Education: universities? We invented them? Don’t give me that politically correct “Muslims invented universities” revisionism, either: the notion of one institution that teaches multiple subjects was a product of the Medieval Church. The grade system, in both senses of the word, was invented by the Jesuits. Catholics have been behind some of the greatest discoveries in history (the Big Bang, genetics, pasteurization, etc.), all motivated by their Faith. Catholics operate more charitable organizations than anyone else: all motivated by their Faith.
      As you are being vague and extremely generalized in your stereotyping of nuns and Catholic schools, I can’t respond to what you mean, but you sound more like someone copying what you’ve heard on Bill Maher than someone speaking from personal experience. If you have specific claims you’d like to address, I’d be more than happy to engage you (or, perhaps, agree and sympathize with you). As it is, your comment is so hate-filled and really irrelevant to my post that the only reason I allowed it was to try and engage you in charity.

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