Mission Confusion

Which I think is different from Mission: Confusion. Outgoing Washington (DC) superintendent of archdiocesan schools Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill really “stirs the pot” in this excerpt from a May 7th talk sponsored by Trinity Washington University and the NCR.

Teachers’ union thumbs down:

(R)esponsible for bottling up state and federal legislation that would permit public money to given to nonpublic schools. Saying the unions’ motivation was preserving the jobs of public school teachers, she added, “It isn’t about the adults. It’s about the kids.”

Homeschoolers, too:

“(F)aux Catholic schools” … led by those who have been in the Catholic home-schooling movement. She showed the home page to a website for a Pope John Paul II Academy in a suburban section of the Archdiocese of Washington, which has no connection with the archdiocese, despite entreaties by archdiocesan officials that the school seek some sort of connection.

And closing eighteen schools since 2002:

“It’s probably one of the most horrible things I’ve ever done, to stand in front of poor people and tell them we don’t have enough money to keep the school going.”

Let’s get back to those teachers’ unions. I assume Ms Weitzel-O’Neill is referring to public school unions. Sometimes, the maintenance of a school system is more about the adults running it and the view of the good ol’ days than the kids served.

Does the examination of Catholic schools include the eighty, ninety percent education in science, reading, math, social studies, and all that is repeated by any public school system? Do we look at Catholic schools that aspire to imitate suburban prep schools with athletics, or are there any education institutions out there that promote a Catholic sensibility in the arts?

Is there mission confusion? May be. Do Catholics see their schools as a parallel version of public institutions? Or do they see schools as arising from a spectrum of church ministry? Sadly, I think more lip service is given to the latter than is really the case. Most parish schools and pretty much all Catholic high schools I know see themselves as a sort of parallel … not magisterium, but organization. High ideals, good ownership and spirit, but really more of a selective version of secular high schools. Only a lot more exclusive, be it through academics, same-sex parents, independent funding, or parish members.

I’ve never known a truly bad or incompetent school. But I’ve known schools that modelled themselves on something apart from other Catholic ministries.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Mission Confusion

  1. Mike says:

    If you want private schools, don’t send them tax money. I’ll certainly object to any of my taxes supporting non-public schools. I’d sooner see all sectarian schools bulldozed than see a penny of public funds go to them.

  2. David D. says:

    “I’d sooner see all sectarian schools bulldozed than see a penny of public funds go to them.”

    That seems reasonable.

  3. smf says:

    Public funding of private schools may very well be a poison pill for those schools ability to be independent and maintain their integrity.

    The teachers unions are not so much corrupt, as they are just a teachers’ union. Their reason to exist is to advance the agenda of the union and the interest of the members. It just so happens those interest are at certain times in opposition to the best interest of students, parents, families, communities, and society. That is what happens any time a group sets its collective good against the common good. I don’t blame them for that. I do blame them for trying to sell the public on the idea that the teachers’ union knows what is best for education and has everyone’s best interest at heart. That is demonstrably false. They have a legal obligation to represent their members interest over, above, and against all others, and at times they are honest enough to admit that.

    I must also agree that Catholic education often puts too much emphasis on competing with secular education and not enough on being Catholic. However, I don’t think this makes it different from most Catholic ministries, rather it puts it in company with all too many Catholic ministries. There are certainly some ministries worthy of imitating, but there are others that have an equal degree of mission confusion. Unfortunately, I think there is a belief that people won’t support authentically, fully Catholic ministries and thus these ministries must be justified by secular measures like school test scores or some measure that has little to do with being Catholic. There is a perception that “Catholic” doesn’t sell well, and besides, no one has a way to measure that.

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