Those Elitist Catholic Schools

by Fr. Charles Irvin

June 1998



One of the favorite ploys of those interested in keeping Catholic schools in the closet and walled off from receiving any help from public funds is to characterize parochial school kids as children of the rich, the elite, the privileged and from the families of religious fanatics. Public schools are considered by certain interests to be the Great American Melting Pot. Public schools train kids to be American according to these people, and to be American means to be tolerant of any and all religious sentiments, tolerant of all lifestyles, to be value free and independent of all religious entanglements, and certainly to be free from all repressive and medieval Catholic influences. Religion, in these quarters, is something that is simply “nice” and should only teach people to be nice without imposing any restrictive demands on anyone.

Historically the American public schools were designed to “de-program” immigrant Irish, Italian, East European, Hispanic and Polish children from the Catholic brainwashing system that the Nativists assumed had turned them into unthinking robots of the Pope of Rome. The American public school system was designed to take these children of immigrants and give them a “mind of their own” — in other words to free them up from all external constraints and moral norms “imposed” upon them from outside foreign sources. Much of that Nativist sentiment pervades today’s debates over school vouchers, special education teachers teaching in parochial schools, along with counselors and anything else paid for by public tax dollars that might be found helpful to parochial schools. Any support is deemed by them to be “establishing religion” at public expense.

Well, just how “elitist” are Catholic parochial schools?

With the opening of another school year now upon us some interesting statistics are appearing in print these days. Did you know that non-Catholic children account for over 13% of all Catholic parochial school enrollments? Did you know that the percentage of minorities enrolled in Catholic schools now stands at 25%?

Approximately 2,645,462 children were enrolled in Catholic schools last year in 8,231 schools in the United States; 74% of their teachers were lay women, 18% were lay men, 7% were nuns, 1% were brothers, and 1% were priests. The old image of nuns beating children with rulers is gone. Parochial schools are hardly “priest-ridden” as the anti-Catholic anti-parochial school advocates would have everyone believe.

And what about the performance of parochial school educated children after they graduate from Catholic schools? Any number of surveys and studies from universities that are hardly sympathetic to the Catholic Church indicate these children, especially those from underprivileged families, outperform their public school peers. Yet opponents to parochial schools continually insist that they come from privileged homes and are “children of the rich.” Horsefeathers!!

Another myth that’s perpetuated is that Catholic schools “dump” their problem children into neighboring public schools. Yet the retention rate for enrolled Catholic school children is quite remarkable. Only a small percentage of so-called “problem children” are turned back to the public schools.

“Cream always rises to the top” was a phrase often used when I was a little boy and the milk was delivered in glass bottles on the back porch. It is becoming more and more obvious, to the discomfort of forces who want to marginalize parochial schools, that Catholic schools are delivering graduates who can do their numbers, read, write, communicate and think better than their counterparts elsewhere, parochial school graduates who rise above their peers.

So in the current argument over whether or not parents of school children should receive vouchers and thereby be empowered to send their children to schools of choice, or whether or not instead of vouchers there should be a tax credit for parents of school children (the dollar amounts should be at least $3,000 to be at all meaningful), we should not be passive and timid and quiet in the face of the stormy blasts that some from parochial school opponents. We should be armed with the truth, with data and statistics, and arguing that we contribute more to producing moral, educated and upstanding American school children than anyone else.

And we should be forming coalitions with our Black brothers and sisters so that Black Baptist and other Black church congregations can set up their own parochial schools deep within urban America. We have something they can use — a model of schools that work, schools that produce, schools that give us good American citizens, schools that save their children from being condemned to membership in a permanent underclass, schools that can rescue this land of ours from the threatening chaos that surrounds our kids in the non-society that so-called “American Culture” has produced for them.