Catholic schools must matter

| Father J. Michael Byron and Anne Weyandt | January 25, 2018 | 3 Comments

Why should we care? Why should anybody care about anyone else? And why does this matter?

There was a time when answering these questions didn’t require justification. Caring for others is just something that human beings innately do.

Regrettably, we live in a world and a time in which these “why” questions demand a compelling and intelligent response. It really was no easier a century ago than it is now to educate the poor, to house the homeless, to feed the hungry, to tend to the sick and aged, and to accept the alien stranger. Yet people came together to accomplish all of those things because the alternative was quite literally unthinkable.

Who then — or now — could imagine indifference as a response?

Fewer and fewer people now identify with Christianity or any religion at all. We are more fractured as communities, without a common “story” to connect us. And we live in a social-political climate in which an ethic of indifference towards the needs of others is tolerated and fostered by leadership.

So why exactly should we care?

The other is our neighbor. Not only in the spiritual sense of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim belief of having emerged from and belonging to the one God, but just as importantly, in the practical, visceral sense of people living here among us, walking our streets, sharing in our commerce and politics, riding the bus in the seat next to us. A resolve to care is a decision to keep our communities cohesive, safe and as free from fear as is possible.

Christians among us have an imperative to follow Jesus’ life witness. Christ never forced anyone to accept his way of life or to join his religious movement. But once a person freely chose to follow him, he was rigorous in his expectations. Caring for the stranger, the immigrant, the orphan and the poor one was not optional activity for disciples then — nor is it now.

We are essentially interdependent. One need not be a religious person to appreciate that human beings cannot survive in radical isolation from one another. We need one another, and others need us. That is not pious sentiment. It is the elemental law of nature.

It has become too dangerous to live in a world, a nation or a city in which people are threatened by others whom they do not understand.

We are called to reject indifference in favor of human connection, shared experience and the common good. Rejecting indifference is why Catholic schools must explicitly pursue educational justice — honoring the dignity of each child and promoting creativity, achievement and inclusion in our classrooms.

We believe that it is crucial for contemporary Catholic schools to challenge educational injustice by expressing their deep and historic commitment to the Church’s work of social justice. In our parents’ generation, Catholic schools were an integral part of the fabric of our parishes and neighborhoods. As such, they connected children and families from different cultures and backgrounds through a fundamental commitment to educational access reflective of a communitarian ethos and a radical spirit of hospitality.

There is an urgent need for us to respond to the needs of our time with courage and creativity, answering the question of why we care about our children and our communities.

This work is a direct challenge to our broader culture of indifference. It represents an intentional elimination of barriers to enrollment and achievement for children and communities affected by poverty, as well as exclusionary racial practices and divisions. It is a concrete expression of why and how we demonstrate care in our Catholic tradition: by eliminating economic injustice and expanding access to educational opportunities that reflect a clear commitment to individual dignity and solidarity in every classroom, with each teacher, and in every measurement of student achievement and success.

It is why Catholic schools matter.

Father Byron is pastor of St. Pascal Baylon in St. Paul. Weyandt is the vice chair of the St. Pascal Baylon Catholic School board and associate provost of the College for Adults at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

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Category: The Local Church

  • Charles C.

    People often tell soldiers “Thank you for your service. They offer their lives to protect the citizens of the country, and sometimes of the world. Priests also offer their lives to protect the citizens of the world against a stronger and darker enemy. So, thank you Father Byron, for your service.

    I’d appreciate some clarification, especially of the last substantive paragraph. Perhaps you’re using some terms as shorthand for concepts which most Catholics understand clearly, so forgive me for asking for help. Also, the goals stated seem vague and shifting to me so until I understand them more completely it will be hard to support them.

    What is meant by economic injustice? Is it based on the amount of money a district spends per pupil? That makes the most sense in a discussion of schools and since it is found in the same sentence as “access to educational opportunities.”

    In a 2014 listing of the 1,000 largest school districts in the country, Minneapolis ranked 54th in terms of per pupil spending and St. Paul was 82nd. You can’t get much better than that. Is the most economically just school district Newark, New Jersey? They spent nearly twice per pupil what St. Paul did.

    And what is meant by “expanding access to educational opportunities that reflect a clear commitment to individual dignity and solidarity?” Do public schools not offer that type of opportunity? If so, we just need more desks. If they don’t, are you talking about routing students from public to Catholic schools? Changing public school curricula?

    The article ends with “every measurement of student achievement and success.” Does that mean we’ve failed inf 60% of Asians get an A, 40% of Whites, and 20% of Blacks? Does “justice” mean each group needs roughly the same scores and proportionate number of suspensions?

    Or, does all this mean that schools, led by Catholic schools, must teach children from the earliest age what the “proper” attitudes are towards immigration, global warming, the $15 an hour wage, and other “Social Justice” issues?

    • Those are excelled questions. I hope you get answers. Frankly I found Father’s post to be vague.

      • Susan

        Agreed. I have no idea what he’s trying to say here.