Archbishop Dolan: A superman for Catholic schools?

Both the news out of New York's archdiocese and the debut in theatres this weekend of a compelling documentary provide a poignant one-two punch in support of Catholic education.

The news from New York is this: there's going to be radical surgery to keep Catholic schools alive. According to The New York Times, Archbishop Timothy Dolan is working on a program to sever Catholic schools from their traditional main funding source: the local parish. Instead, Dolan is reportedly proposing to close several schools (as many as thirty) and finance the rest out of a common fund contributed to by all parishes in the archdiocese.

It is a far-reaching move, but one that makes sense. Here in Los Angeles, Cardinal Mahony has kept struggling inner city schools alive through a wildly successful annual findraising appeal called "Together in Mission" -- essentially prodding wealthier parishes and parishoners to donate to a fund for everyone else. Archbishop Dolan's proposal institutionalizes this and brings stability to school funding.

If you clicked on the Times link above when I first posted this, you'd have see that the Catholic school story is the lead article in the nation's premiere newspaper. Why that would be so brings me around to the documentary called "Waiting for Superman."

The film opens this Friday in, as they say, "select locations" around the country. It's directed by Davis Guggenheim -- the man behind "An Inconvenient Truth" -- and the movie won the "Audience Award" at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

"Superman" follows five public school students from impoverished areas of Los Angeles, Washington D.C., The Bronx, Harlem and -- for contrast -- an affluent section of Silicon Valley.

One central story focuses on a poor family from D.C. as they wait for results from a lottery that may place their child in a good charter school -- the only chance anyone has in our nation's capital of getting a decent public education. But the common thread in all these stories is the anxiety working class parents face placing their children's future in the hands of the current public school system.

The movie is somewhat controversial because Guggenheim goes beyond the usual bromides and affixes a chunk of the blame on the teachers' unions that keep clearly-substandard educators cocooned in tenured positions.

The film's title refers to comments made by Harlem-based educator Geoffrey Canada, who says it will take a "superman" to lift poor public schools out of despair. But followers of Catholic education in New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere know the man with the red cape has always been there in the form of parish schools in impoverished neighborhoods -- schools that truly do provide the last best chance of getting ahead.

If you care about these kids, you have to root for Archbishop Dolan's plan. It needs to succeed. If you have any doubt at all go see "Waiting for Superman" this weekend.


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