As a product of Catholic schools, I have a bit of emotional attachment to what they represent and the enormous contribution they've made to the culture.
But two stories on NCR's Daily Briefing blog, here and here raise anew questions about whether Catholic schools as we have known them are sustainable.
Declining enrollment, a drop in the number of schools and the inability of parishes and parents to finance them properly keep calling into question whether Catholic education will survive.
I don't know the state of the national conversation, or whether one is even being conducted, but I venture to ask, for two reasons, if it isn't time to rethink the system.
The first reason is that it is becoming increasingly obvious, given demographic changes in the Catholic population and within the ordained clergy and vowed religious populations, that the old system of Catholic parish "plants" with rectories full of priests and convents full of nuns who staffed schools at virtually no cost (unjust as that was), is unsustainable and by all available evidence on its way out.
The second reason is that even in the best of times, the Catholic school system in the United States -- even if every desk in the system was inhabited by a Catholic child -- was only able to serve at any given time a fraction of the eligible school-age Catholic population.
The big question all along, and one that becomes more compelling given current circumstances, is what happens to the majority of kids who wouldn't be able to find a seat even if they wanted to? In my time, because of the good sisters who worked for a pittance, Catholic education was free.
Today one has to wonder whether the enormous effort a parish might expend to keep schools open for a small minority of eligible kids might better be spent devising a model of professional catechesis at the parish level. How about a model that uses really qualified, fully trained and well paid instructors, who would take on the task of devising a program of catechesis -- the element everyone understands is sorely lacking in today's Catholic culture -- for the entire family?
Just a thought that's maybe worth a discussion? I'd love to hear the thinking of professional Catholic educators.