Ransoming our children: Church-subsidized education
I’ve argued for years that Catholics should do everything in their power to defray the cost of education in Catholic schools for any and all parents who would prefer their children to receive a Catholic education. That need is now coming to a head around the United States. Hot spots extend from Loudoun County in Virginia to the entire State of California.
A recent article in the National Catholic Register by Senior Editor Joan Frawley Desmond surveys the rise of parental-rights battles throughout the United States, battles which indicate a profound distrust of the public schools. These tensions have fueled a growing resistance to school officials, boards of education, and curricula developments which deliberately separate students from parents, indoctrinate students in critical race theory, and continue to protect and promote sexual permissiveness and gender ideology.
Readers may recall our news story last month on the Biden Administration’s use of the FBI to probe opposition to school boards around the country. We now know that one of the factors which triggered this anti-parental over-reach was the clearly justified anger of the father of a Loudoun County, Virginia high school girl who was raped in a school restroom by a male student permitted to use that restroom because he claimed to self-identify as female and wore a skirt.
The State of California is provoking similar outrage among parents because of its introduction of critical race theory into the schools and its continued emphasis on sexual liberty for teens. The latter goal has included authorizing school personnel to use parents’ health plans to cover “sensitive” services for children (e.g., abortion and puberty blockers) without informing the parents themselves. In addition, some parents who voted for Joseph Biden in the last Presidential election because he seemed “moderate” have become rapidly disenchanted by the current Administration’s effort to ram as many pieces of ideological legislation through Congress as it can, and as quickly as it can, before any backlash is possible in the mid-term elections.
One theory concerning the rapid increase of parental outrage over these trends is that, during the COVID shutdowns, many parents became more familiar with what their children were being taught, while also gaining more experience in teaching their children at home. Some have, in effect, rediscovered family life. For these and other reasons, both home-schooling and enrollment in private schools has risen significantly as public schools have floundered. (It is indeed an ill wind that blows nobody any good.) Both independent and Catholic schools have seen a dramatic upsurge in enrollments, typically between eight and fifteen percent.
A model program
If Loudoun County, Virginia is a flash-point for school controversy, Catholics in Loudoun and the surrounding counties are also getting a close-up view of a model program in Springfield, Virginia to provide major financial support for parents to enroll their children in the Catholic school of their choice. As featured in the newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington (Springfield parish offers scholarships to move children to Catholic schools), Fr. John De Celles of St. Raymond of Peñafort Church has established a scholarship program which offers up to $2,000 to parents for the first year’s tuition in moving their children from a public school to a Catholic school, with significant support also continuing in future years. The program also includes support for home-schooling.
Most of the funding comes from the very aptly (and marvelously) named “Our Lady of Ransom Fund”, which currently has a goal of $250,000, and is over halfway to that goal. So far 133 students have been helped.
I cannot quickly lay my hands on the various commentaries over the years in which I’ve emphasized the need for the Church to place a high spiritual and material priority on Catholic education, so that more families would be willing to take the plunge. But speaking more broadly about social goods in general, I wrote “Get Ready to Pay Twice if You Want Change” over ten years ago. The problem we face in modern secular societies is that we depend on government far too much, and pay enormous taxes for all kinds of services that, in simpler societies on a smaller scale, were provided by families, groups of families, and what we call “intermediary institutions”.
The idea of financially funneling everything, including education, through higher and higher levels of government invites (a) tremendous waste; (b) loss of local control; (c) loss of parental control; (d) absurdly expensive facilities and programs; (e) ideological manipulation; and, finally (f) the illusion that no parents can possibly give their children the educational advantages that they “ought to have”. The “Our Lady of Ransom Fund” should be viewed as a showcase project to be imitated as much as possible around the Catholic world. With so much money drained away through taxation, and such an illusory vision of what is required to make a “good” school, it takes financial help to enable many parents to realize that, even in our topsy-turvy world, they have realistic options for Catholic education.
Catholic education is one of the chief ways in which Catholic communities collaborate in the work of redemption wrought by Jesus Christ. Also, the more widespread it becomes, the more parents will realize that the essentials of a good education are by no means beyond the capabilities of groups of “ordinary” committed Catholics, without extensive government involvement.
Education in Christ
We must never forget that grace works wonders, and that as difficult as so many things seem to us, nothing is impossible to God. Of course even where Catholic education is concerned, nothing can be taken for granted by parents. They are the primary educators of their own children, and they must be vigilant in seeking authentic Catholicity in education, and not merely a nominally “Catholic” institutional presence. In the many places in which Church leadership has become sadly secularized, independent schools and home schooling are better options than any currently-available “institutionally Catholic” school. Still, even if the Diocese of Arlington is easily one of the best in the United States, flashes of Catholic commitment, intelligence, creativity and sacrifice can certainly be found everywhere the Church is present.
The work of a revitalized Catholic education may have to go through several stages, from isolated home schooling, to home schooling associations, to part-time classes of a more formal nature, to the foundation of independent Catholic schools and the reform of diocesan schools. Even where all of these options are good, the same path will not be right for everyone. But some authentically Catholic path will always be right, and the reality remains that if parents want their children to be educated properly in every sense of the word, they will have to pay twice.
That is why they need help, and why Our Lady of Ransom Scholarship Fund sets such an important precedent. This approach to the problem, along with as many variations as there are communities and situations, needs to be followed everywhere, and not only in the United States. Parishes are the logical centers for this dynamism, though they are not the only possibility. Moreover, there may be many who do not see a way to start their own Catholic school, but do see a way to support parents financially in the decision to home-school their children, and to help form home-schooling associations.
Fr. John De Celles has set a superb example—not just because it is a good example in the Diocese of Arlington, but because it is an example that can be adapted to almost any Catholic community. Each such community will include parents who need encouragement in giving their children the incomparable advantage of education in and through Jesus Christ. They can find that encouragement through the assistance of the members of Christ’s Mystical Body. I mean through Catholics like you and me.
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