When I contemplated parenthood, certain things were never a question. For instance: I knew my kids would go to Catholic school. To be honest, having grown up in Catholic grade school and worked in a Catholic grade school, as well as subbing in the public schools, I was a little snotty about it. The Catholic school community prides itself on higher academic standards and better behaved kids, and I was all over that. Insufferably so, I’m afraid.
Then Julianna came along, and we found ourselves immersed in public education. As she begins the second grade, she is in her seventh year in the public schools. And it has been eye-opening. We spent a year in conversation with the public and the Catholic school, trying to determine if Julianna could attend. By the time that process was over, I was relieved to be told the Catholic school couldn’t serve her, because I was already such a fan of her public school.
So we are in an unusual position: kids in Catholic school, a child in public school gifted program, a kid in special ed in the public schools, and now a kid serving as a “peer model” in the early childhood special ed program. We’ve got the spectrum pretty well covered.
So I thought I’d start this new school year by sharing why I love BOTH Catholic AND public education.
I love Catholic education because it’s Catholic. I love the fact that Christ is central to the school’s mission, that conflict resolution and behavior can be approached through the lens of faith and the dignity due to all people as children of God. I love that my boys get to learn in an environment where faith can be integrated into all areas of life and knowledge. In theory, at least, they are being formed without the false dichotomy that makes so many people view faith and reason as fundamentally at odds.
If the academic work is at a higher level, well, that’s icing on the cake, but it’s not the reason the school exists, and it’s certainly not why I send my kids there.
I love public education because of its inclusivity. I do not doubt that there are kids at Julianna’s school whose families have made life choices deeply at odds with what we believe. It’s all but certain that as she gets older, she will be exposed to behaviors and attitudes we will find tremendously problematic.
But that’s not all bad. I am grateful that I went to public high school, where I was smacked in the face with things that challenged my insular view of the world…before I left home and the support network of my strong-in-faith parents. There’s a danger in insulating ourselves from people who see the world differently than we do. It’s hard to empathize with vastly different life experiences if all we ever hear from the people we hang around with is an echo of our own outlook on the world. It’s harder to recognize the validity of experiences that are different from our own. Harder to escape slipping into an attitude of exclusivity.
I love public education because Julianna has the chance to interact with kids of different races—lots of kids. Lots of different races. Her schoolmates, unlike those at the Catholic school, have the chance to actually interact on a meaningful level with kids with disabilities of all kinds, and break down some of those barriers.
I love public education because I’ve seen the heroic efforts made by the teachers, the genuine care they have for their students, some of whom are coming to school without proper breakfast or rest or even a secure home. I’ve seen the way Julianna’s school administrators work together to encourage families to get involved and to build community.
For all the criticism surrounding it, public education is a monumental accomplishment. The fact that they can do so much with the challenges they face? Pretty amazing, if you ask me.
So yes, I send my boys to Catholic school. But I am thrilled beyond what I can share with the experience my daughter has had in the public school system. And today I wanted to take the time to say so.