Friday, June 6, 2008

Religious Education

The late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once commented on a talk show in response to the seeming chaos and confusion and anger for Catholics in the decade following Vatican II. He shrugged a bit and saw something positive. He stated that the Church seems to shrivel up and die every five hundred years only to be reborn again in the next centuries.

Perception can sometimes be reality. Sometimes it all comes down to attitude.

I am reminded of surfing the net recently and coming upon the news that my catholic grade school in Philly had been shut down and was on the real estate market. Living in NYC on and off for thirty years I rationalized that real estate comes and goes. A piece of my personal history has disappeared.

A flowering of my Christian faith started with the education started in that school. I do not have the means to support or return blessings to that particular school or parish. I am sad about that fact of my life. I somehow feel that I owe a great deal but don’t know how to repay.

I mention this along with statistics that some 1200 catholic schools have closed since 2000. Inner cities do not have jobs or incomes to support the presently very expensive private education systems so prevalent in the past.

A lot of the moral base of our country or the moral base of any nation in the past has had to do with the quality of its education. The Catholics used to have that edge. I won’t put down public schools but it seems that they give more homework, projects, Internet assignments, things I compare with and measure against my own childhood. Is public education functioning to make the child think or is it merely there to keep children busy until mom and dad get home from work? I learned in the classroom and not so much at home.

The system that supported my free catholic education started with hate crimes and riots in the 1840’s. The local immigrant bishop, now a saint, had a right attitude to this dilemma. He went to the protestant bankers in Philly and told them that they were going to loan him the money to build a separate and not equal ( in truth superior ) school system. This school system was built for the children of all the catholic Irish and German immigrants pouring into that port city. This influx scared the hell out of the Anglo Saxon natives and inspired them to hatred and riots against the Catholics. Not only did John Neumann build schools but he got his bankers to pay for his new cathedral. That’s chutzpa (hutspa)!

Catholic education is decreasing. The vocations of nuns to teach and devote their lives to God got lost somewhere along the way. Nuns used to work for little or nothing as part of their religious calling. You don’t know what you've got till its gone.

We can’t blame Vatican II for everything. America’s post WWII value system paralleled a white flight to suburbia and to the MALL. It costs money to run private education. Priorities seem to have changed.

Anyway, I have noticed that religious education has declined in the general workforce. While somebody of my generation got 12 years of cheap or free moral, religious based education, any private education these days is the exception and not the rule. Private education seems in many cases to be limited to 6-8 years becaue of economic factors. Private Catholic high school education is now for an economic elite class.

Does this change America? Does this mean the general decline of morals based on religious education? Is it a better world? I will let you ponder on answers.

Evangelical Christians have a growing share in the old tough love education system I once experienced. I don’t knock anything these days. With eighty ten year olds in the class, as in my youth, a little old fashioned discipline can go a long way. Sometimes the classical model is the best model to imitate.