Local School Closings
January 13, 2012 by staff
Local School Closings, I SPENT 17 years of my life in classrooms with crucifixes on the wall, and another three teaching in them. No surprise, then, that I have some strong opinions about the closings announced last week by the Archdiocese.
Some of them actually can be printed in this paper.
It’s difficult for me, having grown up at a time when Catholic education was valued, to accept that a strong Catholic-school presence is no longer necessary in Philadelphia. If it were, we wouldn’t have kids in uniform weeping on the steps of their soon-to-be shuttered schools, a newly appointed archbishop wringing his hands at the ineptness of his predecessors and teachers who bypassed lucrative public-school contracts now wondering if they’ll even have jobs in September.
It seems so avoidable, this visible carnage. Of course, I’m not a numbers-cruncher and couldn’t begin to propose alternatives to the crushing wave of closures. But I do see how this tragedy announced itself years ago, and with some help from other precincts, could have been averted.
The Catholic schools of my parents’ generation and, to some extent, my own, were community projects. While I rarely agreed with Hillary Clinton in her first-lady incarnation, I bought the concept of her book It Takes a Village, in which the author showed how children were the responsibility not just of those who gave birth to them but also of those who lived in their neighborhoods, sat in the pews or at temple next to them, played with them, sold them groceries, coached their teams and, most importantly, taught them.
The kids who wore those plaid skirts and saddle shoes walked to their neighborhood schools, went home for lunch and defined the perimeter of their worlds by the names of saints and holy men: Hubert, Goretti, Hallahan, Kenrick, Egan, Neumann, Little Flower. They knew about the other kids in public, the ones who had to go to school on Nov. 1 and Dec. 8. They pitied them, even while they envied their ability to wear “normal” clothes and their ability to avoid a fish-stick monopoly in the cafeteria.
But, just as the secular fabric loosened, and families became less cohesive, so did the greater Catholic community. Sure, the vast majority of Philadelphia faithful continued to send their money and their kids to the Archdiocese, partly because they wanted to and partly because they had no other option. Private schools were too expensive or too far away (and too snotty), while public schools in the city started to get pretty dicey. I mean, we can talk all we want about Central and Masterman, but given the choice between a thwack on the fingers by a nun and a knife at the throat from a classmate, the choice was easy for most Catholic (and even non-Catholic) parents.
But a growing number of people decided that they’d prefer to spend their money elsewhere, even that relatively modest amount that the Archdiocese was asking for in tuition. And then you had the people who decided that the church didn’t deserve their money because, as we all know, it was a haven for pedophiles, women-haters and homophobes. And there were always those who didn’t want their kids brainwashed by the “religious kooks” and preferred to send their parents’ grandchildren to nice secular places where they distribute condoms in the vending machines.
I hear you saying that it’s not all a culture-war problem. That’s true. It’s a lack of common sense, from both God and Caesar. In making a complete and tragic mess of the abuse scandal, the church not only lost the moral high ground but made sure that the lawyers would start coming out with their claws unsheathed, ready to file lawsuits at the drop of a miter. You can’t convince me that some of the schools targeted for closure couldn’t have been saved if a million-dollar settlement hadn’t already been paid out to Altar Boy Doe.
And the secular governments that are so obsessed with that wall between church and state, the one made of imaginary constitutional brick, heed the cries of the secularists and make sure to block vouchers at every possible turn. When you realize what the Catholic-school system saved the city in resources, you understand that the only reason it could have opposed vouchers was a suicidal fear of religious indoctrination.
It feels like a tidal wave has flooded Philadelphia, sweeping away generations of good things and cherished memories: my mom’s alma mater, West Catholic; St. Hubert’s, rock of the Northeast; Prendie and Bonner, in my own back yard.
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