Catholic Schools or Charter Schools?

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©Heidi Bratton Photography

At some time or another we have been exposed to the ad catch phrase “Got Milk?” on billboards and various print publications. A different version that I have seen on shirts reads “Got Jesus?” I prefer the latter, for the obvious reasons of the inquiry to Christ. Not a day goes by when I visit Catholic schools, speak with principals, interact with students, and discuss issues with parents that this phrase genuinely echoes within my mind. It leads me to understand the primary emphasis of Catholic education rests in Jesus Christ.

Our Journey

My wife and I are Catholic educators by vocation for the last 13 years. Both of us are products of public school and Catholic School education. In many ways, the two systems of education complimented each other for us personally. We have homeschooled our children for several years and currently have our older two enrolled in Catholic school. We have seen the pros and cons of public school, homeschooling and Catholic school when it comes to curriculum development, pedagogical instruction, moral foundation and so on. Careful consideration and appropriate discernment are tantamount when formulating the best direction to educate children, especially within the Church.

Why Catholic Education?

One of the consistent questions people ask me related to Catholic Schools is: Why choose Catholic Education? A parent who is sincerely considering Catholic Education for their child discerns many challenging questions i.e. Catholic Identity, faithfulness to Church teaching, strong academics, moral foundation etc. In listing these very important constructs, one ought to view how Catholic Education has always taken care of the soul and mind of the child. My point resonates further when the issue of Charter Schools comes into the conversation as an alternative to Catholic school. I tend to question where a Charter School would avail itself of such a thought when it comes to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The order and structure of Catholic Education is rooted on a proper understanding of the child’s role in society in light of being-created in the image and likeness of God. Understanding this point, Catholic Schools exist to assist parents in the formation of a proper Christian Anthropology to their son or daughter. The foundation of this Christian Anthropology rests primarily with the parent. The aim of Catholic education is assisting a child’s understanding of his/her relationship with Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest Catholic Educators in the Church St. Augustine of Hippo professed that the mission of Catholic Education is to “assist the child find and encounter a relationship with Jesus Christ.” St. Paul in his instruction to St. Timothy urges him teach the truth and that those who do not teach in keeping with our Lord Jesus Christ is full of conceit and knows nothing (1 Tim 6:1-6).

The Charter School Phenomena

The statements from my previous paragraphs address an earlier article I read on Catholic Exchange.com by Mrs. Heidi Hess Sexton on the “Case for Charter Schools” (Aug, 28. 2009). Mrs. Sexton articulates some positive points Charter Schools are having in communities across the country. By many instances, she is correct in addressing the position that not all charter schools perform well. In her personal witness, Charter schools are very beneficial for her children. It gives me great joy to see a parent take their role as the primary educator of their children with great care and love. My position addresses her comparison of Charter Schools with Catholic Schools that I believe misses the mark.

Catholic Schools are by far and large an instrument in the continual catechetical development of a child. These sacred institutions aim at being an extension of the parent who has faithfully handed on the Catholic faith to their children. Sound catechetical instruction in a Catholic School aims at the primary object to bring children into the mystery of Christ . This mystery fosters a desire for sound catechesis established not as a means of promoting one’s own teaching or someone’s personal mastery of a subject, instead, it is the establishment of the teachings of Jesus Christ because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)

Another great Catholic Educator St. John Bosco incorporated his famous pedagogical technique of Reason, Religion, and Kindness as the means of winning the soul of the child and providing an excellent Catholic education.

The Charter school , no matter how great, cannot offer what I have just described. It may formulate a curriculum based on virtue, compassion, and general discipline. Uniforms may be commonplace and interaction between students and faculty may actually be charitable. In the end, it is still a public school with a specific academic emphasis. Can a Charter school form a foundation rooted in Jesus Christ? The obvious answer is no. A recent poll conducted on why parents choose Charter Schools falls in to three main categories. These are:

1. Realize and Education Vision

2. Gain autonomy

3. Serve a special populatio n

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education (CCE) states in its document entitled: The Catholic School when it comes to the actual instruction of the student within the school, the Catholic educator must exhibit a constant reference to the Gospel and a frequent encounter with Christ within the educational framework. (55) The result of this methodology, a child experiences his or her dignity as a human person created in the image and likeness of God.

The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School tell us: from the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic School, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics. (25) Echoing this statement, Pope Benedict XVI in his address to Catholic Educators at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. (April 2008) expressed the particular responsibility of every Catholic educator “to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief.”

My position as a Catholic Educator echoes the response to the call of the “New Evangelization” to build a family rooted in love. What makes Catholic Education so unique? It fosters a genuine Christian journey to Heaven. A child walking through the doors of any Catholic School should immediately experience truth, beauty, and goodness. The very essence of Catholic Education is Jesus Christ. The reality, a Charter school would have a difficult time offering these gifts.

2011 Marlon De La Torre)

Marlon De La Torre, MA, MEd. is the Director of Catechist Formation and Children's Catechesis for the  Diocese of Fort Worth. Over the last fifteen years Marlon has served in multiple catechetical diocesan positions in Memphis and Kansas City. He is regular guest on the "Sonrise Morning Show" with Brian Patrick and Matt Swaim.  His new book is Screwtape Teaches the Faith: A Guide for Catechists based on The Screwtape Letters and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. His EWTN discussion about the book with Fr. Mitch Pacwa is here