Posted by: L. E. Barnes | June 26, 2012

Ideal Christian Education, part 2

In my previous post, I shared some comments I had made in response to a blog post by Magister Christianus regarding the state’s proper role in education. Magister uploaded my comments, which appear to have vanished into a cyber black hole, in a separate post and offered some additional ideas of his own.

First, he agreed with me that “many Christian schools are sorely lacking in robust academics. This seems to be true in some for a lack of resources and funding, and in others, even more sadly, by design. In these schools, various subjects seem little more than unnecessary add-ons to Bible study, which trumps all.” Having attended several Christian schools, I can readily attest to these problems. First, the lack of resources. I’ve observed that a huge obstacle — if not THE obstacle — that plenty of Christian schools face when it comes to providing their students with a quality education is the shortage of money. Frankly, it’s as if many of them are subsisting on little more than nickles and dimes, and as I mentioned in my comments to Magister’s blog post, this results in teachers and staff at such schools often receiving ridiculously low pay. Not surprisingly, attracting qualified teachers can prove problematic, and sometimes these schools resort to hiring people with zero qualifications to teach. (I kid you not: I’ve known of some Christian schools that would allow people to serve as teachers who didn’t even have a college education. A friend of mine told me she attended a Christian school that would even hire “teachers” who simply held a GED!) In short, too often the focus is on just being able to slap the label “Christian” on the school. Too often they’ll sacrifice academic excellence as long as they can have a school that offers prayer time, chapel, and Bible classes.

Of course, Christian worship and Biblical instruction matter a great deal. Providing students with a thorough knowledge of God’s Word is an important duty for Christian educators. (A letter-to-the-editor that appeared not long ago in my city’s newspaper helps illustrate the sad consequences of failing in this area.) However, just providing Bible classes is insufficient; students still need to receive a strong grounding in math, science, history, the arts, critical thinking, etc. Furthermore, my experience has been that even the Biblical instruction offered by many Christian schools leaves much to be desired, as it often doesn’t progress beyond the bare content of the Bible and the plan of salvation (as understood by evangelicals/fundamentalists). Other aspects of a well-rounded religious education — such as church history, theology, and especially apologetics — were largely left out of the equation.

Granted, the gripes I’m venting here stem mostly from my experiences with evangelical Christian schools. Catholic schools, at least so far as I know, can normally be counted on to provide a quality education. Unfortunately, it comes at a high price. For instance, my parish’s school, which goes from kindergarten to the eighth grade, charges at least $7000 a year per student, and the new local Catholic high school charges about $8400! By contrast, annual tuition and fees at the local state university are under $6000. From what I’ve been told, the reason for such high tuition is to keep the school financially self-sufficient, so as not to drain money from the diocese. But is there no way to make Catholic education much more affordable and therefore accessible to more families? (OK, I’m digressing…)

Anyway, I love Magister Christianus’s picture of an ideal Christian school that he presents in his post. If only, if only…

Your thoughts?

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Responses

  1. Your question about making such education more financially feasible is not at all off target. It is crucial, perhaps the first question that must be answered. Maybe we need some kind of round table discussion by committed parties. I am a classicist and an educator whose areas of interest and expertise are in Latin, literature, philosophy, and theology. I have a vision of what this should look like, but I need others to help me figure out this problem of finance.

    My hunch is that it will be a formula that combines tuition, fundraising, and individual church/diocese support, with a sliding scale of tuition based on need.

    • That would be great. How do you suppose such “round-table discussions” could be initiated? It would be wonderful if Catholic education would be available to more than just those who are well off financially. I wish I had answers to this…

  2. Speaking as one who attended pre-Vat2 parochial school, and who has also paid for 5 kids to attend Cat’lic school at least for a few years, the higher tuition winnows the households down to those more in pursuit of ‘academic excellence’ than a Catholic worldview.

    • I suspect you’re right. It’s apparently not uncommon for non-Catholic parents to enroll their children in a Catholic school because they can count on academic excellence. But the Catholic worldview shouldn’t be left in the lurch.

  3. I suppose the Christian school would argue, as homeschooling parents do, that college degrees aren’t needed to educate children up to 12th grade. And they want to keep the school affordable and might assume parents are engaged at home, especially if the Christian school advocates a “no TV” policy.

    I’m considering Catholic school for my two younger children, not this year but next. Since it was recently changed from a “school” to an “academy,” I’m expecting the tuition to be correspondingly greater than before! 🙂

    • We quit TV permanently when our kids were about 3 or 4, which was about 18 years ago. Now that the youngest still at home are 20, we have a Roku box which is used in moderation.

    • I doubt many such schools would advocate a “no TV” policy–or at least I’ve never encountered any that did. Yet it would not surprise me if many come up with the kind of excuse you mentioned to defend hiring unqualified ‘teachers’.

      Hopefully, the name change for that Catholic school won’t result in their upping the tuition. But if they’re like colleges and universities, tuition hikes are an annual event…

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Moon…I think you are right about the hiring philosophy in some private schools. As Paul writes, a worker is worth his wages, and salary should be the most significant part of the school budget. I do not think that a degree in education is necessarily of value. In fact, it could be a genuine obstacle to true teaching. A degree in a particular subject, however, is different. In fact, whether at a public or private school, I would argue for teachers of the upper grades to have degrees in their field rather than in education, but that is grist for another post.

    • I’ve read that the curriculum for education majors typically focuses more on teaching methodology than on knowledge of the specific subject that is to be taught. Of course, both a strong grasp of the subject and knowing how to teach it effectively are important, but you bring up a good point that would make excellent “grist for another post”!

  5. Interesting. One way to approach funding would be to have a foundation or trust people could give money to or bequeath to upon death. I think most private universities have this, as do many religious communities. The fixed income from this over the years could allow tuition to be controlled and a living wage be paid to teachers.

    I’m with Magister on the degrees. I have no degree in education but am gifted with the ability to teach, especially music, which I have a strong background in. I developed a way to teach tone-deaf children to sing and one of my students went on to become an accomplished pianist. What’s most important is that teachers know their subject, love the subject, and be able to adapt teaching techniques to the children’s needs.

    Also, I think good teachers have an appreciation of other cultures and a desire to keep learning new things. One thing I now realize I received by being educated in Catholic schools in the 1950s is a broad worldview and a strong sense of history thanks to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, all the saints, and our Judeo/Christian heritage.

    • I too have wondered about endowments being set up to provide funding for Christian schools. Anyway, surely there must be a better way than trying to make it on tuition payments alone. When you do that, you end up either having to charge exorbitant tuition or else sacrifice quality in the name of affordability–neither of which is desirable.

      And I agree with you and Magister completely about education degrees not always providing the best preparation for teaching. As you have found to be the case, so many other qualities have to come together to make a good teacher!

  6. Our archdiocese is looking at different ways of funding Catholic schools. Right now, the average cost per child in our parish school (and I’d assume others nearby) is about $5,000; the average elementary tuition is about $4000. The difference is made up in a variety of ways. Fifteen years ago when I was looking at Catholic schools for my oldest, the average tuition was about $1500. Obviously costs such as salaries and insurance have gone up in those fifteen years, but another reason for the big increase in costs in the big decrease in class size. Fifteen years ago every school I looked at had 35 kids in a class. Now twenty-five is the norm (and some schools have lower numbers than that–usually because they can’t fill the classes as opposed to choosing lower numbers).

    The archdiocese is concerned about rising tuition rates (and some say trying to get more voucher money but I won’t go there) and the plan they talking about is to raise tuition to the cost level and then tax all parishes (not just those with schools) and put the money in a tuition assistance fund. Families would then apply for financial aid in much the same way as you do for college. In short, those who can afford to pay the $5000 (or whatever the tuition gets to in the future) would be expected to pay it; those who cannot could end up paying less than they pay today, which could open Catholic schools to those who cannot now afford it.

    I have mixed feelings about this. For the record, I can afford the increased tuition. Compared to the average family in our parish, our contribution level is high (and while our income is probably higher than our parish average now, it is not way out of range). In short, this plan is going to cost me more money. Here, the Catholic schools are the schools of choice for the middle class. In our area, about half the school-aged kids are in private, mostly Catholic schools. However, in our parish school only 25% of the kids are from families who are supporting parishioners (I think the rate is about $300/year). While there may be some families who are in church regularly and can’t afford both tuition and parish support, I doubt it is very many, based on who I see (or more precisely, don’t see) in church. There may be a few whose families are supporting parishioners of other parishes, but again, I doubt it is a lot. While I don’t have a problem with parishes making sure that finances don’t keep parish kids out of the parish school, I do have a problem with parishioners being asked to support private school educations for non-parish kids.

    • I’m shocked to hear that tuition at Catholic schools in your area has more than tripled. And I certainly agree with your last statement, as I too would not be happy about having to provide financial assistance for students who do not attend the parish (or may not even be Catholic?). But it seems that the Church is stuck between a rock and a hard place in this matter. How can they bring down the costs while maintaining educational excellence?

      Thanks for sharing this information about the situation in your area!

  7. Great articles and great comments! My boys both went to Catholic school from K thru 8 with some parish assistance. High school was way too expensive for us. If my boys were school age now, i would not be able to afford it at all. Costs have gone way up!

    • Apparently, education costs across the board, from elementary to college level, have escalated tremendously over the past decade or so. How to rein them in is the million-dollar question (figuratively and literally!).


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