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Issue Date:  February 6, 2004

From the Editor's Desk

What our kids are learning

One of the nervous questions of Catholic parents is, “What are we passing on to our children?” Given some of the catechetical confusion of recent years, that’s a legitimate question. But if what we’ve seen and reported on in recent weeks at the School of the Americas demonstration (NCR, Dec. 19) and the more recent demonstration at the March for Life in Washington (see story), is any indication, some very good stuff has gotten through.

In both arenas (and there was some crossover in participants) we encountered the kind of conversation and thinking about issues that benefits the entire church. What we’ve seen among the college ranks are thoughtful adults who are not locked into old categories and in many instances embody the spirit of the “consistent ethic,” the phrase that so well describes a Catholic attitude toward all life issues.

Our children are beginning to give us language and attitudes for speaking across some of the divides in contemporary Catholic culture.

~ ~ ~

An interesting release crossed my desk this week from the National Council of Churches and the National Education Association bearing the heading “Religious and Public Education Communities Unite on Behalf of Children.”

I think Catholic schools are a treasure and contribute greatly to society. I went to them, my children attended them in their early years, and it is clear throughout the country that they serve as a beacon of hope and learning in some of the worst sections of our cities.

That said, there are only so many of them and, truth be told, can serve only a small fraction of even the Catholic population. So, I have often asked -- and infrequently in these pages -- what about all of those Catholic kids who don’t go to Catholic school? What obligation, if any, does the Catholic community have to making public schools better?

The question usually earns me return glances that suggest maybe I’ve been smoking something funny or just arrived from another planet.

So I was heartened by the release from the church and education groups. I know in my own extended family what a strong and free education system meant to immigrants who arrived eating odd foods, knowing none of the customs and speaking a different language.

The extended family, in a matter of two generations, is rich with accomplished professionals and an abundance of teachers whose work ranges from elementary school to the university level.

The religious representatives and the educators held a daylong gathering Jan. 14 including nearly 70 national, state and local leaders representing Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Baha’i congregations to “develop proposals for how religious groups can work with parents, teachers and administrators to support and improve public schools.”

Said Reg Weaver, head of the NEA, “Educating every child in America to the fullest extent of his or her potential is as much a moral imperative as it is a civic duty,” a duty he believes “includes working with institutions of faith.”

Speaking for religious institutions, the Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the NCC, said, “I believe in the separation of church and state, but not in the separation of people of faith from institutions of government. If we seek, I know we will find productive and legal ways for people of faith to support public schools, and given that public schools are our nation’s largest civic institution, we must work together.”

Our schools, in too many instances, are broken and in need of help. I don’t know if these two groups will come up with the answers needed, but it is certainly encouraging to have people of faith and educators gathered in conversation around the problem.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, February 6, 2004

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