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Why Support Catholic Schools?

A PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER ASKS…

By W. Patrick Cunningham | September 2012
W. Patrick Cunningham, a deacon of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, teaches at a public high school in San Antonio. He is a former principal of Central Catholic High School in the same city.

The first point is the proclamation of the faith to the youth of our time. Young people today live in a secularized culture, totally oriented to material things. In daily life ­— in the means of communication, at work, in leisure time — they experience at most a culture in which God is absent. Yet they are waiting for God. — Pope Benedict XVI

My wife and I have been blessed with three daughters and nine grandchildren. Early in their childbearing years, we promised each of our children that if they chose Catholic schools for their children we would pay a significant part of the tuition. One accepted our offer; the other two elected to take advantage of the tuition-free public schools in their districts.

Recently, my eldest, the one whose children are in Catholic elementary and middle schools, asked me, “Dad, why should we send our oldest daughter to a Catholic high school?” That question was especially pertinent and timely because, after having served as an administrator in a Catholic high school for nine years, I find myself entering my fourth year of a teaching stint in a large public high school. As someone with recent experience in both environments, my immediate answer was off-the-cuff and utilitarian: “Delayed onset of sexual activity.” Since then, however, I have had time to contemplate the pros and cons of both educational settings.

Once I left the Catholic school, I was blessed with a fairly quick acceptance at a public school. The job market was very tight then and even tighter now. Nevertheless, I found myself in one of the finest and best-equipped schools in the county, a brand-new facility that has since become one of the top public academic centers in the state of Texas.

I teach chemistry. The lab-classrooms are completely modernized, with computer interfaces to data-collection probes, and all the necessary software. Every lab suite has its own preparation area; labware and chemicals are more than adequate. In just about every way, the physical situation is more conducive to science education than that of the Catholic school where I was principal and part-time chemistry teacher. Significantly, the administration has been extremely supportive, backing us up whenever there are disciplinary issues and giving us constant encouragement. They are, in turn, supported by a strong parent-teacher organization made up of parents who are vitally interested in their children’s growth and development.

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