It’s that time of year when many Catholic parents pray about their children’s education. Can we afford Catholic schools? Should we homeschool? Are public schools okay?
We’re going to enter that debate, to provide some perspective from a parent whose kids are both out of high school — and as someone who went to a truly excellent public high school.
That’s my biggest regret: We moved to Montgomery County, Md., specifically because of its reputation as one of the top school systems in the country. We found it has feet of clay.
We didn’t really consider Catholic schools or homeschooling. Given the acclaim surrounding Montgomery Public Schools, I expected my daughters to receive a public school education similar to what I experienced at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis in the 1950s.
Shortridge was an exceptional public school. Talking about his “dream of an America with great public schools,” here’s how Kurt Vonnegut, the writer, described Shortridge:
“I thought we should be the envy of the world with our public schools. And I went to such a public school. So I knew that such a school was possible.
“Shortridge High School in Indianapolis produced not only me, but the head writer on the I LOVE LUCY show (Madelyn Pugh). And, my God, we had a daily paper, we had a debating team, had a fencing team. We had a chorus, a jazz band, a serious orchestra. And all this with a Great Depression going on. And I wanted everybody to have such a school.“
By the time I got there, in 1956, an era that was described in the novel Going All The Way by Shortridge alumnus Dan Wakefield, Shortridge not only had the daily paper, the debating team, fending team, chorus, jazz band, serious orchestra — it also had a 5,000-watt radio station that covered five counties of Central Indiana. If produced a string of leading figures, including former Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar.
As our youngest daughter graduated a couple of years ago from one of the Montgomery County public high schools, the truth began to come out:
- Kids were failing their final exams in math courses, but getting As and Bs for the semester.
- There was a corridor in her school known as the “drug corridor.” At lunch time, kids would gather there to smoke pot (and, for all we know, even worse). There was no effort to stop this — not by the school administration and not by the police officer assigned as the “resource officer.”
- The school system has invested vast amounts of money in an attempt to provide equal educational opportunity for all. The result: The achievement gap between wealthy kids and middle class and poor kids has gotten worse.
- My youngest daughter was once caught in the middle of a gang fight.
- While all of this is going on, the school board is worrying about whether it’s fair that schools in wealthy areas can get larger contributions for athletic scoreboards than the district will pay for in less-wealthy areas.
Talking over the family dinner table, we’ve agreed we should have either sent our kids to Catholic schools or have homeschooled them.
Tomorrow: Why we didn’t choose a Catholic school or homeschool.