Running on Premium Gas
by Dr. Joseph D. Hollowell, 12 mos ago
"Mom, public school is killing my soul." These startling words came from a 7th grader and were relayed to me by the mother of the student who uttered them. She was explaining to me why her child had to come to Roncalli. The comment would not leave me. In fact, it still has not left me, though the student who spoke these words has long since graduated from Roncalli after coming to us from a public school.
For years, as a leader in Catholic education, I had searched for a good description that ably defines what it is that makes what we are doing at Roncalli worth the investment. Leave it to a 7th grader to provide me with the help I needed!
I do not raise this issue lightly. Both my father and my sister taught in public schools for many decades. My best friend has spent the vast majority of his career as a public school teacher. My wife taught in public schools, both before and after we got married. I am keenly aware of the many fine people who work in our public schools. What I am about to say is not a reflection on the people in a system. Rather, it is a comparison of our Catholic schools to a system of education that does not allow its teachers and administrators to engage students in the essential Truth of the human condition. What Christians ardently believe to be the absolute Truth of human existence is not allowed a spot in the school day. It has no place in the curriculum or mission. Jesus said, "I am the Truth." Without that Truth the human soul is in danger of starvation.
The comment from our 7th grade witness is at once both a very rich and very sad statement. It is profoundly rich in its wisdom. It is sad in that it was an account of the reality this young person was experiencing. It is a comment not unlike the ancient wisdom expressed by St. Augustine who said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O Lord." In related ways, Jesus proposes a similar idea in his startling question, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?"
Catholic schools teach that the Truth is that God creates each human person. Each person was made to know God and to serve God with the special gifts given to him or her. Ultimately, we were made to love God in this life and to share in His joy in the eternal life that comes after.
Trying to live life without this Truth is like running a car that is built to burn only premium gas and yet the owner insists on putting the cheaper stuff in that does not allow the engine to run quite as well. Students in Catholic schools are running on premium. Their teachers, classwork, and curriculum are catering to the whole person - body, mind, and spirit. Catholic schools take advantage of all parts of the engine and all of the luxury features with which our human car is built. Students in Catholic schools are fed with the Truth. I believe this special fuel explains the extraordinary results we see from our students.
Another analogy may be even better. Running a school that is not centered on faith is like trying to run the human body without a simple but absolutely necessary nutrient such as iron. Without iron in our blood, the hemoglobin that carries oxygen to all parts of the body, cannot function. Oxygen is essential to the slow fire of cellular respiration that burns in our body to give us energy and keep us all alive. In Catholic schools, that simple element, our faith in God, allows the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn, keeping alive the desire for learning and the love for our neighbor. Take out the element of faith and we run the risk of becoming a dying shell of who we are made by God to be.
It is instructive to note that faith has always been one of the primary motivators behind the provision of education in this country. One does not have to look hard to find that the primary reason for the establishment of public schools in this country was to teach children how to read and understand the Bible. Catholic schools still count this among their objectives. Regrettably, since the early 1960s, our public school brothers and sisters are no longer allowed to work toward that goal.
For now, let us be grateful that there is provision for God's word to be heard, considered, and acted upon in our Catholic schools. Along with other Catholic and Christian schools throughout the country, Roncalli carries on with the critical work of educating the whole student in a way that never loses sight of who it is that made us and who it is that we have all been made to serve.
Come Holy Spirit!