Addressing the NEA Convention of 1947

Archbishop John McNicholas - The Archbishop of Cincinnati, Ohio during the Great Depression. As ...

Archbishop John McNicholas of Cincinnati, chairman of the education department of National Catholic Welfare Council (precursor of the USCCB), addressed the National Education Association:

“We cannot emphasize too strongly our conviction that the Catholic and public schools are partners in American education. They must work together in the common task of preparing millions of boys and girls for the duties of American citizenship. Catholic school teachers would be greatly encouraged if at this convention the National Education Association were to reiterate our belief that there is a genuine partnership between the two major systems in American education, the Catholic and the public.”

as quoted in Parish School, by Timothy Walch, pp 119-120

Walch next mentions “The NEA membership did not respond to this overture.”

On the other hand, as discussed here and elsewhere, when Archbishop John Ireland addressed the NEA 57 years earlier, in 1890, and suggested that, eventually, all Catholic kids would attend public schools, that was more to the NEA’s liking. What Archbishop McNicholas had failed to note is that the NEA was founded to promote public schooling, not education in general. And public schooling to the NEA, from its founding, meant and continues to mean state-funded, compulsory graded classroom schooling conducted by teachers trained and certified by the state. There is no room in their charter for any other form of schooling; they do not, institutionally, recognize any possibility of partnership with any competing model.

Archbishop Ireland was singing from the NEA’s hymnal, whether he recognized it or not, while Archbishop McNicholas had completely missed the point. There is no place in the NEA’s conception of education for anything like a partnership with Catholic schools.

Starting around 1/3 of the way through, Dr. Walch’s book becomes more and more depressing. For that first third, there were real heroes, saints, even, battling to preserve Church and family by saving their kids from the patent efforts of the likes of the NEA to destroy them. Once you get to the early 1900s, heroes are replaced with bureaucrats and operators; saints by a parade of intellectual mediocrities.

“Achievements” during this period consist of appointing diocesan school superintendents, establishing standards and boards, finding ways to make the sister-teachers more like public school teachers, replacing the apprenticeship model with ‘normal’ schooling, and getting the sisters certified by the state. In general, progress began to be measured predominantly by how much like the public schools the parish schools could be made.

I am reminded of organizing a sock drawer. Everything is put in order; any questions about the socks themselves are irrelevant. Right size? Right color? Correct variety? Enough socks? Any need replacing? Who knows – but, boy, are those socks organized. Similarly, one can end up with a perfectly organized, consistent, and efficient school system – that doesn’t do anything a reasonable parent would want done.

With only a little hindsight, by, say, 1978, it should have been clear how these efforts, in the fullness of time, resulted in the gutting and closure of many Catholic schools, and the death of anything unique about them. Ireland and the NEA get their wish, although not how they probably imagined it in 1890: Catholic children *did* end up going to public schools, even when those schools were run by the local parish.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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