Catholic High Schools: Facing the New Realities

Catholic High Schools: Facing the New Realities

Catholic High Schools: Facing the New Realities

Catholic High Schools: Facing the New Realities


Catholic high schools in the United States have been undergoing three major changes: the shift to primarily lay leadership and teachers; the transition to a more consumerist and pluralist culture; and the increasing diversity of students attending Catholic high schools. James Heft argues that to navigate these changes successfully, leaders of Catholic education need to inform lay teachers more thoroughly, conduct a more profound social analysis of the culture, and address the real needs of students.
After presenting the history of Catholic schools in the United States and describing the major legal decisions that have influenced their evolution, Heft describes the distinctive and compelling mission of a Catholic high school. Two chapters are devoted to leadership, and other chapters to teachers, students, alternative models of high schools, financing, and the key role of parents, who today may be described as ''post-deferential'' to traditional authorities, including bishops and priests.
Written by an award-winning teacher, scholar, and recognized educational leader in Catholic education, Catholic High Schools should be read by everyone interested in religiously- affiliated educational institutions, particularly Catholic education.


In the spring 2007 issue of Education Next, Peter Meyer, the former news editor of Life magazine, after taking a brief look at the history of Catholic schools, concluded that they were in serious trouble:

Not only are the nuns and priests now gone, but so too is a Catholic
culture that for 100 years produced nuns and priests with faithful regu
larity. Of course, the debate as to whether the demise of Catholic didacti
cism and marshal order has been good or bad still roils Church waters. But
the fact remains that the American Catholic school system isn’t what it
used to be.

Meyers terse description echoes the analyses of many observers of Catholic primary and secondary education in the United States. Despite the call of the bishops to rally around the schools, many Catholics, including those who themselves have benefited from a Catholic education, express a persistent ambivalence about the value of Catholic schools.

This book makes three arguments. First, Catholic schools have an enduring value which deserves greater support from parents, pastors, religious and the public sector. Second, the value of Catholic schools, so dependent in the past on the services and pedagogical skills of thousands of religious sisters, brothers and priests, can be sustained by dedicated, justly compensated and appropriately educated lay leaders. And third, since Catholic culture has weakened dramatically over the last fifty years, Catholic educators must address critically the dominant culture that shapes so much of the way students—indeed, not just students, but many educators themselves—think today.

Catholic schools need confident and competent leadership that not only communicates the Catholic tradition to young people, but also generates the financial support that will continue this great educational project. Without vision, all institutions eventually fail. Without vision, Catholic schools have and

1. “Can Catholic Schools Be Saved?” in Education Next, Spring 2007, p. 17.

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