After reading Father Bill Tkachuk's Sounding Board on admission policies at Catholic elementary schools, U.S. Catholic production editor Tina Herman offers a parents' perspective.
Choosing on a school for my young son has been quite a stressful undertaking. As a city dweller, I’ve had some difficulties weighing all the options. One has to take into account the school’s academic strengths, proximity to home, and affordability.
But other, more abstract factors are also at play. The questions my husband and I are faced with inlude: What is the underlying school culture? Do the principal and teachers ensure everyone is welcomed, valued, and safe? What steps does the school take to reach out to children from “non-traditional” families, whether that means non-English speaking, homeless, or same sex parents?
Family and friends tell me Catholic schools have been a tremendous asset in their own or their children’s lives, and that they have academically and spiritually guided them into the real world. That is why I was dismayed to hear about events in Colorado and Boston, where the local parish school had turned away a student because the students’ parents were gay.
Ideally, school should be a safe space for children, where adults accept them unconditionally and students are free to be themselves. (Yes, I realize how idealistic this sounds–after all, I went to middle school once.) The fact that the administration at these two schools–following a Catholic model, no less–can turn away a child because of the “perceived sins” of his or her parents just saddens me.
A school that discriminates agains gays and lesbians is sending a message to the very children it serves. These are institutions that preach morality and say we’re all God’s children. What does turning away children based on something out of their control say to other kids, who very well might be gay themselves? Thankfully, the events out of Boulder and Boston are isolated incidents.
I live in a large metropolitan city in a racially, ethnically, and economically diverse neighborhood, and I prefer my son’s future classroom to reflect that makeup. At his current day care, he hangs out with kids who are black and white, Middle Eastern and Hispanic, adopted kids and kids with two dads. That is his “normal;” it’s what he knows. We are surrounded by expensive private schools that tout academic excellence (for preschoolers), but my husband and I think it's important for our son to be around kids who don't necessarily look like him, have the same family makeup as he does, or even the same income. We can all learn from each other's differences–and that's the best education.
This is a web-only article that accompanies Leave no child behind, which appeared in the August 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 8, pages 23-27).
Image: Tom Wright