From Vatican City, the Pope spoke on the current state of education. According to His Holiness, there is a current failure of the system in the way that schools interact with families and states that leads to a selective education of the wealthy or intelligent. He used the word “supermen” to describe the children that are lucky enough to come from the privileged background that allows for a non-secular education.
“Behind this, there is always the ghost of money. Always.” Pope Francis said of education. “It has become too selective and elitist. It seems that only those people or persons who are at a certain level or have a certain capacity have the right to an education.” (According to this article from US News, a year at the average Catholic primary school typically runs about $5,330. That number goes up to $9,790 for middle and high school. The average cost for one year of tuition at a Catholic college averages $26,300. The average Christian school, on average, cost $7,960 a year for an elementary student and $16,520 for a secondary student)
This statement took place in a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education and the 25th anniversary of “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” St. John Paul II’s apostolic constitution on Catholic universities and was followed up with an off-the-cuff question and answer session taking questions from administrators and faculty
When asked what makes a school “truly Christian”, the pope responded saying that Christian education is not just about providing catechesis, but also requires education in “human values”, especially the value of transcendence. Education that favors the tangible like test scores and profitability and ignores the spiritual dimension of existence is “the biggest crisis” in education. “We must prepare hearts so the Lord can manifest himself,” which requires an education that strives to reflect “the fullness of humanity that has this dimension of transcendence,” he said. Educators must work to restore the broken “educational alliance” that has a tendency to put profits before people. “This is a shameful global reality,” the Pope said. “It is a reality that leads us toward a human selectivity that, instead of bringing people together, it distances them; it distances the rich from the poor; it distances one culture from another.”
Educators, he continued, “are among the worst-paid workers: what does this mean? It means that the state simply has no interest. If it did, things wouldn’t go that way. The educational alliance is broken. And this is our job, to find new paths.”
The Pope called for people to educated the poor and the marginalized, even if that meant cutting staff or other expenses at some of their schools in wealthier neighborhoods. “They have something that youth from rich neighborhoods do not through no fault of their own, but it is a sociological reality: they have the experience of survival, of cruelty, of hunger, of injustice. They have a wounded humanity. And I think about the fact that our salvation comes from the wounds of a man injured on the cross.”
And the Pope isn’t wrong. Many college-prep Catholic high schools boast records of 99% of their students go on to college, which is an astounding fact that could change the future for a kid from an under-served community. The wealth of U.S. Catholics is documented by sociologists as rising all the time, and a lot of that affluence has been attributed to -at least in part- to Catholic education.
And this is not a new refrain that we are hearing, either. During an April 2008 visit to Washington, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged people to make schools accessible to all by opening our wallets and getting creative in how we finance schools: “It provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done in cooperation with the wider community to ensure that Catholic schools are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”