July 24, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Good schools help break poverty’s vicious cycle

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

How can we break the vicious cycle of multigenerational poverty? The answer is simple, but not easy: Good schools.

As we bishops write in our recent pastoral letter, Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana, “The root causes of poverty are complex, and must be addressed effectively by a holistic and multifaceted approach to social, economic, cultural and spiritual development.” We believe there is a key that unlocks the door to this holistic and multifaceted approach, and that key is providing students with opportunities to learn and grow as intelligent human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

When confronted with the perplexing problem of poverty, we are understandably tempted to direct our attention and charitable resources toward addressing the immediate needs of the poor for food, shelter and health care. These are certainly important, pressing issues that cannot be ignored.

But in justice we cannot afford to neglect the more thorny public policy issues, especially the need to break the cycle of multigenerational poverty through opportunities for an excellent education.

If we wish to address the fundamental causes of poverty here in Indiana, as well as in our nation and global community, we must look to education—specifically, to our elementary and secondary schools as well as our colleges and universities.

As we note in Poverty at the Crossroads, there is an intimate connection between family and education. Parents are the first and principal educators of their children.

When parents value education, there is a way out of the multigenerational trap that poverty too often represents. That’s why giving parents real choices for the education of their children, including access to affordable Catholic and other private schools, as well as excellent public and charter schools, is so important.

Choices in schooling represent hope for the future for parents and their children. And if the schools that are chosen are truly committed to helping students learn and grow, the odds that young people will succeed in life are much, much better. Good schools help break the vicious cycle of poverty.

In Poverty at the Crossroads, we call attention to the effect that poverty has on a family’s ability to provide children with a quality education:

“Poor children are often hungry, undernourished and prone to limited attention spans. Crying for attention, they frequently exhibit inappropriate behaviors. They may live in cars or temporary shelters, and seldom find sufficient physical rest. Recurrent moves mean that regular school attendance is difficult, if not impossible. No wonder poor children struggle to learn, develop and test their skills and abilities, and recognize the importance of completing their education in order to compete with others in demanding job markets.”

As disciples of Jesus Christ, the supreme teacher and healer, we are called to respond to the cry for help that children in poverty make on a daily basis. We are not content to allow children to pass through bureaucratic, failing schools. We feel compelled as part of the Gospel mandate to intervene and do whatever is humanly possible (with the help of God’s grace) to help families educate their children.

As we write in our pastoral letter:

“Our Catholic tradition commits us to the education of the whole person—mind, body and spirit. We refuse to be fatalistic about the future hopes and dreams of families and children who are poor, including the multigenerational poor. We have seen with our own eyes the difference that a quality education can make in the lives of children and their families.”

Pope Francis reminds us that the Church is called to be truly “with and for the poor.” To succeed in this fundamental dimension of our Church’s mission, we must work to provide all children—but especially those who are poor—“with an education that teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values” (“The Joy of the Gospel,” #64).

We wholeheartedly believe this is the way out of poverty for individuals and families. And we are convinced it is the best way to build a society that is just, economically productive and dedicated to promoting and defending the human dignity of all its citizens.

The Catholic Church is strongly committed to education and, particularly, the education of the poor. More than two centuries of experience in the United States have convinced us about the powerful role that education plays in helping families produce thriving citizens, workers and professionals.

Let’s be sure to express our sincere appreciation to all the teachers as well as those who lead our Catholic schools. They truly are helping break the vicious cycle of poverty, and we are grateful! †

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