July 31, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Quality education can determine a child’s future

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

In my last column, I said that good schools are the key to unlocking the vicious cycle of poverty. If this is true, why do we struggle to find the talent, resources and leadership needed to provide every child in the Hoosier State with excellent, accessible and affordable opportunities to learn and grow?

There is a vital connection between stable family life and a quality education. During the Great Depression, there were lots of children who came from relatively stable families, and many of those children received good educations. Then, as now, committed parents and strong families make all the difference.

As we bishops of Indiana write in Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana:

“A good, well-rounded education that begins as early in life as possible establishes a foundation for a promising future for children and encourages the formation of productive, contributing citizens and healthy families. Every child should have the opportunity to develop his or her full potential, and it is the responsibility of parents and the wider community to help make possible the growth and success of all children.”

Especially in today’s global economy, the degree to which a person is educated and able to adapt and adjust to changing circumstances determines his or her ability to secure future employment and social well-being.

With this in mind, in Poverty at the Crossroads, we bishops commit our dioceses, parishes, schools and social services agencies to working with state and local governments, as well as business and civic leaders to achieve the following objectives. Let me say just a word about each of these.

  • Strengthening marriage and family life by supporting the role of parents as the primary educators of their children (including programs that make it possible for parents to choose schools for their children and to engage them more effectively in their children’s education). The more we can engage parents directly in the education and formation of their children, the better chance we have of breaking the cycle of poverty. Stable families make for better learning environments for children.
  • Encouraging the state of Indiana to dedicate the resources needed to provide for early childhood education, especially among underserved populations. We are not asking anyone to simply throw money at this or any other problem, but our experience shows that the earlier we can involve children in formal, age-appropriate learning, the better chance they have to succeed. This requires an investment of resources.
  • Reducing de facto segregation or isolation by race, ethnicity or income in order to provide all students with opportunities to learn with and from peers from diverse social and economic backgrounds. Genuine diversity with built-in opportunities to learn from one another helps students from many different backgrounds learn and grow. Isolation is not the answer.
  • Achieving “best practices” and effective policies for teaching and learning, including class size, length of school days, number of school days per year, tutoring and mentorships. The science of education, including the appropriate use of technology and personal mentoring, is vitally important to successful learning.
  • Attracting, retaining and rewarding teachers and administrators who place the education of children first and who possess the formation necessary to meet the needs of children from economically challenged and/or socially disadvantaged backgrounds. We’re proud of our Catholic school teachers; they demonstrate every day the importance of excellent teaching. We need to encourage more talented young people to become great teachers.

Once again, strong families and good schools make it possible for individuals to break the cycle of poverty. Our responsibility as a society, and as a community of faith, is to help make an excellent education available to families. Local, state and national governments should play a supporting role in this, but research shows that the engagement of parents and local communities in operating individual schools and their systems makes all the difference in achieving and sustaining excellence. Bureaucracies don’t manage schools effectively or efficiently. Families supported by neighbors and fellow parishioners do.

The Gospels insist that God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that God himself has “become poor” (2 Cor 8:9). Jesus recognized the suffering of the poor, and he was filled with compassion. He never looked away from the poor or acted as if their needs did not concern him.

As we note in our pastoral letter, “the call to act justly demands an organized and systematic response to the issues of poverty in Indiana.” Let’s work with all people of good will to make the investments that are needed to strengthen family life and ensure excellent schools. †

Local site Links: