Danger: the threats to Australia’s Catholic schools

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP hosts student leaders from Catholic schools to lunch. However Catholic schools are facing increasingly serious threats to their very existence and purpose, writes ACU’s Dr Kevin Donnelly.

Australia’s Catholic schools provide huge savings to the nation’s education, yet are facing serious threats

At 20 per cent of enrolments across Australia there’s no doubt Catholic schools are popular with parents and their children.  Based on a number of surveys its clear parents are choosing Catholic schools because they see them as providing a faith-based education; one that best reflects and supports their values and beliefs.

Such schools are also seen as providing a disciplined classroom environment, an education that addresses the whole child and one that promotes equity and excellence in education.  Australian research shows, when compared to students in government schools, that Catholic schools better promote tolerance and acceptance of different ethnic groups.

Strengthening social capital

Research also shows that Catholic schools are helpful in strengthening what the American academic James Coleman describes as social capital.  This refers to the bonds and relationships that hold communities together and that promote reciprocity and social cohesion.

Research shows that Catholic schools help strengthen social capital –   the bonds and relationships that hold communities together and which promote reciprocity and social cohesion.

Catholic schools are successful in helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve strong academic results as measured by Year 12 results and tertiary entrance.  After entering the workforce, students who attended Catholic schools are also more likely to volunteer and to achieve financial success.

Catholic schools save taxpayer dollars

As noted by recent research carried out by Catholic Schools NSW, the existence of such schools saves state and territory governments millions of dollars each and every year as students who attend such schools do not receive the same level of funding as those in government schools.

The fact that Catholic school parents pay taxes for a system they do not use while also paying schools fees, thus reducing the cost to government, means that instead of being a financial burden Catholic schools represent a financial benefit to taxpayers and governments.

Students from schools founded by the De La Salle Brothers in Sydney gather in St Mary’s Cathedral in May to mark the 300th anniversary of the death of the founder of the Brothers and the educational tradition they have built over three centuries.

Serving those less well off

As argued by Dallas McInerney in a comment piece published in The Australian “Catholic school families, which already contribute to public education through their taxes, cover the additional costs through school fees that would otherwise be borne by government.  Every student attending a Catholic school represents a net saving for government”.

Notwithstanding the success and benefits of Catholic schools, secular critics argue funding to such schools should be reduced, supposedly, as they only serve the wealthy and privileged in society.  Ignored is that the majority of Catholic schools serve low to middle class socioeconomic communities.

The threat of bureaucracy

Another threat to Catholic schools is their ability to remain true to their faith and operate free of intrusive and unwarranted government control and intervention.  In opposition to the concept of subsidiarity, schools are overwhelmed with bureaucratic red tape imposed by state and commonwealth governments.

This command-and control-approach is a feature of governments of all political persuasions and involves tying compliance to funding in areas like national literacy and numeracy testing, teacher accreditation, implementing a national curriculum and making school performance public on the Myschool website.

Officially-imposed blindness

One of the most serious threats to Catholic schools and their ability to remain true to their faith and the Church’s teachings is the state-mandated curriculum; a curriculum that adopts a deeply secular approach to education and that ignores the vital importance of Judeo-Christianity.

One of the most serious threats to Catholic schools … is the state-mandated curriculum

In the national curriculum that includes all subjects and areas of learning from the start of school to year 10 there are literally hundreds of references to Aboriginal history, culture and spiritualty with minimal reference to Christianity and its contribution to Western civilisation and Australian society.

Christianity’s historic role

Ignored is that Christianity underpins our political and legal systems and that much of Western and Australian music, art and literature can only be fully understood and appreciated if one is knowledgeable about the New Testament.

Catholic schools offer a distinctively different alternative to state education, writes ACU’s Dr Kevin Donnelly, one that contributes to the diverse fabric of Australian life.

Also of concern is that much of modern education adopts a postmodern relativistic and subjective view of knowledge, how individuals relate to one another and the world at large.  As a result there are no absolutes or truths as knowledge is simply a social construct reinforcing the power of the ruling class.

The-then Cardinal Ratzinger describes this as a situation where “there are no grounds for our values and no solid proof or argument establishing that any one thing is better or more valid than another”.

Deconstruction rules

According to such a view, the Bible – instead of being the word of God and inherently true – is merely one text among countless others that has to be deconstructed in terms of power relationships  and what has become the new trinity of gender, ethnicity and class.

Proven by the policies taken to the recent election by the Australian Labor Party and the Greens Party, there is also the danger that religious freedom will be lost as Catholic schools will no longer have the right to decide who they enroll, who they employ and what they teach.

there is a distinct possibility that schools will no longer be able to teach according to their religious tenets and beliefs

Especially in the area of gender and sexuality, best illustrated by events in the UK where Christian schools have been penalised for not adopting the state mandated secular view, there is a distinct possibility that schools will no longer be able to teach according to their religious tenets and beliefs.

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Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University.