These schoolchildren, chomping ice cream, swapping jokes as they dash home, remind me that parochial schools are a big player in the educational life of San Francisco. But, at least to me, they are also mostly unknown. When I started blogging about our kindie search for SF K Files, one of the first commenters asked “What about parochial?” And that made me think. My husband Portland and I hadn’t discussed the possibility of parochial school much. So I turned to him and asked – what about it?
At this point, I should open some baggage and lay it on the table for inspection. On my side of the family, we are Catholic by background, with Latin American and European varieties of the faith in our lives. But when it comes to the church, I opt out. I don’t want to start a flame war here on the state of the Catholic church, so suffice it to say that as an adult, I’ve realized that many of the church’s views and policies are at odds with my own, and that Catholic schools are off the table. I’ve had many conversations with others from Catholic backgrounds and respect that thoughtful people can come to other conclusions about school. But for me, that door has swung shut.
Portland, however, comes from what you might call a lightly Protestant family. He doesn’t have anywhere near the same type or amount of baggage. And he would at least like to find out more about parochial options. We talked this past week, and agreed we’d at least learn about some parochial schools that aren’t Catholic.
But that learning process means dealing with some “elephants in the room” – big uncomfortable questions. When I posted some EiRs about the new public assignment process last week, there were so many interesting responses that I decided to bring some parochial plaid elephants to the party too. Here goes:
- EiR1: If your family isn’t religious, why did you choose parochial? For families of faith, the choice to go parochial is natural. But it doesn’t seem that all parochial school families are closely affiliated with the church behind their school. If you aren’t religious, what was the draw? Convenience? Quality of education? Lower cost than independent schools? Art, PE, music, or other electives?
- EiR2: If your family isn’t religious, do you feel connected to the school community? Is that community defined by religion, or shaped in other ways?
- EiR3: If your family isn’t religious, how do you tell your kids that your own beliefs may not jibe with what they are learning in religion class? Growing up, one family friend from a Buddhist background told her kids to think of the Biblical part of religion class like Greek mythology -- lots of interesting stories that belonged to someone else. What do others do?
- EiR4: Why would parochial schools want families who aren’t affiliated with their faith? Is getting a broader base of students just part of the business of running a school? Or are some genuinely interested in a diversity of thought and belief?
- EiR5: How does your parochial school provide transparency and accountability to families? I took a quick look at a few parochial school websites, and couldn’t find readily-available overviews of their policies or governing boards. (This was hardly an exhaustive review, so I could have easily missed things.)
- EiR6: Backup? Really? I've heard lots of talk about having a parochial school as a backup, but have also heard that getting into many of these schools is competitive. If that's the case, are they really available as backups?
- EiR7: What about non-Christian options? I was recently talking with a friend about the school dilemma, and after listening to me think out loud for a few minutes, she laughed. “You, yes you, should think about a Jewish school!” When I gave her the “Huh?!?” look, she said that, in her view, her faith and culture are built on thinking and asking lots of questions. “You guys, at least in that respect, would fit right in,” she said. I have to confess that I’d never considered the possibility. Has anyone else?
To all of you in the know about parochial schools, thanks in advance for your answers. If you have insight into Catholic schools, please know that your comments are welcome – while my family isn’t considering Catholic schools, many others out there are. And fellow school seekers, please feel free to add your own EiRs. I have a feeling that I’m not the only one out there with some plaid elephants.