I’ve been having a lot of good–but difficult–conversations with teachers about the state of Catholic education in the United States.
And as I was talking to one of my former ACE roommates about all the struggles I’m having this year with my kids, I realized something that maybe I had only been aware of before on a subconscious level.
Education can’t fix the problems it faces.
That sounds pessimistic. But it’s true.
And maybe also a little bit liberating.
I was frustrated a few days ago with a kid who did not come to finish an essay we had written in class. I was offering her support and extra help, and she did not come after school even after I had reminded her. And then I reminded her the next day and she did not come. And I had made myself available during lunch this time even though originally I had planned on trying to keep my lunchtimes this year. I was upset. Why oh why won’t you come when I am bending over backwards trying to help you?
And suddenly, later, on the phone with my ACE friend, I realized — this kid doesn’t really give a damn about my essay. And that’s kind of reasonable. From the little I know about her situation, she has so much going on at home that if I were her I wouldn’t give a damn about some essay either. She has bigger battles she’s fighting.
I mean, she still has to write that thing and I reminded her again today and she did come, thank goodness.
But sometimes as a teacher I get so caught up in my goals for my kids– or the curriculum standards — that I lose some perspective.
And I starting feeling like it’s my job to “save” them, when of course that’s God’s job.
But I think all educators–not just Catholic ones– are suffering from an identity crisis. We think that education can save these kids from their apparently grim destinies. But although a good education can make a big difference, it is not the only thing.
We get kids with learning disabilities. We get kids from broken homes. We get kids who have never met their dads. We get kids whose parents are struggling to pay the bills. Many of these parents — for all of our Catholic talk of “primary educators”– do not have the time or resources to read to their kids or get them books or help them with homework. Some of them may not know how to read well or at all. Indeed these parents are the primary educators, but many of them do not have the ability to educate. And no matter how good a school is, a school cannot fill the role of a parent.
Education isn’t just trying to overcome ignorance– its trying to overcome material poverty and broken families and cultural decay and entitlement and prejudice and despair.
But really all educators can do is try to teach kids who may be unwilling or exhausted or distracted by bigger problems.
Even the best charter school networks with all the money and resources and professional development and “best practices” in the world cannot quite make up for those things.
All we can do is help. All we can do is love our students and hold them to high expectations and give them the support they need to meet those expectations. And some of them will get there, and some of them won’t.
As Mother Teresa says, “We are not called upon to be successful, but to be faithful.”
Let’s be faithful to our students and leave the success part to God.