This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.
This is a gutsy and worthy move by the relatively-new bishop of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, despite the heavy flak he is getting in return. If Catholic culture and society in the U.S. are faltering in terms of faith and practice, the problem starts with education, both in the classroom and without. And it is a real scandal to have teachers in Catholic schools making clear to the students that they personally detest what the Catholic Church values and teaches. I’ve seen plenty of this firsthand, and I’ve seen what the results often end up being for Catholic school grads later in life. I know that some will chide this bishop for violating “academic freedom” and for interfering in the personal lives of teachers, but it is a simple fact that teachers teach through personal example as much, if not more in many cases, as through classroom pedagogy. Catholic schools have historically recognized this fact more than public schools have, which is why education in Catholic schools tends to be more “personalized” than in the Industrial Revolution-model public system.
As for “academic freedom”, it is a well-established principle of human society, here and abroad, that, if you wish to work at propagating a message for a business, organization, or church, you need to be on board with that message yourself. Does the U.S. military allow all of its members to speak their minds however they wish and live as they please in the name of preserving personal freedom? Of course not. If you can’t be in line with what the military stands for, believes in, and practices, then you need to get out of it. If a Honda salesperson were to tell customers that he personally considers Toyotas to be superior to Hondas and that those customers should be shopping for Toyotas instead, we would not defend that employee’s right to remain employed there on the grounds that his freedom of expression must be protected. And political parties do the exact same thing. When was the last time the Democratic Party allowed anyone who was openly pro-life on the issue of abortion to have any sort of prominent party position or prime-time convention speaking slot? Why would the Catholic Church – and its schools – not have these same prerogatives that we concede are common-sense in secular society? If you’re going to teach at a Catholic school, it makes sense that, on the major moral and ethical issues of the day where the Church’s teaching is well-defined and established, you be on board with it.