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Talk of 'the Private Model' and How Best To Support It

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Chigago--Two days before President Bush signaled his lack of support for tuition tax credits last week, the keynote speaker at the National Catholic Educational Association's annual convention here made a strong plea for government support of private education.

Archbishop Eugene A. Marino of Atlanta said he supported tax credits or a voucher system to correct "what appears to be a basic injustice to parents who wish to choose a Catholic school for their children."

The archbishop also called on teachers in Catholic schools to begin recruiting their own successors.

"The talents of a few courageous individuals are being stretched beyond reasonable limits," he said.

To ensure an adequate supply of lay teachers for parochial schools, the archbishop said, "we must undertake to encourage those whom we educate with the notion that to teach is an honorable and life-fulfilling vocation."

The presence of lay teachers in Catholic schools has grown steadily in recent years as religious orders have attracted fewer new members.

The percentage of lay teachers is now 83 percent, up from about 45 percent in 1969, according to the ncea

Lynne V. Cheney, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, addressed the link between Catholic schools and the parental-choice movement in her speech to the convention.

"Many of the most hopeful changes beginning to occur in American public education, many of the reforms most likely to improve our public schools, are bringing those schools closer to the private model that you represent," she said.

Three areas in which this is true, she said, include the curriculum, in which Catholic schools have traditionally required more coursework and are now being copied by public schools; teacher education, for which Catholic schools have not required formal certification among their teachers; and school administration.

"Chicago's Catholic schools, with about half as many students as the public schools, have been operating with a bureaucracy one one-hundredth the size," she said. "You have kept the administrative bureaucracy small, put your dollars into the classroom; and public education--at least here in Chicago--is beginning to see the wisdom of such ways.''

On the subject of school choice, Ms. Cheney did not go so far as to endorse choice plans that would include both public and private schools. But she noted that debate over such proposals is "not necessarily a bad thing."

"In those inner-city areas where public schooling has virtually collapsed," Ms. Cheney said, "some are asking, 'What do we have to lose by experimenting with a system of choice that would include all private schools?"'

"It is our mission to foster excellence," she concluded, "and you have, time and again, demonstrated that Catholic education possesses much that is excellent to foster."

One of the best-attended sessions of the convention was a symposium on religious faith that focused on a 1986 pastoral letter written by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, the archbishop of Chicago.

The letter was entitled, "The Challenges We Face Together: Reflections on Selected Questions for Archdiocesan Religious Educators."

Ann O'Hara Graff, professor of theology at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago, said serious dissent in the church is often necessary for "the sake of the Gospel."

"Religious educators are sometimes in the difficult position of offering a rationale for church teaching that they feel does not reflect Jesus Christ and is unjust and untruthful," she said. "In conscience, we are bound to examine again both what the church teaches and what nags at us that we cannot accept."

The self-described feminist received loud applause from the audience of several hundred religious educators, especially when she said, "Jesus proclaimed God's love. He did not appoint a Pope or ordain anyone, male or female."

Cardinal Bernardin responded at the session that the church would be unable to deal with Ms. Graff's criticisms until it resolved changes in the mission and function of the church that have been discussed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.--mw

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