2011-02-20 / Opinion

Parochial education and the virtues of public schools

Among those who lament the state of American education today, charter schools are regarded as a blessed alternative. They are described by supporters as results-oriented, no-nonsense academies that provide a welcome contrast to our lax public schools.

It's likely that many Catholic parents of a generation ago regarded parochial schools in much the same way. Around 1950, St. Ignatius High School was a formidable academic and athletic competitor to Sanford High School, and the parish operated three elementary schools as well.

Those days are recalled in a continuing exhibition at the Sanford-Springvale Historical Museum, “Parochial Schools of Sanford and Springvale.” Although St. Ignatius closed in 1969, it remains a vibrant institution in the memories of its alumni. The exhibit refreshes these memories with scores of photos, sports uniforms, memorabilia, textbooks and yearbooks.

The exhibit is also a good reminder that parochial schools served, and continue to serve, as an effective alternative to the public school system. In Sanford, as in Biddeford and Saco, they also preserved the sense of community among Franco-Americans. Parochial schools also eased the enrollment burden at public schools, while receiving not much public support.

Yet the success of parochial schools does not diminish the accomplishments of public education. Some may vigorously disagree, but in the classrooms, as in athletic competition, students from the same community have generally been a close match in ability and accomplishments.

Today the doors of public schools are open to handicapped students and others the diocese ”“ and charter schools ”“ cannot serve. And although Sanford High School lost a big basketball game to St. Ignatius in 1949, the teams of Sanford High are still competing.

Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Nick Cowenhoven at nickc@journaltribune.com.

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