I suppose twenty-eight years involved in small Catholic schools qualifies me as an experienced educator. Or at least it has provided me with plenty of experience in listening to parents and their children on the subject of “How to Choose a School.” Or perhaps “How Not to Choose a School.”
Experience might bring some wisdom about things but it sure does bring a great deal of pain. Like Agamemnon’s war prize, Cassandra, I find myself similarly cursed with a sort of knowledge of the future which brings no good because it is not believed until the events themselves have come to pass.
As we learn from Herodotus,
It is the most hateful thing for a person to have much knowledge and no power.
How often do I hear the words of a parent regretting this or that educational choice made ten years earlier, but the unfortunate consequences of which have only recently played out. One parent laments,
I wish I had not sent her to that school.
I only wish I had known about a better school when my kids were still young enough to attend.
The school was so good when I attended it, I assumed it was the same now!
The correct choice of a school is difficult. And, unfortunately, the consequences of a bad choice are difficult to undo.
The most common criteria that I hear from parents for choosing a school are something like the following (divided into spoken and unspoken criteria):
Common Spoken Criteria for Choosing a High School
1. I want my child to be happy, so I want her to make the choice of where to attend school.
2. My child likes sports, so we are looking for a school with a wide variety of athletic offerings.
3. My child wants to be an artist so we are looking for a school with a strong graphic arts program.
4. My child wants to be a doctor so she is particularly interested in AP chemistry and Biology offerings.
5. My husband went to St. John’s (which has a proud tradition of over 120 years!) and I went to St. Gertrude’s, so our sons will go to St. John’s and our daughters will attend St. Gertrude’s.
6. We think that technology in the classroom is important.
7. My child learns in his own special way, so we are seeking a school which is able to accommodate his way of learning.
Common Unspoken Criteria for Choosing a High School
1. I want my child to attend a school which will benefit my own self image among my own colleagues and social peer groups.
2. I want my child to attend a school which either reflects my own socio-economic class or which might even place my child in contact with a more affluent class.
3. Although being a Catholic is important to me, the main concern that I have for my son is that he will be successful.
For what it is worth, I will offer ten criteria for choosing a high school that I think are a little more substantive.
Ten Criteria for Choosing the Right High School
- The school explicitly proposes the formation of the mind as its chief mission.
- The school claims to know how the formation of the mind is achieved through a non-elective course of studies.
- The school holds Theology as the Queen of the Sciences.
- The school curriculum is essentially different from the secular high school curriculum, even in math and science.
- The entire reading list is excellent. There is not a single work that students are compelled to read which is objectionable, senseless, or even simply mediocre.
- The school day and schedule allows for a regular participation in the sacramental life of the Church.
- The school actively promotes the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
- The faculty appears to be educated with the same education that the school aims to impart.
- After spending a day visiting classes a parent would himself like to attend the school.
- The school community, board, faculty, parents and students support the vision of the school.
Now I am certain that you can think of some other criteria that are important as well, but these ten rise to my mind quickly. No school is perfect, but a parent needs to select a school for his children based on solid principles. This is the kind of choice which he is not likely to regret later.