As the academic year winds down, there's cause for mourning in some neighborhoods in New York City, where some schools will be closing their doors for good. They're not just any schools -- and I'm not just saying that because the school where I spent my first eight years was nearly among them. They're Catholic schools that have achieved miracles.
Besides doing easily quantifiable things -- teaching disadvantaged students at half the cost of public schools -- they often distinguish themselves from nearby public schools in another important way.
As one principal explained to Manhattan Institute education expert Sol Stern (for Stern's book "Breaking Free" (Encounter Books, 2005)): "We are here to educate and empower these kids, to do two things with them. One is to make sure that they learn how to read, write and do math -- every day. The other is to form the character. We believe in the divinity of being; we believe in the holiness of our existence. That infuses the culture we're in."
But next fall, the Big Apple is going to come up nine schools short. Stern calls it a "tragedy," but there's far more peril afoot.
Just as some of these schools were beginning to close up shop for good, "People" magazine ran an article on a Catholic school teacher in Appleton, Wis., who was fired for artificially conceiving her twins. Immediately, you're outraged: At a Catholic school? Aren't they pro-life? Don't they want to encourage pregnancies and discourage abortions?
Well, perhaps. But the teacher was reportedly fired for using in vitro fertilization to conceive. That's a tough one; your heart breaks for a couple who want to conceive but just can't on their own. But IVF, as it is regularly practiced, involves, however unintentionally, the destruction of embryos, and for that reason, among others, it's not something the Catholic Church wants to encourage. A Catholic school teacher plays a unique role in being both a role model and a living embodiment of what the Church teaches. And, as high an order as that may be, it's a role a teacher signs up for when she agrees to teach in a Catholic school.
About two years ago, The New York Times Magazine ran a piece by a young woman who found herself pregnant. Upon learning that she was having triplets, she opted to selectively reduce -- get rid of two of them. The words "selective reduction" were new to a lot of readers that Sunday. And if reactions I heard were any indication, people wondered how far we had come toward a "Brave New World," embracing a sterile phrase to describe this practice. Does this mean that it's too late to turn back?