Bishop Banks' Corner|
|Bishop Robert J. Banks
Picture sat on the desk two years
Voucher debate should focus on good of students, value of teachers
By Bishop Robert Banks
Last week, I had an interesting dinner table conversation with a
teacher involved in special education in one of the Green Bay
public schools. She made the mistake of asking me what I thought
about school vouchers.
Since vouchers or, more specifically, parental choice in
education is a subject on which I am somewhat passionate, she got
more than a full answer to her question. Put briefly, my point is
that our country has to be interested in the education of every
child, including those whose parents choose a religious school.
Parents should not lose the right to some assistance in educating
their child as soon as the child registers in a religious school.
The child is still an American child.
There was no argument. The teacher simply wanted to know my
opinion, but also wanted to share with me her concern about the
education being offered children today. So many children come to
school today with special needs that more has to be done to help
teachers and schools educate them.
She also wondered if Catholic schools in our diocese were able to
help children with special needs. I told her that, back in
Boston, I had made the mistake of telling a committee that our
schools did not have the resources to help children with special
needs. Several mothers on that committee had children with
special needs. They quickly and strongly informed me that our
Catholic schools could do a lot for children with special needs
without any huge infusion of funds. We simply had to pay
attention to the challenge.
So I now know that our schools can and do help many children with
special needs. At the same time, it is also true that some
children need very special assistance. If our schools were given
financial assistance, then I presume we could also assist most of
them. As a matter of fact, years ago, Sisters throughout the
country ran a number of special schools for children with hearing
problems and also children with mental and emotional
difficulties. Now our country prefers to mainstream as many
children as possible.
It is interesting that in a recent case the U.S. Supreme Court
declared it constitutional for the government to pay for an
interpreter for a hearing impaired youngster in a Catholic
school. So we can help children with very special needs when we
receive financial assistance.
The teacher also voiced a concern I have heard many times here,
in Boston and elsewhere. If parents were able to choose any
school for their children, then in the inner cities of our
country, the good students would go to the religious schools and
the public schools would have to deal with a larger proportion of
students with problems.
There has been some limited research on that subject and my
reading is that where there is a possibility of choice in those
city areas, a substantial number of students with poor academic
records end up in the Catholic schools. If it turned out
otherwise, then I agree something would have to be done.
Then, of course, there is the oft-expressed concern that Catholic
schools can expel troublesome students, while the public schools
have to take them in. I don't know of any research done on this
specific subject, but I do know that Catholic schools try very
hard not to expel students and are known to have taken in
students who have had to leave the public schools.
Good teacher is a treasure
I was very impressed by the sincere and serious interest my
teacher friend had in the education of children in both kinds of
schools. I hope she saw how interested I also am in the
education of all our children. I admire what good schools and
good teachers can do, especially in those city-areas where
children do not have all the benefits that other children
have. A good teacher - in public school or religious school -
is a treasure.
Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine who, about 20 years
ago, taught in a Boston public school in a troubled area of the
city. Her school provided an open classroom where the first five
grades were taught by several different teachers.
A couple of months ago, she was visiting a Boston hospital and
the receptionist greeted her by name. My friend was surprised,
and the receptionist introduced herself as a former third grade
student of hers.
Immediately, my friend remembered her. She was a girl who came
from a dysfunctional family. My friend also remembered a
conference with the girl's mother. On the way out from that
conference, the mother threw some pictures drawn by the girl in
the wastebasket. My teacher friend picked them up and put one of
them on her desk where she kept it for all the time she taught in
No work is throw-away
The next day, she showed the picture to the little girl. For the
next two years, the girl would check to see if her picture was
still there on the desk. My friend said she kept the picture
there to show the little girl how important she was. She also
kept it there to remind herself that no child's work deserves to
be just thrown away.
Maybe the best part of the story is that the receptionist, at
least 20 years later, was able to name all the teachers in that
open classroom. She really surprised my friend when she asked if
she still had that picture. My friend, who had been out of
teaching for about 20 years, explained why she did not. The
receptionist nodded her understanding and then said, "Those years
were the best thing that ever happened to me."
I am sure that the teacher with whom I spoke last week also has
students who regard being in her classroom as the best thing that
has happened to them. And I am sure that there are many more
teachers like her in our public schools and our religious
schools. Wouldn't we be a better nation if our country made it
possible to reward all those teachers equally? Or even almost