Make Catholic Education Catholic Again | Mark Bauerlein

In my recent article, “The Sorry Situation of Catholic Schools,” I outlined the failure of Catholic schools to uphold Catholic doctrine and avoid mimicking public school curricula. I expected some grumbles and head-shakes. I did not expect to see my complaint aligned with the murders committed in East Buffalo on May 14.  

I’m not exaggerating. Here is the full paragraph:

Last week, I saw an article in First Things entitled “The Sorry Situation of Catholic Schools.” I originally wrote a blog criticizing the author’s points and I was prepared to set the blog aside this week because the blog criticizes Catholic schools and my heart is stuck on last Saturday’s tragedy. Yet there is a connection between the author’s arguments and the toxic environment which led to Saturday’s shooting. The connection is threefold—the sowing of resentments, the use of bogeymen, and the anointing of the chosen.

The statement appears in a newsletter titled “Catholic School Matters.” The author of this allegation is Tim Uhl, the superintendent of Catholic schools in the diocese of Buffalo. I criticized Catholic schools for hiring people with no evident commitment to Catholic doctrine and running courses that look just like public school offerings—and for that, I am charged by a Catholic school official with, however indirectly, contributing to a killing.

There is a more important issue to consider here than the personal one, however. If you read the full post by Uhl, you have to wonder how someone with his beliefs ever ended up in charge of Catholic schools. The imposing “BLACK LIVES MATTER” logo sits at the top of the newsletter. For all the national endorsement of that organization—I just had lunch near the White House on a block named “Black Lives Matter Plaza”—let’s remember what BLM espouses. Its founders are three radical LGBTQ Marxists (see my podcast episode with Scott Walter, “The Radical Origins of Black Lives Matter”). It denounces heteronormativity, biblical sexuality, and the traditional family. It is also financially corrupt. Uhl’s avid support for the organization should immediately disqualify him as a Catholic school leader.

Next problem: In my article, I objected to the reliance of Catholic authorities on expertise. Uhl models that conformity to a tee. I urged schools to drop secularist, politically correct readings, citing leftist Eric Foner’s textbook of U.S. history as an example. For doing so, Uhl accuses me of impugning “the reputation of a Pulitzer-prize winning historian who is regarded as one of the most important American historians of his era.” 

This reply skirts the original point, which implied that Foner’s understanding of the American past does not accord with a Catholic understanding of time and the workings of history. Uhl resorts to the very dependence on academic authority that Catholics should eschew. Foner won a Pulitzer, yes—and so did the main author of the 1619 Project. Given the political orientation of the Pulitzers, we should take the award as a possible problem, not a definite plus.

In another argument from authority, Uhl chides me for mischaracterizing the Common Core State Standards, which the diocese continues to follow. Since I played a role in drafting some of the Common Core ELA standards for literature, the point may be dropped, except insofar as Uhl chooses not to defend the substance of the criticism, only cite once again one of the powers that be.

Finally, Uhl curbs my enthusiasm for classical education, favoring instead the Cristo Rey and NativityMiguel networks, which are “designed to serve the poor and change the lives of poor families.” He terms classical education a nice little “niche,” nothing more. 

What makes Uhl think that classical schools do not serve the poor? Having done curriculum work for the College Board, IB program, Core Knowledge Foundation, and various state departments of education and charter networks, I would say that classical education is precisely what disadvantaged kids need if they want to leave high school, go to college, and survive freshman year. It does the best job at ensuring “college readiness,” and does more to level the playing field for low-income youths than any other curriculum (in the softer subjects) that I’ve seen.  

Additionally, a classical Catholic curriculum is the best one to ensure a student lives a Catholic faith long after he has graduated. The assumption that classical education doesn’t serve all students can only be made by someone unfamiliar with the Western tradition and the high place of Catholic thought, literature, and art within it.

Uhl’s neglect of that final purpose is clear in his summation of what Catholic educators need to emphasize. Read this conclusion: “We need to dedicate ourselves to fighting misinformation and teaching critical thinking, calling out the sin of white supremacy and the dangers of unfettered media propaganda.”

There is nothing distinctively Catholic in that exhortation. It could have been written by a hard-left atheist. In other words, Uhl’s reply does the opposite of what he intended. It proves the unfortunate truth that many Catholic schools are in the wrong hands.

Bishop Michael W. Fisher has an unpleasant task before him. He must remove Uhl from his position and find a superintendent faithful to the Catechism, unimpressed by liberal authorities, and free of the leftist passions of our moment.

Mark Bauerlein is contributing editor of First Things.

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