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Catholic Education in a Changing World


reviewed by Robert Hassenger - 1968

coverTitle: Catholic Education in a Changing World
Author(s): George N. Shuster
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
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One need not be a cliche-monger to assert that Catholic education is in transition. The nearly 300 colleges and universities, 2,000 high schools, and over 10,000 elementary schools add up to an enterprise that is as huge as it is diverse. The two books under discussion here approach parts of this loosely-structured "system"-for no one yet comprehends the whole -from different but overlapping perspectives. We find in fact interesting variations from the approaches of the disciplines these men represent, with the litterateur Shuster employing statistical data at times to make his case; and the sociologist Greeley relying on evidence gathered more by interview and subjective impression than by rigorous sociological methodology.


The Shuster book, meant as a companion volume to the Carnegie-backed Notre Dame study of Catholic elementary and secondary education (Catholic Schools in Action), addresses a great many matters presently troubling both friends and enemies of Catholic-and other church-sponsored-education. Among these are: the question of how "effective" religious education can be, and whether it is reasonable to expect all students, especially in the colleges, to remain the kind of Catholics they were in high school; the contributions of lay and religious educators; the knotty problems surrounding the financing of Catholic schools; the age-old tension between faith and scholarship; and some of the new directions of Catholic education in a post-Council climate of change.


Shuster begins by recalling some of the findings of the Notre Dame Study. In 1962-63, the year the Study data were collected, 52.2 per cent (4,342,273) of the Catholic elementary school children were in Catholic schools, and 32.2 per cent (1,009,081) in Catholic secondary schools. But this was nowhere near the once-cherished "every Catholic child in a Catholic school." American Catholics never came close to this objective, nor is it the goal of any serious Catholic educator today. The questions they are presently asking are, rather: "How can we accomplish the greatest good for the largest practical number? "-"What segments, if any, ought to be lopped off, and according to what criteria? "-"What innovations ought we to make?"


While not all will agree with the Shuster assumption that the major purpose of the Catholic school (even he would not say the university) is "primarily to develop religious knowledge and practice," it 'would seem difficult to justify their separate existence if Catholic grade and high schools are in no way different from their public counterparts. And it is not easy to quarrel with his "grammar of assent" for the high school years: "everything will depend, at least for the most gifted and restless, upon how ably and deftly the young person is led from the land of obedience to the symbol to the other domain of freedom to question and to weigh answers." Because of this concern, Shuster would seem to prefer jettisoning the grade rather than the high schools, should such a choice have to be made. (He is not unaware that the Greeley-Rossi Report—cf. Record, October 1966—indicated that no one segment of Catholic education was most "effective," and that, indeed, there seemed to be a cumulative effect for those attending Catholic schools all the way through college.) His choice is admittedly more intuitive than scientific, but he cites, in support of it, the shorter length of secondary education, making it more likely that all parents who so desire could provide a Catholic high school education for their children; and two other trends, the upgrading of the preparation of the religious sister or brother (he might also have mentioned their increasing devotion to "professionalism"), and the growth of clerical-lay diocesan boards concerned with secondary education.


Catholic educational institutions at all levels have long profited from the contributed services of priests, brothers, and sisters. This had negative side-effects, of course. Shuster points out quite accurately that the immigrant equation between college education and the life of a religious "was an important cause of the now-well-known dearth of Catholics dedicated to intellectual pursuits." The situation was exacerbated by their vows of celibacy: no children were being directly raised by the bulk of the educational elite. Those who did become interested in things academic faced other difficulties. The Notre Dame Study showed the deplorable lack of lay administrators in the Catholic schools of the early 1960's. There have been not only lower salaries, but fewer career opportunities. This is why many teachers prepped in the Catholic system, then promptly abandoned it when they had accumulated sufficient credits and experience to move into the public schools. But recently lay teachers have been turning up more frequently than their religious counterparts: in little more than a decade, their numbers increased by 169 per cent in secondary schools, and 589 per cent in the grades. This is one of the reasons for the current push for lay-dominated diocesan school boards (although, as Shuster points out, one problem with changing the present structure of the parish-linked grade—and a few secondary—schools is that the parishes have been the most effective collectors of revenue; there is some experimentation with diocese-wide funding, but it is too new a venture for us to know how effective it will be). Another changed circumstance is that it is increasingly expensive to train the teaching religious, and it may be that many will be forced to turn to higher education—perhaps even in non-Catholic colleges—to earn enough for their communities, which have suffered heavy financial—as well as moral—blows by the recent loss of so many of their members, who take their expensive degrees with them.


Despite the present shortcomings of Catholic elementary and secondary education (such as the almost complete absence of honors programs in 1962-63, despite the findings that nearly three-fourths of the high school students polled indicated they expected to go to college, and that 84 per cent of the elementary pupils had achievement scores at or above the national norm), Sinister is cautiously optimistic about the future: "It is impossible to go back to where Archbishop Ireland was and create a place in the public school system specifically for Catholics. Or for Protestants and Jews. It is equally impossible to abolish the Catholic school system. Despite the criticism directed at it by a new group of Catholics, it is too deeply rooted in the respect and affection of the vast majority of the Catholic people, and in the dedication of religious communities."


What of higher education? Carnegie also funded the research of the survey team headed by Andrew Greeley, who has probably done more significant sociological wonk on Catholic education than anyone. Greeley begins by presenting some interesting and useful sociological data on Catholic higher education, most of it from his and the National Opinion Research Center's earlier research. He then describes the findings of the three investigators who tried their collective hand at determining to what extent institutional differences intuited and uncovered by interview would be supported by tougher-minded evidence. Their impressions, and subsequent rankings of the schools, were checked against more objective measurement of academic improvement in Catholic colleges, determined independently by two other NORC staffers, who developed an index of college growth by preparing "a regression of school quality in 1956 on school quality in 1964." Construction of the "Index of Institutional Improvement" is described by Donald Treiman, in an Appendix. The objective measures used in developing the Index were tuition cost, per-student library holdings, and the proportion of faculty who were laymen (based on the assumption that a faculty with a large proportion of religious will be dominated by the religious order historically sponsoring the college). Taking the proportion entering graduate school as their indicator of a college's excellence—which means there was no real control for input, although recent studies have shown this to be the key determinant of graduate student production—it was found that tuition charged was the best single predictor of a school's record in graduate school going, so that "the regression equation on which the choice of schools was based consisted essentially of a regression of 1964 tuition on 1956 tuition." It was this regression on which the "objective" ranking of schools was based.


Nineteen Catholic colleges from various points along the regression line were then selected for the survey team to visit, along with six non-Catholic schools, for comparison of problem areas. Five of the nineteen were small women's colleges, 12 were coeducational universities, and the remaining two were entirely male institutions. (One of the women's colleges, and a non-Catholic college in the original list, failed to cooperate with the researchers, and were replaced with comparable schools from the regression analysis.) Of the nineteen Catholic institutions, nine were colleges, the remainder universities. Two were in the South, three west of the Mississippi, and the remainder in the Northeast and Midwest. Nine were Jesuit schools, five others were administered by communities of religious women, one was sponsored by a diocese, and the four remaining were under the direction of religious orders, such as the Basilians and Congregation of the Holy Cross. Approximately one-fifth of the Catholic college enrollment in 1964-65 was found in these nineteen schools. An additional eleven schools were visited on the tour, "either because they happened to be readily at hand when we were inspecting another college or because there was something in particular about the school that made it worth visiting." During the two to five days spent on a campus, Mr. Van Cleve could talk to about ten administrators, Fr. Greeley to about thirteen faculty, and Miss Carroll to perhaps twenty students. Interviews were almost entirely open-ended.


A question might well be raised about the reliability of their sample. The author reports he did do a "reality check," but this was limited to asking the local AAUP presidents if he did indeed have an "honest sample." Greeley does not feel this influenced the results, however, since they were "much more interested in the tone, the color, and the style of the school as it could be conveyed . . . in a relaxed, casual conversation" (p. 17). (If the reader is looking for the middle term in this syllogism, so is the reviewer.)


Results are discussed in three chapters on "Rapid," "Medium," and "Low Improvement Schools," each organized under the headings of Administration, Faculty, and Students. An entire chapter is later devoted to each of these areas (7-9), where some matters are elaborated, but with considerable repetition. The report is critical of Catholic higher education, although more for the ways in which it is like the American higher learning generally, not for atrocities on which the Catholic educators have a monopoly.


This reader found the "Middle Improvement Schools" chapter the most interesting of these; perhaps bridesmaids are always rather more intriguing to some of us than brides, but the illustration of ways in which these universities came close, but—at least to date—missed, is particularly fascinating (and ought to be required reading for every college administrator). One of the things characterizing such schools seemed to be a pattern of strong presidents, but weak deans, so that department chairmen could emerge to preside over baronies, and it was their departments which got more than an equitable share of a university's resources. This is one of the reasons such schools' growth was so spotty. Further, at these universities, "growth and development was almost out of control and . . . administrations were being carried along by decisions of the past that were defined as both irreversible and uncontrollable" (p. 78). Each reader will have his favorite example here.


A short Sixth Chapter presents the results for correlations of several socioeconomic, ecological, and social organizational variables with the colleges' growth. While such things as the proportion of Catholics in the immediate area, the economic backgrounds of students, and the complexity of graduate programs showed some relationship to academic growth, none seemed so strong a predictor as the survey team's evaluations of an academic administration's sophistication and leadership. The researchers had rank-order correlations in the .80's and .90's, with the highest correlations for their rank-ordering of the five women's colleges (Miss Carroll—the least experienced—the highest of all).


One cautionary note ought to be entered here, however: it should be clear the team expected to find that "the amount of enlightenment and independence observed at the administrative leadership level . . . ought to be highly predictive of academic improvement in Catholic higher education" (p. 10). It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of enlightened and charismatic leadership, particularly for determining which of several institutions at a take-off stage really begins to fly. But Greeley is perhaps too enamored of a great-man explanation in his recent work. Whether one is discussing the historical evolution of an immigrant church (The Catholic Experience, 1967), or the growth and development of an educational institution, it would be more satisfactory to state clearly the social and historical factors which can be considered predisposing, and the particular events and personages which might be termed precipitating. Thus, such things as student backgrounds and expectations, faculty orientations, institutional objectives, diocesan climate, and endowment may be among the factors determining readiness for take off (or preparing for a "critical growth phase," to change the metaphor); and such things as quality of leadership and a clear delineation of the relationship between college and religious community are likely to be crucial for precipitating either greatness or mediocrity. But certainly things are more complex than the reader of this volume is led to believe. Indeed, almost as high rank-order correlations as those obtained by the survey team's ratings of administrative leadership were found when schools were ranked by the loyalty of undergraduates to their institutions. (And, since each of the "Rapid Improvement" schools is almost exclusively male, they might have concluded that this was the key variable.)


Shuster's remarks on Catholic higher education are scattered throughout his rewarding book. For example, the reader can find in Chapter Seven about the strongest case against the Catholic university he'll ever want to read; and just when he's convinced, he will come across one of the most persuasive arguments for the Catholic university he will see for some time. Admitting that the choice of a Catholic college primarily to safeguard the faith of students is now all but forgotten, Shuster believes that the task of the college must now be "to demonstrate that it exists in order to provide first-rate education within the context of a Catholic community." By first-rate, he means that the college must inculcate deep awareness of the problems and situations of concern to modern man, and attempt to solve them; stimulate student thinking "to a degree of intelligent intensity which all but a few could not generate if left to their own devices;" foster man's affective and aesthetic life; and generate social responsibility "in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council."


Shuster makes it clear that the Catholic university—he is not as unequivocal about the college—"cannot be a mouthpiece for the magisterium," the teaching authority claimed by the Roman Church. (And Greeley would be the first to affirm this, as his very useful section on the relationship between the university and the religious community makes apparent. Any number of potentially charismatic Catholic college presidents have languished in oblivion because they appeared to be "dangerous innovators" to their religious superiors. The colleges they might have led to greatness now bring up the rear of Riesman's famous academic procession. Yet such neurotic caution still prevails in more than a few Catholic schools.) But Shuster does assert that "Catholic scholarship has the task of discerning what in the continuing life of the mind reflects the tradition and the insight of the Church," and goes on to develop a fascinating elaboration of his suggestion that a Catholic university contains a "company of gamblers," who "strive to deepen our realization of what our acceptance of Pascal's wager means." Although it makes all the difference to a committed Christian whether his colleague bets for or against the existence of God, he is also fiercely persuaded that his colleague is a member of the human family, guided by conscience and evidence which all must respect. And of course the Catholic university must also have scholars of differing traditions, to "provide the breadth of association with the whole human family which is the proper mode of the life of the Church."


An additional question raised by Shuster is whether every Catholic university need have a department of theology, or whether—as indeed was more often than not the case in the Middle Ages—there should be a concentration of resources in two or three places; such an approach might result in an even more fruitful theological focus in the many other Catholic colleges, with the spontaneous combustion in the two or three universities generating the kind of theology which rarely comes out of the colleges today, as the Greeley volume illustrates. (Perhaps the Catholic educators should consider adopting such a model for almost all of the academic disciplines, to attempt elimination of the great duplication of effort and spreading thin of resources which now characterizes the plethora of second-rate English, sociology, and education departments, to name only three.)


As should be apparent by now, this reviewer found the Shuster book more satisfying than Greeley's. The one bothersome thing about the former is Shuster's tendency to be unsympathetic to the social sciences; not only does he insist on putting quotation marks around such commonly used terms as "median," but tends at times to place more credence in his personal experience, and even perhaps his hopes, than in evidence of a rather firmer sort. Thus, he suggests that the estimate that at least seventy per cent of college-age Catholics will be in non-Catholic schools in the near future is too high—when all the data indicates it will be even higher: eighty or eighty-five per cent. But Shuster's scope and brilliance make it easier for the reader to indulge him here, and attend carefully to the insights and wisdom of this most important book.


The Greeley volume will serve some important short-run purposes: it ought to be of especial concern to those who would guide their changing Catholic colleges; but the Shuster book is built to last: it will be reread decades hence.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 70 Number 2, 1968, p. 175-180
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1941, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 9:23:09 PM

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