Cincinnati is a melting pot of faiths, but the predominant religion here is catholicism. There are 66 catholic schools in my county. Judging from my interactions with other parents in the community, many of those schools are enrolled with the children of atheists and agnostics.
The overwhelming opinion, and debatable fact, of the public schools here is that they are dangerous hives of villainy where bright (non-black) children will be dragged down by the riff raff. This popular opinion even extends to the white-flight suburbs, which might remove a small portion of the racism out of the equation. As bad as parents deem the low quality public schools, they inversely praise the catholic schools for their high standards of education.
Who can entirely blame them? Many of these freethinking parents attended the very same catholic schools when they were students, well before their conversion toward agnosticism. And many of them remember higher standards of education and higher expectations of the graduates.
And yet, I’m having a very hard time accepting this way of life in Cincinnati. For one thing, my wife often points out that this is a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy. If every parent of a bright child yanks each of their kids out of public school and puts them in a catholic school, then there won’t be any scholars left to attend public school. But, the question is whether I want my kids to be the exception. Do I want my daughters to stagnate in an institution that has been abandoned by other well-intentioned parents in the community? Do I want my daughters to suffer because I insisted on having them attend a poor quality public school, instead of the distinguished catholic school.
The other problem here is the money. First, I can’t afford the expense of catholic school. In fact, I’d wager my small income that many of the debt-ridden families that attend catholic school can’t afford it either. Even if I could afford catholic school, I would have serious ethical issues paying massive amounts of money to a religious institution in which I neither believe nor wish to support in any way. I don’t want to be too melodramatic about it, but the stories of systemic sexual abuse in the catholic church are revolting enough that supporting them in any way would sincerely bother me.
There’s also another problem with having my children attend catholic school. They expect you to go to church. They even keep tabs on whether you have tithed enough. So, not only are your children are at the mercy of nuns who are shoving the threat of hell at them on a consistent basis, but these students are expected to extend their exposure to religion on Sundays too. The ironic thing that I like to point out is that these parents would feel very uncomfortable teaching their kids about atheism because they are worried that they might indoctrinate them.
And then what will these freethinking parents tell their children when the inevitable questions of church and faith come up? There will surely be an awkward conversation about why they must attend a religious school while living in a non-religious house. Will this seem like hypocrisy? I’m not entirely sure how it will play out, but I wonder about how these children will handle interacting with their faithful peers. Will they be bullied, ignored, teased, or will they learn to keep their beliefs quiet so that they won’t be kicked out of the school or socially ostracized?
I don’t judge the freethinking parents who are deciding to put their children in these religious schools. Every parent wants the best for their kids, including myself. I could never condemn an atheist for making this difficult choice, but I think the idea deserves a conversation. What do you think?