I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

August already! Instead of reading those stupid back-to-school ads, read some of these ILYBYGTH-themed stories from the past week:

Which comes first, God or politics? Michele Margoulis’s new book says people choose their party first, then their pew, at RNS.

Richard Dawkins’s anti-Islam rants miss the point. At The Conversation.

The changing face of private education—the rich get richer. At Atlantic.

Dawkins call to prayer

Are some calls to prayer more violent than others?

Helpful locals donate eight assault rifles to their local Texas school along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in other weaponry. At AP.

Collusion confusion: Is Trump really in cahoots with Nancy Pelosi? At The Hill.

Milwaukee sheriff in hot water for touting toilet-paper doctorate from unaccredited fundamentalist colleges, at JS. HT: NS.

An atheist’s case for religion at RNS.

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The Catholic Elephant in the Room

Why didn’t she mention it? For people familiar with the twentieth-century history of Catholic education, it looms as the biggest issue. Yet in a recent article about changing private-school enrollment in The Atlantic, Alia Wong leaves it out entirely. I’m stumped.

Students in class at St. John Villa Academy Catholic School

…or maybe it was the plaid?

Wong looks at the changing face of private education. With the dwindling enrollment in low-tuition Catholic schools, she notes, more expensive private schools are gobbling up a larger and larger share of the private-school market. The average tuition at private schools in the latest available data approached $11,000 annually. For most parents, that’s simply unaffordable.

So far, so good. If we really want to get a sense of the staggering inequalities built into America’s educational landscape, IMHO, the bigger story is the startling disparities between public schools. Even in the same city, some public schools resemble upscale educational hotels while others feel like seedy fleabags. But Wong makes a good point that private schools are becoming the province of a shrinking economic elite.

However, I can’t figure out why she left out the most obvious explanation for the shrinking of America’s Catholic school network. Here’s how she puts it,

A number of factors are contributing to the phasing-out of Catholic schools. One is a drop in the number of clergy members, who historically taught for relatively low wages. Another is the Church’s sex-abuse scandals, whose financial ramifications have undermined its ability to operate schools. In addition, demographic shifts such as falling birth rates, the growing concentration of black and Hispanic families in the bottom tier of the country’s income distribution, and a decline in religiosity among Americans, combined with the rise of charter schools, have led to lower enrollment in parochial education.

All true and important. But Wong doesn’t mention the impact of Vatican II. The public perception of the Church’s 1965 statement, Gravissimum Educationis, was that Catholic parents had been released from the requirement to send their children to Catholic schools. As the 1965 statement said,

Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.

Of course, at least as I read it, that statement is more about helping Catholic parents get a tax break to send their children to Catholic schools, but in the public eye the Vatican II agreement was often seen as freedom to attend public schools. Not surprisingly, given the choice between free-tuition public schools and low-tuition Catholic schools, huge numbers of Catholic parents began sending their children to local public schools instead.

Vatican II is not the only reason for shrinking enrollments in Catholic schools, for sure. At least in the popular understanding of American Catholic history, though, it played a huge role.

…so why wouldn’t Wong mention this epochal shift in American Catholic education? If we’re trying to understand the changing enrollment in private Catholic schools, it seems like an odd thing to leave out.

Admissions of Guilt

It’s hard to tell for sure, but it looks like the Justice Department is investigating Harvard’s admissions policies. If Harvard really is cutting out qualified applicants based on their race, it is only continuing the shameful tradition of elite college admissions policies.

Here’s what we know: When pressed for information about its investigation into Harvard’s admissions policies, the Justice Department said that those records can’t be shared. They are part of an ongoing investigation. As Alia Wong describes in The Atlantic, we don’t know for sure, but it certainly looks like the Justice Department is going after Harvard.

The beef is that Harvard allegedly discriminates against Asian and Asian-American students. Would-be students claim that their SAT scores need to be far higher than non-Asian students. They point to schools like MIT and Berkeley that have no racial policies for admission, where there is a far higher proportion of Asian-American students.

Why would Harvard do such a thing? One possibility is that they hope to maintain a balanced student body. They don’t want to admit students solely on the basis of academic track record, but rather on a checklist of desirable qualities. Students from less-represented groups might have a better chance of admission, since the school wants a diverse group of students. For instance, a white girl from a low-income coal-mining family in West Virginia with an impressive academic record and basketball skills might outrank a Korean-American girl from a high-income family in Scarsdale with an even more impressive academic record and even better basketball skills.

It’s not easy to prove but it is easy to believe. Elite colleges have always shaped their admissions policies based on biased and unfair rules.

geiger

Non-WASPs need not apply…

As Professor Roger Geiger describes in his recent history of American higher education, selective admissions policies are a relatively new thing. Only in the 1920s did schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale begin to formalize their admissions processes.

It wasn’t pretty.

Back then, the elite colleges wanted to find some way to exclude talented students from non-elite backgrounds. In particular, they worried that too many smart Jewish students would take over their schools.

What to do?

Schools began to ask potential students to take standardized tests. One goal was to find out students’ true intelligence. Admissions officials back then assumed that WASPs were naturally more intelligent, but ambitious Jewish students—they called them “grinds”—worked too hard and made themselves look smarter than they really were.

At Yale, the first use of the Scholastic Aptitude Test in 1926 was intended to weed out such non-traditional students. The test was geared toward the existing curriculum at elite prep schools. Students from those schools would be well prepared. Other students wouldn’t. The idea was to give Yale an objective-looking score they could use to exclude Jewish applicants.

At Princeton, the first selective admissions were even more slanted. Every potential student was given a score between one and four, even before the application was looked at. Students from desirable elite backgrounds were grade one—automatic admits. Students from Jewish backgrounds were classed four—automatic denials. Only after those categories were applied did admissions officials open up the applications and make decisions.

So is Harvard discriminating against Asian and Asian-American students? I have no idea, but as long as there have been selective admissions policies, those policies have been used to exclude hard-working, talented students from non-elite backgrounds.