When I was asked to write a short essay on why Catholic schools are important in 2014, I, like any good educator, decided to cheat. I asked Notre Dame Catholic School’s 8th Graders to do it for me. I told them that a list of reasons was due the next day (“No, you don’t have to write in complete sentences this time (AND ONLY THIS TIME!); yes, it will be a grade…”).
Now, I know our kids. They are faith-filled, joyful, kind, respectful, energetic, and very bright … but they’re teenagers (AHHHH!). I didn’t know what to expect, though I figured soccer and basketball might be prominent among their responses.
When I was growing up, parents worried about things like MTV and AOL Instant Messenger. Those things are ancient history. Between iPods, iPads, and iPhones, the very nature of identity – of “I” – has changed. Facebook has co-opted the idea “friend.” Twitter invites us to “follow.” We shut out the real world with our headphones and bury ourselves in user-friendly, intuitive interfaces.
Such, at least, is what we “adults” grumble about (“Well, sonny, when I was your age…”). The Church, however, is doing something quite different. The Pope Tweets! Our own Bishop Melczek is on YouTube (if you don’t believe me, Google it)!
But what does this have to do with why Catholic schools are so important today? Why am I not writing about pre-marital sex and crime and gangs and the economy and terrorism and poverty and empty pews…? On the other hand, why am I not talking about high standardized test passing rates and college matriculation and rigor and discipline and innovation?
Notre Dame’s 14 year olds (“AHHHH! Teenagers! Run!”), given complete freedom to talk about what is important to them, focused on these themes: Faith, Family, Vocations, Morals, Service, Caring, Gratitude, Learning, Connectedness, and Future.
We don’t give our young people nearly enough credit. They are more than aware of all the struggles and troubles in the world. They know that something isn’t right. They know that there is more out there. There is a thirst for love and joy and connectedness. There is an energy and a vibrancy and a vitality. There is an honest innocence. There is a yearning for Truth (note the capital “T”).
Our young people are telling us exactly what they need and value, and it happens to be the Gospel. Today’s youth – the youth with iPhones and headphones and Facebook and Twitter (and maybe even the youth with intentionally messy hair, though I’m not sure about that) – are hungry for the Word of God, for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and for life-giving relationships with one another.
It’s time for us adults to plug-in, log-on, and get connected – or, dare I say, reconnected. Catholic schools are important in 2014 not because there are troubles all around us. Catholic schools are important in 2014 because there is hope all around us, and hope does not disappoint.
Benjamin Devin John Potts, Ed.M., is the Principal of Notre Dame Catholic School in the Diocese of Gary, Indiana. He is also a member of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program's eleventh cohort. For more information on the Remick Leadership Program, please click here.
Notre Dame Catholic School is a ministry of the Notre Dame Catholic Community that fosters learning through an unsurpassed faith-based education and prepares young people for extraordinary lives. For more information on Notre Dame Catholic School, please click here.