2005-02-25 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

The more you separate children from each other, the more you serve to dissipate “little-d democracy.” After 65 years on this Earth and 33 as a teacher at all educational levels and in a number of different states and settings, there is no maxim in my mind that is truer.

Those who think that I am opposed to religious education (when I call it parochial education, people charge that I mean only Catholic schools and that is not true. I feel the same about all religious schools) are wrong. If a parent wants their child to have a strict religious education they have the right to that.

They are, however, I strongly believe, not only hurting their kids, they are hurting America as well.

Kids should not be separated by race, religion, economic status, height, hair color or anything else.

When kids are separated and are taught to believe that they are somehow better because of that separation, the seeds of hatred and distrust are sowed.

We are seeing that problem in the west end of Rockaway. In an incident recently, some kids from Breezy Point who go to St. Francis de Sales School on Beach 129 Street were assaulted by kids who live in Belle Harbor. They were told to go back to Breezy Point, “where you belong.”

Kids in Bilingual programs throughout the peninsula are regularly bothered by kids in the mainstream because they are “different,” and never have classes with the other kids even though they attend the same school.

White kids regularly cross the street when they see a group of black kids walking towards them.

Black kids see white kids as targets because they have little contact with them.

There is a constant tension between Irish kids and Orthodox Jewish kids on the west end and in Far Rockaway because those kids never have any contact with each other. More than a year ago, that tension spilled over into minor violence and some Orthodox boys were arrested. Even with that occurrence, however, the groups were never brought together to talk about similarities and differences.

The more you separate kids, the worse it gets.

What brings this to mind is the closing of the St. Virgilius School in Broad Channel by the Catholic Diocese.

One of my close associates joked when she heard about the closings, “That’s too bad. The kids might be forced to go to public school and really learn something.”

While that may be strong, she is probably right. The fact is, in most of our neighborhoods, the local public school has a much better track record and much better standardized test scores than the corresponding parochial school. That is a fact of life, and there is no escaping that the public schools provide a better academic education.

Are the parochial schools quieter? Of course they are. Do they have more discipline? Sure they do. They can, with the whisk of a pen, suspend troublemakers and send them to the public schools. The public schools have no such option.

On the other hand, if it’s a religious education you want, and “traditional family values” is what you are looking for, then the parochial schools are what you need, because the public schools went out of that business a long time ago.

There are many who decry the closing of parochial schools and want public money to finance those schools.

I am obviously opposed to that. I was not at the meeting at the American Legion Hall in Broad Channel on Tuesday night, but I have been told that parents were made to believe that public schools were not a viable option.

I understand that they were told that PS 47, a neighborhood school run by a Broad Channel resident is too overcrowded and cannot take any of the St. Virgilius students. They were told that their kids would be bused “an hour and a half away” if they opt for public school enrollment. That is ridiculous.

There are fewer than 110 students at St. Virgilius. If even half opt for public school, it means two classes that would have to be absorbed. Any school can handle two more classes through programming and utilization of rooms.

In fact, the city is actively thinking of renting the present school, refurbishing it (wooden buildings are not allowed as city schools) and using it for the overflow from PS 47.

There are those who believe that the city should, through outright grants or vouchers, support private education with public money.

That would be wrong. My tax money should not be used to subsidize religious ideals that I do not believe in, nor should your tax money be used to subsidize something that I believe in and you do not. Before you point out that I am opposed to the war in Iraq and my tax money goes for that, I should point out that the people we elcted to make our decisions, for better or for worse, have agreed that the war pursues a common interest. Sitting in a parochial school seat is in oppositon to the public interest, from my point of view.

Even the Founding Fathers realized that simple principle, building what has come to be called “The Establishment Clause” into the Constitution.

Public money already provides an educational setting to which all parents have access. If people choose not to use those public schools, for whatever the reason, then they should pay the freight for the option they do use.

To my mind, it is as simple as that. Whether it be Catholic school or Jewish School or Moslem school, those who want their kids to get that specific education should understand that nobody outside their religion wants to pay them to do that. I am as opposed to public money for Yeshivas as I am for a school such as St. Virgilius, and I say that even though I have familial ties to Broad Channel and happen to believe that it is a good, hard-working community.

I would hope that Region Five can get its act together. For now, it seems afraid to welcome the students from St. Virgilius to PS 47 with open arms. Perhaps it has something to do with Kathy Cashin’s parochial school background or some fear of angering the Brooklyn Diocese. I don’t know the answer, but I have asked that question and have not received a viable answer.

Patricia Tubridy, the Broad Channel resident who is the principal of PS 47 should have been at that meeting on Tuesday night, welcoming parents to bring their kids to her school now or in September.

In fairness, I should probably point out that I believe she was forestalled from doing that by Cashin and the Department of Education, even though it would have been the right thing to do. If the public schools system in the guise of Kathy Cashin, is trying to keep from angering Catholic parents by refusing to welcome those students displaced by the Diocese’s order, the system is wrong. It should be welcoming the St. Virgilius students, not tip toeing around the issue, refusing to announce that it is ready to take one and all.

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