Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Archbishop, the insulting, and the ridiculous

In response to the recent petition against opposing use of the Common Core education standards in our Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Archbishop Listecki sent this June 9, 2014 letter to Steve Becker and Abby Figi of Catholic Milwaukee Parents Against Common Core.

Mr. Becker and Ms. Figi replied in this June 16, 2014 letter.

Our Archbishop states that "Catholic schools operate in the Archdioces under my direction. Period." I have to wonder if that categorical statement was vetted my our Archdiocese's bankruptcy lawyers. But I digress. Becker and Figi in their reply (page 2) cite the USCCB Secretariat of Catholic Education to distinguish a bishop's role of oversight of schools from Archbishop Listecki's claim of sole direction.

Archbishop Listecki goes on, "To think I would allow anything to jeopardize the Catholic identity or academic excellence of our schools is insulting, at best." In the previous paragraph he had said "I take your concerns very seriously," but that turns out to have been just a formality. Anyway, no one said he would intentionally "allow anything to jeopardize the Catholic identity or academic excellence of our schools". They're merely suggesting he made a mistake in judgment which they expect will have that effect.

Next he says "The standards of our Catholic schools far exceed the Common Core standards." If that's the case, then he's wasting everyone's time with the Common Core standards. If our schools already have higher standards, then it's also hard to make sense of his next statement that "Common Core standards are just one of many ways we measure the success of our students." And if they are being used as a measure, then that contradicts the next sentence in which he says "These standards are neither 'adopted' or 'adapted'." They're adopted or adapted as a measure of success. The next contradiction is in the next sentence, "In addition, the standards do not have any impact on curriculum or content whatsoever." So they are insignificant, yet he's defending them as if they are indispensable.

Becker and Figi, in their reply, also pointed out further contradictions between statements on our Archdiocese's website and what Archbishop Listecki says, which I won't repeat here.

He goes on, "Parents already are welcome to review any and all aspects of our schools curriculum". What the point of that would be is unclear because this sentence continues "but to think that parents are more qualified than our academic experts to select said curriculum is ridiculous." That's an odd statement, particulary from someone with a law degree. Surveying my household, 50% have been a lawyer as long as Archbishop Listecki, another 50% got a degree from the same law school he did, and 100% say that in the law the trier of fact is not bound by any expert's opinion. In the present context, parents might struggle to create a curriculum, but might well select among schools for their kids by comparing curricula.

As an aside, I note that in the context of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, our local bishops still take the position that in every case their reliance on experts was reasonable. They say criticism is based in hindsight; I say it's based on this misunderstanding of the role of experts.

As Becker and Figi point out, other bishops have decided differently on Common Core. If bishops must rely on experts in choosing curricula, is Archbishop Listecki effectively saying it is ridiculous for other bishops to reach a different conclusion regarding Common Core? And if bishops can consider expert opinion yet reach different conclusions, then how is it ridiculous for parents to do the same?

Archbishop Listecki asserts "I, and others, have clearly and repeatedly stated that in our Catholic schools, all curriculum in every content area is grounded in Catholic Church teachings." Well, I believe they stated that. But at the beginning of my last stretch as a catechist, I found the textbook used at our parish (St. Alphonsus, Greendale) was not on the approved list at the USCCB website. So I'm not inclined to assume that curriculum will conform to stated good intentions.

No issue involving our Chancery would seem complete without something like the following from the Becker and Figi letter.

"Your office would not meet with us and the Superintendent has put us off and now canceled our planned meeting."
(via CUF Milwaukee and The Wheeler Report)

P.S. Social Media: The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is on Facebook, and so is Catholic Parents Against Common Core-In the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

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