Saturday’s mass shooting in East Buffalo was a terrible punch in the gut. It’s strange to be reflecting on a national tragedy that happened in your own backyard. It’s senseless. I’m not going to talk about mental health nor about assault rifles. And I’m not going the “thoughts and prayers” route either. I’m going to offer a few solutions to educators, Christians, and Americans. My concern is we had an 18 year old believing in white supremacy garbage and replacement theories. We have failed as a society when we fail to educate and form our youth in the truth. Our schools, our churches, our media have all played a part in this. We must work to reverse this pattern. Our schools need to teach critical thinking, our churches need to speak out about the sin of white supremacy and proclaim that black lives matter, and our media needs to stop spouting and echoing racist theories or be censored.
Last week, I saw an article in First Things entitled “The Sorry Situation of Catholic Schools.” I originally wrote a blog criticizing the author’s points and I was prepared to set the blog aside this week because the blog criticizes Catholic schools and my heart is stuck on last Saturday’s tragedy. Yet there is a connection between the author’s arguments and the toxic environment which led to Saturday’s shooting. The connection is threefold—the sowing of resentments, the use of bogeymen, and the anointing of the chosen.
I’m struck by the author’s argument in his third bullet. “’Diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are but soft names for identity politics, and sow resentment, not fellowship, poisoning children’s minds with tribal suspicions.” Yet earlier in the piece, the author says “Instead, they assign, for example, the politically-correct Give Me Liberty! An American History, by the leftist Columbia professor Eric Foner.” In that sentence, the author has impugned the reputation of a Pulitzer-prize winning historian who is regarded as one of the most important American historians of his era. Accusing Foner of being politically correct and leftist certainly violates the author’s very argument in the third bullet and plays to his own tribal tendency displayed in the journal. The tendency to vilify one’s opponents is recognized by the author—yet he can’t resist the temptation himself. It seems today that people cannot live if there’s someone who disagrees with him/her. Perhaps the only way is to demonize opponents.
The author drags out a familiar litany of bogeymen (Common Core, CRT, secularism, non-canonical texts) and misrepresents Common Core. It’s a set of standards in English and math that promote quality teaching and critical thinking. It’s not a curriculum and certainly shouldn’t impact individual curricular decisions in social studies or theology. Do our schools need help choosing better texts? Yes, absolutely. Do we all need to put in the effort to make sure that curricular designs reflect Catholic social teaching? Yes. Does that mean Catholic schools are in a sorry state? Hardly. The author instead chooses to sow fear in his readers by raising the specter of bogeymen like CRT. Last Saturday’s shooter was also a victim of this same type of fear-mongering, believing that African-Americans 200 miles away from his country town were threatening his future.
It seems the shooter was a subscriber to the replacement theory which holds that white Christians are being replaced by those who aren’t white or Christian. This is not a secret society, it’s a philosophy that has made its way into mainstream media and politics. Returning to the article, the author uplifts classical schools, calling them the most vibrant area of Catholic education and the “true believers” found there should be directing Catholic education writ large. In his mind, they are the anointed, the most deserving of our attention, and most qualified to direct the future of Catholic schools.
Classical Catholic schools have a place in the universe of Catholic schools and are a very valuable niche. But a much larger segment and even more vibrant are schools in the Cristo Rey and Nativity Miguel networks. Many more students are enrolled in schools like these designed to serve the poor and change the lives of poor families. These schools promise fundamental societal change and are cause for celebration. The number of parish and Diocesan inner-city schools serving the poor have declined, however, perhaps because their percentage of Catholic students is low. Nowhere is there more vibrancy than in the Catholic schools serving the poor.
We need to dedicate ourselves to fighting misinformation and teaching critical thinking, calling out the sin of white supremacy and the dangers of unfettered media propaganda. Please pray for the families who are navigating this terrible tragedy. Resources:
· Here’s a link to a podcast with Dr. Jeannine Hill Fletcher the author of The Sin of White Supremacy
· Are We Doomed to Live in a Culture Where Fake News Wins? In EdSurge
· Why People Fall for Misinformation from Joseph Isaac
· Hard Truths About White Supremacy from America magazine
- Trauma Resources for Educators
- Coping with Grief after community violence
- Resource for coping after mass violence
- Resources for parents
- Aftermath of mass shootings
This post originally appeared in the May 17th Catholic School Matters newsletter