Bennett touts Catholic education, scholarships at Gala

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Last year, Cameron Caldwell hurt his shoulder on the day he was to speak at Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Gala, the major fundraiser for the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation.

But the senior from Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School came to the event anyway, delaying his emergency room visit until after he had spoken eloquently about what Catholic education has meant to him, how TTEF's generous supporters and scholarships have enabled him to get quality education and open up opportunities for the future.

Former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett spoke just as eloquently about Catholic education, with a similar message as Caldwell, at the Gala this year, on April 19. However, from an injury standpoint, he trumped the Cardinal Ritter senior.

Under doctor's orders to not travel in advance of a minor outpatient procedure a few days later, Bennett came anyway, traveling from Washington, D.C., to give witness to what quality Catholic education and scholarships have meant to him.

"I wanted to do this because these things matter to me; Catholic education matters to me," he said. "I'm a product of it, our two boys are products of it, and I think it plays a very important role in American life."

Bennett attended Holy Cross Boys School in Brooklyn, then Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C. He received scholarships at Holy Cross and Gonzaga and at Williams College and University of Texas.

"I know what this (financial support) means," he said, adding, "To me, Catholic education made all the difference."

As education secretary among his expertise in many areas, he knew Catholic education beyond merely his experience.

"Reading scores are better in Catholic schools," he said. "Math scores are better than in other schools. Students in Catholic schools have a higher academic achievement than peers from a similar socio-economic background, and the more disadvantages the child has greater achievement gains if he or she attends a Catholic school."

Bennett then gave statistics to support the latter point and repeated them for emphasis.

"Why do these schools work so well for the disadvantaged child?" he asked. "Ninety-nine percent of Catholic students graduate from high school on time. A black or Latino child is 42 percent more likely to graduate from high school and 2.5 times more likely to graduate from college if he or she attended a Catholic school. ... Think of the odds you're creating for these children."

Bennett spoke of the "success sequence," which is really quite simple: Catholic Family 101.

"No. 1, stay in school; 2) get a full-time job; 3) get married; and 4) don't bring a child into the world unless you've completed steps 1, 2 and 3," he said. "Children who go to Catholic schools and finish Catholic schools have a much higher success sequence. It's worth doing, worth teaching.

"But this makes Catholic schools in many ways anomalous to current educational practices and orthodoxy, which is quite agnostic on these issues, not even sure if it's wrong or a mistake to have a baby before you're married. ... That agnosticism, that arrogance is very destructive."

While pubic education today touts job skills and charter development, Catholic education adds another element.

"Saving souls," Bennett said. "We honor Catholic education because we know what Catholic education at its heart is about. Catholic education understands children are moral and spiritual beings and should be addressed as such. ... Children are a gift from heaven and that's where they're destined to go. That's what it's all about.

"That's why I believe Catholic schools are so successful, even in our society, because Catholic education gives children a moral hierarchy, a moral framework that our neighborhoods, cities, TV shows and movies don't. That's what Catholic education does." 

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