I believe the success of the great American experiment is inseparably intertwined with a commitment to opportunity for everyone—that every person will have an opportunity for happiness, an opportunity to fulfill their potential, an opportunity to be safe, gainfully employed, prosperous in the most important ways. I believe that outside of the role of family in an Americans’ lives, the role education plays in achieving these goals of equal opportunity is paramount. Without the foundation of a first rate education, few people would have many opportunities at all. Put another way, when America succeeds at education, we succeed at being America. When we fail at providing the best education for even a single child, in that moment we fail as America because for that child we know there is little opportunity.
For this reason, I am grateful to the White House for choosing to honor individuals in the field of Catholic education this week as “Champions of Change,” for I believe Catholic schools are an essential component of a successful American education system, and therefore a successful America. We know Catholic schools have a history of succeeding with marginalized populations. After all, Catholic schools began in America hundreds of years ago with the very purpose of serving poor immigrant populations, whole groups of new Americans that generations later have risen up in this land of opportunity. Yesterday’s poor Catholic immigrants sat in the desks of rigorous, values-based, Catholic school classrooms, and today the descendants of those first Catholic school students are more often than not actualizing the American dream.
Today, that original mission of Catholic schools remains in the dreams of millions of young lives in America’s inner-cities as well as in thousands of rural communities. It used to be that wherever there was a low-income neighborhood, there was an affordable, excellent parochial education option for those living in that neighborhood. Those of us in Catholic education today know that this is no longer always true and where Catholic education remains an option for the poor, it does so at risk.
We must find new and innovative ways to preserve and grow all excellent forms of education in America, and I applaud the others honored with the Fulcrum Foundation this week for striving to do just that. For millions of American families, preserving the American dream involves preserving Catholic education. I saw this first-hand teaching in Catholic schools in Louisiana as a part of the University of Notre Dame’s service program, the Alliance for Catholic Education. I see it first-hand every day at work in the hopeful lives of thousands of students attending school with Fulcrum’s assistance. I am grateful to the White House for highlighting the important work we are doing, and to the thousands of supporters who make it possible.
Joe Womac has served as the Executive Director of the Fulcrum Foundation for the past eight years.