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Back To School? It’s Not That Easy

Producer Chris Manion

  • Charter Schools, the Unions, and Humanae Vitae
  • Father Bevil Bramwell on the Culture Wars and the Church
  •  Tim Carney Defends Saint Damien the Leper from Con Artists

Segment One

Today we look at charter schools, school unions and the educational goldmine offered to families by Humanae Vitae; Then we hear from Father Bevil Bramwell about the current state of the culture war and how it affects the Church; and finally, we hear about a great saint,  Damien the Leper, and the attacks on his legacy by a cheap con artist in Congress. All this today on PRI Review.

The Center for Educational Research in Washington is a champion of parental rights. This week the Center’s director, Jeanne Allen, teamed up with former PRI intern Carolyn Manion to address the obstacles that government school unions are erecting to prevent children from getting the education that they and their families deserve.


Unions attacking school reopenings are only endangering students

by Carolyn Manion & Jeanne Allen  | July 31, 2020 12:00 AM

As school systems are struggling to manage the myriad challenges of reopening, the American Federation of Teachers Union President Randi Weingarten announced that her union had approved teacher strikes. Of course they’re only a  “last resort” to protest school reopening plans that don’t meet the union’s self-serving agenda. This threat won’t help teachers and students hoping to venture back to school ­whether remotely or on the gr

These so-called “safety strikers” will insist they’re protecting public schools, but all they’ll do is place millions of students at risk. While districts in different locales deal with varying pandemic conditions, students are threatened with the prospect of not receiving education indefinitely,

Meanwhile, National Education Association affiliates throughout the country marched against opening schools, attacking governors who are working to help get teachers and students back safely. Their demands  and demanding that concessions be made regardless of whether schools are preparing for in-person or remote learning, including getting rid of charter schools, which have been working throughout the summer to open on time and prepare to offer a number of educational approaches.

From Massachusetts, which has stalled the start of the school year in response to union demands in the name of pandemic response, to Florida, where the union is suing the governor to avoid opening on time, militant union leaders across the country have been taking advantage of the pandemic since early on in the COVID-19 crisis, and they show no signs of changing course. “Nothing is off the table,” claims Weingarten regarding measures the AFT will advocate to force districts to keep school from happening until the virus is under control. Such statements ignore that students, now more than ever, need schools to go above and beyond to provide education during such times of great upheaval and that every city and state is different.

As Anthony Fauci said in a conversation just this week with AFT’s Weingarten (emphasis added):

“Things are so different in different parts of the country. … If you look at the extraordinary level of different viral activity in different parts of the country, what might be good in one county, one region, one city or state might not be the same at all in another.”

The default situation should be that we should try to the best of our ability to get the children back to school. The reason for that is the psychological welfare of the children, even the nutrition of the children … [and] the downstream ripple effects that impact working families … so we should try to get them back.”

“However, paramount of all of this must be the safety, the health and the welfare of the children, teachers, school personnel … and the family of those people.”

In other words, safety is paramount, but the decisions should be based on local conditions, which are not a variable in Weingarten’s labor actions. Nowhere in her or other union leaders’ playbooks is recognition of the wide variety of options that can be available for parents and teachers to make education work effectively in person. Flexible and personalized options for remote, hybrid, or in-person education abound when those key constituencies choose, rather than a monolithic group that has no personal knowledge of every child and its communities’ conditions.

Weingarten and her colleagues have a sordid history of shutting off students from opportunity, especially the marginalized students most in need of those opportunities. Their track record of opposing charter schools (many of which are ahead of the curve and hard at work preparing to make education happen this fall) along with their efforts to maintain the status quo of ZIP code-based education reveal a callous disregard for the goals of fairness and opportunity they claim to advocate. In 2017, in the face of declining AFT membership and growing charter school enrollment, Weingarten smeared charter schools as “slightly more polite cousins of segregation,” a laughable claim given the civil rights movement roots of the charter school and voucher movements. The unions and several similarly aligned organizations have even opposed voucher measures in the HEALS Act that could benefit numerous underprivileged students harmed by the pandemic closures.

In the words of Steve Perry, a highly successful urban school founder, at a recent event, “The problem is that charter schools are an existential threat to the status quo.” Unions are more passionate about protecting the bloated education establishment than children. Giving teachers the green light to invest time, energy, and resources into strikes rather than into collaborating on real solutions that will help students learn regardless of the pandemic’s course is disappointing but par for the course. So long as they hold our students’ education hostage, their activism will only continue to revolve around their own interests. “You, as unions, have proven to be the worst thing to happen to public education. You are the problem.”

The solution to what the unions claim to be fighting for (safety) is to ensure that students and families have equitable access to whatever educational option works best for their situation. Let the families and teachers decide, not people entirely disconnected from their plight, miles away and more concerned about the national election than whether students graduate next year. There must be critical, systemic changes that leverage policy and innovation to open the door to opportunities for all families during the pandemic, regardless of ZIP code or income bracket. Such policy changes will preclude a repeat of the months, without learning, that students in Philadelphia and Milwaukee underwent in the spring. Students need an effective and dependable school experience this fall, where learning does not cease altogether because of a protective equipment shortage, infection spike, or similar hypothetical situation, but empower parents and professionals to provide vulnerable students with tangible educational opportunities for success.

Jeanne Allen is founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform in Washington, D.C. Carolyn Manion is special assistant for External Affairs.


A New Challenge – And Opportunity – For Parents

“Going to school” used to be pretty routine, but it’s an uncertain prospect these days. Amidst the widespread uncertainty, many parents are discovering a new dimension of their God-given vocation as their children’s first teachers. Holy Mother Church has defended this parental role for centuries, and she reaffirms it once more in Vatican II’s Declaration on Christian Education: “Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools,” the Church fathers taught.

As the sexual revolution raged, Saint John Paul II was a faithful defender of parents as we faced the secular culture’s assaults on the family. In Familiaris Consortio, John Paul highlights the Church fathers’ emphasis of not only the rights of parents, but also their responsibilities: “Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it.”

In embracing that noble task, today’s parents face a host of unknowns. Children no longer simply “go to school” at the end of summer. Even where school takes place can be a matter of intense debate. But amidst the cloud of uncertainty, parents have the opportunity to fulfill their obligation in new and creative ways.

Whatever the teaching arrangements – distance learning, in-school classes, micro-pods (family shared small-group classes) or traditional homeschooling – Mom and Dad now have a better view of what Professor Anthony Esolen calls a simple but vital question: “We want to know not only what’s being taught, but what isn’t being taught.” When something is taught wrong, we can make it right. And when something crucial isn’t taught at all, Mom and Dad can fill in the blanks.

In these troubled times that duty is crucial. In recent years the public schools have become increasingly secular, but lately they’ve been going for broke. They now feature programs that not only offend good taste but violate common decency and, all too often, the Ten Commandments, especially those addressing sexual morality.

Education cannot be neutral about morality. If schools aren’t teaching our children to respect the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God, they are teaching them to break them, it’s that simple. In fact, right now a powerful faction of educational and cultural “leaders” is working to force every government school pupil at every grade level to have his face rubbed in the most squalid and base sexual behaviors, all in the name of “diversity.” And while some children are fortunate enough not to be oppressed by that sordid curriculum, they can hardly escape being exposed to, or even surrounded by, children who are. That sad reality calls on us to respond to the challenge all the more forcefully, and we can do it most effectively in the family.

Children raised to respect the gifts of modesty and purity in the home learn by experience. They will acquire the moral and spiritual habits that will dispose them naturally to welcome the beauty of God’s teaching on marriage and family when they are grown.

Confronted with the intensifying public opposition to morality and civility, the call to  make the family home a place of peace and holiness is all the more important. As Esolen puts it, we can teach “the sheer beauty of what we believe, and of what our Christian cultures have bestowed upon the world.”

At PRI, we offer families encouragement and support to sustain them in their divine calling to teach the next generation. That’s why we have devoted an entire website to the truths of Humanae Vitae and the rich spiritual and intellectual tradition that surrounds it. At, you will find papal documents, articles, studies, teaching aids, and lively discussions addressing the beauty and dignity of married love. We encourage parents to defend their right to be “the first and foremost educators of their children.”

Today financial and political circumstances deny many parents the “true liberty in their choice of schools” that the Church fathers defend. Where we do enjoy that liberty,  it is constantly threatened. Whatever the political and social conditions, we can exercise that liberty most freely in the home. And that is where saints are raised.

Segment Two

Next we hear from Father Bevil Bramwell, OMI, longtime dean at the Catholic Distance University. Father Bramell recently addressed the vultural revolution and the the Catholic Church’s role in it.

The United States is currently going through its own version of China’s Cultural Revolution, including rampaging mobs, hell-bent on the destruction of property and historical artifacts. These disturbances have obscured the sometimes quite legitimate protests about things like the occasional misdeeds by a few of our police officers.

But at the same time, central institutions like the Supreme Court are radically altering the meaning of gender. Loud, though not necessarily large, groups are calling for canceling (we called it “airbrushing” during the Soviet years) historic names, books, movies, etc., and persons and organizations still with us. They are policing language with far greater brutality than the average police department – and as if they have somehow been given absolute authority.

Many of the radicals are also getting riled up, to be sure, because of the November election and are doing what they always do, namely using crises and manipulating institutions for political advantage.

The Church is caught in the middle of this maelstrom and is not very well prepared to deal with it. Publicly, the Church has been wishy-washy about its social role and its own doctrine for decades. It did not protest strongly against the agnosticism and socialism growing in the universities, which has now spilled into the public square. It did not even react as some clergy and laity started supporting the political fringes spawned by those bad notions.

The U.S. Bishops Conference apparently does not even much work at uniformity among bishops even as regards the most basic doctrines about God, man, marriage, etc.

It’s no wonder, then, that during the pandemic, most bishops just meekly followed civil authorities concerning Sunday worship. There was not much thought about the evils – both public and private – that are held at bay by the celebration of the sacraments.

The general lack of conviction about authentic Catholicism has hobbled the Church in speaking prophetically during the public unrest and the global pandemic. “Catholic,” the word itself means “universal,” asserts that the Church holds the ultimate and universal truths about being human, being a married couple, and a basically just society.

These truths come from or are derived from Divine Revelation. To be clear, this divine gift is not owing to the personal superiority of anyone in the Church; it stems solely from the fact that the Church is Christ’s beloved Spouse. Since these truths apply universally, all of the bishops need to hold to them and teach them, all the time, even during a pandemic. Even in times of civil unrest.

Just as there has been a weak response to the pandemic, there has been no coordinated episcopal response to the wave of Jacobinism that is shaking up the country. A high point in the history of such radicalism happened during the French Revolution, which is where this brand of political behavior picked up its name.

The historian Simon Schama has pointed out that, for example, Jacobins violently attack any resistance they meet, particularly established authorities. They spread conspiracy theories and punish “traitors.” They oppose freedom of speech in the public square, try to implement total control over financial institutions, and establish numerous tests of political purity.

Moreover, the Jacobins subvert existing institutions for their own purposes. Finally, as Schama noted, the Jacobins made the country ungovernable – their true goal.

In the face of this phenomenon, the Church has an obligation to respond. During the French Revolution, Catholics died in their tens of thousands. There was not much they could do back then, besides trudge on, as martyrs, in the face of the deadly violence. Of course, many Catholics fled France.

Catholics in America still have a window to do something, but it’s closing rapidly.

Just as in France, the cultural revolution in America is approaching a fight over the fundamental principles on which the country is based. The difference in the United States, thank God, is that widespread killing has, so far, not started – and we won’t easily let it.

It is imperative that all people of goodwill now carry out the moral and intellectual fight for principles like life, truth, history, and law and order – a spiritual battle, which cannot be won through coercion or violence.

What our deeply divided episcopate can do at this juncture is anyone’s guess. The bishops have chosen to be as poorly situated as possible to confront a serious crisis such as this – and not only by their clumsiness and worse on sexual abuse.

Their self-inflicted weakness as teachers of both faith and reason is already a handicap. Their inability to come together as the custodians of God’s truth – One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism- is approaching conditions of scandal. The bishops do not make up the truth, even as a group. They only pass on – or ought to be passing on – what they have received.

Muddying Catholic teaching makes us look like just another of the dozens of vague Christian sects in America. Americans, even Catholic Americans, sense that not a few bishops and priests don’t have the courage to proclaim the Gospel, whole and entire, out of fear of our cultural revolutionaries.

Every diocese and every religious order should be flooding the media with messages about the value of forgiveness, bearing each other’s burdens, how we all fall short – and therefore need God’s and one another’s mercy, not least in our politics and social interactions.

The alternative to that Gospel message is political fanaticism. And recent history shows, beyond question, that will not end well – for anyone.

Segment Three

Tim Carney, a Catholic journalist from the Old School of reporting, trained under the tutelage of Bob Novak. Carney dug into a recent episode on Capitol Hill that turned out to be a hit job by a congressional con artist – and her target was Catholic missionary, Saint Damien the Leper.

St. Damien ministered to Native Hawaiians in a leper colony. Now, AOC calls him a ‘colonizer’

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed to a Catholic martyr who gave his life to minister to the least fortunate Hawaiian natives. Probably knowing little or nothing about his life’s story, she held up this saint and hero of Hawaiian history as the totem of “white supremacy,” apparently because he was an immigrant.

That’s the most charitable interpretation of her tirade centered on St. Damien of Molokai, one of two men the people of Hawaii (the least white state in the United States) have chosen to honor with a statue in the U.S. Capitol. As my colleague Becket Adams wrote, “Hawaii is represented in the Capitol by not just Damien, but also by King Kamehameha I, the indigenous ruler who governed the Hawaiian Kingdom in the 1810s.”

Ocasio-Cortez only obliquely tied the saint to white supremacy, but she explicitly called him a “colonizer.” The priest was nothing of the sort. He was an outsider, yes. He was born in Belgium. He crossed oceans to get to Hawaii, and at his first opportunity, he asked to be sent off to Molokai, a leper colony.

While there, according to the U.S. Capitol’s website, “He constructed a home for boys and later a home for girls. He bandaged wounds, made coffins, dug graves, heard confessions, and said Mass every morning. In December 1884, Father Damien noticed severe blisters on his feet without the presence of pain. As he suspected, the disease was leprosy.”

Queen Liliuokalani, the very woman whom Ocasio-Cortez says they should honor instead of St. Damien the “colonizer,” wrote a letter in 1881 to thank him and to bestow an honor upon him. Here’s the letter:

Reverend Sir,

I desire to express to you my admiration of the heroic and distinguished service you are rendering to the most unhappy of my subjects; and to pay, in some measure, a public tribute to the devotion, patience and unbounded charity with which you give yourself to the corporal and spiritual relief of these unfortunate people, who are necessarily deprived of the affectionate care of their relations and friends.

I know well that your labors and sacrifices have no other motive than the desire to do good to those in distress; and that you look for no reward but from the great God, our sovereign Lord, who directs and inspires you. Nevertheless to satisfy my own earnest desire, I beg of you, Reverend Father, to accept the decoration of the Royal Order of Kalakaua, as a testimony of my sincere admiration for the efforts you are making to relieve the distress and lessen the sufferings of these afflicted people, as I myself had an occasion to see on my recent visit to the settlement.

I am,
Your friend,
Lili`uokalani, Regent

St. Damien died in his 40s of the disease he surely knew he might contract from caring tenderly in person for those ostracized and suffering victims of the disease.

So, according to Ocasio-Cortez, you are a colonizer if you lay down your life for people you never met before, halfway across the globe. If you earn the plaudits of the local queen for your selfless heroism, you are a colonizer.

But there’s even more to the story.

The chairman of Hawaii’s State Statuary Hall Commission, Hawaiian-born Louis A. Lopez, was the chief advocate of memorializing St. Damien in the U.S. Capitol. The state lawmaker who sponsored the legislation to honor St. Damien with a statue was Hawaii-born Frank Loo. Were these non-white, native-born Hawaiian public servants “colonizers”?

As far as St. Damien being a “colonizer” — well, Hawaii was never a Belgian colony. He wasn’t there representing Belgium, either. He was there representing the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. And when the question arose in 1967 that St. Damien was an immigrant and not a Hawaiian citizen, Sen. Daniel Inouye rejected such nativism, pointing out how other states honored non-citizens with their statues, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported.

The statue of St. Damien chosen for the Capitol was sculpted by a woman of color, Marisol Escobar, an immigrant who lived in New York and was renowned as a cutting-edge pioneer feminist sculptor. The blockish style of the sculpture partly emulated native totem poles.

Her statue caused an uproar in part because it depicted St. Damien near his death, suffering in advanced stages of leprosy. At that time, that very human suffering struck some as out of place in the buttoned-up U.S. Capitol.

So, the statue Ocasio-Cortez objects to as a totem of white supremacy is a statue of a poor, sick immigrant social worker to the poor, whose work was honored by Hawaii’s native queen. The statue was created by an immigrant woman who was a feminist artist of color and chosen by the people of the least white state of the union.

To be fair, one columnist at Star-Bulletin, Sammy Amalu, had a decent critique of the decision to put St. Damien in the U.S. Capitol. (Keep in mind, Sammy wrote his columns from prison.) “Poor old chap,” Amalu wrote. “He had a hard enough life at Kalaupapa without adding to his agony by leaving him within earshot of the diatribes and harangues that punctuate each day’s passing at Capitol Hill.”

“What a fate to design for any statue. But to do it for a man who has already suffered so much for humanity’s sake is certainly stark brutality beyond compare.”

Today, that may be more true than ever.

St. Damien of Molokai, pray for us all.

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