Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Jesuit Education and the "Band of Brothers" Back in the News: University of Oklahoma Race-Baiting Incident Has Link to Jesuit High School

(The video above is from an 8 March 2015 tweet of the University of Oklahoma group Unheard: warning — OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE).

Remember that posting I wrote at the end of January? It talked about how commentators on Pope Francis as a reformer seem oblivious to what a mixed bag his Jesuit heritage is, and, in particular, to the militarism with its attendant misogyny woven through much of that heritage. I told you a story about a graduation Steve and I attended in 2003 at a Jesuit high school in Texas from which the son of one of my cousins was graduating.

I noted how, over and over during that graduation event, school officials bore down on the refrain "band of brothers" as they launched the 2003 graduating class into their post-high school careers. I wrote,

The gist of the band-brothers-bond blather was this: these young men have been shaped by their Jesuit education in a deliberate way to be a cohesive unit, men who will fight on each other's behalf, who will die for each other. All of this might have been romantically charming, too, this magical-mystical rendering of what Jesuit education means, if one had been able to overlook the reality of the lives these young men were graduating from high school to begin, after they had attended college. 
They were, the vast majority of them, heading forth from the halls of their Jesuit academy to become business tycoons, high-powered lawyers, doctors, people who are now keeping the machinery of American capitalism in its highest echelons very well-greased. All of this was the raison d'être of their Jesuit education — the access to knowledge as power and learning as entrée — and anyone attending this graduation surely knew this, and that the magical-mystical talk about bands of brothers was sheer balderdash when viewed against the reality of the lives for which this Jesuit high school had prepared these young men. A romantic religious gloss for something that, at its foundations, was considerably less than gospel . . . .

The high school about which I'm writing in those paragraphs is Jesuit College Preparatory School in Dallas. That school is now in the news. Not in a good way . . . . As Dallas Morning News notes yesterday, Parker Rice, the University of Oklahoma student who is in hot water for having led a vile racist chant en route to a Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity party, is a graduate of Jesuit College Preparatory School in Dallas.

Lest anyone think it's unfair of me to note this detail — Rice's Jesuit education — it's important to note that his own public statement of remorse about his behavior in the ugly race-baiting incident stresses the values instilled in him at Jesuit in Dallas. Robert Wilonsky has published the statement for Dallas Morning News; Rice states,

I know everyone wants to know why or how this happened. I admit it likely was fueled by alcohol consumed at the house before the bus trip, but that’s not an excuse. Yes, the song was taught to us, but that too doesn’t work as an explanation. It’s more important to acknowledge what I did and what I didn’t do. I didn’t say no, and I clearly dismissed an important value I learned at my beloved high school, Dallas Jesuit. We were taught to be ‘Men for Others.’ I failed in that regard, and in those moments, I also completely ignored the core values and ethics I learned from my parents and others. 

As the first Dallas Morning News article linked above (by Melissa Repko, Robert Wilonsky, and Naheed Rajwani) indicates, Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings is a Jesuit board member, and has issued a condemnation of Rice's behavior, as has Dallas bishop Kevin J. Farrell. 

When I blogged last fall about how all of those involved in the beating of two gay men in Philadelphia had attended Archbishop Wood Catholic High School in suburban Philadelphia together, I suggested that, in light of stories like the Philadelphia story, American Catholics really need to sit down and talk honestly for a change about what Catholic education is actually accomplishing — as opposed to what it claims to accomplish. At the time of the Philadelphia incident, many news outlets noted* that not only were all those in the gang who accosted and beat two gay men graduates of Archbishop Wood, but they had just left a party in which other graduates of the Catholic school had gathered together.

After I made my suggestion that American Catholics need to talk about what Catholic education is accomplishing in light of the Philadelphia story, I received a number of irate responses on Twitter and Facebook (to which I had linked my posting). People from as far away as England hotly informed me that they had gone to Catholic schools, and their Catholic schools did not produce bigots. How dare I suggest that there might be any correlation between a brutal gay-bashing incident and the fact that every person involved in that incident had, according to media reports, graduated from the same Catholic high school, and had just left a party full of fellow graduates of the same school?

But that's not quite the point that demands attention following the Philadelphia story and now the University of Oklahoma story, with its connection to Jesuit Preparatory High School in Dallas, is it? It's simply not good enough to argue that every human collective is capable of containing a few bad apples that do not represent the good apples in the barrel.

The point, it seems to me, is not precisely to look at what Catholic education appears to be telling people, or what it claims to instill in people. The point is, rather, to look at what it's doing or, more significantly, not doing for people. The point is to look at their behavior after they've received a Catholic education, and to ask in what way that behavior really reflects the gospel values Catholic education professes to impart.

When it produces people who may well have heard sermon after sermon about loving their fellow human beings in the course of their high school education, but who cannot connect those nice sermons in any meaningful way to their everyday lives as they interact with people on the margins of society, then it seems to me that Catholic education has grievously failed. It has simply provided a religious gloss for behavior that essentially mirrors the taken-for-granted values of mainstream culture at its most morally obtuse, while it pretends to be Catholic in some ethereal, attentuated, count-for-nothing way that has little to no effect on the everyday lives being lived by graduates of Catholic schools.

As Mary Elizabeth Williams notes regarding Parker Rice and his statement about how sorry he is to have been caught on video chanting racist slurs, 

It may well be that as Rice was merrily chanting his racist slurs, he was in no way thinking of real human beings who endure discrimination and violence every day. And maybe the people threatening his family don’t see them as people either. The concepts are too abstract, while kneejerk ugly talk feels so much more tangible. But when you let yourself forget the hurt and fear that your words can cause, you are a deeply disconnected individual. And the question then isn’t whether you’re betraying your morals. It’s whether you ever had them in the first place.

I think Williams is right. Once again, in light of the University of Oklahoma incident and Parker Rice's connection to Jesuit Preparatory High School in Dallas, I think it's important to ask: what does all this "man for others" rhetoric and "band of brothers" rhetoric ultimately mean, when people graduating from Jesuit high schools sally forth from those schools to become business tycoons, high-powered lawyers, doctors, people who are now keeping the machinery of American capitalism in its highest echelons very well-greased — people whose careers don't in any conspicuous way flow from or mirror the fine value of an other-centered life, no matter what they may say about that value and their Jesuit education?

How is it that someone like Parker Rice emerges from a Jesuit high school? Is he really the aberration some other Jesuit graduates and the bishop of Dallas would have us think he is? Or is he perhaps a telling illustration of a "band of brothers" educational product that is far more mixed, far less morally upright, than it likes to imagine itself to be? 

Is there nothing at all in Parker Rice's behavior on that fraternity school bus that actually reflects the "band of brothers" rhetoric of his high school education? We American Catholics need to talk about these matters, if we expect to be taken seriously as we proclaim that our schools instill countercultural values in their graduates, and contribute to the gospel transformation of culture as a result of those values.

* Click the tag "Philadelphia" below for further information about these stories.

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