Just as it is encouraging to see the students at a Minnesota Catholic school demonstrating solidarity by sticking up for one another, so too it has been inspiring to see Catholic school administrators getting it right in Texas.
Last month, via Charles Kuffner, I shared the story of Catholic schools defending Jewish and Muslim schools in the Texas Associations of Private and Parochial Schools. Kuffner revisits the story this week, saying, “I think we’ve found the problem at TAPPS.” He quotes from a report in the Dallas Morning News:
Edd Burleson, in full charge, didn’t bother to chew on the question. At age 77, the former small-town state champion football coach, who later served as the superintendent of a Dallas-area school district, made it clear he has neither the time nor patience for political correctness.
Rather, Burleson, who left public schools in 1989 and has served since in the leadership of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, spit out an answer he knew would raise eyebrows. When finished, he allowed a knowing nod and wry smile to punctuate his words.
“We shouldn’t have accepted them in the first place,” Burleson responded without hesitation.
“Them” is Beren Academy. And on the first full day of spring, three weeks after Beren and Burleson found themselves in the national and international spotlights, the TAPPS executive director was asked if he had any regrets about his handling of the situation.
“What else would you want me to say?” he asked. “Want me to come up with some politically correct gobbledygook? I can’t. I’m telling you that’s how I feel.”
Once again, “politically correct” turns out to be the favored euphemism for “common decency” and “any pretense that I’m not an outright bigot.”
Beren Academy, you’ll recall, was the Jewish school who qualified for TAPPS’ basketball playoffs, but nearly had to forfeit when the association scheduled their first game on a Friday night after sundown. Burleson and TAPPS only rescheduled the game after a wave of public condemnation and the threat of litigation forced their hand. But Burleson doesn’t regret his own clumsy intolerance — he only regrets living in a world in which he has to interact with Jews, Muslims and anyone else who’s different from him.Jewish schools are a marginal minority in TAPPS, and Muslim schools attempting to join the association have been excluded outright. But they’ve found an ally in the Texas Catholic Conference Education Department:
In the wake of Burleson’s comments, the Texas Catholic Conference Education Department said the group continues to be committed to reforms that would ensure diversity among TAPPS membership.
“The comments attributed to Mr. Burleson in the media (Sunday) come as a surprise,” the group’s statement read. “At a meeting with representatives of member schools last week in Belton, Mr. Burleson reportedly conveyed his intention to listen to the concerns of member schools and resolve these issues — he even scheduled a second meeting in two weeks to discuss it further. If today’s comments are accurate, they are dramatically different from the impressions he gave a week ago.
“The Texas Catholic superintendents’ position remains the same. If the concerns are not satisfactorily resolved, Catholic schools will reconsider their future affiliation with TAPPS.”
Catholic schools make up about 20 percent of TAPPS. That’s a minority. I’m sure those Catholic schools have been implicitly offered the kind of evil bargain often extended to slightly less-marginal minority factions — the chance to curry favor with the majority by supporting the exclusion of those even further down the pecking order. Kudos to the Texas Catholics for not playing that ugly little game.
Their actions on behalf of Jewish and Muslim schools can be seen, from one perspective, as selfless — they’re not fighting to protect their own rights, or responding to their own mistreatment, but to protect the rights and to correct the mistreatment of others. But from another perspective — from one that understands how justice works and what that Catholic doctrine of solidarity really means — we can also remember that defending the rights of others is an essential and necessary act of self interest. If others can be denied, excluded or mistreated, then you can be too.