Margaret F. BRINIG & Nicole STELLEt GARNETT. Lost Classroom, Lost Community. Catholic Schools’ Importance in Urban America. Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press. 2014. pp. 202. ISBN-13:978-0-226-12200-7. Reviewed by Peter Torok, Hungary.
Reviewing Brinig and Garnett’s book from a Central European, more precisely a Hungarian viewpoint is challenging for several reasons. The first might be obvious, one must have a first-hand experience of or at least should be familiar with the historical and social contexts in which the closure of American urban Catholic schools occurs. Fortunately, in the first two chapters of their logically structured book the authors provide ample amount of information in this regard.
Another reason, however, is specifically regional: a somewhat opposite trend is taking place in Hungary. Due to the disadvantageous effects of governmental regulation, local communities ask the Catholic as well as the Reformed and Lutheran Churches to take over their schools. Does the Hungarian government know something about the potential consequences of the disappearance of ecclesiastical educational institutions? Or do the policy makers simply want to reestablish the Christian churches’ pre-Communist position in the field of education? Would Catholic and other denominational schools induce similar effects in Hungary to what they have done in the US?
In any case, Lost Classroom, Lost Community will be a reference point for many scholars investigating the presence or disappearance of these schools on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Chapters 3 – 5 present the empirical findings in a meticulously analytical fashion. The authors are aware of the fact that they cannot prove causation, that it is the closure of Catholic schools that ruins the safety of local communities in Chicago because these closures induce decay, crime, and eventually decline; nevertheless, the results of their empirical examination are more than thought provoking. Brinig and Garnett go further in Chapter 5. Examining whether charter schools would be alternatives to Catholic schools, they conclude that these new institutions do not seem to have statistically a significant preventive effect on crime rates.
Chapter 6 tests whether the findings in Chicago can be replicated in the City of Philadelphia and for Los Angeles County. Catholic schools appear to have similarly positive effects in the former but not in the latter. The authors also offer possible explanations for this curious divergence.
The remaining three chapters are more normative. While Chapter 7 enlists the possible explanations for Catholic schools’ positive effects on neighborhoods, Chapter 8 examines the educational consequences with a special focus on policy making. The closing chapter in a visional fashion and a summarizing way presents the consequences of losing Catholic schools.
Although Margaret F. Brinig and Nicole Stelle Garnett wrote about a specifically American situation, the methodology employed and the potential consequences on educational policy guarantee that their work would be a must read not only in the United States but also in other corners of our globe.