What are the odds?

Supporting Catholic schools is a good way to close the separation gap

By George Valadie

They call it “six degrees of separation.”

I don’t know if it’s actually true, nor do I care to spend any time testing the theory, but I like the idea. It makes me feel better about the planet on which we live. It’s kind of like having friends all over the world. I just haven’t met them yet.

If you are one degree away from everyone you know, and two degrees away from everyone they know, then simply stated, “Six degrees of separation is the theory that any person on the planet is connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five people in between.”

The theory first appeared in the 1920s when a Hungarian author posed it in a short story titled “Chains.” He reasoned that with the expanding communication and travel of his day, this thing called “social distance” between people had shrunk immensely.

One of his story’s characters was thus challenged to find — if he could — any other person on earth that he could not connect himself through five or fewer individuals.

And therein began the fascination. Many years later, a play and a movie with that same title were made before an Internet game exploded onto the scene: the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”

Through these same decades, multiple people in multiple fields have attempted to prove if we really are that closely connected.

Some have sought mathematical evidence, some sociological, and some have tried more practical experiments such as mailing a package to a random person you do not know by starting with someone you do know, asking them to mail it to someone they know and see if you could get it to its destination in fewer than six mailings.

Microsoft also conducted its own research utilizing their worldwide social networking software and analytics capabilities.

They studied billions of electronic chats from millions of users across the globe. I’ll leave the specifics to those who care more than I, but, in a nutshell, they seem to believe that we really are that close to knowing most anyone anywhere.

I mention the whole thing because I’ve been thinking: How closely are you connected to Catholic education? How much has it or does it influence your life?

If it were a person, how many degrees of separation would there be between you and it?

If you attended or worked there, that’s one degree. If a family member did, that’s two degrees of separation. You get the idea.

How about your bosses? Your employees? Your colleagues? Did any of them attend?

And might any of them be influencing your life in any way? How about legislators? In-laws? The people you buy from and sell to? Your doctors? Your old teachers? Their old teachers?

If you’re reading this column in this publication, I imagine you don’t have to look too far to touch or be touched by Catholic education.

But I believe the exact same thing is true about the person who lives next door to you. Catholic schools reach far and wide.

With the exception of two years of public school teaching, starting at age 6 and still going at 66, Catholic schools are all I’ve ever known. I’m not at all qualified to be objective on the topic.

And I don’t really want to be.

Yes, our Church has its share of flawed individuals. But our Leader is not. He’s actually perfect!

The news of scandals aside, I believe what happens in our hallways is worth every sacrificial penny, offering and providing both a lifelong and immeasurable impact.

Last week, we used our school’s social media presence to toss out a random photo of one of our former teachers, now deceased. With the heading “Flashback Friday! Who was your favorite teacher?” I was amazed as the responses poured in. Not just name after name, but story after story, memory after memory.

Yes, there’s the “feelgood” part of the experience, but the facts may speak more loudly. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University released a re

port stating that 5 percent of adult millennial Catholics attend weekly Mass if raised without attending a Catholic school.

But others in that same age group are seven times more likely to do so if they attended Catholic grade school and eight times more likely if they attended Catholic high school.

That helps me lay my head down at night.

I know it’s hard, I know it requires sacrifice, I know it’s not perfect, and neither are any of us who teach here.

But we’re a place where prayer is as important as prepositions, where service and science have equal footing, where mercy and math are both part of the curriculum. And it’s a place where we teach — and preach — that there’s no value to a better brain unless it’s used to make a better world.

Years ago, Grandma introduced me to Friday nights at the Knights of Columbus hall, where she and every other devout lady her age sinned the sin of gambling. If it wasn’t bingo, it was bunko.

In that same tradition, why not have an old-fashioned raffle? So here in East Tennessee, we have a diocesan-wide effort underway to benefit our Catholic schools in general and tuition assistance in particular (www.dioknox.org).

I ask you to please consider making a difference for some little one somewhere who might not otherwise get the chance. Maybe he or she will pray anyway, maybe they’ll go to church anyway, maybe they’ll serve mankind anyway.

But I don’t want to gamble on that.

Six degrees of separation? I think it’s closer than that! Thank you.

Dear God — Moms and dads, teachers and principals — it feels like you called us to be right here. So please bless all those who help us, support us, and pray for us. Amen.


George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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