Ep. 276: Cool Schools with Tom Carroll

October 19, 2021

In this episode of our Cool Schools series we chat with the superintendent of the Boston Archdiocese Catholic Schools, Tom Carroll. We learn more about what he’s doing in this area, his support of school choice, and starting the first new Catholic school in 50 years.

Mike McShane: Hello, and welcome back to another edition of EdChoice Chats and particularly, an edition of Cool Schools. This is Mike McShane, Director of National Research at EdChoice and host of the Cool Schools podcast. And today on the podcast, we have a really interesting interview with the superintendent of the Boston Archdiocese Catholic Schools. So, the superintendent of all the Catholic schools in Boston, Tom Carroll. And Tom Carroll, for those of you that have been in school choice world has been involved in advocacy and all sorts of stuff for years now. And sort of back in 2019, did a bit of a career change. And with his faith and his interest in Catholic education became the superintendent of the archdiocese schools. So, we’re going to spend a little bit of time talking today about the Boston Archdiocese, about the state of Catholic education, the impact of the coronavirus, but particularly we’re going to talk about a new school that’s opening this fall called Lumen Verum.

It is a really interesting model. It’s a kind of hybrid school where students are learning at home, online, part of the week, and then the sort of “in school days,” but more so days when students are together, are going to be devoted to like physical activities and field trips and worship. And it’s just like this really cool model and particularly the way that they want to do their home learning, their online learning. They are really opening up the opportunity for lots of different people to be able to be teachers, to be lecturers. And we’ll get to some of the folks. I don’t want to spoil it, but some really impressive, interesting people are like becoming middle school teachers for a couple of weeks because they can get on Zoom and they can talk to young kids. But anyway, I don’t want to spoil it. Looking forward to this conversation, I think you all are going to enjoy it as well.

This is my conversation with Tom Carroll, Boston Archdiocese, and particularly, Lumen Verum. Well, Tom Carroll, thanks so much for joining us on the Cool Schools podcast today. It might make sense before we dive into this particular school if we looked a little bit more generally about Catholic education across the nation and in the Archdiocese of Boston. So, if someone who was perhaps someone familiar with education, but not necessarily with Catholic education came up to you and said, “What’s the state of Catholic education in America today?” What’s that kind of 30,000-foot perspective that you might give?

Tom Carroll: Yeah, I think we’re at right now, Catholic education’s at an inflection point. If you look at, since the mid-1960s, we had more than 5 million people in Catholic schools, the latest data pegs it at 1.6 million. So, that’s led people like Cardinal Dolan to say that Catholic education has become hospice care, meaning we know the patient’s going to die, we’re just trying to mitigate the pain. He wasn’t saying that as a desired state, it was kind of his Irish sense of humor, but I think now, and the reason I say it’s at an inflection point, I think the pandemic ironically has really proved the value proposition of Catholic schools and has also proved the limitations of public schools and particularly, the negative impact sometimes of unions. And so, the unions have spent, since the 1960s with Al Shanker, a very shrewd political strategy of forming all these PTAs of parent-teacher associations so that there was kind of an embedded assumption that the parents and the teachers were on the same team.

I’ve never thought that that was true, but a lot of parents did. And I think after the pandemic, there’s a lot of parents who suddenly realized that their teammates are actually playing for a different team that they are. And so, I think that could… As an advocate for school choice and pluralism in the educational marketplace, I think that’s an aha moment for millions of parents. And so, what remains to be seen is whether they have a short or long-term memory of what’s been done to their children or what was not done for their children in public schools and in the Catholic space at the same time. When we were closed in the beginning of the pandemic, we were dramatically quicker. Like the next day or two, we were already delivering education. And at that moment, it was great for us because it was the first time that parents had listened in our Catholic school classes.

And so, the parents who I had a number of them speak to me directly, they were astonished at just kind of the… And I’m not saying that all teachers don’t love children, but just the sense of community, the love that they had for the children, the fact that they were interacting with parents and kids in the middle of the pandemic while they were trying to take care of their own kids and their own family and their mother, father, and grandparents all at the same time, that left an indelible impression on parents in that moment. But over time, everybody always says they want to spend more time with their family, but after they did, everybody reconsidered that proposition. And so, I joke a lot of parents wanted to put their kids up for adoption, there just was across the board a little too much togetherness in the pandemic.

And then at the same time, more seriously, people saw that it was having a negative effect on their children and it was having a negative effect on kind of everybody’s kind of social and emotional health. And even kids that went into this completely healthy, both physically and mentally, it had a really negative impact. So, between the too close for comfort and kind of the health impact of all of this, virtually all Catholic school educators, and certainly all parents realize that this was not the way to go. And so, they wanted the kids back together. And I’m a fan of virtual education, blended learning, and obviously in-person learning, but the way the pandemic worked out, it was not an intelligent way to do virtual, for sure. So, in the middle of July, in our case in Boston, the teachers’ unions held the press conference.

They were pretty pleased with themselves to announce that they were going to start school three weeks late and that they were going to be remote. Now, for me, because I used to be in politics and did a lot of advocacy around school choice, it was somewhat amusing at the unspoken assumption was that it would be the teacher’s unions to announce whether a school would be open or not, not the school superintendent, not the education commissioner, not anybody else. So, it was kind of a glimpse of who they thought was in charge and the fact that they did open three weeks late and go remote reflected that perhaps they were in charge. So, at that moment, the phones across our 100 schools started ringing off the hooks. And so, from July 15th forward… And I still have to write them a thank you letter, I haven’t gotten around to it, but we gained more than 4,000 students.

So, our enrollment ended up around 31,500. We are just to give a context of Boston. Obviously, it’s a very Catholic city, Catholic part of the country, also very secular, but we have 31,500 students, 3000 teachers and 1200 support staff, the largest district, if you call it a district in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, geographically, and the second largest in terms of student count rate behind Boston. And we educate 70% of the people who were in Catholic schools statewide. So, we became just quickly kind of a experiment if you will, or a demonstration for the state since everybody else was closed. Like what happens when you’re open in the middle of the pandemic? And the answer was since we followed the protocols is pretty much not much of anything went wrong.

And so, as a result, the governor was very interested in our data throughout the process, and so his health people and his education commissioner and so forth. And so, they ended up changing how they regulated schools during the pandemic. Their presumption was if there was a high level of transmission, the school should automatically close. And we made the counter-argument that we were getting lots of cases coming in from outside, but we weren’t getting spread within the school. So, to my nonmedical mind that it was pretty obvious that where everybody was getting sick was outside of the controlled environment of Catholic schools.

And so, the kids who were actually in a high transmission area were actually better in a Catholic school. For as many minutes as you’re going to have in the Catholic school, that was the only safe portion of their day. So, the governor then kind of switched his point of view and then started encouraging people to open their schools as kind of a safe haven. And I’ve contended that last year that the only safe place in America for a kid in the middle of a global pandemic was within a Catholic school for a whole variety of reasons.

Mike McShane: So, now I remember at the outset of the pandemic with the terrible economic issues that rolled in, there was huge fear in Catholic school world, but in private school world in general that this was just going to decimate private schooling across the country. And then I think for many of the reasons that you’ve highlighted here, that’s not exactly how it played out, but I would be interested sort of absent the pandemic or the trajectory that the Boston Archdiocese was on prior to the pandemic, if memory serves me correct, you are closing schools, there was all sorts of contractions that were taking place there. And now you’ve sort of turned this corner, but what did that look like kind of entering into the pandemic?

Tom Carroll: Yeah. So, a bunch of schools closed before the pandemic. I’d been around as superintendent for about two years. I was the unconventional candadate because I didn’t go to Catholic school because I wasn’t Catholic as a child, I converted later and never has been the teacher, never been a principal, never worked in a diocese. And so, the argument for being superintendent is that I would bring a fresh set of eyes to it. And I had run through in the charter school context, highly successful schools and won Catholic scholarship funds, pretty large ones in New York and Albany, and had done a lot of advocacy around school choice, working closely with Cardinal Dolan. So, I had kind of a mix of… Liam Neeson once said the movie Taken, “I had a particular set of skills,” but it was not the typical one that a superintendent would have.

And so, when I first took the job, a lot of the schools that were closed had been essentially driven into the ground before I showed up. And people were surprised each time that a school was on the brink of closure, people were shocked and I’m looking at well, the enrollments have been going down since the mid-1960s. Why is anybody shocked? And what could we do about it to be at least anticipate what schools are likely to close? And then rather than having a conversation three minutes before they close, we should have a conversation three years, five years. It’s kind of predictable the life trajectory or rather the death trajectory of a Catholic school. So, we should figure out why are they being closed? And my sense of it is that they’re obviously closed because they don’t have enough students, but the question is why? I don’t think there’s a clear sense of value proposition being articulated to parents.

I think the escalation of higher ed costs are making parents, particularly middle-class parents who end up having to pay a lot of the college bills, it’s making them extraordinarily price-sensitive because the idea of paying years and years of private school tuition and paying it now is in some places $70,000, $75,000 a year. I can’t imagine somebody with their kid in kindergarten, what college is going to cost. And so, I think a lot of parents are kind of pulling back, even if their family has a tradition of private school education are not going. So, you have to have a crystal clear proposition. And my contention as a Catholic is that the schools have to be really Catholic. They can’t be a secularized lukewarm version of Catholicism because if you give religion for one class a day, three to five days a week, and the rest of the day looks exactly like the secular public school, and then you start watering down the religion, you’re essentially a public school that charges tuition.

And personally, I don’t understand, I sent my kids to Catholic school, but I don’t think that’s the best sales pitch in the world. And the other thing not unique to, but well, unique to places like Boston and certainly in New York City have incredibly competitive education marketplaces and they do have some astonishingly good public schools. So, there’s been studies the Pioneer Institute put out that overall, we substantially outperformed public school districts overall, but even having said that, there are spectacular public school districts in the Boston market. And so, the alternative for people, they don’t go into public school because particularly Boston is smaller than New York, you can drive to a suburb even in Boston traffic in a half hour and get a free school in a good public school district.

So, you have to have a really clear value proposition. And so, one of the reasons we’re founding a new school is we’re trying to figure out what markets in a sense are we not serving? And can we reconceive of something different than what I derisively call the American factory model of education? Everything looks the same, and so I’ve been encouraging our principals to distinguish your school from other ones. So, if I say like, “Why would somebody go to your school?” Like, well, because it’s Catholic or because it’s small or because we have a sense of community, because we’re nice to children or whatever. Well, but that describes lots of schools that aren’t Catholic. And then when you say you’re Catholic, what do you mean by that? And sometimes the answers are a little fuzzy.

So, I’ve been trying to get people to sharpen up the faith proposition as part of their overall value proposition. And to think more clearly that what are they doing that are distinctive? I don’t believe in across 100 schools that we have, that they should all be identical. Part of the reason I like choices, I like variety. The Baskin Robbins theory of education, which is the reason I have 32 flavors is a lot of people like different flavors, not everybody likes vanilla. So, I think we have to provide a lot of flavors and I’m not particularly dogmatic on what the flavor is, whether it’s progressive or traditional, whatever. I’ve personal views in terms of my own children, but I’m willing to entertain that parents can have different values and have different aspirations for children that don’t belong to me. So, I think there should be a lot of variety in the market, but I think you should know what your vision is. So, that’s why we’re starting a new school, which is the first time, yeah.

Mike McShane: Yeah, you did the transition for me and so, this is the first new Catholic school in Boston in how long?

Tom Carroll: More than a half century. So, we’ve had schools, new schools that were basically mergers of collapsing schools, but in terms of a school that were literally from ground zero, conceiving of it from scratch in which every premise of the school is being reconsidered, that probably hasn’t been done ever. But in terms of kind of a legitimately brand new school, it’s more than 50 years in the archdiocese. So, when I started the conversation, I was talking to somebody because everybody else there has worked in the archdiocese more than I have. Well, we don’t really have a forum for creating school, like we’re really good at closing schools because like every diocese in the country, we’re kind of like other probably outside of the Southwest. We’re getting really well-practiced at closing schools. So, I just don’t think people, parents will invest marginal dollars, given what college is going to cost, If they think there’s a good chance their school’s going to close, and they’re not sure that the kid’s going to make it continuously all the way to 12th grade.

So, I think we have to switch to a growth mindset of figuring out how do we grow the school system and not accept… I’m not going to say that there’s never a school that doesn’t make sense. So for example, 75% of our schools are within a ring surrounding Boston, kind of defined by a tech corridor. And then outside of that ring is where the 75% of the Catholics live. So, what’s happened in the last 50, 60 years is there’s been massive suburbanization, part of it because of a dramatic compulsory busing plan in Boston in the 1970s led to tremendous middle-class flight out of Boston, but there is a more broad suburbanization trend in the country.

So, our schools are literally in the wrong locations. We can’t pick up these 150-year-old buildings or 60 or buildings and move them somewhere else. So, that’s part of our problem. So, some schools will end up closing just because there’s no people where the buildings are anymore, but there shouldn’t be just closing just because we aren’t thinking clearly what the schools should be about or not responding to the market that exists where the school is located.

Mike McShane: So, let’s talk about Lumen Verum. So, you’re opening this new school, and as you mentioned, I think asking lots of questions about the fundamental organization of schools, what a particular day will look like, what a week would look like. So, if you could just kind of give us the description, how is this new school going to work?

Tom Carroll: Yeah, the problem is I reconsider literally every assumption about the school, so it takes about four hours to explain, all the ways, it’s different, but I’ll try to be brief, but the first is that it’s a high school, right? We have 25 high schools and we only have one that’s a parochial high school. The rest have been spun off and run by lay boards, or they’re run by a variety of religious or Sisters of Notre Dame, the Marist Brothers, the Jesuits so forth. So, at the elementary level, I have a lot of control over the schools, a lot of influence over the schools, so less so at the high school level. So, I decided to basically create a school at the high school level to respond to what I think is the fundamental challenge in Catholic education, which is in fifth grade, children believe whatever their mom tells them about religion.

And in sixth and seventh grade, they start asking questions like they should. And I always said to my own kids, “The fact that you have doubts or questions about Catholicism, the church has been around 2000 years. It can survive some snarky questions from you. It’s like, it’s not going to collapse. We’ve been having this. Yeah. Did you forget the Protestant reformation?” We’ve been having arguments for a pretty long time, but at any rate, in a public school for sure, but also in some Catholic schools that have been secularized, the child will turn to his right or left, and chances are that the person is right or left is not actually a believing Catholic. And then if they look up to the head of the classroom, because we don’t only hire Catholics in most of our Catholic schools, there’s a chance that either the teacher’s not Catholic or the teacher’s Catholic, but doesn’t practice.

Boston has a lot of people who are kind of ethnically Catholic, but it’s not a faith statement, it’s almost like a neighborhood statement or I’m Irish Catholic as I identify or Italian Catholic or what have you. And then we have in a lot of schools where the science and the theology staff are kind of telling a different narrative, right? So, there’s no kind of unity of faith and reason. And because the religion classes are standard Catholic religion, but the rest of the curriculum is whatever you would teach in a public school. So, the science classes are taught without reference to a Catholic church teaching in some cases. And so, I happen to believe that you can’t teach Western civilization without the force that in a sense create a Western civilization, which is the Catholic church was the dominant shaper of Western civilization over the last two years.

And you can’t really competently teach history, obviously, art, literature, music, architecture, even science without reference to the Catholic church, or even people think it’s ironic, but even right of the women. The church’s position against divorce is actually a progressive position because at the time, the church took the position. Women had no property rights at all. So, when they were divorced, they were basically thrown in the streets and they were destitute. So, the church was the only one standing, kind of in history say, “No, that’s not… Like we all have human dignity. You can’t treat women as commodities.” So, there’s just a lot of issues that you can’t think of intelligently without reference to the Catholic intellectual tradition. So, the first part is the new school, it’s Lumen Verum Academy. People can check it out on lumenverumacademy.org. And the first thing is it’s a thoroughly Catholic curriculum.

So, it’s not like in a math class, we’re saying six of apostles plus six apostles equal 12 minus one. Well, the one to betray you equals 11, but in a more serious way, it does restore the Catholic intellectual tradition to all the different academic disciplines where they belong. Second thing is the faculty, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the case that the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty won at the Supreme court made clear that the Catholic church can screen on hiring for people who are actually Catholic, that is central mission over at schools is to proselytize and to evangelize the faith. And so, it’s a reasonable condition to that job that you actually believe in the faith and that you’re a witness to the faith. That’s not a rule in all our schools. It’s not the rule across the country and all diocese, but in this school, it will be. So, literally, there’ll be nobody hired in the school that is not a Catholic, who’s a legitimate witness to the faith. So, that’s pretty serious.

Also, it’s a blended learning school, so it’s the only blended learning academy and the Catholic school world in the country. So, there are a half a dozen or so purely virtual schools, but Catholicism is about community, but it’s also faith formation, is also that personal encounter. So, I don’t believe you can convert people through a laptop. So, what we’ve done is taking, I think the best and a lot of these lessons come out of that pandemic, even though I was thinking about this school before then, which is we learned a lot about the virtues of technology and the limitations. And we also learned the importance of social interaction among children. So, we have much more intense social interaction in a guided way, including faith formation than you would have in a typical school where you have proximity to your friend and kids, but you don’t actually have constructive engagement.

Just hanging out at lunch is not the same thing. In most, and particularly in a Catholic school where like, if you start talking to the person at the desk next to you, somebody wraps your knuckles so to speak. So, here we actually are trying to combine the kids and get them deliberately interacting. We have a nine-to-five school day, which I did at the charter schools that I head, a one to give us the instructional time, a longer school year about 20 years longer. We also reflected on the value of lectures, which is there’s a lot of research that within a couple of days of a lecture that kids forget about 75% of it, within two weeks, they forget about 95% of it. So, if you figure that almost all of education as lectures, that means 95% of the time you spend in K-12 is probably like complete waste of time because you have no recollection of it whatsoever.

Now, it’s a little different in math and science subjects that are cumulative and like learning to write, but certainly in a large number of the subjects, that’s the problem. So, we’ve switched it around, it’s more of a classical model. So, we have a big emphasis on doing Socratic-style discussions. And then we also… Because we’re trying to help families be families, we try to change the schedule so that the homework is all done during the school day. So, we actually provide student preparation periods before each Socratic discussion. And then we also have a block of homework, which some schools also have. And the idea is, we’re not saying that people will never have homework to bring home, but we’re trying to eliminate the anxiety of parents getting home after a long day and having to scream at all the kids to do their homework. We also were sending home emails every day with discussion topics for parents based on what the kids learned that day.

And the reason for that in many households and I know this has happened in mine from time to time, a child comes home and say, “Oh, how was school today?” “Boring.” “What’d you do today?” “Nothing.” And then you’re kind of, “So, I’m spending all this money on tuition and like you’re not learning a damn thing.” And then it just puts everybody in a bad mood. So, I think part of the problem is the parents don’t actually know what the kids are doing each day, but kind of know they’re taking a bunch of subjects or what have you. And because the school people are all busy and the parents are all busy, so here, we’re deliberately trying to explain something, not every single thing they do, they will have… In our school, they have complete access to all the assignments and all the materials that are given to kids to prepare for the discussions, we’re also sharing with the parents.

But if they don’t want to get into that level of detail and kind of become a student in the evening, we are sending them kind of discussion topics based on kind of the most interesting thing their kid learned that day. So, then when they sit down at the dinner table, nobody’s stressed out like, “We got to rush through dinner because we got so much homework to do.” And you also have the parents actually have a more precise question like for example, one of the things we’re going to teach is forgiveness using the example of Pope John Paul II assassination attempt. And he ended up forgiving the person, the Turkish assassin, who a lot of people think the Soviet Union put them up to it, but I can’t prove that, but that’s a widely held perception. But in any way, the Pope eventually goes into a cell in a rather dramatic moment and then forgives them for trying to kill the Vicar of Christ.

So, a lot of kids, I think hesitate Catholic kids of going into confession because they push their brother down the stairs or they curse at their sister, whatever it might’ve been, right? But we want them to understand kind of the concept of the infinite grace of God and that forgiveness, like anybody can be forgiven if you’re contrite and you make amends. And so, if you could literally shoot the Pope direct to set it up at St. Peter then probably whatever’s weighing on your mind doesn’t quite measure up to something that shocking. So, don’t worry about it. Like the great thing… I think it’s the greatest bargain in the world and Catholicism is walk into the confession, you walk out, it’s a brand new day. So, no matter what you’ve done in your life, there’s always a second chance and a third chance, and a fourth chance. So, it’s a church of second chances and I think that’s very attractive.

So, we’re trying to communicate that to kids. So, in that case, we would tell the parents, we would send them the… George Weigel is actually teaching about Pope John Paul II for our kids virtually, so and he’s going to involve with Q&As separate, so anyway. They’ll have a George Weigel video as the assignment where then we’ll overlay footage of the assassination attempt, a real view so that the kids don’t see the blood and then we’ll show prison cell scene and so forth. And then they’ll roll into the conversation. So, that video will be sent to the parents and say, “This is what your son or daughter watched today. Had a really robust discussion. Have a family conversation about whether you think somebody shot the Pope should be forgiven.” And then all of a sudden, everybody in the family’s being catechized. So, I think it could be really… And the temperature, it’s much more interactive as a family. And I think it’ll be better for everybody.

Mike McShane: Sure. I remember I went to church when I lived in Washington DC, when they would have the kind of communal reconciliation services. One of the priests they brought in was the person who heard confessions in the DC city jail. And he sort of said ahead of time, he’s like, “Do your worst. I don’t think I’m going to hear anything I haven’t heard before.” It’s amazing. It’s amazing what you get from that. So, you mentioned some of these online lessons, George Weigel, and some folks that I want to tape maybe in the future because I know you’ve lined up some really amazing guest lectures for folks, but to maybe make it a bit more concrete, so like a typical day for Lumen Verum student, a typical week for them, like, what does a day look like? What is a week look like?

Tom Carroll: Let me start with the week. So Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday are the pure academic days and they’re virtual. And so, the day starts with the prayer, we do at noon Angelus and the day ends with the Ignatian Examen which examination of conscience followed by the act of contrition. And to underscore the kids that you should be reflecting on things that maybe it shouldn’t have done differently, it’s not just like the really big stuff, but you should be constantly reflecting on where you a disciple of Christ today. And then in between, we have all the academic subjects and then including theology taught and not just like a grade school teacher is doing religion on the side, but people with theology degrees and so forth.

And then you have roughly like a half-hour of prep time, prior to the meeting, you would have been given all the materials. It could be an essay, it could be a video, it could be almost anything, right? Then after that period, you then roll into the discussion. The length of that discussion depends on the topic, the class, what have you, the subject like math might be longer than some other subjects. And you just keep doing that on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday.

And then on Wednesday and Saturday, parents have to pick one, but they’re allowed to both because partly, just scheduling issues when it’s easier for parents. Those days… Because obviously, the kids can be at home on the virtual academic days, there’s no school building to go to. And then on the other days, we start the day with Mass or Eucharistic adoration. And then the balance of the day are a series of activities, and the activities will include team building activities, physical activities, hikes, kayaking, so forth, ropes courses. Pope John Paul II actually, part of his personal encounter when he was a young priest was to take in his case young men a kayaking and mountain climbing, which he actually was incredible. He was doing that when his Pope was still climbing mountains.

So, but as a way, knowing that the way to proselytize somebody is actually to first to know them and for them to know you. So, we’re doing that kind of stuff. And then there’s kind of a typical clubs and activities. And then each of our teachers have been asked to kind of reflect on something that they’re really interested in, but doesn’t happen to be what they’re teaching and it’s not in our curriculum. And then on our in-person days, our teachers will be doing kind of these novelty courses of just something that they’re really fascinated about. And then that way, they’ll get to see the kids in person and vice versa. And so, I think that will be really great for the social interaction and I think all the kids in the school will then know all the teachers regardless of their grades, because that will not be grade specific on those days.

And then Boston is just a kind of like DC is, or New York, just the amount of history. And like Walden Pond is here, Plymouth as in Mayflower is here, Lexington and Concord, shot heard around the world Paul Revere. There’s just like endless, Salem witch trials, Salem is in the archdiocese. So, there’s a lot of stuff here. So, we’re basically going to… These kids who may normally in a public school get three or four field trips a year, they’re going to get them like every single week. And that we’ve agreed that any activity that we have within the archdiocese is totally free. We don’t do any upcharges, like a lot of schools. There’s a number of our schools charge graduation fees. So, you could have across… Like from nursery all the way to 12th grade, you would clearly spend over $100,000 in private tuition and then they charge you $250 just for the graduation gown.

And I’m just like, “Yeah, you’ve got to be kidding me.” So, basically we’re pricing them like a cruise, which is everything’s included except the alcohol. So, that way it’s less annoying, so we provide the computer, all the trips, like everything’s all in, we don’t charge people for textbooks and so forth. The other thing is we’re not taking the textbooks from school districts because that’s kind of the enticement to get basically all the private schools to use the same textbooks, which is a great idea. If you think in a Catholic school that Gavin Newsom and Nancy Pelosi and all that people that have kind of sprung out of California like that, so you want setting the Catholic curriculum in your class. So, I think people have to think a little more deeply about how vast market textbooks are selected and shaped and how politically correct they become. So, we’re being very careful in that regard as well.

Mike McShane: So, now you’ve also… Because of the online nature of your academic days, you’ve been able to recruit. It’s my understanding that some of the teachers will be sort of kind of, “in-person,” in the sense that they’re in Boston and there’ll be the types of folks that students will see on their in-person days as well, but you’ve also had the opportunity to have people that are not necessarily in Boston.

Tom Carroll: We call them distinguished guest lectures. So, they’re not full-time teachers, but one of the things that I think has been underutilized in the past year is once you get everybody equipped to do virtual, your faculty shouldn’t just be the people within your building or the people that were employed by your school, it really is anybody in the English speaking world or an English speaking person in the non-English speaking world, right? So, basically anybody who speaks English on the entire globe, that’s a lot of people. That includes a lot of really interesting and talented people, right? So, George Weigel, the main thing he’s helping us… I called him up and I Zoomed in, right? So, we didn’t know each other, but we have a lot of mutual fans. And my opening line was, “You’re not going to believe this, but by the end of this call, you’re going to agree to be a sixth-grade teacher.”

And he just looked at me like, “How do I turn this thing off? How do I get rid of this guy?” But it was a pretty funny conversation. But anyway, so when I explained it to him that what I wanted to do is to teach particularly what’s going on now with kind of the thought control and everything going on in schools, and what you’ve got to say, what somebody else wants you to say and exactly the words they want you to say, man, is I want to teach the kids about totalitarianism in the 20th century. And because of their age, we’re doing six through eight initially, eventually grown into six through 12 secondary school is they would have no personal recollection of the 20th century, obviously because they weren’t born in the 20th century. So, I want to teach them about totalitarianism. And so, I thought of the idea that the best way to teach that in a Catholic school is teach it through the life of John Paul II.

And you think about it when he became a priest, he went to an underground seminary because the Nazis were not allowed on seminaries to exist. He then dealt with kind of the Nazis treating Catholic priests the way they were treating Jews, basically, which is trying to round them up and kill as many as they could. And then finally, the Nazis get driven out, and then what happens? The Soviets come in and they just send them even further east into Siberia. So, they’re just as bad.

And then he gets elected Pope and you have this amusing cable from the KGB because Gorbachev released all these files, eventually that the KGB going to the guy in Poland saying like, “How could you let this happen?” Like someone behind the Berlin Wall to get elected, behind the iron curtain to get selected as Pope and he humorously… And I didn’t think that KGB agent had a sense of humor writes back, “I think you meant to send this to Italy.” The vote was in Italy, not in Poland, he just happens to be Polish, right? But they were terrified because they knew the implications of this.

Fast forward, after a time, he then goes to Poland, 75% of the residents of Poland show up in person at his various speeches. One of them over a million people at a time. So, if you’re the Soviet Union and you think you have everything behind the iron curtain under control, this is your like Houston, we have a problem moment, right? And then the other 25% watched them on TV or radio. So, essentially the entire country declares themselves for Catholicism, so with all the brainwashing under two different totalitarian regimes, right? Like they weren’t able to get capture the hearts of anybody in the country, essentially.

So, that’s the moment I think that they realized that it was all over, and then eventually were… And now he and Reagan have kind of significant roles, widely viewed as the two most influential people in terms of the Berlin Wall coming down and also his role in cultivating or helping and legitimizing solidarity, Lech Wałęsa, the labor union. So, there’s that piece and it as well, so that becomes another kind of mass movement within. So, there’s a lot there to talk about. And he also… People don’t realize he dated a Jewish woman, was the first woman he dated before he became a priest, but he also rescued a lot of Jewish families. And when he was a priest had very close relationships with the Jewish community. We obviously have a shared heritage and stuff. So, there’s a lot of his authenticity is because people in the Jewish community now that he had very close relationships when he was a priest, but he also was rescuing people at the same time.

So, I just think that’s a fascinating way to teach that. So, George is going to be interviewed. We’ll then kind of dress it up with video and photography, and then he’s going to be available for Q&A which I’m going to say, we’ll have to prepare the kids for. So anyway, that’s great. Eduard Habsburg, who is the ambassador from Hungary to the Holy City, the Vatican is a descendant of the Hapsburg family, the monarchy that’s been around 700 years [crosstalk 00:37:17].

Mike McShane: I was going to say of the Habsburg, Habsburgs.

Tom Carroll: Right. Exactly. Fun way, to put it. So, as in used to be after the Holy Roman Empire. And we’re basically in charge of large swath of European history for about 500 years, the monarchy about 700. So, he’s going to talk about kind of the grand sweep of European history through the lens of his family, that’s one lesson. I happen to know… Coincidentally, somebody who went to his wedding, so they called them up and so I got a direct message on Twitter from him.

And he didn’t really know frankly why he was sending the message, just like a mutual friends are like, “Oh, he wants to… This guy, and the US wants to talk to you.” And so, I explained it and he had a similar reaction to George Michael which was like, “Who is this guy? And why am I talking to him?” And then I explained it, and then the second thing I wanted him to do was explain what the diplomatic chord in the Vatican actually does, because most kids wouldn’t know that the Vatican’s actually a state, right? So, there’s a lot of interest. And this guy’s a huge personality, super intellectual, speaks multiple languages, so forth. So, I was working that out and then all of a sudden he went dark on me, and then I’m like, “Oh no, I guess he does want to do this.”

I’ve been dumped by text, whatever. I have been ghosted. And then I noticed on Twitter, like he was meeting with the Pope, that was like the annual audience of all the diplomatic corps to Pope. So, I got stood up for the Pope. So, the next day he followed up, then I got like, “Oh, I’d like to do it this way, not this way.” We kind of worked out what he would do. So, I’m very excited about that. Mary Rice Hasson has written a bunch of books, a great Catholic intellectual, has also spoken at a bunch of Vatican’s sanctioned events and what have you, just a fabulous individual and just an amazing writer. I don’t know if you know Jason Evert, Chris Stefanick who were kind of pretty prominent speakers in the Catholic space. And then Charlie Camosy who is a professor at Fordham University.

And he is on sabbatical next year. And he made the mistake of telling me that. And so I said, “How would you like to be a middle school teacher?” Because he was telling me just the challenge of in a Catholic context, that a lot of the kids entering Catholic colleges know very little about Catholicism, and a lot of them are coming in and they’re not really Catholic, it’s not a belief statement at all for them. So I said, “Well, the reason and why I’m starting younger is I believe we have to grab them from the beginning, but certainly like sixth grade forward, because I think a lot of them have lost their faith before they ever stepped foot on campus. And so, you’re dealing not with the failure of Fordham, you’re dealing with the failure of our schools that they show up on your doorstep like that. And so, we have to kind of reflect on how to fix that.

So I said, “You can be part of the solution.” He wrote, this fabulous book, I don’t have it in front of me, so I’d tell you the name, but it’s basically making the argument when [crosstalk 00:40:21].

Mike McShane: Resisting Throwaway Culture.

Tom Carroll: Yes, exactly. Thank you.

Mike McShane: It’s a great book, highly recommended.

Tom Carroll: Yeah. So, it has all the big kind of populations people are debating abortion, pornography, homelessness, and the life issues and so forth. And my fear is, and it’s his as well, a lot of people view the Catholic church’s positions on those issues a just a random collection of unconnected political positions that the church has taken on different legislative items. But there is from a Catholic perspective, a very consistent moral theology centered on human dignity that underlies all of those issues.

So, whether how you treat the handicap, why we’re opposed to pornography, why we are defending the unborn, why we don’t favor making it easier to knock off granny if you’re a few steps closer to the inheritance. So, at any rate… And so his book is fabulous, and so I basically want him to teach each of the chapters of his book to our kids in six, seventh, and eighth grade. And so, he’s agreed to do that. So again, it’s not like it’s running a full-blown graduate course or something, but it’s kind of more bite-sized. So, he’s going to be in… I think he’s in either one or I forget what the range was at least once a month, maybe twice a month going to… So, that over the course of the whole year basically, his whole book will have been covered.

Mike McShane: Yeah. There’s so many wonderful people. And so, I imagined that some listeners, as you hear all of these things on the opportunities that will be made available and all these, the question that might be in their minds is what’s this going to cost? So, unfortunately, we have to wrap this up now, but I can’t get away without asking, what’s this going to cost for someone to do this?

Tom Carroll: So, the launch will cost a lot of money, so if any philanthropists are listening, but to the parent, the sticker price and like a car, the sticker price isn’t always the final price. So, but the sticker price is just under $15,000. The average for a secondary schools in the Archdiocese of Boston is just over $20,000. So, it’s lower than a school with bricks and mortars and football fields and hockey arenas, and all that kind of stuff, but it’s higher than the elementary price tag. And we’ve made the social commitment that between philanthropy and people paying full pay that we will provide whatever level of support we need, that we’re not going to turn anybody away because they can’t afford the tuition.

And so far, we’ve been able to do that. So, that’s kind of our social commitment. The other thing is with one of the few high schools that does not do an admissions test, and for the simple reason that we believe philosophically that we shouldn’t take every child as God created them, and that we shouldn’t only take people who score well. I’m not opposed to schools doing that, but that’s not what this particular school is about.

Mike McShane: Well, Tom, thank you so much. We were able to cover an incredible amount of ground during this conversation, but we really appreciate it. And I think you mentioned to the audience, but we can reiterate that it’s lumenverumacademy.org. Did I get that right? That’s the [crosstalk 00:43:30].

Tom Carroll: Correct. Absolutely.

Mike McShane: Right. Well, thank you so much for joining us on today’s edition of Cool Schools.

Tom Carroll: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

Mike McShane: I hope you all enjoyed that conversation as much as I did. I got particularly hung up on the idea that you can learn about European history by one of the Habsburgs themselves. I’m kind of a European history nerd. And if you ever get the opportunity to travel almost anywhere in Europe and you go to a castle somewhere, chances are like some Habsburg lived there. And the fact that there are Habsburgs that are still around and that if you are like a middle schooler in Boston, you could have the opportunity to learn from them, get the history straight from the horse’s mouth. I thought it was so cool. And I think one of the things I really appreciated about that conversation was thinking about as more schools think about remote options, or as they think about leveraging online learning in the sort of facility that people had, that they developed over the course of the last year, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it really allows schools to kind of open their minds up and say, “Hey, look, could we maybe get some really interesting, impressive, knowledgeable person to cycle in for six weeks or eight weeks and give students the opportunity to learn from great people?”

I have to think, and maybe I’m crazy, but I think there are lots of people across the world, artists and historians, and any number of interesting people that if you basically made the pitch that Tom was making to folks that says, “You can have this opportunity to talk to young people, we’ll handle a lot of the kind of backend stuff, but would you be interested in doing that?” I think a lot of people would say yes. So, if you have other people that are interested, that are running schools that are listening to this podcast or that are interested in this kind of thing, I hope that that sort of expanded your mind and opened up the possibilities to what you could maybe do leveraging online learning. But that was just one of many interesting things in that conversation.

I hope it was useful for you all. I certainly enjoyed it. If you enjoy this podcast, please make sure to subscribe, subscribe to EdChoice Chats. When you subscribe to EdChoice Chats, you not only get Cool Schools, but you can view the other cool podcasts that we put out. We have our monthly roundups of the goings on in states. We get them monthly tracker podcasts, where you’re up to date with the most recent public opinion statistics. We have Jason Bedrick, who does his cool Big Ideas podcast, where he interviews interesting people and a sort of hodgepodge of other conversations that sort of show up throughout the course of weeks, months, and years. Also make sure to check out our website, www.edchoice.org. It was recently redone. It’s super user-friendly. You can find all the great research that we’ve put out and you find all of the other cool content that we put out at EdChoice.

And finally, you can always hit me up on social media on Twitter, I’m @MQ_McShane. If you know of a cool school that you would like to have profiled, please send it my way. If you are in any way interested in the writing that I do or the work that I do, I share a lot of EdChoice stuff as well. Please make sure to give me a follow and we will continue this conversation via the interwebs. As always, it was wonderful talking with y’all today. I really enjoyed that conversation and look forward to the next one and look forward to talking to you all again on another episode of Cool Schools and of EdChoice Chats.