For those who don’t know, which is probably most people reading this, I went to Catholic school for about ten years of my life – from Kindergarten all the way through 9th grade. Whenever I do happen to mention this to people, which isn’t really that often to be completely honest, I usually get a similar reaction to when I tell people I’m a math major – utter shock and subtle concern. This is probably because the mere mention of Catholic or private schools in general triggers a stream of preconceived notions that aren’t necessarily true. So I, as a product of the Catholic school system, am here to hopefully provide some insight into the world of Catholic education.
Full disclosure: Everything I’m about to say is solely based on my own personal experiences, and may not be accurate to everyone else’s experiences. Hopefully my thoughts will still provide some good insight for you, the reader.
1. Catholic schools are filled with rich kids or kids with behavioral issues.
I can definitely see how people would come to these conclusions. Since Catholic schools are private, you do have to pay tuition to attend, and because religion and morality make up a fraction of the curriculum, I can see how one would think that parents opt to send their children to a Catholic school as a desperate attempt to make their child shape up. However, both of these are outrageous assumptions. The Catholic schools I attended, at least the ones I went to for elementary and junior high, were in lower income areas of Sacramento, and money never seemed to be at the forefront of any of my classmates’ minds. None of the schools I went to were particularly glamorous, nor were any of the parents of my classmates driving expensive cars or living in luxurious homes. With the exception of my experience in a Catholic high school, most, if not all, of the community I encountered was pretty grounded and down-to-earth. As far as behavioral issues, that can be said about any school, public or private. You’ll find a similar demographic of students in classrooms no matter where you go.
2. Catholic school kids are a bunch of goody two-shoes.
I mean, this isn’t necessarily a bad stereotype, but it is a stereotype nonetheless. Nobody I went to school with was excessively polite in the sense that pleases and thank yous were thrown around an offensive amount of times. From a young age, I feel like most people are taught good manners, and if they display this behavior out and about, then congratulations – you have a well-mannered child. To be honest, I think my good manners and my politeness are a direct reflection of how my own parents raised me, and not on the education I received. So to address the topic at hand, being polite isn’t a prerequisite into getting into a private school.
3. Prayer all day everyday.
Yes, we started everyday in prayer and ended everyday in prayer. Once a week (or maybe it was once a month?) we attended mass as a school. But you know what we did in between? We learned actual school subjects and had recess and lunch time and all of the usual school things that schools take part in. Nobody was walking around with their heads bowed in prayer with their hands pointed to the heavens all day everyday – do you know how incredibly difficult it would be to train young children to do that for an entire day? The truth, though, is that although prayer seemed like such an obligation growing up, I’ve really gotten to appreciate it as an adult – whether or not I was trained to do it all day everyday as a child.
4. The school is run by nuns and priests.
While there were a handful of years where I had nuns for teachers, majority of the time, I had regular laypeople (is that the appropriate term?) as teachers. In fact, my school’s principal was a nun for only three of the ten years I attended Catholic school. I also found that the nuns that taught at my school weren’t the stereotypical strict and frightening Jesus people as portrayed on television and in movies. They were all very kind, pleasant, and loving, and they cared for all students like we were their children.
5. Catholic school kids are sheltered.
Okay, I will admit that there is some validity to this. For a lot of years, I legitimately thought that things like premarital sex, teen drinking, and drug use were only things that were seen in movies, and these topics were kept strictly taboo in the halls of school. Recall that scene in Mean Girls where Cady was at the mall and imagined everyone around her to be wild animals – that was the picture painted for me of what public schools were like (Spoiler Alert: Public schools are nothing like that). But being sheltered for those years of my life wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. I like to believe the best in people, and try to look for good in them. Although it sometimes got to the point where I trusted people a bit too much, I found that people often reciprocated that trust. I do wish, though, that I was a little more prepared and knew what to expect when I finally did make the transition into the public school system. That would’ve saved me the culture shock I experienced at 14 years old when I transferred to a public school.
6. Catholic schools are only for Catholics.
Lastly, here’s another outrageous assumption. There were kids of all different backgrounds in my classes as I was growing up, including Muslims and Buddhists. I’m so grateful for this because if I was thrown out into the world with the belief that Catholicism was the only religion, I would’ve been in huge trouble. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s unconstitutional to not admit a child into a school because of their religious affiliation. But one thing that I was taught from a young age is that the church should be a place that anyone – anyone – can seek refuge, and thus no one should be turned away. In religion class, we weren’t just fed facts about the Bible and our own religion – we learned about other cultures and religions as well, and were taught to show acceptance and love for all people. It was all the more meaningful having people of different religions in class because there was always someone there to validate what we were learning about, and thus giving meaning to the things that came from our textbooks.
Now that I’m so far removed from my Catholic education, it’s fun looking back at those experiences and sharing and comparing them with others’ experiences. Admittedly, if this topic was brought up to me several years ago, I would have shied away from the conversation altogether. But now, I’m grateful for this upbringing because it’s what built the foundation of my faith walk today.
I do hope that this post provided some insight into the Catholic upbringing, or at least my Catholic upbringing. Again, I am by no means claiming to be a poster child for Catholic school kids, but thought that I should speak to some issues and misconceptions that go around about those of the Catholic school system.
If you would like to know more in-depth things about any of this stuff, I would love to chat about it with you.