Catholic Schools Week, p. 1

There are comments and criticisms to be offered. First, some background:

orange grove
Orange Grove Elementary, via Google Maps. Wow, hasn’t changed much in half a century.

I am a product of Catholic schools. After going to kindergarten at Orange Grove, the public school a few blocks away from home in Whittier, California, I started 1st grade at St. Mary’s of the Assumption about 2 miles away. From there, attended high school at St. Paul’s in Santa Fe Springs. So I have 12 years of Catholic schooling under my belt.

There’s much I’m grateful for. In grades 1-3, had very nice ladies as teachers. In 1964, when I started, maybe half the teachers were sisters from a Dominican house in Dallas; the rest were laywomen. In 4th grade, had one of the sisters who helped, despite her best efforts, to form the way I got through school from there on out: she assigned homework and insisted that we hand it in on time or spend a 1/2 hour in detention after school.

St. Mary's
St. Mary’s School, OTOH, they’ve gussied up a lot. Hardly recognize it.

Well. Did that exactly once. Then I just started doing the little homework assignments during class. I’d noticed that, with very few exceptions, we were just going over the same stuff we’d gone over in 3rd grade. Reading & checkbook math I had down. Some of the manipulations with fractions were new, and learning manipulations by rote has never been a strong suit and the good sister wasn’t much for explaining WHY which is what I wanted to know, so there were a few hiccups. But, since I handed in the homework and didn’t cause trouble, I was mostly left alone. I also started in being a library rat – we had a small but not terrible library at school.

From there on out, with few interruptions, I learned to a) figure out the absolute minimum level of work required to not get in trouble; b) get a seat in the back of the room so I could read without being noticed; c) be ready to pop up once in a while when things got interesting. Example: in 5th and 6th grade, we had weekly spelling tests. Figured if I looked over the 25 words for a couple minutes before school, I could spell them. Then, promptly, brain dump. This created an amusing (in retrospect) situation where I was cajoled into entering the school spelling be (always got A’s on the tests, after all!) Misspelled the first word, sat down. Passing tests<> learning anything. Important lesson.

I am very grateful the good sisters and laywomen let me get away with it. Seriously, don’t know what I would have done had they forced me to pay attention, made me sit up front where I couldn’t pull a book out to read, or made a big fuss over the homework I often didn’t do. I caused no trouble and aced all tests, so they left me alone.

Not sure they would be able to let me slide like that these days.

Shelby Cobra Wallpapers - Wallpaper Cave
A Shelby Cobra. Built in Santa Fe Springs, CA, near where St. Paul’s High School is located. The car is much more fun to look at than the school.

High school was much of the same, with the difference that I took a few subjects I couldn’t easily bluff my way through: German, physics, calculus. Brother Columba wasn’t happy that I could get the right answers in Algebra without doing any of the steps (it was easy algebra, I’m no math genius) and would mark me down: I never did any homework and always aced the tests, which did not make him happy. Got a D in German in freshman year, not realizing at the time that a single D as a goofball 14 year old would keep me out of the UC system, pretty much (having not gotten satisfactory scores in the language prerequisite. Don’t know it they still do that.) But I did start doing the minimum and got B’s for the next 3 semesters.

Anyway, boring stuff. Starting in around 5th grade, about every other year, some concerned adult would pull me aside and talk to me about my lack of effort. Sister Mary Francis pulled me and another kid into her office and tried to tutor us in math, since it was evident we were bored out of our minds. Lasted a few weeks. The assistant dean at St. Paul’s tried to shame me after the pre-SATs in junior year – how could I have a B average with that kind of a score? (A: basketball, drama and a heapin’ helping of don’t care.)  So, I got A’s 1st semester of Senior year. Got accepted to St. John’s College (most definitely not a Catholic school) and lost interest again.

So my Catholic school experience left me horribly unprepared for college, where what had gotten me through K-12 really, really didn’t work. It’s all on me, and I did eventually right the ship enough to get the degree and go on to a Master’s in business.

Next, we’ll lightly tough on the history of Catholic schools in America, to set up some more general background for Catholic Schools Week.

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

8 thoughts on “Catholic Schools Week, p. 1”

    1. Yes, interesting.

      I’ve long said that my MBA – high-end vo-tech – didn’t so much teach me anything as signal to potential employers that I was interested in and could endure the business world – that I was motivated.

      Once college becomes just a meal ticket, it has lost it’s real core function: to pass on to a certain percentage of the population the culture that produced the universities in the first place.

  1. Just finished reading the series thus far. I attended Catholic schools from K-12, and my experience largely mirrors yours. My schooling took place a generation after yours, though. The last sisters were replaced with professional laywomen by the time I made it to junior high. By and large, the latter group were confused by and hated boys.

    The ADD panic was just coming in when I started first grade. Thank God I had a good pediatrician who overruled my teachers and refused to pump me full of drugs for failing to act like a girl.

    The rest went down pretty much as you said. With minimal effort, I aced every subject except for math–and for the same reason: I recall asking one math teacher why a particular operation was done a certain way when dividing fractions, and she couldn’t understand the question.

    I was definitely among the 1%. Never had many friends in my own age group (most were older). Holed up in the library whenever I could. Always had a nagging sense I didn’t belong there. All-school Masses were about the only times I felt like I was in the right place.

    High school was worse than grade school. There were no nuns but quite a few non-Catholics on the faculty. The building itself was a fluorescent-lit concrete tomb with no windows–which Frank Herbert observed betrays hatred of children. I’ve been a night owl since I was twelve, and high school started an hour earlier than grade school. For all four years I spent first period struggling to stay awake. If you held a gun to my head and ordered me to tell you one piece of information I learned in high school outside a theology class, I doubt I could do it.

    But like you, I quickly worked out the minimum amount of effort required, did that, and got mostly A’s–again, except for math. Again I’d use any excuse to hit the library.

    I, too, went to a secular college out of high school, but the minimal effort trick worked for me there. I did go back to Catholic school for my MA in theology, though.

    The whole education system needs to be burned down. Luckily, it’s currently torching itself nicely.

    1. Thanks. Yep, about the same story a generation later.

      Gatto has sometimes said that the solidity of the schools is an illusion, that, if not even all that many people realize it could be otherwise, they would collapse.

      Me, I see the whole Stockholm Syndrome aspect, where kids forget the endless hours of boredom and frankly abuse they endured, and grow up to parrot the party line – and I’m less optimistic. But Our Lord demands Hope – so I am hopeful.

      BTW – Ophian Rising rocks pretty hard – only about 20% or so in, my fav so far.

  2. I did almost the exact same thing in public school.
    My boredom with math got my kicked up a year, and at least that was more interesting (geometry). Teacher there hated boys, and hated me however. Marked me down every chance she got, then I came within two questions of acing the state regents exam (highest grade in the class) and she couldn’t have cared less.
    Used to get in trouble for falling asleep in class, cause I’d stay up late (3am) reading books. Got yelled at a lot, but I had good grades, so why would I care?
    Hitting engineering school was quite the shock.

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