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