Faith-Based, Part 1

We got the official word last week that the Catholic grade school where we send Flora and Kate is closing this spring.

It’s heartbreaking, especially to my husband, who is an alumnus of the school. The girls love their teachers and classmates, and I’m sure it’s going to be difficult for them in the short run.

That being said, Catholic schools all over Pittsburgh — all over the United States, I suppose — have been struggling. St. J has been on the block for three years now, and with the inability to bring enrollment up past 90 students, the diocese and the church decided to close the school.

When Dan told me, I wasn’t sure what we were going to do. Or, rather, I wasn’t sure what other Catholic school we were going to send our children too. I don’t know anything about the other schools, and I am going to have to do some serious homework, with Dan, to see the best fit for us. And right quick, too.

When asked about switching the girls to a public school, I thought to myself, “Oh, I don’t think so.”

It’s hard to put into words why I think it’s important that my children get a Catholic education.

But, being a writer and all, I’m sure going to try.

1. I will admit, some of why I want my kids to go to Catholic schools is as elementary as the fact that *I* went to Catholic schools. It’s what I know; it’s what I am comfortable with. I had a Catholic education from pre-k through college graduation. And I benefitted from it, academically as well as spiritually.

2. While it’s important that I participate with my children in their education, it’s also important that they get the most in-depth education they can get. I could no more teach higher level mathematics than I could guide my children in an informative Bible study. While I might know more about my Catholic faith than the average Joe, I think my kids would do better to get formally educated in it.

3. This is probably an arguable point: The quality of a Catholic education is often superior to a public education. This is kind of inevitable, and I don’t think public education should be written off. However, from my POV, Catholic (and private schools, in general) attract very dedicated teachers. In my experience, teaching wasn’t just a job for the men and women (some of them nuns) from whom I learned; it was a vocation, a calling. Lord knows (pun intended) they don’t get paid a lot of money — this probably varies from school to school, and some hoity toity private schools can probably attract the talent with a high paycheck. (Which isn’t to write off hoity toity schools, either. Each system has its place.)

4. School uniforms. You have no idea how simplifying having school uniforms is. It really levels the playing field in some respects, socially. And I expect it to make my life as a mom much easier during the week. Once they start wearing uniforms (Flora, still in kindergarten, isn’t subject to the uniform rule yet), my mornings will be that much easier.

5. Finally, and this is where I get religion-y on you: I believe our lives should be God-centered. What we do and the way we do it should give glory to our creator. This is at the very heart of Catholic education. No, that doesn’t mean talking about God in every class. But that means that learning about one’s faith is as vital as learning math, English, science, computer, etc.

What are your thoughts about education? Public, private, Christian-based? Why?

14 thoughts on “Faith-Based, Part 1

  1. Regarding point number 1: I went to Catholic School from first through twelfth grades (they didn’t have a kindergarten). I am the exact opposite of you: it’s the reason I refuse to send my children to Catholic school.

    Regarding point number 3: I found the exact opposite to be the case at my school. We were very small and we didn’t have half the opportunities that public school kids had – no band, no chorus, no music of any kind; no drama; a pitiful art class that only the stoners took for easy credit. Everything was SPORTS, SPORTS, SPORTS! While I am supportive of sports, I wasn’t a sporty kid and I would have died and gone to heaven if I’d had the opportunities my kids will have through our district public school. We had a few dedicated teachers but many very, very poor teachers. We had exactly two AP classes. So while the academics might have been better than the public school district my parents chose to buy a house in, they were by no means excellent.

    Regarding point 4: I disagree. I wore uniforms for 7 years (grades 1 thru 7. Dress code 8 thru 12). I was just as socially uncomfortable in them as I was out of them. The kids that wanted to make fun of me would do so because I didn’t have the right shoes or the right accessories or because THIS year we’re all wearing skirts instead of jumpers, you ninny. I know that in theory it’s supposed to level the playing field but my experience is that it didn’t at all – especially with the girls. It probably made my mother’s life easier (if more expensive) but it didn’t make mine any easier.

    My school was small. My high school had 250 kids in grades 8 thru 12 (we didn’t have a separate middle school; 1-7 in grade school, 8-12 in high school). I graduated with 48 students – and that included the german exchange student. I found it to be hell on earth that there was no anonymity to be had. I couldn’t wait to go to college where I would be nothing more than 1 undergraduate out of 40,000.

    It’s absolutely possible that many of the things I encountered in my school are not true here (since I didn’t grow up in Pittsburgh). But it certainly leaves me with a huge bias against Catholic education.

    • I didn’t grow up in Pittsburgh, either; I grew up in Erie. And I hear what you are saying, 100 percent. I think MY experience of Catholic education is not necessarily THE experience of Catholic education. For example, I have heard the complaint about the uniforms before, that especially among the girls accessories were still a social signifier. That may very well have been true at my all-girl Catholic high school — I was simply ignorant of the fact. I am not a socially sensitive type of chickie, as my husband likes to remind me. So if that was happening at my school, I didn’t realize it. I was also very lucky that through all my years of education, we got a very broad liberal arts-type background. We DID have music, gym, arts, and sports opportunities, all of them fairly equal (to my knowledge). I played basketball and soccer (a couple of years), and did a lot of literary activities (newspaper, year book). Again, it’s perfectly possible that my Catholic education was the exception, or because Erie was predominently Catholic in population anyway, all these things were a given in our Catholic schools. So, yes, I can see how your experience would be a total turnoff when it came to deciding how to educate your children. But for me, the fact that my Catholic education was a good — even a *great* — experience, that’s what I want for my children. IF their experience varies to an unacceptable level, then Dan and I will have to rethink our decision.

      • If I’d had those kinds of opportunities, I think my opinion would be very different.

  2. I would love to send my boys to catholic schools when they’re ready but its so expensive now and the parish we belong to doesnt have a school associated with it. I went to catholic school from K-12 in Erie and from my experience the public school education was seriously lacking. In fact we always joked thats where the thugs went because they took anyone. If I lived in Erie I would send my boys to St James. Here though it seems kinda balanced.

    Do nuns even still teach? I rarely see them besides in an admin role

    • I had nuns who taught in high school, and I think St. J’s had a couple of nuns in classrooms, although they are the minority now.

      It’s true that it is expensive. It definitely stretches our budget. I hope that someday I can be more of a WAHM or find something part time so that we can give up daycare and just pay tuition! πŸ™‚

  3. I went to both Catholic and Public schools here in Pittsburgh. I was in Public grades 1-(mid) 8th. (K was private only in the area I was in at the time). mid 8th, 9th and 1oth were in Catholic. (disclaimer-I am not Catholic. My dad was dating someone Catholic, living in Squirrel Hill and did not want me at Taylor Alderdice which was having “issues” at the time…we moved and I finished high school in public.)

    I would have to tell you that there are pluses and minuses to both. I loved my Catholic high school (Sacred Heart-in Shadyside, which no longer exists as a high school). I knew everyone. I had great friends and (as someone terribly shy and lost) loved the teachers. It was all girls–and that made things SO MUCH easier during the day. I cried when my Dad withdrew me. Balled. Begged to be given the privlege of waking up 2 hours early, riding the Trolley and 2 buses to get there.That being said, I hated my 8th grade catholic school….probably because I was the new girl..but it was SO cliquish. Make one “mistake” and no one was your friend that day/week.

    Public High school….was hard. 3 high schools in 4 years-bad so I didn’t have the luxury of knowing people from grade school. I was shy. I was lonely and omg. 3 highschools. They were bigger. I never knew everyone in my class. I only liked a few teachers-even hated a few. and there were boys. Which was good…yet so much harder that an “all girls” school. So.much.drama. and the pressure to be in an “in” activity-cheer, flags, etc.
    What I loved about public school was the variety of classes I got to take (vs the standard math, english, religion, foreign language, science and 1 elective of catholic). I took TV classes. I took mythology. I took photography and psychology. I could have taken dance, fiction, nonfiction, different science or history classes …I also had band in public school, which I loved. In catholic there was none…and when I went back to public I felt I was too “far behind” to rejoin. Public high schools can be very good for someone with focused interests or lots of interests, like me.

    As for the uniforms….Another person is right…I wore the standard skirt…but some other store sold a different “in” version (pleated differently). Decorative buttons got to be popular. You wore them on your skirt on the bottom….Seniors dared you to wear pink socks. If you didn’t…teenage angst. Oh to have THOSE problems again. πŸ™‚

    Uniforms are so easy to shop for…I have heard that from parents who had a daughter in my( previous employer )(uniform) public school for special education and another daughter in their home (non-uniform) public school in another state. 1 hour to shop for E. 1 week to shop for C. But the kids DO find a way to nit pick….but in reality it’s not as bad as in public school because there are limited things you can do to a uniform

    I have rambled enough. If I could choose…I don’t know what I would do. It would depend on the choice of schools available….at each stage (Elementary, middle and high).
    I do know-I would most likely do Catholic for middle school-even though my short experience was awful in 8th grade. That’s probably the one there would be no discussion. Those hormones are a b**ch in public school. I have seen it as an adult. I forgot how bad it was–and it’s worse now.

    • I do think students thrive in different environments due to different personality traits. Like you, I was fairly shy and reserved, but I bloomed in my small-ish (125 students per grade) all-girl Catholic high school. So there is that to consider, too, as Dan and I send our children through school. One school may not fit for all three, and that’s something I think we should be open to. Thanks so much for your feedback!

    • I also wanted to add that a number of elective courses were available where I attended high school, everything from typing and short-hand (yes, short-hand) to physics, creative writing, and psychology. Again, maybe my experience was the exception to the rule of Catholic schooling. It’s something to be aware of, that my girls may not be able to pursue their interests in a small, private school. And something to be open-minded in addressing as well.

  4. My husband and I were both raised by Christian parents and homeschooled until college. We both had great experiences and plan to homeschool Gideon and any other children we might have both because #1. we believe we can provide a better education than all but the most expensive private schools and #2. we want teach/share our faith with our children and we feel that we can’t do that as well as we would like if they are away from us all day.

    • Flora actually asked last night why she couldn’t “learn at home”. I laughed. I have no confidencee in my ability to teach my children what I feel they need to learn, and that’s not because I’m dumb. I’m glad you feel secure enough to want to do it though. Good luck! (I didn’t have confidence in my ability to be a SAHM full time, either, so the idea of homeschooling scared the crap out of me. But I know it works well for many people so I would never second-guess anyone’s decision to do it!)

  5. I had the experience of doing both Catholic school & Public School here in Pittsburgh. I think your Catholic school experience is the exception, not the rule. I actually transferred from Catholic to Public in 5th grade because the Catholic school was so counterproductive to a balanced education and I pleaded to be allowed to leave it. The class sizes were smaller, but the teachers, most of which were nuns, were teaching to the lowest common denominator so I was brutally unchallenged & bored. There was no advanced curriculum or AP prep classes even offered and I was told to deal with it, which for my parents and me was unacceptable. Boredom led to behavior issues.

    The students in the Catholic school were also just terrible as far as behavior. When the kids from Catholic school merged with the public school kids in Junior High they were shockingly well versed in all sorts of misinformation about sex, drinking, smoking and “partying” than any of the kids from Public were…like shockingly so. I couldnt believe then that a lot of the kids that got the “religious” education were just so bad, for lack of a better term, comparatively. You would assume that the public schools would be more akin to that…not at all true in my experience and it was 4 diff catholic schools these kids came from, so it wasnt singularly an issue.

    I completely respect your faith and commend wanting to instill that in your children, I just dont know that the faith aspect of a Catholic education was worth the disparities between the level of education offered between the 2 schools, I know it definitely wasnt for me or my sisters. Erie is a lot smaller than Pgh, a much different kind of community across the board so I dont know that you are comparing apples to apples really. I cant speak from personal experience, but I know quite a few of my employees that send their kids to Catholic schools not because of their faith, but because for a number of reasons they are not welcome in Public schools anymore…and that in and of itself is frightening. I think that happens less now with Charter schooling, but is still a factor I would think.

    The clique thing is perpetual with kids…no matter how easy it may seem to deal with uniforms kids will be kids, no amount of plaid skirts are going to stop that no matter where you go to school, they will find something to establish a social pecking order.

    I dont know. You & Dan will obviously do what you think is best for your kids and family as you should…I just know from my experiences there is no way I would choose a catholic school education over public. The faith that I had was instilled in me by my family, even when I was in Catholic school, and took much more away from that then I ever did from the disinterested teachers at my Catholic school.

    And now that I think about it there were 4 girls who ended up pregnant during my senior year to guys from my class…and ALL of them were from St E’s until 9th grade when they joined our high school. I doubt that thats significant in any way at all…but definitely odd.

    I dont envy you having to make this decision, its definitely not an easy one.

    • It is clear that I am going to have to be vigilant to see that my children get the best education they can get, and not just “settle” for whatever Catholic schools are dishing out.

      And, hey, I went to an all-girl Catholic school, and we graduated FIVE pregnant chicks, so, yeah, there is no guarantee that Catholic = chaste.

      As far as kids from the Catholic schools being worse behaviorially… Hm. I would tend to look to the home situation rather than the school situation.

      I do appreciate hearing the feedback! Thanks!

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