I talk a lot about my early education at the hands of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, and in general I’m positive about it. When I consider that my mother paid all of $35 a month for the three of us to attend, it was a bargain. That’s roughly the equivalent of $230 a month today, and my guess is that parents pay much more than that at Catholic schools today for just one kid. In contrast, tuition at our nearest Catholic grade school is about $7000 if you belong to the parish and $9000 if you don’t.
The difference is that, when I was in school, most of our teachers were nuns, who took a vow of poverty when they joined up. Vocations have dropped off steeply in the almost 50 years since I was in school, and while lay teachers aren’t paid that well by current standards, they’re still the single highest cost of the schools.
I’m pretty sure most of my teachers had bachelor’s degrees, but little actual formal training in pedagogy. They managed to maintain order in the classroom and on the playgrounds with two basic tools: intimidation and humiliation.
I spoke recently of my habit of just stuffing everything in my desk rather than placing things neatly in it, and how the principal took everything out of it and dumped all the paper on the desk behind, then let everyone wa. tch me throw it away. That’s a good example of the humiliation aspect, but here’s a better one:
In second grade, our class was half boys, half girls. Boys sat on one side of the room, girls on the other, and never the twain would meet. In similar fashion, since we were on the side of the school that didn’t have much of a playground, they told the boys to play on the sidewalk and blocked off the street for the girls, and we boys were warned not to go in the street or terrible things would happen.
After lunch, the sawhorses went up on Lakewood Avenue for the girls to play Red Rover, while the boys, as you might expect, spent the time trying to push each other into the street. One day, my classmates succeeded in pushing me and several other boys into the street just as Mother Amadeus, our second-grade teacher, rounded the corner. She said very little, but when we got to our classroom, we learned that they weren’t kidding about terrible things happening:
We were told to sit with the girls…