I spent the first 13 years of my education in Catholic schools, and I couldn't be happier that my parents made the choice to send me there. I know it's a sacrifice, especially financially, and something that I definitely took for granted at the time. Although I love going to a non-religious affiliated school now, in part because I have been exposed to a wide array of people, perspectives, and people at different places in their life journeys, I feel that my college experience - and my ability to stay true to myself and my faith in a non-faith-based environment - really stems from the foundation that I got in Catholic schools. While there were definitely minuses (did I really want to wear khaki and navy EVERY DAY FOR 13 YEARS.... NO), but even those minuses have become positives in hindsight. This changed perspective, along with countless wonderful memories and lasting friendships, is something that I will never be able to repay the Catholic school system for.
In recent weeks from numerous news posts and interpreted actions of some Catholic school affiliated students, I'm afraid that Catholic education is getting a representation that it doesn't deserve. But instead of trying to defend some people's behavior, or make a strikingly self-righteous religious case about why people should go to Catholic schools, I thought I would enlighten you as to what my experience has been like, and realizations I have had, since my graduation from Catholic schools in 2016. So maybe in the future when you're considering where to suggest a child be educated, or to send your own, you'll keep these 5 things in mind:
1. Choosing what to wear is stressful.
Yes, we really had to wear those pants every day.
What is appropriate? Do I look weird? Is this on trend? I can't afford what's on trend... Uniforms cut out all of these concerns - mostly because everyone looks awful together. Do you like them in the moment: no, ABSOLUTELY NOT. They're ugly, uncomfortable, and unflattering. But I can't help admit that on that first day of college, I wished I didn't spend 20 minutes picking out an outfit.
2. Staying true to your faith is harder than you think.
It's hard to stay steadfast in your beliefs when you're exposed to such a wide variety of beliefs. Some would say that this is a weakness of Catholic education: by limiting your worldview, aren't you inherently making you prejudiced towards others? (And yes, unfortunately I have heard this argument.) But in my opinion and experience, having a strong educational background in my faith made me more knowledgeable when confronted with other teachings. I knew what I believed, so when I heard other things I could critically compare them to my own beliefs, and accept or reject it based on a well-informed comparison. And from the education I received, I have always been able to maintain my faith and be able to hear out other people's opinions.
3. People outside the Catholic faith (and schools) have weird perceptions about what Catholicism really is.
I hesitate to use the word "weird" here because it has so many negative connotations, but I do remember "weird" being my first thought when someone asked me something about the Catholic faith. It wasn't that the question was totally off base, but it was such a strange way of interpreting a tenet of the faith that I'd taken for granted that I had been educated in since I was a little kid.
I've found it a privilege (and often kind of a scary burden) in my time since Catholic schools as being the go-to "Catholic wikipedia." I'll get randomly texted and called and interrogated about religious questions - both Catholic and generally Christian - way more often than I ever expected I would. I don't mind. But it is scary and intimidating to try to explain something that I understand so well - or at least thought I did in my head - and put it into words for a person who doesn't understand and best or is unreceptive at worst. If I hadn't gone to Catholic schools but still would have practiced the faith in college, I definitely think I would be at a disadvantage in these scenarios. And I don't claim to always have all the answers to every question I get asked. But I do need to go back and tell 5h-grade-me that religion class is important no matter how boring the textbook is.
4. Getting your butt out of bed to go to mass is important, even if you don't want to move at 9AM on the weekend.
Unfortunately, a lot of my friends have fallen away in the practice of going to weekly mass. A lot of people do. I think a lot of former Catholic school students do because they had grown used to taking for granted how easy going to mass was when you were forced to, or your parents forced you to, or it was a required by your coach. I remember grumbling about having to go to volleyball mass before school. I remember having played a tournament all Saturday and having a ton of homework left to do and still going to mass on Sunday. I've been forced to go to mass in other countries in other languages. And being forced into anything isn't fun.
But since it has become my own choice, my own responsibility, to get my self to church every Sunday, I've realized that this constant force -guilt was what originally drove me to mass that first few weeks of college when I was new at a new parish and embarrassed. I'll readily admit that: I hate going to mass alone, I hate going to a church I've never been to before, and I really hated everything that came along with going to mass at the start of college. But kept with it, partially out of Catholic-guilt (yes, it's real) and slowly ebbed away into an actual willingness to go. It still may not a joy to climb out of bed several hours before any of my roommates, or to have to call it and go to bed before 3AM so that I get up on time, but I feel like my whole week goes better if I take that hour out of my Sunday morning. And I think deep down I have Catholic schools to take for this new mature take on mass, largely because it got me used to going in the first place.
5. It's school. It's going to suck just as much as a public school, but the ability to talk about problems in terms of faith can help them be better.
Girls are petty at any school. It doesn't matter that it's public, religious, or private. I would never, ever, try to lie and say that my time in grade school was perfect. I came home and cried about things that a mean girl had said. I got frustrated with teachers. Sports were weirdly parent-political. It is a SCHOOL after all: none of the typical grade school drama is going to fall away under the guise of religion.
The same goes for high school. Kids still do things they shouldn't. Everyone is still stressed about college. Teenagers are angsty. Teachers are grumpy and sick of teenagers. There are cliques. People get left out. There's gossip. That may make it sound bad, but it's high school. Everyone has a different experience, and everyone has bad days.
But while Catholic schools still have all the bad stuff that goes along with a school environment and growing up, the faith-based aspect of the education goes give you an outlet through which to talk about your problems that you might not have at a public school. This is something that I wish I might have taken advantage of more often. Maybe talking about some of the problems would have made them seem like not as big of a deal, or maybe I could have gotten a new perspective.