Catholic vs. Public School

[ 11 ] March 2, AD 2012 |

In the middle of a test the teacher caught a boy cheating.  According to her classroom policy she took the test and the boy was given an automatic zero.  The next day after school the boy and his mother sat in the classroom, meeting with the teacher.  The mother insisted her son did not cheat because, what it came down to in the end, his zero made him ineligible to play in the next 7th grade basketball game.  In their world of priorities a meaningless game meant more than respecting authorities, being honest, accepting consequences, and hard work.

The teacher was my mother and the story really happened at a local Catholic school.  Unfortunately my mom has a lot more stories of dishonesty, bullying, and snobbery acted out by 13 and 14 year olds and reinforced by their families.  And the kids who were good kids, from families that cared about the “Catholic” part of the education, they were unpopular.

For a long time I did not have a favorable impression of Catholic education which, to this public schooler, seemed like a classy but otherwise meaningless alternative to public schools.  What I wanted to see were buildings filled with faithful faculty and staff, men and women who loved God and His Church.  I wanted to see students whose faith formation at school was in addition to what happened at home.  I wanted parents who chose Catholic schools because they believed in Catholic education.  That was not what I saw.

But now my perspective is quite different.  I look at my friends who chose Catholic education for their kids and I am now the humbled bystander, instead of the arrogant one.  They scrimp and save to send their children to parochial school because it matters to them and they want it to make a difference in the formation of their children.  These are not people who are looking for a better option than public schools but don’t want to homeschool.  These are parents who wake up in the middle of the night once a week for a holy hour shift.  They do Catholic Icing crafts with their kids to help teach them about our fun, glorious faith.  I see that their children are engaged in the Catholic faith and at 5, 13, or 20 they really have been blessed with an education that builds on a foundation that was laid at home.

Of course a Catholic education, even if it is solidly backed by a devout home life, does not mean a child will grow up to practice the Catholic faith. But I have come to see how it can enrich the lives and protect the innocence of children, unlike a public school education.    Now if only we had the money to pay for it…

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/BEngstrom-e1314017018199.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Bonnie Engstrom is a cradle Catholic and stay-at-home mom. She married her dashing husband in 2006 and they now have four children: one in Heaven and three wandering around their house, probably eating pretzels found under the couch. Bonnie lives in central Illinois and gets excited about baking, music, film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and the Chicago Bears. She is the Assistant Director for Behold: A Catholic Conference on the Dignity and Vocation of Women and she blogs atLearning to be a Newlywed.[/author_info] [/author]

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Category: Catholic Education, Columnists, Family, Symposiums

About the Author ()

Bonnie Engstrom is a cradle Catholic and stay-at-home mom. She married her dashing husband in 2006 and they now have five children: one in Heaven and four more wandering around their house, probably eating pretzels found under the couch. Bonnie lives in central Illinois and gets excited about baking, music, film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and the Chicago Bears. She was a cofounder of The Behold Conference and she blogs at A Knotted Life.
  • Katie

    Bonnie, great reflection! I grew up going to Catholic schools (Peoria diocese!) and I was one of those kids whose parents scrimped and saved to send a gaggle of children through Catholic schools because they valued Catholic education so much. I don’t think I truly made my faith my own until college, but looking back now I can see how it paved the way for me. I remember how my senior year in high school a faithful priest explained the church’s teaching on contraception to our class. I remember going to confession often, attending Mass every Friday, going to adoration as a class, and praying as a class every day before school and before lunch. For a long time, I figured I’d homeschool (and I’m sorry to admit I was arrogant about how it would be so much better than Catholic school), but now my husband and I are hoping so much to be able to send our kids to our local Catholic school. A priest friend recently told us that the culture you were speaking of in the beginning of the article is the reason why the Catholic schools need our children and our families too. My parents and grandparents made it such a priority and they didn’t have much either :)

  • http://hereisthechurch.wordpress.com/ Allie Terrell

    My boyfriend and I have been talking about this distinction recently. Given that both of us aren’t very familiar with Catholic schools, I’m glad to hear a testimony of how important it can be, even if it may not seem entirely worth it (for whatever reason) at the time.

  • Katy

    I went to Catholic schools grades K-8 and absolutely loved it. It was probably one of the best things that my parents did for my siblings and me. Someday, if I have children, I would love to be able to send them to Catholic schools. I want their education to be a Catholic education.

    That being said, I just want to defend public schools. Yes, there are going to be problems at public schools that you might now encounter at a Catholic school, but there are many public schools that strive for what is best for children. My parents were not able to afford to send us to Catholic high school, so we went to the local public high school. We were challenged and learned a lot. There were so many of our Catholic friends who would make comments about how sorry they felt for us that we had to go to a public school. They wanted us to know all about how their Catholic school was better. I was always stuck defending my school and the education I was receiving.

    I love Catholic education, but will always be a defender of public education!

  • Bonnie Engstrom

    Katie, I wonder if I know you! And maybe you were in my mom’s class… I’m sure you were a delight, though. ;)

    Katy, I totally agree that there’s a lot of good in public schools – if you’re lucky to be in a good district. I was raised in excellent public schools and I LOVED being a student there. I’m not sure I would trade my public education for a parochial one, actually. AND my husband teaches in a public school and loves it! That being said, I know of public middle schools in my area that teach kids to put condoms on bananas. Uhhh… no thanks; no way; never.

  • Katy

    Bonnie,

    I agree! Ugh, middle school?! So sad!

  • Edward G. Radler Rice

    Mrs. Engstrom,

    In no particular order, here are a few links on the relationship between public and private education and public/government schools in particular:

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/education/ed0115.html
    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/12/disestablishing-our-secular-schools
    http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Education/Education_003.htm
    http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Education/Education_009.htm
    http://catholiceducation.org/articles/education/ed0077.html

    There were no Catholic schools in the region of Arizona where I grew up. In terms of what it could and did offer, my public education was good. However, the basic problem with contemporary public education in the United States is that religion is absent completely or for the most part. When it comes to God, public schools are either blatantly agnostic or inherently atheistic. I’m talking about the prescribed curriculum and the system itself. The most important subject to study and contemplate, God, in other words, is simply not studied, while contemplation is unknown…The teachers may be Catholics, of course, but they are working within a paradigm that in the very least discounts Catholicism.

    Sincerely yours in Christ,
    Edward
    High School Theology Teacher
    San Antonio, TX
    M.Div. (Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, MD); currently completing Masters in Catholic School Leadership

  • Micha Elyi

    I don’t see how the first half of the article connects to the second half and the article’s conclusion.

  • LRoy

    I got way better education once I got to Catholic school. Since the first six years was public, I had very poor study habits so I struggled through the last six. Maybe I’d have gotten better grades if I went to Catholic from the get-go. The SND were strict, but the younger ones were a little bit…let’s say not necessarily “liberal” but charitable. Nevertheless, us girls were constantly a “thorn” and drove the the sisters to distraction with our antics causing sayings such as “We would try the patience of Jesus Christ Himself” and “Worse class ever”.

  • Mathilde

    As a cradle Catholic who attended Catholic school K-12, and Catholic university undergraduate, and whose siblings all attended Catholic schools (one even graduating from the North American Pontifical College), I sent my son to Catholic school for five years. It was a miserable experience. There was no diversity, the class size was tiny, and the “Catholic” formation was severely lacking. There was more bullying at that “Catholic” school than at his current public school, which is five times as large. He is receiving a better, more well rounded education, has a more diverse set of friends and attends a fabulous religious education program at our new parish. While I miss the weekly Mass at his old school, I do not miss the bickering among parents, the nonsensical focus on uniformity, the fanatical feedback on inane behavioral modification, and the “deification”, if you will, of the pastor. It was crazy. Public school has its challenges, but at least I know what I am dealing with and I can air my grievances without having to fear retribution on my son. I just wish I had picked the public system over this particular Catholic school in Kindergarten. I could have saved my son, and myself, a LOT of grief.

  • Mendi

    I was public school all the way through college. I have chosen to put my children in Catholic school. (My oldest is in college and my two younger ones are in K-8 currently.) We are devout Catholics. First of all, I will say there are good and not so good Catholic school depending on what your needs are. We changed Catholic schools when my oldest was in fourth grade. We were so pleased with what the new school offered and the families for the first 9 years. Now the attitude of the parents have changed and this shift has caused us grief for the past two years. If you get just one nasty bully mom in the door it can send ripples throughout the calm pond. I sit on our School Advisory Council and I dread having to deal with this mom. She has sucked the life out of the school and sent parents running. Why she hasn’t been asked to leave is beyond me. Two teachers have retired when her child (who is NOT the problem) was in their class. Last year the priest requested to leave and now she has the principal about to go. I miss the early years when things were good and our lives did not revolve around drama mama.

  • http://www.tjburdick.com TJ Burdick

    I can’t afford Catholic school for my children either, and I teach in one! Might I suggest homeschooling as a valuable (and perhaps, more effective) solution? http://www.tjburdick.com/2012/09/11/a-manifesto-on-the-current-state-of-education-in-america-and-why-i-will-do-everything-in-my-power-to-homeschool-my-children/