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Catholic vs. Public School

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…

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.
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