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What 13 Years of Catholic School REALLY Looks Like

Ever since I was in pre-school I was enrolled in Catholic school. From Pre-K to kindergarten through eighth grade, and freshman year to senior year of high school, the only difference I knew was the different Catholic schools I was enrolled in. To me, public school was a scary place, an overcrowded building that housed thousands of students and was the center of much teen angst and rebellion. The only thing I knew was skirts, sweaters, and button-down shirts and church every Friday.


When I asked my mom why she put me in Catholic school, her answer was that she knew she was going to enroll me in Catholic school before she even conceived me. Asking her elaborate on her decision to do so, she stated that she believed Catholic schooling could teach me morals and values. The extent of people’s knowledge of Catholic school is that we are required to wear uniforms and attend church frequently, but many people probably don’t know anything more than that. Here is how I felt about my thirteen years in Catholic school.


Yes, I was required to wear uniforms every day of my life and it mainly consisted of a skirt or skort, a blue or white button-down shirt, and a sweater or vest. These uniforms did not accentuate your figure and if anything, they made you look like a box. We did have strict rules about skirt length and tucked in shirts, and those were the reason behind many people’s detentions. However, I have to say that having to wear a uniform every day did save me a lot of time and effort since I didn’t have too much of a choice of clothing.


The only difference between Catholic school and public school at the most basic level is that in Catholic school, you are required to take religion classes. The subject of these classes ranged from studying the Bible, the Church’s beliefs on issues such as pre-marital sex and abortion, and how the essence of a table is called table-ness. The faculty wanted you to take these classes seriously but it was mainly a joke. The entire student body, aside from the very religious kids, though these classes were a joke and a waste of time since we had been learning the same thing our entire lives and they only factored into our GPA as a “regular” level class. I will have to say that I loved how a lot of my teachers cared so much about their students and wanted what was best for them. To this day, I still visit my former elementary and high school just to see some of my favorite teachers who have made a huge impact on my life.


Although I genuinely appreciate the privilege I had to attend Catholic schools my entire life, I do find many faults in the dynamic and structure of these schools. My first issue is that the Catholic faith was constantly shoved down our throats. You don’t have to be Catholic/Christian to attend a Catholic school, but you do have to pay more tuition than a majority of people. I knew a lot my non-Catholic friends absolutely hated Catholic schooling because they felt that they could not be themselves. Whenever they had a serious issue that they wanted to confide in a counselor or faculty member about, the answer always seemed to be “look to God” and they would attempt to sway them towards the Catholic faith. This caused a riff and resentment among specific students and the school because they felt that they were treated differently due to their belief and all they wanted was guidance, advice, or someone to talk to. For the students that were Catholic, like me, Catholicism has shoved down our throats so much that we resented and lost touch with our faith. Some feel that the faith is too constricting that they convert or stop practicing altogether.


Another issue I had with Catholic schooling was how close-minded a lot of people were and how these people steadfastly believed that their opinions were correct. There was no room to debate certain issues and these conservative ideas and opinions favored some students over others. The students whose opinions and values aligned with those held by the majority of faculty, students and administration felt like they were superior. If any debate over abortion, pre-marital sex, or any hot-button issues, it was always shut down with “The Catholic Church believes this” along with the sub-text that since the Catholic Church believes one thing, that it is accepted as correct. When asked for reasoning behind these beliefs, the response was usually defensive and that the Church is always correct.


Being enrolled in a Catholic school for thirteen years sheltered me from a lot of real-life issues. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when I became friends with a lot of people who didn’t attend a Catholic school their entire life did I come to realize that I was very ignorant and sheltered. Since there is a lit of specific issues that are “taboo” to discuss in school, I wasn’t aware of a lot of real-world issues. I know that I wasn’t the only person who felt sheltered by the environment I had grown up in. Other people were more sheltered than I was, and when they got to college, they were shocked by a lot of the things that go on in the “real world”, like drinking, smoking, and sex. Spending my whole life in Catholic school placed me in a bubble, blinded and ignorant to the real world.


My last and biggest problem with Catholic schools is the division between white and minority students. I know I cannot speak for ALL Catholic schools, but I can speak for mine (especially my high school). I attended a Catholic high school in a predominantly white area of Northern Virginia. The white students in my school felt a sense of superiority to the minority students, and it pains me to admit that there were multiple cases of racism evident in the student body. The minority students felt like they didn’t have a voice at my school and felt targeted, especially since my senior year was during the very controversial Trump v. Clinton presidential election. Although racism was very obvious in certain cases at school, it felt like the faculty did not want to admit that this was a real problem within the student body and didn’t do much to stop or prevent another occurrence. During my freshman year, a white, female student said to an African-American female student that she should “hop back on whatever boat you came on from Africa”, resulting in a huge fight right outside the administration offices. There were also multiple occurrences of white students using the N-word inappropriately. It felt like every year, racism escalated more and more, and even though I am now an alumni, it is still a prevalent issue that my younger friends have to deal with.


There were many pros and cons to growing up within the Catholic school system. I met some of my lifelong friends throughout my years and each of the classes I was a part of was tight-knit and felt like my family. I also developed some of my closest relationships with my teachers and they all encouraged me to live my best life and study what I am passionate about. However, with the many pros, numerous cons were attached. I grew up sheltered, ignorant, and feeling inferior due to my minority status. It was also difficult to find my own voice since there was a model that we were shoved into. I am very appreciative of my thirteen years in Catholic schools and I felt that during certain times of my life, I was blessed to be within that environment. Catholic schools aren’t for everyone and my experience wasn’t the best and I believe that there is a lot that is hidden about them, but I couldn’t see my life any differently, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having experienced the world of Catholic schooling.

Jenny is currently an undergraduate student at JMU studying Health Sciences with a Pre-Dental. She loves discovering new music and places to eat, shopping, Netflix, and coffee. Born and raised in D.C. she has a love for her hometown but also for her new home in Harrisonburg! You can always catch her at the library or strolling around campus with friends.
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