Sunday, January 13, 2013

I have a bone to pick . . .

I have a bone to pick with people who talk about the "narrow-minded" and "repressive" and "un-diverse" education in parochial schools in the 1950s. I daresay most of them weren't even twinkles in their parents' eyes (especially if they were born after 1962 when I graduated from high school).

Just to take a few examples:

Arithmetic: we were expected to master the multiplication table up to 12x12 in 3rd grade, and short division in 4th grade. We were introduced to fractions, decimals, percentages, and the rudiments on geometry in 5th and 6th grades, and the practical applications of arithmetic in 7th and 8th grades. I have the books. One time in the early or mid 90s I took my eighth-grade arithmetic book to the office, and graduate engineers were astounded by what I was expected to know by age 14.

Reading: Our readers had stories about children all over the world, plus stories of life on the frontier, and folk and fairy tales from all over the world. I have the books.

Fourth grade geography: we learned about other lands and the children who lived in them; I can remember the pygmy hunter-gatherers of Malaya, Mongol children on the Siberian steppe, Indian children in the Andes, kids on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, USA, Inuit kids (Eskimos as they were called then) in Alaska.

About fourth grade-fifth grade, there were monthly publications in comic-book format called "Junior Catholic Messenger" and "Young Catholic Messenger." One year there was a nine-part series on various immigrant groups to America, and another year there was a nine-part series on human anatomy and physiology (they left out sex and reproduction because we didn't need to know that yet, we were too young; and because the philosophy of the school was -- note well! -- that it was our parents' job to teach that).

Fifth and sixth grades we learned the basics of world history and geography, and in seventh and eighth grades we learned the basics of American history. I have the books.

We had gym starting in fifth grade.

We had music all eight years. Besides teaching us the basics of reading music, the music books had classical melodies, folk tunes from all over the world, and folk dances. (I think it was in fifth grade we learned "La Cucuracha," of course a very clean version.) I have the books.

Of course we had religion all eight years, taught according to our ability to understand it, and we were expected to memorize it. Of course it was "packed" and drilled in, I think in the hope that as we grew up and survived our rebellious years (which our teachers knew we would have) we would remember it and could unpack it. I remember vividly being struck hard in my thirties by the very first question in the Baltimore Catechism: "Who made you?" "God made me." That popped into my head again and I said to myself, "That means Pop and Ma only helped!"

We got what I think was a superb foundation for life.

So please don't tell me how bad it was in the 1950s if you weren't there. Thanks.


  1. I just had this discussion with a lovely Catholic blogger.

    Religious education today for young people consists of coloring pictures and singing really crappy songs.

    You and I memorized the Baltimore Catechism and can still rattle off the answers like it was just yesterday that mom grilled us.

    I finally quit teaching RE to 7th-12th graders because the lower grade teacher would not teach them anything. A 7th grader who doesn't know what a sacrament is, has never heard the word transubstantiation, or can even recite the Ten Commandants is pretty much a lost cause.

    And the schools? Oy vey! They don't even teach cursive anymore, completely disregarding the important hand/eye/brain connection. Pure phonics is out and math is done on a calculator. It's no wonder the average kid today is a dope.

    Kids can barely read and never read for pleasure. I just realized that Hawaii, by James Michener, was published in 1959. I know that my mom and I read it when it first came out. That means, I read it when I was 13 years old (and loved it.) Can you imagine the average 13 year old today reading anything like that?

    I was even younger when I read The Caine Mutiny. I still remember whining one evening to my mom about nothing to read. She headed to the bookcase, pulled out The Caine Mutiny, and handed it to me. I think she figured, "Well, this ought to keep her busy and out of my hair for awhile."

    I devoured the book in a matter of days.

    Okay - rant over.

  2. One of my fondest memories of grade school was reading and memorizing poetry. We had a separate poetry book with wonder poems like "O young Lochinvar has come out of the west, Through all the wild border his steed was the best." by Sir Walter Scott. Then there was Longfellow's poem, "Hadst thou stayed I must have fled, that is what the vision said." What an exercise for an idealistic young middle schooler. It still warms my heart to remember it.