Public school as lion’s den…

… For a few months now I’ve been trying to get my son into MACS, the local Catholic school system here in Charlotte. It’s been no small task. The paperwork alone took almost 3 weeks to organize. I’m still waiting to hear about the status of my financial aid application but unless some miracle happens and they say “Hey, you’re so poor we’ll cover 95% of your son’s tuition” it’s still highly unlikely I can eek out the tuition cost each month. But I at least have to try.

When your nine old son asks you if he can go to Catholic school , you listen and find out why. A little back story…

My son started his education at a very small elementary school in a rural part of North Carolina. It was evident after a few years there that the school was not equipped well and sadly underfunded. The resources weren’t there to help challenge kids to excel. We both loved the school but as middle school approached I decided we needed to find a better school with more learning opportunities. It was a hard choice, especially since it wasn’t the fault of the school or the staff. They did the best the could with what they had but as kids get older they need more rigorous academic challenges.

Since I knew that private school was not in the budget, I sought to move in the best public school district the area had to offer. And I found it. As far as public schools go, my son is assigned to the best performing ones in the state. They have funds for extracurricular activities, the arts, sports, and to hire teachers with master degrees in their subject of teaching. What’s not to love?

Yup, money does not buy everything. The kids at these schools are affluent, extremely so. Not all, mind you, but the majority are. These schools are assigned to a wealthy area of Charlotte. You can either afford to live here or you can’t. I can’t. I got lucky and managed to find a house in the middle of nowhere just on the school’s assigned border. It seemed, by the way everything fell into place, that God was answering all my prayers.

Living in this area has put me in intimate contact with people I normally wouldn’t be close with. Rich people. I’ve come to learn that people with money, lots of money, are … um, well… have very different ideas about parenting. Less restrictive, if you will. These kids have everything; cell phones, ATVs and dirt bikes, computers and TV’s in their rooms [with cable], all the latest electronic gadgets with unrestricted use and total free reign of the house. Let me remind you they are nine and ten years old – not teenagers. The parents I’ve met are rarely around, from what I can tell. Several times I’ve let my son hang out at a friend’s house only to pick him later to learn that the parents left hours ago, usually right after drop off. A teenage sibling is in the only adult in the house; or in a few instances, a maid or no one at all.

Maybe it’s just me and I am über restrictive. But these things don’t strike me as normal. But than again, maybe they are and I’m just out of it. Whenever I allow The Boy to have friends over I stay in the house because if something were to happen I’d be responsible, and liable… not my maid. Not that I have a maid.

At his old school we never had these social problems. My concerns were purely academic. The kids were respectful, as well as the teachers.

Now it’s entirely reversed. The academics are excellent but socially things are wrong. The kids are more worldly, if you will. They swear and openly talk about sex and the things they are exposed to on TV and the internet. They are more aggressive, not violent but pushy and don’t respond well to class rules. And they bully.

But his main reason for wanting to go to Catholic school he says is that some kids in his class refuse to say the pledge of allegiance because it contains the word “God”. At school functions every religion is represented except Christianity. He longer feels comfortable with his faith and several kids in his class tell him there is no such thing as God and challenge him about Catholicism. Daily. He’s just tired and feeling beat down by it all.

Perhaps, I’m being entirely unfair. Maybe it has everything to do the age and nothing to do with how affluent a family or a school is. The kids are older now and at that age where they start questioning things around them. Maybe these questions and challenges about religion are perfectly age appropriate with maturing children’s intellectual curiosity. But at nine is this normal for him to be challenged daily about religion? I ask because I don’t know.

And the aggressive behavior is probably just par for the course with older kids, right? Maybe I just need to accept that kids can be mean and cruel. It’s part of their development and how they learn how things work in society and I need to chill. Sometimes I think I’m too over protective with unrealistic ideals. I certainly don’t want to coddle my child so that he’s socially ill equipped to handle difficult people in his adulthood. People can indeed suck very much and he needs to get used to that.

Either way, I need to address the issue that my son is spiritually and emotionally tired from the constant badgering about his beliefs and as his parent I have to act. So I have begun the arduous task of hoping and praying Catholic school can become a reality.

And yes, I know there will be non-Catholic children at Catholic school but at least there won’t be the chronic pestering, I hope anyway. At least he won’t be in the minority. Always the realist; however, I am preparing him for the likely chance that Catholic school is not going to happen, at least not quite yet. He may have to wait a bit longer.

So I decided the best way to handle this was to help my son have a bit more confidence to deal with these challenges to his beliefs by making sure he knows his faith well enough to defend it. That’s a tall order for a nine year old kid. Most adults don’t even know their faith well enough to defend it. I’ve been asked loads of questions about Catholicism and have had to honestly say, “I don’t know off the top of my head, let me get back to you”. I’ve told my son that’s a perfectly acceptable response. I’ve also asked around for some good reading materials for kids and pre-teens that address these very questions there friends may have for them.

Here is what some people smarter than me suggested. Ian Rutherford who runs Aquinas and More Catholic Goods and all around man about town, Brandon Vogt, who blogs here and writes here, both gave a solid thumbs up for these reading materials.

The Prove It! apologetics series for youth by Amy Welborn – ages pre-teen and teenager

Friendly Defenders Flash Card series – ages 8 and up [more info here about the series]

If you know of any more apologetics material geared to pre-teens and teens let me know, please.

Related Reading: Where Should Christians Send Their Kids to School , and The Safety of a Christian School.

PS- And here is a little something for the grown-ups out there.

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  • TotusTuusFamily

    My teens are reading the San Juan Catholic Seminar series, and have used Friendly Defenders prior to that.

    My 2 oldest were in Catholic schools until we pulled them out after 3rd and 5th grades. While those were happy years, for the most part, some of what you describe also was a part of their Catholic environment. Parents just aren’t on the same page when it comes to “Catholic” parenting. 

    They learned the F word on the playground were taken to sex-ed in 5th grade and had fellow students tell them about watching MTV home alone. When a class needed to be dropped it was always religion. They never visited the chapel with Our Lord present and when they walked by the chapel they were not instructed to genuflect or bless themselves. At the infrequent school Mass in the gym, my sons were chastized for kneeling at the parts when all should kneel as if you could only do that in the presence of kneelers. Book reports were on such stellar reading choices as Junie B. Jones rather than lives of the Saints. 

    Missed opportunities. 

    Hopefully, there are Catholic schools out there that embrace their Catholic identity and don’t marginalize it in the race to teach to the test, win awards and align with worldliness so that more parents will want to pay high tuition $$,$$$ in hopes of Harvard…not heaven…

    Praying for your discernment, may God lead you to the best for your bright and faith-filled son.

  • Jules

    I spent 7th-8th grade in a public school where religion was a non-issue. Then I spent high school in various Catholic schools. Maybe it was the age rather than the schools, but I was *most* uncomfortable about my religion in the Catholic schools. It was deeply, deeply uncool to “actually believe all that stuff” and it was very disheartening to see the other kids flounce up for communion who loudly proclaimed in the halls how “stupid” they thought the school mass was. Religion classes were eaten up with “could God make a rock so heavy he couldn’t lift it” geniuses.

    I think this long comment boils down to something you probably already know: that it depends so much on the individual school and the individual circumstances. “Catholic school” is not at all a magic bullet. In my experience being at a Catholic school called attention to dopey pious kids like me, not in a good way. Sorry to be such a downer. My experience with being bullied suggests that the things kids pick on you for don’t necessarily mean anything. I mean, in grade school I got picked on for (apparently) bobbing up and down when I walked. There was also the fun game where the girls would surround me, hector me to say some swear word, and then threaten to tell my mom that I had been swearing on the playground. No such thing as a logical or reasoned response to that, really. And I’m sorry to say that was a Catholic school too.

  • Karyn

    The Prove It series is really good.  Some of the books seem more geared towards high school than middle school/preteen.  In fact, I think the pre-teen market is the most overlooked in Catholic writing.  Having said that, you might want to look at the Prove It Catholic Bible or the Catholic Answers Teen Bible.  Maybe a pocket apologetics book would be helpful.  I think Patrick Madrid has done a few.  I’ve heard that there is some new program for Catholic schools to rate themselves on how well they are incorporating the faith and Catholic identity.  You may want to look into it in order to get some tips on what to look for in a Catholic school.  Sorry I can’t remember what it was called.

  • Susan

    Unfortunately it is true sometimes, the Catholic schools are no better than the public ones. We had bullying issues and my children ridiculed because we said the rosary each night as a family and gave up meat every Friday of the year (not just at Lent).  Of course not all Catholic schools are like this. Just remember to be “on guard” and be watchful.  If something seems like amiss, don’t be afraid to point it out to the administration.  If you find that the Catholic schools are not what you hoped and prayed for–consider homeschooling. There are flexible, excellent programs out there–authentically Catholic!  A lot even offer classes online now. Just something to consider. 

  • Oregon Catholic

    I sympathize with your agonizing over what to do. It sounds like you have a sensitive child. I hate to be negative but unless you know an awful lot about the Catholic school from parents like yourself with kids like yours you need to be aware it may not be all you think it will be. If I could do it over, knowing what I know now, with all the help available I would homeschool.

    I too had a sensitive child who was bullied at just about the same age in our local parish school and it had a dramatic effect on his academic progress and temperment. I had numerous conferences with his teacher and the principal. The principal in particular protected the bully and minimized what was going on, even making my son out to be half-responsible and giving him time-outs equal to what the bully got. It is my opinion that she did so because the bully came from a non-Catholic family who paid a much higher tuition and was very active in the insider clique at the school. Being a working mom I couldn’t spend the kind of face time at school, ingratiating myself to the principal, that the bully’s mom could. We stuck it out but to this day, many years later, I regret my decision. I believe the fact that he was allowed to be bullied in a Catholic school made it even worse – we felt betrayed by the Catholic identity we sought.

  • maizie13

    Kat honey, I will add you and little man to my prayers that your financial aid request is accepted so he can go to Catholic school.  I went for 10 years-first through 10th grade, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

  • The important thing here is that your son has a nourishing and very Catholic environment at home. That’s where it matters. My parents were never able to afford sending us to a Catholic school. They were able to send us to a Portuguese CCD (we’re very, VERY Portuguese)…but even this wasn’t the best religious education out there. These CCD instructors literally allowed a kid to have his First Communion just because he could pray “Our Father.” I also knew some Catholic school educated kids who ended up agnostics or atheists after 12 years of Catholic school. When I tried teaching a confirmation class, I had one very atheist kid in the class who was there because his parents wanted him to be there….not because he believed. My point is….these wealthy parents may have been able to pay the tuition and drop kids off at school…but they certainly never prayed with them like my parents did with us or took us on pilgrimages, etc like my parents did.  My parents, unlike many others, invested a lot of time on their kids and never failed to show us how to live the faith. 

    Going to school among so many non-religious folk out there is tough…and there were quite a few peers that attempted to lead me away from God over the years…yes, I did go through some rough patches where I questioned God and all-that-is-good-and-Catholic…but I always had people at home who were ready to discuss these matters with me and give me support. I agree, public school is getting a little crazy these days. Personally, I am very afraid to send any of my future kids there because I’ve taught in various places and can tell you that it is TOUGH for kids to go to school and not get ridiculed for one thing or another. However, as terrible as it is, it does prepare you for the real world. Things only get tougher for religious folk as we continue our studies…but there are more of us out there that continue to swim against the current and even touch a few lives. Perhaps your son may be serving a higher purpose by demonstrating 

    I may be one of few very religious people in my field and may have to endure quite a lot of weird looks, aggressive questions, and even outright disrespect because of my faith. However, in the end, I feel that I do have an impact on others as I continue to live my faith and function as a scientists. As tolerant as our students are taught to be, the sad thing is that some of these kids go home and learn their manners on the internet and on television…and let’s face it…there aren’t too many decent role models out there. I’m sure some saints can attest to this…and to be quite frank…if being a Catholic is easy for someone these days, then they are certainly not doing it right. 

  • Gradchica

    No, you’re not an overprotective crazy mom…the “kids will experience bad things and be exposed to bullies, sex, etc eventually and will have to learn to deal so you shouldn’t make a fuss” argument is my personal most hated “reasoning”. Why should we consider such situations “normal” and willingly put our kids in them before they are fully formed in their faith–or as fully formed as we can make them while they’re under our roof? We have to teach them and support and love them before they’re strong enough to “deal” with the world. Let’s let them have their childhood safe, protected, and full of love as much as possible–they’ll have plenty of time as adults to deal with bullies. No need to let them get too jaded too fast. And kudos to you for making the best of it and using it to help your son form himself in his faith!

  • tcn

    My son attends Catholic school and he is very happy and well adjusted there. We have holy priests, and that makes the difference. In Kindergarten, they go to Mass once a week, but they also do 15 minutes of Adoration a week, which is about what a K kid can handle, and they know what it means, as well. My son drew a nice picture of a monstrance below a crucifix and then added a lot of people adoring–it’s a Kindergarten masterpiece. Most of the kids in his class can now read, and they do addition and subtraction. Nobody feels pushed or forced–everything is still fun.

    Out in Seattle, however, my niece and goddaughter was mercilessly teased in public school about being Catholic. The evangelical kids told her that Catholics weren’t Christian–crap like that. This, in Kindergarten. So, I gave her a bunch of holy cards and she handed them out like candy. Shut those nasty girls right up by giving instead of being nasty. I also coached her to ask why the supposed Christians  had taken Jesus off His cross, and why they hated God’s Mother. They really didn’t have an answer.

    Why on God’s green earth would anyone put up with this crap? If she were my daughter, I would have read the teacher the riot act. My sister is apparently more forgiving and less vengeful.  I suspect she spends less time in the confessional, as well.

  • Lee Gilbert

    Hi Kat,  

    A couple of possibilities.  Obviously homeschooling is out of the question because of your need to work, but whether he goes to public school or parochial school, semi-homeschooling is always possible.  

     What do I mean by that?  Certainly nothing involving desks or schoolwork.  A better name would be Family Evenings Together.  What would this look like?  Our formula was 1)  A half hour of reading out loud a good secular book, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Swiss Family Robinson, and the like. 2) Half an hour of the life of a saint, from a book length life of a saint, read a little above his level. 3) The Baltimore Catechism for 20 minutes an evening.  Doing this every evening would  give him a wonderful education in itself.  Obviously this is a hard sell on summer evenings, but winter, rain and darkness will bring him to you and you may even have the joy of hearing him say, “Hey Mom, let’s read!” 

     If all the parochial school supplies is atmosphere (statues, weekly Mass, etc), that is not nothing.  Above all I would focus on forming his imagination.  If he is being bullied for his faith, lay before him the example of St. Tarcissius or the North American Martyrs. Fill his mind with wonderful examples of virtue, with the examples of person after person who made heroic choices in the face of great difficulties, especially child saints such as Maria Goretti, St. Bernadette, the Children of Fatima.  

    Chances are there is a homeschooling family or consortium in your area.  Perhaps you could barter instructing their kids in art (On Saturday mornings, perhaps) in exchange for their taking your boy under their tutelage.  Or that plus some tuition.   Or painting  a  landscape on their dining room wall. . . you name it.  

    This same approach may apply to obtaining some relief from tuition as well from the parochial school.   Your work day corresponds to their school day, but at our childrens’ parochial school there was a person named “The Picture lady,”  who would come to school with prints of work by various artists- one artist at a time- and present these together with the story of his life.  Maybe you wouldn’t be able to do it, but perhaps you could organize it.  

    All that aside, Kat, there is ALWAYS a way.  Pray for wisdom- nothing doubting- and it will be given you.   If you do ALL, then He will do ALL.  

  • Kana

    I am not a parent myself and so I feel silly offering advice, but I do want to speak from my own experience and perhaps that will reassure you.  I went to public school K-12 in a middle class suburb.  My mother took me to Mass and CCD every Sunday, and it was always a priority (I got picked up early from many a sleepover to make it to my 9 am CCD class)… but my family was never the kind that prayed together.  We never talked about God at home, never said grace before meals, didn’t have any crosses or Catholic imagery around our house.  When I was 16 I had my “reversion,” I guess you’d call it, via my church youth group, and suddenly became very interested in my faith.  My friends at school were downright hostile about it.  They were drinking, having sex, doing drugs, and would openly tell me that I was an idiot for believing in God (and much worse insults as well).  I got rude comments all the time for wearing my small cross necklace to school.  It was difficult, but I got through it with my faith intact. 

    I guess my two main points are: 1. It is difficult, but extremely possible, to get through public school and remain a faithful Catholic (and if I managed it – by the grace of God – with marginally Catholic parents, then your son has a way better shot than I did!).  And 2. A Catholic school is not a guaranteed haven against promiscuity, drugs, atheism, or anything else.  I have several friends who are teachers in Catholic high schools (GOOD ones), and they have so many heartbreaking stories about the kids they teach.  Same story with many of my friends who attended Catholic schools themselves.  The school itself is not the only deciding factor in how the students will turn out.  I would suggest that you just keep doing what you’re doing – give your son the best, most supportive Catholic home environment that you can; talk him through his questions, doubts, anxieties, fears, and difficulties with his peers; and pray for him.  Maybe as he gets older, help him find a solid youth group – my church friends were an invaluable source of solidarity throughout high school, and seeing them once a week made everything so much easier.  And maybe help him find a patron Saint who can be his special go-to protector for when he’s feeling particularly down at school.  Teach him a quick prayer to that Saint that he can say when things get tough, and have him carry their picture in his pocket.

    For me personally, I’m glad I had my public school experience.  It prepared me well for the attacks against my faith that I’ve faced as an adult, and as corny as it sounds, it taught me how to be humble, how to pray for people I can’t stand, how to be confident in my beliefs, and how to respectfully and charitably deal with people who don’t see eye to eye with me.

    Finally – these books might be geared more towards teenagers, but try “Did Adam & Eve Have Belly Buttons?” and “Did Jesus Have a Last Name?” by Matthew J. Pinto.  And I heartily suggest taking your son to Adoration with you, if you can.  Or at least sitting in front of the Tabernacle together at a quiet time.  Even a weekly Holy Half-Hour together will do wonders for the spiritual exhaustion he is feeling.  I am all for teaching kids to run straight to the Blessed Sacrament when they’re feeling overwhelmed!

    God bless you Kat, I’ll say a prayer for you and your son.

  • André

    Hello, I am a 15 year old guy, and living in Mormon Utah, they are always trying to convert me. But I have taken it into my own hands to learn my faith, from books and what I find online. Whatever these kids tell your child, don’t let him get down, because in the end we know the Truth. But it’s hard, I don’t know the countless times I’ve tried to explain the Real Presence, and what I get in return is them making fun or laughing. But I get over it, and pray for them. Help your son defend the faith!

    • terentiaj63

      God bless you, Andre!

  • okiegrl

    Hi Kat, a few things here.
    First, a lot of rich kids are raised by the family maid. Have you seen The Help? That situation still happens in a lot of rich families in the South. One of my good friends went to a pricey private school in SC, and that’s the way practically all her classmates were raised. That said, I wouldn’t freak out too badly if there’s a maid. As the oldest kid I also got babysitting duty of my younger siblings and their friends. All in all, your experience sounds typical, although I will say that 9-10 yr old boys shouldn’t be left in a house by themselves!

    It’s hard making this call with only the information in a blog post, but if there’s something that’s making you really uncomfortable, you might casually mention it to the parents.  Say, “Oh, I came to pick the boy up and found no one was home… Does this usually happen? etc.”

    As for the school situation, have you talked to school authorities? Many schools are enacting a zero tolerance policy for bullying, and that applies to all religions, not just non-Christian ones.

    While I hope you’re able to get into the Catholic school, I don’t think that will be a panacea. Sex talk generally starts around the 9-10 yr old age group, so that will most likely be in any school. Also, in my experience private schools get problem children that were kicked out of the public school systems. Not always, but there is that element.

  • Anna Maria

    Here’s my two bits: i was raised in the archdiocese of New York in the swinging seventies in a lukewarm Catholic family. I went to Catholic school and was taught by the old school Pallotine sisters. They planted the seed of faith which grew many years later. I thank God for those sisters. But my school was in a rough neighborhood so we were exposed to the same things as my public school friends, just on a smaller scale. My kids have gone/go to our parish grammar school and high school where many of the families are quite wealthy. My eldest sons now thank us for raising them with less, with rules, with respect; they were often shocked and repulsed by how disrespectful their classmates were to their parents, and even more upset that the parents accepted that behavior. First born son complains about college roommates who still think that either Mummy or the maid will take care of things. Second born son was disgusted with a classmate who has totalled a second car and the Daddy who will buy the third. In summation, no school is perfect, but I suggest trying to find a catholic school that will help you pass on the faith; also the wealthy classmates can provide an abject lesson in poor parenting and disrespectful children, your son will be grateful for the rules and discipline.

  • That’s a really tough call.  We’ve tried all 3: homeschool, Catholic school, public school & I have to say, it’s easier to keep your kids Catholic (really, truly, deeply) if they are NOT in a Catholic school.  At public schools, they expect the other kids to be allowed to wear clothes & watch shows/listen to music that we don’t permit or to not know/care about religion, but at Catholic school when they do, it’s very discouraging & confusing for them. Most of the families we’ve met at Catholic schools are every bit as materialistic & sports/activity obsessed as at the public schools.  
    The only reason I didn’t continue to homeschool is because with 8 children in 5 different grades (including adopted ones who needed ELL & other support), I just didn’t feel I could do it well enough.  We are really fortunate here, that our local public district is rural & chock full of Christians (though not many are Catholic), so faith is not criticized or banished from regular mention.  Maybe you should move north just a wee bit! ;o)

  • In my neighborhood, there are several boys my younger son’s age (10).  Most of them are pretty much “on their own.”  Two were here yesterday from around 4 until 8 PM when I sent them home.  They hung out in our yard while we ate dinner (I found out later) so they were here for 4 solid hours.  In that time, no one looked for them or called them to their own dinners.   I can’t let my child play at their homes because I don’t know who (if anyone) is around for them.

    We Catholic-school our kids and believe it has been worth every penny.  There’s no difference in the materialism the kids (and parents) can display, BUT there is always that undercurrent of faith in school.  Kids can (and do) talk openly about Jesus or something that happened in the Bible or the sacraments.  I love how they are not afraid to weave faith into the whole school day, not just religion class.

  • Collinegate

    Well, we moved to a city where the public schools are not safe.  So, we decided to send our daughter (age 13) to Catholic school; first a parochial and then a Benedictine school.  I’ve nothing but positive goodness to relate, even compared to our former city’s public schools (which were in pretty well-off counties, by the way).  Night and day in terms of … well, everything.

  • Lydiamcgrew

    My extremely apologetics oriented husband recommends _I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist_ by Frank Turek. 

    I would assume the present recommendation is for you, and you can pass on nuggets from it to The Boy, but it might be something he can read himself in a few years. It’s not Catholic-specific but should be useful for Catholics and Protestants alike, and since he’s facing atheism it should be relevant.

  • Susan Lee

    Oh, my.  What a quandry.  It’s not a lot of fun to be surrounded with kids who all have a lot more “stuff” than you do – plus the attitudes that come with it (think OWS) – I was raised solidly middle-class, and wanted to attend Middlebury College (back in the 60’s). – my guidance counselor told me it was a bad idea – that I wouldn’t be able to compete.  I can see that that was so.  BUT, since your Boy is a lot younger, perhaps he will be able to deal with the “upper-class” later in life. 

    I suppose I would have gone with a strategy to live in a southern, middle class community (that would have jobs for me) with no less than a medium quality school and augment the schooling at home.  I think religion is more tolerated among the MC.  I can’t speak for Catholic schooling, since my last experience with it was in 1964, when the nuns wore traditional habits all year long and went about in pairs so their virtue couldn’t be impugned.

    But, remember, whatever you choose, the result will be modified by your child’s character and God’s interference, so don’t fret!!

    Susan Lee

  • daisy

    No school is perfect. And look, let’s be honest. Bullying is normal. Kids are savages and left to themselves they turn into Lord of Flies in heartbeat. Once the other kids see your child as the Omega of the pack there’s nothing any adult can do about it. They may not be vicious and physically dangerous becasue the teachers punish that but they’ll never like the Omega and at best will simply ignore him or her at all times. When this happens there is only one thing to do: pull your kid out and go somewhere else.