A Fate Worse Than Death #JusJoJan

The prompt word for the day in Linda Hill‘s Just Jot It January project/blog hop was sent in by Jim Adams, whose blog is named “A Unique Title For Me.” His prompt for today is humiliate.

I talk a lot about my early education at the hands of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, and in general I’m positive about it. When I consider that my mother paid all of $35 a month for the three of us to attend, it was a bargain. That’s roughly the equivalent of $230 a month today, and my guess is that parents pay much more than that at Catholic schools today for just one kid. In contrast, tuition at our nearest Catholic grade school is about $7000 if you belong to the parish and $9000 if you don’t.

The difference is that, when I was in school, most of our teachers were nuns, who took a vow of poverty when they joined up. Vocations have dropped off steeply in the almost 50 years since I was in school, and while lay teachers aren’t paid that well by current standards, they’re still the single highest cost of the schools.

I’m pretty sure most of my teachers had bachelor’s degrees, but little actual formal training in pedagogy. They managed to maintain order in the classroom and on the playgrounds with two basic tools: intimidation and humiliation.

I spoke recently of my habit of just stuffing everything in my desk rather than placing things neatly in it, and how the principal took everything out of it and dumped all the paper on the desk behind, then let everyone wa. tch me throw it away. That’s a good example of the humiliation aspect, but here’s a better one:

In second grade, our class was half boys, half girls. Boys sat on one side of the room, girls on the other, and never the twain would meet. In similar fashion, since we were on the side of the school that didn’t have much of a playground, they told the boys to play on the sidewalk and blocked off the street for the girls, and we boys were warned not to go in the street or terrible things would happen. 

After lunch, the sawhorses went up on Lakewood Avenue for the girls to play Red Rover, while the boys, as you might expect, spent the time trying to push each other into the street. One day, my classmates succeeded in pushing me and several other boys into the street just as Mother Amadeus, our second-grade teacher, rounded the corner. She said very little, but  when we got to our classroom, we learned that they weren’t kidding about terrible things happening: 

We were told to sit with the girls…

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Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

24 thoughts on “A Fate Worse Than Death #JusJoJan”

  1. Similar experience as you John. I had a mostly good Catholic School experience but some memories of the nuns are etched forever in my brain. In 1st grade, my classmate said a bad word as we were lining up to go home at the end of the day. Sister Verna took a sliver of soap from the sink and made the boy stick out his tongue. She placed the soap and proceeded to tape his mouth shut. Of course he cried and little bubbles escaped from the corner of his mouth. I can picture it now 48 years after the fact. The rest of us felt awful and were terrified of her. If memory serves, he got in trouble again at home. This right here says it all “They managed to maintain order in the classroom and on the playgrounds with two basic tools: intimidation and humiliation.”

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  2. I’m sure you were mortified, Mr. Holton, so I hate to tell you that my first reaction upon reading your closing line was a grin. Was that your intention? Two of my boys recently turned 12 and I know that fear of the mysterious “other gender” is real. That said, I truly appreciate your bravery in sharing such a vulnerable moment with your readers.

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  3. Blecchhh…I went to catholic school and some nuns and priests could be so cruel. I have to laugh that you had to sit with the girls…that must have been death:)

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    1. I think what happened was that there were people who joined the priesthood or the convent expecting to do one thing and were then told they’d be doing something else. The nuns at our school belonged to an order that did teaching and missionary work, and some of them had been missionaries and loved it, then were told they would be coming home and teaching in grammar school, and weren’t happy. My stepfather had been a Jesuit for many years, had master’s degrees in Latin, Theology and History, and loved to teach, and they made him the pastor of our parish. He did a spectacular job as a pastor, but wanted to go back to teaching, and that was one of the factors in his leaving the priesthood (my mother being the other).

      A few years later, sitting with the girls would be desirable, but like I told Janet, at seven or eight years old, girls have cooties…

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  4. 12 year Catholic school survivor here. The nun who taught 4th grade made everyone break their erasers off of their pencils, so that “we would learn by our mistakes”. Those girls did NOT mess around.

    And Sister Tranquilla was ANYTHING BUT. I think her name was chosen in a fit of wishful thinking.

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    1. So she wanted it left wrong, rather than have you fix it? That’s asinine. Everyone makes math errors, even math “geniuses.” That’s the whole point of math: to get it right no matter how many times you have to recalculate. But, that’s nun logic for you.

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  5. Oh boy.
    Our local Catholic grade school is a mere $2k, (!!!) but the high school it feeds into is $14k a year, so it’s no wonder so many of them end up in our public high school. I got offered a job at that school, back in 96. They offered me almost $17. I laughed. Literally laughed on the phone. I told her, “I make more than that at the hardware store!” Poverty, indeed.
    I miss Red Rover.

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    1. $17 a year?? I knew they didn’t pay well (Fabulous Auntie Jill taught at our school, and while not sharing we knew she didn’t make what Mom did, which wasn’t much, either…), but that’s awful, even if you meant $17K.

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