Do you remember religion classes in your early education?
July 13, 2019 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Mr. Kitty and I are looking a preschools for Little Kitty. We loved the facilities, tone of the teachers, administrators, and philosophy of the program at one place. It checks every box for me ... except it’s heavily Catholic. Like, each school year is designed to prepare you for the sacraments, taught by some nuns, heavily Catholic. We are...... not.

It is NOTa stereotypical Catholic school, (rulers and strictness and angry abusive nuns). our kid loved the teachers we met, everyone was very soft and kind, and it has no known history with the sexual abuse or coverups. We would sign a check tomorrow if not for the religious aspect.

A fear we have is that if we start at this school, we will want to stay there for the rest of his academic career as we will know teachers and he will have friends there.

If you went to religious school early on, do you remember it? Did it impact your approach to religion?
posted by Suffocating Kitty to Religion & Philosophy (49 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was brought up Catholic and sent to a public Catholic school such as we had then. A good deal of time was devoted to preparing us for First Communion, first confession and so on. I am not religious now but I don't doubt for a minute that some of the attitudes and tones coloured my life, and in ways I'm not particularly happy with, looking back.

This was some years ago, but I don't see how you can send your kid to this school yet insulate them from the atmosphere and attitudes. The kid will be soaking in it and you may not detect the effects till too late.
posted by zadcat at 8:10 AM on July 13 [18 favorites]

Cannot comment directly on Catholic school experience, but from pre-k though sixth grade, I attended an Episcopal girls school with daily chapel and religious instruction. I enjoyed it, finding chapel to be a nice break during the day (and I liked the hymns) and the style (somewhat high, fancy vestments) to be a pleasant difference from our regular church. Instruction was light, and led by a female priest. Perhaps you could sit in on a couple of sessions, at different grade levels?

I went through a solidly atheist period in my teens and twenties and this school had little effect one way or the other except, perhaps, to soften my view of religious people, as the adults involved with spiritual life there were nothing but helpful and kind (in contrast, sadly, to some of the teachers, but this had nothing to do with whether or not they were religious and I have no idea if those teachers were). The main source of conflict related to religion came from other students, whose parents were more conservative/fundamentalist, and who enjoyed folding religious gatekeeping into their bullying repertoire. But this also happened at my non-religiously-affiliated middle school. I became more performatively atheist as a result for a while.

My nephew is starting at a Catholic middle school next year and his parents had similar reservations. I am hopeful it will be a positive experience, and if nothing else give him some knowledge and experience to prepare him for debates with Tradcaths and similar.
posted by notquitemaryann at 8:12 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]

My parents aren't religious at all, but I went to a Chinese Catholic preschool in a relatively liberal part of California before I started kindergarten for at least a year, possibly two, from the ages of approximately 3-4. I don't remember a single thing about the religious aspect of it, other than liking the Italian-style sculptures outside the school and having positive associations with the sight of old Chinese ladies in wimples. Thus, I would assume the nuns were pretty cool/none too strict, the school didn't pressure my parents and/or myself into feeling obliged to join the Church, and whatever religious instruction might've been included didn't stick. I could already read on my own before starting school so I don't remember learning much of anything, but I'm guessing I liked the environment just fine and it probably also explains why I really took to The Sound of Music once I was old enough to develop a preference for movies.

Going just to Catholic preschool, however, is a much shorter stint than planning on staying past preschool. However, I've had numerous ex-Catholic no-longer-religious friends who went to Catholic school their entire lives up to college, and the impact has been very varied. I've also had friends who never attended church K-12 suddenly become intensely Christian after joining their bf/gf's congregation during college. I've remained non-religious myself throughout my life, even though I've grown up with a fairly religious group of friends (people who regularly went to Sunday School, some of whom became Chinese Christian teachers when they graduated college, even). Any outcome could happen in terms of religious impact, I would imagine. But for me personally, preschool had very little impact on my approach to religion, other than giving me a foundation for some general awareness of various signifiers for Catholicism, and possibly an appreciation for Renaissance-inspired art.
posted by rather be jorting at 8:12 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]

[I am currently religious but this is a result of attending UCC churches and reading a lot of Day, Gutierrez, Cone etc as well as socialist and anarchist theory; mostly what lingers from school is the positive impression of a community of believers.]
posted by notquitemaryann at 8:18 AM on July 13

I started at a very Christian preschool across town as that’s what my mom thought would be best for her kids, even tho religion was not and never has been a big part of our lives. I, apparently at a very young age, nope’d right out of that real quick (altho all i actually remember is coloring a lot of pictures of Jesus). 2 years later me and my younger brother were at a much better school without the religious focus and it was a much much better experience I still somehow remember fondly even though it was 35 years ago. I am grateful my mom realized so early on it really wasn’t a good fit for me. My entire life i’ve been pretty atheist even before I knew what it meant.
posted by cgg at 8:21 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]

Does the school have an option for non-religious students, especially as your kid gets older? My brother went to a church-run private school for K-2nd grade, and kids that young were all grouped together for religious studies (basically, reading kid's versions of bible stories). I don't know what older kids did. My brother is agnostic/atheist, so I don't think reading about David and Goliath at age 6 had a big impact on his overall outlook to religion.

My mother (who is not Catholic) went to a Catholic high school since it had high ratings, and the non-Catholic students had Moral Instruction once a week instead of Catechism. Apparently this consisted of the teacher recapping the plot of the latest Bollywood movie and gossiping about film stars. Attendance at Moral Instruction must have been high.
posted by basalganglia at 8:23 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]

I am an atheist raised by atheists and I went to Catholic school. My parents picked the first one I went to because it was the best private school they could afford; I later transferred to a different Catholic school when we moved across town (that one wasn't as good). I'm not super clear on why I got stuck with the penguin brigade as my sister went to public school.

I had to do all the religion classes with the other kids, but I got to skip a lot of the sacrament preparation stuff and just chill with a book because I was unbaptized. No adults seemed to care that I was a non-believer or tried to convert me, but some of the other kids didn't understand and I got a lot of questions and confused faces. Once I got into junior high I got into a good number of debates about it. Mostly it was a non-issue.

I liked the schools I went to as much as any nerdy kid can like a school full of cool kids. I certainly liked them more than the public high school I attended. The religion was limited to religion class, which I think was one or two times per week, and one mass/confession session on Thursdays. The rest of the curriculum was pretty secular--we had regular science classes (no creationism) and regular health/sex ed classes when we got to middle school.

The religion classes were actually pretty interesting--they were world religion, not limited to Catholic stuff. I learned a surprisingly lot about other belief systems and never felt like they were pushing one doctrine over another, even in that setting.

They did ramp up the religion when the other kids were getting ready for first communion and confirmation, but a lot of that was done outside school hours and/or I didn't have to participate.

I wasn't the only non-participant, either. There were a couple Muslim kids and a Greek Orthodox kid; we all just hung out together and did homework when the Catholics had to Catholic. I did ask to go to a couple of the bigger religious events on Sundays, namely May Crowning and Easter mass, but that was only because there was free ice cream.

I would say that my religious school experience had zero influence on my non-belief. If anything, it strengthened my convictions. It did make me better informed about what other people believed and some of the why, which left me better-equipped to engage in obnoxious high school debates about atheism.

Hope that's helpful--of course this all happened in a different time and place, so YMMV. I'm happy to answer questions if you've got 'em!
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 8:24 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]

A couple anecdotes about attending a Catholic high school from one of my friends who grew up in a more conservative area (Southern California): she once won a competition for reciting lengthy Bible passages from memory in high school - that's certainly a thing. She also got heavily steeped in anti-abortion rhetoric to the point of participating in anti-abortion demonstrations as part of a school activity (she is pro-choice now, though, and doesn't look back upon such activities with fondness). It's probably far in advance to think about high school when you're looking at starting your child in preschool, and YMMV with geographic location and the school itself, but it also might be worth considering how long you'd want him to remain at the school and how to approach discussing religious aspects that could turn into political aspects when he gets older, if such issues might occur.
posted by rather be jorting at 8:36 AM on July 13

Hi! Catholic here. Do you know what kind of Catholic school it is? The key for me tends to be which order is in charge. They have different focuses. I’ve had my kid, who is not Catholic, in different schools - Jesuit ones are super tolerant, moral focus tends to be on like “hey we are all feeding the homeless/welcoming the immigrant” rather than on “you better believe in god now”. Dominican nuns are probably fine, I wouldn’t send if it’s Benedictine or what have you.
posted by corb at 8:44 AM on July 13 [14 favorites]

My three years of pre-school were spent at three different schools: one Methodist, one Lutheran and the third Jewish. While my family is culturally Christian, we practiced no religion at home and I was not baptized. These are the sum total of my memories of religion from those years:

1. Sitting in a church service and learning that if you ignore an itch long enough it will go away (this has proven to be a very useful piece of information)
2. Being upset that boys were allowed to wear yarmulkes and I was not
3. Liking the line about donkeys that I was assigned in a Noah's Ark play

I went to secular schools starting in first grade and as an example of how little the early religious education sunk in for me: it wasn't until high school that I figured out the relationship between Christmas and Jesus.

I have continued to be non-religious throughout my life.
posted by mcduff at 8:45 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]

I went to a very large Southern Baptist preschool in the early 80's. I feel like it was fun. They had the advantage of having a big gym, lots of equipment and resources, and the whole thing was very social. I played Joseph in a play, and that's the extent of my memory of its impact on my sense of religion (I've been agnostic as long as I can remember, although I am in love with religious imagery and am covered in the tattoos to prove it). I'm sure religion grabs some people at a very early age, but since I wasn't in a household that reinforced the school's message, I think I was just too young to absorb the branding, much less take it seriously.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:45 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]

I went to a Catholic school grades k-5 and a Jesuit Catholic school for 9-12. I have never been a Catholic, or for that matter a Christian. My parents sent me to the first because it was a "good school" and I chose the second with them for the same reason.

As for impact: I distinctly recall sometime in the first grade or so a teacher told me pets don't go to heaven in their scheme of things, and that was about when I decided I didn't want to follow any god like that. It was somewhat awkward at first remaining seated when communion came up: me, the Jewish kid and the Indian kid kinda twiddled our thumbs in silence but not a big deal. I was pretty uncomfortable putting on the Passion Plays but to be fair the religiousity of them was only part of that.

TLDR: my early religious Catholic education completely failed to draw me in to any of their beliefs.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:48 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]

One long term effect. My friends from schools are mostly pretty religious and Republican. I'm in Massachusetts and many of my girl friends from school have jobs like teachers but are Pro-Trump and very religious. College educated, female Massachusetts residents that are Pro-Trump has got to be statistically less likely? This era of hyper-partisanship makes the dive feel pretty great.
posted by beccaj at 8:59 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]

I would look into and ask directly about what this program's philosophy is for this because, as mentioned, this will vary and may even change as school leadership changes. I went to a Catholic 2-8 and a Catholic college, both taught by progressive nuns and if I had become a nun, I would one of those in conflict with the Pope over several moral issues. OTOH, I considered both an Episcopalian and a Baptist school for my children (in part because of friendships from pre-K programs) and decided not to use either after deciding their overall curriculum did not delve widely outside their own religious systems, like it was always the Bible based vs bringing in other religious texts; history and science courses were not sufficiently rigorous given the need to accommodate their tenets, student service organizations were always denominational.

As to if it was a hard decision, well, yes, but it was also expected to happen. Pre-K moved on to other programs. And students left these schools all the time anyway: for still better curriculums, better ancillary sports and arts programs, because parents moved. And they still maintained friendships via play dates, sports teams, and online media.
posted by beaning at 9:06 AM on July 13

It's probably a good idea to take a look at whether or not the school is affiliated with the local Archdiocese. If it is, see if you can get your hands on any handbooks for the schools, ask around to see if the teachers have to sign a morality clause and what that looks like, see what the Archdiocesan mandates are as far as curriculum. Those things should be fairly easy to find on the Archdiocesan website or the school's website.

Seconding corb: the order of the nuns is important here. My friend's son attended a Lasallian tradition all boys high school, and despite the Lasallian focus supposedly on social justice, the school is one of the more conservative in the area and my friend's son says there was a lot of overt anti-LGBTQIA activity that was not necessarily challenged by the teachers. In contrast, my daughter attends a Jesuit university and the LGBTQIA group on campus is overtly supported by the administration. (just as an example)
posted by cooker girl at 9:08 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]

Some have asked the flavor of Catholic-

It’s run by the Sisters of Mercy. Thoughts?
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 9:21 AM on July 13

I believe it depends on you, your child, and to some extent the social atmosphere of the school (not so much the religious atmosphere).
Our story: my mum was born and baptized a Catholic, and went to a Catholic school for 1st grade, and maybe second, and was bullied there. I don't know the details, but she voluntarily went to a boarding school for several years from a very young age. When she came home, she was adopted by her stepfather and my grandfather, a Jew, because her biological father had "disappeared". After that, her schooling was deliberately secular.
When I was four, we moved to England, and I went to religious (Church of England) private schools and Sunday school, the works. I loved it all, and remember wishing for a bible for my 7th birthday and being offended when they had bought a child's bible. I was not religious, my father and both grandmothers being determined atheists. I liked the stories and the language. From there I went to American schools abroad for some years where the only religion was AMERICA!!! And then back in Denmark, we have a state church and religion is a mandatory subject at school, though other religions are part of the curriculum. I was still atheist, and I still seriously thought of studying theology, because I really like the stories, and all the history, and the languages. Though I didn't, my knowledge and interest became useful to me when I studied architectural history later in life.
My children both started at a German Lutheran church. Those guys are very religious. My eldest had and has some fascination for the church, and is confirmed, though she moved to a public school before the confirmation. I think her religion is mostly about being like her friends, not weird like her parents. My youngest started out on her first school day, in church, by loudly telling me: "look mum, that man believes in God, have you seen anything that stupid?" Everyone had a laugh. She too moved to a public school for some years, but then insisted she wanted to attend a Jesuit school in our vicinity. As a hardcore atheist and less than diligent scholar, she was a very bad match, but she loved the vibe, the spiritual retreats, and the other students, of all religions as well as other atheists like herself. Jesuits are the scholars among Catholics, and I really admire their pedagogy and thought system, including their tolerance of other points of view. I'd certainly recommend it to anyone. I was less impressed by the Germans, who seemed rather whiny, intolerant and hypocritical to me (my ex is German, and we needed our child to learn the language). In the end, that was why the kids didn't fit in there, and they felt it themselves, it wasn't like we were dragging them away from their friends.

In short, I would not worry about sending my child to a Catholic school, if that is the best school on all the other parameters. I think religion, for better and for worse, is part of humanity, and it's good to learn about it from a source, while being aware that there are many sources. If the children choose religion, it's not terrible. With my eldest daughter, it's not something we discuss. We love each other, and she doesn't think the atheist part of her family will go to hell, and we don't think she is stupid.
If she began distrusting science or being against abortion or accepting any form of bigotry, we would have a stern talk right away, but there is no indication of anything like that, to the contrary.
posted by mumimor at 9:53 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]

Another atheist raised by atheists and I went to a Catholic preK-K, taught by nuns, went to chapel. I don't remember much about it at all. Not having ever been to church before, I felt shy and scared of messing up during the various rituals. But pre-first-communion, it's not like there's many pitfalls there. I was just an anxious kid. But you might want to attend a couple Catholic masses as a family of that sounds like something your kid might be worried about.

(I went to secular schools for 1-8 but returned to a Catholic school for high school. I've been a strong atheist the whole time.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:58 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]

SoM are fairly cool. They seem to have a sense of service similar to the Jesuits. I can't speak to just how rigorously they invoke Catholicism in the schools, though.

Are you sure SoM is the order running the school, or is the school itself owned by the local archdiocese? That can be an important distinction. For instance, here in Indianapolis, most of the Catholic schools are owned/operated by the Indianapolis Archdiocese. An exception to this is a local preparatory school that is owned/operated by the Jesuits. The school is recognized by the archdiocese as Catholic.

Recently, though, the Archdiocese decided to start firing any employees in their schools who were gay and/or in a same-sex marriage. They sent an order to the Jesuit prep school to fire a teacher known to be in a same-sex marriage. In typical Jesuit fashion, they told the archdiocese to go pound sand. So, the archdiocese no longer recognizes the prep school as "catholic." I don't think any of the parents care. It's a great, well-respected, and diverse school.

All that is to say, while the SoM are ok, if the archdiocese actually own/run the place, the vibe could be very different. In any case, I'm sure the school would invite you to sit down and discuss their operation with you.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:59 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]

My friend is currently involved in transferring her children out of the local Catholic school (in 2nd grade and K; the third will go to Catholic preschool and then public K). The reason is that, while it's a lovely, warm environment, it doesn't have the academic resources and they're starting to notice. I don't remember the specifics, but that's how she described it--the science classes don't expose them to as much (and we're not talking evolution at this point), and I don't think they have an actual music teacher.

I do think, though, that switching schools after preschool is not a big deal at all. After K it's a bigger deal, but in our town, there's only one public preschool class and most kids go to small private preschools or day care. So everyone comes to K fresh, with only maybe one friend from the same PK. My son went to a private PK with only 12 kids in the class and none of them were in his public school; he made new friends immediately, and after that it would have been a big deal to move him.
posted by gideonfrog at 10:13 AM on July 13

Raised Catholic, in Catholic schools in the USA 40 years ago. My brother brought his kids up in Catholic school. I am very non-Catholic now.

From very early on (then and now), there is indoctrination into a worldview wherein all people are born corrupt and evil, but are saved because God had a Son and sent Him to earth to be tortured and killed. Needless to say, this is a very toxic environment for young impressionable children. There's a lot of blood, purity, and sin in even the "friendliest" of Catholic education. You can find a better place, trust me.
posted by rikschell at 10:43 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]

I was raised Catholic (though I'm not now), went to a Chicago Jesuit-run Catholic grade school in the 80s and early 90s. For most of my seven years there (grades 2-8), two of the 16 or so kids in my class were non-Catholic, so they sat off to the side in the church when the rest of us did sacraments. But they weren't excluded from anything else, and there were plenty of non-religious social things going on. Both were definitely part of the in-crowd. They had to take religion class and get grades on it like the rest of us. But I don't remember the contents of the class being overly fire-and-brimstone in nature, and while I wouldn't characterize our science curriculum as strong, there wasn't any creationist silliness. We did have excellent English, math, and history programs. Not at all conservative.

I know that one of the kids (as an adult) and his parents were still happy with the school and community.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 11:33 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]

Oh, maybe it would be helpful to mention that some Archdioceses (is that the correct plural?) don't actually own their affiliated schools. In Cincinnati, for example, the schools are owned and run by the parish priests. The Archdiocese has a say in parts of the curriculum, parts of the HR aspect, and how the funding is allocated, but in the end, the parish priests are the ones who decide, for example, if the Principal can have, say, a Girl Scout troop run through the school.

It's complicated, and I get the feeling that it's not uniform throughout the US. (I'm not Catholic, I married a lapsed Catholic, and I worked in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati schools office for almost 4 years recently.) I would say it's definitely worth your while to find out as much as you possibly can about the structure of the school and the affiliated Archdiocese. Also, if it matters to your family, how liberal or conservative in general is the Catholic population in your town? That has an impact on the liberal/conservative bent in the Catholic schools.

I have several friends in various parts of the US who attended Catholic schools K-12 or K-8. They all, uniformly, say that science classes included creationism as part of the curriculum, and that religion classes and masses were mandatory for everyone, regardless of an individual student's religious or non-religious beliefs. That's probably going to be something you'll want to think about, maybe not now, but later if you decide to go with and stay with the Catholic school.
posted by cooker girl at 11:35 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]

Catholicism taught me, in implicit and explicit ways, that men are more important than women, that sex is bad, that virginity was a huge part of a girl’s value, that nominal atonement erased sin, that if I was bad I deserved bad things, that being gay was terrible, and a bunch of other bad social ideas, as well as lots of non-science. All before age 7. I’m still working on erasing some of these foundational biases. I would never let religious Catholics educate my kid.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:46 AM on July 13 [7 favorites]

If you went to religious school early on, do you remember it?

Yes, I remember it. Catholic school, grades 1-8, rural and small-town, in a century far, far away.

Did it impact your approach to religion?

On reflection, yes. I became apostate just before the sacrament of Confirmation, in response to the cynical indoctrination I experienced directly from the Church. I'm not anti-religion, but there are shenanigans that are common to all human institutions, and I see religions as profoundly human endeavors.

Rather later in life, I realized from my own experience that there's a reason that religious indoctrination starts very young. I believe that children are essentially defenseless against the adults telling them that nonsense is truth, and it lodges very, very deep in them, especially when driven home with a little artfully wielded shame, which calcifies into a guilt that I can compensate for but that I don't seem to be able to escape.

I'm a spinster, but I'm an uncle to many, and I would not want one of my nieces or nephews left unattended at an impressionable age at any religious institution.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:49 AM on July 13 [7 favorites]

I have two cousins who went to a day care owned and operated by the synagogue in their neighborhood. No one in my immediate or extended family is Jewish; in fact, we're predominantly Catholic. After the day care and preschool, my cousins went on to a general public school from Kindergarten on, and the Catholicism has had more of an impact on their lives.

Since you're talking preschool, you're probably okay. The most "religious" preschools tend to get is "here's something that happens in our faith's worship service", but don't really do deep dives into the dogma just yet. So you may have a thing like the time when my three-year-old cousin excitedly spent a Thanksgiving telling all of us that she had been the Sabbath Queen at day care the week before "and I got to carry the Torah!" and we all had to discreetly ask her parents "what's a 'Sabbath Queen' and is that good?", but I strongly doubt your child will be coming home saying "Mom and Dad, teacher said you're going to hell" or anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:59 AM on July 13

I am a Catholic now (became one as an adult) who went to a Catholic kindergarten and has almost no memory of it (secular or religious), except one story passed down by parental retelling about how a nun asked how old I thought she was and I said 100.

That said, I would be reluctant to send my kids to a school that taught something I didn't believe in and did not want them to believe in. For me that means I would send them to the school you're looking at, but for you that could mean the opposite.
posted by Polycarp at 1:02 PM on July 13

I think that my questions would be where the school stands on LGBTQ issues. For example, if your child is gay, or has classmates that are, how will the school respond?

As someone who was sent to a religious junior high, it was not so much the bible classes or mandatory chapel that was a problem for me personally (I could choose not to believe in what they were saying), it was the milieu of bigotry and not being allowed to, just, you know, be who I was. I mean, what children very quickly do is learn what those who have power over them want them to be, and then they do it out of survival. In retrospect, some of the most traumatic years of my life.
posted by nanook at 1:22 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]

I would try and really unpack what they do in terms of religious instruction. I once picked a Rudolf Steiner preschool school for my daughter, and religion was played down in the interview, but then she came home talking about saints.(not to mention the no media and no reading before 7)

For myself, I went to Catholic school for a few years (first and second grade), and also attended church, and while I no longer practice, and haven't since about age 11- I am pretty awed at how indoctrinated I was. Now, at 44, I have been going to funerals the last few years of various Catholic relatives, and I know all the prayers and movements for church in a way that is totally muscle memory.
posted by momochan at 1:33 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]

They all, uniformly, say that science classes included creationism as part of the curriculum

FWIW this was not part of my Catholic HS curriculum and in fact is not Catholic theology.

While I had a good experience in Catholic preK-K and HS, I probably wouldn't opt for Catholic elementary school for my own kid. By high school, I was already set in my beliefs and going to religion class every day didn't make a dent at all, and before first grade I was too young to comprehend any of it. In the intervening years, though, there's a lot of room for indoctrination (between First Communion and Confirmation is prime time). Unless the school expressly said that non-Catholic students would in no way receive any religious instruction and there was already a significant population of non-Catholic students at the school, I'd switch schools for first grade onward.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:49 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]

I went to an Episcopalian pre-school and Catholic school from kindergarten through high school. My experience doesn't appear to have been like some of the other commenters. I don't really remember learning anything religious in pre-K or K, although first graders started going to mass with the rest of the school every Friday. There were a lot of non-Catholics in my grade school and they had to attend mass and take religion classes like the rest of us. In addition I wasn't baptized until I was about 7 or so and to do so was my choice.

I wouldn't call myself indoctrinated at a young age. I do remember lots of spirited debates and open criticism of Catholicism in my later grade school and high school years. I don't recall if I ever learned about creationism beyond as a story in the Bible.

Some of the people I know and the friends from those years are conservative today, some are liberal. I am very liberal and I would classify myself as culturally Catholic.

My parents have never been devout. They never really approached Catholicism as the only true way to live one's life. I'm sure that's what had the biggest impact on my brother and me, more than anything. If a Catholic school had a great academic reputation, as mine do, I wouldn't have a problem sending my kid there.
posted by girlmightlive at 2:53 PM on July 13

Yes, I remember pre-school age religious teaching. My first awareness that I was considered less worthy for being a girl came from (Lutheran) Sunday School, where I learned that "God" was a He. It was accepted as basic truth that males were at least a bit more holy, and that girls should be subservient and deferential. I'm still struggling to unlearn that shit 60 years later. If I were making this decision for any child, I'd do everything I could do to minimize their exposure to the toxic patriarchy and authoritarianism that are baked into Catholic doctrine.

More specifically, I remember being absolutely horrified, and deeply confused, by the story of Abraham. I couldn't understand why these people were teaching me, "Thou shalt not kill," except when you think god is telling you to. And they said my father was like god in the family, so if my father tells me to do something wrong I'm supposed to do it? This bothered me a lot as a kid.
posted by Corvid at 2:57 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]

I don't have kids, but it seems like most kids follow whatever religion their parents practice. If the parents are not particularly religious, a kid may pickup the religion their school teaches. Would you be okay if your kid becomes a strong Catholic? Just something to consider.
posted by mundo at 2:57 PM on July 13

I had a stereotypical Catholic education in grade school and a more sophisticated, Jesuit-style education in a single-sex Catholic high school. It formed who I am as a person and a lot of my basic ethics come from the principles we were taught in school (the principles that the Church itself has repeatedly failed to live up to). I had everything from truly cruel, nightmare nuns who made life hell for the kids (while buttering up parents) to radical, loving, awesome nuns who took prominent stands for doing the right thing and served as life examples for me. I would caution you that as a parent, you can’t know everything about what a school will be like for your child, because right now they’re trying to impress you. I would pay a lot more attention to how the parish or Church as a whole deals with problems than to how the school is currently selling itself to parents.

it has no known history with the sexual abuse or coverups

My Catholic grade school had no known history with sexual abuse or coverups until Spring 2019, when the diocese published a list of abusive priests and my school’s parish priest, who interacted with us in classrooms, at recess, and as altar servers, was revealed to have been repeatedly accused from the 80s-90s. Just because you don’t know now doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or isn’t happening.

If I have children, I do not plan to baptize them or send them to Catholic school. I will never give another dollar to the Church, even through school tuition. I say that as someone who deeply respects and loves some of the individual nuns and priests I’ve met in my life. But I won’t give another damn dollar to an institution that STILL makes life hell for the families its own priests abused.
posted by sallybrown at 3:53 PM on July 13 [8 favorites]

I went to an Episcopal preschool. There was no religious content that I recall. (I checked their website now, approximately 30 years later. They talk about developing children "intellectually, socially and spiritually".)

My dad wanted to send me to Catholic schools because he went to Catholic schools (and that is What You Do when you're of his cultural background). My mom (who is not and has never been religious, but thought the "make the kids Catholic" idea was a good one) apparently vetoed after visiting on the grounds the science class seem ill-equipped. (That's not "Catholics don't believe in science" as some commenters have implied, but rather science is surely one of the more costly primary school subjects.) That turned out to be a major bullet dodged--there was no provision for gifted education and I had a friend in high school who'd gone to that elementary school and spent junior high in a corner teaching herself math. (The question didn't arise for high school for money and location reasons.)

The sum total of what I remember from 8 years of CCD (the Catholic version of Sunday school, which isn't on Sundays; I didn't go in 8th grade because I didn't want to be confirmed) is: being annoyed in kindergarten when we were supposed to learn about the saint we were named after, but I wasn't, so I had to learn about my middle name saint instead (this was probably about being trans--my given first name is ridiculously rare, whereas my given middle name was common and clearly gendered); there was a priest who went and lived in a leper colony; once we had to make unleavened bread and it tasted awful; Oscar Romero was assassinated during mass.

Rather than trust Metafilter's imagined ideas about Catholicism, it would be better to find a Catholic friend and talk to them about the word on the street. Catholicism really varies from place to place. The archdiocese makes a difference, but things vary parish to parish as well. (That school I didn't go to? Significantly more conservative than the parish I grew up in, which didn't have a school.)
posted by hoyland at 3:56 PM on July 13

As far as science, we were taught the same science curriculum as any rigorous public school (including the Big Bang, evolution, everything like that), but Plus God—like, “X happened,” and if a student asked “but what about the Bible, Adam and Eve,” the nun would say “God’s hand guided the Big Bang” or “God works in mysterious ways.” ( There was never an insistence on believing Genesis was literally true.) For example, she would teach us about Darwin figuring out evolution and say “God blessed Charles Darwin with the intelligence to figure that out.”
posted by sallybrown at 4:09 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]

I agree strongly with the ideas that it depends a lot on the particular school and diocese that you're looking at.

However I'll share a few thoughts and observation. My spouse is Catholic and his family is still several flavours of Catholic right up to "homeschool Catholics who are raising their girls to be midwives and spend their weekends protesting abortions."

1) My son encountered Catholicism through some family events when he was 3. He doesn't remember this but I do...he had a visceral horror of the crucifixion, crucifixes, and the line "God so loved the world, he gave his only son." Through that experience and his eyes, I saw how violent and cruel a lot of Christian and Catholic stories are if you haven't sort of ramped up them in your life. He was disturbed. We were disturbed. And that was before we got to saints sucking pus from each others' wounds, etc. Whether this is different from Grimm's Fairy Tales or not is debatable on a narrative level, but if your child is surrounded by people who genuinely, wholly believe that Jezebel was thrown to the dogs after she put on makeup, well.

So, think through what it is for your family.

2) My niece and nephews were educated in the Ontario public Catholic school system (there are regular and Catholic public schools here through a quirk of early agreements) and while they were in a big and diverse school board adhering to the Ontario curriculum, they managed to be almost comically unaware of many things like...that "gay people" aren't just sort of out there but are your friends and I feel like they were living 30+ years behind progressive society. Their school discussed these issues in a very othering way, basically assuming that none of its own students or parents could possibly be a part of any LGBTQ umbrella. And that's not a school that is firing its gay employees.

If you continue past preschool, and even in preschool, consider how your child will feel if they are gay or gender queer or anything like that.

Also your child may be learning about women's roles in things, particularly if the preschool is a part of a larger organizational structure which probably eventually becomes all male at the top, not by accident or small-scale bias, but because this preschool exists within a power structure which dictates that women cannot hold a bunch of positions (at the very least in the Church) by virtue of being women.

3) There have been some pretty awesome nun educators in the past; I just recently got to visit the Ursuline museum in Quebec City and saw the wicked tools they were using to educate women in the 1800s. So also be aware that there are possibly going to be real benefits to this school...but the school still exists in categories 1) Catholic theology and 2) Catholic social beliefs.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:08 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]

When it comes to a school that believes my child is going to hell if he or she doesn’t believe “just so,”. I enroll elsewhere.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:52 PM on July 13

I attended a rural Catholic grade school in Ontario (Separate School System) a long time ago back in the 20th century, not affiliated with Nuns or related things. A pretty good school, mostly (bullied by some staff, but that happens anywhere). The doctrine stuff was low-key, mostly just some classes with fairly banal lectures about the New Testament. Once in a while the Parish Priest came in to visit and said something. It wasn't a big deal to me, but I think I was lucky in the scheme of things, compared to experiences in other schools that I've heard of. "It Depends" based on your perspective.
posted by ovvl at 7:14 PM on July 13

My kid has to go to a methodist school that conflicts with my personal views ( more traditional theology and way more liberal too), so I have to actively check in with her about what she learns and counter teach. On the bright side, she's learning parents and teachers disagree, and to question scripture and authority early on! Downside, I had to make her pinky swear not to announce she was the antichrist in class last week, I see the teachers enough already.

I chose a Catholic school for another kid deliberately because they had better pastoral care, and he really got better there with their focus on character over grades. Chapel and religious class was for Catholic students only, so he hung out with the other non Catholics in the library. I wasn't thrilled with their sex ed approach, but I did all the books and Talks anyway at home and countered what was said.

Any school, you will have a dogma of some sort to work with. Catholic schools are at least up front about theirs. You should be actively teaching with/against your school's ethics where they conflict with your family, but also raising your kid to think and listen actively and with increasing independence.

I would check out other schools in the area first because of your long term plans. Are you definitely committed to this area or might you move in a few years? Is this the best option in the area? I don't know if i would keep my youngest at her school if I had known it would be for the next 8 years, knowing the school culture now - it's very competitive and I'd prefer a more supportive place. The religion I can deal with by talking with my kid, it's the underlying values of the staff matter with kids.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:01 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]

Friends of mine sent their daughter to a Christian elementary school in their area because the public school was not good, and the Catholic school didn't have the rigorous curriculum and sports program their daughter wanted. Friends schools or other independent schools either didn't have comprehensive sports or were far too expensive. They are non-religious ex-Catholics themselves, but they held their breath and enrolled their daughter.

She loved it. The school ended at 8th grade, and she was admitted to the premier academically competitive public high school in my large city. She went to an Ivy League college. She is very happy about her education.

Her parents less so. She became a bible-thumping conservative Christian of the school's denomination and it opened a strained and difficult chasm for the family to cross. They are not quite estranged because of her religion-justified opinions, but very nearly so. They certainly don't have the warm relationship her parents hoped they would. They wish they had not made the choice they did and had pushed harder for another path for their child's education. At the time, they believed that family ethics and morals would be more important, and would spark discussions where they could rationally discuss important issues, like abortion or LGBT rights. They did have discussions, but their daughter was more and more convinced that she was "right" and everyone else wrong, and used the bible to justify her opinions, as was done in her school. My friends wish fervently now that they had stretched financially, asked for financial aid or tried harder to earn more money. They opted for a mom who worked part-time and was more available for the kids at home. They don't care so much about the religious choice, but the criticism and lack of tolerance is very upsetting. They describe their feelings now as a sort of grieving, and are hopeful that as she becomes older - she's now in her early 30s - her views will moderate and make room for others who have different deeply-held views.

I also agree with others above that the denomination and leadership of both the school and the diocese matter a lot. Jesuit schools usually have more independence because although they technically come under the dictates of the local diocese, they have very strong leadership within their order, and have a history of intellectual independence. Orders of religious women usually have far less autonomy and power, and unfortunately are generally forced to default to very conservative bishops. It might be that in your location this school is a wonderfully affirming and open-minded option, but the same order of nuns might have a school in another diocese that is not. I had an aunt who was a Sister of Mercy, and a warmer and more tolerant woman never walked the earth, but I would not assume other nuns are.
posted by citygirl at 11:09 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]

I went to a Catholic middle school and it seriously messed me up. Please don't do this to your child.
posted by Violet Hour at 3:08 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]

I mean, the joke is that if you are a devout Catholic and you want your kids to grow up to be devout Catholics, don't send them to Catholic school. So...

I attended religious (Bahai) instruction from preschool until the 2nd grade. I have fond memories of singing songs and eating snacks and a generally warm fuzzy impression of the faith, but it didn't ultimately determine my beliefs; I am now, oh irony, Catholic. So ya know- you never know. You can't predict, control or guarantee what your child will grow up to believe. All you can do is try your best to put them in a good environment.
posted by windykites at 5:04 PM on July 14

A lot has been said already, and I don't personally have anything useful to contribute. I did recently hear a story on The Moth that I think is relevant. Maybe it'll be useful to you.
posted by Zudz at 7:14 AM on July 15

Gentle re-direct note to the other answerers:

The OP is stating that they are considering sending their child to a church-run preschool. So sharing opinions about church-run middle schools, grade schools, and high schools is kind, but may not quite be what the OP is looking for.

I've just remembered that my own preschool was in the basement of a church, however I think the fact that it's taken about 47 years for me to remember this fact suggests that the religious impact of the church on my life was minimal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:04 PM on July 15

I've just remembered that my own preschool was in the basement of a church, however I think the fact that it's taken about 47 years for me to remember this fact suggests that the religious impact of the church on my life was minimal.

....I just remembered mine was, too, but like a church no one in my family belonged to. I...may have painted an ark? Wow, weird. I am now religious but not that religion.
posted by corb at 6:53 PM on July 15

Yet another Catholic - my preschool memories are scant now but I know as parent it really depends on what branch is running the school as each sect, as others have mentioned, have different areas where they focus. At a preschool level, however, I think you'll likely not get too into the theological weeds but it will be more overt if your child continues on.

For me, I grew up in a working class / left leaning Catholicism largely populated by Jesuits & Grey Nuns. The unions my male relatives belonged to were Catholic ones. My schooling emphasised intellectualism and community works which have been principles I carried on through school and has affected my politics as an adult. Ecumenism was also something that was more prevalent when I was a kid, possibly to curtail the out and out prejudice that my parents and particularly my grandparents experienced as minorities in a Protestant majority. When I went to university and met Catholics my age from different geographical regions I was often floored by the levels of conservatism and dogmatism that my peers would express to the point that I didn't recognise the religion that they expressed despite nominally being described as Catholicism. Often they seemed no different then the Evangelical Christians I met. So Catholicism can be a big tent with room for a variety of viewpoints.

The real issues will possibly be with you as parents and the organisation running the school especially if you are areligious or at the very least not Catholic or ignorant of Catholicism. If you plan to continue on in Catholic schooling I think it'd benefit you as parents to familiarise yourself with Catholics beliefs and at the very least the particular take on Catholicism that is being used in the school. Conversation is one of the critical components of my parenting so personally I always find it helpful to be as well informed and as honest as possible with your child.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:22 AM on July 16

A fear we have is that if we start at this school, we will want to stay there for the rest of his academic career as we will know teachers and he will have friends there.

This is not a fear at all. Unless you live in NYC, your nursery school as little connection to any other schools you will attend and most students will probably go somewhere else for primary school.

I barely remember this, but I believe I went to a Baptist nursery school. My brother went to a Jewish nursery school. Most of my family went to Catholic schools for part or all of our school careers. My family is religious but neither Baptist, Jewish, nor Catholic. If you think it is the best, most nurturing nursery school for your child, send your child there. It's only a year. If your child doesn't like it, you can pull the kid out at any time with little consequence.
posted by deanc at 1:31 PM on July 20

An update 1 we are decidedly NOT sending him to the Catholic school. We met with the teacher for preschool as part of his application assessment and she absolutely crushed his spirit. He was so excited for school and he left so dejected and unhappy. My husband and I observed her correct his (very 3 year old appropriate) behavior at least 30 times in their half hour assessment together. We noped our of there, told our kid how much we loved him and took him for burgers and never looked back.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 2:41 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]

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