Should we send our daughter to Catholic school?
February 3, 2007 11:04 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are Buddhist. We have a four year old daughter who we would like to see get a great education. In our area/county, some of the better (academics, arts, and athletics) schools are Catholic schools. Would it be a good idea to send my daughter to a Catholic school?

We are concerned about quite a few things. One being our daughter. We would like for her to be able to make a choice about following, or not following, whatever type of religion she chooses. We'd also like for her to get the best possible education we can afford. Yet at the same time, I do not want her to be confused as to why her parents are different than what she is being taught in school even though my wife and I will do our best to show her that there can be more than one noble path.

Also, is it ok to ask the principle, without coming across as being disrespectful, the following questions:
If we do not attend church, or any other church for that matter, would they accept her?
Would they be respectful of our choice of Buddhism as a belief?

Does anyone have experience in this dilemma we are facing? Or would anyone who attended or teaches at a Catholic school consider this a viable choice of education for our daughter.
posted by jasonspaceman to Religion & Philosophy (65 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you're giving Catholics nearly enough credit! :)

I'm not Catholic, and I went to Catholic school. I was expected to participate in the religious activities (weekly chapel, thrice-daily class prayers, etc) but there was zero pressure on me to convert. I remember feeling a little awkward in chapel when everyone else went up for Holy Communion and I just sat there, but otherwise I don't recall a single instance of feeling weird or different for religious reasons.

I got a really, really good education, it was affordable for my parents, and I also think there's something to be said for learning to deal with people who don't believe exactly what you and your parents believe at a young age.

In my experience, Catholic schools are very, very used to non-Catholics attending, and are wonderful places.

And don't worry, I'm still not Catholic-- they didn't convert me on the sly.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:22 AM on February 3, 2007

I think those questions are perfectly reasonable, and really any questions should be. Whether they take offense at any of this will be a good indicator.

I've heard good things about Jesuits in regard to tolerance and general scholarship. So if you have a choice, I'd look into the Jesuit option.
posted by phrontist at 11:26 AM on February 3, 2007

My family is russian orthodox and my parents sent my sister and me to a catholic school for grade school. The private education I received has been invaluable over the years. I remember attending school with many catholics as well as mormons, atheists and muslims. In fact, one of my best friends was a buddhist from Srilanka. From my experience, I was never concerned about why my family celebrated differently than the catholics did. It never bothered me that I couldn't take communion. I did go to confession on occasion, but that was not required by the school. My mom did a great job of explaining why there were different beliefs and it was important to my parents that I could make an informed choice as to what I believed as I grew. Looking back, I am amazed at how tolerant and accepting my catholic school was.
posted by miss meg at 11:27 AM on February 3, 2007

Funny enough, when I was young my parents sent me to Catholic school (and a Greek Orthodox school, and a Jewish day school). And now I'm a Buddhist.

Of course, being Buddhist doesn't mean you can't also be a Christian (the two are not mutually exclusive). For me, being exposed to various religious beliefs at a young age allowed me to see their commonalities, and also some of the ugliness inherent to more "organized" religions.

The point is, respect your child's ability to figure out for themselves what their path is. Encourage them to question everything. Expose them to as much as possible: the more direct experience they have in their lives, the better. If the school is simply a better all-around school than the other options you have, you're daughter will be better off in the long run.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:29 AM on February 3, 2007

I want to an inner-city Catholic high school where Catholics were the minority.

It was just the only decent school in the area
posted by Mick at 11:35 AM on February 3, 2007

I am Catholic, and I went to a Catholic school from K-8, then to a public school. Many of my classmates were not Catholic. They still had to go to church with us, and there was a religion class, but no one pressured them or tried to make them convert. I'm not aware of any who did. It was simply a much, much better education than the public schools were at that point. They had stronger programs, and they had the advantage of being able to remove misbehaving students -- we were reminded often that we were incredibly lucky to have the privilege of attending that school, and that it would be taken away if necessary (I only remember one occasion where that happened, and it was becuase a child brought a knife to school and threatend to use it, so seemed understandable. The school went out of its way to work with other students who caused "problems" but wouldn't let those kids disrupt the learning enviornment for the others, if that makes sense.)
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:39 AM on February 3, 2007

I also went to a Catholic grade school as a Catholic kid in the Midwest. Of 50 kids in my grade, at least 10 weren't Catholic. The non-Catholic kids were never ostracized or made to feel weird, nor was there pressure on them to convert, as far as I knew.

They had the option to skip the daily religion class and go to the library, though most stayed ... and, at least in my school, the religion classes were a bit more like history/literature classes (on the history of different religions, and interpreting Bible stories) than particularly dogmatic. I remember doing a report on Buddhism, actually.

We had seven classes per day; the other six were totally secular and pretty academically rigorous. I feel I got a great education there. (Though I was also happy to go to the big public high school when I got to that age.)
posted by Sterling Hoyt at 11:47 AM on February 3, 2007

I'm Jewish, and went to a Catholic (Jesuit, specifically) high school and university. They're much more interested in the caliber of student, than the student's faith.
posted by effugas at 11:54 AM on February 3, 2007

This will depend on the school, of course, and it's definitely a good idea to ask those sorts of questions, just in case. However, most non-Catholics I know who attended Catholic schools had few problems. In my high school, there were Jewish kids, Protestants, some atheists and I think a Buddhist kid [along with teachers from a similar range of faiths]. Everyone was invited to the Jewish kids' bar and bat mitzvah parties, and no one cared that the non-Catholic kids stayed seated during Communion. Attenting things like religion class and the occasional Mass will be mandatory, but your daughter can sit out the communion. Religion class will vary, but at my school, we learned as much about religious & theological history as we did about Catholic doctrine, and we also learned about other religions [including Buddhism.] Even the specifically Catholic stuff that we learned wasn't presented in a doctrinaire fashion: we had a lot of debates and discussions, and nothing was presented as the only right answer. Religion wasn't at all involved in any of our other classes, and no one ever tried to convert the non-Catholic kids.

So definitely ask questions, but as long as the school seems accepting, go for it. Your daughter will get a better education, and honestly, being exposed to all the Catholic stuff might even turn out to be useful, since Catholicism played such a huge role in the formation of Western society and culture.
posted by ubersturm at 11:56 AM on February 3, 2007

Of course, being Buddhist doesn't mean you can't also be a Christian (the two are not mutually exclusive).
Catholicism isn't really mixable, if you ask me. These new half-beliefs (kids who think that they're "half jewish") tend not to have much basis in truth.

Anyway - it depends on your area. There are very liberal and very conservative catholics. You need to check out the schools, sit in on classes (academic, religious, etc) to tell whether it'll be a good experience for your progeny.

Starting early is an advantage, since her class will grow up knowing her beliefs. It's amazing how little people know about non-Abrahamic faiths.

(this from a kid who chose to go to Catholic school for 2 years)
posted by tmcw at 11:57 AM on February 3, 2007

Those questions are absolutely fine to ask. I attended a Catholic (Jesuit, all-male) high school after 8 years of regular public schools, and it was a great experience I wouldn't trade for anything else. Occasional liturgy attendance was expected but there was no pressure to be religious, and the school sponsored Muslim and Jewish student groups on the same terms as other clubs.

My next-door neighbor attended the same high school after 8 years of Catholic elementary and junior high. Interestingly, his younger sister went to public school.

Their parents had the right idea, I think: after meeting their classmates' families they decided whether they were the sort of people they wanted their children to spend a childhood with. In his case, those families are still close friends, in hers they were a reason to change schools. The quality of the teachers and the other parents should be a primary concern over the political/religious affiliations of the school.
posted by migurski at 12:10 PM on February 3, 2007

A relative of mine, a non-catholic, went to a catholic highschool for one year and was beaten up for not eating that funny bread at communion. Even if the principal agrees to take your daughter in she will be harassed by the students. My relative called his experience there the worst place he's ever been. FWIW, he was a chrisian but of a different denomination. I cant image how much worse it will be for a western buddhist. A religion in the west may equate with psychics and crystals.

Lutheran school treated him much, much better.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:14 PM on February 3, 2007

I went to a Catholic grade school and a Jesuit high school. There were lots of students at both who weren't Catholic and it was never an issue. Yes, there will be mandatory masses, school prayer and religion class but it was never dogmatic.

To this day I am very proud of the education I received at those schools. They taught me a lot about logic, critical thinking and just trying to be a good human being. For what it's worth, I know more people who used the skills they learned in Catholic schools on the religion itself. I am certainly not the first product of Catholic and Jesuit education to become an atheist.

All that being said, I would still encourage you to raise all of your concerns with the school administrators. Take a tour of the school, maybe sit in on a class if possible. A really good Catholic school should be more concerned with the quality of student (and the quality of human being) than their faith.
posted by Sandor Clegane at 12:43 PM on February 3, 2007

b1tr0t: I guess the school bullies overlooked that aspect of transubstantiative theology when they sat down and deliberated on beating up weird kid.
posted by phrontist at 12:43 PM on February 3, 2007

Eight years of Catholic gradeschool, and four years of Jusuit high school here (though I was raised catholic). I got the equivalent of an honors biology class in grade school. They kicked out the troublemakers. There were a number of kids who weren't Catholic, and we didn't really even notice that they weren't at First Communion, etc. In high school, the Jesuits are the liberal intellectuals of the Church, so they pretty much teach you to think and believe for yourself. I received a first-rate high school education. As far as religion goes, there seems to be an unspoken belief that you can't have true faith without the possibility of doubt - so they teach you about other things.
posted by notsnot at 12:47 PM on February 3, 2007

damn dirty ape: A bad school is a bad school, Catholic or otherwise. Additionally, private schools have the right to kick out troublemakers, so our 1200+ student school had no bullies of any kind. The OP should meet the principal, the teachers, and definitely attend any scheduled meet & greets for newcomers. If the other parents are louts, their kids will also be louts.
posted by migurski at 12:56 PM on February 3, 2007

As a sidenote, it's worth mentioning that you probably don't have much to worry about your kid being taught "intelligent design:"
posted by awesomebrad at 1:06 PM on February 3, 2007

Catholic schools can be conservative, but not in the sense that it means now. I remember having a few teachers who had rather simple views on faith and beliefs, but I never saw anyone made ostracized for their religious beliefs. Jesuits are as liberal intellectual as you can get and still be traditionally religious.

By conservative I mean they care more about fundamentals of education than anything else. It is very pragmatic if nothing else. Their approach is very humanities related. We were made to read all the standards of literature and in their historical context. It won't be "A People's History of the United States", but I felt I received a very fair and balanced regardless. It was very "great person" oriented.
posted by geoff. at 1:13 PM on February 3, 2007

My experience: I wasn't catholic but went to a catholic school. My parents were drunk atheists. I felt like an outsider, because while all of my friends were going through confirmation and communion, I was sitting in the pews by myself not allowed to participate. I wouldn't put my kids through that; don't forget that Catholics teach that if you aren't Catholic you go straight to hell unless you're baptised Catholic, so if you want your kid to have an existential crisis in second grade, put her in Catholic school.
posted by bash at 1:24 PM on February 3, 2007

don't forget that Catholics teach that if you aren't Catholic you go straight to hell unless you're baptised Catholic

Sorry for the derail, but: wrong. (it's long so I'll summarize - in Catholic doctrine, it's what you do, not what you believe, that gets you to where you're going in the afterlife)

FWIW, like others above, I attended Catholic schools for 9 years and there were always non-Catholics in attendance, none of whom to my knowledge ever received the boogeyman treatment and nobody ever made any kind of big deal about them not taking communion at mass - we all understood why they couldn't. Depending upon what your other school options are, I'm sure you could do a lot worse than a parochial school.
posted by brain cloud at 1:35 PM on February 3, 2007

Even if the principal agrees to take your daughter in she will be harassed by the students.

Not necessarily. I -- agnostic with family ditto -- went to a Catholic school for a few years (jk, 1-3, long story). The other kids were fascinated by somebody not believing in God, but I got no hassles for it. At times I felt a little like an exchange student, but that was compounded by being vegetarian and different in other ways.

I skipped kindergarten, was offered the choice of skipping grade two (decided I was small enough already), and got an awful lot of time alone with one teacher. The public schools wouldn't have paid anywhere near as much attention to me, which was why I stayed. (There wasn't a secular jr kindergarten in Ontario the year I started school, and the Catholic schools were letting heathens in for jk, and the skipping, etc, was why I ended up staying.)

I didn't participate in any of the religious activities. At the time, it reinforced my ideas about organised religion being a little odd.

But. The students and the teachers were surprisingly respectful of the little hippie kid; I made good friends, and got a good education there. The adjustment to a new school after that was not a happy one.

Your questions sound like the right ones to ask, too.

I get the impression that Catholic school is a different thing in the US -- here, Catholic schools are public schools, just separate from the secular school board. YMMV somewhat if "Catholic" = "private"...
posted by kmennie at 1:44 PM on February 3, 2007

I recall a friend who went to Catholic school who told me, while we were both in second grade, that an abortion is when they chop up a baby into little pieces when it's born. The priest had told her and a group of her friends this, and then showed them pictures.
On the other hand, I have numerous friends who were not scarred for life by Catholic school. Just be an active parent and talk to your daughter about what she's learning.
posted by nursegracer at 1:45 PM on February 3, 2007

I can say exactly what thehmsbeagle said, word for word, and I still credit St. Mary's for giving me a sound base of knowledge in history, math, French, and other subjects that I consider important. Plus I can impress friends and relatives by saying the Our Father and Hail Mary in Latin! (This benefit may no longer be available now that the One Holy and Apostolic Church has gone all mushy on the linguistic front.)

When I was living in Astoria (NYC) I knew a Lebanese Shi'ite restaurateur who was quite religious (even brought an imam from the old country for a religious get-together after hours). He sent his daughter to Catholic school because it was the best in the neighborhood, and had no complaints.
posted by languagehat at 1:55 PM on February 3, 2007

In my experience, the nuns teaching the younger students were sweet people with infinite patience. As you progressed the teachers became crankier and sometimes noticably flawed, presumably because the pool of nuns that could teach the higher levels was smaller.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:58 PM on February 3, 2007

I think catholic school is probably a lot different now (we got hit and paddled in the mid-80s), but I was definitely taught that if you aren't baptised catholic, you are going to hell. And while no students made a big deal about me not taking communion, it felt pretty shitty to know that everyone was holier than me, taking communion while I sat in the pews by myself and everyone had a connection with god that I couldn't have. I don't think that feeling would be different for any kid that can't participate in something everyone else is doing. Also, while all the kids are making their first communion, they're having little parties and things to celebrate, and the non-catholic kid doesn't get a communion party. It's just an outsider feeling, which I think has benefited me in the long-run, but that was difficult to deal with when I was 7.
posted by bash at 2:10 PM on February 3, 2007

I don't think it's a good idea to send your daughter to catholic school if you want her to feel ok about choosing/exploring any religion or path other than catholicism. They do not tend to encourage this type of open-minded thought process - they being both the faculty and the other students. At least at the school to which I went.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 2:16 PM on February 3, 2007

If there are Episcopal schools in your area, you might look into those as well. I went to an Episcopal school in my elementary years and it was a great experience & education. While we were required to attend a couple of services per year, there was never any pressure to convert or become more religious. Also, communion was open to everyone -- so I took communion, despite my parents being Unitarian. Not all teachers were clergy, but the one who were made quite an impression on me as deeply compassionate and inspiring people.

Also, regarding the questions -- I think you shouldn't be shy about asking anything important to your daughter's well-being. If they get offended, you know you haven't found the right place.
posted by treepour at 2:29 PM on February 3, 2007

I don't think it's a good idea to send your daughter to catholic school if you want her to feel ok about choosing/exploring any religion or path other than catholicism. They do not tend to encourage this type of open-minded thought process - they being both the faculty and the other students.

This is untrue of many, many schools, even if it is true of others. I (lapsed Catholic family, agnostic, pretty much, though very atheist in high school) went to Catholic high school and it was fantastic. Nearly half our school didn't take communion at mandatory Masses, much of the student body was Sikh, and we spent large amounts of time discussing other religions respectfully (really, Protestants got the most derision, which wasn't much). Unlike many other Christian sects Catholicism is not fundamentalist: I was taught in religion class that the Bible is allegorical and imperfect. My teachers focused on social justice and good works (seeing as that is what gets you into heaven), and I respected them as people long after I stopped sharing their religious beliefs. It is no accident that so many products of Catholic schools have stopped being Catholic but still have fond memories of their schooling.

The thing that may make the most difference is the type of school and the general set-up of your area. Independent Catholic schools can be more liberal than parochial schools, and if the Catholic school in the area is the "good school," then it is liklier to be more diverse than if it is mostly filled with kids who are in Catholic school because of the religion more than for the education.
posted by dame at 2:42 PM on February 3, 2007

I pretty much nth the experiences relayed by most of the posters here.

I did Catholic grade school and high school as a Catholic. The religious parts of my schooling chiefly entailed a school mass maybe once a month, daily prayer read over the PA (the Our Father or such), and religion class several times a week. I don't have as good of a memory of grade school, but I believe in high school the religion class was one period, ~3 days a week, every term. IIRC, religion classes entailed bible stories and descriptions of various tenets of the faith for the most part, as well as stories of well-known Catholic activists like Dorothy Day. Later on--starting at 4th grade, I think--a part of that block of time was devoted to sex ed, which I remember being focused in those years on anatomy ("blah blah, vas deferens, blah blah") and statements that were effectively meaningless to this 4th grader like "Sex is a gift from god." I find it hard to believe there wasn't a heavy amount of sex-not-till-marriage talk, but I really don't remember, to be honest.

And that's the thing--I just don't remember very much about the religious aspects of Catholic grade school. It was kind of just there in the background. I think I remember John Stuart Mill writing something about states imposing religion being bad in part because it takes away the reasons to care about being religious, and in some ways, I feel this applies to my Catholic schooling experience. Because the religion was just there as a given, I took it for granted and never gave much thought either way. As such, the religious aspects of that part of my education just don't dominate my memories of that time, and I don't think they dominated much of the day, either. On the other hand, the omnipresence of Catholicism for so many years may have something to do with my still being ambiguously Catholic in some ways, though being from a fairly Catholic family is probably the bigger factor there.

There were always non-Catholics in my schools, though mostly they would have been some other variety of Christian. We kids never discussed "who was what" though, and certainly never beat anyone up over religion. And of course, no teacher ever harassed anyone over their religious differences, AFAIK. I remember an HS religion class where our assignment was to investigate another religion, and one kid read up on Scientology and said during the discussion that he was considering becoming a Scientologist, and the teacher, who looked a bit uncomfortable, was forced to say, "Okay.")

So YCSMV, but if my experience is a guide, I think your daughter would notice she her different beliefs/tradition more than anyone else, and as such the biggest concern would be, would she be o.k. with that? Is she going to be bothered by being one of the few who doesn't participate in the various ceremonies? It's possible she might, especially at some tender ages, but I don't know enough to speculate either way.

There was almost no mixing of religious elements into the secular classes. We said the Our Father in Spanish at the beginning of Spanish class, but I think that had more to do with it being another way to practice Spanish than any sense that doing so God was going to help us learn our conjugations better. The other instance I can remember came in Biology class sophomore year in HS, when at the end of a class on evolution, the teacher said that as extra credit, we could write an essay reconciling Darwinian evolution with Catholic beliefs.

So the sum of all this is that is that I'd consider it a workable option, that it depends on the particular school, but that I wouldn't rule your daughter being uncomfortable at times either--though I challenge you to find a school where she won't feel that way sometimes.
posted by epugachev at 2:44 PM on February 3, 2007

I'm an atheist who grew up in State schools, and I now maintain the computers in a Catholic primary school. I find the crucified Christ on display in the lobby kind of off-putting, and it's weird for me to watch the religious components of the curriculum being taught with as much seriousness as the times tables. But the standard class greeting ("Good morning, 2H, God loves you") is kind of endearing, the overall quality of teaching is first rate, the school culture is healthy, staff are treated well, the kids are well supervised in playtimes, bullying is promptly and effectively dealt with, and the school grounds are always clean.

If you find a school near you with a similarly excellent vibe, and you feel it would be a good place for your daughter, there's no reason to be dissuaded just because it's a Catholic school. Seems to me that being exposed to different but equally sincerely held religious beliefs at home and at school would only end up being a Good Thing; kind of like growing up bilingual.
posted by flabdablet at 3:03 PM on February 3, 2007

I went to Catholic school and was quite happy with my education. I'd guess that probably one third of students weren't Catholic, though some of them may have been members of other mainstream Christian denominations, and there were heaps of non-practicing Catholics among the rest.

Religious education classes were obligatory for all students but, to echo most of the above posters, they weren't particularly pernicious. Through elementary school, they focused more on bible stories, being nice and treating others how you would like to be treated. In junior high, we started to look more at the bible's historical contexts and by high school, religion classes were mostly concerned with Catholicism as one of the world's religions. When we discussed other religions, it was always done with the utmost respect and was often comparative: here's what we believe and why we believe it followed by here's what they believe and why they believe it. Attendance--though not participation--at religious events was mandatory for all students.

Looking back, though, I am slightly concerned with the social conservatism of my particular Catholic school. Teachers were expected to toe the party line with regards to a variety of hot button issues, like euthanasia, abortion, homosexuality, marriage, etc. So, even if it was clear that a teacher disagreed with core Catholic social teachings, s/he would inevitably mumble the official response or at least qualify his/her opinion with the official Catholic response. One high school teacher of mine was living with, but not married to, her boyfriend and this was officially problematic.

Also, sex ed was not as comprehensive as it should have been based on the misconception that providing complete information about contraception will encourage kids to have sex. We learned about methods of contraception, their drawbacks, and their failure rates but not how to choose or use them. We weren't misinformed, but there was certainly an attempt to scare us in to abstinence by focusing on failure rates and STDs. This may or may not be the case in all Catholic schools or the one you're thinking of sending your daughter to, but it was true in mine. Other than that glaring omission, sex ed was otherwise very comprehensive.
posted by lumiere at 3:10 PM on February 3, 2007

Even if the principal agrees to take your daughter in she will be harassed by the students

Sooner or later, everybody gets picked on for something. I attended both public school and Catholic private school. It's much less of a mindfuck to get picked on for your religion, or lack thereof, than for being smarter than the rest of the kids.

But yeah, check the school out first and meet with the principal and faculty (I get the feeling you would do this for any school, public or private), but it won't be rude or improper to ask these sorts of questions and it's very likely that it won't be a problem.
posted by dogwalker at 3:46 PM on February 3, 2007

I went to Catholic school, and they really were as much concerned with the Catholic as with the school. There were a fair number of non-Catholics. I feel sorry for what they had to go through to get an education. Where I was (midwest), they taught doctrine as fact. Keep in mind that Catholics didn't used to be fundamentalist, but in my experience in grade school and high school, neither were they open minded.

I also fear that they were far more tolerant of average non-believers than they would have been of adherants to another religion (esp. non-Christian). YMMV.
posted by rikschell at 3:48 PM on February 3, 2007

Catholic schools are great if you want your child to be a Catholic. But I wouldn't want want my children to be educated by people who think that the last big intellectual event was Thomas Aquinas. Somebody upthread mentioned being taught about logic, but I'm willing to bet it was Aristotelian logic they were taught (obsolete since the 19th century).

Catholic schools often appeal to parents because they have good standards of discipline: but that derives from their ethos of respect for authority, which is the enemy of true learning and personal development.

I am neither a Buddhist nor (obviously) a Catholic, but I cannot see how the two are compatible. Buddhists believe we are doomed to eternal life through reincarnation, and must strive to escape into oblivion through enlightenment: Catholics believe we are doomed to oblivion and must strive to obtain eternal life though Divine aid. Those seem almost antithetical positions.
posted by Phanx at 3:50 PM on February 3, 2007

I personally think you should wait until secondary school before sending your child to a Catholic school. As a product of the catholic system (but extremely lapsed), I remember primary school focussing on the 'magical' element of Jesus. Focussing a lot on his miracles, how much we should love him..that sort of thing. To an impressionable child, it is very easy to pick up.. and takes a bit to undo... and would be confusing if you are from a buddhist family.

Secondary schools however are a lot more analytical - explaining the symbolism.. looking a little more critically.. and understanding other religions too. I went to both a catholic and a secular high-school.. and even though I consider myself an athiest I would send my child to the catholic school in a heartbeat. The education is a lot better, more disciplined and generally a lot more supportive an environment. nobody was bullied, everyone got on.. most students at catholic schools are there for the same reason you are - to give their child the best education.. not to instil in their children the principles of catholicism.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 4:16 PM on February 3, 2007

The thing that would settle it for me would be realizing that the catholics make special schools so they can teach a particular worldview that is different from what's accepted in the general population, or through isolation/segregation prevent the students from learning particular things that are taught in the "outside" world. I think it boils down to this.

Your daughter will be immersed in it all day every day for years. What the principal would tell you in a ten minute meeting is probably irrelevant and such a meeting would be a waste of ten minutes. If you want to make an informed decision, sit in some of the classes. I suggest science and health.

As you stated (and I applaud you for realizing this) your daughter doesn't HAVE a religion yet. I also applaud you for your hope that she will find her own way when she's ready. Consider whether you think the teachers at the catholic school would have the same hope for her.
posted by putril at 4:17 PM on February 3, 2007

In the school where I work, respect for authority arises not by fiat, but from the fact that the school's authority figures are by and large scrupulously fair and reasonable. I have no objection at all to respect for authority that's earned, not imposed.

Respect for bullshit is not part of this school's culture, and neither is rule by fear.

I've met serious Buddhists and serious Catholics, and I think it's safe to say they'd all believe that treating other people well is the main thing, and that differences in why this is so are secondary to that.
posted by flabdablet at 4:23 PM on February 3, 2007

I'm going to agree with what everybody has said regarding positive experiences in Catholic Schools.

I'm a Catholic, but far from a devoutly practicing one. I went to Catholic Schools all the way through school. Where I live, the Catholic School System is entirely different to both Public and Private schools. It is somewhere in the middle ground and is run by the Catholic Education Office.

There were many students in my school who weren't Catholic, and there was no problem with it. In fact, most Catholic Schools have policies where they won't turn away any student based on faith. Not only is it discrimination, but it is against the Catholic faith. Students of other faiths were still required to attend and participate in religious education classes, but it was far from the hell and damnation that some people describe. They were required to attend school masses and what not, but were not expected to do much apart from remain respectful during the service.

There was zero discrimination against students from other faiths, and the school respected religious beliefs and acoomodated many of them. A few examples: One girl a few grades above me was allowed to modify her school uniform and wear a veil in line with her Muslim beliefs, the vice-captain of my class was a practicing Muslim and there are several Indian boys at my brothers' all-boy Catholic School who are allowed to waver from the schools clean-cut, clean-shaven grooming policies because of their beliefs.

The only area where your daughters education might be a bit compromised is in Sex-Ed. YMMV, but in my experience, it is sketchy at best. Our PE classes even came with a disclaimer, that as a Catholic school, they were teaching that abstinence was the best way to prevent pregnancy and STD's, followed by rather rushed discussions of condoms and the Pill. At my school, Abortion was dealt with in religious education classes, and this is the only time in 13 years in a Catholic school where I felt that Catholic doctrine was being forced upon me.
posted by cholly at 4:31 PM on February 3, 2007

I am wondering if all the other comments pointing out the obvious got deleted as noise. Maybe so, but I'm still going to do it: you don't just want your daughter's religion to be respected, you want her to learn to respect the differences of others, right? If so, would you seek a school that limits the diversity of its students? If you opt out of public schooling, that is what you're doing.

At the very least, you are limiting your daughter's school interactions to those whose parents (a) can afford private school, and (b) choose to limit their children's interaction to such children. Short-sighted, when economic diversity is at least as important in giving your daughter a realistic, tolerant view of the world as religious or racial diversity. (Not that those latter are going to exist to the same degree outside public schools, either.) You want to keep this in mind when evaluating your local public school options. Broken windows replaced by plastic or trash on the lawn do not make an inferior academic education, and no Catholic school in the world can compete with the cultural education that can only come from interacting with all kinds of people.

Just as your local public school is required by law to accept your daughter exactly as she is, and to educate her in a way tailored to her unique abilities, without discriminating against her for her religion, race, or anything else -- it accepts all other comers, exactly as they are, and does the same for them. This is at least as important a lesson for your daughter as ballet or French, I would think.
posted by Methylviolet at 5:22 PM on February 3, 2007

I'm another non-Catholic who attended a Catholic high school and had a good time. All schools are different, so perhaps you could talk to other non-Catholic parents who have kids at the school.

From my experience, my friends who attended parochial Catholic schools were mostly with other Catholic kids. My school was a private school run by nuns who were pretty progressive and not everyone was Catholic. I never felt pressure to be anything else and no one ever picked on me for being Protestant. In fact, I got more grief for that in my public school where almost everyone was Catholic!

It's hard to generalize--hopefully you can sit in on some classes and talk to other parents to really help you decide.
posted by jdl at 5:30 PM on February 3, 2007

Depends on the school. I'm a non Catholic who went to a Catholic High School, and I felt it was far more senstsitive to differences in beliefs than the public schools I went to. It really depends on the school though. This school happened to be very liberal, in a liberal city. There were many Catholic-y things we had to do, but there were enough of us Athiest etc.s that we could express ourselves freely and balance it out.
posted by Packy_1962 at 5:49 PM on February 3, 2007

I have Muslim family friends who went to Catholic schools and they're still Muslim - and they're also very world-wise.

It depends on the school, really.
posted by divabat at 6:09 PM on February 3, 2007

I'm another non-Catholic hippy kid who got sent to Catholic school (only for part of high school, after we moved to a new town with a really terrible and scary public high school). There were bullies, just like everywhere, but they weren't bullies about Catholicism. The teachers were really great. The school priest was a liberation-theology-inspired Jesuit, and the nuns ran the gamut from stereotypical bigot to stereotypical pinko. No sex ed, but there wasn't really any in the public schools I went to, either. Most of the kids were Catholic, but there were a couple of hippy athiests like me and a couple of Jews; if there were any protestants, they kept pretty quiet about it.

(And for those warning about the lack of evolution and sex ed: they taught Darwin in the Catholic high school I went to, but in the public school in the town I now live in, in a liberal state, many of the biology teachers refuse to teach evolution, and sex ed is mostly abstinence. So staying in the public system is no guarantee of sex ed, Darwin, or any other marker of modernity.)

I think you really need to visit the school and ask these questions directly. My understanding is that Catholic schools run a wide range from weird and repressive to wonderful and openminded; it will depend on the administration and the type of Catholicism with which the school is associated (eg Jesuit or Opus Dei or whatever).

Personally, as an athiest who had never before met a priest in my life, I really liked the religion classes. We read sections of the New Testament, and talked about the allegorical and historical elements. No "neener neener we're going to heaven and you're not!", just exciting ideas and a neat book. (We also watched movies like "The 10 Commandments" and "Ben Hur," so it wasn't all heavy theology.) Everyone, including athiests and Jews, helped read morning prayers over the intercom --- the first time was weird, but interesting. Had I said, "my faith prohibits me from helping to recite the Lord's Prayer," it would have been respected. Everyone was required to go to mass, maybe once a month or so, but only the Catholics went up for the eating of Jesus --- the rest of us hung out in the back row and didn't feel uncomfortable at all. We weren't left out at all; we were more like anthropologists invited to observe hidden tribal rituals, and we respected that.
posted by Forktine at 6:19 PM on February 3, 2007

the Jesuits. you can't go wrong.
posted by matteo at 6:20 PM on February 3, 2007

I just remembered --- there was sex ed in the Catholic school I went to, and it was very real-world, not Vatican-approved at all. No public school I ever went to was nearly as honest and direct about that. (This was back in the 1980s, and at one school only, so who knows what you will find today.)
posted by Forktine at 6:22 PM on February 3, 2007

Uh, Catholics believe in evolution and science. Just to be clear. My sex ed was definitely of the "abstinence is best but here are the other options" variety. And I can't emphasize enough how much good Catholic schools teach respect for all, regardless of religion, and respect for minds and culture. And they give out scholarships. The diversity is greater than people who have no idea what they are talking about think.
posted by dame at 6:36 PM on February 3, 2007

I was raised Presbyterian, was sent to Catholic high school (because the public schools here are horrid), and I turned out a Buddhist.

My high school was very respectful of the fact that I wasn't Catholic, and I was never made to feel lesser or that I must accept Catholicism. I received a great education, and I was exposed to a different way of thinking that broadened my horizons.

I doubt there's any way they'd ask if you attend church, especially if you're in a large city. Most likely, they'd welcome a presentation from you or your daughter on Buddhism in an appropriate class (I took "World Religions" - we took field trips to a mosque, a synagogue, and a protestant church).
posted by desjardins at 7:19 PM on February 3, 2007

K - 12 Catholic schooler here, and echoing those who have said your questions are totally appropriate.

After consulting your profile I see that I attended school in the same diocese in which you currently live -- and it is still overseen by the same bishop. You might be interested in the diocesan weekly newspaper, even if just for the link directory.

For what it's worth, 15+ years ago I had classmates of various faiths. While they were obliged to attend theology classes and church services during the school week, treating them or their beliefs poorly would not have been tolerated by any of my teachers or administrators. And, to my knowledge, not one of them converted.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:40 PM on February 3, 2007

Indirect data-point: Two of my close friends when I was in highscool attended an all-girls catholic prep school. One was a pagan/wiccan coming out of a catholic family, the other was Jewish. They both had admirable things to say about the school, and I remember being fairly jealous of the academic and personal support they received. There were certainly times when they felt slightly put-upon by everybody else's Catholic-ness, but overall they seem to have come out alright.

Be advised I'm talking high school here, and this was a good highschool known more for its "prep" than its "catholic." For elementary school, YMMV.
posted by Alterscape at 10:41 PM on February 3, 2007

Catholicism isn't really mixable, if you ask me. These new half-beliefs (kids who think that they're "half jewish") tend not to have much basis in truth

No offense, but I don't think this can be said while having a very good grasp on the concepts of Buddhism. There is no explicit contradiction between being a Catholic and being Buddhist, since there is no deity to worship in the latter. There are plenty of church members that are also Buddhist, actually. To quote Jesuit priest (and Zen Roshi) Robert Kennedy: "I am not trying to make you a Buddhist, but to empty you in imitation of your Lord, Jesus Christ."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:49 PM on February 3, 2007

More discussion on the subject of Catholic-Buddhist compatibility. (The comments are illuminating, as well).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:54 PM on February 3, 2007

As a young boy I attended Catholic school for the 1st and 2d grades because it was the best alternative in the neighborhood.

36 years later I am a confirmed atheist. I won't say it was Sister Mary's or Father Paul's doing, but they certainly started me on the road to seeing that all religion was a mask for power.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:30 AM on February 4, 2007

I came from a catholic family, and went to catholic school from 1-8 grade. The education was excellent, and the school seemed to have a tendancy to churn out future agnostics/atheists more than public school.

The only complaints I had, and I can't be sure if the same wouldn't have happened to me if I went to public school, but the pecking order seemed more severe because of the small class size, and there were less people to socialize with.
posted by drezdn at 6:23 AM on February 4, 2007

Echoing drezdn's experiences here. I went to Catholic schools from 1-8 grades (in the 80s). Got a great education, learned evolution in science class and all that.

The only complaints I had were also due to the small class sizes. There was the social aspect (with 16 kids in my 8th grade class total) which was difficult for me because I was very shy. The other problem with the small school size was I didn't have quite as many opportunities to get ahead academically. In NY State, advanced students in many public junior high schools have the opportunity to start taking high school level classes - for example, 8th graders take 9th grade math. I didn't have that opportunity and had to double up on math classes in my (public) high school in order to be able to take AP calculus my senior year.

But overall I think I got a great education, and the quality of the instruction outweighed the minor negatives.

And by the way, my teachers were laypeople, not nuns.
posted by misskaz at 7:17 AM on February 4, 2007

Well, since I'm in Canada, where Catholic schools are public schools (in addition to the much more numerous secular schools), I'd say it would be fine. Assuming the staff is tolerant, there's nothing wrong with introducing your daughter to a different belief system. In fact, I'd encourage it.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 10:19 AM on February 4, 2007

putril writes "The thing that would settle it for me would be realizing that the catholics make special schools so they can teach a particular worldview that is different from what's accepted in the general population, or through isolation/segregation prevent the students from learning particular things that are taught in the 'outside' world. I think it boils down to this."

This is very ignorant. The tradition of American Catholic school began because Catholic immigrants faced religious discrimination and were not allowed to enroll their children in public schools. The tradition has continued because Catholic schools have proven to provide an excellent education and are often very profitable for the parishes that run them.

I can't imagine the "particular things that are taught in the 'outside' world" that putril is thinking of. I was a non-Catholic in Catholic schools (grades 1-12), and my formal education was quite comprehensive. Very strong base in the liberal arts and sciences; my one complaint is that at the time I attended, they didn't offer an honors physics class that incorporated calculus. I don't think this was a doctrinal choice, however.

Seriously putril, what subjects do you think students in Catholic schools aren't being taught?
posted by mr_roboto at 12:21 PM on February 4, 2007

Methylviolet writes "At the very least, you are limiting your daughter's school interactions to those whose parents (a) can afford private school, and (b) choose to limit their children's interaction to such children. Short-sighted, when economic diversity is at least as important in giving your daughter a realistic, tolerant view of the world as religious or racial diversity. (Not that those latter are going to exist to the same degree outside public schools, either.) You want to keep this in mind when evaluating your local public school options. Broken windows replaced by plastic or trash on the lawn do not make an inferior academic education, and no Catholic school in the world can compete with the cultural education that can only come from interacting with all kinds of people. "

This, of course, cannot be generalized. The urban Catholic high school I attended was much more diverse--ethnically, religiously, and economically--than the suburban public school I would have attended otherwise.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:27 PM on February 4, 2007

mr_roboto: Are you serious? Realistic health, especially sex ed. The nuns in my family teach in catholic schools and they teach "natural family planning" aka cross-your-fingers birth control. I suppose that's helpfully mixed with a "healthy" dose of shame/fear of sex/flesh. Also, of course, realistic science without creationism/intelligent design/whatever code words for creationism are popular this week.

Thanks for calling me ignorant; that helps the discussion along, and due to your very helpful criticism I now see the error of my ways and will strive to be less ignorant.
posted by putril at 1:18 PM on February 4, 2007

Um, putril [and Phanx], have you actually been to a Catholic school? "People who think that the last big intellectual event was Thomas Aquinas?" Creationism?! It's important to recall that Catholic schools teach, you know, all those other subjects too, and that Catholics can't all be described solely by their religion. I'm not sure if you'd consider stuff like Watson & Crick's discovery of DNA a big intellectual event, but the biology teacher at my Catholic high school is the reason I'm doing biochemistry today... See, Catholicism generally has no problem with evolution [beyond saying that God started off the process by which the world formed and man eventually evolved] and doesn't go for "intelligent design," which is considered bad science and bad religion. Pope John Paul II affirmed that evolution is "more than [just] a hypothesis." While we're at it, Catholics also don't go for a literal reading of the Bible, and plenty of Catholic schools do give decent sex-ed classes - they generally say abstinence is best, and sexuality is a gift from God, but these days, they tend to spend at least some time talking about contraception and condoms as well. That's not necessarily great, but [in my experience] it was more or less on a par with what my public school peers heard. Maybe putril's relatives are some variety of Catholic fundamentalist, but they are by no means representative of the actual opinions of the Church or of Catholics in general, or the actual state of teaching in most Catholic schools.

jasonspaceman and his wife should certainly ask questions, and make sure that the Catholic school they're considering sending their daughter to is one of the many fairly progressive schools most of us have been talking about. Even better, they should talk to other parents of non-Catholic kids at the school, and maybe even sit in on classes, if they can. However, there's a pretty good chance that it will be a reasonable school, and not the backwards-looking fundamentalist place described by a few posters who seem not to be very well-informed.
posted by ubersturm at 2:22 PM on February 4, 2007

putril writes "Also, of course, realistic science without creationism/intelligent design/whatever code words for creationism are popular this week."

Are you in the U.S.? If so, you simply have no idea what you're talking about.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:17 PM on February 4, 2007

Actually this is really good to hear guys, and it's true I didn't attend catholic school and all the information I have comes from talking to a couple nuns (relatives). It's quite possible the way they talk in private and the way they're required to talk in school could be different.

That god started off evolution still isn't science in my book, and that sex is a gift from god isn't biology -- so it sounds like there's mixing of religious tenets into the non-religious subjects, which might be tough for a kid (whose parents want to be able to choose her own religion) to understand and sort out. I sure agree that they should visit some classes before they decide.
posted by putril at 4:49 PM on February 4, 2007

This, of course, cannot be generalized. The urban Catholic high school I attended was much more diverse--ethnically, religiously, and economically--than the suburban public school I would have attended otherwise.
posted by mr_roboto

I don't doubt it. Your urban Starbucks will probably be more diverse than a suburban bus-stop. Was the Catholic school as diverse as public schools in the same neighborhood?

Jasonspaceman asks, "should we send our daughter to Catholic school?" I say no. All of the public school alternatives available to your daughter would have to be bad indeed to overcome the benefits of a truly democratic education.

And without going to the school, talking to parents and teachers and kids, schools are hard to assess. For example, here is one way of looking at my daughter's new school. Pretty grim; and the prison-like campus across from the projects is not prepossessing either. But then. There was much rejoicing around here on Friday when she found out she got in there. She'll be going to one of the best schools in the country -- a school where 40% of the students qualify for free lunches and half are proficient in English, in a neighborhood where you might not like to walk around even in the daytime.
posted by Methylviolet at 7:07 PM on February 4, 2007

Methylviolet writes "I don't doubt it. Your urban Starbucks will probably be more diverse than a suburban bus-stop. Was the Catholic school as diverse as public schools in the same neighborhood?"

Of course not. But I did not live in that neighborhood, and could not attend those schools.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:33 PM on February 4, 2007

RE: sex education... When I was in catholic grade school, we were given sex ed from 6th grade on, and I don't remember them ever mentioning natural family planning.

On the negative side, half of the females in my 8th grade class were pregnant by the end of high school.

On the plus side though, the ones that didn't get pregnant went on to Yale, lawyerhood, and other successful careers.

One problem that my school had (later addressed) was that algebra was never covered, which means advanced kids would be a year behind public school kids in high school.

Really, your best bet would be to talk to some of the parents and teachers at the school, possibly focusing exclusively on non-Catholic students, and find out their take on things.

In my experience, aside from religion class, there wasn't evangelization, (in my opinion some are confusing catholic schools with the more extreme "Christian Schools"), but each school can be different.

Another additional advantage of the Catholic School though, is that the bureaucracy is much smaller. If you have a problem with something, the number of people you need to convince to change it is much smaller than in a public school.

I should also mention, if your child has any special needs (speech problems, learning problems, etc.) they'll probably be better served by a public school.
posted by drezdn at 7:32 AM on February 5, 2007

I'll simply say that attending a Catholic college was a poor and intolerant experience for me. I realize the church is large enough that even priests and nuns fall upon a spectrum, but my experiences have not been positive, nor have they left me with a positive impression of the institution (as opposed to the religion) of the Catholic Church.
posted by WCityMike at 7:44 PM on February 5, 2007

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