I am the product of a Catholic School education. More specifically, I am the product of a hellish eight year long boot camp style education thanks to St. Theresa School in Palm Springs, CA.
The reason I bring this up is due to a recent conversation between myself and Katerina in which we reflected on how ridiculous our elementary/middle school was. Since I’m bored and have nothing else to write about, I’ll share some of these experiences with all of my dear readers (some of which are themselves STS alums). If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to spend eight years trapped in a Catholic School, read on…
Public humiliation is good for the soul
Students watch as one of their comrades is humiliated by a facist faculty member
When I was in first grade we were studying the different phases of the moon for our science class. Each night I would go outside, look at the moon, and record the moon’s phase on my science worksheet. Well, one day after recess, our science teacher came up to the class (we were lined up outside, waiting to go back to our classroom) and said “Fincher! What phase was the moon last night?” (There were three Lindsays/Lindseys in the class, so by first grade I was quite accustomed to being called by my last name.) I replied incorrectly, so he yelled “Fincher, come up here!” I went up to my teacher and he picked me up, turned me upside down, and berated me in front of the entire class for not knowing the correct phase of the previous night’s moon (while I was upside down…fun stuff…you should try it sometime). Now, honestly, couldn’t the man have just said “Wrong” and called on another student?
Have you ever dreaded an upcoming birthday? Most kids look forward to their birthdays, yeah? Cake, ice cream, games, clowns…how could you not look forward to that? Well, mention the word “birthday” to a first grader in Sister Kathryn’s class, and it would immediately invoke an image of a rather large paddle that would come into contact with their ass for 7-8 times (One smack for each year you have spent on our good Lord’s earth). Yes, that’s right, ladies and gentlemen, my first grade teacher (A NUN!!!) would paddle you in front of the entire class ON YOUR BIRTHDAY.
An upperclassman exhorts gradeschoolers to climb faster…or else!
Obstacle courses, perhaps the ultimate form of public humiliation. How we loathed those damn obstacle courses! (Mainly because we would rather be playing handball or four square). About once a month our PE teacher would setup an obstacle course for us to run. It usually included running around the athletic field, climbing over and balancing on stuff…eh, you know, typical military setup. One day my friend was having a hard time with the monkey bars…she just didn’t have the strength to get across. After the class (minus my friend, who was still on the monkey bars) had finished the obstacle course, my teacher had us (around 40 students) line up so that we could watch my friend attempt to cross the monkey bars. She would fail again, and again, and again. Finally the teacher went up to her, grabbed her legs, and told her to start going across the monkey bars while he held her legs. Well, as you could have predicted, my friend could not make it across the monkey bars, but this time, instead of just letting go and ending up on her feet as she would have usually done, she fell face first into the sand…mmmmm playground sand…tasty.
Just a typical day in PE class…
My PE teacher also enjoyed picking on the kids that couldn’t run very fast. While we were running the obstacle course, he would pick a random student and yell “Anyone that’s behind (insert student’s name) when he/she finishes will have to run the course again!” So if you were slow, well too damn bad, because you’d have to run the course again while all your classmates watched. Got asthma? We don’t care, run it again!
Big Brother is Watching
First graders are pretty gullible – they’ll believe anything. Our teacher used to leave us alone so she could go to the office and make copies, sit around doing nothing, um, whatever it is teachers do in the office. Anyways, we had an intercom system in the classroom, and our teacher had us convinced that there was a camera behind it so she could watch our every move while she performed her tasks in the office (we were stupid first graders, alright? It made sooo much sense back then). Occasionally, the teacher would get on the intercom and yell “(Insert student’s name), I can see you! Stop fidgeting, quiet down, and get to work!” We would freeze up and be like “OH MY GOD SHE REALLY CAN SEE US!” Sometimes the principal would join in the fun…I could just imagine these two old nuns sitting in the principals office getting their kicks out of terrorizing a bunch of first graders via the school’s intercom system.
Individualism is a weakness! It MUST be eliminated! (My little brother, 3rd from right)
Justice Under God (J.U.G.)
I’m proud to say that I was involved in an incident that resulted in the establishment of a strict disciplinary system at St. Theresa School.
We had this system at STS in which you could not leave your lunch table and go off to the playground/sports fields/whatever until a teacher had checked the table for cleanliness and then dismissed the students at that table. Well, one day the teacher on duty was not satisfied with the cleanliness of ANY of the lunch tables, so she refused to allow us to go play (or, as I and my lunch table mates were in 6th grade, “hang out” and talk). We were becoming quite disgruntled…our area was CLEAN, and yet this teacher refused to dismiss us. So myself and my table mates decided to express our displeasure with the teacher by pounding our fists on the table and chanting “Let us go! LET US GO!” The teacher would ring this bell that all teachers on duty carried…the ringing bell signified that we were supposed to shut the hell up, but instead of shutting up, we just got louder. Soon enough, the other tables joined in and we had the entire student body, including the grade schoolers, pounding on the tables and screaming “Let us go!!!!!” Now, unless you ever attended Catholic School, you cannot possibly fathom what a systematic breakdown in discipline this incident presented. It was the first time I could remember when the simmering discontent finally boiled over into an all out revolt against the school authority. Hell, we even made the teacher on duty break down into tears. It was GREAT, until we saw Mr. Routon (the same teacher that held me upside down and made my friend fall face down into the sand) walking down the hall on his way to the lunch tables (I suppose they paged him at the teacher’s lounge to let him know that a small riot was underway). Oh man, once we saw Mr. R walking towards us we knew we were in for it…never seen his face so red…never heard him scream so loudly. Afterwards he took our entire class out to the basketball court and made us stand on the line so he could walk back and forth and scream in our faces like a Marine Corps Drill Sergeant.
It was all fun and games until Mr. R arrived
That week, the administration instituted a new disciplinary system called “Justice Under God.” Under this system, you could basically get detention for anything. Now that I look back on it, I’m not really certain what God had to do with this discipline system, as I’m sure he wouldn’t really mind that much if I took a shortcut across the grass, had my shirt untucked, or snuck in a few words to my friends while we were in line.
While J.U.G. set out the disciplinary measures that could be meted out to students, some teachers took it upon themselves to formulate their own.
Were your pants too low? No problem, a nun will “gently” pull them up for you.
Talking in computer class? Hope you dont mind sitting in a dark closet for awhile.
Chewing gum? Stick it on your nose and report for gum scraping duty after school.
Hell, I was even assigned detention for allegedly participating in a food fight that occurred WHILE I WAS AT HOME WITH THE FLU. I eventually proved to the teacher that I couldn’t have possibly participated in the food fight from my house, however he must have forgotten because the next day he demanded to know why I wasn’t at yesterday’s detention session…ugh.
One of the incidents I remember most clearly (because it happened to me) occured when my 7th grade class was taking a standardized test. We were on the math part of the test, and I remember that there were two sections…one had around 40 questions and the other had 10. Well, after I finished the 40 questions I went on and completed the 10 question section. Well, we weren’t supposed to…guess I wasn’t very good at reading directions…honest mistake, alright? So myself and seven other students who also messed up were ordered outside by Mr. R (are you seeing a trend here?) and told to stand completely still while facing a column. So 15 minutes goes by…the rest of the class was inside completing the section that we had already done…and then Mr. R comes outside and chews us all out for a few minutes. I don’t even remember what he said…just yelling, yelling, yelling. There was an excessive amount of yelling at that school…I remember sitting in darkened classrooms while teachers yelled at us for some ridiculous reason. Once, a teacher even picked up an empty student’s desk and threw it. Honestly, a few faculty members should have gone to anger management.
This really makes for a great learning environment…
Oh yeah, one time I yelled back at a teacher…it was great. He got all in my face yelling at me because I had said a few words to my friend sitting next to me in computer class. After he finished yelling at me, he said “DO YOU UNDERSTAND???” to which I replied “SIR, YES, SIR!” I figured, hey, if you’re going to yell at me like some drill instructor, then I’m going to answer back like an army recruit so you can see how crazy all this yelling is. Anyways, my teacher just backed away and left me alone for the rest of the period, and my classmates thought it was awesome that I yelled back at a teacher.
Students = great source of child labor
A group of students before they embark on the 8 mile walkathon to earn money for their oppressive institution of learning. (Mr. R, resident drill instructor, is at top center)
One of the valuable skills I picked up while at STS was how to be a waitress. When the church “Alter Society” (aka a group of religious old ladies) held their luncheons, we would fill in as waitresses. I hated it because a) uh, well, we were being used as free labor; and b) we had to wear skirts.
STS did a ton of fundraising. We had to sell gift wrap paper, candy, and hit up people for walkathon pledges. God, how I hated selling that stuff…I think that’s why I was such a pathetic salesperson at Office Depot…I was burnt out on a sales career by 5th grade.
After we graduated, some friends and I burnt our school uniforms over a bonfire. We were ready for that shining beacon of freedom: high school.
St. Theresa School, Class of ’96: Burn, burn, burn…
I was recently informed by someone that this blog post has been circulating amongst the parents and staff of STS and causing a bit of controversy. I was surprised by this, primarily because I had written it over six years ago during one caffeine-inspired night. It received some chuckles from my friends (my primary audience at the time, before this developed into a semi-popular travel blog describing my adventures in far off places like North Korea and Chernobyl) and then promptly fell into the black hole of internet obscurity until it was discovered by a current STS parent and brought back into the limelight. From what I’ve been told, I’m not exactly in the running for a distinguished alumni award thanks to this blog post.
Now, the desert is a small place, and even though I live 2,600 miles away in our nation’s capital, the local gossip is still bound to find its way back to me. My source informed me that a staff member at the school has told other staff members and parents that this blog entry is untrue. Furthermore, the staff member also claimed that I was a “troubled” student who was involved in a lot of drama and always going home to my parents and telling them tall tales. When my source told me this, I could only laugh hysterically. Now, you are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts, so I’m just going to set the record straight here. Everything in this blog entry is 100% true, and I have plenty of people who will attest to this.
Now, to address the claim that I was a “troubled” student. If you don’t like me, that’s fine, but you have no right to impugn my character and spread falsehoods about me because you didn’t like a blog entry. I was in no way troubled, a drama queen, or a liar, and you know it. Dig up my school records and you will not see any disciplinary or academic problems whatsoever (except for maybe two stupid detentions that involved a majority of the class). So what was I like during my eight years at STS? Good grades, multiple Presidential Academic Fitness Awards, Top Social Studies student award for class of ‘96, member of the School Safety Patrol (yes, I was one of those dorks who wore the orange vest and tried to prevent the little kids from being run over by errant mini-vans and golf carts). Outside of STS, I played soccer and softball, was involved in National Charity League (a mother daughter organization where you perform community service and dress up and drink fancy tea) and was a flight commander in the local Civil Air Patrol squadron (an ROTC-like military organization). After STS, I attended Palm Desert High School where I made honor roll every semester and was involved in several organizations, including student government. Oh, and one of the social studies teachers at STS brought me back for a day to lecture her class on the U.S. Civil War (an interest at the time…nerdy, I know). I then went on to attend The George Washington University, where I received my BA cum laude. After GWU, I received my master’s degree from the London School of Economics, one of the top schools in the world. That is a far cry from Tijuana Tech and Whitewater U., my friends. I’ve also studied in Russia and, as you can see from this blog, traveled throughout the world. If STS can turn out such “troubled” students with these resumes, then the school should be quite proud of itself.
Lastly, go into the learning center and you will see my parent’s names on the wall of donors, in rather large letters. Donate lots of money and what do you get years down the road? Slander.
Now that this post has become so popular, I might have to put the travel writing on hold for a bit and write multiple volumes about my time in Catholic School. Eight years there gave me plenty of material, and a healthy sense of humor.