Growing Up Catholic Part Ten: Events That Led to My Exit from Catholic School

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  Sisters of Divine Providence Celebrating My Exit from St. Mary's:  "He's gone, he's gone!"

Sisters of Divine Providence Celebrating My Exit from St. Mary's:  "He's gone, he's gone!"

To really understand this article, it, to me, is important that you understand the premise behind Pink Floyd's classic album The Wall.  Since this recording dates back to 1979, some of the readers might no know the work or remember the work.  The wall is a figurative way for the main character to block off and shield himself from the cruelties of life which he experiences - it is a sequence of songs about a boy growing up from birth to adulthood whose father was killed in a war, his mother was ultra-protective and negative, and his teachers were extreme disciplinarians.  You may remember this song (which, for obvious reasons) was banned in some countries:

The Happiest Days of our Lives 

When we grew up and went to school 
There were certain teachers who would
Hurt the children in any way they could

"OOF!" [someone being hit]

By pouring their derision 
Upon anything we did
And exposing every weakness 
However carefully hidden by the kids
But in the town, it was well known
When they got home at night, their fat and
Psychopathic wives would thrash them
Within inches of their lives.


Another Brick in the Wall

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.

We don't need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.

"Wrong, Do it again!"
"If you don't eat yer meat, you can't have any pudding. How can you
have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?"
"You! Yes, you behind the bikesheds, stand still laddy!"

I think you understand. 

For some reason, as I have explained in previous posts, I was ultra-sensitive to injustices, for some reason, and believe me, my world was full of them.  (Fortunately, what used to be expressed in derision and anger are not expressed in dialogue.  The anger went away a long time ago).  And, again, for some reason, I couldn't understand at that young age - between 7 and 15, why a certain group of people had to punish, constantly, children to achieve academic goals.  Add to that, becoming myself a highly successful teacher who used kindness and compassion to teach, still, at this time, cannot understand the psychology of punishment and learning.  We even see people being arrested (and rightly so) for punishing animals.  

I felt, and still feel, one cannot teach effectively that way.  Again, because fear, to me, doesn't promote the best learning environment.

Educator and psychologist Kathie F. Nunley writes in her recent article "Why Punishment - Based Systems Don't Work: Yet we're stuck with them."

  Dr. Kathy F. Nunley

Dr. Kathy F. Nunley

Research tells us that punishment is ineffective. Psychologists are in agreement that punishment does more harm than good. Thousands of studies and years of practice show what punishment does teach - fear, aggression and avoidance. People who are punished do not quickly learn to stop a behavior. What they quickly do learn is next time don't get caught, or let's just avoid the whole situation if at all possible. She raises and explains the following two points regarding teaching through punishment:

  If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding.  How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?

If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding.  How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?

  • Tradition tells us that rules come with punishment, not rewards. Look at the rules in your classroom. Do you have rules, and then a list of what happens if you don't follow the rules? When was the last time you saw a list of rules and then a list of benefits that come to those who follow them. Sometimes I've seen lists of rewards but they are sitting next to the list of punishments and I know from personal experience as the mother of 4, that even in those classrooms, my children never experienced the things listed in the reward category (despite them following the rules). What would students think if all that was listed were rules and benefits?
  • Punishment is negatively reinforcing to the punisher.  This means that the actual act of punishment makes us, the punisher, feel better. (To me, that's the strangest part of punishers)

But I digress:  This is about my education. The reason I left (asked-forced) to leave my own catholic education.  (This is my final chapter about my experiences in Catholic school - although GROWING UP CATHOLIC still has a few chapters left). 

In between the two examples I am going to explain to you which occurred during my 7th and 8th grade years were many "acting out," subversive, snarky moments that I actually, at times, and readily admit, that were well-planned and thought out by me in order to avenge my pain.

ST. PATRICK'S DAY

For St. Patrick's Day, it was "tradition" that whoever in our class wore something green, the students would receive extra credit points on an exam.  'Not that I needed' extra credit points, I needed to "fit it" and be a part of the class.  In my school, students who didn't participate in expected activities where ostracized and treated as pariahs - often made fun of and called names by BOTH the teachers and students.

My parents had five children - three boys (I, being the middle) and two girls. Five of us in total, seven in the house.  My mother, obviously, having to care for us, didn't have time to work and my father tried to work enough to get us what we "needed" - not necessarily "wanted."  Some things just were not that important enough on which to spend money - such as green pants or a green shirt or tie.  

  How could anyone hurt such a sweet kid?

How could anyone hurt such a sweet kid?

I was fortunate enough to have two jobs at that age; hence, I was able to purchase the small things I wanted or needed, such as something green to avoid the embarrassment of being an outcast at school.  Honestly, the EXTRA POINTS MEANT NOTHING to me.  The "why in the world wouldn't you wear something green" absolutely struck fear in me (again, not only coming from my classmates but publically coming from my teacher, also). No dark sarcasm in the classroom.  Teachers!  Leave your kids alone.  All in all it's just an other brick in the wall.

  Stocking syrup at White Front Market

Stocking syrup at White Front Market

  Typical Port Authority Transit (PAT)   bus

Typical Port Authority Transit (PAT) bus

I was a paperboy and worked as a stock boy at a local corner grocery store.  That was my money, and I was able to spend it as I pleased, with some "guidance." So,I had money to buy something green, but buying clothing for a very skinny kid (slim clothes were the only clothing items that fit), I had to, after school, after work, after homework, take the bus to downtown Pittsburgh to Gimbel's Department Store's Bargain Basement (everything 75 percent off) to find clothing that possibly would fit.  I remember, the day I found out about wearing green (and having nothing green to wear, it was rainy, icy, and very cold. I jumped on the bus and headed downtown to hopefully find something green) and I needed to get something green to wear.  I took the trip, wildly dashing around the store, looking for anything green that would fit.  I couldn't find anything. NOTHING. 

So, I left and went back home empty handed.  No extra points for me. Wasted bus trip. Wasted night.  But the thought of going to school the next day not wearing green consumed my night. Nightmares of what was to happen flooded my sleep.  I knew I would be chastised. It was just the EXTENT of the punishment that bothered me.  Of course, I wouldn't be receiving any extra points.  Actually, FEAR of retribution because I was NOT wearing green WAS the issue.  

Fear of NOT LISTENING to the nuns was the problem.  What would my punishment be - verbal attacks, embarrassment, detention, pencil torture (I need to explain that one to you. Allow me).  

The pencil torture was truly and amazing punishment.  In detention, the student offender would be required to sit straight up in a desk, arms straight out in front of him, and hold two meticulously SHARPENED pencils by their lead tips - erasers on the desk - upright for TWO HOURS.  If either pencil fell, add one half hour to the punishment. Why not?  The nuns had nowhere to go. They would stay all night if they had to. I suggest that you try this punishment on your own to see how difficult it really is to hold those pencils for that long. Please don't let your children know this punishment and certainly do not use this on them.  It is not good. It is a bad thing.

  How to Torture a Student in Catholic School:  Couldn't find any photos that depict this punishment.  That's how stealthy this torture was. With each index finger, place the tip of your finger on the pointed, sharpened end of the pencil, and hold the pencils straight up, points digging into index fingers with the eraser resting on the desk. Remember, sit straight up for only two hours. That's it! And don't forget. If you drop one, add one half hour to the punishment. Where's a nun going to go on a Thursday afternoon. Believe me, she had time.

How to Torture a Student in Catholic School:  Couldn't find any photos that depict this punishment.  That's how stealthy this torture was. With each index finger, place the tip of your finger on the pointed, sharpened end of the pencil, and hold the pencils straight up, points digging into index fingers with the eraser resting on the desk. Remember, sit straight up for only two hours. That's it! And don't forget. If you drop one, add one half hour to the punishment. Where's a nun going to go on a Thursday afternoon. Believe me, she had time.

For some "misunderstood" reasons, the good sisters took it personally if you didn't do exactly what they told you to do, never mind that some kids didn't have the luxuries of other students. Some parents did everything for their children.  Some parents did nothing for their children. Consider me in the middle of these two paradigms. Insults such as "stupid" - "dumb" - "irresponsible" - "you're going to hell" were used regularly.

Well, you can imagine, showing up in school in class, everyone wearing green, except me. There I was, standing in a sea of green. And not only did my classmates see this, but Sister Christina saw it also.  She questioned me about being so "naive" and that all I had to do was wear green and everything was fine:  "why do you always have to be so different" I remember her saying.  (And all the while, I'm thinking, "Jimminy, I tried. Shouldn't I get points for trying").

No, one did not get points for trying.  It was embarrassing, and I had to hear it all day long from my teachers and fellow classmates about how "dumb" I was for not wearing green. Hearing that all day long was like "putting another brick in my wall."  Yes, indeed, I stored that in the part of my "injustice" brain to remember that moment.  Of course, what the good sisters didn't understand that these kinds of things are stored for "later retribution" (and boy, did I retribute).

CONFIRMATION

Another episode similar to this was my confirmation.  Of course, again, I needed a suit. So, after delivering my papers and working at my stock boy job, it was back to the bus Downtown to begin shopping for the "right" stylish suit for my upcoming special day.  I purchased a very nice gold/tan colored blazer with brown slacks (plus shirt and tie).  At that time, in the early 1970's, flared pants were the only thing I could find that fit and that I could afford.  Not huge bell bottom trousers, but flared slightly at the bottom.  I loved that combination, got a great price, and was good to go. I looked good.

NOT SO FAST.

  These are bell  bottom pants

These are bell  bottom pants

  These are flared bottom trousers which almost caused me to not be confirmed Roman Catholic.  Imagine?

These are flared bottom trousers which almost caused me to not be confirmed Roman Catholic.  Imagine?

Notice the difference?

We had a confirmation dress-rehearsal, and at the rehearsal, we had to wear the clothing that we were going to wear at the actual service so the nuns could make sure we all looked inappropriate.  Dress rehearsal and clothing inspection.  

I was so proud of myself.  My suit was "nice" and I was proud of it.

"Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." Proverbs 16:18 

  The CONFIRMATION WARDROBE committee - the final arbiters of "style" in my era

The CONFIRMATION WARDROBE committee - the final arbiters of "style" in my era

However, when it was my turn for "inspection," Sister questioned my flared bottoms of my pants (no, I am not telling tall tales.  She noticed them "right away"). HERE COMES THAT SHRILL VOICE I HAD HEARD SO MANY TIMES IN THE PAST:  "Mr. Arch. Why are you wearing bell bottom trousers for such a sacred event?" (Aw crap.  She noticed.  What was I to do now?)  "You can't wear bell bottoms. I simply will not allow you to wear bell bottoms to this event!" (But Sister Christina, they are just flared. They were not bell bottoms - see photos above. There is a HUGE difference, I thought, but would never say, and this is all that I could find that fit me"). "No, you are forbidden to attend your confirmation wearing those pants!" (You've got to be kidding me. Saving all my money, taking bus rides to Downtown, finding something that fit my very skinny frame. No, you can't do this to me. You just can't - another brick in the wall).  "I am going to call your mother and tell her how disappointed I am!"  (Aw.  No.  Please.  Don't call her.  No. You can't.  It won't help - again, just my thoughts, never dared say that). 

FIGHTING BACK WAS THE LAST STRAW

  Detention it is for you, young man

Detention it is for you, young man

I finally had to stand up for myself. I had no choice. Here goes nothing.  "No, Sister, this is all I have; this was all that I could afford; and this was the only suit that fit me!" SILENCE fell over the entire huge church. Everyone stopped.  I could "hear" my fellow students thinking. "Did he just say "no" to Sister Christina and Sister Marcelina? He didn't just stand up to her?  Is he crazy?" Yes, he is crazy. I could see my friends hanging their heads so not to get caught laughing at me - for it was equally a sin to laugh at someone else's pain.  I knew it couldn't get any worse.  Heck, I was fighting for my confirmation life here.  I HAD NO CHOICE.  

I was going to wear those slacks if it killed me, and looking at every one's stares at me, I indeed probably was going to be killed - or - at least experience one of the tortures THEY had in mind. "Okay, sir, if that's they way you feel about it, WEAR THE PANTS.  But, stay after school for detention." (Wow, I just beat a huge rap.  I was permitted to wear the flared bottom pants, and all I had to do was spend two hours getting punished in detention.  That's it?  I could and would gladly serve detention than have her call my mother OR even worse, have to get on the bus, go Downtown, return the pants, and search and find another pair.  Heck, detention was the least of my worries).  

I could do detention easily.  That's a piece of cake.  Besides, detention and me were best friends.  The alternative was so much worse. (At this time, please permit to explain THE WALL analogy, in case you don't know the song.  In 1979, the rock group Pink Floyd released this album about a young boy who is repeatedly berated by his teachers, his parents, and adults in general (see above video). The analogy is that for each time this boy was "knocked down" by an adult, he would figuratively build a wall around himself to keep the pain outside.  It was Pink Floyd's analogy of being so hurt that the young man had to shut out the world around him - hence, THE WALL. Kind of sad, but ambitiously creative.  My wall was pretty huge during my Growing up Catholic days.

Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.

Alas, this was indeed the beginning of the end of my Catholic school career.  I guess at this time, the good sisters had had enough of my insubordination.  To them, probably, and to me, definitely, that was the final "brick in my wall." 

  "One more brick in the wall..."

"One more brick in the wall..."

  Sister waving out of convent window:  Hey Stephen!  See ya.  Goodbye!

Sister waving out of convent window:  Hey Stephen!  See ya.  Goodbye!

  See me sitting at the bottom of the wall?

See me sitting at the bottom of the wall?

Please read on below:  Growing Up Catholic Part Nine

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