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What does a Catholic education give a Catholic child?

(70 Posts)
wassername Sun 01-Feb-09 20:34:26

I am feeling very confused. I am a practising Catholic but converted as an adult so did not attend a Catholic school. My husband is agnostic.

I always thought I would send my children to a Catholic school, but when it came to it, we opted for the nearby non-denominational primary school for various reasons and both my sons are there now, with a daughter likely to follow in 2 years.

The benefit of this choice, as I see it, is a social one. My kids mix with children from many cultures and faiths (we are in Greater London) and I really love the fact that they have this exposure and involvement with the disparate elements of our society.

The school celebrates all faiths - so they mark Christmas and Easter as well as Diwali, Eid etc. However, I wonder if a Catholic education would help them to see how their own faith can be a part of their everyday lives in a way that I think I struggle to do at home.

We attend Mass regularly and the boys attend Saturday morning religious classes at the church. My eldest is in yr3 so is preparing to make his first Holy Communion this year. I think they feel a part af the church community, but I kind of envy the children at the Catholic school who say prayers in the morning and at lunch time and sometimes come to Mass at the church together or have the priest visit the school.

In a couple of years my eldest will be off to High School and I wonder whether I should look at Catholic high schools or continue in the non-denominational sector.

I think my key problem is that essentially I don't like the 'segregation' - ie only mixing with Catholics (at school anyway). Does it give children a different view of others - will they feel a little uncomfortable around people from a different religious and cultural background when they are adults?

I can't help but think that if everyone was educated in schools according to their faith we would have big problems integrating as adults.

I'd really welcome any views!

zanzibarmum Sun 01-Feb-09 21:00:09

One thing Catholics (= universal) learn at school is the dignity of each and every person, and that every individual is worthy of respect.
Across the country something like 30% of pupils are not Catholic - though if the school is over subcribed preference is given to Catholic children.
What secondary schools are you considering?.

wassername Sun 01-Feb-09 21:26:56

Well I recently spoke to someone who has her three boys at the London Oratory. I know a couple of other people with children there too. The mum with 3 boys there said they have to bite their tongues at some of the 'traditional' Catholic teaching that the school prefers. That made me curious so I've been looking at their website but I think I am attracted by the exclusivity of such a school - it's the snob in me that wants to say about my son 'he's at the Oratory' - and I really shouldn't give in to that sort of snobbery! If I couldn't agree with the school's version of Catholicism then why would I send them there?

Our local Catholic schools would be in the Harrow area. I have nephews, neices and a Godson at Cardinal Wiseman in Greenford, Joan of Arc in Rickmansworth and Cardinal Vaughan in Holland Park. I know a lot of people my age who went to Salvatorian College in Wealdstone too, although I don't know many people with children there now.

I've also looked at a nearby independent school that offers scholarships - but that is very alien territory to me. My son has been highlighted by his primary school as particularly able in maths and science - but to be honest, his primary school, much as I like it, is best at helping struggling children to catch up rather than helping able children to stretch themselves.

Our local state comprehensives are both pretty good anyway and I'm sure he could do well there - I just kind of feel unsure whether I should consider involving his faith in his education.

frogs Sun 01-Feb-09 21:36:34

Mine are at Catholic schools and I do like the faith aspect of it. I don't find 'segregation' a factor -- most catholic parishes in London are very diverse, and the schools reflect that. My younger dc's primary school is much more socially and ethnically mixed than the nearby 'desirable' non-church primary that dd2 went to for a year after we moved house.

Wrt catholic secondary schools, they are hugely varied -- some are fab schools, some really not. We went to see the LOS in the autumn, and weren't actually that impressed -- I thought it was very heavy on discipline and conformity to the extent of feeling slightly oppressive. I also thought there was a strong whiff of Opus Dei about the place, which is really not my bag. But obviously lots of people find it just the ticket.

I think snob value is a really, really poor reason to choose a school though -- several people approached me after dd1 started at her catholic secondary school to say, 'oh, I thought she'd have got into Henrietta Barnett or Latymer'. In fact she did pass the exam for HBS, but we put the catholic school first on the CAF cos we liked it much better, and we've never regretted that decision.

wassername Sun 01-Feb-09 22:02:42

Frogs - that's v interesting that you had that feeling about the Oratory - I think that's what I felt the mum with 3 boys there was alluding to - the oppressiveness and Opus Dei leanings. Unless you are comfortable with that brand of Catholicism then I can't see why you would send your child there (many other schools are equally good academically). I do suspect a number of people are attracted by the snob value (although not the mum I mentioned oddly enough).

I'm still in a quandry about benefits vs (what I see as) disadvantages in choosing a Catholic school. One can't escape the fact that at any popular Catholic school pretty much all the pupils will be Catholic - so logically the children will be limited in their integration with Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs etc - and those with no faith.

I need to decide how important it is to me for my kids to integrate with other faiths and cultures at school as against integrating their own faith with their daily school life.

Thank goodness I've got three years to think about it!

zanzibarmum Sun 01-Feb-09 22:06:53

wassername - I agree with frogs an exclusivity reason for choosing a Catholic school seems like a contradiction in terms. When LOS get round to changing their admissions criterial - which they are required to do shortly but haven't done so yes - it is likely to be less socially selective in the way that appears to appeal to you.
Perhaps more importantly I am not sure that LOS has a version of Catholicism other than... err Catholicism. Is the Pope a Catholic?

cory Sun 01-Feb-09 22:11:32

I would check out the individual Catholic school. In particular, see if you can find any parents of another faith whose children attend and ask how their children are treated by the school (not that long ago since a little boy at our local Catholic was told by the priest that his Mum would be going to hell since she was not baptised- she was an evangelical Christian).

Tortington Sun 01-Feb-09 22:14:22

my kids go to catholic school

the anser is not a lot

IME catholic schools are usually better re: education than the local scum c of e /A. n. other not private school.

zanzibarmum Sun 01-Feb-09 22:18:22

Custardo - I am not surprised that you think Catholic schools do not form a child's / your chhild's catholicism'; where the parents think other children in other schools are scum even the best Catholic school could not achieve this. I guess the Pope is a Catholic but surely not Custardo

wassername Sun 01-Feb-09 22:24:27

Zanzibarmum - I suppose I got the impression that LOS expected conformity to a degree that stifled questioning and I would find it hard to go along with that. (I think the Pope is still a mention of his defection was made at Mass this morning anyway)

Do you see any problems with educating children in faith groups? If you went to a Catholic school, do you think it has made any difference to the way you relate to or connect with people from other faiths?

I think I want to be told 'No - a Catholic education doesn't make you feel separate from other faiths', but even if the answer if 'Yes it does' I still want to understand the value of having your faith integrated with your education. If I don't do that for my children at their school, can I make up for it at home or will I be depriving them of something that could be so life-enhancing and enriching?

wassername Sun 01-Feb-09 22:27:37

hmm at Custardo - don't feed my fears!

Lazycow Sun 01-Feb-09 22:34:02


That is terrible and is not in fact what the Catholic church teaches. What it teaches is a belief that baptism is necessary for salvation (as do most other Christian religions) but that only God decides who goes to Hell. We can say who we believe is in heaven (i.e. the Saints) but that we have no way of knowing who is in Hell only God knows that.

As for the OP. I personally think that attendance at a Catholic primary school is really not necessary if you want to raise a Catholic child. You can do this via the Church.

I will however be strongly inclined to choose a Catholic secondary school. Secondary school age is already when some children tend to drift out of religion and it may be hard for a child to not follow the crowd at an age when they are vulnerable to 'fitting in'.

In a non-Catholic school I think they will be much more likely to want to stop attending church etc and it is difficult to do much about it at that age.

At a Catholic school they would hopefully be less likely to give up practising and also would mean that if they decide to stop going to church then this will their own decision rather than a worry about being 'different' not fitting in.

Lazycow Sun 01-Feb-09 22:46:04

Wassername -

I went to a Catholic secondary school and I have no issue with other faiths.

In fact in my 20s I stopped practising my faith and spent a decade as an agnostic. I then started to feel the need for God in my life again and investigated a number of faiths. |I toyed with Buddhism (not very long), the Quakers (quite a while for this one). I attended a number of COE services all over a period of 5-8 years.

Eventually I came back to Catholicism in my late 30s as that was where I was most at home. It was touch and go for a while which religion I felt most called to me and I still hanker for the lovely silence of the Quaker services sometimes, but in the end the call of home was too strong for me to resist.

zanzibarmum Sun 01-Feb-09 22:46:42

Wassername - you raise a number of questions let me give you my opinion on the points you raise.

LOS - IMHO I think LOS is strict (hair, homework, etc) in terms of discipline and fairly orthodox in terms of its Catholic formation (periodic mass etc during school time. Discipline is necessary in an all boys school though I think LOS are probably a little up tight. The Catholic life of the school seems well managed - the point is that Catholic schools aim to develop the whole person - mind, body, spirtual etc. It's not one or the other but all; and I think where it is done well it works.

I went to an all boys Catholic school - though all Catholic I think it helped me value other faiths and people from other faiths - see above. More importantly I do believe that studying Islam, Hinduism and other faiths without real knowledge or empathy of the pratice or the spiritual is really just window dressing. How can you value Muslim prayer where you have no prayer life of your own? Re Custardo's distasteful comments above it is as much about the home as the school.

However, and it is a big however - IMHO things now are different to when I went to a Catholic secondary school. Then it was simple - you were a Catholic or not. Now, there does seem to be many people in Catholic schools perhaps like Custardo who are there to avoid what as Custardo terms "scum" - in addition there are what have been defined as shadow Cahtolics - don't really believe anything; an lapsed Catholic who for the period of their child's admission are no longer lapse. There are of course,others - the majority, who a genuine Catholics of all races, social classes etc.

So in terms of your child's education - there are huge benefits from attending a Catholic school (irrespective of the quality of the education provided) but equally there may well be some downsides - either way it probably doesn't matter depending on the values the child takes from his or her parents.

zanzibarmum Sun 01-Feb-09 22:51:56

Cory - I am probably of your opinion too re Catholic secondary school but how many teenagers have you seen in Church recently?

I wonder, paradoxically, if attending a Catholic secondary school encourages a lack of practice amongst the student - particularly in a school with large numbers of shadow Catholics. Wouldn't it be easier to support your child's pracitce if he/she were the only or one of few Catholic children in a non Catholic school????

I'd appreciate your thoughts.

wassername Sun 01-Feb-09 22:52:35

Lazycow - thanks, that's something to think about. I agree that Cory's story is awful - and perhaps illustrates my nagging worry that in an all Catholic environment, non-Catholics are sort of seen as 'outsiders' and not quite 'one of us'. I know this will not be what is deliberately taught (except in exceptional cases like the one Cory mentions) but it does niggle at me. I guess I could address this myself at home though. Mustn't forget that I can hope to have some infulence on my children too!!

frogs Sun 01-Feb-09 23:00:46

Wassername, I think the gulf is not between Catholics and people from other faiths, the difference is between people from any mainstream, non-fanatically fundamentalist faith and non-believers.

If you hang around the religion and in particular faith schools threads on MN you'll encounter an attitude towards faith and people who practise it that is dismissive at best, overtly offensive at worst.

In this context the advantages of a Catholic school are that the dc have friends who are catholic, albeit in varying levels of practisingness, so that their own faith is normalised. They are also protected from the pervasive attitude that anyone with a faith is deluded and a bit square. Sure, they'll have to deal with that at university and in life anyway. But I appreciate the fact that they're growing up surrounded by dc and families that understand what faith is about and can support that.

wassername Sun 01-Feb-09 23:09:40

Lazycow - just read your post about your 'wilderness years' - that's really interesting. I actually like the fact that you have explored other faiths - to me it makes your faith deeper in that you have really made an active decision rather than simply doing what your parents wanted you to do IYSWIM.

As I said, I didn't grow up Catholic and only converted in my thirties so I kind of know where you've been.

Zanzibarmum - I appreciate you taking the trouble to answer me at such length. I really do want my children's spiritual side to be developed and although I think they manage it up to a point at their primary school, I am less knowledgeable about what non-denominational high schools do - so that is certainly going to be a key factor for me.

I recognise what you say about shadow Catholics, but as you commented, the majority are believers who practise their faith regardless of whether they're trying to get a child into a school, so hopefully it wouldn't make too much difference to the feel of the school.

This has been really helpful - lots for me to consider.

wassername Sun 01-Feb-09 23:14:26

Frogs - I can see your point. I was actually attracted to the church because I was part of a family (by marriage) that got so much support and strength from it and in a way a Catholic school is an extension of that. Yes, that would be a big factor I think.

zanzibarmum Sun 01-Feb-09 23:18:13

frogs - I heartiliy agree with you. At least the Catholics are up front about the values that underpin their philopsopy of education and life. If there is one thing worse than a Catholic education then it is surely an education underpinned by secular values of: the me, the here and now, the material, and the moral relativisim.

CapricaSix Sun 01-Feb-09 23:47:22

I had a Catholic education, so I'm in a position to ask myself what did it give me?


Guilt- the constant feeling that i was doing something wrong and had something to apologise and ask forgiveness for.

And there was always a holier-than-thou attitude that i can't put my finger on. A We are right, they are wrong sort of attitude.

Also, a very deep feeling of betrayal, I think, which probably runs deeper than i am aware of, once I had decided i didn't believe any of it (though I guess that isn't exclusive to Catholicism!).

I stopped going to church when I was 14, thank goodness my parents gave me the freedom to decide for myself at that point. As an adult, I helped out on a stall in the church hall where we used to go to church, and had to sit in on the children's liturgies, that i used to attend as a pre-teen. It completely enraged me and I couldn't believe that as a child i was fed all that stuff.

But then, I don't even believe in God so I guess i would find it really uncomfortable listening to children being preached at about it all, as if it was fact.

my mum was really surprised when I told her recently how I felt about it, she said that wasn't her experience at all. Those feelings didn't come from the way my parents brought us up, it was directly from the schools and the church.

I am so very, very happy that I have been able to choose not to subject dd to it, in fact it feels positively freeing! I am happy - in fact, i think it's important - for dd to learn about different religions and what different people believe, in that way "Some people believe...", not "this is fact" - so that as she grows up she can make her own mind up.

CapricaSix Mon 02-Feb-09 00:02:01

zanzibarmum - a secular education doesn't necessarily mean it teaches those values, dd's school doesn't teach those values at all. They use the letters D I V E R S I T Y, each one representing some value or other, but I can't remember them now! blush Things like respect, caring, community, acceptance etc. And they teach stuff about different religions too - dd is only in year 1 but from what i can tell, she will prob learn a lot more than i did about other religions!

"secular" values hmm This is one thing that used to frustrate me growing up, the assumption that the only way you can hold / adhere to those good values is if you're a christian?

fwiw tho i agree that there really does need to be a force running against the values you mention, as they are all too rife in society...

seeker Mon 02-Feb-09 00:05:23

What does a Catholic education give a child?

A overactive sense of guilt and hangups about sex mostly.

Monkeytrousers Mon 02-Feb-09 00:07:28

In one word: Guilt.

CapricaSix Mon 02-Feb-09 00:10:54

grin said much more succinctly than me!

wow can't believe i forgot about sex...

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