I had mentioned Sister Marillia the other day, terror that she was. And then in the comments section of yesterday's post, a dear reader mentioned her own
And then another reader responded....
Dear Anonymous - so sorry you were terrified of nuns. Wonder what you were doing that DESERVED being whacked on the head with erasers. ??? SOOOOO tired of people saying that nuns were terrifying. Get over yourself, already! Maybe you were sent to Catholic school by your parents to get straightened out. Maybe your classmates have not-so-fond memories of you (spoiling their recess, distracting them from their studies with your eraser-earning antics). And gee - would an eraser really hurt? REALLY???? Shame on YOU, not on the nuns. I never had the priviledge of attending Catholic schools because my parents were too poor to afford it, and probably too ashamed to beg. But I have been teaching at schools with anywhere from one to five sisters, and they were all as nice as could be. They were from different teaching orders, too, so you can't say I just happened to run into an exceptional community. I'm not saying all sisters are perfect - I've seen a couple of slip ups - but it rarely involves the discipline of a student. So please, knock it off, people! The joke isn't funny any more.
Catholic School Teacher
(Incidentally, we have a couple of students who were sent to us to be straightened out. Newsflash to you parents who do that: Try discipline in your own house. Don't make a mess for others to clean up. It's not fair to the parents who send their students to get a Catholic education.)
I fully appreciate you defense of the perils of the classroom teacher. I really do. But please don't confuse the nuns and students of yesteryear with the nuns and students of today. Things have changed on both ends.
We were children of the late 40's and 50's, the children of men returned from winning The Big One. We said "please" and "thank you" and "yes, Sister". We all rose and said the Pledge of Alligiance in the morning and rose again before we were allowed out the classroom door to say an Act of Contrition.
If we did something wrong in class, like whisper to our neighbor or pass a note (I truly can not recall any worse transgression that than ever occurring from my kindergarten years through high school, my hand to God), we were not just misbehaving ever so slightly, we were sinning, because were were being disobedient to Sister, a sin against the Fourth Commandment, "Honor thy Father and thy Mother".
There were sweet nuns. I can't recall any, but there were. We certainly had nuns that weren't terrors, who were even tempered. But once you have a person more than twice your size (we were little children, after all) come swooping down on you, blackening the sun with her habit, to crack you across the knuckles with a three foot ruler or a rubber tipped pointer (which is basically a dowel rod), you will straighten right up in the presence of the rest of the nuns.
Maybe they had a 'good cop/bad cop' plan back at the convent. Of course, they didn't. There was no planning back at the convent.
But as to the children deserving it? No. I'll give you that the erasers probably didn't hurt. I knew a nun that would actually hurl them at the children. She had a great arm. She could pick off a kid in the middle of a room of thirty kids. I don't think she hurt anyone either.
The reason you keep hearing about terrifying nuns, is that sometimes they were actually terrifying. In Sister Marillia's classroom during math hour, we lined up six at a time across the blackboard in the back of the room. We each had a problem to do up there, long division at that time. When you finished your problem you returned to your seat. One gangly girl named Bonnie couldn't seem to solve her problem. Row after row of children got up and sat down again and poor Bonnie was still there.
I'm sure by that point, her brain had frozen, and by the time Sister Marillia arrived at the back of the room to belittle Bonnie, the rest of her had frozen, too. I'm not sure what set Sister off, but all of the sudden she had poor gangly Bonnie by the scruff of her neck and began to bang her head against the blackboard to the beat of whatever it was Sister was saying to Bonnie.
We were also frozen, our jaws dropped, our eyes wide. Finally, out of nowhere, one of the boys said, "Sister, you're going to kill her...." Bonnie stumbled back to her seat.
Or how about the time another nun I knew found a boy talking in line and took the pile of books she was holding, those flat wide music books, and dropped them on his head. He was out cold on the floor and the rest of the children had to file out of the room on their way to lunch, stepping over his unconscious body, sure he was dead on the floor.
And what was the upshot of all of this? A well behaved classroom. Happy parents who also believed that if Sister had smacked you, you must have deserved it.
I know they all meant well. But please never try to convince any of us that we deserved bloody knuckles because we were left handed or our penmanship was sloppy. These things happened and are well remembered by all of us who still quake in our Mary Jane shoes when they are recalled. It's not a joke, although we've certainly had a few laughs about it.
Nuns today are indeed a different breed, thanks be to God. For one thing, they receive a much better education. Those old nuns were thrown at a roomful of children with no training of any kind in how to work with, teach or discipline children. They were making it up as they went along. They didn't even have the opportunity to discuss it with each other at days end. They were on their own in there. More's the pity.
And back in my day, kids weren't sent to the Catholic school to straighten them out. Children who misbehaved too much were kicked out of Catholic school. For that, you would have had to do something actually bad, like property damage. Very rare, because we were indeed a bunch of goody two shoes tikes with a fear of Hell and Sister. Not necessarily in that order.
I'm glad students are now being sent to Catholic school to be straightened out. If Jesus could kiss lepers, I think we can tackle an unruly child.
Things have changed for the better. But the past informs the present.