According to a recent Religion News Service report, a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that “Catholic elementary school students, regardless of race, sex, or socioeconomic status, have more self-control and self-discipline than their peers enrolled in either public schools or non-Catholic private schools.” Students at Catholic schools, the report went on, “did not fight, get angry, act impulsively, or disturb ongoing activities as frequently as students at other schools.”
Is anyone surprised? Certainly not this 1955 graduate of St. Ita’s parish school. And it wasn’t all the doing of those Sisters of (occasional) Mercy. Why, I had a part in it myself. Let me tell you a story.
It was second grade. Tommy T. was plopped into the desk in front of me. Sister had grabbed him by the elbow and moved him from the front row, where she had been able to keep an eye and, when necessary, a hand on him. That day, she gave up and turned him over to me. My assignment: stop his wiggling in the seat, leaning into the aisle, talking out loud, and “behaving as if this was the playground.” She gave me no further instructions. “Figure it out for yourself,” I told myself. “Sister is counting on you.”
It didn’t take long for Tommy to wiggle and lean. I ignored him. He wasn’t having that. He upped the ante. He raised and lowered the old-fashioned classroom desktop to the rhythm of its squeaky hinge. Poking him in the back hardly registered. Whispering “Stop that!” fell on deaf ears. He turned, put his elbows on my desk, smiled like the Cheshire cat, and stuck out his tongue. He had an amazing array of moves given the small size and short compass of our second-grade desks. Everything I tried fell short. I went back to ignoring him, and the kid in front of him turned and poked him in the nose.