Survival Guide for Catholics in High School: 5 Tips for Success when Oppressed

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By Joseph Paul Bukuras, Catholic University of America

            Going to public high school in 21st Century America was tough. And by tough, I mean liberal-very liberal. I had science teachers teach me life did not begin at conception. There were history teachers who taught me Columbus was a racist, native-hating, power hungry conqueror. They told me Andrew Jackson was an evil president, the Catholic Church was a broken institution in need of reform, and climate change was the world’s most pressing problem. They began allowing boys in the girl’s bathroom and vice versa. I had to sign a slip each year promising that I wouldn’t bully students with homosexual attraction-which basically presumed that my heterosexual desires were inherently dangerous to those who were attracted to the same sex. This list of lies and oppressive policies goes longer than this essay will read, but you get the point.

            Looking back on these experiences, it is miraculous I came out the other end a faithful Catholic. I quite often wonder, if I had the knowledge of my Catholic faith and history I currently possess, what would I have done differently? I can’t go back in time. But I would like to share five basic tips to navigate the rough waters of a liberal high school if you’re a practicing Catholic, Christian, or even just conservative. I hope you find these helpful. I know I sure would have.

Tip #1: Find Student Allies

            Finding people who think like you think is the most important thing you can do. You need support. Being a Catholic conservative in a predominantly liberal school system can be isolating. You can feel very lonely. Linking up with those like-minded people can bring hope, friendship, and an ally when you need it most.

            I didn’t find these allies until I went to college. When I made friends with like-minded Catholics, I gained the freedom to speak my thoughts, the opportunity to advance intellectually, and the enjoyment of stimulating conversations. I can’t stress enough how important this is. It is Tip #1 for a reason.

Tip #2: Find Allies on Staff

            Connecting with Catholic conservatives on staff can be helpful. In a liberal school, it can seem like every teacher is liberal. Have hope. Even in my liberal, public high school that was not the case. Most likely, there are conservative staff members on the faculty. If they’re Catholic also, well, then God bless you. Finding like-minded staff members can be good for bouncing ideas and thoughts off after school. Maybe you don’t like a school policy or activity. Ask them what they think about it and get some guidance on what to do.

Tip #3: Start a Club

            Tip #3 can help with Tips #1 and #2. It’s not always easy to find Catholic conservatives because most of them just shut their mouths in fear of being shouted down or called a racist. We’re called the silent majority for a reason. Starting an after-school club might be a good way to connect with other like-minded students.

            Keep in mind, the club doesn’t have to be named “The Catholic Club.” It can be named that if that’s what you want and if that’s what your school allows. A good idea might be to pick a Catholic, conservative value and create a name off of that. If you start a club called East High Tigers for Life, West High Bible Study, or even something as basic as Tax Reform Club (Run by a conservative) then you’re bound to meet some like-minded people. God willing, some of those people will be faithful Christians, or even Catholics!

Tip #4: The Myth of the Omniscient History Textbook

            Your history textbook is not all of history. It is one textbook, of many, which your school has chosen to use. I’m not saying it’s wrong. But I’m not saying it’s telling the full truth either. Be prudent and take the history with a grain of salt. Do your own research on your free time if something bothers you and you’re just not sure. History is just politics which has already happened. Remember that next time someone tells you politics is not taught in school. Also, get to know your history teacher. Is he/she more liberal or conservative? This is an important question to ask. As a teacher myself, I know that the textbook is a guide, but the teacher is the course. Get a feel for your teacher’s worldview. Keep your guard up and stay close to Jesus.

Tip #5: Be Bold and Carry Your Cross

            There are so few high schools around the country that are friendly to our Catholic faith. If you’re at one, take advantage of it. If you’re not, be bold and carry your cross. Remember Christ’s words, “if the world hates you, realize it hated me first.” (Jn 15:18). If you suffer because of your beliefs, remember Christ is suffering with you. Unite your persecution to His and offer your pain as a prayer to the Lord. Be bold and don’t back down. Don’t be careless either. Your Catholic faith can’t change any lives if you’re kicked out of school for a rude remark or scolding of another. With the wisdom from the Holy Spirit, God will use you as a tool to witness to His love and truth. Your witness could change the life of someone watching who you never intended to reach. Be a witness to Christ at every moment. The journey will be difficult. But remember the words of our eternal king, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24).

           I pray you found these tips helpful. God bless you on your journey!

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