Tuesday, December 22, 2020

My first encounter with a Social Justice Warrior


I was a Junior in a Catholic High School. Since it was a Catholic High School, we were required to take a "religion" class every term.

Through some mysterious process, I found myself in a "seminar" taught by Sister B.Z. Lee (not her real name).

Before I go on with the story, I need to give a tiny bit of background...background that was not available to me when I was a student.


Before Vatican II and Women's Liberation, Catholic women entered the convent in vast numbers. Their labor was not highly valued in the Church if only because of its abundance. Supply-and-demand and all that. 

VII and Women's Lib fell on the convents like the Black Death. And like the Black Death in Europe, the price of labor shot up.

Nuns are not stupid. With number of women joining the convent reduced to the tiniest trickle, the nuns who were in place realized that they now had huge amounts of bargaining power. Whereas the least academically gifted had been used as janitors and to wash clothing, they were elevated to fill the ranks of teaching positions that hither-to-fore had been filled by younger nuns.

Grasping their moment in the sun, nuns started protesting nuclear power plants, military bases, construction equipment and they happily allowed themselves to be arrested and tossed into the hoosegow. It was a heady time. Jail was not that different from the convent except they didn't have KP duty.

Another thing that happened is that nuns demanded...and got...access to advanced degrees. The Church hierarchy thought/hoped that it would trim off some of the nun's new-found energy.

Back to Sr. B.Z. Lee

It seems likely, in retrospect, that Sr. B.Z. Lee was collecting data for a Master's or Ph.D thesis. The "seminar" was held in a cozy room with padded easy-chairs.  Sr. B.Z. Lee worked from a crib-sheet where she read off "facts" and then we earnestly discussed what we had just "learned".

Did I mention that I got a "D" in this class?

Religion class was pretty much a guaranteed "A" if you attended and I pulled a "D" in this one while demonstrating 100% attendance.

One example of the chemistry between Sr. B.Z. Lee and me: 

Sr. B.Z. Lee reading from her script and pointing at a map of Africa "In most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, four-out-of-every five babies dies before age five. Not only that, but the life expectancy in those countries is fifty years of age."

Me, clearing throat and raising my hand. "That doesn't make any sense at all."

Sr. B.Z. Lee, avoiding eye-contact by looking down at her notes. "What doesn't make sense?"

Warming to the opportunity to share my insight "Well, if the average life expectancy is 50 years and 80% of the babies die before age five, then the person who survives past age five has to live to almost 250 years of age. I mean, that is not a bad deal if you think about it...as long as you make it past age five."

Sr. Lee lifted her eyes from her cheat-sheet and stared at me with a look of complete incomprehension. There was probably a reason why her advanced degree was not going to be in math.

She reacted to my "sharing" by grating out through clenched teeth "In most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, four-out-of-every five babies dies before age five. Not only that, but the life expectancy in those countries is fifty years of age."

Every session she presented "facts" that were supposed to shock, horrify and enrage us. Every session I pointed out common sense facts (clearly obvious to high school kids) that were impossible to reconcile with her "facts".

By the end of every session I had her on the verge of having a stroke.

And like all good Social Justice Warriors (forty years before I first heard the term) she was vindictive and gave me a "D"...even though the syllabus said we were encouraged to discuss the "facts".

My parents

The more I think about my parents' non-reaction to my pulling a "D" in religion, the more I respect them.

Catholic schools are expensive. Indexed for inflation it probably works out to about $6k per kid. My parents drove ancient station-wagons, wore second-hand clothing, never ate out and did without many things to send us to Catholic schools.

The primary reason we were sent to Catholic school was so we could attend religion class.

And I pulled a "D".

I suspect my dad asked a few question regarding the nature of the "seminar". Dad was nobody's fool. He had the misfortune of working with people pursuing an advanced degree; ones who were trying to spin smoke, mirrors and cotton-candy into a thesis.

We never talked about it. If it had bothered him in the least I am sure we would have.



  1. I'm thinking that in your third paragraph under subtitle "Nuns", you meant that teaching had heretofore been done by older Nuns?

    Back in the 60's, me and my brothers went to a Lutheran Day School for a couple of years, elementary school. Social justice back then, was usually applied by the principal after an agonizing wait in the hallway outside his office.

    Back then, corporal punishment was not only allowed in schools, it was encouraged by the parents, if necessary. Even in secular public schools in SoCal.

  2. While pursuing my Masters in Nursing and Behavioral Science (same time) I had to deal with this every damn time in just about every class I took at the uber-leftist Portland State U in Portland, Oregon. I got through by grinding my teeth and shutting my big mouth. I wanted the degrees bad enough. I was 25 at the time and had served 5 years in the Army, so I kinda knew what battles to fight and when to tactically withdrawal. Would I do it today? Not on your life! I would have gone on to an apprenticeship in electrical. I didn't take out student loans, payed for it with cash and scholarships with scrimping and worked my butt off.

  3. Ah yes, those pesky facts... :-) I'm pretty sure they saw through her 'grading' of you.

  4. A slightly different "Nun " story from the '50s. We had a Nun who had been "rescued" from a German concentration camp by the Soviets.
    She later was released and allowed to come to America. Since she was recovering her health and studying for her citizenship papers,(and the best way to learn something is to teach it), she taught Government and Civics to everybody from 3rd grade on.
    One day during the time Lucy and Ricky slept in separate beds, I came home and asked my mother, "Mom what is pregnant?"
    Since this was not a word used around children at that time, my mother was outraged and demanded to know who was talking like that.
    I told her it was the nun, and we rapidly were at the convent talking to the principal and that nun!
    She explained that she wasn't aware of that custom in America since it wasn't one in europe, and asked my mother how she should rephrase her statement explaining our rights?
    The statement she was using was,"Giving up a little of your freedom or rights is just like being "a little bit pregnant" it can't happen"
    Nobody had a good answer, but she no longer used it for students below eighth grade.
    I"m glad I was in fourth grade when it happened.

    Dennis the librarian shusher

  5. A different Nun story from the 50's
    We had a Nun who had been "rescued " from a German concentration camp by the Soviets and "enjoyed" their hospitality for a few years.
    She finally made it here to America and while studying for her Citizenship, and based on the theory that "the best way to learn something is to teach it" she taught Government and Civics to everybody from third to twelfth grade
    I was in fourth grade when I went home one day and asked my mother,
    "Mom, what is pregnant?"
    At this time a Lucy who was "with child" and her husband Ricky were sleeping in separate beds
    "Where did you hear that!? Who is using that language around children?"
    I explained that it was the new Nun at school, which got us down to the convent as soon as we could get there.
    The Mother Superior(who was our principal) brought the Nun in and explained that this was not a word used around children in America(unlike it was in Europe).
    The Nun then asked for my mothers help in restating her phrase to make it acceptable.
    the phrase:,"Giving up a little of your Rights or Freedom is like being,"a little bit pregnant", it can't happen"
    My mothers reaction helped cement that thought into my very being

    Dennis the librarian shusher

  6. I went to Catholic school from grades 1 through 8. I had several teachers who were nuns during that time. They ranged from very sweet to "Attila the Nun". Some of my very best teachers were nuns.

  7. I don't remember religion class being a "gimme" I do remember getting put out of senior year religion class for questioning papal infallibility. I used to joke that I was given a "spot" excommunication. "you cant be a catholic and question papal infallibility. Get out of my class room". I really didn't get the impression that the Dominicans that taught me 1st through 12th grade were highly educated, they got real cranky when you took them off script. They would tell my mom I was one of the smartest kids and for some reason that upset them even more that I had questions and came to my own conclusions.

  8. My son was thrown out of Religious Education classes for pointing out to the devoutly-Catholic teacher that according to her definition of the previous week, Christianity was a cult. Fortunately the Deputy head agreed with his logic and excused him from the class for the rest of the year.
    Growing up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles left his parents with a very jaundiced view of any organized religion.

  9. I have a lot to be grateful about the educationist got from the sisters of the immaculate heart of Mary.

    They gave me critical thinking skills at a young age to doubt much of what came out of an adults mouth as well as the gift of being utterly unfazed at someone screaming at me.

    As far as academic education we all were 2 grades ahead when we hit public high school.

  10. I went to a Catholic Grammar School, run by priests. I played truant a lot. I was very good at that.

  11. I graduated high school in 1978. I went to Hesperia, MI schools, a very tiny school and village. I say now that,once I learned how to read,the only reason I needed to attend school was to learn how to play music,and to play sports. I basically taught myself just about everything that I needed to know just from my own reading.
    The one area that I am glad that I did attend school for, was a class called, Current World Problems. It was basically Civics of the nations of the world. Each week,we would study a new nation.
    After about the first month, the teacher got the hots for the new librarian, and so he made up worksheets every day, and we spent most of the hour in the library, doing the worksheets, while he chatted her up. I actually learned a lot that way. Including the fact that our country is not the only one who has a system of government that actually works.
    The teacher was my football coach, and he and the librarian are still married.