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Fear of Nuns

By David Haldane

Sept. 28, 2023


I have always been afraid of nuns.

As a child, I used to see them in black habits with crunched faces that prompted my cringing retreat. Being Jewish made it worse; with one tap, I feared, they could send me straight to Hell. And so I kept my distance, content to contemplate those nightmarish powers from afar.

Until recently. That’s when I decided to confront a particularly powerful holy sister—the president of my son’s Catholic school in the Philippines—motivated by a fear even greater than the one I had for her; that his future was being undermined. And so I held my breath, steeled myself, and bravely knocked on the mighty nun’s door. The question at hand: why 12-year-old Isaac’s 7th-grade class, despite the universally heralded death of the COVID pandemic, had reverted to online learning two days a week?

“Why has my son’s 7th-grade class reverted to online learning two days a week?” I unflinchingly began. “Can you show me a single study demonstrating its superior effectiveness? Because I can point to dozens concluding exactly the opposite.”

Before continuing, let me place this outburst in its proper context.

The other thing exceeding my lifelong fear of nuns is my hatred for so-called online learning. Early in the pandemic, lacking an alternative, we reluctantly accepted it like everyone else. Later, however, when Philippine schools showed no signs of reopening soon, we made a painful decision: to return to the United States for a full year so Isaac could be with his classmates.

“I had a fantastic day!” he assured me on that not-too-distant first night home. “I even made a new friend. I’m just so happy to be back at school!”

Upon returning to Surigao City in the waning days of the pandemic, we made a point of closely scrutinizing the administrators of potential new schools. “Absolutely!” one promised when asked whether his campus would follow the lead of every other school on earth by returning to full-time face-to-face learning. But the story changed almost immediately after we paid our tuition. Well, he averred then, face-to-face every day except Thursdays, though “only through November.” It changed again come December 1st. “We’ve decided to continue online Thursdays through the end of the school year,” a vice principal informed me. Then, maintaining a remarkably straight face, he claimed the faculty had “surveyed parents, 98% of whom said they were fine with it. Didn’t you get the memo?”

Somehow, we hadn’t.

Which is why I felt deeply relieved when that vice principal’s boss—the school’s aforementioned president who I recently ran into at a mutual friend’s birthday party—assured me that online learning had finally become a thing of the past at the illustrious school she leads. “Real-time face-to-face is absolutely best for everyone!” the commanding nun enthusiastically opined.

Two weeks later we got another memo—this one actually received—informing us otherwise. Henceforth, it proclaimed, there would be not one, but two, weekly days of online learning. Not to mention, of course, the usual third day of student “activities,” whatever the heck that means.

And so, girded for an argument, I marched to the good sister’s office.

Not surprisingly, she wasn’t able to produce any studies presenting online learning as a superior alternative. She did, however, thank me earnestly for dropping by and promised to get back to me soon with an update.

I’m still waiting.




David Haldane’s latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, is available on Amazon and Lazada. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, Haldane is a prize-winning journalist, author, and radio broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Gold Star Daily.


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