Saturday, April 30, 2011

Common Sense Thought for the Day

“As an apologist I am the reverse of apologetic. So far as a man may be proud of a religion rooted in humility, I am very proud of my religion; I am especially proud of those parts of it that are most commonly called superstition. I am proud of being fettered by antiquated dogmas and enslaved by dead creeds. (as my journalistic friends repeat with so much tenacity), for I know very well that it is the heretical creeds that are dead, and that it is only the reasonable dogma that lives long enough to be called antiquated.”

-G.K. Chesterton

Friday, April 29, 2011

Video: Remains of John Paul II removed from the Grottoes

RomeReports has posted the video below:

My husband and I were there only last November on our first ever pilgrimage to Europe (or to anyplace, really). It still seems strange to think we actually walked through those passages through which John Paul II's remains are being moved in the video. The experience will remain with us for the rest of our lives.

John Paul II, pray for us.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

National Infertility Awareness Week

"There is no sign unless something happens contrary to nature. The brightness of the sun is no sign, but an eclipse is." 
- Fulton Sheen


This year, Easter Week and National Infertility Awareness Week fall at the same time.

Catholic couples who face infertility face some unique struggles, and often bear their crosses in silence. Those outside the church often approach fertility as something one can switch on and off like a light, and often do not understand why Catholics will not pursue IVF and similar artificial reproductive technologies.  Within the church, many assume that couples with few or no children are using contraception, turn up their noses at them, and ask no more questions.

When couples, Catholic or not, discover their infertility, the experience is somewhat like facing a death, only they mourn something that was never there. In her personal memoir, former First Lady Laura Bush puts it this way:

For some years now, the wedding invitations that had once crowded the mailbox had been replaced by shower invites and pink-or-blue-beribboned baby announcements. I bought onesies or rattles, wrapped them in yellow paper, and delivered them to friends. I had done it with a happy wistfulness, believing that someday my time, my baby, would come. George and I had hoped that I would be pregnant by the end of his congressional run. Then we hoped it would be by the time his own father announced his presidential run, then by the presidential primaries, the convention, the general election. But each milestone came and went. The calendar advanced, and there was no baby.

The English language lacks the words to mourn an absence. For the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, child or friend, we have all manner of words and phrases, some helpful some not. Still we are conditioned to say something, even if it is only “I’m sorry for your loss.” But for an absence, for someone who was never there at all, we are wordless to capture that particular emptiness. For those who deeply want children and are denied them, those missing babies hover like silent ephemeral shadows over their lives. Who can describe the feel of a tiny hand that is never held?
Jennifer Fulwiler of the National Catholic Register has posted an article on the often invisible experiences of infertile Catholic couples.  If you or someone you know is facing infertility, it is a worthwhile read.

Tip of the Schoomarm Ruler to Tito, for posting the NCR article on Facebook, and to In All Things Good.

G.K. Chesterton on "The Superstiton of School"

"The snag in it is this: that the self-educated think far too much of education. I might add that the half-educated always think everything of education. That is not a fact that appears on the surface of the social plan or ideal; it is the sort of thing that can only be discovered by experience. When I said that I wanted the popular feeling to find political expression, I meant the actual and autochthonous popular feeling as it can be found in third-class carriages and bean-feasts and bank-holiday crowds; and especially, of course (for the earnest social seeker after truth), in public-houses. I thought, and I still think, that these people are right on a vast number of things on which the fashionable leaders are wrong. The snag is that when one of these people begins to "improve himself" it is exactly at that moment that I begin to doubt whether it is an improvement. He seems to me to collect with remarkable rapidity a number of superstitions, of which the most blind and benighted is what may be called the Superstition of School. He regards School, not as a normal social institution to be fitted in to other social institutions, like Home and Church and State; but as some sort of entirely supernormal and miraculous moral factory, in which perfect men and women are made by magic. To this idolatry of School he is ready to sacrifice Home and History and Humanity, with all its instincts and possibilities, at a moment's notice. To this idol he will make any sacrifice, especially human sacrifice. And at the back of the mind, especially of the best men of this sort, there is almost always one of two variants of the same concentrated conception: either "If I had not been to School I should not be the great man I am now", or else "If I had been to school I should be even greater than I am". Let none say that I am scoffing at uneducated people; it is not their uneducation but their education that I scoff at. Let none mistake this for a sneer at the half-educated; what I dislike is the educated half. But I dislike it, not because I dislike education, but because, given the modern philosophy or absence of philosophy, education is turned against itself, destroying that very sense of variety and proportion which it is the object of education to give. No man who worships education has got the best out of education; no man who sacrifices everything to education is even educated. ... What is wrong is a neglect of principle; and the principle is that without a gentle contempt for education, no gentleman's education is complete."

Read the entire essay here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Catholic Education in Transition

Darwin Catholic offers an insightful post on the cultural forces both within the Church and without that have changed the way Catholic schools relate to the communities they serve. He cites changing demographics within cities, the disappearance of explicitly Protestant culture from public schools, and the shrinking numbers of vocations in teaching orders as highly significant factors.

Having  experienced secondary-level Catholic education from both sides of the teacher's desk, I think he is correct in identifying these as reasons why schools struggle to compete with public schools for students and why they find it increasingly difficult to keep their budgets in the black. Costs go up as fewer religious are available to teach, and more electronic "bells and whistles" are perceived as necessities for education both public and private.

In addition to facing difficulties with enrollment and budgets, the cultural crises within the church can alter the culture of schools as well.  Catholic education was originally meant to serve Catholics for a reason:  parents wanted their children to be instructed in the faith as well as in the core subjects.  Catholic schools provided a place for this. It was especially necessary because public schools were once more influenced by anti-catholic segments of Protestant Christianity.

In communities where there are high numbers of serious Catholic parents, catholic schools have little difficulty maintaining their identity.  It has been my observation that in local communities where there are few serious Catholics, it is much easier for schools to shed their Catholic identity and emphasize their academics instead, as a way to attract enrollment. Parents who are not dedicated to living out the faith in their everyday lives do not usually catechize at home, and often react badly if schools expect students to take the Faith seriously, even to the point of expecting the school to let it slide when students openly violate the school rules and the moral teachings of the church by, say, repeatedly turning in plagiarized work or even showing up drunk at prom, or worse.

As with many questions the Church faces at present, the question of the direction of Catholic education is largely going to be answered by families. Strong Catholic families produce vocations to the religious life, making more priests and religious available to serve in schools.  They influence schools to provide clear catechesis and a strong community of faith for their students. They reinforce this catechesis at home by living out the faith in the daily life of their little "domestic church".

Unfortunately, the Church has not been immune from the general decline of the family in our culture, and many Catholic educators and the institutions that employ them find themselves fighting harder and harder in an uphill battle to maintain themselves, as do the families they serve.  There are no easy answers here, and even the hard answers remain incomplete or elusive.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Resurrexit Sicut Dixit, alleluia!

A little Mozart for Easter. Christ is risen!


Regina coeli laetare, Alleluia,
Quia quem meruisti portare. Alleluia,
Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia.
Ora pro nobis Deum. Alleluia.

Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia:
For He whom you merited to bear, alleluia,
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

New Title, New Template

I haven't changed my template in years. Really.

It's about time I redecorated.

So here it is: "Confessions of a Crazy Schoolmarm" has now become "Schoolmarm Sense".

Friday, April 22, 2011

Real Research means Real Books

I have nothing to add to this:

(Image Source)

Kiss the Green Light Goodbye

The 20,000 square foot mansion said to be F. Scott Fitzgerald's inspiration for Tom and Daisy Buchanan's opulent East Egg home is no more.  Carolyn Kellogg of the L.A. Times reports that the 1902 home was demolished this week to make way for five custom homes to be sold at roughly ten million dollars apiece. (Click here for photos of the place before its demise.). 

Supposedly, this house is where Fitzgerald attended parties hosted by the mansion's owner, renowned journalist Herbert Bayard Swope.

Fitzgerald drew heavily on his own life when he wrote The Great GatsbyDaisy Buchanan herself bears a rather interesting resemblance to Fitzgerald's wife Zelda, who came from a prominent Montgomery, Alabama family just as Daisy herself is a wealthy Southern Belle.  His experiences with the "idle rich" in New York shape those of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby in the novel.

After the start of the Great Depression, Fitzgerald's novel lost popularity for a time, as the difficult economy seemed to make it less relevant. It was rediscovered, strangely enough, after the United States began to regain its prosperity, and the "American Dream" once again seemed attainable.

The novel seems more relevant than ever today, even with the so-called "Great Recession" dominating our headlines.  The American Dream, though continually changing with the times, still holds sway over the way we raise our children. On top of this, the culture of entitlement, decadence, carelessness, and conspicuous consumerism that dominates the fictionalized West and East Egg, and bleeds even into the impoverished recesses of the Valley of Ashes bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the world we live in today.

Perhaps this is why, when I taught this novel, I thought it so important to encourage my students to think critically about the culture they live in, and to examine their own goals for their lives as they read. Adolescence is a period of time in which many young people face the tension between what others think and expect, and their own individual needs and ideals. It is a time when they crave freedom, often without fully understanding what that means, or what relationship freedom has to responsibility.  Reading Gatsby gives them an opportunity to look at what they want, and decide what is worth the effort in the end: to realize that "it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world", much less for Wales. Or Daisy.

The American Dream, once a simple little house and picket fence, a mild feeling of contentment, a decent job, and a life in which we are free to do what we ought, has given way to something more complicated, less attainable, and a touch more sinister.  A mixture of wealth, fame, power, and a life in which we are free, like Tom and Daisy, to do whatever we want, regardless of who or what is damaged in the process, is now the American Dream of too many.  Like Gatsby, we pour our whole selves into ambitious pursuits, or like Myrtle Wilson with her apartment cluttered with oversized furniture and her borrowed lover, we fill our lives with out of place surface details that we think will impress others.  From reality show stars, to teenagers posting what they ate for lunch on Twitter, we all have our own ways of trying to be important in the eyes of the world. Some people give their lives and their sanity to this end. Others, with an excessive sense of entitlement,  waste their lives waiting for "success" to be handed to them.

Jay Gatsby spends his life chasing a dream version of himself in order to make himself worthy of that to which his ambition leads: Daisy, a shadow from his past; the woman whose alluring voice is "full of money".  What makes Gatsby "great" is his "heightened sensitivity to the promises of life": his capacity to dream and pursue his dream with his whole heart. His tragedy is "what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams" and the great waste of his "romantic readiness". Deluded by his own ideals, he pursues an object that is hollow, unreachable, and without lasting significance.  American Reality got in the way of Gatsby's American Dream.  The "fresh, green breast of the new world" which nurtured the dreams of our country's founders, had given way by Fitzgerald's time to mansions, skyscrapers, and the Valley of Ashes.

It is funny, then, that the demise of a home like that in which Tom and Daisy lived is going to make way for five more that can only be afforded by the stupendously wealthy.  Five more Tom and Daisy Buchanans?  Possibly.  But even though carelessness and corruption still permeate the world, idealism still has its place.  Let us hope--and work--for something better.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Food Fight!

Remember the processed swill that passed for food in your school cafeteria?

Imagine if someone told you that was all you could have for lunch?

According to the Chicago Tribune, that's exactly what is happening under a new policy at Chicago's Little Village Academy.

I took bag lunches most of the time in elementary school for two reasons:  One, my school cafeteria only made two dishes that were actually palatable: pizza and hamburgers.  Two, it was actually more affordable for my mom to send a healthy bag lunch from home.  I switched to bag lunches entirely in junior high.

Unsulfured Dried California Apricots
I suppose my mom might have been a little ahead of her time, really. Feeding healthy food to kids is all the rage now, but my mom was already doing it before it was cool. My lunch usually consisted of a sandwich on whole wheat bread, and some unsulphured dried fruit, and maybe some yogurt. Occasionally, there would be some blue corn chips and a do-it-yourself alternative to a Lunchable consisting of meats and cheeses my mom sliced herself, and some organic crackers or blue corn chips.

Blue Corn Chips
Yes, occasionally my friends would make remarks about my food.  They had never seen blue corn chips before, much less an unsulfured dried apricot.  I told them the apricots were really leather boot heels, and the blue corn chips were made of granite.  I have to say that I got kind of a kick out of their horrified reactions, espeically since I knew my food tasted better theirs. My mother encouraged this.  Frankly, I think this little lesson in the joys of being a little different was highly beneficial to me later on.

To this day, I detest the taste of fruit preserved with sulfur dioxide (a food preservative and an industrial pollutant, by the way), and I prefer to avoid processed cheese.

If someone had told me I was now required to eat the revolting mess that passed for a "sloppy joe" at my school, I think I would have reacted exactly the same way as these kids in Chicago:

Fernando Dominguez cut the figure of a young revolutionary leader during a recent lunch period at his elementary school.

"Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?" the seventh-grader shouted to his lunch mates in Spanish and English.

Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: "We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!"

Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: "Do you see the situation?"

Call the detention supervisor! We have a food rebellion!

Really, after looking at what passes for "enchiladas" in the Chicago Tribune picture, I completely understand.  It looks like it's been used already. Yuck.

The school's principal states that this policy was implemented after she saw a lot of junk food brought along on field trips.  What does she call that stuff in the photo?

Even if the kids' everyday lunches aren't any better than cafeteria food, the school is still imposing a financial burden on parents by requiring them to purchase a school lunch everyday for their kids.  Many families who do not qualify for free or reduced lunches still have to watch their budgets closely, and bag lunches are usually cheaper.

And then there is the question of whether cafeteria food is actually healthy.  The nutritional value of the food is open to doubt, as is the safety and cleanliness of many cafeterias. Just serving under-ripened fruit and a carton of milk with that greasy pile of slop that they call "enchiladas"  doesn't make it a healthy meal.

Interestingly, the Tribune follows the money:

Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district's food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.
First they tell parents the school lunches are the healthiest option, even though their contents barely resemble actual food,  and then they force people to buy them?  I'm surprised more parents aren't questioning this rather convenient collusion between big government and big business.  Smells like yesterday's mystery fish tacos to me.

If the school sincerely wants to improve students' health, its officials should consider treating the parents like intelligent human beings instead of assuming they're too ignorant or apathetic to feed their own children.

Some people don't know how to eat well, but sincerely wish to learn!   Most parents do actually want healthy children, many are receptive to useful information about how to achieve this. In most urban communities, there are local organizations dedicated to promoting healthy eating.  The school could offer information on such organizations, or even invite them into the school to talk to interested parents. (What a concept! A school promoting education!)

Real parenting and real food sound like the healthiest combination to me.


Update: "Real Food" activists and political conservatives are equally outraged by this bag lunch ban. See this post by "WellnessMama", and this by Jenn Savage at the "Mother Nature Network".

Bloodsucking Vermin

No, I'm not talking about Congress.

I mean those small, hopping insects that annoy our pets and us.  One usually doesn't think of them as inspiring creatures, except when they inspire loathing.  That is, unless one is a gifted poet who can find inspiration in small things...even small, irksome insects

Probably the only good thing to come from the existence of fleas is this amusing poem by John Donne:


MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;
    Yet this enjoys before it woo,
    And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two ;
    And this, alas ! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,
And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.
    Though use make you apt to kill me,
    Let not to that self-murder added be,
    And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou
Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
'Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ;
Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.

To read more of Donne's work, click here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Combating misconceptions.

Educators have a slight problem when it comes to Wikipedia. On the one hand, it is a quick place to find answers to some random questions that inevitably pop up in the minds of the curious or the forgetful. (What is "zeugma"? Will that be on the test?)

A common misconception among students is that the word "research" means "spending five minutes on Google". And "writing a research paper" means paraphrasing the first five items that pop up. 

Many teachers do not allow their kids to use Wikipedia as a source for research papers, though its reference lists can be a good place to find some sources.  The idea is to force them to actually look around for information from sources that carry some academic weight.

But, perhaps there is a place in the secondary education universe for Wikipedia after all:


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Oral Contraceptives and your future children

Many of us are already aware that there are medications, such as antibiotics and many acid-reducers that can adversely affect the beneficial flora in our intestines.  I did not know until recently that oral contraceptives also do this.

Many women also know that imbalanced gut flora from antibiotics makes us more likely to end up with a yeast infection. This study suggests  contraceptives have a similar effect.

According to natural health experts, imbalanced gut flora or "gut dysbiosis" is also associated with difficulties absorbing nutrients from food, something that is vitally important to both the pregnant woman and her child, as she must maintain her own body, and nurture the developing human life in her womb during a very crucial period. (See here for an article on how gut dysbiosis may affect babies and children, and here for another)

It seems like there is a legitimate question here that deserves answers through widespread research,    so that women can be more fully informed before using synthetic hormones or taking any other medication that changes the environment inside one's gut.  But, I won't hold my breath.

One more item for my list of reasons not to take The Pill.  And, one more reason to be fully informed when taking any medication, for that matter.

Tip of the Schoolmarm Ruler to

Mama Lions in Lipstick

I think I'm going to have to add another subscription to my blog reader!

She posts on great topics, has excellent taste in music, and her writing style is fun and approachable, and scathingly humorous in places.

I'm talking about Parisienne Farmgirl, specifically her recent "Momma Lion Rant" on the issue of oversexualization of girls.

I'll take Grace Kelly over Britney Spears as a role model any time, and I hope that any girls I raise will feel the same way.

 I'd post a contrasting Photo of Ms. Spears, but I just can't bring myself to do it. If you must compare the two yourself, click here

Like "Parisienne Farmgirl", I find much of the fashion and images available for girls at present rather shocking, and sometimes just ugly.

The day I saw a toddler old at the zoo  in a bare midriff top, miniskirt, and knee-high boots (strangely enough, a lot like her mother's outfit), I knew that we had reached a new low in children's fashion and the objectification of females.  On a grown woman, the only place that outfit would have been appropriate would be on a seedy street corner. No doubt mommy dearest thought the little outfit was cute.

We don't have to wear jumpers that look like barbershop awnings to be modest.  Neither do we have to dress in turn of the century bathing suits to go to the beach, though it is interesting that a Victorian swimsuit is more modest than some outfits on the market today.


But, let's at least teach our daughters that an outfit is not actually more attractive the more likely it is to ride up or fall off.

I'm still trying to figure out how shoes that barely let one walk, or a skirt and top in which one can't bend over, much less run or lift anything, is supposed to help "empower" the female half of the population.

It's nice to find another kindred spirit, even in the blogosphere. Pariesienne Farmgirl is right on, and she makes me laugh.  I like her already.

For more on why modesty and chastity are such important parts of true "woman power", see the post titled "The Politics of Porn" at Tea at Trianon.