Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Value of Student Teaching

While in my first "real" teaching job, our school took on a small group of student teachers. It didn't take long for  me to identify them in the hallways. Student teachers are generally a little overdressed, and so worn out that they appear to be sleepwalking.  I'm sure I once appeared to be in a similarly zombie-like state, given that I somehow managed to survive my last semester of graduate school on four hours of sleep per night (sometimes less). My first year of full time teaching, busy as it was, was easy by comparison.

A recent post at the HechingerEd blog draws attention to a recent study of the current state of student teaching:
A new study by the National Council on Teacher Quality out this week finds fault with the way many schools of education run their student teaching programs, however. Among other issues, the NCTQ criticizes a common set up in many teacher training programs where schools, not the colleges, get to pick which mentor teachers will get student teachers assigned to them. (The NCTQ would prefer that schools of education pick the teacher mentors.) It also points out that often these mentors aren’t required to be highly qualified or good at mentoring.

Student teaching and mentorship in the first years of one's career are crucial to new teacher quality and retention. While classes grounded in theory are quite valuable, student teaching provides an opportunity to apply theory to practice, much the same way immediate use of new vocabulary allows for speedier mastery of a new language. One of the reasons I enrolled in a 1-year credentialing program was because I wanted to do my student teaching and my coursework together, so that I might immediately apply my training.

I can't speak for every program, but I can say that my own student teaching experience tells me that the issues raised in the study are worthy of consideration.  The mentorship my cohort received from our cooperating teachers was surprisingly uneven, in spite of (and in some unfortunate cases no thanks to) efforts of supervisors and administrators. It ranged ranged from brilliant to blatantly negligent.  All of the teachers with whom we were paired were very good at making their own classrooms work. What varied was their level of interest and skill when it came to mentoring a new teacher. Some lacked experience as cooperating teachers, others lacked time or motivation. At one of the school sites our program worked with, the culture of the school was out of step with the culture of the teacher education program.

This last problem is the easiest to address. The university can (and sometimes does) choose not to send student teachers to schools that are not able to provide the kind of mentorship that is needed. 

So what to do about issues of time, skill, and motivation? Cooperating teachers need to be interested in the future of the profession. They should take on student teachers willingly, not as a favor to someone, or because their principals tell them to do so.  They should be models of professional behavior who have the respect of their colleagues. Teacher education programs need to take into account the number of interested cooperating teachers available when deciding how large a class to admit every year.  It might be worth considering some brief training for cooperating teachers with minimal experience. 

Student teachers also need to have a voice when problems arise.  Most are at the bottom of the political pecking order in their school sites, are overworked and sleep-deprived, and may not feel comfortable reporting problems to supervisors or administrators. Student teachers should not have to worry about endangering their carreers when faced with bad mentorship. Programs need to have procedures in place to ensure this. Student teachers are, after all, adults, and should be taken seriously as such when they have a legitimate grievance.

Whatever the solutions, they need to be researched-based, effective, and (for pity's sake) minimal on the paperwork. 

Student teachers and their mentors have enough paperwork already.

The good news, I suppose, is that, while good mentorship is invaluable (and can be pleasant and even exciting),  even bad mentorship can be instructive to a motivated person.   If nothing else, it reminds the often na├»ve student teacher that the world of education, like everything else that is human, has its frustrations and flaws.

Ruler tip to:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"The Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

That's the title of Paul Ford's column at the Morning News, in which he describes, in sometimes disturbing detail, the experiences he and his wife have had with artificial reproductive technologies (ART), including artificial insemination and IVF.

There are plenty of compelling theological and medical arguments against ART. But even leaving those aside, the emotional and financial costs, combined with its frequent ineffectiveness, make ART repellent. What Ford describes is an anxiety-ridden, humiliating, dehumanizing,  exorbitantly expensive, and so far ineffective set of procedures that has put incredible stress on his marriage.  It has not given him or his wife any insight into the reasons for their infertility, and the dim hope that it offers is not proportionate to the  pain of their apparent helplessness in the face of their infertility.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

He writes:
...When it is complete you screw on the forest-green lid, write your name and your wife’s name on the label, put it all in a biohazard bag, and ring the buzzer. Along comes a woman, another nurse. She takes the bag and holds it up to the light. If you read the paperwork there is a request that you don’t make any jokes during this moment.

The worst thing that can happen in that room is “failure to produce.” They warn you about it. Men go in and hours later have not come out. They’re sobbing and their arms are sore. Their wives or partners are out in the waiting room, surly from hormone treatments. No one has sympathy for a man who can’t produce. They should have sympathy but they don’t. You do not want to be that guy. And so far I have not failed. Just in case, I have special videos on my phone.

The nurse will take the biohazard bag to a room filled with machines. They will run the sample through a centrifuge. I will join my wife, who is filled with chemicals that encourage ovulation, in a treatment room. A doctor will use a plastic syringe to inject my purified and enhanced semen into my wife. Then we will wait.

Three years of waiting. Everywhere around us there are waves of bouncing sons, bounties of daughters, stroller wheels creaking under the cheerful load. Facebook updates, email messages, and Christmas cards arrive with pictures of tots, their faces smeared with avocado or cake frosting. Babies on rugs, babies in hats. Invitations to baby showers with cursive script and cartoon storks. Over a beer an expectant father—another expectant father—gives me the news, tells me that his wife will soon have her second or third. Am I happy for him? What else can I be? Once again I put out my hand, close my eyes, and wish them joy.

(Read the rest.)

This is why for many people, it is NaPro, or nothing.

Ruler tip to: The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy

Friday, July 22, 2011

Presidential Rat Race 2012: Ignorance, Sensationalism, and Agendas

Today over at CatholicThing Francis Beckwith offers an excellent column on a recent empty-headed piece on Michele Bachmann by Joshua Green, whose research skills appear to just barely surpass those of the stereotypical high school student.  Beckwith's column offers a refreshing rebuttal to Green's fallacious logic and his theological and historical ignorance.

Professor Beckwith writes:

The Atlantic has discovered the Reformation, albeit nearly five centuries too late.

Writer Joshua Green reports that the denomination in which presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was a member, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), believes that Martin Luther was right about the Catholic papacy. Imagine that. Lutherans who believe ideas espoused by Luther. Shocking, isn’t it? Perhaps next week the Atlantic will inform its readers that the pope is Catholic, that Methodists are enamored of John Wesley, or that the Great Schism put a damper on Catholic-Orthodox relations.

(Read the rest.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chesterton On Slapstick Comedy

"All the jokes about men sitting down on their hats are really theological jokes; they are concerned with the Dual Nature of Man. They refer to the primary paradox that man is superior to all the things around him and yet is at their mercy."

~G.K. Chesterton. "Cockneys and Their Jokes" 

Friday, July 15, 2011

So much for penmanship.

The state of Indiana no longer includes cursive writing in its curricular standards.


State officials sent school leaders a memo April 25 telling them that instead of cursive writing, students will be expected to become proficient in keyboard use.

The memo says schools may continue to teach cursive as a local standard, or they may decide to stop teaching cursive altogether.

(Read the rest.)

Could this be the beginning of the end of cursive for the next generation of students?

I don't think schools will have to spend more time on keyboarding now than they have in the past. It may be they'll need less, considering how many kids these days seem to be using computers practically from infancy.

Handwritten assignments are still a fact of life in schools, and are a key part of many standardized tests, including Advanced Placement exams.  Even in college, there are essay questions on midterm exams that require handwritten responses. Professors and test readers have little patience for unreadable work.

As many a secondary-level teacher can tell you, once those penmanship lessons from elementary school end, it is all downhill when it comes to neatly written work. The decline often reaches the point where some students give whole new meaning to the term chicken scratch.  I'm not kidding. I had a student once whose printed writing literally looked like it was produced by actual chickens. The teaching of cursive seems worthwhile if only for the development (and maybe extended maintenance) of the fine motor skills that help students avoid this.

Let's hope high school teachers in Indiana can still read their students' work in ten more years.

Tip of the ruler to: Curriculum Matters

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New Hampshire PP's Priorities

In spite of the fact that New Hampshire has cut medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, they still seem perfectly able to function, as long as they remain in the highly profitable business of providing abortions.

See the story on Reuters.

Now, in every day life, people make choices about what is important to them when they decide how to earn and spend their money. A person who wants to make a six-figure income is not going to pursue a career as a school teacher. If someone decides that feeding her children healthy (if slightly more expensive) food  is of great importance because it reduces health problems and medical expenses, she will arrange her budget to reflect that priority, and elect to spend less money on something else. In short, we choose what allows us to survive in a manner that is as close to our ideals as possible.

The same is true of businesses and non-profits. Sell what works, spend on what is important.

Whenever anyone suggests cutting public funding for abortions, the response is always, "but they do so many other things!" and, "but they provide birth control, and that prevents abortions!" We are also told that Planned Parenthood of America only makes about 15% of their money from actual abortions.

The impression this gives is that Planned Parenthood is the only place where women can obtain reproductive health care. It also suggests that Planned Parenthood's first priority is making sure everyone gets her birth control pills and her annual pap smear, and that abortion is only a secondary concern. On top of that, it leads us to believe that profits from abortions do not make a significant contribution to their income.

Given the above impression, one would think that, if abortions were the least important and profitable  part of their services, they would be willing to confine themselves to birth control and health screenings in order to keep their public funding. Yet, they have not done so. Instead they continue to provide abortions, and scrap everything else, leaving one with the impression that abortion provides Planned Parenthood with the best chances of financial survival. So much for the idea that they don't make much money from that.
Furthermore, if Planned Parenthood really believed that things like pelvic exams, pap smears, and birth control pills were so essential to the survival and well being of women, they would find a way to provide them.  One would think this would be especially important if they really believed they were the only place for women to get pap smears and breast exams. They could, perhaps, use the money they make from those abortions which appear to be keeping them in business, despite the lack of public funds. 

Instead, they have eliminated their "other essential health services" altogether.

Just sayin'.

Ruler wave to: Live Action

Monday, July 11, 2011

Flossing and Fertility.

It is already known that periodontal disease is linked to increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

Now, research has linked periodontal disease to impaired fertility in women, as well as higher risk of low birthweight and premature birth. Since women are more vulnerable to gum disease during pregnancy, this means it is especially important for women who are pregnant or who intend to become so to see their dentists regularly.

Oh, by the way, taking the birth control pill appears to make gum disease worse.

And, lest you think men are off the hook here, male infertility has also been linked to gum disease. Sorry guys, looks like you still need to floss.

Just in case you think regular flossing is optional, or were putting off that next trip to the dentist.

Dave Barry Goes to Spain...

...with a horde of 5th graders.  This naturally makes good comic material for his column from yesterday:

Recently I helped chaperone a group of fifth-graders on an educational school trip to Spain, a foreign country located in Europe. Our group consisted of four dads, 18 moms and approximately 27,000 children. There was no way to get an exact count: They move too fast.

Read more:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Courage and Contempt. And Chesterton

The following excerpt from The Well and the Shallows was posted today at the American Chesterton Society, and I enjoyed it so much I am shamelessly re-posting the entire thing here.
(Photo Source)
I hope it is not a secret arrogance to say that I do not think I am exceptionally arrogant; or if I were, my religion would prevent me from being proud of my pride. Nevertheless, for those of such a philosophy, there is a very terrible temptation to intellectual pride, in the welter of wordy and worthless philosophies that surround us today. Yet there are not many things that move me to anything like a personal contempt. I do not feel any contempt for an atheist, who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification. I do not feel any contempt for a Bolshevist, who is a man driven to the same negative simplification by a revolt against very positive wrongs. But there is one type of person for whom I feel what I can only call contempt. And that is the popular propagandist of what he or she absurdly describes as Birth-Control.

I despise Birth-Control first because it is a weak and wobbly and cowardly word. It is also an entirely meaningless word; and is used so as to curry favour even with those who would at first recoil from its real meaning. The proceeding these quack doctors recommend does not control any birth. It only makes sure that there shall never be any birth to control. It cannot for instance, determine sex, or even make any selection in the style of the pseudo-science of Eugenics. Normal people can only act so as to produce birth; and these people can only act so as to prevent birth. But these people know perfectly well as I do that the very word Birth-Prevention would strike a chill into the public, the instant it was blazoned on headlines, or proclaimed on platforms, or scattered in advertisements like any other quack medicine. They dare not call it by its name, because its name is very bad advertising. Therefore they use a conventional and unmeaning word, which may make the quack medicine sound more innocuous.

Second, I despise Birth-Control because it is a weak and wobbly and cowardly thing. It is not even a step along the muddy road they call Eugenics; it is a flat refusal to take the first and most obvious step along the road of Eugenics. Once grant that their philosophy is right, and their course of action is obvious; and they dare not take it; they dare not even declare it. If there is no authority in things which Christendom has called moral, because their origins were mystical, then they are clearly free to ignore all the difference between animals and men; and treat men as we treat animals. They need not palter with the stale and timid compromise and convention called Birth-Control. Nobody applies it to the cat. The obvious course for Eugenists is to act towards babies as they act towards kittens. Let all the babies be born; and then let us drown those we do not like. I cannot see any objection to it; except the moral or mystical sort of objection that we advance against Birth-Prevention. And that would be real and even reasonable Eugenics; for we could then select the best, or at least the healthiest, and sacrifice what are called the unfit. By the weak compromise of Birth-Prevention, we are very probably sacrificing the fit and only producing the unfit. The births we prevent may be the births of the best and most beautiful children; those we allow, the weakest or worst. Indeed, it is probable; for the habit discourages the early parentage of young and vigorous people; and lets them put off the experience to later years, mostly from mercenary motives. Until I see a real pioneer and progressive leader coming out with a good, bold, scientific programme for drowning babies, I will not join the movement.

But there is a third reason for my contempt, much deeper and therefore more difficult to express; in which is rooted all my reasons for being anything I am or attempt to be; and above all, for being a Distributist. Perhaps the nearest to a description of it is to say this: that my contempt boils over into bad behaviour when I hear the common suggestion that a birth is avoided because people want to be “free” to go to the cinema or buy a gramophone or a loud-speaker. What makes me want to walk over such people like doormats is that they use the word “free.” By every act of that sort they chain themselves to the most servile and mechanical system yet tolerated by men. The cinema is a machine for unrolling certain regular patterns called pictures; expressing the most vulgar millionaires’ notion of the taste of the most vulgar millions. The gramophone is a machine for recording such tunes as certain shops and other organisations choose to sell. The wireless is better; but even that is marked by the modern mark of all three; the impotence of the receptive party. The amateur cannot challenge the actor; the householder will find it vain to go and shout into the gramophone; the mob cannot pelt the modern speaker, especially when he is a loud-speaker. It is all a central mechanism giving out to men exactly what their masters think they should have.

Now a child is the very sign and sacrament of personal freedom. He is a fresh free will added to the wills of the world; he is something that his parents have freely chosen to produce and which they freely agree to protect. They can feel that any amusement he gives (which is often considerable) really comes from him and from them and from nobody else. He has been born without the intervention of any master or lord. He is a creation and a contribution; he is their own creative contribution to creation. He is also a much more beautiful, wonderful, amusing and astonishing thing than any of the stale stories or jingling jazz tunes turned out by the machines. When men no longer feel that he is so, they have lost the appreciation of primary things, and therefore all sense of proportion about the world. People who prefer the mechanical pleasures, to such a miracle, are jaded and enslaved. They are preferring the very dregs of life to the first fountains of life. They are preferring the last, crooked, indirect, borrowed, repeated and exhausted things of our dying Capitalist civilisation, to the reality which is the only rejuvenation of all civilisation. It is they who are hugging the chains of their old slavery; it is the child who is ready for the new world.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What will Governor Moonbeam Do? (Part 2)

Governor Jerry Brown has a controversial  bill on his desk awaiting his response. SB48, according to Equality California (a group which favors this legislation) will:
... amend the Education Code to include social sciences instruction on the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. This bill would also prohibit discriminatory instruction and discriminatory materials from being adopted by the State Board of Education.
(The full text of the bill may be found here.)

In my previous post, I discussed the impracticality and even inhumanity of injecting identity politics into the classroom.  The California Catholic Conference voiced its opposition to the bill on those grounds last April.

But the debate over SB48, nicknamed "The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act" is not simply a debate about how to encourage politeness in schoolchildren.   It's not really even about bigotry.

When schools teach about the Women's Suffrage or Civil Rights movement, they usually do so in a manner that constitutes an endorsement. In the process, students rightly learn that institutionalized sexism and racism are dehumanizing and therefore socially unacceptable.  It is wrong to discriminate against human beings because of a state of being such as skin color or gender.  Skin color does not make a person good. It does not affect the state of his or her soul. Women may in general be physically weaker than men, but that does not make us morally inferior. While there may be evidence to suggest that men have more inclinations toward violence, that does not mean human males are born into a state of moral inferiority when compared to women.

A person's moral inferiority comes from choices, not from the way the way he or she was born. A man who, for example, cheats on his wife does so not simply because he has a male inclination for unfathfulness; he does so because he chose act upon it.  The action is where the moral problem lies, not the inclination.

So what will schools be endorsing when they teach about the LGBT movement if it is given the same treatment as the Civil Rights movement?   The LGBT movement's goal is the acceptance of certain behavior, not merely the acceptance of a state of being or an inclination. If the school treats that goal as laudable, it is essentially endorsing the homosexual lifestyle as something morally acceptable. This will most certainly come into conflict with the religious and cultural values of many students in California schools.

That is what makes this issue different. It is not simply about how one is born, or whether a person has certain desires, tendencies, drives, or inclinations.  It is about how one chooses to live and act, and whether a school, as an agent of the State, has the right to tell parents and students how to define sin.

In short, the debate over SB 48 is a debate about the role of the state in defining the sexual morality of private citizens and their children.

This becomes an especially sticky issue because teachings on sexual morality are often (though not always) faith based, which means this is also a question of free exercise of religion.

Though schools are often important for the social development of children, parents are the first and most important educators, especially in matters of faith and morals, and they are right to object when a particular school or and entire school system seeks to undermine what they teach their children in good conscience. 

It gets even stickier when students become old enough to choose whether or not to believe as they were raised.  It is not unheard of for a student to be raised in one faith, but convert to another in her teens. At the secondary level, a public school has to avoid infringing upon the constitutional rights of the student as well as the parents. The state has no business telling a student that she cannot believe what her faith teaches.

Schools and their employees cannot fulfill the requirements of this bill, and remain neutral with respect to the morality of homosexual behavior. This creates serious problems for parents, teachers, and students, whose reasoned moral objections to homosexuality and the LGBT movement come in conflict with this legislation.  Whether legislators in California like it or not, individual citizens do have a right to work in an environment that does not force them to choose between their consciences and their employment or education. It is not the place of the public schools to engage in social engineering or to judge the beliefs and opinions of students, though efforts to do so are nothing new, historically speaking. It is a practice that goes as far back as the 19th century.

As I pointed out in my last post, the state is much more likely to reach its stated goal of reducing bullying if it sticks to the more neutral path of instructing students in the very useful principle of respect for one's fellow human beings.  It is actually possible to teach kids to be polite to others, even in the face of serious disagreement or even fear, without injecting oneself into the religious instruction the student receives from his or her family.

Specific moral instruction is best left in the purview of parents, but there are many in education and in politics who believe they and the schools have a duty to subvert parental teachings with which they do not agree, especially if those parents embrace traditional Judeo-Christian morality.  In my own experiences at multiple public schools, I observed that this prejudice is so pervasive within the world of public education, that many of my colleagues were not even conscious of how it affected their attitudes toward parents and even toward their own students.

Contrary to what some among my former colleagues believe, it is possible to have strenuous moral objections to someone else's choices, actions, or lifestyle, without losing sight of that person's humanity.  With effort, one can even express such disagreements politely. It is even possible for young people to manage this with proper instruction.   But the purveyors of "tolerance" seem as unable to tolerate this concept as to tolerate the suggestion that there is even such a thing as objective morality.

Tolerating the idea of objective morality means living with the possibility of falling from grace, and this is not terribly compatible with modern thinking.

In fact, our fallen nature is really our most ancient and universally recognized trait.  From Shakespeare's plays to Lord of the Rings, fall and redemption make up the thematic material of some of the greatest literature ever written.  Even the Ancient Greeks had their own story of  a "fall" in the form of Pandora and the infamous box of furies. As G.K. Chesterton noted, it wasn't until recently that people began to suggest that there is no such thing as sin:

Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R. J. Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat. (Orthodoxy)
I suspect that this bill is less about bullying, and more a part of an effort to teach the next generations to deny both dirt and cat.

Update: Read about what Archbishop Gomez has to say on this topic.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Will Governor Moonbeam Do?

Identity politics took a central place in the political discourse of our nation during the last presidential election.  It seemed to me that this did more to reinforce racial division in the country than it did to heal it. I suspect it may have even served to undo some of the progress that has been made over the past couple of decades. One of my eleventh graders that year said to me one day that she never felt divided from anyone because of race, until she witnessed the national tension during that campaign season. She discovered unity is more difficult  when people are determined to carry out the dehumanizing practice of sorting themselves and others into competing victim groups.

This brings me to the issue of identity politics, and its influence on education as we know it.

As many of you are no doubt already aware, a piece of legislation is about to hit the governor's desk in California that, as the San Francisco Gate puts it, "would make the state the first requiring public schools to include the contributions of gays and lesbians in social studies curriculum".  It further explains that the bill "adds lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as well as people with disabilities to the list of groups that schools must include in the lessons. It also would prohibit material that reflects adversely on gays."

So, if Jerry Brown signs SB48, the good news is English teachers will have to stop ignoring Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde.

Wait a minute...  They are already in the curriculum!

And if since the bill also covers historical figures with disabilities, history teachers will have to stop leaving out FDR.

Wait...    Never mind. He's already there too.

We remember writers, mathematicians, scientists, and historical figures, not because they are token figures of a certain group, but because of their influence for good or ill.  We read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein because it is a great novel, not merely because a woman wrote it.  We study FDR's presidency because it was unique and historically important, not simply because he was in a wheelchair.  While someone's ethnicity, disability, or gender will contribute to who she is, it is not her only definitive characteristic. Even for historical figures whose identity is very important, such as Frederick Douglass or Martin Luther King, great accomplishment and historical influence are still the primary reasons why we remember them.

Many suggest that the debate over homosexuality in America is no different from the questions of race that our nation faced over the past century. Even if, for the sake of argument, we concede this point, this legislation still remains impractical in light of certain realities in the classroom.

Nobody who has ever spent significant time in a school can deny that kids are pretty good at dividing themselves along arbitrary lines, whether it be race, class, fashion, glasses, or grades.  I have seen students treat one another better after meaningful personal interaction.  I have never seen a student decide that he is going to quit making fun of someone because a great author or historical figure had the same trait as the "other".  A student who bullies his classmate because said classmate is "a brain", for instance, isn't going to change his behavior because Einstein was "a brain" too. In fact, he is more likely to write off Einstein as well as his classmate, and go on his merry, anti-brain way.  I have never seen  a token minority author or historical figure serve to eliminate racism, nor a lesson on a token woman cure anyone of misogyny.

As someone whose curriculum consisted mostly of old books written by people who are now dead, I found the question of prejudice to be a very relevant one for my classroom.   If students cannot see the human dignity of those living human beings sitting next to them in class, they aren't going to be able to see it in fictional characters created by long-deceased authors. After all, can there be a greater divide between people than between the living and the dead?  Students must learn to see the inherent human dignity of those around them before they will be able to see it in people and characters from the past. Mark Twain showed us this more than a century ago: it is the lesson that we learn from reading Huckleberry Finn.  It is the time they spend on the river together that allows Huck to see Jim as a man and a friend, and not merely as a slave.

Tolerance is not a false pretense that people have no significantly different beliefs, backgrounds, and ideas.  It is not a hypocritical assertion that we are all the same.  It is a learned skill. It is, essentially, a form of patience that allows us to live and work with people whom we do not entirely understand, or with whom we fundamentally disagree, without losing our sanity or our awareness of each others humanity.

A curriculum that emphasizes differences and token representatives of politically fashionable classes of human beings does more to undermine a culture of acceptance in schools  than it does to create one. Students need no reminders that there are stark differences among them. Drawing attention to labels provides those unneeded reminders, and reinforces the false and dehumanizing notion that students cannot relate to anyone who does not have some arbitrary identifying characteristic in common.

The bill is also intended to add the history of the LGBT movement, but prohibits any material that could reflect poorly upon it.  This bears more resemblance to propaganda than it does to an honest approach to history. If similar legal injunctions existed with respect to study of the movement for racial equality, many activities of groups such as the Black Panthers and the more controversial comments of Louis Farrakhan would be forbidden material.  The fact that some people working for racial equality behaved badly has not undone the appreciation most people currently have for the progress our nation has made in race relations over the past five decades.  Human history, like the human beings in it, is full of behavior that "reflects badly" on someone. We can learn as much from those as we can from the moments when heroic people did something gloriously right.

In charity, I can only hope that those who are promoting this bill are unaware of the practical problems outlined above.

If they are aware of them, one needs to ask why they think a curricular emphasis on the LGBT movement will will change the value students place on their classmates or on Walt Whitman's literary achievements.  I shall deal with that question later.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Must "Strong Women" be Masculine?

"A good man's work is effected by doing what he does, a woman's by being what she is."
--G.K. Chesterton

In film, if one is to be a "strong woman", one must generally be armed and wearing a very tightly-fitting outfit, or a highly successful career woman with a figure-flattering suit.  Or both, if possible.  Entertainment media and society in general define strength, success, and power solely in masculine terms (position, wealth, aggression, and command of others). This is often done without attention to reality, genuine human nature, and real differences between men and women.

In a recent New York Times article, Carina Chocano, who is fed to the teeth with what she calls "A Plague of Strong Female Characters" in film writes:

“Strength,” in the parlance, is the 21st-century equivalent of “virtue.” And what we think of as “virtuous,” or culturally sanctioned, socially acceptable behavior now, in women as in men, is the ability to play down qualities that have been traditionally considered feminine and play up the qualities that have traditionally been considered masculine. “Strong female characters,” in other words, are often just female characters with the gendered behavior taken out.

(Read her entire article. It's worth it. Really.)

Instead of a movie universe populated by heroines "who are tough, cold, terse, taciturn and prone to scowling and not saying goodbye when they hang up the phone", she suggests a greater emphasis on female leads who actually have to struggle with a few human (and even distinctly feminine) weaknesses. Hmmm. Less spandex and more substance. Now, there's a thought.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Kids These Days...

...are more receptive to chant than many adults give them credit for. These are second-graders, folks.

When I was six, I remember the children's choir at my parish mostly sang things like Carey Landry's "Bloom Where You're Planted", a song which I haven't heard in over 20 years, and probably for good reason, but which has annoyingly remained lodged in my brain since. Chant would have been much better, but wasn't really given much consideration. I have serious doubts that it would have even occurred to anyone to teach us Latin.

Learning chant and other forms of early music gives children an opportunity to learn about musical theory and history at a period in their development when their brains are particularly receptive.  Latin instruction not only allows them to understand the words that they are singing, it also gives them a linguistic foundation that will help them learn other romance languages and maybe even raise their reading comprehension skills and their SAT scores down the road.

Our Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters make a point of preserving their liturgical heritage, and teaching their children the language of their liturgy. There is no reason that we Roman Catholics cannot do the same for our kids.


Update: Looks like this video has gained the notice of Fr. Z, The New Liturgical Movement, and the Curt Jester. Is it going viral? One can only hope so.

Friday, July 1, 2011

What's Your Favorite Catholic Professional Organization?

In one of my tabs I'm creating a list of professional organizations for Catholics in many fields.  

Click here for the list, or use the tab above.

If you know of a group that should be included, feel free to use the combox to let me know.