“Let the Children Come” – the Heart of Catholic Education

As parents, we decided early on that there was no way we’d be sending our children to public schools, and, not much later, that there was no way we’d be sending them to the Catholic schools available in our neighborhood. I’ve got a lot to say on this topic, but let’s, as they say, get back to basics:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

– Matthew 19:14

Several things to note here:

Jesus is attractive. His instruction to his followers is most definitely NOT ‘Make the little children come to Me’ – children, being people, are attracted to Jesus, and will want to come to Him of their own volition. Our job, as parents, teachers and fellow Christians, is to STAY OUT OF THE WAY.

The disciple’s natural reaction to kids trying to climb all over Jesus is to restore order – and Jesus rebukes them for it! We are similarly rightly rebuked if we think order  is the chief characteristic of solid Catholic education. As GKC says: children will learn what it is you assume, while doing their best to ignore what it is you say.

Catholic education consists first and essentially of being loved by good Catholics. Let me repeat that: Catholic education consists first and essentially of being loved by good Catholics. That’s how children, in the natural order of things, come to know and believe in a loving God. Only then does catechetical instruction work, and only by way of explaining and expanding on the experience of God made possible (secondary cause at work here!) by the example of loving Catholics.

So, what would a good Catholic school look like?

– Adults – teachers, parents, administrators, the custodian, the coaches –  who clearly and consistently love the children – as Paul says, patient, kind, enduring all things;

– a certain consistent disorder. This one is hard for most people to grasp. (John Bosco, for one, got it.) If the primary impression of school is, as is so often caricatured, of tidy little kids ruled with a ruler by a stern nun – well, that’s WRONG. The primary characteristic of a truly Catholic school – like any truly Catholic family, parish, or community of any kind – is joy. Joy tends to be a little messy – like little children climbing all over Jesus.

– DE-EMPHASIS of ‘academics’. See, for example, this post. Instead of learning from their teachers and families that they are unconditionally loved and infinitely more important in themselves than any particular honor they may achieve, many ‘high achieving’ kids from ‘high achieving’ homes are killing themselves – sometimes literally – over grades and test scores. A Catholic school would eschew homework (any interference in family life is flat out unacceptable) and denigrate tests, especially standardized tests meant to grade children like so much lumber. (There’s a very clear practical difference between, say, a test of French vocabulary or basic fractions meant to help the teacher and child see what needs to be worked on, and the sort of crap that makes up standardized tests. What this test is saying, for example,  is that a 7 year old is behind if they can’t translate tally marks into appropriate bar graphs. Really? What lunatic, using what insane methodology, decided that piece of information is critical – to a SEVEN YEAR OLD? In what alternate universe is that sufficient reason to label a kid ‘behind’? Behind what? JUST SAY NO!)

– Emphasis on the liturgical life. Again, children, being people, are attracted to the Church’s liturgy, because it is the primary place we meet Jesus – the place where we are not hindered coming to Him. Again, St. John Bosco understood this. Not only was Mass celebrated daily in his schools, but – ready? – kids weren’t forced to attend.  He knew that trying to enforce holiness was doomed – you can only invite, and show your own joy in the Church’s prayer. So, a Catholic school first and foremost lives the liturgy every day.

Let’s address a couple common objections up front:

1. Children need to be guided with a firm hand. We have to make them go to Mass and make them do homework and threaten them if they fail to perform ‘at grade level’ on tests or they will rot away as derelicts and ne’er do wells!

On the contrary, says who? Jesus? I think not.The problem here is not so much misunderstanding education as it is misunderstanding our faith.

2. No Homework?! Our kids won’t learn, they’ll fall behind, the sky will fall!

On the contrary, there is no evidence that homework contributes materially to academic performance k – 8. There is little evidence it helps very much 9 – 12. But what it does most certainly do is rob families of the quite enjoyment of each others’ company every night. If the phrase ‘quite enjoyment of each others’ company’ and ‘family’ don’t go together for you, then maybe your problem is bigger than anything school can help. Anecdote: We’re 2 for 2 at getting our kids who are college age into the colleges of their choices – and we never had a single argument over homework nor wasted a single evening doing busy work imposed by some little academic Napoleon. So, what, exactly, is the point of homework, again?

3. Ho Ho Ho! You really live in a fantasy world, there! How will kids ever get jobs and survive in the real world if we don’t toughen ’em up through a lot of dumb make-work and arbitrary control? *I* had to do lots of homework and take lots of idiotic tests designed to make me either feel like a failure or to justify me lording it over the other kids who didn’t do as well, and look at me! I came out JUST FINE. So fine that I’m willing to force my kids to relive the misery I went through, hardly see them during the week as they do extra curricular activities and homework, and ship them off to a good college once they’re old enough so that they can be just like me!

On the contrary, ’nuff said.

P.S. – I attended Catholic schools 1 – 12, and am grateful to the numerous loving nuns, priests, brothers  and lay people who showed me a Catholic life could be joyful and kind.

Way Overthinking a Dumb Jukebox Musical

Saw a local very good production of All Shook Up, the Broadway Musical from a few years ago based on Elvis tunes and 12th Night.

On the one hand, it’s obvious from the opening number that the writers didn’t mean for anybody to think too hard about this – fair enough, for musical theater. But on the other, they just can’t help themselves from making a morality play out of it, after the fashion modern theater people think about morality. And that’s the problem.

First off, 12th Night style, we’ve got to create a ton of people falling in love, getting confused, missing the obvious lover right in front of them while falling for the unattainable and wrong person. Throw in some interracial love,  one psuedo-gay crush used mostly for comic relief but not really, add a couple uptight people who are sexually repressed by their own guilt and snobbery, and set it in a small Midwestern town as imagined by New Yorkers – and you can smell the condescension all the way out in Des Moines.

So, of course, what this boring little town needs is Elvis, the embodiment of Dionysian ecstasy (something like that) to ride in on his motorcycle and shake things up. All the girls fall for him instantly, and, pretty soon, all sorts of forbidden and repressed looooooove is breaking out like adolescent acne all over town.

We get these snapshot back stories doled out in the usual manner, until, in the big finale, all is revealed, the demons of  past sexual indiscretion are exercised by singing about them at an abandoned fairground, forbidden love is shown to be only the result of hang-ups and puritanical blockheadedness (I’m a little disappointed that incest got left out – they did make the obligatory ‘you people marry your cousins’ slur in the opening scenes) and everybody hooks up with the right lover. Elvis finds out that the ‘man’ he’s fallen in love with is really a girl, but not until he professed his love for him in front of the shocked townspeople – right on the heels of the triumph of love over race, just so we won’t miss that gay love is no different than interracial love, both are the result of bigotry and the kind of ignorance that infests small Midwestern towns New Yorker theater goers are very likely to have never actually visited. Continue reading “Way Overthinking a Dumb Jukebox Musical”

Incited to Mayhem

Fool rushing in…

So, what would make you more inclined to go shoot somebody –

– Seeing a loved one come back from Afghanistan in a bag?

– Seeing Goldman Sachs executives get multimillion dollar bonuses from money they looted from us taxpayers after you got laid off from one of the many companies they destroyed?

– Playing hundreds of hours of video games where you score points by horribly murdering innocent bystanders?

– Watching the “Saw” series of movies, in which an endless stream of people are made to torture and murder each other for a psychopath’s entertainment?

– Having your spouse walk out on you because they aren’t being adequately fulfilled by the relationship?

– Getting evicted from your home of many years because you lost your job due to the machinations on Wall Street?

– Seeing Goldman Sachs former and future employees working at the Treasury Department, where they are allegedly implementing a policy of cracking down on Goldman Sachs?

– Hearing windbag pundits talk mean about windbag politicians?

– Seeing a picture of a map with bulls eyes on it?

– Floride in your drinking water?

Yep, there’s some rabble rousing going on here. And a wee bit of exaggeration and, well, lying.

Christian Iconography: Fra Angelico, Annunciation

You might also want to check out Christian Iconography: The Basics.

Here is a lovely Annunciation by Fra Angelico, from the Friary of San Marco in Florence:

This is one of a set of frescoes, one in each cell in the friary, depicting scenes from the life of Christ and the Blessed Virgin painted in the early 15th century. The cells are tiny little rooms, where a Dominican friar would retire for solitude and sleep. Fra Angelico’s frescoes were meant as aides to the friar’s meditations, so a Dominican is depicted as an observer in each image. It would be interesting to know how, over the years, the various friars were assigned to each cell, as some cells have  cheery images like this Annunciation, while others depict scenes from Christ’s agony – was it random? Did the prior decide that Brother Matthew needed to spend some time praying over the Disposition of Christ’s Body, and so he was assigned that cell, while Brother John needed to lighten up, so he got the Nativity? Continue reading “Christian Iconography: Fra Angelico, Annunciation”

Finding Your Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes was executed in 1606 for conspiring to blow up Parliament, intending thereby to kill the King and the House of Lords, with the goal of replacing James as monarch with his Catholic daughter.

Henry VIII had declared that he was the head of the Church in England in 1534.  From 1534 up until 1606 and beyond, hundreds of men and women were killed for the crime of being Catholic, often hung, drawn and quartered, after having been tortured over the course of days or weeks.

The English had a PR problem that Fawkes went a long way toward solving – the vast majority of Catholics they were executing were people like Thomas More, John Fisher and Margaret Clitherow, people who weren’t crazy, weren’t violent, weren’t traitors in any usual sense and were vastly more sympathetic and believable than Henry or his successors.  Much better to have a guy like Guy, who was easy to portray as a traitor, foreign agent, and violent lunatic – the kind of man it seems almost appropriate to execute in a painful, gruesome and long fashion – rip the entrails out of still-living body, cut off and burn his genitals before his living eyes, tear his body to pieces  – typical of the urbane, sophisticated behavior for which the English are so famous.

Today, I’m thinking about how at least some of us do learn from history – Guy Fawkes enabled the English to enforce their anti-Catholic laws to the fullest, for a while at least.  They got a lot more public sympathy – blowing up Parliament and killing a roomful of people including the King crossed a whole bunch of lines, I’m sure. The Gunpowder Plot allowed for much more vigorous anti-Catholicism, and drained away support for Catholics from what I suppose we should call the Moderates of the era.

So, today, people in favor of getting the government to do their dirty work are always on the lookout for a Fawkes, someone who can be portrayed as crossing too many lines, who can stand in the place of the many people who condemn the Fawkes’ actions but do agree with or are sympathetic to beliefs that motivated, or at least can be plausibly said to have motivated, this Fawkes’ outrageous behavior . With 300 million Americans, no matter what kind of Fawkes you want, you won’t have to wait long.

Finally! Stem Cells Save Social Lives!

Hurray! Stem cell therapy might cure baldness! Of course, they’re talking about activating the stem cells already present in a man’s scalp, not adding stem cells from another source, so this has no bearing on embryonic stem cell research, a point that will be steamrolled in 3… 2… 1….

Disclosure: I’m bald. I can’t imagine lifting a finger to do anything about it. To me, the weirdness of having my hair grow back after having noticeably been absent for the past decade would far outweigh whatever the theoretical benefits. Are my friends and family going to love me better with hair? If so, maybe I should stop worrying about my mop and start worrying about the quality of my interpersonal relationships.  The only exception I can think of is if I needed to get a job – then, looking a little younger might make some tactical sense. But if I grew hair to get a job, I’d do it grudgingly.

But, clearly, this is big news – just like Viagra and its, if you’ll excuse the expression, offspring have spawned (just can’t stop!)  an entire industry of solving a problem that, in the vast majority of cases, is NOT a medical problem, so this ‘cure’ for baldness will, in the frankly unlikely case that it actually works, enrich big pharm by addressing the baldness crisis that now besets our great nation. If only our men, and, one supposes, women, had the virile, lion-like manes that it is our  sacred right to possess, well, I’m sure World Peace would break out like the measles all over the world’s pasty behind! At the very least!

And think of the pranks! No longer would frat boys be limited to writing on their passed-out brothers – they could cream ’em up, spell out words in hair on awkward parts of their anatomy. Hilarity is sure to ensue, and who doesn’t need some hilarity in this vale of tears?