Memory: Schooling, part C

I went over my memories of grade school here and high school here. Completing the set, I’ve already written about my college experiences here.

So that’s it. I’ve made an honest effort to lay out my formative experiences and biases. Now back to education history proper. In one week, school is over. Plan is to devote 3-4 hours a day to drafting the book, and 3-4 hours a day to preparing for next year. Having to herd cats for nine months has, I believe, kicked my focus and discipline up a notch. This time, for sure!

Rocky And Bullwinkle This Time For Sure Scene GIF |

Round 2: What’s More Foodie?

A. Homemade pastrami on fresh homemade ciabatta rolls, with mustard, sauerkraut, and sharp cheddar?


B. Pulled pork from a beautiful Boston butt off a backyard raised pig, on the same ciabatta rolls, with a homemade Carolina honey mustard sauce?

I mean, c’mon, man. We’re living the good life. More relevant info: actually had a brisket off a locally raised grass fed cow, but there are drawbacks: a huge fatty brisket is kinda what one wants for pastrami, not necessarily a beautiful but lean one off a grass fed cow. Pastrami still remains the best, highest use for brisket, so not a loss by any means, it’s just that – I think – pastrami anticipates a low quality cut, and this was hardly that. No matter – it was fabulous.

We got that lovely grass fed brisket from my daughter’s father in law, and since I was making pastrami anyway, I got a Costco slab o’ beef. Pastrami making is one of those things where, once you’re making any, you might as well make a lot. Brined in a new recipe for me, one including a significant amount of sugar, and it was frankly wonderful. BUT – I went oven-baked, not smoked, because I don’t have a smoker and failed to make arrangements with some people I know who do. It works fine, but I’m going to need to run the side-by-side with a smoker some day…

The grass-fed one was absolutely delicious. But I’m not sure the Costco one, especially the point, was not as good, and more ‘traditional’ – marbled, fat cap, etc. Couldn’t go wrong here.

The Boston butt was about as beautiful a cut of pork I’ve ever seen: lovely red, even marbled. And it cooked up wonderfully.

So, yea.

Talking ‘bout the Weather, with a brief remark on Fahrenheit.

Today will be the 6th straight day of 100F temperatures here in Sacramento. Three of those days hit or exceeded 110F. A couple new all-time highs were set.

Tomorrow it’s supposed to hit 88F. I assume what the locals call the Delta breeze is projected to return.

In San Francisco, under a two hour drive away, temperatures have reached the 80s, but are now back in the 60s and low 70s in accordance with Tradition. Sea breezes have not reached the interior yet, creating that odd phenomenon I’ve mentioned before: a 40F spread on opposite sides of the Berkeley hills. 105F on the inland side, 65F on the Bay side.

Another reason to prefer Fahrenheit: the range is easy to understand in terms of human comfort: if it’s 100F, it’s way too hot; if it’s 0F, it’s way to cold. 50F is reasonably comfortable.

That my story, anyway.

And that is all.

Oddities, Goodness, & Harumphs. There Will Be Cake.

1 Recall that we had all three of our middle children get married within about a 19 month period: end of May, 2020 through early January 2022. 10 months ago, we welcomed our first granddaughter – The Cuteness, who I, who have seen a lot of babies and who am totally unbiased, think is quite possibly the cutest child ever born. No, really!

Now, over an 18 month period starting with the birth of The Cuteness, we will welcome our first grandson – due early November – AND our third grandchild (sex TBD) in early April, 2023.

Life is good. Three marriages followed by three babies – one each! – to three happy couples. God willing, I may still live to see my children’s children chasing chickens in the yard of our hobby farm.

2. Second week as a headmaster just completed. School was good, but reminded me of the old joke: I spent a month in Cleveland last weekend. These have been the longest two weeks I’ve had in a looooong time.

3. So, these days of light posting: write about some gripping education history book, something grueling and essential, and I’m lucky if 30 people look at it. Write about dropping a piece of avocado toast, and get 100+. Both way down from peak traffic of a couple years ago, but still.

4. I don’t know if I’m being overcautious, but I’m wary of posting anything too political or potentially controversial here these day, thinking I have an image to uphold as a headmaster of a joyful, Catholic, classical high school. ot hiding anything, just not broadcasting it here. But it’s not like there isn’t 15 years and a couple of million words of my thoughts already out there, if anyone cared to look. Thoughts?

5. Here’s a cake one of my daughters made:

The Most Californian Minor Tragedy Ever

This morning, getting ready to go to work, I had made some toast and a cup of coffee, then realized I was running a little late. I put the toast on a plate, then headed for the car, figuring I’d eat it on the 15 minute drive.

At the car, fiddling with my keys, I dropped a piece of toast. A piece of homemade whole wheat sourdough topped with slices of perfectly ripe avocado. A nice, dense, chewy slice of homemade whole wheat sourdough, nicely toasted, with a spot of butter, and just the best, creamy avocado on top.

Yes, I dropped my avocado toast. Tragic.

I suppose it could have been a slightly greater minor tragedy if I’d had a bit of brie or, better, sharp coastal cheddar, under the avocado. Even so, it hardly gets any more Californian and minorly tragic than this.

Pictured: a recreation of the victim, except, this time, I did add a little bit of sharp coastal cheddar. It was good.

Update: School, Lake Tahoe

1 Just finished our first week of school. It was good.

2 California has more natural beauty in greater variety than any place else I’ve ever been. America is beautiful, yes, and every state I’ve ever been to (all but a handful) has places of great natural beauty. But no other state has as much variety: the Mendocino Coast, the redwood forests, the SoCal beaches, the high deserts, the low deserts, Yosemite, the Sierra foothills, Mt. Shasta, San Francisco Bay – all very beautiful, all very different.

Then there’s Lake Tahoe:

Sunset from the South Lake Tahoe harbor
Emerald Bay
Clouds over the Tahoe and the High Sierra

My pictures don’t do it justice, as from the ground or surface, one can only capture a very small part of the lake and landscape with any one picture. We spent a few days in Truckee, just east of Donner Summit of Donner party infamy, attending my wife’s family reunion. (She is oldest of 11, and so family reunions tend to run LARGE.) Several of her brothers kindly located and rented a couple cabins, so that everybody from Grandma down to my granddaughter – 4 generations! – could spend some time together. (The first such grand reunions happened 10 years ago, just a couple weeks after our eldest son’s death. This one was more fun.)

Driving from the Truckee at the north side of the lake to South Lake Tahoe, where the only real town on the lake is located, takes an hour – a beautiful hour, driving winding mountain roads through forests, with the lake popping in and out of view.

Tahoe is deceptively huge: 18 miles long, 12 miles wide may not sound that big, but it’s deep, with an average depth of 1,000 feet. People love to toss around Tahoe facts, like: there’s enough water in Tahoe to cover the entire state of California to a depth of 14″, and that the deepest parts of the lake, at over 1600 feet deep, are lower than the plains of Western Nevada just to the east.

So, if you get to visit Golden State, avoid the insanity of the cities and just see the natural wonders. For my top 3, I’d go Yosemite, Redwoods, Tahoe in order of preference, based on a combination of sheer beauty and you’re not going to see anything like it anywhere else. Then – the other stuff.

Thoughts/Last July Update

Taking a brief break from headmastering.

A. The rental house is proving quite comfortable, if a little tight (it’s about 2/3 the size of our last house). One oddity: the owners don’t want us messing with the landscaping, which, IMHO, could use a little messing with. But I get it: their typical renter is not likely to improve matters.

For me, this means there are not too many possible spots to plant some vegitables. One obvious spot: a 4′ x 4′ hole in the pavement along a side yard, which seems to have been paved at some point as RV parking, maybe. Don’t know why this hole exists, but:

Took some scrap particleboard, lathered it in water sealer, let it dry for a few days, and – we’ll see. Not a long-term solution. Those are two tomatoes and a red bell pepper. Room for one more tomato?

We will have 4 months – August, September, October, and November – for tomatoes to grow. It’s been running about 100F during the day (but, thankfully, cools to around 60F at night) so good tomato weather. Shouldn’t be a frost before December… Anyway, worth a shot.

The little darlings.

B. Took some cuttings from our favorite trees before we sold the Concord house – the lemon in the backyard, the fig and Mineola in the front. The figs are quite happy:

Got one fig moved to a bigger pot, about 5 more to transplant.

The citrus – not so much. This is the third round of cuttings. All but one of the first set of cuttings died (took me far too long to get them into soil – citrus seems far less tolerant than the figs). Maybe a couple of the second set survived. Maybe. But the third set, which has only been potted for a couple weeks, seems good so far.

Other figs in the front; citrus in the back in the plastic tub. This is all on the back porch/patio.

I read that citrus must be grafted onto certified disease-free rootstock. I’ll look into that sometime early next year. For now, if I can just keep them alive until then, I will consider it a success.

All these little trees, or at least the best of them, get planted on the homestead – once we find and purchase one.

C. Attended the Chesterton Schools conference in Milwaukee. Great people, really fired up about education and especially Catholicism. Got to spend a little time with Dale Alquist, the world’s leading expert on Chesterton, founder of the American Chesterton Society and the Chesterton Schools Network. Very nice man. I gave him every opportunity to talk me out of writing a book about the history of American Catholic Education, but, alas! he simply refused. Rather, he even encouraged me. So now I guess I’m going to spend the summer trying to get that thing finished.

D. Now for something completely different. I’ve been thinking a lot about disreputable professions and Vo-Tech schooling. Traditionally, education, and especially higher education, was concerned chiefly with passing on a learned culture and all the skills needed to maintain it. It was a group effort: with the possible exception of the occasional Aquinas or Abelard, no one person could carry very much of that burden. Thus, while all scholars prior to modern times were expected to have a broad knowledge of the works of their fathers going back at least to the Greeks and Israelites – the Great Books part of the education – only the most brilliant and dogged became true masters of more than a tiny subset of All That. At least, that’s how the story looks to me.

But then the Research University was invented and realized at the University of Berlin in 1811 with Fichte as its first Rector. The purpose of higher education was shifted with dizzying rapidity from passing on and possibly contributing to a rich and awesome patrimony to ‘moving the world forward’ through focused research. By the end of the 19th century, every American university declared itself a Research University. The pathetic little colleges that tried to keep to the more ancient tradition were eventually staffed entirely by products of the research universities, and thus wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference except by sneering at our primitive and long-obviated ancestors.

But research doesn’t train up much of anything except future ‘researchers’. So where are your professions coming from? The original answer was generally some sort of apprenticeship. A wannabe lawyer ‘read’ law with an existing lawyer, and hung out his shingle once he became convinced he could do it on his own. (Abraham Lincoln famously declined to do this. Instead, he read the lawbooks on his own, then took half a year off to learn the first 6 books of Euclid so that he would know what ‘demonstrated’ meant. He seemed to do OK.)

Soon, what we now call vo-tech arose to help fill this need. For manual trades, vo-tech seems mostly to formalize and layer on some theory to the apprenticeship model. A would-be welder or diesel repair mechanic goes to school, where experts show him how to do it, and then certify him. This all helps him get that first job, after which he’s on his own.

Here’s where things get interesting. The more white-collar trades are also, you may have noticed, the most generally mistrusted and despised. When Dick the Butcher says “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” the groundlings laughed. If any lawyers were present, they were in better seats, and could immediately start in on doing what they do best: explaining away the clear implications of that line. While Dick was a murderer and scoundrel, he was saying what a lot of people were thinking: lawyers exist to protect their wealthy patrons and enrich themselves. The whole legal system was rotten; it is not for nothing that Bolt calls Thomas More the only honest judge in England in A Man For All Seasons, a play set only a couple generations before Shakespeare wrote Henry VI.

A century and a half of white collar Vo-Tech – teacher’s colleges, law schools, medical schools, business schools – have had as their chief mission to get people to forget how despised the guild members they anointed were. Read any early American accounts of schools – for every one where the teacher was beloved, you’ll find 10 where he was despised by the students, and the feeling was mutual. Doctors were used as a last resort, as the chances he would help were slimmer than the chances he would take your money and speed your death. Madame Bouverie contains one of many accounts of medical hubris.

And lawyers? Do we need to even go there? The institutions that were created to smooth over the public’s distrust gave themselves fancy names, established tests and certifications, and resolved to pretend that, no, it was not the professions themselves that were the problem, but the lack of exactly that oversight and certification that they, the high-end vo-tech schools provided.

Right. It is similar to the creation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – what a grand name! – as an attempt to gloss over the crude fact that the people involved in making movies are known to be panderers and prostitutes. Not ALL of them, of course! No no no! It’s not the profession that’s the problem! Really! Look at our shiny statues and grand parties! And definitely don’t look at the personal lives of the powerful.

So business people built grand bank buildings, temples to the solidity of the money trades, because people know it’s all a game. Teachers are processed and certified and join a guild, insulated from the products of their teaching. Rarely is the failure of the schools allowed to be laid at the feet of the people whose job it is to make them succeed. Lawyers and judges dress funny and insist on their dignity, like porn stars who let it be known that they might go through all sorts of motions for the camera, but they draw the line someplace. Beyond that line lies shame, but it is art on their side of the line, no matter where they draw it. Doctors create gauntlets for future doctors to run through, so that they can remain proud of their 20 hour shifts during residency and downplay that all they do, in the end, is follow protocols created by somebody else, without the agency to even acknowledge their lack of agency.

And yet in that very class (the powerful – ed.) there may arise good men, and worthy of all admiration they are, for where there is great power to do wrong, to live and to die justly is a hard thing, and greatly to be praised, and few there are who attain to this. Such good and true men, however, there have been, and will be again, at Athens and in other states, who have fulfilled their trust righteously; and there is one who is quite famous all over Hellas, Aristeides, the son of Lysimachus. But, in general, great men are also bad, my friend.

Plato, Gorgias, near the end.

Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.

G. K. Chesterton

Update: Things Fall Into Place

A. The house finally sold, done, closed, etc.

B. Flying out to Milwaukee on a 5:20 a.m. flight tomorrow morning, for Chesterton Network conferences. Be back Wednesday. Gotta go pack and catch a few z’s.

C. Need a more professorial wardrobe. Grew a beard, got a nice tweed jacket from Goodwill, but the last time I bought a bunch of nice cotton button down shirts was maybe 20 years ago? So – yea, need some of those. Too busy to shop.

D. Did a class schedule, it was interesting. Took way more time than I thought it would, first trying to balance out the faculty’s time, then trying to plug in all the students so that they got the classes they needed… It will be easier next time.

E. Settling into our rental in Sacramento. Nice neighborhood, a 60s vintage subdivisions that has been kept up. Many of the neighbors are the original owners of the houses. It makes for a nice vibe.

F. Plan is to start shopping for a hobby farm toward the end of the year. Prices have already begun to fall, maybe the trend will continue? Don’t really have an option, since I will be about 150% deployed trying to get this school up and running.

G. The Great Books are more damaging than helpful when taught outside the traditions that produced most of them. I hate to admit this, as I love the classics, but if they are read as just a bunch of interesting books whose ideas are merely a smorgasbord from which everybody gets to pick what they want and interpret it as they see fit, the Great Books become little more than an excuse for unearned elitism, a closed mind, and the false belief that one is educated simply by having skimmed a bunch of old books.

In context, which is Christendom and the ancient civilizations it saved, the books have something worthy to tell us. This knowledge leads to humility rather than elitism, and destroys the canard that people nowadays are just so much more enlightened and intelligent than those old dead guys. Out of this context, the Great Books are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Gotta pack and go to bed.

Happy 4th/Goofing/Update

A. I’m not much of a comics guy, but this idea sped unbidden into my head: Graviton – a superhero no one has ever seen, but whose existence is required by theory. His nemesis would be Dark Matter. They battle over who gets to hold the universe together, and taunt each other with jabs about how the other one only exists because some math shows he must exist, even if nobody has ever seen any direct evidence either does exist.

I suppose it would be kinda hard to draw. Probably should leave this sort of thing to the pros.

B. Today is my first official day on the new job as Headmaster, but since the school’s lease doesn’t start until 7/15 and we have to move out of our AirBnB today and tomorrow, I’ll be working from home in between moving stuff to…

C. …the house we rented in Sacramento. For the next year, we will be living an 8 minute walk from a much-beloved parish, and a 14 min drive from my work, because…

D. …our house in the Bay Area has not yet sold, AND the housing market here in the Sierra Foothills is both insane and showing signs of a steep correction. The kinds of properties we are looking at have typically increased in price by 50% or more over the last 2 years, from prices we could afford to prices that are frankly stupid. IF we can sell our house soon at something near asking price, AND the market her calms the heck down over the next year, we should be OK.

E. Yes, we own a cat. So sue me. I like dogs just fine, but I like cats more, and they’re less trouble in general. BUT – when you’ve been house hopping for going on 2.5 months, a cat is not trouble free. We have been very blessed with people who have been willing to cat sit him for us. He seems to be doing well:

We may have to change his name to Love Seat, as that’s about his approximate size. Sofa would be a little unfair. Staying with friends in Concord. Will liberate him this weekend.

F. We will miss Auburn. Very beautiful country. Here are a couple shots from a tiny (40 acre) privately-funded nature reserve with walking trails:

Now, this isn’t Yosemite or the Grand Tetons or anything, but for a suburban brat, being able to take walks in the woods instead of along some paved street or path is very nice. God willing, in a year or so, we will back as permanent residents in Auburn.

OK, back to work. The world continues to burn; pray that God’s loving correction is as gentle as possible.

An Unexpected Journey

Somehow, I find myself the headmaster of a Chesterton Academy school in Sacramento. In one week, I went from wondering what had happened to my application to be a teacher at this new school, to getting hired, not as a teacher, but as the headmaster. My head is still spinning. Recap:

Months ago, my wife and I heard about an informational meeting being held near Sacramento by a group who wanted to found a Chesterton Academy – a Catholic Classics high school. We happened to be visiting our daughter and her husband nearby, and so we took a drive over to check it out.

I drove to wrong place, having gotten mixed up about where this particular meeting was. We figured it out, and came late to the correct location.

The caliber and size of the founding group was impressive, and they put on a very nice presentation. I signed the sign-in sheet, thus getting on their mailing list. In March, they started advertising for a headmaster, and I thought: no way, I’m going to be way WAY too busy moving and getting our dream hobby farm/homestead set up to do that. So I didn’t apply.

Teaching at a classical high school sounded like fun, especially after how much I enjoyed teaching history and literature to high school aged kids the last two years. So, a month later, when they advertised for teachers, I hesitated – super-busy packing up the house to sell – but, in the end, on the last day (April 30), I applied.

A month goes by, and I hear nothing. I send a follow-up email. Nothing. Then the truly odd stuff starts happening. Divine intervention, one might even imagine:

My son-in-law, who also applied to teach there – totally on his own, no concerted effort here – gets word that he needs to resubmit his application because his first was lost due to some technical issues. But I don’t hear anything, and am starting to get a little miffed. Now, my son in law’s Venn diagram of social circles overlaps mightily with the founders of this Chesterton Academy. Local Catholic boy, discerned out of the priesthood, family has lived here for many years. He knows many if not most of the people involved. I could have dropped in from Mars, comparatively, as far as these folks know me.

I determine with my son in law’s encouragement, to ask one of the founders I met at the info session out to lunch, to get to the bottom of this. This founder happens to have been his landlord for a while.

Son in law had evidently been talking me up, so much so that he sends me an email wherein a board member he was interviewing with suggested that I send in an application for the headmaster position. All this is happening at the same time, I’m not very clear in retrospect who caused what to happen and whose idea each action was. Son in law was a major driver here.

So I send in an application for a job for which I don’t even have a job description, mostly because I was intrigued, and because the situation had changed: we had not been able to sell the house, the market here for what we want is too hot for my blood. Sitting it out for a while was becoming more and more a decision that was not really mine to make. Maybe I should just rent for 6 months or a year and get a job?

I apply for headmaster with a rambling cover letter that is not addressing the actual listed job requirements, because the job description had vanished from the web. Seemed crazy. I have lovely lunch with the board member friend of my son in law, at which I learn that they’d had major, since resolved, issues with their website, during which my original application was lost – since I’d just dropped in from Mars, they had no way to know that they’d lost something.

I was not completely unmiffed by this explanation, nor, after the conversation, was I completely on board with the school. Long-time readers here know how much I dislike, to put it mildly, the classroom model. I needed to be convinced that in this case is was actually a good idea.

I heard back on the headmaster application the same day we went to lunch. A series of in-person and Zoom interviews followed. 3 days later, last Friday, I was offered and accepted the position of headmaster at the Chesterton Academy of Sacramento.

May God have mercy on our souls! Turns out my wacky, dabble in everything, fascinated by almost every shiny object that passes by personality comes off as Renaissance Man, under the proper lighting. As I said several times during the interviews, I’m not anybody’s ideal candidate, but if what it takes to get this project off the ground, to get this school opened in August, is for me to be headmaster, I will accept the adventure Aslan sends us.

The founders group is large and full of impressive people, who understand that in no way are they stepping back and handing this project off to me. They will remain very involved, and continue to do the same critical tasks they have been doing for a year. As in any start up, school or otherwise, the job to do will require more than what any one person can bring.

The funniest part about all this is that I’m more invigorated than terrified, given that I’ve never done anything very much like this job before. The personal and spiritual support of the board and the families is very comforting and inspiring, not to mention indispensable. Please pray for us all, if you’re the praying kind.

What is to become of this blog? I’m now in the position of, I think, Charles de Gaulle, who once said something like: that seems a reasonable course, but Charles de Gaulle would not take it. I have to reshape my writing and public behavior always with this attitude in mind: would the Headmaster of a Chesterton Academy do or say such a thing? And err on the side of caution.

With this in mind, I’m afraid the days of the Wild West of this blog are past. There are simply things the headmaster should not write about, or should not say. I have long contemplated starting another blog under a pen name for my writings, when I finally get them together for publishing. That’s definitely on the backburner for now. Here, I’ll check in when possible, but the days of 20+ posts a month, unofficially gone for some time now, are now officially past.