Pull up a chair in my domestic church and let's chat!

I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Professor, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Intellect of Motherhood

Mother Playing with Child by Mary Cassat, 1899
What else do you do when you are cooped up due to a blizzard but read? I wish I could say I made a dent in my reading pile of books. I am afraid my reading was much more work related. This meant that I spent more time than usual perusing the New York Times. It was there that I found this essay by Carol Hay, an associate professor of philosophy and the director of the gender studies program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. In her piece entitled Girlfriend, Mother, Professor? Ms. Hay argues that cultural stereotypes of women hinders the work of female professors. She claims that students go from seeing a woman professor as a possible girlfriend when she is young to a stand-in for their mother as she matures.

I never taught college students during my younger years so I cannot speak to ever having been viewed as a girlfriend by students. However, the college students I teach now are very close in age to my own children, and yes, they do sometimes approach me as a mother. But I also respond as a mother because that is who I am. Their pencil breaks during an exam and they don't have a spare. They come to class with the sniffles and don't have a tissue. You know what? I have both and I gladly offer it to them with a reassuring smile. A professor who teaches the other section of my course is  a woman about my age and has experienced the same thing. We laugh about it. It doesn't make us less effective teachers. In fact it might just make us better teachers as students are less afraid to approach us with questions.

Perhaps because Ms. Hay is immersed in gender studies she is programmed to see any difference between men and women as a problem where I see it as a feature, not a bug. But she also has a very demeaning view of motherhood. This quote, in particular, ruffled my feathers:

If I were to serve as their mother, I’d have only compassion and unconditional acceptance to offer, not intellectual lessons.
It was then followed by this claim:

In our culture mothers dispense hugs, not pearls of wisdom, and when they do venture to have opinions we’re likelier than not to roll our eyes at them for being nags or scolds.

Really? That is what mothers do? Someone better tell my kids because that is not what they have seen. In fact, I don't know many children who have seen this. Hugs and pearls of wisdom are not mutually exclusive. Lots of smart women are mothers and very capable of dispensing both.

The tough love I meted out to my children prepared me to face a tearful student who forgot an assignment and tell her that I cannot let her make up the work. I will not bail her out. She must take personal responsibility for her academic performance. Ms. Hay laments that standing firm leads students to think of her as a shrew. So be it. I do not seek to be the best friend of my children nor the best friend of my students. The mature students appreciate this and respect me. The less mature students are not going to grow if I worry about how popular I am with them.

I will concede that a mother may exercise her authority differently than a father. But that does not mean she is any less authoritative or any less respected. Mothers are not meek. Mothers are not mentally bland. If Ms. Hay believes that having the aura of a mother is an obstacle to her being an effective professor, it is because she does not understand the intellect of motherhood.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

A Presidential Candidate a Catholic Can Love.

Politicians by Vladimir Makovsky, 1884

Gretchen Crowe is correct to assert in a January 3rd Our Sunday Visitor editorial that it is not easy to find a presidential candidate whom a Catholic can support without reservations. Catholic Christian values do not neatly fit into political categories like Republican, Democrat, conservative or liberal. However, I must take issue with Ms. Crowe's response of a wish list for her ideal candidate.

The problem with her list is that she includes a variety of issues and does not indicate that they have varying merits and weights. In her assessment, climate change is equal to defending the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. She lumps concern for the poor in with sanctity of life issues and I wonder if she is implying that the only solution to poverty is more federal government intervention. More federal money and more federal debt is often a short-sighted approach with limited success. We have been waging a federal "war on poverty" since Lyndon Johnson was president and have very little to show for it. It is a lazy and apathetic approach to put the onus on government to solve all societal ills.

Rather than looking for a president who perfectly embodies Catholic ideals, I am looking for a president who is compatible with my living as a faithful Catholic. He or she must respect the dignity of every person, believe in religious liberty and the free exercise of religion as opposed to just freedom of worship and the freedom to have a private religion and value the contributions of religion to public life. In other words, I need a president who will stay out of the way and let Catholics be Catholic. Once I stop expecting every candidate to be Catholic and focus on who will abide my being Catholic, the choices become much easier.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On Yellow Journalism and Immigration Reform

The Artist's Father Reading his Newspaper by Paul Cezanne, 1866
The Washington Post ends 2015 with a report on a protest by immigration activists opposed to the Obama administration plan to deport families from Central and South America. There are some aspects of both the reporting and the story that are notable.

First of all, the story is the lead article of the Metro section of the paper. It is accompanied by full color pictures of the crowd. The crowd shot is comparable to the crowd shot offered each year for the annual March for Life. However, the article indicates that the immigration protesters numbered about one hundred while the March for Life marchers number in the hundreds of thousands. If you were basing your estimate on the pictures in the Post you would think they were similar in size.

Secondly, the Post makes mention of the political ramifications of the proposed deportations without commenting on the fact that President Obama is moving to deport thousands of immigrant families from Central and South America at the same time he is pushing to welcome over 10,000 Syrian refugees. Isn't that a significant juxtaposition that a serious journalist should explore?

Before commenting further on the substance of the article, I want to make it clear that I believe our immigration system is broken and in need of substantial reform. Mass indiscriminate deportations are not the answer. As a wealthy nation we should generously welcome those who wish to immigrate to our country and contribute positively to our culture and society. Generalized fear of foreigners has no place in our immigration policy.

On the other hand, as a sovereign nation, we have every right to control who crosses our borders. We have an obligation to our citizens to do what we can to prevent those who bear our country ill will and pose a danger to our nation from entering.

The dilemma of immigration policy is to find the right balance between these concerns. It must be a balance. Either extreme--completely opening our borders with no questions asked or completely closing our borders and isolating ourselves from the world--is a mistake.

The protesters are not doing their cause any favors when they protest based on emotion and illogical statements rather than make arguments based on reason. For example, the Post quoted protester Jennifer Romero, “We are going to be out, and we are always going to keep fighting for our rights.” Actually, as an illegal immigrant you do not have any rights to stay here. Immigrating to this country is a privilege, not a right. Presuming a right that you do not have is not a way to win support.

Similarly, the protesters were carrying signs that read, "If you want our votes, no deportations!" Only legal U.S. citizens can vote. If non-citizens--legal or illegal--are planning on voting, we have a voter fraud issue.

As a nation, we do have a moral duty to help those who are fleeing persecution if we are able to safely do so. Reasonable vetting of immigrants is necessary for national security. Those on the receiving end of this help have to understand this entry is a privilege and they can request it but cannot demand it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Family Life is a Domestic Pilgrimage

Jesus Found in the Temple by James Tissot ca. 1886

I always gravitated towards Pope John Paul II's description of the family as a domestic church. I will now add Pope Francis' description of family life as a domestic pilgrimage to my characterizations of the family. It is easy to be discouraged when our family does not look like bright images of television or social media. Take heart! Even the imperfect families are a source of holiness!

Head on over to Catholic Stand and see my reflection on the family as a pilgrimage in light of Pope Francis' Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

When the teacher is getting test anxiety

A Scholar by Rebrandt ca 1631
It is hard to believe that it has been over three months since I last blogged. I have been teaching a 400-level Anatomy & Physiology course and I have not worked this hard since I was a student. I can honestly say that the last few months have been little more than a blur. It has been a good blur, but it is not a pace I can keep up indefinitely.

As always, challenges provide opportunities for growth. I think I learned a few things along the way.

1. It is okay to say "no". I have often been accused of having a helium hand. When a request for volunteers is made, my hand just floats up. This past semester I had to weigh the hand down and let others carry some of the load. I have to admit feeling a bit guilty when I didn't participate in every event and effort, but I am not the lynchpin.

2. I don't have to engage every argument or discussion. I admit I am opinionated. I also enjoy intelligent, reasoned discussion. I am not offended by a differing point of view and do my best to understand the premises that support it. I do not have time to argue emotions and feelings. Logical discussion is only possible with those who have a mind open to truth. If the discourse has devolved into name-calling and snark it is better to walk away and say a prayer.

3. There are a lot of things that I think I have to do that are really elective. I like to do them. I want to do them. It is nice to do them. I do not have to do them. 

4. Chocolate makes the world seem a brighter more welcoming place.

5. Coffee makes me seem brighter and more welcoming.

No promises that I really will write more often, but that is on my list of resolutions.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Is gossiping beneath the concerns of a pope?

Gossip by Giovanni Boldini, 1873

My latest article is up at Catholic Stand and I am a bit surprised by the reaction. I explored why Pope Francis has addressed the sin of gossiping on so many occasions. The first response was a diatribe on the "liberal" takeover of the Church and how the discouragement of gossiping is an effort to quash dissent. The next response complained that the Pope's frequent use of hyperbole makes it impossible to take him seriously.

Neither of these commenters addressed my analysis or the spiritual lessons I gleaned from Pope Francis. Rather, because my starting point was a homily by Pope Francis they ignored my words and attacked their inspiration.

Pope Francis is very different in style from both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Yet I have heard nothing that he has actually said that is a departure from Catholic teaching. I have seen many headlines written in the secular press that attribute meanings to his words that are just not there. I have seen many articles written in the Catholic press that claim his words support this controversial positions but when I go back and read the actual address I just don't see the controversy.

Pope Francis declaring a Year of Mercy is very consistent with his inclusive approach. This is not an approach of syncretism that puts equal value to disparate ideas. This is the approach that says we are all sinners and the Church welcomes all sinners to find salvation in Jesus Christ and His Church. We do not say repent and be saved over there and then you can sit by us in the pews. We say come sit by us now and feel the healing mercy of Christ.

Which I believe is why the Pope is talking about gossiping. No one feels welcomed when they face a gauntlet of disapproving looks and wagging tongues. If our snark, biting sarcasm, and snide criticisms drive people away from the Church and away from their potential salvation then we have contributed to the demise of their souls as well as our own. This is not a petty parish problem that is beneath the concerns of the Holy Father. This is an obstacle to effective evangelization and the Pope is right to take it on.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Why students are unprepared for college

St. Augustine reading philosophy and rhetoric in Rome by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1464

A recent Washington Post edition featured a front page article on the declining SAT scores over the last 10 years. In spite of overhauling the test ten years ago the trend is consistently downward.

Cyndie Schmeiser — chief of assessment for the College Board, which owns the SAT — said she is concerned because the share of students prepared for college has stagnated for five years. Close to 42 percent of students who took the SAT reached a score of at least 1550[out of 2400], a benchmark for college and career readiness. The share was far lower for Hispanic students (23 percent) and African Americans (16 percent).
 As a mom, a physician, and an adjunct college professor I have my own ideas as to why so many of our students are not ready for college. I wrote here about my recent adventure teaching a 100-level course at a four-year university. I recently received the report of my evaluations by students. They weren't too bad but there was a definite trend. The number one complaint that students had about my teaching is that I taught them too much. I gave them information that did not show up on the test. These students are totally unprepared to learn a body of knowledge and apply that knowledge. They did not understand that my job is to teach them the foundational knowledge they need to move forward in their chosen career field. My job is not to give them the answers to test questions so that they can regurgitate these answers on an exam. 

Much of this can be traced to the deemphasis of learning in our schools. We are not teaching students how to think but what to think. The teaching-to-the-test mentality makes learning all about performing well on the next metric whether that is an AP exam, the SAT, or the next iteration of a learning standards exam. Only information that shows up on a test is relevant. All other information is a waste of time.

We are also asking our schools to do so much more than provide an academic education. We are asking them to be teachers of morals, work ethics, and various social agendas. There seems to be an abundance of ideologues in the upper levels of academia and they embrace this opportunity for indoctrination. The study of history, literature, and so many other subjects  are exercises in diversity training, the study of microagressions, the chronicling of the evils of Western civilization, and the reinforcement of the perpetually offended.  There is no education in the rational, reasoned evaluation of ideas since any disagreement with the agenda du jour is labeled bigotry and hate-speech and categorically dismissed. Logic has been replaced with emotion.

I see this emphasis on victimhood and entitlement in my students. There is a constant request for special "accommodations" because of their hardships. For example, "I have a job and may not be able to arrive to class on time. Can you administer my tests to me on a different day and time that does not interfere with my work schedule?" Or how about, "If you give me a grade lower than a C it will not count towards my major. The cost of this class is a major financial hardship for my family and we cannot afford for me not to get credit for it. Therefore, you need to give me a C." 

These are only two of many requests I get from students who try to justify why the standards of performance and the course policies do not apply to them. These students cannot see that if I make a unique consideration for them I would have to do the same for every other student who comes to me with a sob story. They are so focused on their own exceptionalism that they do not recognize the obstacles and challenges of every other student in the class. Interestingly, I recently had the opportunity to chat with some high school teachers. They see the same sense of entitlement not only from their students but also from their parents.

College readiness has little to do with our feelings or emotions. Praising effort is fine for young children but as students approach adulthood the truth is results matter. College courses, especially in the sciences, involve a critical analysis of written material and quantitative calculations. It is a very Joe Friday approach: just the facts, ma'am. If you do not know the facts, you will fail. That is the harsh reality.

If we want to prepare our students for college we need to give them some of that realism. Parents need to teach their children that it takes more than desire to succeed. It takes the will to make hard choices and give up some play time to work towards success. It also takes some talent, aptitude, and even a little luck. Life isn't fair. There are always going to be people with more talent, aptitude, and luck than you. Instead of lamenting what they lack, students need to suck it up and do the most they can with what they have.

Let the parents parent. Let them address issues of morals, values, manners, and work ethic. Schools can reinforce a good work ethic and respectful manners, but leave the instruction in morals and values at home. Then let teachers teach without the interference of an agenda-driven curriculum. Maybe then we will have more students who are truly educated and ready to take the next step and enter college.