KITCHEN TABLE CHATS

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

Monday, April 22, 2013

Tell me a story

I am told that when my husband was a child, he used to study and memorize all the specifications data of military aircraft. He loved the numbers. As we raised our children, he and the three boys loved to sit at the dinner table and discuss military strategy. They would replay and analyze great battles from ancient wars through more modern conflicts. My daughter and I listened politely, but we did not have the same love of military history. In fact, I have always struggled to learn history of any kind. I can recall the tiniest minutiae of the life sciences, but names, dates, and random events do not stick in my brain.

However, I am discovering that the problem is most of my formal education in history has been taught as a time line. I don't want a time line. I want a story. When I was in high school, if they had shown me Downton Abbey and then explained all the historical details surrounding the story, I would have devoured history. Tell me about the political strife that triggered the riot where Sybil was injured. Tell me about the conflict between Ireland and England that embroiled Tom Branson.  Last night I watched the first episode of The Bletchley Circle on PBS and found myself drawn to the story of the Bletchley Park code breakers and the role they played in World War II.

What I like is reading a good story and learning about the historical context surrounding it. This is different than reading historical fiction. The problem with much historical fiction is that is sometimes difficult to distinguish where the history ends and the fiction begins.

When I was about thirteen the women's rights movement was gaining traction. I was incensed that anyone would suggest that I could not have a profession because I was female. I decided right then and there I would be a lawyer or a doctor. Someone told me that to be a lawyer I would have to study history. That made my decision. I would became a doctor. Such is the thinking of a thirteen-year-old.  I certainly do not regret my decision to become a physician. But I no longer run away from the subject of history. I just look for the story.







Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The charade of public education

There is a serious indictment of public education written by Steven Johathan Rummelsburg and published by Crisis Magazine. In his essay, The Empress is Naked, Mr. Rummelsburg claims that many of the successes touted by educators are more a manipulation of standards to make results look good.


Public education has taken on a life of its own.  She has a specific character and a predictable personality.  I contend she is animated by the father of lies. We will call her the Empress. The Emperor’s invisible clothes in the tale can be likened to the programs the Empress uses to clothe her massive body of schools.  Just like the Emperor, the Empress is “so excessively fond of clothes” that she spends all her money on them.  These outward signs of vanity are garments woven from invisible threads invented by the swindlers we know as “educational experts.” 
The Empress adorns herself with new and ever-changing signs of achievement.  One hour she shows off higher test scores, the next she touts diminishing dropout rates, after that she struts diversity, and then she puts on higher literacy rates. The higher test scores are generally an arbitrary measure of a lowered standard. The diminishing dropout rate is a narrower re-definition of the word dropout. Her claims to diversity are couched in the most rigid uniformity.  The higher literacy rates possess almost no similarity to what an ancient grammarian would call literate.  And yet still, the public applauds these invisible successes as if they were real.
Mr. Rummelsburg bases his assertion on his twenty years of teaching in the public schools. I have been teaching at the local community college for the last three years. I cannot verify that Mr. Rummelsburg's analysis is correct, but I can tell you that our public education system is broken. Students are graduating from our public high schools and they need remedial math and remedial English instruction before they can continue with college level work. This is not the exception. This is the norm.

For example, my presentation on the skeleton begins with a picture of a man holding a skull and is captioned, "Alas, poor Yorick". If I am lucky, one of the 24 students in the class might recognize this as Shakespeare. It is rare that anyone can state that it is from Hamlet. But perhaps reading the works of Dead White Males is not necessary for  future success in anatomy and physiology. The ability to read and comprehend the text book is, however, critical. Words like subsequent, contiguous, and superficial are foreign to their vocabularies. When I give the instructions, "List in decreasing order of complexity," most of my students do not know whether to put the most complex or the least complex first.

Math skills are even worse. When studying the heart, we use the equation:

Cardiac output (CO)  = Stroke Volume (SV) x Heart Rate (HR)

When I write this equation on the board, there is panic. Oh, no! We are going to do math! If I give the students two of the variables, they cannot solve for the third. They do not know now to manipulate the units of the variables. They cannot change liters to milliliters. They are not even aware that the units on both sides of the equation should match. And the mere thought of multiplying or dividing fractions sends them into a tailspin. I found out that my students do not know that miles per gallon or MPG is a mathematical ratio. They have no idea how to calculate it. They think MPG is just a ranking system like 4-stars or 5-stars. Bigger is better.

The root of this problem is multifactorial. It begins at home with the breakdown of family life. Parents, rich and poor alike, are so busy with their own lives that they make little or no time to engender and share in the educational process. Schools are all too often more concerned with social engineering and indoctrination than with teaching foundational academics like math, language, history, and basic economics. Reading lists are purged of classic literature and replaced with selections from Oprah's Book Club in the name of diversity. We have developed a culture that is so focused on self-esteem that our children do not understand failure is a possibility. We hesitate to celebrate academic excellence because it might make the average student feel uncomfortable. Everyone gets a participation trophy because actual performance is irrelevant. After having four children graduate from a public high school my assessment is that if you are in an AP or honors classroom, there is a chance--not a guarantee-- you will be educated in the subject. If you are in a general education  classroom, it is more likely that the teacher will pencil-whip the grades and you will move on whether you learned anything or not. 

I do not know the complete answer to this dilemma. However, I do know that the problem does not stem from lack of funding. We have poured millions and maybe billions of tax dollars down the black hole of public education for decades and have nothing to show for it. National standards and oversight are not the answer. It is time to fire the Department of Education and give control of education back to local communities. They cannot do any worse.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The redefinition of marriage

My latest HLI article is up at Zenit.org:

The state has no compelling interest to recognize the mutual affection of adults. The state interest in the legal recognition of marriage has been the acknowledgement of the uniqueness of the union of one man and one woman. Children born of such a union must be protected and the connection to their parents must be preserved. While it is true that not every relationship between a man and a woman will involve children, the union of one man and one woman is the only kind of relationship that can produce children. It is biologically impossible for the union of two men or two women to procreate. While men may have deep feelings and even love for other men and women may have deep feelings and love for other women, their relationships will always be barren unless they go outside the relationship for children. That is one reason it is impossible to equate same-sex relationships with the relationship between one man and one woman.

Please read the whole article here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Feeling the earth beneath my feet and between my fingers

Spring has been a long time coming here in Northern Virginia. Finally, finally it has arrived. Took a trip out to the Cherry Blossom festival on Monday. The blooms were not quite peaking but were still gorgeous.


I've also been enjoying getting a good dose of Vitamin D while playing in my garden. Not a lot of planting going on. Just weeding and weeding as I coax along my perennials. It is a good year for daffodils. In the pictures you might even see a tulip. I often don't get many pictures of tulips since the deer like to chomp the blossoms as if they were lollipops.
 These are annuals that I used for an indoor Easter arrangement. Now they are enjoying having their roots in the earth and the sun on their leaves and blossoms.
 This is my bulb garden around my mailbox. I am so happy the tulips survived.

 It has been a wonderful year for daffodils. There are a few hyacinths in the foreground

 The peonies are sprouting. It won't be too long now.


                              The bleeding hearts are getting ready to bloom as well.

The wisteria is budding. Soon the fragrance will fill the air.

Spring is always such a hopeful time. It feels like New Year's with a fresh start and a bright outlook. Time to take a deep breath, regroup, and renew.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Chipping away at parental rights

A few days ago this "public service announcement" showed up on MSNBC:




MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry says we have to get over this idea that kids belong to their parents. They belong to the community.

This is a rehash of Hillary Clinton's "It takes a village" meme. You know, I am all for "It takes a village" with one important caveat:  as the parent, I get to choose the village. I get to seek out the community that supports my principles and reinforces the values I am teaching at home. Under no circumstances does the government, the school, or even the parish religious education office have the right to impose itself as my "village" and undermine my role as parent. Ms. Harris-Perry is advocating for the destruction of the nuclear family in favor of some sort of communal responsibility for children. If you haven't read  Brave New World lately, pick it up and see if the dystopia described doesn't reflect much of our current culture.

On the heels of this disturbing video, I read this opinion piece in the Washington Post. Wendy Costa, a former school board member from Bryan, Texas argues that school lunches should be considered part of the curriculum and the time should be used to teach table manners and civilized conversation. Now, part of me likes this idea. I really do. If she had left it there, I could get behind this. But Ms. Costa kept talking. She goes on to say that we should just lengthen the school day since parents aren't getting off work until after five o'clock anyway. Use the extra time to give the dining etiquette training. Schools should be doing this because families are not eating together anymore so parents are not teaching their children how to behave at the table.

Hold it right there. She wants to make the school the primary source of education for table manners. She wants the school to step in and assume another responsibility that belongs to parents. She assumes that all children go to some sort of after-school care so it is better for parents if we extend the school day. Excuse me. My children say grace before every meal. Will that be allowed in their lunch time training?

No. As much as I like the idea of all children being trained in meal-time manners, that training belongs at home. Feel free to expect "Please" and "Thank-you". Remind my children to chew with their mouth closed. Seat them around round tables to encourage conversation. But do not presume that my children need school officials to take over my job to teach the art of food-associated socialization.

I teach at a community college. Most of my students were educated in public schools. Their math skills are atrocious. Solving for a single variable with one equation is beyond their math mastery. They cannot write a coherent paragraph. They have no knowledge of classic literature. Simple biology, chemistry, physics, history, government, and economics are new topics for them. Until schools adequately teach these areas, they have no business assuming the role of primary instructor for lunch time etiquette.

So Ms Harris-Perry and Ms. Costa, thank you for your concern. However, the schools have enough to do trying to teach foundational academic subjects. Why don't we just leave the parenting to the parents.




Sunday, April 07, 2013

Raising the temperature


Today is the ninth day of the Divine Mercy Novena:

Most compassionate Jesus, You are Compassion Itself. I bring lukewarm souls into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart. In this fire of Your pure love, let these tepid souls who, like corpses, filled You with such deep loathing, be once again set aflame. O Most Compassionate Jesus, exercise the omnipotence of Your mercy and draw them into the very ardor of Your love, and bestow upon them the gift of holy love, for nothing is beyond Your power. 
Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon lukewarm souls who are nonetheless enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. Father of Mercy, I beg You by the bitter Passion of Your Son and by His three-hour agony on the Cross: Let them, too, glorify the abyss of Your mercy. Amen. 
Reading much of the news can be dizzying. How did we end up in this state? College students are seeking to have a Catholic priest fired because he offered sound Catholic teaching. The Army warns soldiers to avoid being involved with religious extremists like Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, and Al Quaeda.

We did not end up here because the enemies of the Church are so strong. We are here because we the faithful became lukewarm. We lost our fervor for God. We became complacent. Religion became something personal but not something we talk about out loud. We certainly are not going to bring it up in polite company.

Reading the notes on slide 24 of the Army briefing that labels Catholics as extremists, this statement stood out to me: 

However, religious extremism is not limited to any single religion, ethnic group, or region of the world; every religion has some followers that believe that their beliefs, customs and traditions are the only “right way” and that all others are practicing their faith the “wrong way,” seeing and believing that their faith/religion superior to all others.

Shouldn't all true believers think that their way is the right way? Does believing that the Catholic Church is the one true Church founded by Christ on the Rock of Peter and promised by Christ that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against Her make Catholics dangerous extremists? If I believe that there are lots of "right" ways and my way is no better than any other religion, then why am I a Catholic? It would certainly be much easier to take up with one of the denominations that is much less demanding.

When I taught seventh-grade CCD, one of my students was incredulous: "It sounds like you are saying that the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and others are all wrong!" She was even more astounded when I said that, yes, that is exactly what I am saying. While they may have some elements of holiness consistent with the Christian life, they are in error. I believe that all those who reject the teaching authority of the Pope on matters of faith and morals are also in error. I do not hate those who are in error. I pray constantly that they will eventually come home to Rome! I cannot expect them to see their errors if all I do is avoid facing the differences in our beliefs. The buzz word of our day is dialogue, but it is a dialogue without persuasion. You have your say. I have my say. There can be no debate. No analysis. No defense. No conversion. If you dare to disagree, then you are a hater and a bigot.

The Year of Faith and the call to the New Evangelization is about relighting the fire of our faith. No more cold to lukewarm believers. We need to courageously speak the Truth of the Gospel without apology. We must speak with charity. But we must also make sure we are heard. Of course, that also means we must know the Truth of the Gospel ourselves. Time to brush up on what we really believe and how we best persuade others of the veracity of our faith. 

On this final day of the Divine Mercy Novena, may we all feel the heat of ardent faith. As St. Catherine of Siena said, "If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire!"