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

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Removing Consequences--A Mistake for Education

Snow Effects, Giverny by Claude Monet, 1893


Fairfax County Public Schools have my dander up and I don't even have children attending their schools anymore. However, I do have their graduates in my college classes and the school system just made my job harder. They have instituted a new grading system that removes the requirements and incentives to study for tests and turn in homework. You can read the report of the changes here and I encourage you to do so. However, let me summarize the key changes:

1. If a student makes less than 80% on an exam they must be given the opportunity to take the test again. Failure to offer every student the opportunity to retake a test in order to exceed the 80% threshold means that no student can be awarded a grade of more than 80% on the exam.

2. No student will be given a zero for missed homework until he has been given multiple opportunities to complete the assignment and failed to do so. (In other words, deadlines are really just suggested completion dates)

3. Homework for practice can account for no more than 10% of a student's grade. This is a problem for STEM teachers. You learn science, math, and engineering by doing practice problems. Lots and lots of practice problems. Now all those practice problems can only account for 10% of your grade. Do you really think students are going to do those practice problems for fun when they know they have no impact on their final grade? I can tell you from personal experience that I used to not include homework assignments as graded material. However, once the homework started counting for 20% of the final grade, students completed it and actually learned the material better. Their test scores improved. Without the carrot of a significant grade credit, the students were not going to complete the practice questions.

Some of you may ask what good could possibly come from such a system. The stated purpose of this change is to separate performance on academic material from behavior.  In other words, the student's grade should only reflect his mastery of the material with no influence from less than desirable behavior.

My first response tends toward the snarky as I wonder how cold I will have to keep my college classroom to prevent all these special snowflakes from melting. But this is a real mistake on the part of the public school administrators and will cause great harm to the students so this needs to be opposed with reason.

First of all, education is more than the mastery of facts. This change to the grading system is meant to prevent failure by students who are capable of learning the material but whose behavior negatively impacts their grade. Yet behavior that prevents failure should be part of the lessons being taught by our schools. Principles that will be ignored with this new grading system will leave students totally unprepared for college and for life in general. For example:

1. Actions have consequences. Every choice has consequences. If a student chooses to skip class, ignore homework, go to a party or play video games instead of studying he is making a free choice that will have a negative impact on his learning. How are students going to see this impact when we tell them they are "too precious to fail" and we will jump through all kinds of hoops to make sure they do not feel the sting of failure. How are students going to gain a sense of personal responsibility and be held accountable for their choices?

2. Time management matters. As students get into middle school and high school they need to start being responsible for how they spend their time. A daily planner needs to be part of their school supplies and they need to learn how to keep track of their schedules and anticipate their workload. By removing the penalties for late assignments we are telling them that their time is their own and the teachers will accommodate their preferences. So feel free to go to the football game instead of writing your paper. Feel free to party on a school night and skip the homework. There is no reason to study for the exam since you will get a second chance if you blow it the first time. In fact, you are better off not studying for the exam since you can take it, find out exactly what is on the exam, and then retake it with targeted studying aimed at only the material that will be tested. This is the ultimate teaching-to-the-test scenario.

3. There are those with more authority than you. This system severely undermines the authority of the teachers. They set the curriculum and the schedule but now students can ignore the schedule and complete work if and when they feel like it. Students need to learn that those in authority set the agenda and they need to follow it. If a student needs to deviate from the schedule, then it is up to him to present his case for this exception to the teacher and request, not demand, an accommodation. The teacher is free to grant or deny the request. We are doing our students no favors by allowing them to ignore the schedules set by teachers.

Each semester I give my "How to succeed in Anatomy & Physiology" spiel on the first day of class. I warn students of the pitfalls of waiting until the night before the exam to study. I can see that I will now have to include an explanation for the freshmen that college is not high school. There are no do-overs for exams. Due dates are firm deadlines. Failure is an option.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Time is Treasure



Piazza San Marco, Bernardo Belloto c. 1737
I'll be honest. I think my time management skills have dropped off in the last few months. I just haven't been getting the right balance of  spiritual, physical, interpersonal, intellectual,  and professional time. My latest article up at Catholic Stand was written as a pep talk to myself. I hope you find it useful as well. Here is a snippet:

The Baltimore Catechism asks, “Why did God make me?” The response is, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” Perhaps this is a good place to start in taking a critical look at where we store our treasure of time. Does your use of time help you to know God, to love God, and to serve God?
Head on over to Catholic Stand and read the rest! Let me know what you think.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Thou Shall and Thou Shall Not

Sermon on the Mount, James Tissot, 1886-1896


The Gospel at this morning's Mass was the well known beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, the recitation of the Beatitudes. (Mt 5:1-12) If you read a little farther you hear Christ say,

 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill."
Christ did not negate the Ten Commandments. Instead he completed them. The Ten Commandments are written as a series of prohibitions: Thou shall not...  The Beatitudes give us the alternatives. Instead of doing the sins specified in the Ten Commandments, live according to Beatitudes.

Sometimes it is so easy to get tied up in the thou-shall-not's that we forget that giving up the vice does not leave us empty. Rather, it makes room for us to be filled by something even more wonderful.

Perhaps as we evangelize others, we would do better to focus on the thou-shall's instead of the thou-shall-not's. Emphasize what will be gained through virtue instead of what will be lost by giving up vice.

It is easy to grow angry as we watch our culture elevate and even celebrate sin. Certainly, we need to speak out. But sin will never bring true joy. The best rebuttal is to live a life of virtue with great gladness such that others seek the source of your happiness. And when they ask, you can respond with today's Psalm

My help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.(Ps121)

Friday, June 03, 2016

Which is more important: the party or the guests?

The Village Wedding by George Hemming Mason, 1868


Here we are in the month of June and wedding season is upon us. As I began my daily constitutional of coffee and the crossword I ran across a Carolyn Hax advice column that addressed the issue of destination weddings. The questioner considered destination weddings incredibly narcissistic and was feeling pretty angry that a family member had chosen that option for her wedding. 

Ms. Hax gave a good response as far as it goes but I think she left out a very significant factor:

I realize this goes against human nature at the molecular level, but please consider not having an opinion at all.  
Instead: Are you able to go? Yes/No. Do you want to go on the given terms? Yes/No.  
And then either go or don’t go accordingly. If you can stop yourself there, without judging anybody, then you can emerge from this without emotionally downgrading someone you love or spending a nickel unwillingly spent.
This detached analysis is easy when it is a friend or acquaintance who is sending you the invitation to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on a trip to a destination not of your choosing. But when it is family, there are long-term consequences to be considered. It is not hard to imagine a sibling or parent accusing you of not really caring for the family if you don't accept the expense and move mountains to be at the wedding.

This sort of emotional blackmail is grossly unfair but that does not make it uncommon. There is no way to have a wedding without some terms. There is going to be a date. There is going to be a geographic location. There is going to be a venue. There will be conflicts with any of these that prevents a guest from going. Anything added on to these basic constraints will exclude even more attendees.

What I think Carolyn Hax should have pointed out is that the more conditions and terms a bride and groom put on their wedding, the more exclusive it becomes. The bride and groom are making a statement as to what they value: the wedding event or the guests. If they design their wedding to be so expensive that they cannot afford to have the entire family there they have indicated that the party is more important than family attendance. Making the affair a black-tie event will leave out those who have no interest in renting a tux or procuring an evening gown. Making the event a no-children gala will give parents pause as they determine whether attending this wedding is worth the price of a babysitter. And if the excluded children are family members, it speaks volumes as to how much the bride and groom value family relations.

I have attended weddings that were simple church ceremonies with the reception being a potluck dinner in the parish hall. I have attended a wedding where the bride and groom were married on horseback in a riding arena. I have attended weddings that were so elegant they could have been scripted right out of Hollywood. I can assure you, the joy and celebration of these weddings had no relationship to the amount of money that was spent on them. Every bride and groom is free to select the type of wedding and reception they want. I do not begrudge them their choice at all. They should just realize that their choices have consequences and send a message to their invited guests as well as to their uninvited friends and family regarding what they truly value.