Category Archives: Education

What does it mean to be a “Successful” Parent?

Our Lady told St. Bernadette, “I cannot promise you happiness.” Many parents, however, say, “I just want you to be happy.” I say, “I just want you to be a Saint.” As Mother Angelica says in the opening sequence, “We are all called to be great Saints. Don’t miss the opportunity.” That should be every parent’s priority. Education is about formation of the person. Careers are how we provide for needs. They should also be apostolates–as CS Lewis and St. Josemaria, among so many others have said, being the best scientist, showing people a God’s hand in creation, or the best housewife, showing His love to everyone, is a more important and effective Apostolate than being a theologian–but work, like the Sabbath, was made for man. We treat our children like they exist only to be money-making or power-grabbing machines in a competitive world. It can be difficult to teach them how to honor God by doing their best to be their best while teaching them to avoid unnecessary stress or the “rat race.”There can be an equal temptation, though, to turn that quest for sanctity into a competition if its own, as if a formally recognized “St.” Degree, as Mother Angelica calls it, is the objective.  There is no more perfect formula to raising holy kids than there is to raising kids to be MDs or music stars.  

The popular but misused teaching of St. Augustine, dilige et quod vis fac, often mistranslated as “love and then do as you will,” really means “Love your duty and then do it.” Dilige is, after all, the root of “diligence,”though also of “delight,” etc.  Years ago,  I read a fantastic “testimony,” as the Evangelicals would say, by a Catholic “revert” who was led astray by the popular misuse of that expression.  I can’t find it offhand but here are a couple other sites that share the same critique of the popular version.  In reality, it’s the Little Way of St. Therese, or the maxim of Teresa of Avila (requoted by her popular namesakes) to do small things with great love and find God among the pots and pans.

Any parent who gets that message through is successful.

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Mohammed never gets the credit he deserves

Many men in history have built empires.  We honor men like Nimrod, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander,  Caesar, Attila, Genghis, Ivan, Charlemagne and Napoleon for their military genius and worldly conquests.  We know them by their given names.  Scripture even tells us they can, like Cyrus, be God’s instruments.  For some reason,    Probably the reason why people brag if their great-grandfather was a pirate but lie if their father is a thief, we regard Hitler with contempt more than others who did comparable things. 

Anyway, one thing almost all of them have in common is their empires fell.  They nominally conquered huge portions of the Earth, yet they died, and in some way or another their territories were split or conquered.

Mohammed, the salesman-warlord, came up with a great formula.  No one who’s tried it since (Joseph Smith, for example) has been quite so successful.  He took the methods of the great conquerors: invade a town, make examples of a few noteworthy leaders and random citizenship then demand submission.  Yet he added a religion.  Who knows?  Maybe he did start with an authentic private revelation and corrupt it.  Maybe it was an apparition of Satan.  Maybe the Koran is a mistranslation into Arabic of Aramaic  Christian theology.   Certainly, as the singer Bono argued of Christianity, there is something at least preternatural about Mahonet’s success.  

In his lifetime, he conquered much of Arabia.  His immediate successors kept his purpose, compared to Alexander’s generals who formed separate empires. They conquered, in a relatively short time, Arabia, Persia, most of what had been the Byzantine Empire, North Africa and even Iberia. By tying religion to military zeal, Mohammed has inspired zealots for 1400 years, and in true sociopathic fashion, offer only a tu quoque.  It is a brilliant strategic plan which deserves more attention in history classes.

“but, Daddy, at school they said, . . .”: Why I homeschool

A few years ago, we tried brick and mortar.  We had our girls in a pretty good Catholic school and our son in a pretty good public school.  At Christmas that year (kindergarten), he started talking about the (alleged) religious symbolism of the candy cane.  We asked if he’s heard it at CCD, Lord’s Brigade, or on EWTN.  He said, “No.  From [my teacher].”  Indeed, our town’s general homeschool community, which my wife follows on Facebook to keep up with events, Is largely made up of secularists who find the local public schools too religious!”

But, still, even if you set aside questions of the moral and psychological dangers, bullying, peer pressure, subversive agendas, disputes about curriculum or teaching models, ability of the school to accommodate learning or physical disabilities, and so forth, those  two years, and the continuing aftermath, have highlighted a dilemma that troubled me my whole life.

My children’s generous uncles and aunts, starting with the Wii that I expected to be a one-time capitulation, have given them a steady stream of video game systems, so each of them now has at least one DS-whatever, and they’re constantly talking about the next thing they want.  I recall when I was laying in the hospital two years ago, watching my daughter play her DS, and thinking–whether I was actually hearing this or hallucinating, I may never know–the nurses, the hospital patieht rep, and others complaining about my kids having so many video games when we always say we’re struggling financially.  We are, and we’ve purchased very few of the games they have, and of course games have horrible resale value.  The point is that they’ve been roped into a materialistic cycle I’d always wanted to avoid.

My son’s hand me down DS broke over Thanksgiving.  His uncle sent him a hand me down Of what .i thought was the latest middle for first communion.  

Today, I took the kids to the park to fly a kite we bought at a dollar store.  We were having a good, old fashioned, inexpensive, fun time, but while I assembled the kite, I heard him talking about how he wants to save up for the latest model, which apparently is literally the “new 3DSXL.”  Within what I thought was reasonable for his fragile psyche, I lost it a bit and got a bit preachy.  We had a moment, hugged it out, but when I tried to talk about living in the moment, he said how at school they always talked about preparing for the future and planning for emergencies.  In his mind, having a second DS in case one breaks qualified as an emergency.   I’d been enjoying those 6 months when he carried around a box of Legos.

But how do you teach your child to be humble, to have poverty of spirit, to put others first, etc., when schools, and ironically Catholic schools especially, teach pride, ambition, and competitiveness?

The Jesuits have always been controversial for their accommodation of local cultures, and for their frequent interference in politics,  but I do not understand how an Order which rarely produces bishops or cardinals and has taken 500 years to produce a Pope because it teaches against pursuing advancement has contributed so much to the competitive approach to education we find in modernity.

When a dress code is not just about teaching modesty and obedience but wearing a “blue blazer with brass buttons,” is that teaching children to follow the examples of John the Baptist, Martin of Tours, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, or Pier Giorgio?  Even the Monarchs who’ve been canonized generally dressed below their stations.  

When a school advertises its “high academic standards,” makes students compete for titles like “valedictorian” even to the point of destroying friendships, gives awards for “perfect attendance,” etc., his is that teaching children to live the Beatitudes?   Help that homeless person you pass on the way to school, get a few minutes late, lose perfect attendance and lost the edge on being “#1.”  Besides, helping the homeless is dangerous, might be illegal, and you need to direct them to proper charities.  Is that a message that teaches kids to be Saints..

I know I could do a lot better as a parent, but I also know that what Ai consider better is the opposite of the World.

That’s why I homeschool.

On Riots, Racism, and Standardized Testing: All you need is Love, and that means Christ

Our nation is in turmoil.  Everything distopian novelists and “crazy conspiracy theorists” have written about seems to be coming true.  Early in the Obama administration, for example, people said he’d create a national crisis to declare Martial Law and establish a dictatorship.  Well, the tensions are arising, and Obama  established aprogram under everyone’s noses to begin nationalizing local police forces.  Major cities keep erupting in race riots.  The Supreme Court is likely to overturn every state law on marriage and establish yet another fictious constitutional “Right.” Some people are being driven out of business for expressing thir Christian beliefs while other businesses are denying Christians their services.   Hillary Clinton says if (and when) she’s “elected” President, she wants to force all religions to accept abortion.

All of it just shows society’ need for Christ.   

Attempts to “fix” broken schools with more money and more legislative interference for 50-60 years have only made things worse.  All we have is a “race to nowhere” with high stakes standardized tests that demonstrate nothing about real learning, line the pockets of educational conglomerates, and cause students to burn out, or worse, from the stress.  When I was in elementary school, the teachers would say, discussing the differences between the US and Communist countries, taht Communists made students take tests that determined their entire lives.  When I was a young adult, a teacher friend went through a few years where a faculty member had a heart attack or stroke during standardized testing, because it was so stressful.  

We can’t fix something unless we know why it’s broken, and what’s broken is a lack of transcendent values.   
If the reason people riot is lack of advantage, or discrimination by police, what is served by looting or burning small businesses and charities?  One of the reasons the July 1832 revolt that Hugo immortalized failed was that most of “the people” were mad at the students for stealing their stuff.  But, at least they knew whom they were revolting against (a just, Catholic king who was popular for giving he people more rights than the “Republic” or Napoleon) and why (they believed that secular government could and should end poverty). I saw a meme pointing out how people riot over sports games, and implying that race riots at least have a point.  The way I see it, it’s equally meaningless: unbridled anger, expressed in random violence.  If revolution is ever effective or just–and the Church has always been wary of revolution, even in the case of the Cristeros–it needs to be focused on the right enemy.  

I often refer to Catechism 676, the passage that tells us to beware of any movement that claims to try and solve all the world’s problems through  secular means because that is the “spirit of Antichrist.”  This was the reason the Church condemned Freemasonry.  It’s what Pope Benedict XVI expounded on in _Caritas in Veritate_, saying taht charity must be from love and truth, both of which are personfied in Christ, and that since the Church is the arbiter of Christ’s teachings and the Natural Law, economic justice cannot be divorced from the Church.

Prayer, fasting and forgiveness are the only solutions to these crises.  The more we abandon Christ as a society, the worse thigns will get.  If as 1 Samuel warns us, we choose a “King” over God, the warnings Samuel gave to the Israelites will continue to be proven. 

T. S. Eliot’s “Preludes”: More and Less than you may think

I was looking up T. S. Eliot’s “Preludes” today, and found that one of the top “hits” on Google is an essay from some literature class. I don’t know whether it was written by the instructor or a student, but on content alone, I’d have given it a “C” at best. The author presents his reading as authoritative, yet provides no basis for several assumptions, either in the text or in third party citations. The style is pretentious and pedantic yet offers little clarity or substance. As for my own credentials, I have never published on Eliot, due to focusing on teaching and family life, though I have published on C. S. Lewis, and Eliot is one of my research interests. A week into my freshman year of college, when I was 16, I checked out a stack of books on Eliot. The librarian said, “A research paper, already?” I said, “No, this is pleasure reading.”

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The poem:

I
THE WINTER evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps 5
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots, 10
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.
II
The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer 15
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.

With the other masquerades
That time resumes, 20
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.

III
You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited; 25
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back 30
And the light crept up between the shutters,
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where 35
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.
IV
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block, 40
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties, 45
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle 50
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

1) “Preludes” is one of my favorites and a great example of Eliot’s work, but it should be noted, contra this author’s generalization, that its popularity in anthologies stems from several key factors:
a) Eliot left strict instructions on how many lines of his poetry could be anthologized. This requires breaking up his longer poems, and “Preludes” is one of the only ones that fits.
b) Those who want to present a biased and inaccurate view of Eliot’s work, as the author of this essay does, want to favor the “Prufrock” era and reject his later, more overtly religious poems.
c) “Preludes,” in particular, has been used since the 1980s because it and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” were used by Trevor Nunn as sources for the lyrics to “Memory.”
d) Eliot’s early poems fell into public domain many years ago, but, due to changes in copyright law, nothing published after 1922 will fall into public domain until 2020.

2) You must first remember that Eliot is a Formalist. Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” This was paraphrased by another overanalyzed formalist, David Lynch, with the line in a Twin Peaks dream sequence, “This is a formica table.” C. S. Lewis, who in context was, ironically, responding to Eliot’s over-analysis of Hamlet, says that we cannot understand Shakespeare unless we first realize his plays are written as popular entertainment. Eliot is, per his own theory in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” trying to use poetry to provide a multi-sensory experience. He gives us sights, sounds, smells, and sensations through words. Eliot himself, when asked what “Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree” means, said, “It means ‘Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree.””

3) Eliot himself, upon reading this, would have likely been enraged, and said something like the above. He was so annoyed at critics asking the “True meaning of The Waste-Land” that he published the “Notes on ‘The Waste Land'” years later, *then* many years after that said the notes were a prank (cf. Kirk, Eliot and His Age).

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He repeatedly emphasized that poets write poetry for a reason, and if he’d wanted to explain what he was “really saying,” he would have. Nonetheless, there was one critic he said understood him, and that was Russell Kirk. Indeed, if you read *one* book about Eliot, both in terms of literary biography and analysis, read Kirk’s Eliot and His Age.

The writer who inspired this post is right that the world of Prufrock and Other Observations is hellish, but Eliot is not saying that this is all there is. According to Kirk, the “Prufrock” and “Waste Land” era are a kind of Inferno to which “Ash Wednesday and “Journey of the Magi” are the Purgatorio and Four Quartets, the Paradisio. Yes, much like Dante, people seem to find the Hell more interesting than the Heaven, but Eliot never believed the atheistic nihilism you’re reading into this. During the period of his rejecting his family’s Unitarianism (for not being theological enough), and adoption of Anglicanism, Eliot experimented with Buddhism and other Eastern spiritualities. He was always a Theist. The hopelessness of this poem–which I personally see is actually a hopefullness in recognizing Christ even in the city street–is not Eliot’s own but the hopelessness he sees in those around him.

The article has part of the puzzle but is missing a lot. One way we can tell that Eliot’s poems are part of a larger whole is that they often include “call backs” or allusions to his own work–in this case, the final lines remind us of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

4) Thus, there are three impulses at work here. Eliot, a self-described, “Royalist in politics, classicist in criticism and Anglican in religion,” hated modernity but he also despised the romantic view. So he used modernistic realism to parody romanticism, critique urban living, and yet see the street as reminiscent of “the infinitely patient, infinitely suffering” Christ “stretched across the sky.”

The Time I got a Letter from Bill Donohue (sort of)

I maintain, therefore, that the common sociological method is quite useless: that of first dissecting abject poverty or cataloguing prostitution. We all dislike abject poverty; but it might be another business if we began to discuss independent and dignified poverty. We all disapprove of prostitution; but we do not all approve of purity. The only way to discuss the social evil is to get at once to the social ideal. We can all see the national madness; but what is national sanity? I have called this book “What Is Wrong with the World?” and the upshot of the title can be easily and clearly stated. What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.

– GK Chesterton

Back in 1998, when the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights was still that, and not the sounding board for every personal opinion of Dr. Bill Donohue, I got a survey that they sent out to people on their mailing list, asking my opinions on various matters of anti-Catholicism.  Instead of filling out the survey, I wrote a letter.  I explained how I really supported their work, but I felt that sometimes they emphasized the negative.  While some things need to be called out, criticized, boycotted or whatever (Nothing Sacred), sometimes they seemed to give undue attention to bad stuff that nobody would notice, and that was done purely to raise anger to begin with (a crucifix in a jar of urine).  On the other hand, they never seemed to draw attention to what was right, and I gave some examples of positive portrayals of Christianity or Catholicism in popular culture that ought to get some attention.
A few weeks later, I got a letter in the mail.  “Dear Mr. Hathaway, I am Dr. Donohue’s personal secretary.  He was very impressed that you took the time to write a response to our survey, and he wanted me to write and thank you, and say how he’s going to try to do what you suggest,” or something to that effect.
A few days after that, Dr. Donohue wrote a glowing review of The Prince of Egypt.  

As Mother Angelica says in one of the opening sequences that have been merged into one in the reruns of the past 13 years, “The essence of evangelization is to tell everybody ‘Jesus loves you.'”  There is a reason why people who hate Christianity think we’re all the same as Westboro Baptist: because sometimes we act like that.  When all we say is what’s wrong with the world, and I know I have often come off that way, to my shame, we look like we’re hiding an inner thought that “God hates everybody”–and maybe we are.

Someone was recently listing the Cardinal Newman Society with “Church Militant TV” (aka “Real Catholic TV,” aka Michael Voris).  The difference is that a) the Newman Society is an actual organization and not just one podcaster with a professional studio, and b) the Newman Society doesn’t just go around attacking Catholic colleges that aren’t living up to the faith.  It also helps students, provides campus ministry support, and praises colleges that are doing it right.

That’s what Vatican II was trying to say, and really what we’ve been reminded over and over, from the Gospel itself to Pope Francis, including by St. Francis de Sales, who is credited with coining the proverb “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

Liberals say . . .

The Constitution means whatever they want except what it says.  Animals have rights, but people don’t. Babies aren’t babies unless you want them to be. Gender means whatever you want. Sex and marriage are about self-gratification and not procreation and child-bearing. Life is about pleasure and should be “terminated” if it isn’t pleasurable. Money can be created ex nihilo but the universe wasn’t. If you suggest it’s more important that kids learn in school about how their bodies actually work than about dinosaurs, evolution, and various forms of pleasure seeking, you’re “anti-science.” And they call us “wing-nuts”. . . .