Friday, March 31, 2006

A Note on Comment Deletions

Word has reached me that some prospective commenters may have been somewhat intimidated by the appearance of deleted comments in the comboxes. I wish to assure anyone so concerned that, in the footsteps of the great justice Hugo Black (for all that he was a bitter despiser of Catholicism), I am slow to wrath where comments are concerned, preferring to counter bad speech with good. I will only remove such comments as are obscene, or are generated by spammers. As the late Duke of Wellington famously said, in quite another context, Publish and be d---ed. You will meet with no censorship from me.

(For a while, as I was expecting the HFH Reading Group posts [the original purpose of this blog] to involve more discussion from members of HFH, I limited discussion, in theory, on those posts; any such restriction is hereby, and retroactively, removed.)

Anyhow, I am able to see all comments in their original form, even if deleted by the poster, and can assure everyone that, to date, all deleted comments have been merely duplicated comments, where the poster has removed the inadvertent duplication.
HFH Reading Group: On-Line RCIA

Here we are in the fourth week of Lent, with Lenten resolutions going fairly well (okay, not the one about staying off the internet, except where compelled by a recent vacation to Vancouver). Time, in this pre-Easter season to resurrect (sorry) the patristics reading group.

Lent is, foremost, the time of preparation for entry into the Church. Therefore the readings for a while will reflect the catechumenal journey. First, the Catechetical Lectures (aka On the Christian Sacraments) of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, the fourth-century bishop whose feast day was just observed in both east and west. This is reasonably short reading, for a full book; for those who prefer more modern language, there is a dead-tree version available from the always-excellent SVS Press. Since I don't (yet) own the volume of Patrology including St. Cyril, there will be no Quasten commentary.

From the Prologue:

"Already there is an odour of blessedness upon you, O ye who are soon to be enlightened: already ye are gathering the spiritual flowers, to weave heavenly crowns: already the fragrance of the Holy Spirit has breathed upon you: already ye have gathered round the vestibule of the King's palace; may ye be led in also by the King! For blossoms now have appeared upon the trees; may the fruit also be found perfect! Thus far there has been an inscription of your names, and a call to service, and torches of the bridal train, and a longing for heavenly citizenship, and a good purpose, and hope attendant thereon. For he lieth not who said, that to them that love God all things work together for good. God is lavish in beneficence, yet He waits for each man's genuine will: therefore the Apostle added and said, to them that are called according to a purpose. The honesty of purpose makes thee called: for if thy body be here but not thy mind, it profiteth thee nothing."

Cyril's account of baptism shows us early on the doctrine that baptism of adults that is carried out without purity of intention is, on the one hand, real baptism; but on the other hand, insufficient to convey the sacramental grace, and in fact sacrilegious. Thus his lecture, delivered as it is to those about to be baptized, is full of caution and urging to prayer and right intention. Yet he addresses also those who come "on another pretext," for instance to please a spouse, or a servant wishing to please a master, and rather than condemning the intent, entrusts the catechumen to God's grace given in the sacrament, and welcomes them into the Church.

Cyril speaks also about baptism outside the Church, in the context of explaining the singularity of the sacrament:

"We may not receive Baptism twice or thrice; else it might be said, Though I have failed once, I shall set it right a second time: whereas if thou fail once, the thing cannot be set right; for there is one Lord, and one faith, and one baptism: for only the heretics are re-baptized, because the former was no baptism."

This early understanding of "rebaptism" of the unorthodox has gone in two directions in eastern and western theology. In the east, the underlying theology is that baptism can only be understood in the context of the Church, and therefore baptism outside the Church (by heretical communities) is no baptism simply because it lacks the ecclesial context. Thus many (most? someone else may be able to tell me) Orthodox Churches "rebaptize" converts to Orthodoxy. In the west, the theology turned instead on the trinitarian nature of baptism. The "heretics" of Cyril's day were those who denied key tenets of trinitarianism: Arians, Patripassians, Adoptionists, etc. Thus their baptism is seen as not truly baptism, as it isn't baptism in the Trinity. Thus the Catholic Church today continues to "rebaptize" converts from communities without an orthodox trinitarian theology: Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, modalist Pentecostals, etc., but not from Christian communities with trinitarian baptism.

Okay, for those who wish to continue the reading group, please be sure to read the entire Prologue; then, on to the first Lecture.

UPDATE: Friend-of-blog Sophia has first-hand information regarding Orthodox baptism in the comments box.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Nerd Camp

So Offspring #1 won't be going to chess camp this summer. She's found something even nerdier: Math Camp! This odd Korean math test she took earlier this year (where they are apparently more interested in the reasoning processes you write down than in the answers you give; most kids don't get any right answers on this test--Offspring #1 got one right) resulted in a letter of invitation to attend a math camp at the 7th-8th grade "problem solving" level. She was very unhappy to discover that, being quite young, her cruel parents won't allow her the sleepaway option, and will instead drive her an hour each way (!) every day of camp. "But there's a special problem-solving competition every evening!" she wailed. "I won't get to do that!" Poor baby. I'm going to make sure to sign her up for a regular summer camp, too, one with swimming and horseback riding and all the usual Texas ranch stuff you're supposed to do at summer camp. Just so her skin doesn't turn completely pasty from lack of light.

Anyway she had to write a paragraph explaining why she wanted to attend Math Camp. It seems to me that the bare fact that a kid is applying to spend a whole week of summer solving advanced math problems is a classic res ipsa loquitur, but anyway. Here's her paragraph:

"I cannot remember the time when I did not love math better than anything else. I love it simply because I cannot see any reason why anyone wouldn’t. I would rather spend a Saturday at a minor math competition than an expensive art gallery. There is nothing that could make me stop doing math, and this summer camp is one of the ways I want to continue it."

She left out how she used to toddle over to our bed at five a.m. and wake up Eudoxus with "Daddy! It's morning! Let's do math!" I felt no pity, since it's his genes that are clearly responsible for all this.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Better Than the Book

While regaling us with his reasons why Brokeback Mountain wasn't the best movie of the year, Yahmdallah brings up the frequent observation that movies are never superior to their source material. Now this is just the sort of thing that Eudoxus and I like to discuss on those hot summer Texas evenings when you're waiting for the temperature to drop below ninety so you can turn off the AC and go to bed, and so I come prepared with some possible exceptions to the rule.

The Godfather (I & II): E. and I agree on this one. Puzo's novel just isn't as good.

The Shining: This was E.'s candidate; I haven't read the book. Having finished all the Stephen King I needed to read back in high school, I'm not planning to, either. Garrison Keillor, in one of his recent funny moments, observed that the standard King plot is Family Goes on Vacation, Gets Eaten by Paper Towel Dispenser. Read one, read 'em all.

Dracula: I pull out and wave about my credentials on this one; having read (before dropping out of grad school) everything Mrs. Radcliffe ever wrote, as well as Vathek, The Monk, and every other important and semi-important gothic novel written, I can say with professional certainty that Dracula isn't that good. People like it now because they read back in all the post-Stoker vampirinalia that permeates popular culture. But the Bela Lugosi movie is classic.

Any other suggestions for movies better than the book (or story) that spawned them? Also: what movie sequels were better than the originals?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sparing the Rod

The cost of being an Opinionated Homeschooler is having opinions that others, often friends, will vehemently disagree with. Still, there are topics I try to avoid, and one of them is corporal punishment. Can't avoid it this time, so here we go.

This is big in the homeschooling news lately. Amid the general nausea in reading the article, I was struck by the remarks of a Texas mom who uses the Pearls' advice about striking small children with switches:

"Some people would rather spend an hour reasoning with a defiant 5-year-old instead of requiring the kid to behave and giving him a swat if he doesn't," said Hicks, who said she has used a peach-tree switch to spank her four children. "Some people are just queasy about swatting their kids."

These comments get to the very heart of the corporal punishment issue. First, the contemptuous remark that some parents "are just queasy about swatting their kids." Yes, they are. Even the parents who swat their kids. If the thought didn't make us queasy, we wouldn't be looking up Bible verses or pro-spanking books or web-sites to tell us it was okay and good and would solve our discipline problems. You know what? It's okay to be queasy about spanking your kids. I intended to put my firstborn into daycare, but I didn't, because I "felt queasy" about it; it went against my maternal instincts, I didn't want to do it, and I trusted that in the end. I felt queasy about putting my children in school. I don't claim that those who have chosen otherwise are wrong; but I do claim that following my instincts about what I would and wouldn't do with my children was right.

Second, I believe many parents resort to spanking or switching because they have believed the straw man argument that the only alternative is to "spend an hour reasoning with a defiant 5-year-old instead of requiring the kid to behave." But those aren't the only options. One of the things I most wish someone had told me with my first child was that you don't always have to make them behave. Often you can just let things go. Often you only "have to" remove them from the place they are now, for their own sake or the sake of others. You don't always have to change their behavior right now.

People tell us, "If you had my child, you'd be singing a different tune." Our firstborn was the poster child for tantrums, rage, defiance, and a broad range of self-imposed misery. We were advised, often by people who love her, to think about spanking, or therapy, or (of course) putting her in school. We didn't do any of those. And she's okay now. She's not an undisciplined brat. She's a gentle, affectionate, self-controlled kid.

I'm not interested in arguing that (a) spanking or switching is child abuse; or (b) you're a bad parent if you spank (you're probably not); or (c) spanking is biblical or not biblical. (Though it's worth mentioning that the Catholic tradition falls on the side of gentleness; St. Benedict's rule was notable in its time for limiting the occasions in which children could be struck; Maria Montessori banned all corporal punishment in her schools, as did St. John Bosco, St. Elizabeth Seton, and Father Flanagan. The modern Catholic apologetics for striking children are lifted from Evangelical sources.) I'm not even going to argue about whether you get better behavior results from spanking or not spanking. For the sake of argument, I'll concede that spanking is more effective in direct behavior modification.

All I want to say is this. You can choose not to spank, if your heart hurts when you do it or think about doing it. And your kids really will be okay.

(HT to Daryl Cobranchi)

Update: Just clearing up some confusions that seem to have arisen.

1. I don't mean to imply that Evangelical Christians are the only ones who spank their children, or that Evangelicals as a whole are responsible for the kind of horrific disciplinary advice that seems to have led to the tragedy linked to at the beginning of this post. In fact, the very best childrearing books right now are those written by Evangelical Christian husband-wife team William and Martha Sears. The Baby Book, The Fussy Baby Book, and The Discipline Book were invaluable resources. (I was, however, disappointed with their book specifically on raising Christian children, where Sears & Sears quite bizarrely do a one-eighty on their advice regarding spanking. It's a not-so-good book in other areas, and I don't recommend it.)

2. My link to Daryl Cobranchi at the end doesn't imply that I agree with everything he says on his blog--I can guess that he doesn't agree with everything I say on mine!--but as I got the original link through his blog, courtesy and honesty demand the "hat tip." Anyway, his blog is well worth reading.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Achieving the $ucce$$ of public schools, on the Catholic dime

A certain Anonymous Poster Below (who really ought to find herself a good internet handle; I've got some old ones I can lend you) says of a guest article in our diocesan paper:

"The column is a slap in the face of every Catholic school teacher, every Catholic school student, every parent who's paying for Catholic schools, and every homeschooler in the diocese. Yep, WE don't have our kids in the public schools because THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS DON'T HAVE ENOUGH.....[drum roll, please]... $$$MONEY$$$. "

Now, not having read the article, and the most recent paper not being up on the net yet, I have no comment specifically on that. I do note that the writer of said column, Lisa Bintrim, is presumably the same Lisa Bintrim who is Assistant Editor of Educational Leadership, the publication of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, "a community of educators" whose mission is "to advocate sound policies and share best practices to achieve the success [sic] of each learner." Achieving a learner's success through shared best practices--best shared practices?--is presumably not entirely the same thing as teaching a student.

The articles published in Educational Leadership are the sort of thing that drive one to homeschool, warning as they do against such evils as "defin[ing] teacher quality in terms of test scores " (tests bad) and "plac[ing] all the responsibility for student learning on teachers and schools" (it's not our fault they come out of school ignorant), and yearning to promote a "culture of collegiality" as well as a "collaborative professional development culture." With all this promotion of culture, one wonders if the Western culture incubated in Periclean Athens gets a look-in during the class day, but it isn't clear.

ASCD itself at the moment has a special focus on "the whole child," an expression I believe I just mocked in a post a few days ago. The raison d'etre of whole-child education, you see, is that "a democratic society demands more of its schools than producing graduates proficient in reading and math." And here I thought we were just aiming for that first thing, the proficient in reading and math bit. While ASCD assures us that "Parents ... support a whole-child approach to education," I believe I would settle for educating their brains.

In the face of such creaky jargonistic vapidities masquerading as help for teachers, the usual demand for yet more money for the public schools seems very small beer. But making that demand in a diocesan newspaper--a diocese that is simultaneously pressing parishioners to support the parochial and diocesan schools--is quite arguably another thing altogether. It's really not that long, historically speaking, since politicians and superintendents spoke quite frankly about the need for public schooling so as to make dirty little Catholic immigrant children into good clean Protestant Americans.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The State of the Standards

Here's something to make your bright spring day just a little gloomier: the Fordham Institute's annual report card on academic standards across the country.

The State of State English Standards 2005

The State of State Math Standards 2005

The State of State Science Standards 2005

At least these reports give you something to say when someone insists that homeschooled children don't get to use the equipment schools have in their science labs. (Which, by the way, is false.) So our local school has some wonderful donated expensive stuff sitting in the chemistry classroom. Is it doing the kids any good? Let's look at the Texas science standards and see what they're actually learning in that class with the great lab equipment ... What's this? It looks like "the writers of the physical science sections know very little of the subject beyond the fourth-grade level." Oh, look, the little darlings are being asked to write a job application from the perspective of an isotope. In their high-school chemistry class. Oh well, at least they have those lovely microscopes...

As usual, we Texans b0w our heads and thank God for Alabama.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Non Surfam

Blogging will be lighter than usual for a while, as I am taking my customary Lenten fast from the internet. Not having quite the self-control to include blogging (certainly e-mail fasting is an impossibility), I will continue to jot down a few things from time to time.

This may also be a good time to gauge continuing interest, if any, in resuming the HFH patristics reading group, the original purpose for this blog. If you are interested in continuing, please drop a comment for this post (this will also serve as a way of seeing how many people can muster the courage to comment!). Ideally, discussion of readings would actually be discussion, with readers responding to each others' insights, comments, and questions; but that requires a critical mass of readers and commenters.

I'll post the same request for participation to the HFH list. Remember: You don't have to be Catholic, a homeschooler, or a member of HFH to participate; you just have to remember that the primary purpose of this group is to read and understand the Church Fathers, and so is educational and not polemical. Nor must you own a copy of Quasten's Patrology (the spine for this group), but it will be helpful.