Saturday, January 31, 2009

Uh, no.

From the chapter on the Eucharist I'll be teaching tomorrow:
Precepts of the Church. "The Church is our teacher and guide. One way the Church guides us is by giving us precepts, or rules, that state some of our responsibilities. One of the five precepts of the Church says that Catholics are to participate in the Eucharist on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.
For the non-Catholic readership, the "precepts of the Church" are ecclesial requirements that govern the relationship of the Catholic to the Church. One of them is that Catholics must receive the Eucharist at least once a year, during the Easter season; another is that Catholics attend Mass at least every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. These are minima for active ecclesial life: better of course is to attend Mass as often as possible (it's offered daily in nearly every parish in the world) and to receive as often as conscience permits.

But this odd mish-mash of the two precepts ends up with a command to receive the Eucharist as a matter of obligation, regardless of state of grace; a command not only nonsensical but (in Catholic eyes) quite dangerous, as receiving when not in a fit state is a serious matter. It's like an owner's manual that should say "oil machine blades at least once per month" and "cover blades when in use" but instead says "oil machine blades when in use."

And this is actually by far the best of the textbook series our parish's textbook committee (which I got to be on, I presume as the token homeschooler) was allowed to consider. At its worst, this series--RCL's "Faith First"--has some errors (as above) and fairly dumbed-down language, especially for Scripture readings. Others were much, much worse; despite the USCCB's thumbs-up, some had clear agendas at odds with orthodoxy, and many were so riddled with errors you could pick a page at random as a sort of game to see what bizarre mistake would show up.

"Faith First," though, at least takes Scripture seriously, providing large dollops of it throughout, starting each chapter prayer with something that used to be a Bible verse, and generally presenting Scripture as an integral part of Christianity. Imagine! Of course I can't help comparing sometimes Offspring #2's Little Visits With God, which expects tiny tykes to memorize verses like "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof," and "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord," and to look up the verses for themselves when a little older. Still, our CCD textbooks do a much better job than the average, even affirming in the 8th grade book that Catholics ought to read the Bible every day. I just about keeled over when I saw that. Nine years ago, when I put Offspring #1 in her CCD class and started sitting in, I was blown away by the diligence with which CCD seemed determined to bear out the caricature of Catholics as folks who wouldn't know the Bible if it fell on them on their way out of Mass. For all the "post-Vatican 2 Church" fluffiness of the Catholicism-lite textbooks (Eudoxus memorably remarked, upon perusing the CCD book, "It's hard to believe you guys produced Thomas Aquinas."), the openness to Scripture that was supposed to be a great fruit of the Second Vatican Council was nowhere evident.

There's still some unfortunate substance to the caricature. My CCD kids universally come to third grade never having opened a Bible, not knowing the difference between the Old and New Testaments, and utterly unfamiliar with all things Scriptural. I still have to debrief the Offspringen after CCD classes (my favorite Things They Learned in CCD is: Christ used unleavened bread at the Last Supper because yeast hadn't been invented yet), and I take for granted that they will learn Absolutely Nothing about the Bible that I don't teach them myself. And even though our textbook committee looked at the 7th and 8th grade level books for each series we considered (as those are the years preparing for Confirmation in our diocese), I was surprised (silly me) to find that even at that late date, verses and passages from Scripture are adapted--pretty heavily--to make them, I suppose readable by the young and stupid. Expectations are pitched low, way low. And the children, who being children will live up or down to the expectations placed on them, are robbed--of the beauty and truth of Scripture, of the inheritance of the Church, and of the right to be challenged in their understanding.

I leave you with the verse that begins Chapter 2 of my third-graders' textbook, Psalm 104:24:
O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
No, I beg your pardon. The putative verse cited as "Psalm 104:24" in our textbook is rather this:
Lord! the earth is full of your creatures.
And to prove the claim, now that it has been rendered fit for children, a picture of a dolphin graces the page. Alas. To think that we once produced St. Thomas Aquinas.

UPDATE: Mrs. Darwin Catholic shares her daughter's CCD text's rendering of the 23rd Psalm's "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake":
You guide me along the right path.
Isn't it interesting how the children's versions so often consist of telling the Almighty things He might not know?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Paging Homer Simpson
I'm not making any judgments about the particulars of this story that showed up on one of my homeschool discussion groups. I'm just passing along some great quotes.

Krispy Kreme rep: "By doing so, participating Krispy Kreme stores nationwide are making an oath to tasty goodies."

American Life League rep: "We challenge Krispy Kreme ... to separate themselves and their doughnuts from our great American shame."

Saturday, January 03, 2009

" 'Fire!' " he shouted.

This is what comes of being married to a person who thinks about this sort of thing for a living, but I've become addicted to the Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks. Not just orthography pedants, like the people who cluck over the misuse of it's/its on shop signs, these are rather obsessors over the various meanings and implications of quotation marks: do they mean the text has been quoted? or is irony implied? or is the real meaning the reverse?

The amusement factor comes from the common misuse of quotation marks to convey, rather than any of the above conventional meanings, mere emphasis. As a commonplace example, not long ago I spotted a workingman's pickup with this hand-lettered on the side: We "Fix" Appliances. Which, of course, makes you wonder what they in fact do to your dishwasher.

The all-time best (or "best") example:

As commenters note, it surely means either "This starts fires" or "Let there be a fire alarm." Or, perhaps, a Magrittesque "Ceci n'est pas une sirène d'alerte du feu."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Yuletide Juvenile Reading

DarwinCatholic has been reading A Christmas Carol to the younguns, and overthinking the Muppet version of the Dickens classic. Personally I like to introduce Boz through the weird but child-pleasing story "The Magic Fishbone." (Or, if the Darwins prefer to launch the children right in to full Dickens mode, I think that if they consult volumes III and IV of their lovely old set of Miller's My Book House, they will find representative chapters from The Old Curiosity Shop and David Copperfield, beautifully illustrated.)

We in the Opinionated Household have been doing Christmastide read-alouds as well. Offspring #2 enjoyed E. T. A. Hoffman's Nutcracker, and highly recommends the edition illustrated by Maurice Sendak. If you haven't read the original, it's much, much weirder than the ballet version.

Offspring #1 loved James Joyce's "The Dead" for her holiday read-aloud, and if you haven't read it yourself since college, go read it again as an older and presumably wiser person. This would also be a good time to read at least the first story of Dubliners--Joyce wrote the stories in a definite order, developing certain themes, and "The Sisters" at the collection's beginning is a companion piece to "The Dead" at the end. This would be a good time to rent the wonderful John Huston movie version, but then any time is a good time for that.