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I was very glad to be visiting the Charleston branch of the family this weekend (photos below), but also sorry that it meant I’d miss the fantastic rose petal shower at the Cathedral of St. Paul here in Birmingham.

You might know that this is a tradition in Rome’s Pantheon: a shower of rose petals at the end of the liturgy on Pentecost. Made easier there by the fact there’s a giant hole in the roof – the oculus. The moment is beautifully captured by my friend and collaborator Ann Engelhart in this painting:

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(Ann’s website is here, and she’s on Instagram here.

Our books are listed here – as well as others she has illustrated. )

Well, Rome is far away, and doesn’t Alabama deserve a dose of Catholic Imagination as well? So the folks at the Cathedral thought….why not? 

The photos below are courtesy of the Cathedral and photographer Beth Anne Meier, who has lots of photos of the moment (and the preparation) on her Instagram – including videos.

You can also see a lot of photos and videos from different people at this Facebook page. 

How did they do it? As rector Fr. Jerabek explained, there is an ample attic space betwee the ceiling and the roof – they pulled out a couple of light fixtures and dropped the petals through those holes.

Oh, and they also got Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices. 

Meanwhile in Charleston…

 

 

Pentecost

Here we are –  For help in preparing the kids, let’s go to one of my favorite sources – this wonderful  old Catholic religion textbook.

The short chapter on Pentecost is lovely and helpful.

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This volume is for 7th graders.

What I’m struck by here is the assumption that the young people being addressed are responsible and capable in their spiritual journey. They are not clients or customers who need to be anxiously served or catered to lest they run away and shop somewhere else.

What is said to these 12 and 13-year olds is not much different from what would have been said to their parents or grandparents. God created you for life with him. During your life on earth there are strong, attractive temptations to shut him out and find lasting joy in temporal things. It’s your responsibility to do your best to stay close to Christ and let that grace live within you, the grace that will strengthen you to love and serve more, the grace that will lead you to rest peacefully and joyfully in Christ.

Pentecost is one of the events in The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

(The book is structured around the virtues. Each section begins with an event from Scripture that illustrates one of those virtues, followed by stories of people and events from church history that do so as well)

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This hasn’t been published in a book – yet – but it’s a painting by Ann Engelhart, illustrator of several books, including four with my writing attached – all listed here. It’s a painting of the tradition of dropping rose petals through the oculus in the Pantheon in Rome.

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(The Cathedral of St. Paul is doing this today as well – I won’t be there to see it, but hopefully will have information from parish media tomorrow.) 

 

Finally, hopefully today you’ll be hearing/singing/praying Veni Creator Spiritus today.  I have a chapter on it in The Words We Pray. A sample:

 

 

 

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7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

All right – first things first. As in…my things. 

I was in Living Faith on Monday – here’s the link. Look for an entry next Wednesday, as well.

Also check out Instagram this weekend – there’s a road trip happening.

The cover for my next book is up for viewing at the Loyola Press site!

Coming July: The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols.

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Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

It’s a series of books with which I’m very pleased – due in no small part to stellar design and artwork, for which I can take no credit. Please check out the whole series here and consider gifting it to your local Catholic school, parish – or even public library!

— 2 —

The most comforting thing I read this week was from Graham Greene’s preface to a collection of his stories. He wrote:

I would like too to explain the digging up from a magazine of the twenties of a detective story, “Murder for the Wrong Reason” Reading it more than sixty years later, I found that I couldn’t detect the murderer before he was disclosed. 

— 3 —

I found it comforting because this week I noticed that book to which I was allegedly a contributor was being published this summer. I had no recollection of this essay, but a quick search through my files revealed that yes, I had written said essay in March of 2017, sent it in and even invoiced for it. Once I reread the piece, I did, indeed recall it in detail, but there were those few moments before that in which you’d asked me out of the blue, Hey , what about that essay you wrote for the Living Faith collection? I would have stared at you…blankly. Granted, there’s a big difference between a sixty-year memory glitch and..well…one year. But still. I’ll take that small comfort, if allowed.

To be published in mid-June: 

PDF sample available here, and here’s the Table of Contents. With my name in it, indeed.

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— 4 —

More book news (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page. 

— 5 —

Moving on….

Very interesting: “How I got the BBC to apologise for misrepresenting my Jesuit ancestor.”

It was in these dangerous circumstances that Fr Gerard, a tall and dashing young Jesuit, landed by night on the Norfolk coast, shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, when anti-Catholic feelings were at a high. Disguising himself first as a falconer and then as a country gentlemen, he met contacts in Norwich who introduced him to a network of Catholic sympathisers across Norfolk and nearby counties.

Moving from one country house to another, Fr Gerard managed to persuade their owners, at substantial risk to themselves, to use their houses as centres for building local Catholic communities. In the process he made numerous converts to the faith, at least 30 of whom subsequently became priests themselves….

….

After three years Fr Gerard was moved to the Tower of London where he was further interrogated and badly tortured. But despite being weakened by imprisonment and ill treatment, he engineered a daring and ingenious escape across the moat, listed by Time magazine as one of the 10 greatest prison escapes in history. Somehow he managed to resume his activities and continue his mission for another eight years, until he was forced to leave the country in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot.

As a priest, he knew several of the plotters and was quite close to at least one of them, whom he had converted to Catholicism. Robert Cecil, James I’s spymaster and principal adviser, wanted to pin the blame for the Gunpowder Plot on the Jesuits and on John Gerard in particular, whose earlier escape from the Tower had not been forgotten.

But despite extreme methods, Cecil was unable to extract any credible evidence against Fr Gerard. Under interrogation and in one case torture, the two surviving plotters “admitted” that he had said Mass for them after their first meeting, but both firmly insisted that he had no knowledge of the plot itself. Another of the plotters wrote that they had deliberately kept him in the dark, because they knew he was opposed to violence and would have talked them out of it….

…He has been an inspiration to members of my family for hundreds of years and it came as a shock to see him featured in the BBC historical drama Gunpowder, clearly represented as being “in on the plot”. The characterisation of Fr Gerard was so far removed from all historical accounts that I believed it could only have been a deliberate misrepresentation.  More

— 6 —

And this:

Obianuju Ekeocha, the founder of Culture of Life Africa, has written an open letter to MPs ahead of a Westminster Hall debate tomorrow on “Access to reproductive rights around the world”.

In the letter, sent by SPUC, Ms Ekeocha, author of Target Africa, takes issue with the premise of the debate being sponsored by Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, saying it confirms the reality that the UK has become a “lead neocolonial master.”

Reproductive rights?

In the letter, Ms Ekeocha explains that although her country, Nigeria, is now independent of British colonial rule, “in recent years, we are noticing the footprints of the United Kingdom all over Africa as they have become one of the most enthusiastic western proponents of so-called ‘reproductive rights’, a concept that is seen and understood all across Africa as abortion, contraception, sterilisation and graphic (age-inappropriate) sexuality education.”

Funding illegal abortion

She points out that about 80 per cent of the African countries have continued to resist and reject the notion that abortion should be legal, and that it is “an idea that is incompatible with our culture which teaches us that every human being carries bloodlines of clans and families that are never to be forgotten and that our lives begin right from our mothers’ womb.”

We find “organizations like Marie Stopes International, International Planned Parenthood Federation and IPAS…running expensive lobbying campaigns at our parliaments to legalize abortion even against the will of the people,” she continues. “And when we investigate, we find out that some of these organizations are performing illegal abortions in African countries where abortion is not legal.”

 

— 7 —

Great news for Catholic education in Birmingham – one of our already excellent Catholic schools is taking it up a notch and going classical – in other words, thinking with the mind of the Church on education. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

This is a rant of little interest to anyone, but it’s been brewing, and I need to get it out of my brain to make room for more interesting things:

About that Spanish curriculum.

Oh, but who am I kidding? This will be about more than that, because with me – it invariably goes that way.

First –  reminders about me and teaching and textbooks and such in general.

I haven’t been in a classroom teaching other people’s children for probably 19 years. Good Lord. But that’s probably about right.  I have had several children go through both Catholic and public high schools, including International Baccalaureate, and I have homeschooled, and I have been to many a parent night, and I have thought about this a bit and, oh yes, I even have, of late, been involved in just a bit of curriculum development and writing myself.

So this is something I think about quite a bit. And here’s what I think:

Every time I walk away from a parent night – you know, the kind they have in the fall in your kids’ school when you go into each class for five minutes and then the bell rings with the teacher in mid-sentence and you sign in so your kid can get extra credit? Yes, every time I walk away from one of those evenings, I just think…

Thank God I am not doing this anymore.

I don’t know how they do it – teachers. Almost everything is terrible about education and the context in which formal education happens. It’s such a mess on every level, and what doesn’t help are the crazy expectations heaped upon the women and men who just want to share cool and amazing things about life with kids.

I’m looking from waaay outside, so the view from close up is probably even worse, but what I see is this – you, as a teacher of most subjects today, must:

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3rd grade Social Studies standards, state of Alabama.

  • Meet state standards. Which are steeped in madness and random, age-inappropriate, throw-mud-on-a-wall specificity that they were obviously composed by people who hate everyone, especially teachers.
  • Adapt everything you do in the classroom to varied learning styles: auditory, visual, kinetic and whatever else is in style right now.
  • Adapt everything you do for those who are learning or physically disabled.
  • Teach with an awareness of and sensitivity to a zillion different family situations.
  • Incorporate a variety of digital resources.
  • Use videos, powerpoint, evernote…
  • Give assignments that help students become adept at using videos, powerpoint, blogs and social media.
  • Have a lot of writing. Lots and lots of writing because that’s what we do across the curriculum.
  • But wait! Since some students have issues with writing, have alternative assignments at the ready for the non-writers.
  • No matter what you teach: STEM. And probably Girls in STEM. Even if you teach 9th grade English. Girls in STEM.
  • Hold students to high standards
  • But
  • Give students very detailed “rubrics” for the grading of every single assignment
  • And
  • Don’t fail anyone.
  • LEARNER-LED LEARNING. Don’t, by any means, just tell them things. Facilitate their journeys of discovery through research, group work, projects and flipping that classroom.
  • But hey guess what? They’d all better reach those testing benchmarks…or else….
  • Submit lesson plans in advance to administration, then post lesson plans and other student information on Google Classroom and/or whatever other online classroom tech you’re required to use. Plus the grading software.
  • Final blow: Do all of this in (for the most part) 40-50 minute chunks a few days a week (not taking into account interruptions from assemblies and other events) with students who are probably taking at least six other classes, may not get home from school until six or seven, and have had to start school before 8 am – if they’re in high school.

In other words: the assumption and ideal is that the educational system, embodied in the person of the classroom teacher and his or her methods and materials must transmit every point of knowledge or skill to every student at every level in any possible context – AT THE SAME TIME. 

Do you think I’m kidding? I’m not. And this is not just a public school problem. It’s a problem for any school that’s trying to keep up with the Educational Establishment Joneses. Which is why you should avoid these schools if at all possible.

This push for the total, comprehensive educational experience at every moment is reflected in textbooks, which you can easily see if you just grab one of your kid’s texts published in the past ten years.

Which brings us to Espanol.

As I mentioned yesterday, last summer I was shopping around for a Spanish curriculum for a 7th grader. I settled on this one for a few reason: various discussions on homeschool message boards concluded that it was useful and useable in the home setting, and it came (for a price) with a lot of…resources. See, I have a knack for languages and I do have French and Latin in my background, but really, the last time I took any Spanish was when I was in the 7th grade myself (and I still remember my teacher’s name – Mrs. Santee – because every time I go to South Carolina, I see the Santee River…) So I figured the more resources I had, the better.

And then the book came – and that was all that was there – just the book, with the code to give me access to the online resources. Well, this will be fine, I thought. Lots of resources.

Ay caramba. Are you kidding?

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It took me two weeks to work through it all.

And the textbook?

Well, if you are familiar with the structure of contemporary American textbooks in almost any field, this will come as no surprise to you. It’s all about capsules and boxes and bullet points and pictures. Lots and lots of bite-sized chunks of exercises and information.

When I look at the format of texts like this – and it’s the norm – I have a hard time seeing how the design meshes with the obsessive, over two-decade concern with Attention Deficit disorders among young people. How do these pages, scattered with bits of information, graphics, cartoons and varied fonts help anyone focus, much less those who for whom focus is already a problem?

What I was looking for – in vain – were pages that simply said – This is how you conjugate an -ar verb in present tense and here are some exercises to reinforce that. 

Eventually I could pull it together, but let me tell you, I did have immediate buyer’s remorse and thought I should have just bought some used 1973 Spanish text from ebay. Although I suppose the saga of Trini Salgado redeemed the whole thing, so there’s that.

The core of the program – as with all of these – is of course in the teacher’s materials. It’s she who is tasked with bringing it all together, with picking the elements that suit her classes’ needs, so the assumption is that in giving her everything, she will find something that works. Which is fine, I suppose – if all you are teaching is five sections of Spanish 1 – some basic, some pre-AP –  every day. Then this system makes your life a lot easier, I suppose. And many, many teachers – especially those in large schools – do exactly that. This probably perfect, from their perspective. I guess?

But for the teacher in the small school, who may have three or even four different preparations, it’s a nightmare, I would think. The prep time for just figuring out the system would be – painful, I would think.

And then, you know what? In three or four years, they’re going to change it. Either your school district will change it or the textbook company will come out with a new curriculum because – I have said in discussions of Common Core – when everyone is using ten-year old curricula, no one is making any money.

I don’t know what the answer is. For the fact is, people do learn in different ways and come to this one place called the Spanish 1 classroom from different points of origin. Some can memorize in a snap, others are native speakers (“heritage learners” they’re called now), others get the verbal part easily, still others can write it out but can’t speak it.

The issue and burning question then becomes –  why should someone with a different learning style suffer because she can’t fit into the norm? If the learning paradigm is inaccessible to me, but I can learn the same material in the context of another paradigm or style? Why should I be penalized? Shouldn’t I have the opportunity to learn and shouldn’t I have the opportunity to show the world what I’ve learned in my own way through a good grade?

Yes, you should.

Which tells us…what?

That maybe the issue is not what learning paradigm or style wins, or how many different approaches we can cram into a single textbook or course, but is, in fact, the question of homogeneity, assessments and mass educational systems – period.

They have a purpose, I believe – to raise a population’s basic literacy levels – but beyond that, the assumption that mass, homogenized education must be a cultural and social norm is just ridiculous. Sure it serves the interests of some groups, but the group called “students” – I don’t think so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By far the dumbest thing in my life this past year – in a life full of fairly dumb things – has been my aggravation about  stupid Trini Salgado and her stupid camiseta. 

(Waits for readers to do a search….and return, scratching heads.)

As you might remember, I have a 13-year old who homeschools off and on, and if we were going to pin him down to a grade, we’d say he’s in 7th grade. He’s very interested in Central and South American history and culture, so this year, we’ve gotten more intentional about Spanish.

I spent some time last summer searching for a curriculum. I knew he would probably be going back to brick and mortar school for 8th grade, and I knew that the school he’d be going to teaches high school Spanish 1 over the course of 7th and 8th grade – so if we got through half of a Spanish I curriculum, we’d be good.

But what to pick? I do not, for the life of me, know why I didn’t just wait for the Spanish avencemos4teacher to tell me what she would be doing for the year (I knew they were changing) and then track with that. But I didn’t. I went ahead and splurged for a curriculum that is school-oriented, but used by homeschoolers as well. It’s called Avencamos! (Let’s keep going!) and it’s published by Holt.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting  about the curriculum itself and thoughts prompted by it as well as some other recent curriculum adventures, but even without that, this post will make some sense.

One of the many, many many elements of this curriculum are videos. Each unit is centered on a particular Spanish-speaking area – it begins with Miami, then moves to Puerto Rico, Mexico (Puebla! – where we just were!), Spain (Madrid! Where we’ve been!) , Ecuador, etc.

Each video features a different teenaged boy and girl, going about their community, using the unit’s vocabulary and grammar lessons. They are what you expect – mostly wooden acting and a little weirdness that can be, at times, highly entertaining. Mi mochila! And ¿DONDE ESTA MI CUADERNO? have already become standard elements of household conversation.  Oh, as well as a harsh, “No. Gracias,” uttered through gritted teeth which the very rude girl in the Madrid saga says repeatedly to a shopkeeper who’s only trying to show her las ropas, for pete’s sake! That’s my favorite. Maribel = me.

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Some verge on the surreal. Come to think of it, wouldn’t that be a good idea? To produce totally surreal, bizarre language instructional videos?

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Okay. So here’s the dumb, ingenious thread that runs through all of these videos that has obsessed me these past months – for some reason, all of these kids in these different countries around the globe are trying to see or get an autograph from a female soccer player named Trini Salgado. Some of them are connected – I think they’re trying to get Trini’s autograph for Alicia, who lives in Miami. I think. But they’re always thwarted in the quest – they get the wrong time that Trini’s appearing, they lose the jersey they want autographed, they get the autograph and Papa throws it in the laundry and it washes off.

The weirdest thing about it to me is that each little unit of videos ends in a absolutely unresolved way. In the Mexican set, the boy and girl go to his cousin’s house to retrieve the damn jersey and they’re scared off by a perro grande. They run off – and let’s go to Puerto Rico now!

What? Are you kidding me? You’re really going to leave me hanging like this?

You’d think – you’d think – that the whole situation would eventually get resolved. I thought they’d have some big global gathering feting Trini, everyone speaking Spanish in their various dialects and eating their varied foods.

But no.

Spoiler alert (I checked) – the last unit ends in just as unsatisfying a way as the others.

No one ever gets Trini’s autograph!

Those are some dark-hearted textbook writers there.

If you poke around, you find that kids have had some fun with this – there are a couple of Trini Salgado Twitter accounts, an Avencemos Memes account,  many mentions of are you kidding me, do they ever meet Trini – wait is Trini Salgado not a real person? and some class-made videos that play with eternally-frustrated yearning to get Trini’s autograph.

But here’s why I’m writing about this:

Once more, we run into the power of the story. Each set of videos runs about 6 minutes total, the acting is mostly terrible, and they’re mostly silly, but dang it if they didn’t leave me mad as heck that I wasn’t going to see what happened??

What is it? Isn’t it one of the most fascinating aspects of human life – that we can get so caught up in the the travails of imaginary characters, of situations that aren’t really happening in the real world? We can be wrecked by Lost, so content to settle into the world of Mad Men once a week, root for someone in the world of The Sopranos or Breaking Bad to follow the moral compass we know is buried deep inside there.

These aren’t real people. This is not really happening. I should not care. 

But I do.

It’s a promise of something good and true – and a warning. First the warning, which is about how easily it is for us to be caught up and manipulated simply by an engaging, compelling narrative. Authoritarians and abusers sense this and use it in varied ways: by constructing an epic narrative of identity, revolution, progress or restoration that flatters us, engages us and pulls us in or by simply weaving a tale that justifies and excuses and sounds good but is really just a lie. Marketers – whether they’re marketing products or themselves as personalities – know this and work hard to try to make us feel connected to their personal stories and daily adventures. Another self-serving lie.

Now the good part: The power of the story – even the insanely dumb story – tells us that our lives have a structure, meaning, purpose and direction. We’re pulled into the story because we know we are in the midst of a story ourselves. The challenge is to find and live in the true story – which, by the way – actually has an ending. And, I’m told, a pretty good one.

The only reason i took spanish 2 was to find out if they ever get the jersey signed by Trini Salgado 😂

First Look!

Click on cover for more information.

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I’d forgotten about this, but here it is, to be published in mid-June: 

I’m one of the contributors. PDF sample available here, and here’s the Table of Contents:

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