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Archive for the ‘Mad Men’ Category

Welcome new readers. Check out my books (some linked on the right) and pages with permanent links to themed posts (above.)

Well, that was quite the weekend on the Internets, wasn’t it?

When the Covington Catholic photo flashed across one of my feeds, I freely admit that my first reaction was, “Expel him!” accompanied by several tweets/posts that mercifully existed only in my head.

And then…as it does…a fuller picture started emerging. As it does.

I won’t rehash the whole thing. I wasn’t really intending to add to the verbiage, either, but here I am. If you want to know where I stand on the sequence of events, check out Robby Soave’s piece at Reason. He captures most of my sense of it. I’ve watched other videos out there of the moment, which make one thing very clear to me: that initial narrative of “Boys in MAGA hats surround and taunt Native American protester” is false.

And you might want to stop and pause there. For despite all the other “lessons” and penumbras of meaning being spun, that is where this thing took off: from an image of a kid looking at a protester, which, we were told captured a moment in which these students surrounded a protester, mocked him and one boy, in particular, stood and stared him down, smirking.

But is that what happened? I don’t think so – and this is from watching several videos a couple of times.

What seems to have happened is that group was assembled on the steps, waiting for their bus. There had been this Black Hebrew Israelite group nearby for a while, demonstrating, taunting and filming, and then Nathan Phillips approaches with his group, drumming, chanting and filming, and he heads right into this group of boys who were, it seems doing school chants to both pass the time and distract from the first other group. Phillips walks right into the group – for whatever reason. There’s a video out there of the moments right before the encounter captured in the photos, as well as the encounter itself, and it is nothing like those initial headlines indicated. The student at the center of the controversy is just sort of standing around with the dozens of others, laughing and waiting – and then Phillips stands in front of him, drumming. The student clearly doesn’t really know what to do.  In the most widely-disseminated images, his resting face seems to some like a smirk – but when you look at videos from the other side – there’s one in which he turns and tells one of his classmates arguing with an activist to cool it – he just looks sort of uncomfortable.

So the bottom line is: the initial narrative was inaccurate.

No matter what you make of the students wearing MAGA hats at any time, but particularly representing a Catholic school at the March for Life, their whooping, a few of them tomahawk-chopping – some might have been mocking, some might have been mindless, some might have been unrelated to anything specific, the nature of private education, particularly single-sex private education, masculinity, Smirks Through History, Georgetown Prep, whatever  – none of that matters. It could be that the culture at this school is problematic – the culture at most secondary schools is problematic for one reason or another, and wealthy private schools are usually the worst.

But does that matter in this really very specific moment? Sorry, it just doesn’t. Because the reason these students were condemned, threatened and doxxed was because, it was said – they swarmed and victimized Nathan Phillips. At that moment. And that didn’t happen. Watch the videos. You may not like their behavior.  I get it. I personally still get triggered being around more than, say, three high schoolers at any one time.

You know, we live in times in which we’re not supposed to be all binary and stuff, so, sure,  let’s not be binary. It is just not the case that the only two possible scenarios here are: 1) Privileged White Boys Re-Victimized the Marginalized or 2) Precious Angels are Rowdy but, you know, Angelic. 

It could be just a weird situation that happened one day in one small corner of the world.

You start there. You try to get that right. 

Here’s another video that picks up after Philips picked this particular MAGA-hatted teen to drum in front of. I actually think this is one of the more illustrative videos out there (we’ll see if it’s still there by the time you read this – it might well have been memory-holed by YouTube). And it reinforces my position of “weird situation that happened for a few minutes, people drifted away, so why are we all talking about it?” 

Basically, Philips is in the kid’s face for several minutes, drumming and chanting – who knows why – and everyone around them is either watching, slightly confused, or filming, except for one activist with Philips (his grandson, I think) who is loudly and profanely arguing with a student. At some point the bulk of the kids start chanting something, but it’s clearly their school chant, and they’re not even looking at the drummer. And then, most of them drift away, to the bus, I’m assuming.

We could say a lot about this – about the impact of the crazy fast news cycle, ideology and perception and the sewer that is social media, but I’ll let others carry that load.

I want to highlight two reactions.

First, Fr. James Martin. Who, very early on, went to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with his hot take:

I am as disgusted by the contemptuous laughter of the mass of students as I am moved by the quiet dignity of the solitary man who continues to chant. Those students could learn much from this elder, if they had chosen to. Or if they choose to.

 

24 hours later, Fr. Martin published some more thoughts, beginning:

Regarding the controversy over Covington High School: I will be happy to apologize for condemning the actions of the students if it turns out that they were acting as good and moral Christians. The last thing I want is to see Catholic schools and Catholic students held in disrepute.

And I’ve certainly been wrong before.

..and ending with a call to attend to this teachable moment:

 

Another essential lesson, which transcends whatever happened in Washington this weekend: an understanding of the appalling treatment that Native Americans have endured in our country. That lesson needs to be learned regardless of what you think of Covington High School.

This Teachable Moment can offer us, if we are open, lessons about dialogue, encounter and reconciliation during this coming week, which is, believe it or not, Catholic Schools Week.

Of course, Catholic Schools week is not this coming week. But I digress.

There’s no sense in any of this that Fr. Martin has watched the videos of this encounter. One is under no obligation to engage with this issue at all, much less spend time with the videos or the testimonies, unless, of course, one has decided to issue opinions. Then you should probably try to be informed. And when you’re trying to be informed, you don’t have to depend on, as Fr. Martin, does, musing about different “narratives” that have “emerged.” You just sort of go to the tape, watch it, and take a stand. And maybe watching all of that still leads you to think that the kids behaved disrespectfully. Sure. But base it what’s actually out there, rather than sighing about the Mysteries of All Those Darn Narratives.

Gosh!

Image result for gif shrug

 

My point is that Fr. Martin entered the fray right away, characterized the encounter in a way that is now widely disputed and says, well, he’ll apologize if  the boys were acting as “good and moral Christians.”  – not – if my characterization of the incident was incorrect. 

Ah.

And of course, one might wonder if part of the dialoguing Teachable Moment he wants to facilitate might touch on journalistic ethics, social media ethics and critical thinking skills.

Anyway, let’s move to Catholic apologist Mark Shea, who began his Facebook post (now deleted) on the matter with:

The MAGA goons were threatening confrontation with a small clutch of black protestors. (sic) As is done in his tradition, Phillips intervened with a drum and a chant to draw fire to himself. It was an act of peacemaking. The goons then mobbed and mocked him and he did not respond in kind. This was classic non-violence. The attempt to paint this as “elderly man with drum terrorizes 70 innocent athletic douchebags” is a narrative only the Right Wing Lie Machine would have the gall to promote

So, to repeat, Catholic apologist Mark Shea characterized the students from Covington Catholic High School as “MAGA goons” and “athletic douchebags.”

Image result for what gif mad men

 

Sunday evening, Mark has published a piece at Patheos apologizing a bit – although his Facebook and Twitter posts calling these teenagers “MAGA goons” are still up.  He has now embraced the narrative that Phillips was a peacemaker, so there’s that. (I repeat – look at this video and see if it would strike you, if you were there as “Oh, this fellow is trying to bring peace into this situation as he drums in my face and his grandson yells at my classmate.”   He also says,

I disliked the “Crucify Them!” response because I think punishment should be ordered toward redemption, not destruction.

But….MAGA goons…athletic douchebags.

New Evangelization, I guess. *Shrugs.*

Shea also talks alot about the incident without being terribly specific about his takeaway from what he saw on the matter on which he’s opining, using another writer’s sequence of events.

Which, of course, is a defining characteristic of contemporary online rhetoric: to vaguely describe a situation, group people into categories, declare their motivations – but without many specific citations because 1) you don’t have time because you know something else is going to come down the pike for commentary in the next hour or so and 2) you know that your readers are going to be satisfied with the non-specific narrative you offer because they don’t have time to source it either, and are also busy waiting for the next thing.

****

Bottom line takeaways:

  • If you are going to comment on this moment, comment on the moment. Watch the evidence that’s out there closely, then link the words and ideas in your commentary to pieces of evidence.
  • Don’t bother with commenters who can’t be bothered to do that and who prefer to build narratives out of ideology, straw men and caricature.
  • Maybe think about the impact instant communication and social media has on our perception of events and their importance. Consider this:

What happened in your neighborhood over the weekend? Do you even know your neighbors? Your community?

It’s like that joke you see during election year:

Me yesterday: Has no idea who my city council representative is

Me today: Tweets three times on the shifts from red to blue in California’s 33rd electoral district.

Or, in church terms – being an expert on the scandals in the Archdiocese of Whatever, while never engaging with one’s own local church.

Social Media and the internet puts us in touch with the world and tempts us to believe that we can impact the world with just a click – and that if we can know about it and if we can influence it, we must. 

And yes, yes, good comes out of it.

But is it really that much good? Is it worth it? Is it really better?

Remember that the foundation of all sin is pride. Right there. Pride. So, maybe before I post a Hot Take, I should think – why am I doing this? If the reasons come down to nothing more than virtue signalling or a sense that *I* have “followers” who are super interested in my life or my opinion and I owe them a hot take – or I have to keep my profile nice and high by entering into this fray – pride. 

It might be worth it to consider, in moments like this, the “power” of all this as a temptation. A temptation to put our energies into conflicts and issues that are none of our concern and that we really can’t do anything about – so we’ll ignore the people right around us whom we might actually be able to be in deeper communion with and help. 

The time one spends on a screen evaluating the look on the face of a kid I don’t even know, will never meet, doing something I’d never have heard about if not for people following other people with cameras – what could I have been doing with that time that involved people on my street, in my neighborhood, or in my own community? Heck – my family? 

Could it be that there’s a force that is seeking to discourage us from deep communion with others by deluding us with a promise of false power and false connection  – and mostly false power – so that we’ll spend all of our time and energy chasing that with nothing left for real-life encounters – the kind that really change the world?

 

 

 

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— 1 —

Well, this is…unusual.

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It’s not the mere fact of snow. We’re not Texas, which got hit Thursday night. We do get snow here in Alabama and throughout the Southeast, just…not usually in early December. Our snow (and more treacherously, ice) comes in January and February.

But here it is:

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When my son brought home Rumors of Snow on Friday earlier in the week, we both scoffed. Even the forecast called for no more than 10% chance of precipitation today. Well, I guess we hit that 10%.

Early yesterday evening, the schools announced a two-hour delay, and across the land, prayers were sent up that this was only a warning shot, a placeholder for something bigger and greater to come.

And they got it.

Now, here’s my ritual warning to hardy Midwesterners and New Englanders: Don’t mock us. It may seem silly to cancel school for, um, an inch (maybe) of snow, but listen: we don’t have masses of snow-clearing equipment around here ready to send out and blanket the county. It’s hilly – mountainous even. An inch of snow in the early morning falling on Alabama hills and mountains, with only minimal salt or ploughs at the ready is not the same as an inch falling in on the flat, fully prepared land of northeastern Indiana.

Although I will say, there’s no ice with this – the roads are just wet. They could easily be driven. But it is supposed to snow much of the day so eh, why bother? It’s Friday….

Update:

 — 2 —

And it’s the Immaculate Conception! Time for this annual gift from me – and the Monkees – to you.

I toss the same general post up every year. I don’t care. No need to search my brain for heartfelt spiritual metaphors from Daily Life™. When we have the Monkees!

Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera.

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisola hazer que no pudiese pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.

Riu, riu chiu…

Este qu’es nacido es el gran monarca,
Christo patriarca de carne vestido;
Hemos redemido con se hazer chiquito,
Aunqu’era infinito, finito se hiziera.

Translation:

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.

Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.

River, roaring river…

He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

River, roaring river…

And the Kingston Trio:

More from Fr. Steve Grunow on the song and the feast.

— 3 —

It’s a good day to buy a .99 book on the Blessed Virgin, don’t you think?

— 4

You might recall that my 7th grade homeschooler and I are reading The Yearling. He’s got a couple of chapters to go, but I finished it last night and was just about as wrecked as I was when I read it in 7th grade and solemnly declared:

I repeat what I said a few weeks ago: if you’ve never read The Yearling – do. In a way it’s a young people’s book, but it did win the Pulitzer Prize. The writing is lush and some of the most powerful, evocative descriptive language you’ll find – and I’m a reader who normally – I admit – skips through landscape descriptions. I didn’t want to do that with Rawlings’. It’s a powerful, painful and true coming-of-age story.

As he reads his “school novel” – along with his leisure reading he’s always got going, I toss in some short stories and poetry a couple of times a week. This week he read “The Reticence of Lady Anne” by Saki and “The Death of a Government Clerk” by Chekov. He declared that he saw the twist of the first one coming well before the end, but was quite surprised by the second. The Chekov indeed gave us more to talk about. It’s short, amusing and ironic. The theme we dug into is: Okay, you’re worried and stressed out. But in your anxiety about that thing, are you missing the real thing that you should be worried about?

–5 —

Earlier this week, we took an afternoon at the Birmingham Museum of Art. You might have heard me rave about our local treasure before, but bear with me. It’s a very fine museum, with a solid collection that changes it up just often enough to stay fresh. There’s no admission charge, so if you’re a local you have no excuse not to visit regularly.

My son has been reading a lot about Japanese history, so we took time to revisit the very good Asian collection.

Take a look at this. Read the placard and enjoy the little rats fashioning the mallet. It’s a charming piece.

I’d seen this painting of St. Bernardino of Siena before, but never really stopped to study it. This time I did, and discovered that this was not simplistic hagiography. It’s something else – I’m not sure what – a commentary on the varied attitudes we bring to these moments? An observation of a scene? I don’t know if you can see it, but see what you can of the individuals gathered – they’re not all listening, in fact…most of them aren’t. I’m particularly taken with the boy hanging on the platform, and the friar slouched behind the preacher….taking a nap.

— 6 —

Watching: Tonight we finish Lost, and I am of two minds about it. I’m sorry that we’ll be done – this has really been one of the best things the three of us have done together, apart from traveling. I’ll be sorry to leave this Lost crew behind, once again. But…it will be just a bit of a relief to free up some brain space and not have 75% of the conversations around here start with…”So what is that other reality all about???”

Maybe I’ll read a book?

Image result for sawyer reading lost

I did watch all of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel last week and I wouldn’t recommend it. I had watched the pilot in the spring, found it annoying and disappointing and predictable, but decided to give the series another chance.  Well, that was aggravating. Not quite at a hate-watch level, but more at the: I really want this to be better, so I’ll keep watching hoping that happens. It didn’t. Very pretty to look at with rich period detail, but generally superficial both in human terms and in relation to the culture it purported to present. I’ve never watched Image result for amazing mrs. maisela nanosecond of The Gilmore Girls, so I didn’t come to it as a fan of that show, but I was very open to the concept – upper-class 50’s Jewish housewife discovers a flair for stand-up comedy – but what emerges is not recognizably authentic in any way. I wasn’t watching people, I was watching a script being recited and cultural caricatures being embodied. Mad Men had its weaknesses, but the one thing it did right was the character of Peggy Olson, who began the series as a mousy, naive secretary, and ended it as a confident copy-writer, a transformation that was earned and authentic every step of the way. I wasn’t expecting that level of work here, but I was hoping for something a little closer than I got.

— 7 —

Bambinelli Sunday!

bambinelli2017

I just noticed that The Loyola Kids Book of Saints is priced at $7.25 on Amazon at the moment. I don’t know how long that will be the case – but there it is, if you’re interested.

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

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Seven Quick Takes

Sorry. SexyTime is over!

— 1 —

Well, last week, it was Ben Hatke with good news, and this week it’s Gene Luen Yang, who was awarded a McArthur “Genius” Fellowship.  Yang is the author of some excellent works, including AMERICAN BORN CHINESE and the 2 volume BOXERS and SAINTS. Catholics might have first “met” him as the creator of a really good “Rosary Comic Book” published by Pauline Books and Media in 2003. Yang is Catholic and up until last year, worked in a Catholic high school in Oakland.

So great to see Yang’s fine work recognized in this way.

(By the way, Hatke is on a short book tour right now in support of his new series, Ordinary Jack…and Birmingham is on the list! Looking forward to meeting him next week.)

— 2 —

Good news: my favorite podcast, the BBC4 history-themed series In Our Time has returned for a new season. I haven’t yet listened to the first episode, aired Thursday, on Zeno’s Paradoxes, but I did catch up this past week with an excellent episode on Margery Kempe.

kempeFor those of you who don’t know, Kempe was a medieval English mystic. She experienced her first vision of Christ after a profoundly difficult post-partum experience, bore thirteen more children, then started having more visions and going on pilgrimages. Her account of her life and visions was well known, but, of course, the Reformation Vandals took care of that, and – this, I didn’t know – a complete version was unknown to the post-Reformation world until 1934, when a copy was found in a cabinet in which someone was looking for ping-pong balls. You can read about the story of the discovery, and theories as to how this copy survived and got to its finding place here.

— 3 —

This jibed nicely with some reading I’ve been doing for a project on women and the Reformation, only serving to reinforce my convictions about what a disaster the Protestant Reformation was for women (not to mention most other aspects of life in the West) and contribute to my inexorable, steadily growing aggravation with the apparent approaching canonization of Martin Luther.

It’s going to be a loooong 500th anniversary, and..

wehavenoliquor

 

But wait! We do! Never mind. We’ll get make it. God’s got this!

 

 — 4 —

Also on the listening front: this episode of The Food Programme, another BBC radio show I really like. This episode told the story of Charles Green, who was the cook on Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. Oh, what a tale. Green lived until 1973, and for a time, gave talks to groups with slides that Shackleton had given him, slides which he unfortunately felt necessary to sell when times got hard.

There is one audio recording of an interview with Green, and in the program, his own voice is interspersed with the narration of Gerard Baker , who has served as a cook on modern Antarctic expeditions. The account of what Green had to and did accomplish to keep the men alive, as healthy as possible and, in a sense, spiritually fed is quite moving. It is a reminder of all that goes into human accomplishment, and how most of it is unseen and unheralded.

 

— 5 

Today is the memorial of Padre Pio – or, more formally, St. Pius of Petrelcina, by far the most popular saint in Italy. His image is in every church and more shops than you can count. …..The relic of his heart has been in Boston over the past couple of days. Domenico Bettinelli writes a bit about it here and has links to other accounts. And oh, you must see the photos. So moving.

6–

Here’s a good blog post. Timothy O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, on why “Chant is Good for Children.”

Last Sunday, we went to the Melkite Liturgy on campus. The entire liturgy, as anyone knows who has attended Eastern liturgies, is sung. Despite our son’s lack of familiarity with the words on the page, he hummed along the entire time (sometimes even during the Eucharistic Prayer). With his slight speech delay, with his limited grasp of understanding of English, the chant allowed him to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice in a way that he rarely experiences.

Not once did he ask to leave.

Not once was he bored (though he did perform frequent prostrations and crossing of himself).

To this Catholic, we have to admit that music too often functions in our parishes as quaint interludes between the rationalism of speech. Our liturgies are wordy, sounding more like bad speeches than prayer. Why would anyone believe that we’re participating in the very liturgy of heaven itself?

If this is heaven, perhaps, I don’t want it. It seems really boring.

The chant of the Roman Missal should be normative in our parishes. Priests should learn to sing. We should chant the readings, the Psalm, the Creed, the Intercessions, the Eucharistic Prayer, the Pater Noster. Everything that can be chanted.

Years ago, I made a similar observation, also partly inspired by the experience of Eastern Catholic liturgy:

The organic integrity of the chanted liturgy. I must say that is attendance at the Eastern Catholic liturgies that helped me understand the concept of “singing the Mass” as opposed to “singing at Mass.” Chant is, I think, the natural language of vocal prayer – not recitation, but chant, even if that chant is nothing more than a sing-song. There was one aspect of this last liturgy that was recited – the prayer before reception of Communion. But that was it.

— 7 —

Get some copies! Spread the word! There will be a Spanish-language edition as well. 

Advent 2016 Daily Devotional

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This is sort of long, and offered, not because it’s fascinating, but because I known many parents are working over these same issues. Here’s how I got to the place where my conscience couldn’t say anything but “yes” to homeschooling at a particular moment in time. Others have different experiences: they never considered anything but homeschooling or the school options were all so very bad, they really had no choice. That’s not my experience – this is, and perhaps it will resonate with someone else’s dilemma.

And I really didn’t need to write this post. Not really. Because yesterday, in a comment, Sally Thomas said it all in the succinct way a poet does:

And largely what motivated us to stop going to school was the feeling that school was largely an annoying middleman that wanted to dictate our schedules for us.

 

But since, I started…..

At some point in the winter of 2012, I made a suggestion, asked a question, wondered aloud.

“What would you think,” I asked the first and fifth grader, “about homeschooling next year?”

They were horrified. Honestly, even though I’d been the one asking the question, so was I.

But there it was. The equation had become unbalanced. It had seemed to be for a while, but now the tilt was undeniable.

It wasn’t that something had to be done. Nothing had to happen. But as life and school kept happening the way it was, it seemed more and more clear to me that something should happen. It was becoming a conscience issue for me.

As I said yesterday, and have written before, I see this formal education thing as an agreement. A deal. It’s no different than any other aspect of life: a job, for example. The question is: what are you willing to put up with in order to receive the benefits? Hardly anyone adores their job a hundred percent, and many can barely stand it, but most of us do what we have to do in order to be support ourselves and our families and make some tiny contribution to …something.

Another way to put it is: How would you like your aggravation served today?

For there will always be aggravation, stress and frustration, today and every day. Sometimes you don’t have a choice about it, but sometimes you do. With the last two kids’ educations, I did have a choice, and that’s the way I had finally settled on working out the question.

How do I want my aggravation?

Do I choose to take it as I deal with an institution’s structures, rules and procedures – the folders, the particulars of supply lists and uniforms, the inadequacy of curricula – or…

…do I choose to take it in the form of having us all together most of the time, of planning, of teaching almost everything myself, of sorting out their learning, of being on 24-hour alert for resources and opportunities?

In other words, do I want to be annoyed about what others aren’t teaching them or do I want to be stressed about what I’m not teaching them? Do I want to be worried about what I feel they’re missing by being at school or do I want to be worried about what they’re missing by staying at home?

What had moved me to this point at which something I had never even considered in over twenty-five years of parenting was suddenly looming as a real possibility?

 

Long-term Dissatisfaction

Before I get going on this, let me make clarify what wasn’t an issue:

  • Concerns about instructional content that outright violated my principles.
  • Learning issues.
  • Concerns about social or cultural context.
  • A preternaturally  gifted kid who needed and wanted ten hours a day to develop his talent

None of that. Nothing odd was being pushed, neither boys experiences learning difficulties, we don’t have figure skaters or genius violinists, and we liked everyone and didn’t feel any need to be set apart. That, by the way, is not a part of my mental framework anyway. I simply mention it because homeschoolers are often accused of want to put kids in a cocoon. My issue was, as you’ll see, actually the opposite. I was concerned that school was narrowing their vision and experience, and I wanted to give them more, not less.

I suppose I should also mention that this was an elementary school issue for me at the time. The boys were in first and fifth grades, and I was not thinking about high school. The question was about the rest of elementary school.

Oh, and a word about other options. Public school isn’t an option , even given my own background – I have just really come to believe that the daily faith formation offered in Catholic elementary education is invaluable for a child. The only classical schools around here, sadly, are those offered by Reformed churches, so that’s not happening. A Catholic Montessori school would be great, too, but there’s none of that around here, either. The one local Catholic school that is not of the parish model, St. Rose Academy, is run by the Nashville Dominicans, might have been an option (and is indeed where my younger son will be going next year), but at the time, as you’ll see, it wasn’t so much which school, but school in general that was the problem, and I didn’t think that making the kids change schools and adapt to a new set of kids and teachers was really the answer to the question hovering over our days.

So, I’ll start with matters that had been festering for a while – the basics are in the previous post, but let me take it in a slightly different direction. Go grab a snack and settle in.

As is the case with many of you, I’m sure, I have never been impressed with contemporary pedagogical fads, movements and materials. So that was always there: A grudging acceptance of the reality of dumbed-down, lowest common denominator materials. Catholic schools that for the most part embraced secular curricula and made not attempt to integrate faith into the entire program. Catholic schools that, if they were not appealing to the lowest common and non-denominational denominator, were running in the opposite direction, anxiously pursuing “blue ribbon” status in order to appeal to upper-middle class striver parents.

Over the years, my kids had experienced many good teachers, but always in the midst of systems that seemed determined to undermine authentic Catholic education by emphasizing the priorities of the Secular Pedagogical Flavor of the Month. I remember once going into one of my kids’ Catholic elementary schools in which for a couple of weeks, they had been all about the rainforest. They had been reading about the rainforest, writing about it, and were super proud of the hallways bedecked as little rainforests in between cinder block walls. So much effort put into the rainforest in a school that could not be bothered to celebrate a single saints’ feast day in a memorable way. But hey, they were a Blue Ribbon School, right?

And then time went on, everyone got older, and my concerns and issues focused and got more specific, nagging me and not letting go.

First, I was just tired. Of all of it. I had been doing elementary education as a parent for twenty-five years. I confess, this did play a part  in the decision. Six different Catholic elementary schools, hundreds of weekly folders and envelopes, thousands of hours spent quizzing, checking planners, interpreting teacher and administrator instructions, running over spelling words, going over the water cycle, looking at one more unit on the rainforest, and oh don’t forget endless fundraisers, one after the other, coming at me in fat envelopes and bleak, empty order forms.

I was 51, my husband had been dead for three years, my parents were dead, my older children were moving on, as they should, and here I was, still checking those freaking weekly folders. Older than most of the teachers and other parents, I was over this routine, tired of their systems and rules and tired of being frustrated by and paying for lame curricula and well-meaning if superficial Catholicity.

Geez, I would think, we could do so much more at home, couldn’t we?

Which of course was then promptly answered.

So. Why don’t you?

Wait. What?

Listen. I was not opposed to homeschooling – for other people. In fact, I admired and stood in awe of homeschoolers.

I didn’t know many in real life, but it did seem to me that everyone I “knew” online professionally homeschooled. I mean – everyone.

So why not us? Well, a few reasons.

  • As I had raised the older kids, it never really occurred to me. It wasn’t a thing among anyone I knew in that stage, and I didn’t meet any serious homeschoolers until we moved to Indiana in 2001. I didn’t think it was crazy or weird, it’s just that it wasn’t a part of the lives of people I knew for a very long time.
  • I didn’t see the need. Up to that point, it seemed as if the balance was still holding. School was school, and while imperfect and not my ideal, it still left space for the rest of life.
  • Finally, even as the possibility seemed more possible, and my conscience spoke more and more insistently, there was just a simple, Are you kidding? I don’t…want to.
  • I’m an introvert. I get my energy from being alone. It takes me about three hours after everyone has gone to bed at night for me to recalibrate and feel like myself. What was going to happen if we were together? All day? Every day? Would I just….go insane?
  • Finally, I was skeptical about how healthy it would be for them to be with me all day. Not that we would be alone, stuck in the house or inactive, I knew. But still. I came from a rather intense , controverted family situation and knew that being homeschooled would have been disastrous for me. Basically, would my kids…go insane?

(Almost done. Be patient)

So there you have all the vague dissatisfaction, the fears, the suspicion that there was a better way, but inability to see the way there. It might have continued, but for some rather specific moments during that 2011-2012 period. Some of these things are going to strike you as silly, and perhaps they are, but taken all together, along with a zillion other small school-related aggravations piled up on a quarter of a century of the same, they were enough:

  • This actually begins a couple of years before, when my older son started at this school. As one would expect, he had spelling words. The first few weeks, he was a spelling ninja, and then his grades started to fall. He was missing more and more on the spelling tests, having assured me during the week that he didn’t need to study, no thanks. Finally, after he almost failed one test, I asked him what was going on. He admitted that he didn’t study the words. Okay, but didn’t he study in class? Doesn’t the teacher go over the words, break them apart and talk about them? Oh no, he said, that’s not the way it works. They give us the words on Monday, and we’re just supposed to study them at home. We never talk about the spelling words in class. And I thought…wait. I’m paying you so I can homeschool my kid in spelling? What?
  • The reading program was horrible. All the parents hated it. For all I know, the teachers hated it, too. I’ll just straight out say that it was Pearson’s Reading Street and it sucked: Boring stories written in flat prose, with, worst of all, impenetrable and ridiculously random comprehension questions. And I thought…we could be reading Treasure Island. Charlotte’s Web. Shakespeare. Poetry.
  • The “special” classes – that is, music, art, computer, foreign language and PE classes – that my children were experiencing were all unfortunately mediocre, rifled with discipline issues and makework. I thought…we could be going to concerts and plays, studying Latin, going on hikes, learning instruments, taking quality art lessons, music…

Mad Men - Peggy Skates, Roger Plays

  • I had various and more or less constant questions about matters of Catholicity and other issues of curriculum including Common Core, which was starting to rear its head with no one batting an eye about it.
  • For a couple of years, one of my son’s classes were quite small. As in, fewer than fifteen children, all capable and motivated, in a class. A perfect opportunity for lots of hands-on learning which did not happen. He’d say, “We talked about plants today.” I’d say, “What plants did you look at and examine?” He’d say, “None. We just looked at diagrams.” And I thought, plants..microscope, kitchen chemistry, botanical garden classes, science center classes, homeschool classes at the zoo….

  • And then finally, two relatively small incidents gave me the final push. First, my older son complained about being bored in class when he got his work done. I said, “You always take a book to read to school. Just read your book.” He said, “We’re not allowed to. If you get your work done early, you have to put your head on your desk and just wait for everyone else to be finished.”
  • A few weeks later, there was a big, school-wide event for which all students spent much time preparing. It was a good event. The theme of this even this particular year was related to Eric Carle. It was late April, as I recall, and I was going through homework with my fifth-grade son. I said, “Social Studies?” And he said, “Oh, we’re done with social studies for the next couple weeks, probably for the year. We’re going to be working on our projects for the program.” Oh, I thought, they’re going to be writing and peer editing and such. Nice!No, he said, they (fifth graders, remember) were going to need the time to CUT OUT TISSUE PAPER CIRCLES FOR THE ERIC CARLE PICTURES.

 

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I was done. That was it. We were out. Nothing personal, but these were my last two kids that I would ever be given the opportunity to raise and form, and if I can give them more than this…I have to.

We have to change this up. And just maybe…we can. 

It was not about rushing them home, slamming the door, and shrinking their world, but about blowing it open, throwing out worksheets and textbooks, getting outside, getting dirty. I was privileged. I didn’t have to work at a job, I had no other family responsibilities, I was healthy and had the means..I had no excuses anymore. What was I doing, sending them off to well-intentioned mediocrity while I sat at home doing a bit of work that really didn’t even need to get done? I’d written over twenty books by then. Who cared if wrote more. I didn’t.

It might not be forever, but they were frustrated and felt as if their time was being wasted. They were hesitant mostly about leaving the social setting, but they would stay connected to all those kids through the parish, scouts, sports and other social outlets, so it wasn’t like they’d never see anyone again. In the end, by that spring, they were ready to try a new way of learning and daily life, that the initial horror gave way to openness to the possibility that this ride might not be too bad, after all. Right?

Right?

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SO!

How’s everyone doing?

Mad Men Gifs

Yeah, me too.

What’s your #Synod2015DrinkofChoice?

Does it contain alcohol?

Then we’re good.

Every morning, I open up The Internets and by way of that road,  The Twitter and The Facebook.

Kind of scary.

Sometimes Roscia or Spadaro hits my feed first.

/smarm

But then sometimes, I hit a Chaput! Or an Aquila! Or some Romanian doctor!

And it’s all good!

But not for long. Because then, damn. They’ll find  way, you know?

Yeah, that happens.

But no matter what, bishops are all like, “Everything is FINE. And if you don’t think it’s FINE, you’ve got issues and …[weird combination of religious indifferentism and faux-pietistic Petrinish blackmail bullshit to serve our current agenda blah blah blah].

And I’m all

And then I’m all like… 

….we’re going down….

Oh, and then do you know what happens?

PEOPLE START TALKING ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT. EVERY DAMN HOUR OF EVERY DAY.

The liberals are all like

Holy Spirit at work y’all!

The conservatives are way different. Because they’re all like, Holy Spirit at work y’all!”

Geniuses.

And then some German bishop pops up, talking about welcoming, right? Because, hey..

By that point it’s mid-afternoon. I need to be homeschooling and cleaning and driving and stuff. But everyone keeps tweeting and I keep thinking about my convert friends who went Roman instead of Anglican or staying in their tight, super-engaged Reformed circle, all because they were taken by unam sanctam Catholicam and believed it. 

I start thinking I want to leave the country. But wait. That won’t help. Catholic Church. Right. But maybe? If it’s a Synodal Listening Church a-birthing? Somewhere?

Okay!

And, as I have wondered daily for months, why is this Synod happening? In a Church in which we are supposed to be environmentally sensitive and in which bishops are supposed to stay close to their flocks, why is there this meeting to which hundreds have exerted many carbon footprints to spend weeks away from the people to whom they’re supposed to minister? And I’m all…why…

Eh. But here we are. People saying, Us? We don’t want to change doctrine!!! Just the pastoral stuff! Super cool! Inclusive of Peripheries! Cause no one ever thought of that before!

Then some more spokesmen and bishops, every one of them about some Narrative or other. Basically, if you are listening and read between the lines, and think for more than 3 seconds about what’s being said, a narrative about how, everything was sort of, well, how shall I say it…wrong from Jesus up to now?

And saying this why?

It's My JOB! Ken Cosgrove Dance #MadMen

Oh well. I’m off. You know where to find me.

Tomorrow: #Synod2015 via Breaking Bad

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So…we watched all three seasons of Granite Flats. 

For those of you who don’t know, Granite Flats is a three-season television drama originally produced by BYUTV, yes LDS. A few months ago, Netflix added it to the queue, I read about it on some blogs and thought, “Huh. Why not?”

And so, the two boys were introduced to the joys and agonies of binge-watching.

Let me say, that if had been up to me, I would have watched a couple of episodes from the first season, checked in with the second season to see matters had improved, then jumped to season 3 to check in with some episodes featuring Christopher Lloyd and/or Parker Posey and then called it a day. (or night.) It wasn’t great.

But as it turned out, the boys got hooked, went berserk at the end of every cliff-hanger episode (which was…every episode), and so I’ve watched the whole durn thing.

More specifically:  Granite Flats  has been described by some as a cross between Mad Men (because it’s set in the early 1960’s) and The X-Files (because it involves espionage and a bit of the paranormal).  Perhaps “they” have a point, but I’m going to say very quickly and firmly right here and now that Granite Flats doesn’t have the quality of either. It’s not horrible, but it doesn’t have the subtlety of great television drama, either. On my scale, Breaking Bad is a 10, Mad Men is a 7, and Granite Flats comes out, therefore, as maybe a 2.5.

YMMV, but in my opinion, while the boys were intrigued (and this is the first show like this they’ve ever watched, btw) and enjoyed it, it didn’t live up to the promise of the premise, the theme, the literary allusions (Shakespeare and Whitman, mostly) or the retro gestalt. 

The gist:

Um, forget that.  It’s too complicated to give a gist.

There are 3 young teens.  One is the son of a widowed single mother VA nurse – widowed because her military husband died. (And you know what that means…..)  The other is the son of the Granite Flats police chief.  The girl is the native Korean adopted daughter of a physician and a chemist, both of whom work for the VA hospital.

These teens are drawn together by weird circumstances and are then inspired to investigate said weird circumstances. The weird circumstances lead to Bigger Things, which involve the CIA, the FBI, the KGB and a bit of the paranormal.

It can be fairly confusing at times.  I think my 14 year old could probably draw you a map of it all, but some parts of it left me befuddled.

As I am wont to do these days…bullet points:

  • If you are looking for a show to hook your kids on that’s pretty much absolutely “clean” – this would be a good candidate.  There’s some tense stuff about marriage here and there, but that’s real.
  • It’s a show produced by an LDS network, so I was watching it with an eye to that.  Religion of the generic Christian kind plays a role in the show, but I have to say, it’s a refreshingly natural role. There’s a young non-denominational Protestant pastor involved, so that give the script opportunities to quote Scripture. The general tone (and I will get back to this in a second) is oriented towards an understanding of life as being *for* something rather than for anything or nothing.  But beyond that, there’s some interesting conversations between the kids about faith.  Madeleine (the adopted girl) is being raised in an atheist home, and so the kids actually talk about that the first season in honest ways. The only almosts-explicitly LDS-type thing I noted was in one of the lasts episodes when a wife said to a husband something like “I’m going to be happy with you the rest of my life here in this world – and the next.”
  • One of the primary writers on the show (who is also the father of one of the child actors and husbands of one of the adult actors) is a very serious Buddhist. Here’s an interview with him. 
  • Speaking of which…the writing is okay.  It’s strongest in the the third season, when Plummer (from the previous bullet point) takes over most of the scripts. Before that, it’s mostly fairly pedestrian and lacking in subtlety.  (I watched episode 4 of Rectify last night after we finished up Granite Flats, and oh, the difference was so, so clear.). As is often the case, the climactic episodes contain the strongest writing.  I confess that the last episode of season 3 of Granite Flats, even though it contained some weirdness, was very strong .
  • Pulling together my last two bullet points, the last episode of the show was well-written and quite affecting, bringing out issues of truth, love and the mystery and worth of each human person in a rather moving way.  It made some of the previous lameness worth it.
  • I was impressed, though, by the nuance given to the theme of patriotism – this was probably the strongest thematic element, and dealt with very well. While the KGB and Soviet Communism are certainly treated as inimical to American values, the question of how America has actually lived up to American values is bandied about with a bit more honesty than I expected. A major character – an FBI operative – is African-American, and the racism he encounters in and out of the agency is a plot point. Even the issue of Americans belonging to the Communist party in an American context isn’t dealt with simplistically – the characters who are are given credible reasons for their membership, including skepticism about the American project from a character whose beloved was a Japanese-American interred in her own country during World War II.
  • The acting varies in quality. I do wonder why it’s such a challenge to find really excellent natural American child actors. That said, the strongest actors included a young person – Charlie Plummer (son of aforementioned writer), who played Tim. There are some sort-of well known names in the cast, including Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride, Christopher Lloyd and most winningly, Parker Posey, who blasts into the third season and grabs all the best lines.  It was fascinating to watch because it shows how a crazy, eccentric character can inspire strong writing.
  • Also…and this amused the boys when I finally put all this together – featured through all three seasons is David Naughton.  I knew that I should know the name and the face was vaguely familiar.  Today, I finally looked him up, and yes..it’s that David Naughton, and hey people, let’s all FEEL SUPER OLD.

naughton

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  • Finally: There’s a bit of controversy about the show right now – BYUTV had produced three seasons – the first two shown, with the third scheduled to be broadcast this fall.  Netflix picked up all three seasons this past spring and has them all streaming.  Not long after Netflix picked it up, BYUTV announced that it was cancelling the program. There’s a bit of a campaign going on to encourage BYUTV to produce at least a few more episodes to wrap up some lose threads (and the last episode of season three did end with a huge hanging plot point), and some of the actors are on board…so we’ll see….

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(This will be quick)

The show had quite a bit.  Style, 2/3 excellent acting, great humor and did I mention style?

The most powerful, pointed works of art reach both outward and inward.  A character is recognizable as both a symbol of some telling aspect of the world around him and as a human being.

The problem with Don Draper was that, in the end, he was all symbol, and not, as written, recognizable as a real human person.

What did he symbolize?

The modern man’s lack of identity and roots. His willingness to slip in and out of roles with no deep sense of who he is.  The resultant endless search and treatment of other people as non-persons as well.

The endless circle of materialism that we exploit and dig into as we search, search, search.

Interpersonal exploitation and exploiting what one learns in the exploitation so one can dream up ads for crap that no one needs but now thinks they do because they, too, are searching, dreaming, and yearning.

But Mad Men, unlike, say, Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, ultimately, I think fails in this regard (while it succeeded in many other) for two reasons:

First, the absence of any real satirical edge.  I wrote about this before.  Mad Men gives us all these interesting people tossing about occasionally interesting ideas and recognizing certain truths in service of….ads for stuff. And if you look at advertising in the 1960’s, it’s mostly goofy and ridiculous and lame and doesn’t match the pseudo-elevated tone of the creative strivings of the characters.  There were flashes here and there, but the whole series would have been more honest if there had been at least one character who consistently grappled with the moral questions that arise from striving for wealth and using one’s gifts to produce awkward clips that  seek to manipulate consumers into buying things.

Secondly, as I began this post…Don Draper is ultimately not a real person.  And perhaps that is the point? Okay, but again, here’s where irony and satire comes in play.  If the ending had been satirical, I would have bought it with great enthusiasm.  And perhaps it was?  But…I don’t think so.  It’s presented as the completion of a circle of sorts in terms of Draper’s relationship with himself and advertising as an extension of himself.  Fine.  There’s a point to that that is consistent with the entire series.

But. It’s coy and unsatisfying as well because it doesn’t address the fact that Don Draper has failed as a human being. This failureis symbolized most powerfully and even ironically, in terms of the whole series, by the fact that cigarettes, where he made his mark, killed the woman who became his ex-wife because of his lies about his identity and his infidelity. That’s no secret, and yeah, Betty’s still smoking in that last shot, lung cancer or no.

It’s not unrecognized in the episode, either, that failure.  When he tries to give the same “You won’t believe how easy it is to walk away from your child” speech to Anna’s niece as he had given to Peggy, she rejects it out of hand, and in that, he is forced to confront the falsity of his entire life of walking away from his children.

And he does, breaking down into really nothing.

Then he meditates, cut to Coke.

Which, as I said, works on a certain level…when you have had a character development trajectory that has been dosed with a knowing satirical and ironic critical edge all along.  Yup, here we go, we’d be able to say.  One more con.  One more attempt to compensate for your moral failure by creating an advertisement that expresses what you should be bringing to your actual life, but aren’t.

But we haven’t had that edge, testing and teasing Don.  We’ve been immersed in Don’s endless agonizing and victimization of others as a serious human quest for identity and acceptance, and therefore, the resolution should be consistent with that path.

It wasn’t.  The bare facts of it could have been, but structurally, it didn’t work and wasn’t satisfying, not because we “need to know what happens” regarding Don and his kids, for example, just because we’re curious, but because that along with all of Don’s personal problems, was an issue. 

In the end, Weiner couldn’t create a character that held all of this in the right sort of tension, balancing truth about human life and choices with a knowing, ironic look at all we throw out there as a distraction and ultimately fruitless compensation.

But yeah, I’d watch The Campbells of Wichita.  In a heartbeat.

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