Something I like about our parish school is that every week the students bring home a folder of all their graded work, so we parents can see how they are doing. We sign off on the papers and send them back to school, so the teachers know we’re in the loop. Here’s my 6th grader’s latest religion test, on the theological and cardinal virtues:
You’ll notice the teacher marked #8 incorrect. The instructions are to match the cardinal virtue to the statement, and #8 is “The virtue that enables people to give respect and obedience to their parents.” The cardinal virtues are prudence (wisdom), justice, temperance (self-control), and fortitude.
Obeying your parents is exactly the kind of thing thrown out as a classic example of the virtue of justice. I use it myself all the time. If I were taking the test, that’s the virtue I would have picked from the list. So the teacher isn’t exactly wrong here in saying “justice” is the correct answer.
The difficulty is that this is my child’s test. And I assure you, my kid is absolutely right. If I had to put up with me, I’d need fortitude for sure.
At The Washington Post: The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues. Reading this article was a moment of revelation for me. Way back when #2 was about seven or so, I can remember walking down to the corner elementary school to play on the playground after hours, and we looked into one of the classrooms. It looked ideal. It practically called her name. There was a wooden play kitchen, and child-sized tables, and loads of art supplies, and of course the wonderful playground just outside the big windows that filled the classroom with natural light. For my little extrovert, this classroom was her people.
And I thought to myself: Maybe I should not be homeschooling this child. Maybe I should send her to school.
Then I came to my senses: This was was the kindergarten classroom. By the time you are seven, it’s rows of desks and standardized tests for you. Not to mention we’d had dealings with one of the neighbor-kindergartners, and so we were acquainted with the long list of “reading words” that five-year-olds at the corner school were somehow expected to memorize and supposedly “read,” at an age when, developmentally, not all children are even capable of learning to read. All four of my kids went on to become fluent, competent readers who read for both pleasure and information, but none of them would have been able to read that list of words at age five. They were physically unable. Since they were at home, instead of being embarrassed by their supposed stupidity, they received the kinds of pre-reading instruction that educational research shows actually helps.
Some of things that help are language-based — read-alouds and rhyming games and stuff like that. Something else that helps kids learn to read is learning about the world. This is important because you can’t make sense of words on a page if you have no idea what those words are referring to. You won’t understand a scene taking place in a grocery store if you’ve never been to a grocery store. You won’t understand a nature scene if you’ve never been out in nature. Playing teaches some important reading skills. It teaches you about the physical world, because you are physically doing stuff. It teaches you about human interactions, because you are creating scenarios and living them out. Playing teaches you to think, because all play requires imagination and initiative and problem-solving.
I’m still a big believer in homeschooling. I agree with Ella Frech’s philosophy of education. For various reasons, though, my kids at the moment like school. As a homeschooler I always involved my kids in decisions about their education. I’d propose some possibilities for the year ahead, and the kids would give me feedback on what they wanted to learn or which approach they preferred of the choices I put on the table. I was open to suggestions if they had ideas different than what I was planning. When I held firm on a curriculum choice, I had solid reasons that I could explain to everyone, kids and spouse alike, and they could see why that particular choice was the one we needed to pursue.
So each of the kids, at various points and for various reasons, deciding to go to school has been a natural extension of that philosophy: If I was open to you choosing a different science book, why would I not also be open to you choosing a different science teacher?
The WaPo article, though, underscores for me why the youngest any child of mine has gone to school was fifth grade — and at that point, she happened to choose our local parish school where the early-grades teachers seem to have a pretty strong grasp of what early-grades learners need. When you are little, you needs hands-on and interactive experiences. Homeschooling let us do that. Inasmuch as I’m happy with the school decisions we have in place right now, it is because the schools are, in their various ways, providing the bigger-kid versions of that for our children.
Allow me to tell you a story about this woman who foolishly volunteered to help at church, and wild monkeys came and pelted all the splash bombs at each other.
One of my kids is in classes once a week at St. Optimist’s, and a couple weeks into the new school year the director identifies a problem: Students are dropped off at class early (a good thing), and therefore teachers are having a hard time getting their classrooms set up in the half-hour before the program begins. Due to assorted logistical constraints, it is not possible to set up earlier.
The director assess the situation, looks at our available resources, and proposes: Since we have an empty classroom and a number of background-checked, fully-trained classroom assistants who are free during that crucial half-hour, how about all the kids who arrive early report to the spare room, where volunteers can do music with the kids.
“Music with the kids” is a time-honored way of occupying children during downtime, and the parents are all in favor of extra minutes of music education. Somehow I am that music person.
–> Mostly likely because I am foolish enough to think: I have long years of experience with keeping children occupied and educated. I have written my own VBS program from scratch and pulled it off (with the help of a good team), including the part about music-with-kids. I wrote the lyrics to a VBS song and made up hand motions and everything. I can totally do this. Not a problem.
So I say to myself: Some people complain that Mrs. Fitz can be a little dry when she teaches. These children are about to go into ninety minutes of class time, some of them are quite young, and we don’t want to push their sitting-still skills too far. Also, Mrs. Fitz isn’t exactly a trained musician, to put it politely. But she has written a VBS program before. Mrs. Fitz is usually pretty popular when she thinks up games for the kids, indeed she keeps both Wiffle balls (red and blue for sorting by team) and a bag of splash bombs on hand, because you never know when you’ll need them.
This could be why Mrs. Fitz’s classes get a little carried away sometimes. <<– That reality was not something I was thinking about when I wrote up plans for the first go-round. Indeed we could describe the first attempt at planning the “Music Games” half-hour as “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
It was not a good idea.
It may well have been my most spectacular teaching failure ever.
Setting aside all the minor infractions against good classroom management skills that did not help: The game thing just wasn’t a good idea.
About half the children were enthusiastic about games and eager to do interesting activities oriented towards developing an awareness of rhythm, tempo, and communication skills (like paying attention to what your singing partners are doing). The other half of the children were clearly hard-wired to receive the sensory input of “there is a foam ball in my hand” and immediately activate the DODGE BALL IS ON centers of the brain.
No one got hurt, and that’s about the only positive to report on the post-incident review.
I felt compelled to speak to the other volunteers afterwards and say: “It is very important that you know that I know that our class this morning was an absolute disaster.” –> There are few things more painful than having to return in a week to “co-teach” with someone who thinks that Lord of Flies, Foam Dodge Ball Edition is a desirable classroom experience.
None of the other parents immediately quit the program and moved dioceses, so the frank apology maybe kinda worked.
But of course I didn’t get fired either, which meant that I had to come back a week later with a much better plan.
The new plan had three prongs to it:
Plan ahead to prevent those minor infractions (of mine) against good classroom management skills.
Plan ahead to be ready for the wild monkeys and know what you are going to do when they enter the room formerly known as Dodge Ball Free-For-All and are tempted to act up again.
Ditch the games and go with a super-calm approach to music time instead.
We can always re-introduce games another time.
And it worked. Some of those kids who were primed for Total Nerf War made superb music students when I gave them a format that didn’t involve anything remotely resembling PE class. Teachers reported that the kids arrived to class calmer than they’d been all month, and overall behavior the rest of the morning was better as a result.
No, I am not making it up when I say at the outset of my book Classroom Management for Catechists that yes, in fact I’m horrible at this stuff. It was a madhouse. Total insanity.
That’s pretty embarrassing, but the following week I proved my other assertion: You don’t have to be naturally good at classroom management in order to learn how to teach well. It’s a skill. You can learn it, and you can review and improve as-needed over time.
I also maintain that there’s a time and place for every kind of class. Some groups of kids do really well with active, even boisterous, learning activities, and some kids do phenomenally well with the exact opposite. What are you, omniscient? I’m not. If you plan wrong, change your plans until you get them right.
Ordering notes if you are so inclined: For bulk orders, phone or e-mail Liguori and find out what the best deal is. It may be worth while to combine orders with a neighboring parish in order to get a volume discount. There’s also a Spanish edition, Manual del manejo de clase para catequistas. The book is useful for anyone who has to manage groups of children. You can read my summary of what it’s about over at my books page.
A friend shared this fundraiser for yet another young person wishing to pursue a religious vocation, but student loan debt stands in the way. I don’t discourage you from helping. Meanwhile, the problem looms very personally for us.
The other morning, Fr. Gonzo and I were chatting about this and that, the subject of Mr. Boy (now a senior in high school) came up, and Father suggested, “Look into Reputable Faithful Catholic U. I think it might be a good fit for him.”
I was a little taken aback, mostly because I’m too deep inside Catholic circles, so I know some of the dirt on RFCU. But of course, Fr. G. is no less ignorant, he gets around too. The question on further reflection isn’t whether this or that school has problems (it’s a fallen world, they all will), but whether the education and formation are suited to the student at hand. I resolved to give RFCU a good look.
And then I remembered the part about the loans. If the boy goes to an in-state public college, he can get through debt-free. That’s basically a four year walk through Heathens Are Us, but not entirely so. It’s possible to cobble together a decent education if you pick your way carefully.
The boy is smart. He could get accepted at a good Catholic school. He’d have a lot to offer the school, and the school would (if well-chosen) have a lot to offer him, but also there would be debt involved. Un-subsidized tuition plus housing costs will do that to you, even after you knock off the usual discounts for pretty-good-but-not-perfect students who ask for aid.
A little debt if he goes on to be an IT guy (his planned profession) is manageable. If he goes on to be an IT guy, a good solid Catholic education will be well worth the investment. The difficulty is that students who start out with nice secular career plans don’t necessarily end there, witness the fundraiser above. A kid with a religious vocation, if he can be counted on to answer it, would do better to stay out of debt and also live in the wider world a bit — there will be plenty of time for the Catholic enclave later.
So anyhow, all that to say: I don’t know much, just that I hate student loans, and I hate that the standard model for good Catholic education seems to require them.
Photo by Jebulon (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons. Back when universities were first invented, this vocation question wasn’t really a problem. But of course the students still behaved terribly and people complained. I think higher ed is just something we all want to always complain about.
Something fun if you are in striking distance of South Carolina (you don’t need to be in-diocese to participate): My friend Carol Pelster, who is a tremendous pleasure to work with, is organizing a SC Catholic Quiz Bowl to be held in Columbia, SC in early November. Her daughter Veronica writes:
My mom and I are happy to announce a date for the first annual Catholic Quiz Bowl of South Carolina! The date is Saturday, November 11 at 1 pm at Our Lady of the Hills.
What is a Catholic Quiz Bowl? This idea comes from our experience participating in the RC (Roman Catholic) Challenge in Oregon. This is a jeopardy style game for 5th through 12th graders with questions pertaining to the Catholic Faith, the Bible, the Saints, the Liturgy, etc. My siblings and I all thoroughly enjoyed this friendly competition and benefited immensely from this motivation to study our Faith. As a seminarian in Nebraska my brother started something similar there. Now, we are hoping to spread it to the South East!
What do we need to make this happen? What we need most is volunteers for the day of the game. Volunteers will ask the questions, keep score, time the games, and be door monitors. The more volunteers we have the smoother this will go. If you would like to volunteer please let my mom or me know. . . .
How does the game work? Players will be on teams of 3 to 4 players. Two teams will play against each other with the moderator asking the questions. There will be two types of questions: toss up, which anyone can answer, and bonus questions. For bonus questions the team members will be able to consult with each other to come up with the answer. Each round will be about 20 minutes. Multiple games will be going on at the same time (hence the need for many volunteers). Winners play off against each other until there is champion. More details and sample questions will be discussed at the planning meeting.
How does your child sign up to participate? My mom is working on a registration form [see below]. However, it is not too early to start talking to your friends and getting teams together. Each team will need a name and 3 to 4 players within the same age range (5th-8th grade or 9th-12th grade). This is not just for homeschoolers [parish groups, etc] –anyone in the appropriate age group is welcome. Also, don’t forget to study!
Please let me know if you are interested in helping or have questions.
A Facebook page and other web presence is in the works, and I’ll update this post when that time comes. Meanwhile, you can share this post with anyone you think would be interested. Remember that your team can be put together with whomever you like — it’s a good activity for youth groups, religious ed classes, or Catholic schools, but you can also just create your own mishmash team. If your parish or family or poker club wants to send multiple teams, that’s super.
How to Prep for the Quiz Bowl
For studying, kids should refer to a good catechism, Bible, Mass Missal, Lives of the Saints, and Church History. For some questions to practice with (though ours will be rather less obscure) you can look at this: http://traditionallearning.com/rcchallenge/.
I would guess (I haven’t seen the question bank, and won’t) that any flash cards or Catholic trivia games you happen to own would be good for practicing. Also brush up on your go-to lists (12 Apostles? 10 Commandments? Gifts of the Holy Spirit?), and so forth — the appendices of most religious ed textbooks contain good starting points.
Good luck, and get your entry forms in early so you don’t have to pay the late registration fee.
PSA because the question came up today: If you want a good readable saint book, you won’t go wrong with Pauline Media’s “Encounter the Saints” series. They are written for about 5th – 6th grade, but I thoroughly enjoy them and find them edifying for myself. It takes about an hour for an adult left alone to read one book in silence. There’s usually a glossary at the back for any Catholic vocabulary words that you might not know.
I am unclear on why I only own about a dozen of these. Need to rectify that.
This time a year ago, my littlest homeschooler asked if she could go to St. Urban’s, the elementary school that serves several parishes in the region. We knew some of the families at the school and liked what we saw. She had made friends with girls her age at parish events. It was not an agonizing decision, because we had already been considering the move for about a year. We did a little more research and decided this was the time.
Our experience so far has been nothing but positive. Since this is Catholic Schools Week, let me share a few of the reasons we love our school.
Everyone is kind and friendly.
When I was researching the school, I spoke to a friend who had volunteered there and at a number of other elementary schools in the region. She said to me: “I can honestly say that St. Urban’s is what a Christian school should be.”
The administration actively works to promote kindness and encouragement among the students. Recently on the drive into town my daughter told me she had to write a persuasive paper, and she had chosen the topic ofwhether there ought to be school uniforms. She asked my opinion, and I gave her the long list of reasons mothers love uniforms (thank you, school, for a simple, stain-resistant, affordable set of uniform options). I finished up by adding, “And that way, for example, a mean girl can’t say oh your skirt is so ugly, because she’s wearing the same skirt.”
To which my daughter replied: “Mom. This is St. Urban’s. We don’t have bullies. The worst thing that happened is that Scholastica wanted to play with Benedicta at recess but not Ignatia, and then they all ended up playing together anyway.”
The friendliness is welcoming to me, too. The administration respects my time. The school’s academic reputation isn’t built on sending home young children with mountains of homework every night. We parents aren’t saddled with a bazillion overwhelming volunteer projects and fundraisers. When teachers or staff do ask for parent help, they take into account our varying circumstances.
I know some private schools have a “type” of parent, and if you don’t fit in you’re on the outs. Our school is truly Catholic — truly diverse. Not just in terms of race and national origin (though there is that), but also in terms of the parents’ professions, state in life, personalities, and dare I say it: social class. It’s not a prep school, it’s a parish school.
Our faith as Catholics is 100% supported.
The school Mass is both beautiful and edifying. Prayer is part of the rhythm of the day. There are Bible verses on the walls, a well-delivered religion curriculum, and an enthusiastic attitude towards Catholicism that permeates everything the school does. I don’t know all the teachers very well, but I know that the two teachers who have the most influence on my daughter both exhibit a sincere and profound faith.
Before she went to school, my daughter was homeschooled by me. There are ways the Catholic faith was shared in our homeschool that don’t happen at the parish school, but the reverse is also true. When I came to eat lunch with my daughter, I asked her as we sat down and pulled out lunch bags, “Do we wait for grace?”
“We already said grace in our classroom,” she said. “And also the Angelus.”
The children ate and then talked quietly. The teacher who was serving as lunch monitor complimented the children, as a group, on how her husband had been moved to tears by their beautiful singing that Sunday at Mass. The children swept up and prepared to leave. Before dismissal to recess, everyone stood and faced the massive crucifix in the cafeteria and prayed the second grace, thanksgiving after the meal.
My daughter’s teachers know her.
The school is small. There are about fifteen children in each grade (it varies), so that the total school enrollment hovers comfortably within knowable limits. (See here for the theory of Dunbar’s Number, andhere for TheNew Yorker’s explanation of it. I have found this to be true in practice.) My daughter has been with the school less than six months, and already knows the names of all the students except the very youngest. But more important me: Her teachers have time to know her.
When I went to the parent-teacher conference after the first quarter, the 5th grade teacher sat down with me and talked about my daughter. She talked about my daughter’s strengths and weaknesses; what she needed to work on; and how her transition to school was going. To all of it, my only answer was: Yes, you are correct.
I’ve been teaching and rearing this child for ten years, I know her. All these things you describe? That’s my girl. You’ve paid attention, you’ve gotten to see the real her, you obviously care about her. She’s not lost here. There’s a real relationship going on, rooted in both love and quantity-time spent together getting to know one another.
The curriculum is well-chosen.
Between homeschooling and my years of small-format teaching in religious education, chastity education, parenting classes, French, economics, logic, debate, apologetics, can’t remember what else, and maybe a little tutoring here and there . . . I’ve evaluated curriculum. Oh and I wrote a book that has a thing or two to say about how to structure a class.
If nothing else, I know how to see whether a class is working or not, and what is or isn’t successful.
Everything that happens at our parish school makes sense.
Sometimes the book the teacher is using is right off my shelves, sometimes it’s one I’ve never heard of before. But I am still waiting for the day when I see some assignment or activity and can’t figure out what the point is. Everything I’ve seen so far fits with the goal. I can immediately see why the teacher chose a particular activity, and how it fits into the bigger picture. There is no busy-work. Everything converges on a well-built whole.
Sure, I’d heard it was a decent school, but I wasn’t quite expecting it to be this good. I’ll take it.
The school makes the most of its strengths.
One of the mistakes people make about homeschooling is thinking that it’s supposed to be just like school. That approach doesn’t work. Homeschooling isn’t for that. Homeschooling has a dynamic that’s unlike school, and that’s part of the point. If you try to re-create school at home, you’ll be harried and overwhelmed. The trick to homeschooling is to make the most of the distinctive strengths that only homeschooling can offer.
My parish school does that too.
There are ways to teach and learn that can only happen when you’ve got a dozen or so students the same age. There are cooperative projects with other programs nearby that take advantage of St. Urban’s downtown location. Even the way the classes are organized teacher-by-teacher makes sense developmentally — at least in the upper grades, which is what I’ve seen, the right teacher is assigned to each grade and specialty subject.
My daughter loves it there.
No school can be everything to everybody. My daughter thrives on structure, gentle but firm discipline, clearly stated learning objectives, and frequent feedback via formal assessments. Any time a child changes school systems there’s an adjustment period. She didn’t arrive at school having mastered The Way Things Are Done Here. Her teachers brought her up to speed through a steady combination of clear correction and enthusiastic encouragement.
She’s a normal kid. Left to her own devices, she’d gladly sit around watching sitcoms and eating endless bowls of ice cream. There’s a time and place for leisurely pleasures, but what she gets at St. Urban’s — the reason she’s excited to go to school every day — is the profound happiness that comes from having her genuine needs met so well. Her need for love, her need for guidance, her need for growth: Everyone at the school works together to do their part in meeting those needs.
Addendum: About that award she got.
Some people from the parish who read this blog might be thinking You’re just all rosy in the afterglow of your kid getting an award after Mass this morning. Truth? It’s the other way around. I started writing this post in my head months ago, and sat on it because I kept waiting for the inevitable bad day to show up so I wouldn’t be all honeymoon-googly-eyes. I started writing this post on my PC earlier this week, but it’s been coming along slowly because my primary vocation keeps getting in the way.
And thus before I could finish writing, first semester Awards Day came around. You know what happened? They quick gave out certificates to the honor roll kids, and then moved on to the big event.
What’s the big event? Grade by grade, each teacher gave a short talk about two students in her class who merited particular distinction. One student was lauded for attitude, effort, and improvement academically — not for grades earned, but for the student’s perseverance and diligence regardless of academic difficulties. The other honored student was praised, in descriptive detail, for kindness, integrity, piety, generosity — all the virtues that aren’t about being Number One, and are about being more like Jesus Christ.
St. Nicholas 2015 was more festive, but this year, thanks to the wonders of iBreviary, a poor spiritual life, and my top most annoying-to-other-parents parenting habit, we just scraped out an observance of the feast.
What happened is that late last night I finally unearthed my long-interred blogging computer. Things have been good here. I took about two weeks to get over a cold, then a third week to pounce on the opportunity to turn my bed into a work table while the SuperHusband was in Canada for three nights on business, and forsook a return to blogging in order to sort and purge the wall of backlogged paper files that had been looming over me for about a year. Now, finally, the layer of dust on the screen of my tablet has trails of finger-marks where I returned to the internet last night, briefly, and am trying again today.
How to make me have a crush on you like I’ve got a crush on Ronald Knox:Announce that you’re hosting Stations of the Cross during Advent! Yes, friends, I’m living in the wonderland. Mind you I have not actually attended Stations at my parish this Advent, because the timing hasn’t worked out yet, but I can be all happy and joyous that other people are having their spiritual lives put in proper order, anyway.
Me? My 1st Week of Advent gift was showing up to Adoration for a half an hour before fetching the kids from school, and sitting there in the pew when guess who walks in? My own kid. The whole fifth grade, not just my kid, but my kid’s the one I was particularly pleased to see. How to make me have a crush on your parish school?Random acts of Eucharistic Adoration, thanks.
So that was last week. This week, the gift iBreviary gives to good little children with bad parents: Time Zone Problems. If you check my sidebar on this blog (click through if you are reading this from e-mail or a feed-reader), the iBreviary widget will take you to today’s readings. Except that iBreviary is from Italy, so today means What Italian people are experiencing. And thus, late in the evening in North America on December 5th, what you see is the feast of St. Nicholas of Bari.
Ack! A celebration!
So I quick summon children and remind them to put out their shoes, then wrack my brain trying to think up some festive item already on hand that I can stick in those shoes to mark the feast. Fortunately, the SuperHusband has had a bucket of biscotti from Costco stashed in a secret location. Italian-American is our theme for this year.
But sadly, no, it’s not that simple.
Naturally, I completely forgot to put the biscotti in the shoes. Thus it was a cold, dark, wet, barren St. Nicholas waking for us.
So let’s talk about lying.
People hate this. I mean, they can’t stand it. It makes heads spin. But here’s what we do at our house: We let our kids know how the world works.
I know! Thus over time they learn all kinds of adult secrets, like where babies come from, and that there’s a moment in the mandatory confirmation retreat when you open a heart-warming letter from your parents, and also that Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are all games of pretend.
Is our home life thus devoid of all magic? By no means.
The real world is far more, dare I say it, amazing than some cheap sleight-of-hand holiday trick.
If you tell your kids Santa is real, whatever. Not my problem (I’m not going to tell your kid that, but you can). So be it. To me, orchestrating such moments of artifice is a pale and pathetic imitation of the beauty of faith in the real world, where real miracles, both natural and supernatural, happen all the time.
I don’t object to figurines of Santa at the Nativity; but today (December 6th) in particular, and every day more generally, we get St. Nicholas adoring Christ, for real, at the Holy Mass.
Is that too abstract for children? By no means. Children know very well that what something looks like is different than what it is. They know that there is real supernatural power in this world. The game of Santa or St. Nicholas is, if you let your children play the game rather than hogging it for yourself, like a game of house or soldiers or any other dress-up: We’re children playing at real things, trying them out.
The game is marvelously fun, even when you nearly forget it, twice.
If your children are in on the game, the wonder of it no longer depends on falliable you. It now can rest on its own power, and wreak its real marvels even when you yourself are a few marvels short of a shooting match.
Thus, today, as I was rushing out the door at 7:10 to quick drive a teenager to school before coming back for the 5th grader, said 5th grader noticed the shoes were still empty.
Oops. Time is tight, but the feast is only once a year. “Run back to your room, quick, so St. Nicholas can come.”
I grabbed a stool, she went and hid in her room for a minute, and I found St. Nick’s stash of biscotti and quick doled it out, one-per-shoe.Magic accomplished.
So here’s a weird story that was a wake-up call for me:
I was getting the high school kids signed up for youth group, and one of the forms was a bit of information from the parents — contact info, are you available to chaperone, does your kid have dangerous food allergies, etc. Necessary stuff. Now right after the parent email and phone number lines was:
Preferred method(s) of contact: ____________________________________
Because I am a bad person, I answered the question honestly.
Preferred method of contact: In person.
Now allow me to say right now that I don’t actually expect our youth ministers to personally hunt down me and every other parent of a student in the program just to let us each know that they need someone to bring plastic cups this week, thanks. I do live a little bit in this century. (And I solemnly promise to clarify that on the form before I turn it in tonight.)
But this lapse of mine got me thinking. Why was my writing that answer such a radically crazy, even potentially offensive or alarming thing to do?
Let’s review the facts:
The youth ministers and our family attend the same parish. We’re part of the same Christian community. (We even show up at the same Mass most Sundays — which defies the odds, but we’re lucky that way.)
The youth ministers are taking on the task of mentoring our children through their final years of Catholic youth. Next stop is full-fledged adulthood.
These are the years when kids make tremendous decisions about their vocations, their relationships, and even whether they’ll continue practicing the faith.
For the next few years, it’s quite likely that after my husband and myself, the kids’ youth ministers will be the other set of practicing Catholics with whom my children have the most frequent and most significant contact on a regular basis.
This is a big deal.
What youth ministers do — their role in the work of the Church — is huge.
But our concept of communal life in the Church has become so watered down that I feel brazen for even suggesting that such significant persons in our children’s lives should speak to my husband and me in-the-flesh as an ordinary, habitual mode of communication.
We’re used to this. In my years as a catechist in a traditional religious ed program, I typically met my students’ parents one- to -three years after the school year ended. (Format: I’d run into the kid at a parish event and ask, “So are these your parents?” and that’s how we’d finally meet.)
Once I had the chilling-but-fortunate experience of being in the room while a parent explained to the DRE about a problem in my religious ed class the previous year. [Sadly: A problem I could have fixed if I’d known about it, but it was the sort of thing you can only know if the parent or student tells you.] The reason the mother felt so comfortable laying out her problem right there in front of me is that she had no idea I had been her child’s teacher.
Not knowing people is the norm in parish life.
This is wrong.
There are many causes of this problem and only one complicated, difficult solution: We Catholics need to spend more time living with each other.
That’s all I know for now. If our youth ministers hadn’t posed that foolish question, I probably wouldn’t have even thought about it, I’m so used to living with this problem, and so used to treating it like normal life. But at least now I’m more deeply informed of what’s not happening, and can start looking for ways to change my tiny part in all this.
In places NOT to look: Front Porch Republic, which I subscribe to but very rarely read, because publishing just a snippet for the feed reader is a very effective way to discourage me from reading your work, recently ran a piece about liturgy and limericks. The idea was spot on, unfortunately the chosen limericks were dreadfully lewd. Really? Was that necessary? No it was not.
To which end, perhaps not the most incisive wit, but making the same point as the FPR piece:
The rabbit who traveled by plane
said, “Security can be such a pain.
They opened my baggage,
and out fell my cabbage,
and I had to re-pack it again.”
The point FPR was making? A good genre, delightful in its context, is not necessarily the right genre for the holy liturgy. And another example, same rabbit theme, we have quite the collection growing*:
To my door came a poor little bunny,
who needed to earn some money,
“I’ll cut your grass for a dime,
one bite at a time–“
But in the end, the lawn looked quite funny.
See? Perfectly moral, g-rated limericks. It can be done. And the argument FPR wants to make is stronger when you acknowledge the genre isn’t used soley for smut. Show tunes are wrong at Mass not because Hollywood’s a den of sin, or because the cabaret / jazz / pop sound is always and everywhere associated with immorality. It’s because these types of music are about something else — something that can be beautiful and true and good and inspiring — but it’s something other than the worship of God.
And thus a final contribution for today:
On the feast of Teresa of Calcutta,
this pundit is likely to mutter,
“You’re housed and you’re fed,
but your brain is half dead,
’till you rescue your wit from the gutter.”
Happy Feast Day. Straighten up and fly right, FPR.
*The limerick fest began because, to my genuine shock and surprise, no irony there, my teenage boy does not love his poetry course for literature. I was stunned. A teenager? Not like poetry? Really? It’s all about love, death and self-centered dramatizing . . . that should be just the thing! Certainly was for me at that age. SuperHusband wisely suggested we begin with something a little lighter. And thus I succeeded, not in converting my skeptical teen, but in launching a festival of animal-themed verse among the the two youngest.
I’ll take my victories where I can.
Meanwhile, any poetry recommendations for less-romantic, very modern boys, who mostly read Dr. Boli?