Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ category

Choosing a Catholic College, Part II: Conclusions

September 24, 2011

I was originally going to write three posts about The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, but I think anything important can really be said in just two.  And I’m just to lazy to write a third.

My biggest concern about many of these colleges would be the possible lack of diversity.  From personal experience, when I went to college was the first time I was ever really challenged in my faith and forced to think about what the Catholic Church teaches and why.  This is because after 12 years in Catholic schools and a life that revolved heavily around my parish community I was now interacting on a regular basis with non-Catholics who had been taught a lot of incorrect information about the Catholic Church (as opposed to many luke-warm Catholics who had not been taught a lot of correct information about the Catholic Church).  I think if you spend your whole life all of the way through college in a Catholic bubble of like-minded people then hitting the real world after college with co-workers who are not like-minded could be a real shock to the system.  Then again there is not a lot of diversity of thought allowed in many college classrooms today unless you count the various degrees of liberalism as diverse.

On the flip side, no one could accuse my kids of living in a Catholic bubble.  Most of the families they interact with are not Catholic or not practicing Catholic.  I am not saying this is a bad thing, and in early childhood it’s probably not a big deal.  But as they enter adolescence they will probably be tempted more by friends who may not share the values my kids are being raised with.  I could see where attending a Catholic college could make kids raised like mine feel less spiritually isolated and offer the opportunity to be immersed in a like-minded culture that would bolster them in their faith as they enter adulthood.

I still don’t think I would push my kids to go to a Catholic college too much, but it might be worth having them look through The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.  Even though none of the recommended colleges are within a one-state radius of Illinois, a requirement for any college to which my children apply, I think reading through the book could offer lots of food for thought in their college selection process.  For instance, I could see us discussing the merits of small and large colleges, what kind of housing situation would be in their best moral interest, carrying their faith into college, and their involvement with the Newman Center on campus wherever they go.  And since we have two or three Catholic universities in our general vicinity I think the book does offer some useful tools for measuring each school’s Catholic identity that would help our over-all evaluation process.  I really don’t know that I would have thought to discuss these things if I hadn’t read this book.  After all, no one discussed them with me before I went to college.



Choosing A Catholic College, Part I: First Impressions

September 20, 2011

I think I was reading an article at the National Catholic Register when I was made aware of the book The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College published by the Cardinal Newman Society.  For some reason I felt an urge to check it out even though I never attended a Catholic college, my kids are still at least six years from starting the college selection process, and I never considered pushing them to choose a Catholic College when the time comes.

When the book was published in 2007, there were 224 colleges and universities in the United States that claimed Catholic affiliation.  Rather than profiling each and every one, the Cardinal Newman Society chose their top 21.  They also felt compelled to do a review of Notre Dame since it is the most famous Catholic university in this country, although it falls way short of the standards held by the Cardinal Newman Society for deciding Catholic authenticity.  The main two standards for the Cardinal Newman Society were each school’s acceptance and application of Ex corde Ecclesiae, written by Pope John Paul II in 1990 and their compliance with the Catholic Church requirement that theology professors at Catholic institutions receive a mandatum acknowledging that they are practicing Catholics in good standing.

Several things struck me as I read through the descriptions of the top 8 out of 21.  First of all they are very small.  The largest had an undergraduate enrollment of 1982 as of 2007.  Three of the colleges had undergraduate enrollment in double digits (55, 72, and 92).  I just could not imagine attending a college that was smaller than my high school, and my high school was fairly small with a little less than 200 students.  I’m sure that it makes for an amazingly close-knit community…as long as you get along well with everyone.

Secondly, there was a large emphasis on the Traditional Latin Mass and even the Novus Ordo in Latin at these schools.  This was combined with strict dress codes that required women to wear skirts or dresses at all times.  These two concepts, prominence of Latin Mass and what is sometimes referred to as sola skirtura for women, are hallmarks of very conservative Catholicism and seen as signs of elitism by the less conservative.  I couldn’t help wondering if the Cardinal Newman Press was biased towards these concepts and gave extra points to these schools or if it was just coincidence that the best rated schools embraced the most conservative ideals.

Now I will say that several of these schools put a large emphasis on Latin in general as part of the academic process, and the Mass in Latin would be an opportunity for more practice with Latin in a practical setting.  I can also appreciate the desire for a strict dress code in order to avoid several modesty issues and lend an air of professionalism to one’s studies, but I don’t think this automatically excludes the use of dress slacks for women.  But the whole point of the book is to give people information about orthodox Catholic colleges so that they can make an informed decision about the options.

Most of the colleges seemed really expensive, but I think I was kind of out-of-touch with just how much college costs.  For one thing it has been (gulp) 12 years since I graduated from college, and I attended on a full scholarship.  The average cost (tuition + room + board) for the top 8 was about $23,000.  This is about $7000 more than the estimated in-state cost at my public alma mater (Western Kentucky University) and $5000 less than the out-of-state tuition.

Probably one of the most interesting sections in each review was the one about housing.  The Catholic colleges that had the best reviews had only single-sex dormitories with little or absolutely no opposite sex visitation.  Part of me rebelled at this idea at the mere thought of such a thing.  After all, I lived in a co-ed dorm with 24-hour visitation all four years that I attended college.  I don’t think my behavior in the dorm was that terrible; most of my bad behavior (excessive drinking and somewhat unchaste behavior) happened off campus.

I can see, though, where these schools are trying to “lead their students not into temptation”.  But I can’t help wondering if the very students who would choose these schools in the first place are really facing as much temptation as your average college student or if the housing policy would be over-kill for those who are probably used to strict dating rules at home.  Then again it does prevent students from seeing college as their chance to throw off parental wisdom in addition to parental authority.

More shocking were those that ban televisions, internet, and/or cell phones in the dorms.  One college in the book said that it didn’t have many extra-curricular activities because the academics were too rigorous to allow time for it.  So, I could kind of see banning television to prevent people wasting time.  I could also kind of see the same thing about banning the internet as well as to help keep pornography at bay.  Since many of the colleges take a Great Books approach, I suppose that the internet wouldn’t be absolutely necessary from a research standpoint.  And I certainly got by without my own personal computer with the internet in my dorm room.

At the same time, though, it seems a little over the top.  I can’t help wondering how much of it is to assist with time management, and how much of it is to disassociate  from the rest of the world and keep these young adults in a Catholic bubble.  First of all these are young adults, and I think these policies kind of treat them like little children.  Secondly, the internet and cell phones are primary methods of communication in this day and age.  By banning both in the dorms, the schools are effectively cutting their students off from their family and friends since cell phone plans are usually much more affordable for long distance than land-lines, and e-mail and Skype are free.

The most shocking thing to me about the book was that Catholic University of America was included in it.  In 1997 and 1998 I visited a friend who was attending Catholic University of America.  My first trip coincided with National Coming Out Day.  My friend was part of a group that handed out stickers and balloons on campus and such in celebration.  I don’t know if they were an officially sanctioned campus group, but I don’t recall anyone trying to stop them.  On my second visit I spent the night in a single-sex mens’ dormitory; the oversight was way less than in the single-sex dorms at my state university.  CUA didn’t really strike me as that much different in culture than my state university other than the number of rich, snobby people.  The one theology class I sat in on didn’t impress me much.  But I admit that I had a small and informal sampling of the university and my own biases coming in.

As the title of this post clearly says, this was kind of my first impressions of the book.  It definitely gave me lots of food for thought, and I have hopeful plans for two more posts about it if I get a chance.

Life Skills for Kids

June 26, 2011

I recently read Life Skills for Kids by Christine Field.  I was looking for inspiration to get the kids to help me more around the house, like maybe a detailed list of age appropriate chores.  While she does offer a two-page rough list of chores by age groups, the inspiration came in a different form than I expected.

In this book Mrs. Field, a homeschooling mom, talks about how much planning we put into our kids education and fun activities yet we just expect them to pick up life skills by osmosis.  I had already planned on using Life Prep for  Homeschooled Teenagers by Barbara Frank to go over financial information (credit, budgeting, mortgages, etc)  with my kids in high school, but I had  not really made a specific game plan to teach each of my kids other life skills like cooking, laundry, cleaning, and home maintenance.

The book breaks down the skill areas into things like Cleaning, Shopping, Life Navigation, Health Habits, and even one for spiritual habits (very Protestant leaning).  Field recommends that you go through each section and put together a specific check list of each skill in each area that a child needs to know in order to someday be a competent adult.  Then she suggests making a binder/book/folder for each child you have with a copy of the check list.  And then as each child becomes competent in each task you can check it off the list.  You can also add pictures, directions, recipes, and scrap booking things to each child’s book.

I am personally not really big on scrapbooking (our family photo albums are almost non-existent), so I scrapped that part of it.  But I did put together a three-page, double-column list of skills that I think are important.  Some I know will be addressed through schoolwork (counting money) or come up naturally in the course of life (brushing teeth).  Others, though, will involve taking the time to teach them (fuses/circuit breakers).  I printed out four copies of my list, labeled one set for each of the girls, hole-punched them, and put them in the back of my home procedure binder (where I keep my cleaning lists, dinner schedules, most-used recipes).

The next thing I did was look through the Zone cleaning lists I had compiled when I started trying to do FlyLady months ago.  I made an asterisk next to every chore on each list that I thought Bailey (8) could already do or was ready to learn.  Then I put a little triangle next to the ones that I thought Piper (5) could already do or was ready to learn.  Eventually Katie (3) and Sabrina (1) will get their own symbols, too.

Now instead of giving each child a list of daily or weekly chores, I decided to just incorporate them into some of my chore time.  I set aside fifteen minutes between breakfast and the start of schoolwork for zone cleaning.  I look at the FlyLady zone of the week, then I turn to my list of chores for that zone, and I assign each of the girls an age-appropriate chore from the list.  For instance, one week’s zone was the kitchen so I had Bailey clean out the microwave and Piper wipe down the cannisters while I scrubbed the stove top.  Since the zones rotate each week, the girls should do a variety of chores through the course of a month.

In addition to the daily zone cleaning they are also required to clean up after themselves more and help with “Room Rescues” throughout the day to keep the kitchen and living room from looking like disaster areas.  I’m trying to have the patience to incorporate them into more cooking, especially when it comes to lunch items.  And if they show an interesting in doing a chore I’ve been trying to step back and let them do it even if it’s not done perfectly.  Bailey was really interested in helping me vacuum last week, so I also showed her how to clean out the dirt cup, wind the electrical cord, and dismantle the under compartment to clean the rotating brush which are all skills listed on her Life Skills checklist.

I figure that every so often I will go through each girls checklist and mark the things that I feel they are capable of doing with no further instruction as well as look for any gaps that need special attention.  I will also need to periodically reassess which zone chores they are capable of trying.  Right now I let Katie (3) help as much as she is willing, but I plan to incorporate her in zone cleaning when she turns five.  Mrs. Field indicates that each child should be capable of most (if not all) of these things by the age of 14.

Now that we have a game plan, I am hopeful that when our kids leave the nest they will have more life skills then I did when I left home.

Rethinking Latin

June 22, 2011

I’ve always kind of been intrigued by Latin.  I think it goes back to when I discovered “Adeste Fideles” in an old music book for an organ my parents had when I was child.  I made my dad tell me how to pronounce the Latin words.  If Latin had been offered at my Catholic high school, I probably would have taken that instead of Spanish.

However, when it comes to homeschooling, I have been turned off by the idea of forcing my kids to learn Latin.  Latin kind of has a stigma in the homeschooling community as being reserved for those who are trying to make their kids geniuses or as a benchmark of “truly orthodox” Catholic homeschoolers.  (“My kids don’t even know the ‘Our Father’ in English, only Latin.  Aren’t we so pious?”)  Now academically I could see the benefits of knowing some Latin and some Greek, since most sciences use quite a bit of both languages and a lot of English is rooted in those languages.  That’s why I plan on using the Vocabulary from Classical Roots series.  (Bailey will start the first book in the Spring 2012.)

Somehow, I can’t really trace how it happened, I found myself looking into Prima Latina, an introductory Latin curriculum.  And the more I looked into it, the more I thought that this would be a good way to introduce Bailey to English grammar via another language.  I remember spending years in school going over verbs, nouns, adjectives, and such wondering why I had to know what the name of each part of speech as long as I knew how to use them correctly.  It really didn’t seem useful until I started studying Spanish and I had to learn how to translate tenses.

So now I am thinking that I will work with Bailey on Prima Latina in fourth grade.  This would serve several purposes.

  1. The curriculum introduces English grammar concepts in a hands-on, immediately purposeful way.
  2. The five Latin vocabulary words in each lesson are good roots for understanding English derivatives.
  3. Each lesson includes a prayer in Latin and offers the opportunity to study Latin used in the Mass, doubling as religious instruction.
  4. The vowel pronunciation of Church Latin seems to be the same as Spanish, offering an introduction for learning Spanish later.
  5. It overall acts as a foreign language preparation program.

I think that after one year of Prima Latina Bailey will be better prepared to begin diagramming in fifth grade as well as starting Spanish.  Right now I really don’t anticipate continuing Latin after the one year, unless Bailey expresses an interest.  But I do think it’s important that the girls understand the importance of Latin, as the official language of the Church.  In the meantime, I bought the Lingua Angelica CD and songbook of Latin prayers and hymns to supplement the basic living of the Catholic liturgical year and for later use with our Latin and religious instruction.

Teaching Styles and Learning Styles

April 6, 2011

When I was in college, there was a professor in my major who used to write the key points of his lecture in outline form on the blackboard while he talked.  Besides being a wonderfully nice guy (he was my academic adviser), he was an excellent teacher in my opinion. I learned so much in his classes (I took everything he taught that I could fit into my schedule).  One semester a friend of mine from another department took one of this professor’s classes to fulfill a humanities course requirement.  We would sometimes study together, especially since he knew that I was familiar with this professor’s testing style.  My friend admitted that he wasn’t really enjoying the class.  I think he found all of the notes on the board distracting.  While I ate up the way this beloved professor taught (audio-visual), my friend who was probably a kinesthetic learner starved.

This was the first time it really hit home to me how different teaching styles and learning styles can be important.  Knowing about teaching styles and learning styles is basic for being a homeschooler.  This doesn’t mean that you have to study each type or take a personality quiz (although there are books for this if you want).  It basically comes down to what makes you and your child comfortable or uncomfortable in the educational process.

For instance, I realized early on that just the thoughts of spontaneity and hands-on learning make me sick to my stomach.  As a result, I plan almost everything and avoid craft and science projects like the plague.  My oldest daughter doesn’t have the focus for abstract auditory learning; she’d rather just do it than hear about how to do it.  To appease her, we don’t go through the abstract explanations in her math text book; we go straight to the workbook.

The other day I was working on my science plans for grades 5-8.  (Yes, I know she is just finishing up 2nd grade, but I told you that I am a compulsive planner!)  We’ll be using The Usborne Encyclopedia of Science as our text, but I was trying to figure out exactly how we are going to use it.  I decided to go through and make a list of important words to define or key concepts for each two-page topical spread.  For instance, on the topic of Teeth (p. 352-353) she should list the “Four Main Types of Teeth”.  I figure that after using the study guides made by me for two years (5th and 6th grade) I would have her take notes for herself from written text in 7th grade.  Besides learning about science, she would also be learning an important school and life skill: discerning key points from the written word.

Then I started thinking about she really needs to be prepared to handle different types of teaching styles that she might come across in college.  The teaching methods might vary a lot from class to class, even with the same professor, depending on the purpose or content of the course.  Some professors have highly organized notes that they write out on the board (or in these days on Power Point) for students to copy.  Others rely heavily on class discussion.  Subjects like music or chemistry usually require more hands-on learning.  And some professors only write down the harder to spell or unique words from their lecture, requiring the ability to discern what information is important from an oral presentation with little visual guidance.

I know that I will have to push myself outside my comfort zone some to offer more hands-one learning experiences, especially when it comes to science.  But it occurs to me that I will need to prepare Bailey especially to handle this last style of teaching that she might encounter in college.  We just don’t do much strict lecture in our homeschool environment.  (The closest thing to it is when we go over history pages twice a week, but my goal for history at this point is just planting mental seeds not memorization of the material.)

Now do I think we need to devote all of our time to this?  No.  I don’t subscribe to the educational theory that people should be repeatedly subjected to unpleasant things just to condition them into numb acceptance of the depressing inevitability of it (pointless repetitive work).  But I believe that you can prepare someone to handle unpleasant things with grace and competency when they arise.

I’ve not yet decided how I want to handle this.  And I really don’t think it would be productive until at least 7th or 8th grade after Bailey has had more experience with note-taking from written sources.  I suspect that a subject will arise that will offer the best opportunity.  This is just something that I wanted to tuck into the back of my mind (or blog, as the case may be) for now.

History (3): The Great Indoctrination Tool

May 6, 2010

A big criticism that I hear thrown at both strict religious observance and homeschooling is that “parents are indoctrinating these poor children with their misguided beliefs.  Thank God for public schools that keep religion, bigotry, and racism out and offer truth and logic.”  Most of these same critics do not realize the hypocrisy of their own statements.

What they are really saying is that they don’t want parents indoctrinating their own children to believe in God, because the critics want to indoctrinate the children to not believe in God.  And most people are completely oblivious to the indoctrination that goes in most schools, public and private.

History classes and textbooks are the greatest tools of indoctrination in the United States.  First of all there are millions of errors in history texts; you can find a sample of those in the wonderful book Lies My Teacher Told Me.  And then every event and person is portrayed in the simplest and most black and white terms.  There is no room for complexity.  Furthermore, history textbooks strive to be so “politically correct” and patriotic that they skew details, so as not to offend.  And of course, the children don’t know that they’re being fed a big carton of bologna.

Erin at bearing blog offered this post about how she was setting up history instruction for next year.  One of the key things that struck me is when she wrote:

It is my job to teach children that reasonable people can and do disagree.  I like to point out the existence of, and the reasons for, a tension between two political ideals, and make sure that the children are able to articulate the basic arguments of both “ends.”

Her family co-schools two days a week with two other families who have different religious backgrounds and sometimes differing political and philosophical ideas.  She goes on to describe how she doesn’t expect the kids to form their own opinions yet, but she wants them to be able to understand both points of view so that down the road they can make an informed conclusion of their own.

This is not something you are going to find in most history textbooks or classes.  Depending on the text and/or the teacher, there will be a right side and a wrong side, a smart side and a stupid side, the moral side and the evil side.  Children are rarely given the whole truth but just the truth that the schools want them to hear; schools act as the Ministry of Truth and history class is their greatest tool of indoctrination.  In the hands of homeschoolers, it can be the greatest tool in teaching children how to think and not just what to think.

History (2): Segregated from Reality

May 3, 2010

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently finished compiling our Medieval history sequence.  While I was working, I had several different thoughts occur to me, including what I think is the purpose of studying history.

As I also mentioned in my previous post, a lot of Medieval history coincides with the history of the Catholic Church.  I realized that we probably don’t really need to set aside time for specific religious instruction next year because my daughter will already be receiving quite a bit just through her history lessons.  Even the three weeks we spend learning about the development of Islam will be important to her theologically as we compare and contrast Muslim and Christian belief.

At the time I was working on the sequence I also happened to be reading The Scarlet Pimpernel, which is set during the French Revolution.  I started thinking about how once we get to high school history this would be a great book for Bailey to read when we study that time period.  Then I started making a mental list of books to suggest in a literature-based curriculum for studying history at that level.

I thought about my experience of history class when I was in high school, and I realized that in a way my school had tried to integrate history and literature by having American history and American literature both done during the Junior year.  But I couldn’t help thinking how much better of a learning experience it would have been if we had read the Declaration of Independence while studying the Revolutionary War in history class rather than just as the next text in the Table of Contents in our literature text book.  Then I started imagining how awesome it would have been if the American history and literature had been integrated into one class with both teachers emphasizing certain aspects.

The university I attended actually offers what they term the “Humanities Semester”.  It is a nine-hour course that fulfills all history and humanities elective requirements within one semester.  It is led by a teaching team of at least three professors from different humanities fields (for instance, history, religious studies, and literature).  Unfortunately, I didn’t take it when I was there.  At the time I was over-flowing with humanities credits, but looking back I really wish that I had taken it just to experience such a unique teaching and learning experience.

This is what I aspire to achieve with my children at home.  Yes, I set aside specific times twice a week to focus on the subject of history.  But I don’t want them to think of history as just some school subject segregated from reality.  When we study history, it will not be an isolated set of facts, but it will meet theology, literature, art, and science.

We’ll be looking through The Rule of St. Benedict, an adapted version of The Canterbury Tales, and some of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  We’ll look at the art works of Michelangelo, Raphael, and the other Ninja Turtles.  We’ll delve into science as we discuss heliocentric theory and the purpose of leap year (which was set to every four years with the development of the Gregorian calendar).

I want my kids to see the connections that I present them, and then possibly be able to make connections of their own between events and attitudes of the past with their lives in the present.  When we segregate the study of history (and other subjects) into their own little isolated pockets of knowledge, as is often done in schools, it becomes harder to make those connections.  That’s why most kids find history as a class and subject so completely tedious.