Thor, growth mindset & hope

In school, I’ve been teaching the students about Carol Dweck’s growth mindset: the idea that we actually get smarter and train our brains to do so by facing challenges believing that we will be able to meet them, that we will be able to learn from them and eventually to gain the skills required to succeed and excel.

It helps in math.

Then it started connected with a bunch of other things in my brain:

  1. Thor Ragnarok. He’s a bit meat-headed at times, but Thor literally runs straight at whatever problem he faces, even after the goddess oimagesf death crushes his mighty hammer.  As hard as it is, we grow when, like Thor, we run at problems–believing that we will be able to overcome, even if we aren’t sure exactly how.

Now, this is very difficult advice to take myself, but still. Running away from problems–like Loki–breeds only fear and a smaller world.

2. Growth mindset also reminded me of the Christian virtue of hope. Rather than succumb to defeatism or despair–which I can prone to–we hope in the future. Pope Benedict XVI said, “To have Christian hope is to know about evil and yet to go to go to meet the future with confidence.”

That’s it. Those are my connected dots of the day: Growth mindset, Thor, hope. Funny how truth from different sources overlaps. Truth is truth.

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Author Ridley Pearson Visited St. Thomas More

ridley20pearson20photo20and20book2007132016Better late than never.

Two Fridays ago, we had an author visit St. Thomas More: Mr. Ridley Pearson, NY Times bestselling author, with his new series about Sherlock Holmes growing up and the development of James Moriarty into an evil genius: The Lock and Key series.

Pearson gave a presentation to the older students and signed books; he encouraged them to use their powers of observation like Sherlock Holmes and practice writing with an eye to drafting, rewriting and editing, editing, editing.

A neat connection to me was that Pearson is friends with Stephen King and Dave Barry; the cohort has played in a charity rock band together and represent to me a generation of American writers. Despite me not loving King’s horror work, I admire him very much as a writer and as a person, particularly in his work discipline and as a family man.

During the talk, Mr. Pearson shared about his time in a private school–the one he based the novel’s Baskerville Academy on, and that it was far more strict than Catholic schools and included wearing a tie six days a week–even on Saturdays.

Meeting an author on the job is a pretty big perk, I’d say 😉

Next–I’ll have to finish the book.

 

 

Happy (belated) Feast Day of St. Francis!

I haven’t been posting much. It’s been a busy summer, and I started teaching 5th Grade at St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington. Prepping for each day has been a lot of adjust to. But I do get to teach Religion, so I thought posting shorter posts may be better than not posting at all.

I celebrated the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi October 4 with the students and had the chance to tell them about his inspiring example of giving up his inheritance and living contentedly as a beggar. And we aloud St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun.

Front Cover

I have a lovely, illustrated copy from my mother in law that I brought in to read them, and the students were truly captivated by it.

The Canticle of the Sun celebrates all creation and God’s wonder that Francis sees in prosaic parts of nature that we pass by every day. To St. Francis, a blade of grass was not just something to step on and pass, it was a work of a art, a piece of eternity that made a little telescope out for us to view God’s glory.

I especially love Francis’s sense of kinship with nature as being a fellow creature of God.

Here is the full text, unadapted, of the poem:

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.[3]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canticle_of_the_Sun

Francis finds peace and glory even in death. Nothing was mundane for him; the smallest fragment of life held infinite transcendence. Francis is at home in nature and among others as few of us ever really are, and his poem holds it up for us to glimpse what we long to experience, but rarely do.

Happy (belated) Feast Day of St. Francis! Do you have a favorite saint? 

Learning Latin is like learning English

A latin student of mine asked what it would take to get ready to be ready for AP Latin? And it made me reflect on what it really takes to learn a language and how we learn even our native tongue. I thought I would share my answer and my ponderings.

I think that language is more transformative than we tend to realize. (NB I’m not that great at it, but I’m a little further than my students). Language is part of the building blocks of our mind, how we think, how we live. Words make abstract feelings and experiences communicable. George Orwell was onto something when he wrote 1984 and imagined the government limiting language in order to limit thought.

I told my student that to be ready for AP Latin, you need the latin equivalvent of what it takes to be ready for AP English. Advanced English is more than noun/verb agreement. Reading novels introduces the advanced middle-schooler, for instance, to stylistic language, an expanded vocabulary, building scenes, implications, repeated metaphors and meanings that carry between sentences. To make this linguistic level jump, a student must have the basics of language down, as children do. Children converse with their parents about concrete objects; they listen to songs and watch television in it. The Latin student should likewise have a child’s level of fluency before beginning advanced and abstract and stylistic texts.  Learning Latin is hard because the culture that goes along with it just isn’t around anymore. So we have to make it up through anachronisms such as the video above of a latin professor singing Adele’s Hello.

To get to fluency, the language must become our own, internalized. It isn’t enough to memorize charts of verb conjugations; to learn a language we have to care; it has to be part of us; it has to start to form the shape of our thought. It’s the difference between reading Shakespeare on the page and being confused, and watching it played out well–seeing the words in action, embodied by actors who express their reality and about whose fate we are actually concerned.

I’ve heard it said that it takes a relationship to learn a language, a person that we care about enough to make the jump of total communication in that language. I think this is true. I recommended memorizing text, reading in basic Latin and listening to songs in Latin. Middle schoolers listen to songs in English–it’s one of the cultural, subconscious ways they experience language as tied to art and emotion.

That’s it. The question was interesting to me because it made me reflect on the effort it takes to learn and what it takes for us to rise the levels of linguistic experience in our native tongue and how that corresponds with learning another language.

For me and Latin, even though I’m not that good at it, a large part of why I care is because I am Catholic. I wanted to learn Latin to read theology, to access the history of the Church, to pray in Latin. I have Latin prayers memorized, and I sometimes try to read the Bible in Latin–which was recommended to me by a professor. It’s smart because as Christians, the Gospel stories are so familiar to us, that it’s almost impossible not to understand them even in another language if we can pick out just a few words. Then our brains can  make the jump to piecing together all the meaning connections between the words. It’s a funny sort of experience. I like it, and I’m still not the best language student, but I do want to keep working at it.

Have you learned a foreign language? How long did it take? What strategies helped? If you could learn any language, what would it be and why?

Education: Latin, SAT and Homework

Stressed with the books? Image from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/things-you-should-know-when-studying-for-the-lsat

I’ve haven’t written much here in a while. There are two reasons for that: 1) I’ve taken to tutoring part-time, which is very rewarding and demanding in its own way. So I don’t have quite as much time for blogging. 2) The time I do spend writing has been on other projects, which maybe one day will be ready to show.

I have however, written a few blogs for NovaStarPrep, the tutoring company that I work for. If you’re interested, here are two of them:

How much homework is good?

Per Psychology Today, the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s. Too much homework contributes to overload in high schoolers and disengages students.  But that doesn’t mean we throw out homework entirely; its benefit is the creation and sustainment of discipline, of study habits that produce consistency in skill building. Consistency leads to mastery of subject matter and confidence in the student.

Preparing for the SAT is like training for a marathon

Like a runner training for a marathon, a good coach will assess your strengths and weaknesses, creating a plan and goals which build where you need it and push you to excel where you’re already strong.

Also like a marathon, the athlete’s own dedication matters too. Tutoring is not a super-soldier serum, but it can help you achieve your personal best.

 

Then, there is my defense of Latin, a little essay that I am proud of in its own right. Here is a big excerpt.

Latin: A Ghost Among Us

Today even, Latin provides the names of most of the body parts of anatomy and physiology that medical science relies upon. Cardiologists, heart doctors, for instance, do not take their name from the germanic “herz,” but from the Latin “cors.” “Ology” is further derived from the Greek “to study.” The name of the “respiratory” system comes from the Latin “spire,” which means “to breath.” Ironically, the word “doctor” itself comes from the Latin verb “to teach,” which is why the title overlaps with academic doctors of philosophy (Ph.D.s). The Latin word for doctor was, suitably, “medicus.”

This fascinating article (←Click on link) gives an overview of the development of medical language and how it has been handed down through cultures as one of the few subject matters that has survived societal rises and falls, giving it a unique linguistic inheritance. The Latin names themselves are still useful for medical students and for patients who wish to understand what type of doctor they are seeing when they visit a “podiatrist.”

  1. Latin is the language of the West

The works of past have formed us more than we tend to realize: Virgil, Cicero, Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas.

The names of the ancient writers, emperors and medieval theologians are largely forgotten, but their influence is indelible. Through language, they gave shape to the philosophical, cultural, theological, and literary debates that drove the great conversations of West Civilization, that have filtered down into today. Latin is one of the great languages of our ancestors and the study of it brings access, awareness and awe at the great novel of history, the most recent lines of which we are writing today–but never in a vacuum, always as continuous with all the previous chapters, whether we see it or not.”

Full article — with introduction– here.

So there are some recent musings. More soon–maybe 😉

So–Would you study Latin based on this? Is there still value in language learning for English speakers? Why or why not? 

How much homework is good? Why are high schoolers so stressed?

Did you ever take the SAT? What do you think of its place in college admissions?

Article Round Up I

Well, Happy Thanksgiving! And welcome to a round of articles that I have found thoughtful and worthwhile over the past few months. It’s really things that I want to save for potential future use or citation.  (Note–unlike re-posts of my freelance work, these are not by me).

On Voting’s Significance (I know the time frame is sort of done on this one)

“I don’t plan to tell you how to vote, but I do want to establish a few basic principles:

  1. No well-formed Catholic should feel comfortable with Trump or Clinton;
  2. Thus, voters face a difficult decision this fall;
  3. The Church gives some guidance on this, but this guidance is limited;
  4. You, as a potential voter, have the final decision to make as to who to vote and who to support;  and
  5. Your salvation could well hang in the balance.”

http://shamelesspopery.com/worth-more-than-your-vote/

Why We Can’t Just Get Along— a disagreement, often unseen, on first principles, renders modern/faithful disagreement unsolvable

In Paradise Lost,

“Satan and Adam begin alike from a point of ignorance—they know nothing prior to (the precise word is “before”) the perspective they currently occupy; and the direction each then takes from this acknowledged limitation follows with equal logic or illogic. Adam reasons, since I don’t remember how I got here, I must have been made by someone. Satan reasons, since I don’t know how I got here, I must have made myself, or as we might say today, I must have just emerged from the primeval slime.

In neither case does the conclusion follow necessarily from the observed fact of imperfect knowledge. In both cases something is missing, a first premise, and in both cases reasoning can’t get started until a first premise is put in place. What’s more, since the first premise is what is missing, it cannot be derived from anything in the visible scene; it is what must be imported—on no evidentiary basis whatsoever—so that the visible scene, the things of this world, can acquire the meaning and significance they will now have. There is no opposition here between knowledge by reason and knowledge by faith because Satan and Adam are committed to both simultaneously. Each performs an act of faith—the one in God and the other in materialism—and then each begins to reason in ways dictated by the content of his faith.”

https://www.firstthings.com/article/1996/02/001-why-we-cant-all-just-get-along?utm_source=First+Things+Subscribers&utm_campaign=639cc6d14a-Sunday_Spotlight_Two_Essays_on_Gifts&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28bf775c26-639cc6d14a-180480817

David Brooks on Modern Toughness

“In short, emotional fragility is not only caused by overprotective parenting. It’s also caused by anything that makes it harder for people to find their telos.” (a Greek word meaning “end ” or  “purpose” in moral philosophy).

 

The End of Identity Liberalism

A good diagnosis I think of what went wrong for progressives in the election:

“In recent years, American liberalism has slipped into a type of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.”

So, that’s it, readers. Enjoy and as always, feel free to send any thoughts!

 

3 Principles for Pro-Faith Education (From T&C)

A recent piece of mine from the Truth and Charity Forum, “3 Principles for a Pro-Faith Education in the Modern Age,” in which I reflected on the most basic of basics of what I think kids need to learn in order to grow into thoughtful, curious, decent adults.

Where do they learn about reality? Their heritage? God’s love? In Nature, Art and each other, of course.

To see the elaborations; visit here

“As the social environment becomes more polarized, a need develops for education grounded firmly in the truths about life, its goodness and the human person. Catholic schools go a long way to meeting this need, but the foundations of learning are still worth considering as parents, the first educators of children and also for the sake of continual growth and reform in existing schools.”

Nature:

“The first step is going outside in the natural world, observing plant and animal life as well as geological phenomena, and learning about how it works. This comes innately to small children and adults, I think, and inspires wonder.

natureLater this serves as a foundation for hard sciences and math and also as an introduction to the wonder of God and creation.”

Art:

“Over time, the introduction of culture through poems, songs, prayers and art provides the foundation for all the humanities: literature, philosophy, history, languages etc. I even think that the love of one culture inspires not hatred for others, but curiosity because one has glimpsed the transformative and shaping power of language, beauty and thought.”

Love:

“Love of neighbor is much simpler; it is concern for others as equally worthy of love as we are. And it requires appropriate love of self because if we have no concept of our own lovableness before God despite our woundedness, we will be unable to see the lovableness of others despite their woundedness.”

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/3-principles-for-pro-faith-education-in-the-modern-age/

What did you think of this? What would/did you share with your children? Where did they/do you want them to go to school?

Why A Catholic College is Good for Intellectual Freedom, My essay from the Cardinal Newman Society: Origins of Dissent in Catholic Universities

fr20mitchell20event

Originally published by Catholic Education Daily, an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society

http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/CatholicEducationDaily/DetailsPage/tabid/102/ArticleID/4901/Finding-the-Origins-of-Today%E2%80%99s-Dissent-in-Catholic-Colleges.aspx

“On April 18, students at Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., and at the graduate campus in Alexandria, Va., welcomed a calm and unassuming young priest with closely shaven blond hair to talk about the origins of dissent at U.S. Catholic colleges. The history and the events described during the presentation help to understand the many Catholic identity problems seen on college campuses today…

“The story began in April 1967, a few short years after the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965. Father Charles Curran, a young theology professor at CUA, taught openly that Catholics ought to follow their conscience, even if it differed from the teachings of the Magisterium. Fr. Curran caught special attention because his field was moral theology, and he focused on sexual ethics and contraception.

“The bishops on the board of trustees of CUA tried to quietly oust the nontenured professor by not renewing his contract. Fr. Curran responded by heading straight to the press and followed up by igniting a protest that included both students and faculty. Fr. Mitchell pointed out that Fr. Curran’s protest tapped into widespread resentment among faculty about an overly authoritarian style of leadership from the pre-Vatican II hierarchy, thus adding cultural fuel to the fire.

“Within a legitimately pluralistic society, the faithfulness of a Catholic college strengthens rather than diminishes its ability to make a unique contribution to the intellectual community and the nation at large. Fr. Mitchell argued that a “Catholic” university is no less for being Catholic; rather it is a university in the fullest sense, “dedicated to teaching the truth, seeking to understand rightly the meaning of academic freedom and tolerance for diverse opinions.”

The specific, magisterial methodology for the theological and philosophical disciplines indeed sets Catholic universities apart; it is also what gives them their distinctive character. Authentic theology models a way of investigating truth in a clear manner, albeit different from narrow interpretations of a rationalist scientific method that tend to predominate at secular universities.

The Catholic faith teaches that truth has but one source, that all truth comes from and points back to God. So there is nothing to be lost from different approaches, provided they are honest and reasonable.

The freedom to be truly Catholic is just as American as freedom of religion itself, the first clause of the First Amendment. Being a Catholic university, then, means holding to the fullness of the faith, including loyalty to the Magisterium (which in no way prevents lay people from recognizing real faults in the actions of priests and bishops themselves). There is nothing threatening, unfree or un-American about letting a Catholic university be Catholic. It exists as an expression of the freedom to seek truth in differing ways, essentially an embodiment of pluralism at its best.

 

– See more at: http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/CatholicEducationDaily/DetailsPage/tabid/102/ArticleID/4901/Finding-the-Origins-of-Today%e2%80%99s-Dissent-in-Catholic-Colleges.aspx#sthash.0q1NDXJp.dpuf

Questions: This definitely goes against conventional wisdom. Do you buy it? Can a Catholic College be a good thing for pluralism?

 

Yes, Deep, hidden meaning in books and movies is really there

image

From Prospero's books

I was snot-faced in high school. I loved to sneer at novels in english class and say, “if the meaning is so deep and hidden, maybe it’s not really there. Maybe it’s just a story.”

Well, if myself today could teach a lesson to myself back then, it would be that “yes, it’s really there, and probably more than you think.”

Having written myself a good bit, I know that no one bothers to concoct a whole story and characters and plot points for no reason at all. Whatever conflicts and relationships the author finds compelling and powerful will be the  plot and choices available to the characters. Writing a novel, play or movie is hard work, and no one undertakes it just for the heck of it.

Every choice of clothing, setting, tone, obstacle is selected to have a certain mood in order to create meaning and connection in the reader’s imagination. An author tells a story because he or she deeply believes that it is worth telling. And the things that we think are worth telling others are the most significant facets of reality. Continue reading

Thought of the Day: Cheating = Narcissism + Self-Hatred

Cheating is when we try to take credit for the achievements of another person whether by looking at his or her answers on a test or by scamming taxes or unethical business practices.

I’d like to focus on academic cheating for this thought even though it applies to other scenarios.

I know the urge; we all do.

Cheating seems like it will help us; it promises to deliver the high letter grade that we feel we deserve but without the ability required to earn it on our own. Maybe we don’t have time to study or master the skill; maybe events beyond our circumstances made it impossible for us to study; maybe despite our best efforts, we don’t have the skill level to pull it off and we think that we really, really need the outcome–such as a high GPA in order to get into college.

Here’s the two-fold problem though: 1) narcissism – inappropriate love of self that puts oneself over and above all others in level of importance. Narcissism is what leads to the thought that we somehow deserve the good outcome even though we did not or cannot earn it on our own.

That is a huge problem because it is an affront to justice and truth. It prevents the people who did earn it from having their rightful place. For instance, if Todd (random example) cheats like mad and earns a place in the top 10% of his class, he probably displaced other students who should have been there because they actually performed better.

And as for truth, to receive credit for something we did not do is like replacing the siding on a house filled with termites. It may look nice for a little while, but the home is not truly whole, and it is unfit to live in. Continue reading