Saturday, December 5, 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mom is in Print

Yep, it's official. The publication arrived today, with my chapter entitled " Bringing Language to Life in Second-Year Spanish". It describes what I did with a tutorial class at Sauk-- a group of 5 students who asked me to do the second year class with them. They were great students and we just had a ball in class. They took whatever work I gave them and asked for more. They conjugated verbs in eight tenses and did culture projects and watched Destinos while eating chips and salsa. It was amazing. Writing about what I did, and having it published, was the icing on the cake.

It doesn't make any difference in the real world (where I am teaching high school kids who chew gum and throw erasers and are shocked that there might be more than the present tense in Spanish) but it makes for good reading. And remembering.


Friday, September 25, 2009

better late than never... photos of Spain

Hey, it is good to see some Widdershins activity. I have to admit, spinning in a backwards direction pretty well sums up my activity this fall. Coming back from Spain and landing a new job before even unpacking my suitcase has thrown me into quite the whirlwind.

Here are a few pictures. Spain was beautiful, rich in history and culture. The Plaza Mayor is arguably the most beautiful in all of Spain. The aquaduct, in Segovia, was built by the Romans in the first century and still works. And of course, the view of Salamanca across the old Roman bridge with the twin cathedrals in the background is classic Spain.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jag kommer från Sverige?

Sweden is amazing. The picture is from a weekend trip to Stockholm we took a week or so ago. Today I booked a week long trip to Lapland in December! My highlight will be running a dog sled team to see the Northern Lights :) I also have cheap Ryanair trips to Holland & Germany booked for this fall!

Everything is so laid back here, as far as class goes. It's shaping to be a pretty good semester.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Little Grand Canyon

With a name like that for a park in Illinois I wasn't quite sure what to expect (I was thinking maybe "canyon" would translate to a path between some rock slabs no longer than my kitchen). But I was pleasantly surprised. It was more like a tiny valley between some decent sized hills (for Illinois), but it was really pretty at the bottom. There wasn't much water flowing and you could walk right down the rocks. Unfortunately they were just slippery enough from the rain we had the day before that Caedmon fell down a bunch of times and we never really made it through the end of the "canyon." But in conclusion, though misnomered, it's actually a nice little park.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Catholicism, Americanism, and the Kennedys.

The history of Catholicism in America is, to say the least, a tumultuous one. The first colonists of what would eventually become the United States were the Puritans, religious refugees from England who had been driven out for attacking the Anglican church as overly Catholic in its liturgy and sacraments. Later, widespread immigration to the US from Catholic countries like Ireland, Italy, Poland, and Germany was met with harsh opposition by the Know-Nothing movement. When JFK first ran for President in 1960, he faced widespread fears that he would make the United States a vassal nation of the Vatican. He effectively responded to those fears with the phrase "I do not speak for the Church, and the Church does not speak for me."

In doing so, he bought full admission into the American experiment for the unsure Catholic citizen. For that reason, he and his family are still immensely revered by American Catholics. At Ted Kennedy's funeral, President Obama delivered the eulogy in The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It was not so very long ago that for an American president to appear in a Catholic Church would have been an unspeakable scandal. The victory of the Kennedys in normalizing American Catholicism was so complete that it is a thought that would scarcely even occur to us today. Indeed, if anything, the Catholic Church, with its positions against abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception, has come to represent what America thinks of as "the establishment", rather than something that stands outside of and in opposition to it.

But in opening the gates for Catholics to participate fully in the American way of life, the Kennedys obscured a very real antagonism of traditions between what gave birth to the United States and what has traditionally characterized the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. It is an antagonism that this author, a believing Catholic and a loyal American, thinks we may do well to remember more keenly at times.

The United States was conceived, born, and baptized in the spirit of the Enlightenment. We may very well be, to one degree or another, a "Christian nation", but if so, it is a Christianity very specifically rooted in the kind of individualism that began in the Reformation and matured in Europe's Enlightenment. When we speak of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", we are implicitly assuming that value is something that a man creates for himself. Since man is responsible for his own flourishing, the general assumption that underlies the Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, and the other key texts of the American enterprise is that, insofar as he is not harming others, man should be at liberty to pursue his own happiness as he sees fit. What this creates is what I will term a "legalistic" tradition of thinking about ethical and political life. Morality is seen as a set of rules existing for the purpose of protecting the rights of the individual so that he can go about creating value, and a person is "good" or "bad", insofar as they have an aptitude for following those rules.

As this notion has marched forward on issues such as abortion and same sex marriage, it has come up against an older notion. It is a tradition which is older than the Catholic Church but which is transmitted to modernity through that Church's inheritance, in the Middle Ages, of the Greco-Roman philosophical vocabulary, grafted on to the revealed truths of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. In the pagan expression of this tradition, value is not created by man but rather is discovered by him in the exercise of his own faculties. In the poetic tradition of Homer and Virgil, a man's "goodness" or "badness" is spoken of not in terms of a legalistic set of rules and his respect for them, or lack thereof (e.g: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, or to draw on a modern dispute, the Right to Healthcare) but rather in terms of desirable or undesirable qualities of character which he possesses (Bravery, Strength, Wisdom, etc.) In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church inherited this tradition, and combining it with Christian theology, thought of value not simply as discovered in man, but as designed. This is, in essence, the idea behind divine law: That a human life can be judged good or bad based on standards outside of the individual, or indeed outside of man himself.

Because the watchword of the Catholic tradition was "virtue" rather than "rights", Catholic social teaching tended to favor an organic order rather than a legalistic one. Formal declarations, organized constitutions, and bills of rights are, for obvious reasons, associated with a legalistic vision of political order. The poetic tradition of the Catholic Church was primarily concerned not with upholding legal arrangements but with encouraging a given vision of what the good life of man was. For this reason, it is associated with organic arrangements such as landed aristocracies and monarchies, and a church with earthly, as well as spiritual, powers. In the view of the legalistic tradition, such things constitute unacceptable infringements on the rights of man. Not only would the poetic tradition not consider these concerns in those terms, it would itself raise problems with the legalistic tradition which it cannot consider internally, questions regarding what the good life is for man that cannot be thought of in terms of the exercise or infringement of rights.

In America today, these traditions co-exist in contradiction, usually in an unspoken manner. Thus, when questions come up about, say, healthcare, we often find ourselves speaking with two moral vocabularies. The supporter of universalized healthcare, speaking in the poetic tradition, might argue that we must offer it because man cannot achieve his own flourishing without the goods of his body and health being reasonably attended to. The opponent, speaking in the legalistic tradition, might talk about how universalized healthcare represents an intolerable infringement on the property and rights of the individual.

Prior to the rise of the Kennedy family, it was understood in the American discourse, if in different terms, that the moral tradition which Catholics came from was not the same moral tradition that America's founders came from. This often led to irrational fear and unjust treatment of Catholics; as someone interested in American Catholic history, I am familiar with the stories.

But when the Kennedys brought American Catholics fully inside the American project, they also obscured the moral debate in America by obscuring the fact that it was a debate not within a single vocabulary, but between two competing vocabularies. American Catholics (and conservative Protestants) can, and should, participate in the American moral discourse. But if they seek to cogently express their positions, they may do well to remember more frequently that when they speak in the voice of the Catholic tradition, they are speaking in the voice of a tradition that is not always identical to, and is oftentimes at odds with, the tradition of the American Revolution.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Junior High Math Sub: alias Mom

Yes, it should have made the headlines. After a 28-year hiatus Mom spent the afternoon subbing in the Rock Falls grade school and enjoyed it very much, thank you. (Believe it or not, most of the students did too.)


1. Watching Cars and Radio (DVDs) did not suit me as the default substitute plan for the day. Teacher's gone, we watch movies! Nothing against those particular movies, but sheesh. Like a good sub I arrived with bag of Other Things To Do...

2. Expectations ain't what they used to be. These 6th & 7th graders were (mostly) unable to perform basic sequential math operations such as, Take a Number, Add 18, then multiply by 20 and subtract 333...

3. Junior high boys really stink at the end of the day.

Cheers. And send those cool math tricks my way!