Posts Tagged ‘ Not Gaming Related ’

Poetry Is Like a Fist

From December 2012 and posted elsewhere:

Years ago, when my children were somewhere roundabout the 1st and 2nd grades instead of the earlier years of high school, I taught 5th through 8th grade English and reading at Resurrection Catholic School out in east Houston. On the weekends during much of the year, the school’s classrooms were used by the church for the religious education of parish children. Supervision of these children on the weekend often appeared a bit lax judging by the mess left in my classroom for me to clean up many Monday mornings.

During one of these Monday morning clean-ups, I found a spiral notebook in one of the desks. Figuring it might belong to one of my 80-or-so students, I opened it up for identifying information. The name inside was a girl’s but not any of the girls enrolled at Resurrection. She was a high school religious education student. The first page in the notebook had a poem written on it. Since I’m nosy, I read the poem, and then turned the page.

More poetry, and more reading, and then on the fourth or fifth page were these words, which I still remember to this day:

“When I close my arms, I feel you not hugging me.”

I can think of no expression of loss more succinct and yet more packed with meaning than these eleven words.

Recently, I shared these words with my students as an example of what good writing can accomplish. There’s an entire story packed into that one sentence. Who is gone? Why are they gone? How long have they been gone? Was the loss the result of a death, a break-up, a divorce? Do these words not reflect the experience of anyone who has ever lost someone they’ve loved?

Not too long ago, one of the people I follow on Google+ was complaining about his daughter’s poetry homework. I understood some of his frustration since he was having to read Maya Angelou, who I am convinced is overrated as a poet. He expressed his opinion that poetry is horrible, and on this point I disagree.

Horrible poetry is horrible. Great poetry — such as what I found on that one page of that misplaced spiral notebook — is something else entirely. Great poetry opens another person’s heart and soul to the reader, and invites the reader to share in the poet’s experiences. Great poetry even demands that the reader do so. As Calvin Hernton explained, poetry can be like a fist beating against my ear.

June 14th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

On Mercy & Charity

From way back in November of 2012:

This month, our focus virtue has been charity. An important precondition of charity is mercy.

Nowadays, in our do-whatever-you-please postmodern world, it seems as if many people have done mercy’s reputation some damage. Too often, mercy is mistaken for either weakness or for letting those who do wrong get away unpunished. Neither of these views is accurate. Mercy is not weakness or coddling, but instead it is the use of strength rightly ordered toward the genuine good of another.

Ancient Christian tradition speaks about works of mercy, dividing these into two categories, the corporal and the spiritual. Among the former are acts such as feeding the hungry; the latter includes my vocation, instructing the ignorant. Notice the first, feeding the hungry, is a common goal of charitable organizations today. Television commercials display wide-eyed, impoverished children while the voice-over asks us for a few dollars a day. We are assured that our charitable contributions will be used to help those children be fed, clothed, housed, et cetera. The organization intends to provoke mercy which in turn compels me to give my money to the cause.

My ability to give that money, to communicate what I’ve learned to others, or to mow a lawn for someone not fit enough to do it himself are all forms of strength. Money, knowledge, and physical health can be powerful, and all three can be used for selfish ends. I could tell my daughter Adrienne that we don’t have the money for violin lessons, and then spend that money on things I want. I can use my knowledge to manipulate others, and once upon a time I was strong enough and fast enough to use my body to intimidate, steal, or harm. Any of these activities would be a use of a strength, but in a disordered manner.

To avoid these and other abuses of my various strengths, I must ensure that my actions are rightly ordered. Mercy assists me in doing this. I recognize the weaknesses of others, such as Adrienne’s lack of an income, and I apply my strength to give the other person what they truly need. Much of the time, this means I do things that are beneficial to the other, such as paying for those violin lessons. Other times, however, mercy demands that I act in ways that may appear punitive. A student who refuses to complete his lessons rejects both my mercy and his own genuine good. If I am to be a responsible teacher, mercy and charity both demand that I devise ways to encourage the student to embrace what is truly in his best interest. Those ways may involve the temporary removal of some privilege, such as recess time, or enlisting the assistance of parental pressure. The student may not perceive these sorts of actions as merciful and charitable, but a failure of perception does not alter reality.

Merciful action is often difficult. It requires time, effort, and self-control to surrender the advantages of my strengths in order to meet the needs of others. The opposites of mercy, cruelty and neglect, do not make these sorts of demands. They are instead the easy way out, which probably goes a long way toward explaining why the world is the way it is.

At the same time, reflection on the nature of mercy and the resulting demands of charity that flow from mercy point the way to a better world. Not that any amount of mercy or charity on my part will make the world perfect or make life fair. As I’ve told my students more than once, life isn’t fair, and it’s never going to be fair, but that’s no excuse for us to not do what we can.

As Calvin Coolidge observed, “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”

June 2nd, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

The Obedience of Faith

Also from September 2012, represented here with a few edits.

In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul of Tarsus writes about “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5, to be specific). In the original Greek, that phrase has the same structure as the English phrase “the city of Houston.” In other words, faith is another name for obedience. Obedience and faith are synonymous.

The theological implications of this synonymous relationship are beyond the scope of this modest blog. I’m not a preacher or a theologian. I’m just a teacher in a small, classical education charter school. Nevertheless, the equivalence between obedience and faith drawn by Paul is instructive.

One of a teacher’s more challenging tasks is keeping a room full of kids on-task, relatively quiet, and exhibiting an acceptable level of politeness. With a score children in a too-small room, each student with his or her own wonderful personality and foibles, this is often easier typed than done. Youthful enthusiasm doesn’t seem to easily tolerate the expectations of public education, which often must seem more like a full-time job than a wonder-filled journey of discovery. My students’ school day runs from about 8:00 a.m. to about 3:15 p.m., Monday through Friday, with about an hour-long break for recess and/or lunch. That’s almost eight hours a day, five days a week, mostly spent in classrooms with the same 19 other people.

Is it any wonder nerves can get a bit frazzled?

In my experience, discipline problems are more prevalent in the earlier weeks of school. I’ve often wondered why, and recently I think I’ve hit on at least part of the answer, which brings us back to the equivalence between obedience and faith. I ask my students to do a variety of things all day long. Many of those things can seem daunting. Write a paragraph about how Latin adjectives and Latin nouns must agree in terms of gender. Sit still and be quiet while I rave about D. H. Lawrence’s use of alliteration. Read the next chapter of Don Quixote. Et cetera.

When a student fails to follow these sorts of instructions, that lack of obedience may indicate a lack of faith. But a lack of faith in what? Well, most likely, the lack of faith is in me as a teacher. If I’ve not earned a student’s trust, it only makes sense that that student may be more inclined to disobey my instructions. The disobedience could also point out that the student lacks faith in his or her own abilities.

If I am to expect obedience from my students (which I do expect), I must earn my students’ faith, their trust. I must respect them while demanding excellence and while encouraging them to demand the same from themselves.

May 16th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

The Blindness of Love?

From September 2012:

Last Friday, 21 September, we had our weekly Socratic discussion. Often, these class discussions are the high point of my week as a teacher. Best of all, the students enjoy them. They get a chance to talk about some important topics in a safe environment where the expectation is that everyone will be listened to and respected. For each discussion, I select a topic relevant in some way to the literature we’ve read that week. Our topic for 21 September was this: “Love is blind.”

This expression has been floating around the English language for a few centuries. Often, I pointed out to my students, expressions take on the appearance of truth after they’ve been used for a long time by a lot of people. Part of what we try to do with classical education is examine ideas that perhaps too often go unquestioned. With this in mind, I asked my students, “What does it mean to say, ‘Love is blind’?”

Hands shot up, and most of my students did a great job abiding by our class rules for discussions: only one person gets to talk at a time, everyone listens to every speaker, we get to speak in the order in which our names enter the queue, et cetera. The students not only offered their individual answers, but also responded to each other. After several minutes (and a few detours chasing off-topic rabbits), a few recurring ideas became evident. Among these ideas, the students reached a consensus that when one is genuinely in love with another person, then one sees good qualities in that person that others might not be aware of.

Next, I posed a hypothetical question to my students: If I went to downtown Houston during lunch hour with two pictures, one of my wife Katrina and one of Scarlett Johansson, and showed the pictures to strangers, who would most people say was the more beautiful? The students admitted (somewhat cautiously perhaps) that most strangers would pick Ms. Johansson.

“But,” I said, “in my opinion my wife is the more beautiful. Mrs. Chance is more beautiful than Scarlett Johansson. Why would I think this?”

More conversation ensued, and the students determined that I’d answer that way because I love my wife, and I see more than just what she looks like. I see my wife’s heart, as one student put it.

“So,” I said, “with all that we’ve said in mind, is it true that love is blind?”

None of the students agreed that the expression was true. Through their own examination of the expression, my students concluded that the opposite is true. They concluded that love isn’t blind, but rather that love sees with better vision.

April 25th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Virtuous Education

From August of 2012, now with some minor edits:

The purpose of a classical education is to teach children those things they need to know and to do in order to be both free and responsible. In the classical tradition, this focuses on the virtues of justice, temperance, courage, and, most importantly, prudence. The Christian tradition, when it adopted and baptized the classical tradition, added the virtues of faith, hope, and, most importantly, charity.

Once upon a time, there was an additional component to the education in virtue, namely the education in manners. Children were expected to learn and demonstrate the correct ways to behave in polite society. At Aristoi Classical Academy, we want to recapture this lost component of education. To help students learn how to behave in polite society, I cannot strongly enough recommend Ron Clark’s humorous, thoughtful The Essential 55.

Among the essential fifty-five is this rule:

“When responding to any adult, you must answer by saying, ‘Yes ma’am,’ or ‘No sir’. Just nodding your head or saying any other form of yes or no is not acceptable.”

I try to model this with my students in my interactions with both them and with adults. Often I’ve encountered people who object to me addressing them as “sir” or “ma’am”. I remember one lady in particular who attended the same church I did at the time. She bristled at being addressed as “ma’am”. I tried to explain to her why I did so. I’m not sure she ever bought into my explanation, but I think those reasons bear repeating here.

I try to address people as “sir” or “ma’am” as a sign of respect. This seems rather obvious, I think. Those two words are verbal clues, so to speak, that I view the person I’m speaking to as worthy of being taken seriously, of being appreciated. It doesn’t matter who the person is: a cashier at a fast food joint, a panhandler at an intersection, a door-to-door salesman, et cetera. Everyone deserves at least this modicum of respect.

“But not everyone,” I’ve heard people respond. “People have to earn respect, after all.”

Well, maybe they do, but there’s more to this rule. “Sir” or “ma’am” aren’t just signs of respect for that other person. They’re also signs of self-respect. I ought to value the quality of my character too much to speak to other people in a disrespectful manner, even if (or especially if) they seem to deserve it.

The trick is communicating this distinction to my students. When I answer a 5th grader with “Yes sir”, it’s not just a sign of respect for that student. It’s a message to others and myself that I am trying to be the kind of person who gives others respect as a matter of habit.

And that’s what a virtue is: a habitual tendency to behave in a manner that is aimed at the good.

April 11th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »