Tag Archives: education

Literature Teaches Us What It Means to Be Human (Review of Laura M. Berquist)

Forgive me for geeking out a little bit here. I studied English and education in college, and I used to be an English teacher, so it’s safe to say that I like reading. In particular, I like stories.

For my writing at ATX Catholic and for much of my pleasure reading, I cover a lot of religion, personal finance, and productivity. My heart still lies in the pages of a good story, though. I firmly believe that literature teaches us what it means to be human; thus, when we read stories, we turn into better people.

You can imagine my delight to come across the speech “Reading Literature to Reveal Reality,” by Laura M. Berquist, in which she combines some of my favorite things: Jesus, stories, and learning. It’s a long one, so allow me to share some of how her paradigm fits so well with the one I’ve developed over years of education, reading, and life.

books on stairs

Read the rest at ATX Catholic.

This “Mass Confusion” Is Part of Learning

I hear time and time again how the new translation of the Mass “seems awkward to me,” “doesn’t make sense to the people in the pews [commentators assume, because every person thinks alike],” or “is too much like Latin, which people don’t speak.” This egocentrism is astounding. Yes, the Mass is the Church’s highest form of prayer, so it should be accessible to most ordinary people. That does not mean that something that seems uncomfortable to you should be changed to suit your demands.

Learning is not always easy. I remember that fateful day in my seventh-grade pre-algebra class when I found out my teachers had been lying to me all along: you could subtract 3 from 2. Welcome to negative numbers. I maintain that there is a difference between “you’ll learn that (how to subtract 3 from 2) when you’re older” and “you can’t do that.” It took some time to wrap my head around an entirely new way to see numbers, but I managed to do it. Even though I never liked math, I was always fairly good at it because I learned how to do what I was taught. When something didn’t make sense, I knew it was just part of my learning process and that I should keep working at it until it felt comfortable.

Learning the new Mass translation is going to be like learning to do math with negative numbers. Most Catholics don’t remember the process of learning the old responses, but it was just that: a process. They spent a few weeks stumbling through unfamiliar words and phrases until they got it right. I did just that when I went back to church in college. Many more Catholics are familiar with learning new musical settings of the Mass. (Although everyone seems to know the (old) Mass of Creation, no one was born knowing it.) This will take time. The language has been widely available on the Internet for a year for any “person in the pew” to practice. The new prayers of the priest are also available: online for those who like to prep at home and in a free multi-platform app for people who use their smartphones in church.

One of my pet peeves in criticism about the new translation is the ubiquitous focus on certain aspects to the complete omission of others. For example, everyone seems to be up in arms about the phrase “consubstantial with the Father” replacing “one in being with the Father.” What does “consubstantial” mean? There are two ways to look at it. One is arguably more “person in the pew”-friendly: it means “one in being with” because that’s what it replaced. The other is the way I first looked at it. I like language and have two English degrees, so I readily concede that most people don’t approach words the way I do. However, I have taught many a high school student to break down unfamiliar words. “Con-” means “with,” as in “chili con carne” or “connect.” “Substantial” means “of the same substance,” the same basic stuff. Therefore, “consubstantial” means “made of the same stuff.” In essence, “consubstantial” is a more precise word because the Son is “made of the same stuff” as the Father in the same way that I am made of the same “stuff” as my dad. We just share an affinity for Star Trek and a temper trigger instead of sharing the power to forgive sin. “Consubstantial” is a huge issue, but “apostolic” still isn’t? I’m not buying it. It’s just a weak backlash against having to do something new. People don’t like change, so they’re going to complain until it becomes second nature and they wonder why we were content with what was adequate for so long when we could have had the best.

Individual words aside, it seems as though almost no one has noticed or minded that the memorial acclamation “Christ has died” was eliminated from the new translation. Perhaps they didn’t know where it came from, but they don’t seem to mind where it’s gone. That seems like it ought to be a less comfortable shift than single words here or there.

For what it’s worth, I find that some people are clearly stunned by the change (which is their own fault; the news has been heavy on this for months), but most are rolling with it. Having to pay attention is not a bad thing. I was floored when, listening closely as I have for the last month, I realized that the collect from the Fourth Sunday of Advent is the same as the concluding prayer of the Angelus. How did that get mistranslated for so long? That’s the best connection to me, a person in the pews, that I’ve had between my personal devotions and the Mass in a long time.

Learning takes time. Sometimes it is difficult. Without change and learning, we might as well be dead. This awkwardness, too, shall pass.

Selling Lesson Plans

I’m catching up on old NCTE Inbox articles today. Since my computer died two weeks ago, I have had even less opportunity to read email newsletters. When you share a computer (or would have to stay late or come early to school), people are less likely to let you sit and read for long stretches of time.

Today, I read an NYT article from mid-November about the practice of teachers selling lesson plans online. I hadn’t realized there was a controversy. I am a big fan of ReadWriteThink.org, and I use other free lesson plans to support my own all time. Simply basing my discussions off the recommendations in the margins of my teacher’s editions is using someone else’s ideas to help me teach. If I ask my mentor teacher for help, he is giving me ideas. Who would expect me to come up with everything from scratch?

When teachers with classroom experience go to work for education companies (like those who have been selling prepackaged units for ages, or even textbook publishers), it makes sense that they take their experience and lessons along with them. No one expects to pick up a lesson plan or unit and do exactly what it says; something always needs adjusting. The problem seems to be in selling those lessons. If you have used ideas from another teacher or your textbook, that person deserves the credit. But if it’s your idea, and you don’t want to give it away for free, don’t. It’s a simple concept for every other profession: why not teaching?

Books + Video = Bad News

One’s opinions on books and writing evolves when one becomes an English teacher. At least mine have. For example, when I read this NYT article on hybrid books, I was scandalized. Books are meant to stay in their static, text-based format. Part of the charm of a book is that it is portable, requires no electricity, and only sometimes has pictures. I love the narrative nature of movies as much as the next lit specialist, but if a book demanded that I log on to find out what happens, I would honestly return it (and who returns books?). I think that if such texts were designed for online publication, then interspersing videos would be ideal. They came up with that idea already; it’s called hypertext. But please, leave my four-by-six mass-market editions alone.

One of my favorite things about the NCTE Inbox is that it works for me like a selective lit and ed news aggregator. This week, in addition to the aforementioned “book” article, it brought me an essay about teaching writing: another of my primary interests at the moment because I teach sophomore composition. (A stack of essays is waiting to avalanche me in just a few minutes.) The author, a former writing instructor, shares his experiences teaching college students and adults about how to write. These perspectives always interest me because one of the reasons I became a high school teacher was to help create better adult writers. It is a classic teacher fallback to blame previous instructors’ inadequacies and failings for your students’ missing abilities. (You, a tenth-grader, can’t spell? Your third-grade teacher must have sucked.) As a sophomore, I nearly drooled from my dropped jaw when an English major classmate couldn’t punctuate dialogue. (Of course you need quotation marks around things the characters said!) With every grammar lesson I teach, I take one small step toward fighting the disintegration of writing skills that has plagued Generation IM.

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