Shut up and listen

If you are anything like me (perish the thought!), your prayer time looks something like this:

You’re knelt before your bed, probably tempted to lean over onto your elbows but straighten your lumbar region and flex your core to endure the posture-filled prayer stance that joins you (ever so slightly) with Christ’s cross.  After getting over the minuscule pain, you start off with one spiritual foot into the direction of God’s presence.  You get so giddy that you start showering Him with requests, praise, hymns, maybe even a few curse words if you had a bad day.  In any event, the first part of your prayer is filled with your words… and so is the middle…. and the end….

I got a wonderful idea when I was praying in this way: if I want to be more like God, perhaps I too should shut up and listen.

I took a page out of my Father’s book and, for the past week, have done as little speaking as humanly possible.  While most people looked at me funny because I was abnormally silent in the presence, it turned out to be an epic week.  I learned about their deepest desires, their needs and what makes them genuinely happy.

The best part- I listened as they solved their own problems through their own words.  By talking themselves through it, they became very satisfied with their discoveries and then thanked me (for doing absolutely nothing).

And so it is with prayer.  I think God’s silence speaks more than his words ever could.  That’s why, when I think about the Bible, I think about those written words as great pieces of advice, but there is so much that remains unwritten.  It is like outer space, we know a lot about it, but there is so much more to be discovered.

The only way to discover anything, then, is through silence, His and ours, because seeping through the barrier of words grows the profound roots of Truth.

So shut up every once in a while.  In doing so, you’ll know exactly when you should speak up.

Money “Inhales Wind Violently”

I just finished writing a prolifically short book review in which I stated that I was going to write something fun as a result of reading the book.  I am a man of my word.

Every time I muster up the gusto to review my online banking and watch as my measly earnings fall like plinko chips into the “bills paid” tab, I get frustrated.  Seriously frustrated.  I often ponder what life would have been like had the industrial revolution not happened.  Would I be living?  If so, would I be a farmer, hunter or cattle driver?  Would I be as worried about being financially stable?

I’m sure you’re in the same ideologic boat. But hold on, without the big buildings, boats, trains, planes and automobiles we wouldn’t have Macbook Pros, so the advantages surely outweigh the disadvantages, right?

I digress.

The point I am (failing while) trying to make is this: money sucks.

Father Robert Barron mentioned in his Catholicism Series that the most arbitrary things in life are the ones that matter most.  These trivial actions serve no particular purpose and are done for the sake of themselves which, in return, makes them more important, more meaningful than “justified” undertakings.  Watching a game thus becomes more important than jaunting to the barbershop for a haircut.  Sitting down for lunch with a friend is more important than cleaning the house.  Writing in your blog is more important than working…

You see the dilemma?  Of course you do, you experience it every day.  We would all much rather participate in those meaningless, yet profoundly satisfying activities that we love so much.  What stops us from doing them 24/7?  Money.

We can’t live without money so, we must work.  I won’t spend much more time on this because it depresses me (and you) but we must take into account the great blessing that work is.  God has given it to us for our survival, so that we can complete the meaningless tasks we love so much.  We should appreciate it as a means to prolong our love until we accomplish our missions and can spend eternity alongside Jesus doing them.

Here’s the kicker: we’re stuck here on earth for a while (especially the safely employed).  As long as your job doesn’t involve exposure to toxic materials or strenuous/demanding physical feats of strength, your time to participate in the pointless joys of life are far greater than many starving people in the world who deserve it more than you.  If you own a computer, for example, that purchase took more money than 80% of the people in the world make in an entire year.

I know, money sucks.  But don’t let that hinder your talents.  In fact, we’d be better off living simply and giving our money to those who need it so that they too can stop worrying about their survival and start thinking about their salvation.

You’ve been blessed with work and time to enjoy the pointless jubilations of life.  Take FULL advantage of it and make it your priority to see that others have the same opportunity as you. Otherwise when we arrive at the pearly gates, St. Peter will be like:

*Note, if your name really is “Outcho Mind”, you’re totally in, so no worries.

Fortnight for Religious Freedom

There has never been a better moment in time to be Catholic in America.  We’re targeted, misunderstood, unjustly accused, ignored and hated by many because we stand up for freedom and life.  In a place like the United States, where people of all cultures and races convene to create a peaceful microcosm of world culture, we play the part of the abused servant, mistreated by the those we serve.

It hasn’t gotten to a boiling point yet.  No martyrs have been slayed and blood has not spilled onto our already struggling countryside.  But the pressure from both sides of the political spectrum is mounting and our God have made it clear that the HSS Mandate “line in the sand” is much more transparent than our opaque rock of salvation.  The Bishops have proclaimed that “We will not comply”, and as a Catholic layman, my family and I will follow them. If we wish to earn freedom, we must first be obedient to the moral law.

Join the fight for religious freedom. Here are some sources to get you started:

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops F4F Information page

The F4F Facebook page

Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s most recent Ebook on Religious liberty 

Effective Teaching Requires Love (and by that I mean God)

The CNN health page recently posted an article on the brain development of children and how it relates to early childhood education.  According to the study, 

“Over the last decade a string of scientific discoveries has shown that the biology driving mental illness has at least as much to do with the environment as with chemicals or genetic inheritance. And it increasingly appears that the single most powerful environmental factor is the love – or its lack – that children receive from their parents.”

If you are Christian, this makes sense.  After all, according to St. John, “God is love.”  So now I’m wondering if our Public schools, which seem to be overwhelmingly obsessed with statistics and studies, will start allowing teachers to talk openly about their faith.  

Probably not, but in any case, we teachers already knew that love was the key to effective teaching, and we didn’t need scientific research to tell us.  

To read the entire article, click here.  

Yeh, I’d vote for Jesus

Sparks are emanating from the political front of American society.  The 2012 election is in its kindling stage and pretty soon, fire will engulf our eyes and ears from every media source possible.  This weekend when we Catholics proclaim “Long live Christ the King,” it would do us well to recognize that our own kindling could use a few more sparks.  

A mulit-tiered conundrum dwells in the hearts of Catholics everywhere when the voting booths are put up.  We question whether we are informed enough on the public issues, which of the names on our ballot is the better of the evils and whether or not our choices will be used against us on judgment day.  It is quite a paradoxical situation for those of Christ’s Church namely because we are citizens of both a spiritual Kingdom and a physical democracy.  
My duty to God tells me that I must protect life, justice, and peace.  My duty to my country just happens to be the same.  So why can’t there be one candidate who can do all three without being steered into political debacle, economic distrust, and/or inconsistency?  The answer is because Jesus can’t be our president, nor could anyone like him.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen said it best when he wrote “The people hate the upright because they challenge their norms.  They also hate the felons because they challenge their safety.  Therefore, the mediocre is only allowed to survive” (paraphrased).  
Democracy and Catholicism differ greatly in their approaches to achieving the protection of life, peace, and justice.  However, the two are conjoined by a common conscience that has its root in God’s will  Perhaps if we can join them together, we might be able to regain the trust of our officials be meeting them eye to eye on the same economic, political and intellectual level- at the foot of the cross.


Until Jesus comes back, we are stuck with two robbers who have been crucified at His side.  My vote is for the good thief.
Long live Christ the King!

Budget Cuts to Education

Realities have a way of humbling us. The reality of today’s educational world is one that has us digging in our sofa cusions for economic resources so that our mission can remain. During the course of what should be a relaing summer, the cold reality is that many of us will wait anxiously to find out whether or not we will be employed in the fall. Then finally, the utlimate reality remains: if we are lucky enough to keep our jobs, what new challenges will we face to ensure the proper education of our students? Will we have the resources we need? Will we have the time we need?


Today’s image of the educational system is not a clear one. Sure, it has never been perfectly drawn out to begin with, but the dimmed hue of the eraser has caused man to question whether or not the masterpiece that is “School” will ever been recognized again. We are being recreated and through this reconstruction process, we are fearfully waiting to see just how much of our structure will be erased.


What we fail to recognize is that this eraser might not be coming from our administration nor our nation or state representatives. It might be from God. In the words of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen,


“Our declaration of Independence affirms certain basic freedoms, such as the right to life, to liberty, and to the persuit of happiness. But in a previous sentence is ascribes this independence to the fact that all of these are the endowments of a Creator. Because man is dependent on God, he is not dependent on a State. But once dependence on God is lost, then the State takes over the attributes of Divinity and, being material in its structure, crushes the last vestige of the human spirit.” (The World’s First Love).


While we wait anxiously inside our holy communities, God, like a Father disciplining His child, strokes the page of education to fill it with mystery and dependence on Him. In a God-less community, the State takes on this role and slashes funds to services in order to save other material riches. In either case, Teachers are asked to sacrifice so that God can use them to fill in the lines anew.


De La Salle knew this would happen to His community of lay Techers. He knew that progress could not happen without change and great sacrifices. In their vows, his Christian Brothers to this day promise to:


“…unite myself and to remain in Society with the Brothers of the Christian Schools to keep togeth- er and by association gratuitous schools wherever they may be, even if I were obliged to beg for alms and to live on bread alone, and to do any- thing in the said Society at which I will be employed, whether by the body of the Society or by the superiors who will have the government thereof” (Rule and Foundational Doc- uments, 204)


Regardless of how we are being affected by the budget cuts to education, we must remember that God’s plan supersedes the legislature. If we want to make this plan a quicker reality, we must be sure to make it known to our local representatives. Whether we are employed or pink-slipped, remember that there is great joy that comes with sacrifice, both inside and outside of the Christian Teacher community.


Live Jesus in our hearts forever!

What is Motivating Educational Reform?

For years, Teachers and Administrators have tried to come together to “fix” the Educational System. Their problems are moving targets, constantly changing and usually growing in difficulty. From the bottom up, they have done everything possible to ensure the proper education of their students.

Government officials have also done their best to “fix” these problems from the top down. As the problems grow in difficulty, they seek ways to standardize everything so as to attempt to “level the playing field” for students and teachers. In making things as equal as possible, they try to diminish distortion and achieve academic progress for all students.

These two groups are fighting for the same purpose, but their motivations differ as far as the east is from the west. For that reason, the “moving target” problems remain just as difficult to hit for each group. Until both groups come to a consensus on what their foundational motives are, Educational Reform efforts will fail due to a lack of solidarity within the hierarchy of the system.

Through the Lens of the Government:
Throughout the 20th century, The United States Educational system was a rogue of pedagogical experimentation. Since not much was expected from such a young nation, we had little to lose and everything to gain. We were new, risky, and creative.

With creative practices and innovation, we flourished during the Industrial Revolution. We put a man on the moon, became a technological superpower for the world, and skyrocketed ourselves into prestige as a youthful world power.

At the turn of the 21st century, however, other countries that had nothing to loose and everything to gain began showing signs of life. They started to flourish much like we did and are now passing us in academic success.

Our Government has taken notice. Now, they are looking to change our Educational system so that we as a nation will remain an economic stronghold and flourish once again. They are motivated by the power that our students can offer to the future of America.

To ensure that this happens, they look to the logical proof of numbers. Their theory is that if they create a comprehensible standardized test and a means by which students can achieve success on these tests, the skeleton of the Educational system will become firm enough to stand on its own power. It will then be the Teachers jobs to add the meat and organs to the body so as to give it life. Once this creation is able to live on its own, it will carry America on its back to new heights, to new power, and to new sources of economic progress.

Through the Lens of the Educator:
The pressure to “follow suit” with the Government expectations is written into our contracts, but not into our hearts. From the top down, we are expected to appease laws such as No Child Left Behind, even when there is little evidence that suggests its effectiveness for our students. While we struggle to ensure their proper education, we are caught in a crossfire of what is expected of us from the hand that feeds us, and what our own motivations are to serve our students faithfully.

For an Educator, our motivation is almost in polar opposition to that of our Government providers. Ours is a motivation of charitable faith as opposed to power retention. We seek the well-being of our students first, and then we hope that our lessons will impact their decisions as future leaders of our Nation.

For that reason, our motivation to teach becomes two-fold: Through learning, we want our students to become economically stable in their futures as well as main characters in their personal ongoing process of enlightenment.

As proof of this, we stress their need for educational advancement as a means to better their lives as well as the lives of others. We teach them that education is the pathway towards economic stability, but that this should never be their single motivation to learn. We show them that their studies are the means towards enlightenment, towards understanding themselves in society, and towards owning their ideas through a personal creativity that is characterized by their very selves. In other words, money becomes secondary to their personal journey towards understanding the truths of the world.

Educators seek permission to teach in this way as opposed to teaching so that our students can pass a test. We search for freedom in our pedagogical practices so that our students can experience the liberty that true teaching can offer them. While we continue on in our search, we find many closed doors that have been locked from the inside. Those with power, both Educators and policy makers, have the keys to open these doors, but we refuse to open them because of one primary reason: fear.

A Common Motivation: Fear
Fear is the one characteristic besides student success that both the Government and Teachers share. It is what keeps both sides from unlocking the doors. Sadly, it is servile fear; like a student has for an overly harsh principal, which dominates each group. The Government fears loosing control of the Educational system and its powerful attributes that wil help sustain the Nation’s future. Meanwhile, teachers feel that they will not be able to offer the best for their students. They fear that if they go against protocol, they will loose their jobs. They fear that their failure to “speak up” will ultimately result in the failure of their students. Clearly, each group is subject to fear based on what motivates them.

Progress by Fear:
Educational Reform, from this point on, will be defined by fear. But that doesn’t mean that fear itself cannot be seen in a positive light. If Government officials and Educators decide to open the doors of dialogue, the present servile fear will change into a different, more profound form that will lead to eventual progress. This new fear will be filial, like an obedient child who fears his devoted father, or like a successful student fears disappointing his respected teacher.

To best establish this connotation-less, filial fear, we must establish a “new school” that is based not on the logic of numbers and standardized tests, but on pedagogical initiatives that have the attitude of the teacher as its foundation.

In A Teacher’s Life Journey, Antonio Botana FSC, reminds us that if this “new school” is established, it must be teacher driven. He stresses that all Teachers must place upon themselves consistent reflective behaviors that “must open the spectrum of possibilities to which the teacher must direct his commitment.”

Botana then states that these behaviors should work in several directions:

Toward the teacher himself. He will strive to improve:
– his professional competence, his continuing formation in the various subjects that he teaches;
– the genuineness of his witness, the coherence of his life with his words, his commitment to justice, charity, respect for persons…;
– his accessibility, his lack of self-interest, his presence in activities…;
– the style of his dealings with others, his relations to them.

Toward the students:
– an extensive knowledge of them as individuals, openness, dialogue, an interest in their problems;
– a personalized “accompaniment”, which is a process in education that calls for constancy and dedication, personal guidance;
– adaptation of the programs and techniques of learning to the actual possibilities and needs of the students, investigation into the formative elements that are most appropriate and the techniques that are most effective.

Toward the educational community:
– in order to promote a spirit of solidarity and collaboration;
– a willingness to share responsibilities
– dialogue and cooperation with the other teachers, the parents, the administration.”

Botana finishes saying that “concrete initiates will flow from [these].” In other words, when Teachers consistently reflect in these ways, their lessons will satiate their students craving from knowledge, their students will achieve success, and our Government will not only trust us to make decisions, they will be proud of what we have been able to achieve.

When the pressure of “teaching for the test” is replaced with a Teacher-driven, “new school” that is based on pedagogical initiatives, the aforementioned reflective practices become a catalyst for academic success in schools.

Final Thought:
Since the turn of the 21st century, the Government has played the role of overprotective controlist that teachers have tried to defy, not the dedicated father that their teachers wish to please. As a result, Educators have been torn in two between following the rules and following their hearts.

When we focus our Educational Reforms on the individuals who directly serve our students everyday, we will finally be able to hit the “moving target” problems in Education by moving along with them. No longer will the Government need to aim from long distances; they will have their highly qualified, constantly reflective Teachers take shots from point blank range.

For that reason, I urge all who read this to look deeply within themselves and decide, what is truly motivating our Educational Reforms? Is it Government policy or Educational pedagogy? Is it servile fear or filial fear? Is it economic advancement or intellectual enlightenment?

The answer to all of these questions can be found behind the closed doors of dialogue. Teachers, with clean conscience and in good faith, please knock. Government officials, with open ear and open mind, please open the door.

Resources:
Botana, Antonio, A Teacher’s Life Journey, MEL Bulletin 8/9. Found online on 3/4/11 at
http://www.lasalle2.org/English/Resources/Publications/PDF/Education/Cahier8.pdf

Teacher Salaries

I saw this on Facebook and had to laugh. Enjoy.

Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do – babysit! We can get that for less than minimum wage.

That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan– that equals 6 1/2 hours).

Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day. However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.

LET’S SEE….

That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries). What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.

Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here! There sure is!

The average teacher’s salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student–a very inexpensive baby sitter (and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!!!!

Make a teacher smile; repost this to show appreciation for all educators.
~Meredith Menden

Live Jesus in our hearts forever!

Common Core

If you went to school in the U.S. at any time from the early 1900s to the turn of the century, you might be familiar with a report card that looks something like this:

To follow suit with the ever-changing educational system, the U. S. is now considering a new way of presenting academic achievement. It is called the common core. Through the common core, many states will be expected to adopt common core curriculum maps that supposedly create a common framework for students across every region of the Nation. These curriculum maps would, in theory, align achievement standards across states so that every student would have the same learning expectation according to their grade level.

As a result, report cards would look a bit like this:

Now, I am not sure on how all of this will work out, but I do remember something like this happening in the past. I remember a very old but very wise Teacher instructing His students in a very commanding way. His classroom management, methodologies, pedagogy and tactics were rarely questioned and yet, his standards were so high that almost all of his students were expected to reach high and push themselves to achieve greatness. His report card looked a bit like this:

1. You shall not have strange gods before me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
3. Remember that you keep holy the sabbath day.
4. Honor your father and your mother.
5. You shall not kill.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions.

10. Neither shall you desire his wife.
(Exodus 20: 1-17) taken from http://www.newadvent.com at http://www.newadvent.org/bible/exo020.htm#vrs3 on 1-28-11

Then, His Son came along. If you are a Teacher and you have children, you know how much your instruction changes when your own child comes into the picture. For this wise sage, it was no different. His Son lived up to every one of His Father’s expectations and, as a result, was able to teach the rest of His classmates how to do the same. In fact, He translated the first report card and made it easier to understand without sacrificing its original rigor. After the modifications were made by His Son, the wise Teacher’s Report card looks a bit like this:

1. “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.”
2. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
(Mark 12: 29-31)

According to commoncore.org,

“The No Child Left Behind Act has increased the amount of time schools devote to basic reading and math skills, squeezing core subjects out of the classroom. Because schools are sacrificing the subjects that open students’ minds and teach them to think critically and imaginatively about the world, we’re working to restore teaching of core academic disciplines. Only a complete liberal arts education will enable today’s students to become tomorrow’s well-prepared citizens.”

Schools might be “sacrificing subjects that open students’ minds,” but God sacrificed His Son to open our, His children’s, hearts. If we really want our students to become “tomorrow’s well-prepared citizens,” we must first accept the Wise Teacher and His Son and make their Spirit the guiding force of our service to others. Perhaps then we can truly understand what it means to become part of a common core.

Live Jesus in our hearts forever!