Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent, Day 17: Teaching Boys Badly

(Posted by me, MrsDarwin. It's been a while since I've been caught out by writing while logged into blogger as Darwin, especially since I'm on my own laptop and I specifically logged in as ME.)

Darwin and I are fans of Anthony Powell's twelve-volume opus A Dance To The Music of Time, set in England and spanning almost fifty years during the twentieth century. That is, of course, a rather large chunk of time to manage even in twelve volumes, but one of the charms of the work is that most of the characters recur throughout the books, popping up at odd times, sometimes years after they've last been on the scene. It lends a charming, small-world feel to what is a rather unwieldly project, as if all of England knows each other.

The internet can be a bit like that too. I'm pleased to share a new blog, Teaching Boys Badly, written by Rob Alspaugh. We go way back with Rob. He was always over during our senior year of college because he was engaged to my housemate Michelle, so not only does he know us, but he knows the old black cat (who's still alive and kicking and cantankerous, though considerably less rambunctious than he was 15 years ago). And then we all got married and moved on, and that was that.

And then a few years ago, I ran into Rob commenting over at Brandon's. And he'd figured out who we were because he'd been reading the blog here. Then last year when we were visiting my sister in D.C., we were able to meet up with him in person again and have the same kind of great discussion we used to have with him and Michelle in our college days, tempered and deepened by all of us being older and wiser and more parental these days (though Rob and Michelle don't actually look like they've aged at all in 15 years, which even my kindest critics would not say of me). One of the things we talked about was blogging, since Rob had been reading us for a while and had been thinking of starting up himself. And now he has, so I present a few selections to whet your reading appetite.

A few selections:

A primer for the boys on how to read and interpret Scripture:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives 3 principles for the interpretation of Sacred Scripture.  Any time you come upon a passage that makes you ask “Huh?”, simply: 
Be attentive to the content and unity of the whole Scripture.
Read it within the living Tradition of the whole Church.
Be attentive to the analogy of faith. 
The first one is easy: whatever interpretation you give a passage can’t contradict other passages of Scripture.  No matter how many human authors are involved in the composition of the sacred books, God is the primary author of Scripture.  It has a divine unity that transcends its human multiplicity; God does not contradict Himself.  If your interpretation of I Samuel 15 makes God out to be a bloodthirsty moral monster, you’ve got to somehow reconcile that with things like John 3:16 or I John 4:8.
Reading Orlando Furioso with teenage boys:
A few years back Brandon inspired me to read Orlando Furioso.  I’d heard of it but never read it, but I’d been reading Siris long enough that his recommendation carried a lot of weight with me.  Since then I’ve been through this monster romance several times.  It has become my favorite epic, displacing The Greatest Book Ever. 
Orlando Furioso is basically a Marvel Heroes crossover fanfiction, a knowingly anachronistic smash-up of all the great legenda—Britain, France, Rome—in Catholic dress.  The action is wild, the tales are tangled, and an enormous burden is placed on the reader to remember who the hell all these characters are.  It’s Stan Lee to the nth degree, where n = Tom Clancy, assuming those two wanted to write a propaganda piece for Christian Europe vs. Ottoman Empire.
The logistics of the communion rail:
One of the great liberations of the ancient mass is the process of going to communion. Since this is a logistics post, I won’t wax eloquent on its virtues. But the practical side of it is this: a lot of the people sitting in front of you are probably not going up to communion.  Don’t wait for them.  It’s ok to end up in front of them “in line” (more on that below).  Just don’t bulldoze passed people who are getting up and moving a tad bit slower than you are.  A little situational awareness goes a long way here—be mindful of the people around you, don’t rush, don’t wait.  It’s a dance.  Some day we’ll be rid of wretched pews and stand in a throng on a glorious marble floor.  Until then, we dance a bit.

Father communicates the faithful from south to north (that’s right to left, from the congregation’s perspective, for the liturgically challenged).  That means if you are sitting on the south side of the nave, you need to get the lead out when it’s time to go up.  Don’t leave Father standing at the rail waiting for people; not all priests will greet this with good humor.  For the same reason, once you are up there, fill in from south to north. Don’t leave spaces at the rail. Crowd in.  Get to know each other.  It’s an aggravating complication to the dance if you make people try to figure out if there are spaces beyond you.  It also inspires a need for ushers, and we don’t want them!
Teaching abstract thinking to boys:
One of the perpetually educating things about educating boys is what they struggle to learn.  Abbey boys are generally selected for their ability to think abstractly, but that’s a road that everyone walks in their own time and in their own way.  Not to get too Boethian on you, but the road from praxis to theoria is individualized. 
When I teach Form V (11th grade) students the nature of voluntariness in Aquinas, we hit a simple test case early on.  Since I’m about to wrap the Aquinas material in the next two weeks, I figured I’d comment on it a little. 
In discussing how the will works (I abbreviate it “V” for voluntas), Aquinas considers how V acts without acting.  One of his objections plays a cute little sophistry with the negative to illustrate the matter. 
Consider how to apply a negative to the act of the will.  Start with a positive: 
I will to read a book. 
There are two ways to apply the negative, since it is just an adverb.  There are two verbs there, willing and reading, and either may support the negative. 
I do not will to read a book.
I will not to read a book. 
The first negation, on will, implies a simple lack of willing.  The second negation, on read, implies a willing directly contrary to reading a book.  It’s the difference between “it never came up” and “you can’t make me.”  For Aquinas this is the difference between non-voluntariness and involuntariness.  If you are willing to do a little violence to the Latin, you can express it by forcing a distinction between non volo and nolo (the objection, should you care, was collapsing the two). 
Back to Abbey boys.  It’s fascinating to see how the boys respond to this.  They are all studying pre-calculus at this point, so it’s not like they have not been working abstractly in other areas.  But the differences in how quickly the boys get this are fascinating.  Some, the ones we would typically describe as simply brilliant, see the idea immediately.  Others just need a little time, and some on-board scaffolding or re-wording to get it.  But others hate this distinction because it’s just symbols dancing around on a page.
Rob goes NaNoWriMo:
Me and a thousand other hobby writers! 
This was my first attempt at NaNoWriMo after telling the Darwins last year I was considering it.  For the uninitiated (like me, 60 days ago), the plan is to write 2000 words a day for 30 days and TADA! you have a novella.  It’s like the P90X of writing, except with Billy Blanks and a lot of cocaine.  Never edit!  Always add!  Your manuscript screams when you cut it!  Don’t hurt it!

I actually cheated a bit and started early because I have not been writing for many years.  As November drew on, I stopped early to balance it out because 1) guilty conscience and 2) damn this is a lot of writing.  Being a dad and a teacher with a very long commute doesn’t leave a lot of time for the pen, and I didn’t have enough plotting and dreaming stored up to keep pushing much beyond the first quarter of the book. 
But I did learn a lot from the effort, and I am very grateful for having attempted it...
On the Rule of St. Benedict:
One of the fascinating themes of the rule is solicitude for the weak.  St. Benedict famously wrote his rule as a beginner’s guide for a world where monastic observance had, in his view, sadly declined to weak ineptitude.  Let’s leave aside for the moment what he thinks of our own time as he intercedes for us in heaven and instead focus on two ways his rule cares for the weak. 
The first is an observation about the structure of the rule and the program of life it lays down (I’m ripping this idea from De Vogue, the foremost modern commentator on the rule).  Rather than prescribing a life of perpetual austerity, St. Benedict sets up a community that ebbs and flows in its devotions.  The times of silence are periodic so as not to be unbearable to those just setting out on the path of monastic perfection; the fasting goes through cycles of intensity and relaxation and is quite liberal in its concessions to the seasons; the times and durations of prayer have a flow to them that provides ample time to rest. 
The perfect, as St. Benedict called them, were always free to pursue ever-greater works of prayer, fasting, and silence.  But the requirements of the rule he intentionally set as a training model to get “kids these days” into shape for such rigors.  It is perhaps the earliest form of interval training we have on record.  Take that, Billy Blanks!
Go ye and read, with our hearty recommendation!

1 comment:

ralspaugh said...

Aw shucks! Thanks!

For what it's worth, you two look much the same to me. Friendship does funny things to the eyes.