7 Quick Takes Friday (4/11/14)



My friend Oscar has just started an awesome new website about education that you should check out! It’s called The McGuffey Reader, named after William Holmes McGuffey.

From the “About” Section of the site:

An independent organization committed to the improvement of local schools and to the reform of education in America, The Mcguffey Reader is the first ever online space for the exchange of school-specific solutions, and a source for the latest in education news, policies, and pedagogies that are currently changing education. (The McGuffey Reader About Page)

source: mcguffeyreaders.com



Thou Shalt Not Commit Logical Fallacies!

What a Godsend! I am definitely ordering one of these for my classroom next year…

source: yourlogicialfallacyis.com

Especially this one.

source: churchm.ag


I love this:

What I Never Would Have Known About Becoming a Teacher Before I Became One

It’s a list of 10 things.

But especially this thing:

slide 5 -126490696
source: takepart.com

Some teachers ask me incredulously why I often wear heels when I teach. Aren’t I just asking for sore feet?

Well, yes.

But I began wearing heels because, during my first year of teaching, I was so much SHORTER than the huge senior boys who came marching into my classroom.

And I realized as well that a decisive click click click on the classroom floor, or in the hallways, can have a surpassing amount of power.

Although of course “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Especially the responsibility of not tripping and falling during class. THAT has almost happened.


My friend Serena has another great article over at Public Discourse: “Crowdfunding, Selfies, And Mommy Blogs: Finding Community in the Internet Age.”

Very, very interesting. You hear in homilies and articles all the time how “the internet” and its forms of social media have ironically only isolated us from one another–but Mrs. Sigillito (!) challenges that oft-repeated narrative:

I believe that social media have the capacity to help establish new forms of community that fulfill our innate desire to be part of a group that is larger than ourselves, but small enough to for us to be known, accepted, and loved. (Sigillito via Public Discourse)

She gives some great examples:

Blogs like these document the place where the rubber meets the road. They take general political and religious statements about the importance of the family and they make them real, personal, and incarnate. It’s one thing forHumanae Vitae to explain why contraception is wrong; it’s another thing to read the words of a woman who’s struggling to keep the faith through her fourth or fifth surprise pregnancy. And because blogs express their authors’ personalities so strongly, they provide a powerful opportunity to encounter others. (Ibid)

Bottom line: go read it.

Her article also gives me some hope and encouragement about my own blogging here. One wonders, at times, what the point is of sharing one’s musings with a silent computer scene… until you get a comment here or there that acknowledges that someone else has felt the same way, or has come to see things differently or more clearly because of what you said.

source: gabrielweinberg.com

As I learned in ACE , community can come in all sorts of strange shapes and sizes. And yet God can work through them–even through the Internet.


Speaking of blogging…

I’m gathering ideas for several different upcoming blog posts, but I wanted to ask if there is any topic in particular that you would like to see explored.

Here are some things I’m thinking of writing about:

1. More About the Common Core and its Implications for Catholic Education

2. Vocation – Br. Justin Hannegan has a disquieting thesis about discernment that all of us should take into consideration. I’ve been meditating on this for a while, and though I am not expert on vocations by any means, I thought I’d tackle it.

3. My Top 10 Pieces of Advice for Teachers – which is kind of funny, because I’m not exactly a veteran teacher myself…

4. Should certain books be excluded from Catholic high school classrooms? If so, any notable ones? Why? – This has become rather a sticky issue at my own school, and though I know the sad majority of Catholic high schools don’t take their identity too seriously anyway, I thought it might be useful to ponder for those of us who do kind of care about being “Catholic” and what that means. For example, one parent does not think Homer is appropriate. (!)

5. Why Anthony Esolen isn’t completely right about writing … See what I did there?


Well, I’m not going to go into a very long tirade about writing right now…

But I am going to venture into a little one.

I had a student from another English class ask me for help with her paper. Long story short, I didn’t think this student really had a thesis statement at all. I thought her thesis was basically a universal truth that any sane person who read her novel would agree with, and therefore wasn’t really worth writing about.

And then her current English teacher told me her thesis was absolutely fine, because this wasn’t supposed to be a “persuasive essay” anyway. It was an “analysis” essay.

I swallowed my astonishment, and then began to doubt everything I ever knew (and, honestly, everything I have ever taught) about essay writing.

Okay. I know Middle School teachers are taught to teach different “genres” of essay writing: the Descriptive Essay, the Analysis Essay, the ever-revolting Compare-and-Contrast Essay, the Personal Essay, the Persuasive Essay… which seems rather silly in a way. The only benefit I can see from over-complicating essays like this is teaching kids how to take purpose and audience into account. That’s a good thing, but I don’t think you need to make up fake essay genres for that.

But here’s my problem.

To me, an essay–even a thesis for that matter–is nothing at all if it does not argue something.

To me, ALL essays are persuasive essays.

Describe something? Okay, well prove why this thing is best described in this way.

Compare and contrast? Basically it’s just a list of stuff if you don’t throw in an argument somewhere–this thing is BETTER than that thing, or this character achieves X whereas the other one doesn’t.

Personal Essay? It’s just a journal entry if you aren’t trying to teach your reader or yourself something true about human life.

Am I wrong? Am I missing something? Is this just me?


*Caveat: I said essays. Not necessarily science research papers. But even then…


A little Calvin and Hobbes to put writing back into perspective:

source: moonlightandhershadow.blogspot.com

Once in a while my students will try something like this. Thing is, I’ve tried it before myself. And ya can’t BS a BS-er.

Please excuse my French.

Happy weekend, everyone!

10 thoughts on “7 Quick Takes Friday (4/11/14)

  1. All the suggested topics look interesting, but I’d be particularly keen to read a post on #4.

    I was once meeting with a (college) freshman to talk about her draft, and it turned out she was meeting me after talking to the professor earlier in the day. I pointed out something in the draft and said something along the lines of: “You know, the professor probably pointed out at this point in the paper that your thesis is kind of unclear.” To which she replied: “Right, I know, it’s like she doesn’t get that I’m trying to write an analysis!” To which I had nothing to say, because I had no idea what she meant. Now I realize that “analysis essay” must be a type of essay she had been taught to write, and that because her mind had been poisoned in this way she still had the idea, despite my continually stressing in seminar that you have to make an argument, that you could avoid doing so if you wrote an “analysis essay” instead…..

    I don’t know if all essays must be persuasive, but certainly they have to engage the reader, and being persuasive is probably the easiest way to do that. There’s other ways, like being thought-provoking, but they’re a lot more difficult to pull off, so when teaching writing it’s probably best not to bring those up.

  2. If my vote counts, it goes toward your top 10 pieces of advice for teachers and more discourse with Esolen.

    Some of my thoughts:
    At PC, Esolen was my academic advisor, my professor, and later my thesis advisor as well. Bottom line, I’ve had a lot of conversations with him. He’s a great man and a great professor, and one reason for the latter is that he holds such passionate opinions and fights for them. Well, passionate or stubborn. Depends on if you agree with his opinion, I guess. He is persuasive and I agree with him in theory on most of his points. The problem is, as I think you’ve identified, is that his approach to teaching is awesome for those with a grasp of the basics already, but the reality is that my students don’t have that. Additionally, I think that whether or not I want to admit it, at least SOME (if not MANY) of the common core skills that he opposes are indeed necessary for success in college.

    Additional related thoughts on a personal dilemma:
    I thought Esolen would be rather proud of my current poetry unit with my juniors in which we have read poems by Shakespeare, Spencer, Donne, T. S. Eliot, etc. But then when we were half-way through (what I thought was) a really great lesson on Owen’s classic, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” one of my junior girls raised her hand to ask,”When are we going to read poems that we can relate to?” I was dumbfounded. Here I thought I was giving students an essential exposure to some of the greatest poetry of humankind, and for at least one of my students, that was not such great motivation. Not really a huge surprise, when I look back on it. The students I teach are not likely to grow up to be researchers or professors. So for them, they see very little value in engaging with classic literature (as Esolen supports) if they can not easily relate to it. So I am left with the dilemma of having to choose between teaching pieces of literature that I (and Esolen) believe students should not leave high school without reading, or choosing to teach texts that students can more easily relate to in regards to their personal experiences with poverty, difficult home lives, teenage drama, emotional issues, or their experience living in the Fruitvale district of Oakland. (Side point: I’m not saying you can’t relate to classic literature, but it is much more difficult for them and for me to make those connections.) Would love your thoughts on this dilemma.

    Happy Friday,

    Mary Beth
    P.S. I agree with your point on essays needing to be persuasive. I only really gave my students one general essay outline to use for my class and it is for what I termed “an argument essay.” Even still though, I would get students who would be “arguing” something quite obvious. I admit I did not do the best of job this year toward correcting that, because I was so focused on trying to teach my juniors to 1) make their thesis specific and 2) specifically support it with relevant evidence from the book, and both of those were (and still are) huge struggles.
    P.S.S. A parent thought Homer was not appropriate?!?

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! I’m actually working on an article response to Esolen right now that I think I might end up submitting to the Public Discourse journal. If it’s accepted I’ll definitely include the link here. I’ve been getting a lot of perspectives from friends of mine in education, and I think I’m clarifying my views on the CC quite a bit.

  3. Maura, this is wonderful! Thank you for inviting me to read your blog. One topic I might suggest that I’ve always thought wasn’t really parsed out is the nature of Catholic Education. What does that even mean to call an education “Catholic”, or even what makes a “Catholic” school just that? It seems most arguments stay on the surface of the issue, saying, “Well, it’s imbued with doctrine, etc.” There is way more to be said on the issue, and does the mere transference of doctrine constitute Catholicism and Faith?

    I also enjoyed your thoughts regarding persuasive essays. The event last Saturday at Machebeuf was wonderful, and your post reminded me of a few things that were touched upon. The main purpose was to describe what is the nature of education. Three main points were made, first that education is a passing on of tradition. The Latin “tadire” means to “gaze upon”, and so as educators we are passing on our “gaze of reality” if you will, ie the way of looking upon reality through our eyes and experience. Second, since this tradition is a living tradition it is passed on through our person, our heart, our desire. And this is the hook we have with our students, our love and desire for reality, which they in turn fall in love with because of our passion. Third, and this is where your thoughts came to mind, we must awaken the critical faculty in our students that comes naturally to the human person at a certain age. If we don’t allow this criticism and curiosity to come forth they might eventually experience it as skepticism or, even worse, relativism. It takes a solid teacher to allow an environment of critical thought, but it helps make the student a more solid person. So when you say every essay should be a persuasive one, I think you might be touching upon something important. Great work, I look forward to reading more! Plus you have a great style of writing, and I love the idea of “7 Quick Takes”.

    God bless!


    1. Thanks so much Jim! I definitely think a really important question everyone invested in Catholic Education should consider is the ontological one: what IS Catholic Education, anyway? What is it supposed to be?

      I think that in the past, Catholic Education was Catholic because it was taught by priests and nuns, sponsored (usually) by parishes or dioceses, and under the authority of Church Teaching. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure people dug much deeper than that.

      More recently, Catholic Education has become (to many people) just another form of “values” education. In other words, it’s an expensive version of charter schools.

      But what we mustn’t forget is that Catholic Education is something truly unique and revolutionary. Although there are other religious schools, Catholic schools are the largest and most historically important system of schools in our country’s history. We need to recover that history with discernment as we look to the problems we face now… which aren’t quite the same ones anymore.

  4. I was going to say #1, but then I read #4 (Homer is not appropriate???) but then saw #5.

    All of the above please? 🙂

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