Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

Order 'Evolution for the Catholic Student' - Click on the image above

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Link - Women in Combat

Link – Women in Combat

          You’ve probably heard the news that the Obama administration has decided to open virtually all military combat roles to women.  I tend to get emotional about the issue because I find it so sickening, but Robert Reilly has given a very reasoned explanation of all the problems with the policy at the link below.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Wifi?

Why Wifi?

            I suspect this may be a controversial post.  I wrote on Monday about concerns I have about certain trends I’ve seen in education that often seem to be accepted without question.  The following is a letter (printed with permission) written by an educator, with whom I have discussed some of these things, to his superintendent.  Of course, all superintendents, public or Catholic, I imagine, are doing what they think is best for their schools.  However, though there are many strong and varying opinions, I think this letter brings up points that ought to be considered and all too often are not.

As a parent and employee in [this diocese], I would like to express my grave concerns about a recent policy being planned for our diocesan schools.  I am speaking specifically of the expectation that each student will have a personal computer on which he or she will be working all day, almost exclusively.  I know this is a major initiative with much excitement surrounding it, but I pray that you will take the time to hear my concerns in this letter.

My concerns are two-fold.  First, there is serious debate about the safety of long-term exposure to the radiation from wireless Internet, especially to children.  I know there has been much disagreement on the subject, and in the past we have been given many assurances about the technology’s safety, but that has been seriously called into question by reputable scientists, especially in Great Britain.  And some scientists think children may be at more risk than adults because their skulls are thinner and not fully developed.

In fact, in 2011, the World Health Organization reversed its previous position and classified wifi as a “possible carcinogen.”  I know at present, wireless Internet in schools does not violate regulations, but it is clear that we are continuing to learn about the health effects of this technology.  It has not been out long enough to really know the long-term effects, but some of the studies of its effects at the cellular level are troubling.  Here is a link to the abstract of just one of the many articles on the subject:  (Being from 2009 it even predates the WHO classification.)  As a Catholic diocese, we should not make our kids guinea pigs, exposing them constantly to an official “possible carcinogen,” and just hoping for the best.  That is contrary to our mission.

Second, we all know the effect of too much screen time on brain development and hyperactivity / attention problems.  This even came up in a recent in-service we had.

Here is an excerpt from summarizing a study conducted at the University of Bristol: The results showed that both television viewing and computer use were related to higher psychological difficulty scores, regardless of how much time the children spent on physical activity.”  The study was also reported on by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  It looked mainly at recreational use, I believe, but the increase in screen time necessitated by the proposed changes in technology education is certainly a cause for concern, especially as we try to teach the kids silence, meditation, and contemplative prayer.

As an educator, I am of course concerned with children’s development of technology skills, integration of new technology, and preparation for 21st century careers.  However, I am also concerned with formation of the whole child: mentally, physically and spiritually.  As Catholics, we recognize that human formation is even more important than skill acquisition, but of course these things need not be in conflict.

Our schools can provide Internet access with computers that are “plugged in;” our technology teachers do an excellent job helping students develop technology skills; and our classroom teachers creatively integrate technology into their curriculum.  I know this can be done without exposing our children to potential risks from long-term exposure to wifi radiation and increasing screen time to the point that their brain development will be compromised.

I know there is a lot of pressure on schools as the world and education changes.  But I firmly believe that God will bless our schools if we provide what is truly best for our students.  And our kids will be the ones, when it comes time to take on adulthood, with necessary skills, and also the ability to focus, not to mention the capacity for prayer and contemplation.  That should make them a very hot commodity indeed.

May God bless you as you guide our schools!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Fishers of Men

Fishers of Men

          Vocations Awareness Week was just a couple of weeks ago.  A few years ago, the USCCB produced a wonderful short film about the priesthood to encourage young men to think about a vocation.  The first half is below, and I will post the second half on Thursday.  A DVD can be purchased at  It is extraordinary.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Education: Skill Acquisition or Human Formation?

Education: Skill Acquisition or
Human Formation?

          I’ve been involved with education my whole life – as a student, a teacher, and a parent.  There is a phrase I’ve been hearing with increasing frequency over the past few years used to describe a school’s mission – “preparing students for 21st century jobs.”
          The phrase makes sense and so does the idea, obviously.  However, it has been used as a justification for practices that have begun to cause me real concern.  (Of course, I am only speaking to my own experience, which is extraordinarily limited compared to the question of education on a national level).
          Technology has become, in many cases, the new god to be worshipped by our educational system.  I have seen text books replaced by e-books, which have their benefits, to be sure.  But more and more, content is being delivered almost exclusively by video and computer interactive activities rather than by language, especially written language.  Note-taking, in some places, is being replaced by Powerpoint presentations, created by the teacher, and posted on a class Web site for students to download and study.  The need for spelling instruction is questioned since student work is all done on a Word Processing program and emailed, and cursive is being jettisoned even faster.  One principal, at an in-service I attended, even claimed that within a few years, there would be absolutely no paper used in the school.
          Of course, the level of this change differs by state, district and diocese.  And, of course, it all begs the question, “So what?  Given the pace of technology, isn’t this a good thing?”
          I don’t think so, and here’s why.  First, I should point out that I believe strongly in teaching children computer skills and integrating the technology in other disciplines where it’s appropriate.  However, I see many problems with replacing the (paper) notebook with the iPad.
          There is plenty of educational research out there, and anyone with an agenda can find or develop a study to justify his position, so I will allow those who are interested to investigate the research and decide for themselves which conclusions to trust.
          However, I believe strongly in the research that suggests that when educational content is delivered largely through written language, as opposed to video, the brain becomes stronger.
          It’s true that video and interactive computer programs are essential tools to supplement instruction and maximize comprehension of a topic.  Those who lobby for their exclusive use agree that they allow the brain to comprehend without working as hard.  But there also is the problem.  We don’t want to make learning difficult, but we do want to train students’ brains.  Language, note-taking, etc. allow students to strengthen their ability to learn and think at levels an iPad and Powerpoint presentation alone simply can’t.
          There is also the issue that many schools, starting as young as kindergarten, are providing or requiring personal computers for each student for use all day.  There have been a myriad of studies about the negative effects of so much screen time on brain development and attention.
          In a nut shell, the push for “preparing students for 21st century jobs” has shifted the focus from human formation to mere skill acquisition.  This has been happening for a long time in many of our public schools, but the trend is spilling over into our Catholic schools as well.  The Cardinal Newman Society recently reported that Catholic colleges are becoming more specialized, like their secular counterparts, and abandoning a well-rounded curriculum for all students (with a few notable exceptions).
          And it is in our primary and secondary schools that our Catholic school students learn prayer, silence, meditation, focus and higher-level thinking.  This can not help but be compromised if we insist on keeping them glued to a screen for 70% of the school day. 
          Catholic schools more than any other should understand the importance of forming young people mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually as their primary mission, and not just focusing on the acquiring of skills that will one day provide a paycheck (as important as that is).
          As previously stated, these are only trends that I am seeing with increasing regularity; they are certainly not universal.  And my concern is not with the proper instruction and integration of new technology, only the over-indulgence and abuse of it at the price of our children’s overall formation.
          There are some positive trends as well.  Many Catholic schools and homeschooling programs are refocusing on a classical curriculum.  In the end, it is up to us as parents to ensure our children are getting an education that prepares them, not just for 21st century jobs, but forms them completely as people created in God’s image, and ultimately prepares them for Heaven.