All posts tagged: education

Unlearning Is the New Learning: A Neuroscientific and Theological Case for How and Why to See the World Differently

Learning, as it turns out, was the easy part. Anyone who has observed a young child mimic the behavior of others knows how naturally children learn from their environment. Unlearning, on the other hand, takes maturity, discipline, and equal parts courage and humility. Unlearning, as discussed here, requires conscious effort to reflect on past learning to create the possibility of new future learning that goes beyond our passively formulated, yet operative, mental constructs that undergird how we understand the world and the people around us. Unlearning is the imperative of a maturing mind which recognizes the perennial importance of seeing things rightly. If unlearning is the new learning, so to speak, how does one go about unlearning and what difference does it make? Bike riding offers a good illustration of the vexing mechanics of unlearning. The logic behind the commonplace phrase “it’s like riding a bike” suggests a resilience and durability to human learning, which can be a double-edged sword. It is relatively easy to learn—and then remember how—to ride a bike. That is good, …

The Light of the Liberal Arts is Different in Light of the Faith

This is the theological continuation of the philosophical beginning in The Resplendent Completion of the Liberal Arts. Catholic Theology and the Beginning In the beginning. Theology begins at a beginning. Well, it begins at more than one beginning, but we will begin with the first. So: in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth . . .[1] God created everything above and everything below, and created even this beginning. There is a “before” creation, a before the beginning, but there is no word for it—it is not a before, not like a time with an after, not at all, since there is only “after” the beginning—and it is not really known in itself, known as it is only through the beginning. There was no beginning, and then there was. God created ex nihilo, out of nothing.[2] All that is “something”: God created that. To put it another way: there is that which does not begin, does not, and there is that which begins beginnings. This is God. God simply is. God has no …

The Resplendent Completion of the Liberal Arts

Prolegomena of Meaning We live in a world mediated by meaning.[1] I begin with a well-worn phrase, one that you may never have seen worn thin, and one that cannot be immediately understood. I know that you read it and wonder what on earth I mean by it. Still, you know it is meaningful somehow. At the least you know that I mean something by it, whatever that might be. In other words, in reading it, you know and do not know. This is how the first minutes of the day strike each of us: there, already somehow present to our bleary-eyed consciousness, brimming with an unannounced something. I cannot say what. I can say only that I am awake, and that the morning is not nothing to me. We live in a world mediated by meaning. I begin here and I will explain what it means, though I know it is not readily apparent. I begin here in part because “knowing is not like taking a good look,”[2] is not like staring and seeing, …

The Horror Inherent in Leisure

Leisure is not the cessation of work, but work of another kind, work restored to its human meaning, as a celebration and a festival. –Roger Scruton Leisure may very well be the basis of culture—as the beloved Josef Pieper says—but the word bears a fantastically unconvincing ring to a family full of farmers and maintenance workers as something to do with one’s life. I can assure you of this from personal experience. When the leisure espoused includes nary a game of sport or hunting, and includes little to no gambling, you can understand the incommensurable impasse a fly-over humanities major finds himself in defending their life choices. The great Walker Percy on more than one occasion relates that it was easier to say to townsfolk in Louisiana that he did “nothing” rather than explain that he wrote for a living. My interest is drilling into a fundamental misunderstanding of leisure by its supposed practitioners and most fervent devotees. Too often the allure of the quietude and unsegmented hours that must be allotted for the practice …

The Mass: Heart of the Church and Academia

One of the best expressions of “Catholic community” in Higher Education is the academic colloquium. Only recently, Pope Francis reminded a gathering of Italian teachers that a commitment to free association was a way of fostering “an open outlook towards the social and cultural horizon.”[1] Such opportunities for shared exploration of ideas are welcome reminders of the Church’s longstanding engagement with the cultural challenges encountered in the mission to evangelize. It could be argued that such events risk presenting an elitist face to both the world and the wider Church. At their best, however, they offer multiple opportunities for fruitful dialogue on how to address the challenges of relativism and materialism, which, according to Pope Benedict XVI, make up a contemporary “educational emergency.”[2] I had the privilege of recently organising one such colloquium at the University of Glasgow (founded in 1451 by Pope Nicholas V). Catholicism, Culture, Education (the title of the Colloquium) was an opportunity for an international audience of Catholic educators (mainly in third-level institutions) to share thoughts on how to energise their …

Voucher Programs: Problems and Promises for Catholic Schools

During the recent confirmation process of current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos, her critics decried a 2001 speech in which DeVos referred to her work in education reform as an attempt to “help advance God’s kingdom.” The New York Times cried “theocracy,” while the secretary’s Calvinist coreligionists assured us that this simply means she wants to help people.[1]  Of course, both condemnation and reduction of DeVos’s religious motivations elide the fact that both the advent of common schooling in America and the early 20th century movement for mass secondary education were animated by religious convictions. Antebellum Whig reformers sought to establish a system to inculcate pan-Protestant piety and morality.[2] Progressive Era social meliorists were informed by the Social Gospel movement, which imagined the Kingdom of God as a primarily material affair.[3] Historical precedent notwithstanding, it seems that DeVos’s statement raised alarm because of concerns with institutional mingling, or in the language of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), an “excessive entanglement” of government and religion.[4] Voucher programs and other state aid measures raise a similar question …

Our Children Might Return to the Church, but Our Grandchildren Most Likely Won’t

It is no surprise that the children of the Church are growing up and growing out of Church. What is surprising is that they are not returning. Worse still, they are not bringing their children. A priest once told me that he was not worried about kids going to college and starting their careers out of the Church, because eventually they too would have kids and that that is when they would return. That way of thinking about Church attendance and growth just won’t do anymore. The problem is not just that the Church is hemorrhaging in attendance[1]; rather, the underlying problem, the reason why church association is hemorrhaging is that the American church has consistently communicated to the younger generations that their formation, membership, and involvement is worth less than that of their parents, who by the way have the money. I am routinely surprised by how often we suppose that children are too uneducated, too unsophisticated to understand the depth of faith. Having grown up in a fairly anti-intellectual tradition, I came to …

Gravity and Grace and Lady Bird

Given its setting in a Catholic high school, Lady Bird is a natural draw for Catholic audiences, especially those who attended Catholic grade schools or high schools. Nearly all of the typical Catholic school jokes are there in some way, shape, or form: nuns performing random spot checks to make sure uniform skirts are the appropriate length, stolen glances between the boys and girls across the aisles during the all-school Masses, even leaving room for the Holy Spirit during school dances. What distinguishes Lady Bird is the fact that these jokes, these moments, are never mean-spirited toward the Catholic school or the Catholic Church as an institution. These moments are wryly-observed, lovingly crafted, and beautifully acted with a quietly joyous humor that disarms audience members who would view the Catholic school with scorn, and thaws audience members who would place the Catholic school on an idealized (and utterly unrealistic) pedestal. Even the moments that could be considered borderline irreverent never cross the line into sacrilegious, because these moments, too, are rooted in truth and joy …

Where Do Theology and Cognitive Psychology Intersect?

Both college educators and students are rushing to connect psychological, educational, and neuroscientific findings to learning outcomes. Students study psychological research such as C. Dweck’s academic growth mindset in order to develop their learning trajectories. Professors are immersed in a burgeoning market of academic pedagogy models that stress retention of information in addition to conventional assessment. Three influential examples include: Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, What the Best College Teachers Do, and Small Teaching.[1] These are indeed exciting developments. On the one hand, institutions of higher learning are challenging students as learners to cultivate integrative and appropriative methods for their own academic development and retention. On the other hand, faculty are ever lauded not only for the precise presentation of content, but also for fostering the critical and integrative skills that bridge collegiate learning into life and work. Concerning both, however, as any faculty or student will admit, these goals are much harder to actualize than to theorize. As researchers in the psychology and theology of memory, we wish to suggest how …

School as Personalist Community

Education is power. I’ve heard this many times, and I don’t disagree. However, our educational system is in crisis. Our diocesan schools are in crisis, and the solutions coming from the top don’t really seem to be helping. Parish schools continue to close. Test scores don’t actually measure the health of a school or the quality of the learning taking place there. More parents are seeking other options, choosing to homeschool or find alternative models. There is less and less faith in institutional schools, and as families pull out, the sense of community in these institutions falters. As a parent, I totally get it. I too find it difficult to trust the education of my children to a large scale operation that often seems bureaucratic and distant. I like to think outside the box, something many “old-school” schools aren’t comfortable with. I would like to offer, however, that the solution is perhaps simpler than a complete overhaul of the system. I would like to offer that a school can become a place of joyful learning …