Thursday, November 12, 2009

Remembering Aunt Louise

Despite the fact that I'm the eldest of two daughters, who's the eldest of two daughters, who's the eldest of two daughters, and that I come from a looooong line of WASPs, dating at least back to the American Revolution, if not the Mayflower, I do have some colorful stories from my childhood.

I was reminded of one of my favorite elderly aunts when I was reading The Philosopher Mom's blog posting for today. My story isn't quite as detailed as Kalynne's because my memories are sporadic and disconnected, but quite vivid all the same.

My great great Aunt Louise was my grandmother's aunt (on my mother's side), although she was only about nine years older than my grandmother. Aunt Louise became like a sister to my grandmother when my grandmother's mother died in childbirth just before her little girl was delivered by cesarean. My grandmother was only three years old when her mother died. Her grandmother took her in and raised her and her baby sister because their father didn't feel he could raise two little girls on his own. My great great grandmother had already birthed fourteen children of her own and Aunt Louise, at age twelve, was the youngest still at home. We always visited with Aunt Louise when we'd go to Kentucky to see my grandparents. We'd drive there nearly every summer from Colorado, except for a few summers when my grandparents would come to visit us.

Aunt Louise was married to Uncle Bill and they lived in a big ol' white house with a big ol' white goose in the backyard who always managed to evade our attempts at catching her. Aunt Louise's four poster bed was so high there was a step ladder to climb up into it. She had an attic upstairs and would let me explore it by myself. I always loved sneaking away to the attic alone while the grown-ups were talking. I don't know if she put the toys up there just so that I could find them or if I really was clever enough to uncover those antique treasures. One of my favorite toys was a tiny cast iron stove that was fully functional (less the fire burning inside it) and it looked just like the one she had in her huge country kitchen. There were also little china dishes that seemed to me to be at least a hundred years old. I always felt like I stepped back in time when I would climb up into her attic.

Aunt Louise was a rather large woman...must've been at least 5'8" and over 200 lbs but she never seemed fat to me, just large and full of love. When she hugged me those huge bosoms of hers would swallow me up and I knew that everything was right with the world. She made the best sweet tea, fried chicken, corn on the cob, biscuits and gravy, grits and turnip greens and to top it all off--homemade blackberry pie--and that was just lunch. We'd sit in her spacious homey kitchen for hours eating, and as the grown-ups were talking about people and places I knew nothing about, I'd stare at the countless do-hickeys and knick-knacks scattered around her kitchen, hanging from the walls and ceiling and tucked into every nook and cranny.

Her husband, Uncle Bill, liked to hug me too, but I always felt uneasy when he'd hug me just a bit too long. Turns out when Aunt Louise had to put him in a nursing home because he was getting a tad senile, he tried groping all the nurses and he got himself into a heap of trouble.

I still smile when I think of Aunt Louise, and I'm relieved that my kid instincts on Uncle Bill were correct enough to know to push away when his hugs got a little too much.

RIP Aunt Louise and Uncle Bill.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Berlin Wall and Other Forms of Bondage

It was twenty years ago today--November 9, 1989--that communism collapsed. It was a rather sudden and inexplicable lifting of travel restrictions from East to West Germany, specifically within the divided city of Berlin, that caused swarms of people to head for the West. East German guards had to stand by and watch as both East and West Germans chipped away at the wall which had divided their city, their nation and even families for the previous twenty-eight years.

I remember watching the news reports myself twenty years ago today, dumbfounded. I knew it was monumental, but I don't think it struck me (being only 26 years old myself), how truly monumental it was.

President Ronald Reagan was no longer in office when the wall fell, but he is often credited with helping to pave the way for the wall's destruction. His speech of June 12, 1987, in which he famously tells Mr. Gorbachev to "Tear down the wall," is cited as one of the keys to Reagan foreign policy. There was certainly no doubt what President Reagan believed:

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.

There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Pope John Paul II is also credited with helping to end communism. He was a Pole and a fierce opponent of communism who had lived much of his life under the oppression of a communist state. He was a beacon of hope to those living under oppression. His first words as pope were, "Be not afraid!"

Thank you God, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II for helping to bring down the Berlin Wall.

May we never forget the spiritual, political and economic bondage that was communism.

But communism of yesterday has been replaced by government control of a different sort. Today, we freely give up our sovereignty and liberty under the guise of unilateralism and compromise. The European Union is a fine example of what happens when states turn over their sovereignty. Italy has been told to "Tear down crucifixes" from its public schools in the name of uniformity and compromise. President Obama is poised to sign the climate change accord at Copenhagen next month which would require the US to abide by carbon emission standards set by other countries for us.

We are on the brink of being saddled with what some analysts say is a $1 trillion price tag for government run health care, which would include health care rationing.

Our government seems more concerned about fighting a two-degree rise in global temperatures over the next 100 years than fighting Islamic terrorists.

According to a Wall Street Journal editorial in today's paper, Global Warming as Seen From Bangladesh, three billion people worldwide do not have access to basic sanitation and safe drinking water. These people would much rather have covered sewer drains and clean drinking water than worry about rising temperatures or sea levels. In fact, cutting carbon emissions will "likely increase water scarcity, because global warming is expected to increase average rainfall levels around the world." Too bad poor people everywhere.

If we are to learn from history, then we must never forget the scenes of utter joy as humanity was released from bondage on that day twenty years ago. And let's not allow our elected officials to enslave us again.

Pres. Reagan and me, circa May 22, 1985
~shameless plug~

Sunday, November 08, 2009

We need a conscience clause!

At Mass this morning, our priest read a letter from the US bishops, commenting on the proposed health care bill, which was voted on late last night by the US House of Representatives.

One of the bishops' objections, our pastor pointed out, had been addressed by last night's vote. The Stupak Amendment rejected federal funding for abortions. However, there are still many objectionable elements in the current health care bill. One of these is the lack of a conscience clause for Catholics and other health care workers who object to participating in actions which are opposed to their personal beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

President Barack Obama promised America, in his commencement speech to Notre Dame, that his administration would promote a rigorous conscience clause for health care workers. There is nothing in the current bill which would allow health care workers to recuse themselves from medical procedures which violate their consciences. The consensus of the current political climate seems to be: no objection allowed.

The US bishops have declared that access to health care is now a human "right." What happened to it being a "work of mercy"? It is now a basic human right. The popular culture has long declared contraception to be "health care." Does this mean that Catholic taxpayers will be required to fund contraceptive drugs and devices, many which act as abortifacients? How have we slouched this far to Gomorrah that we now view contraception as a "basic human right?"

The US bishops have also declared that all "immigrants" are entitled to comprehensive health care. By using the term "immigrants," do the bishops really mean "illegal immigrants"? I can only assume they do, since many American citizens are immigrants, but no one would question their right to anything granted to citizens by birth.

Rather than guilt-trip American Catholic taxpayers into funding health care for illegals, why don't the bishops start a Catholic welfare organization which would fund health care for all persons, regardless of immigration status? It is the work of the Church to help the poor, but it is not necessarily the work of the state to do that.

Furthermore, why promote benefits for illegal immigrants who have already violated US law? Why not instead promote easing of the restrictions for US citizenship, so that more people would have access to the benefits of legal citizenship?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Philosophy of Relativism and the Catholic Way of Looking at Things

Have you ever been in a discussion with someone about something important to you...say, politics or religion or education and you find that you and your colleague are in sharp disagreement, and you really don't want to start a row, so someone says something to the effect, "You have your way of looking at things, and I have mine and that's okay" ?

That happens a lot among polite people who don't want to lose a friendship or stop speaking to a relative because they didn't vote the same way in the last election.

You can't argue with someone else's experience. But when they start using their own experience as proof that their opinions are true in all cases, you've got a problem. The problem with relativism is that each individual gets to choose their own reality based upon their own experiences. In effect, each person becomes their own little god. And when they try to ignore the conflict that arises when different people have radically different experiences, they say, "You have your truth, and I have mine."

Taken to the extreme, this idea that opposite opinions can be equally valid is one of the aspects of relativism which has taken hold of our modern culture in our effort to promote "tolerance," "empathy," and "diversity."

On second thought, some opinions are not considered by our culture to be equally valid if they infringe upon the real or supposed rights of a protected class of people. Just try sending your child to school in a t-shirt that says something like "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."

Tolerance, empathy and respect for diversity are noble qualities, don't get me wrong. I want my kids to be tolerant of their annoying siblings, empathetic to the plight of the poor and respect people who don't speak English, but I don't want them to think it is good to be annoying, poor or ignorant.

Mark Shea spoke at Theology on Tap last night in Denver, and his topic was "101 Reasons NOT to be Catholic." He listed the various reasons people object to Catholic beliefs, such as: "The Catholic Church is against Choice," and "The Catholic Church says believers can lose their salvation." Or, "The Catholic Church is anti-sex," and "The Catholic Church wants people to have lots of babies." He juxtaposed these radically different claims, usually made by radically different folks, to show that perhaps the Church is really in the middle...and the observers are on the extremes.

Jesus promoted tolerance, empathy and diversity more so than any other person of his day. After all, he ate with sinners, told rich folk to give all their money to the poor and collected a motley assortment of followers to be his disciples.

The relativistic person who says, "Your beliefs are true for you and my beliefs are true for me," are really saying there can be two competing claims of "truth" that are both equally valid. They are really the ones in the extreme. But remember, no one really believes that in the important areas of life, (religion, politics and education, for example), opposing viewpoints have any merit. We're just trying to be polite.

But in those important areas of our lives, we need to assert our claim of truth. For example, those who claim that a woman has the "right to choose" abortion of her unborn child because she is the only one who really knows her situation and it is between "the woman and her god," are forgetting there is a competing "reality" in this situation, and that is the reality the unborn child experiences. If the promoters of relativism were really true to their beliefs, they would consider that others have competing claims that are equally valid and worthy of respect. The unborn child's claim to life should therefore hold equal weight to the claim of the woman for independence from the unborn child. In a span of nine months or less, the woman's claim for independence can be granted, and the child can be placed for adoption. In this incidence of competing claims for reality, it seems logical that both claims should be balanced so as to protect the rights of each to the greatest extent possible and doing the least harm to each.

The teachings of the Catholic Church, therefore, protect the rights of both parties to the greatest extent. Far from rejecting the claims of the woman for independence, the Church recognizes the reality of the unborn and fights to have the value of each person protected.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The lost tools of learning: will we ever find them?

I've been doing a lot of off-blog debating these days. It concerns the direction our little homeschooling co-op turned public school option program is going.

We have been happily partaking of the federal trough of taxpayer funded homeschooling resources through a great program called Home Option Program of Education. What began as a few moms sharing teaching efforts in a Christian co-op has expanded to utilize public funds for teachers and facilities and is now looking at creating their own charter high school.

I went to a few charter committee meetings during the summer to share my ideas for curriculum and a classical education, having used such a method, with some degree of success, for the past 18 years of homeschooling. As one of the early members of the program, and with four high school graduates under my belt, I figured they'd want to listen to my ideas.

Boy, was I wrong!

Little did I know the charter committee had already decided their course of action would have no part in medieval ideas of classical education, for they had already charted their course for "collaborative learning" and "critical thinking."

There's nothing like having to do a little research in educational theories and methods to fully convince one of the merits of homeschooling. I just did another re-read of Dorothy Sayer's essay, The Lost Tools of Learning. I'd forgotten just how delightfully refreshing it is to read her essay, first presented at Oxford in 1947.

I was struck by just how appropos this excerpt is today. Perhaps even more so now than it was in 1947:

For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of "subjects"; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education--lip- service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.

I would love to say that after 18+ years of homeschooling, I've gotten it right and I am doing a great job of introducing my kids to the lost tools of learning, but the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. I just hope my kids end up being smarter than me. Some of them already are!