Last Friday I mentioned the Pope’s powerful words to the University of Notre Dame, and how I hoped the university would really take them to heart.
In particular, I said:
I mean, I don’t want to foist my own personal biased political agenda (albeit backed up by Church teaching) on Pope Francis’ words, but that sounds a lot to me like: Don’t back down on the HHS mandate. Don’t give in. Don’t be like everybody else. (See last Friday’s post)
However, my dad brought an article to my attention by Richard W. Garnett, a current law professor at ND, entitled “Solidarity, Not a Scolding.” He argues that interpretations (like mine) that discern a critical tone in the Pope’s message are off the mark:
Surfing around the more “conservative” sectors of the Catholic blogosphere, though, one might get the impression that Pope Francis had called the university on the carpet for a Petrine scolding, or for a finger-wagging session dedicated to chastising Notre Dame for its various failings, or for marching orders regarding the handling of the university’s lawsuit challenging the HHS contraception-coverage mandate. (Garnett via National Review)
And, quite honestly, Garnett does a good job of explaining his view. Perhaps I was too hasty in detecting a critical tone in Pope Francis’ words. I thought about this for a while and reread the message, as well as Garnett’s article.
But then I remembered that I am a teacher. And though it sounds absurd to compare myself to Pope Francis, I feel like I recognize what he is up to as the primary teacher of Catholics and Catholic institutions.
He is teaching, and he is using the method my karate instructor used to call “praise, correct, praise.”
Yes, Pope Francis is very laudatory about Notre Dame’s “outstanding contribution to the Church” over the years and its “commitment to the religious education of the young and to serious scholarship inspired by confidence in the harmony of faith and reason and in the pursuit of truth and virtue.” He praises the university for what she has done well.
But I think the critique remains. He then uses the subjunctive mood–“shoulds” and “oughts”–and speaks of what the ideal Catholic university ought to do in more general terms.
Finally, he ends his message with an uplifting, encouraging tone.
Praise. Correct. Praise.
I do the same thing when some of my kids are misbehaving or, at least, thinking about it:
“Good job staying focused, Andrew and Emily. All of you should be writing silently and answering the question on the board to the best of your ability. The best answers will not only be in complete sentences, they should also carefully explain the evidence they provide, Peter. Nicely done – keep up the hard work, everyone.”
I am correcting and critiquing certain behaviors without drawing undue attention to them. I am focusing instead on what the kids ought to be doing in order to remind them.
I think Pope Francis was doing something very similar.
But Garnett argues:
To the extent [Pope Francis] was being critical, the object of his criticism is not the university for its alleged half-stepping but those “quarter[s]” — such as the United States Department of Health and Human Services — that are trying to undermine and dilute Catholic universities’ and institutions’ “uncompromising witness” and commitment to “missionary discipleship.” (Garnett, Ibid)
But Pope Francis was not speaking to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. He was speaking to the administrators of Notre Dame–the ones who are actually in control of the university’s “uncompromising witness” and “missionary discipleship.” While I agree his critique of entities that are seeking to undermine the Catholic identities of American schools is evident, I also think it’s clear that he is addressing these remarks to the people who have the responsibility to resist such forces.
What do you think?
Speaking of Pope Francis’ praise-correct-praise style of teaching–
My friend Molly recommended the Pope’s Message for World Youth Day: “Resist ‘low cost’ offers of happiness and embrace the revolutionary Beatitudes.”
You should really read this address. It is beautiful and motivating.
It also demonstrates the pope’s awareness of one of the primary weaknesses of young people: the tendency to embrace easy happiness rather than lasting happiness.
To be blessed means to be happy. Tell me: Do you really want to be happy? In an age when we are constantly being enticed by vain and empty illusions of happiness, we risk settling for less and “thinking small” when it come to the meaning of life. Think big instead! Open your hearts! As Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati once said, “To live without faith, to have no heritage to uphold, to fail to struggle constantly to defend the truth: this is not living. It is scraping by. We should never just scrape by, but really live” (Letter to I. Bonini, 27 February 1925).
Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/02/06/pope%E2%80%99s_message_for_wyd:_resist_%E2%80%9Clow_cost%E2%80%9D_offers_of_happiness_and/en1-770756
of the Vatican Radio website
Notice that the Pope is pointing out an error — the error of “scraping by,” the error of “settling”– that so many of us (young and old alike) struggle with. But he sandwiches this critique (for lack of a better verb) between encouraging images.
The young people don’t end up feeling criticized or judged, even though they have been given the opportunity to examine their own consciences.
As a teacher of young people myself, I know how important this is. Yes, sometimes I need to be harsh with them and be more explicit in my criticism–but these occasions are rare. Most of the time my students respond best to encouragement and challenge.
Speaking of encouragement and challenge–
I finally shuffled my way through a mountain of essays. I was a little disappointed in a lot of the essays, and thus my comments on the papers were copious and critical. My kids repeatedly forget their audience. They assume their readers can read their minds, and they don’t see the need to thoroughly explain evidence.
Most distressing of all was that errors we had discussed and learned how to fix many times before– unclear pronoun references, pronoun / antecedent disagreement, lack of parallelism, etc. — kept occurring.
Even worse, it was obvious that some of the kids had not really put any effort into proofreading.
So, really, I was frustrated.
But telling them I was disappointed wouldn’t do anyone good, except perhaps to relieve my own feelings.
So I did my best to find the things they DID do well – like the thesis sentences (granted I gave them a formula for this) and the much-improved conclusion paragraphs. I made sure to tell my classes what they had done well first, and then I explained to them that I was going to give them a more structured way to explain evidence and be sensitive to the audience:
They look like this at their most basic level:
But you wouldn’t believe how challenging they can actually be for many of these kids.
The top piece of bread is Context – and I broke this down further and told the kids they had to tell me two things: 1) Where in the poem the quote is from and 2) what they plan to do with it / their topic sentence.
The nutella in the middle (I always call it nutella) is the quote itself, incorporated using one of the four methods I taught them last semester.
The bottom piece of bread is the analysis. Again, I explained this more simply: 1) Paraphrase what the quote means in your own words and 2) Explain how this quote proves your topic sentence.
I hope this helps them.
My friend Mary, who teaches 3rd graders, suggested that I watch this video.
If you are a teacher, you will love this.
Even though this video is about addition, the struggle it reveals is something I encounter on a daily basis with high school kids. How do you help students do their own thinking when sometimes it seems like… they can’t… think…?
I guess I’m sounding pretty darn critical about my students. But actually I am also impressed with them many times!
For instance, I replayed my evidence-experiment-scenario I first explored my first year of teaching with my honors students this week, and then had them discuss the meaning of seeking the truth in a poem, and how using evidence factors into that.
I did it more gently, of course, and with a lot more thought and preparation than I had when I tore about poor Abbey’s argument about Emily Dickinson.
My honors kids did really well, and even gave me a lot of suggestions about how I could do a better job of encouraging truth-seeking in my classroom.
I mean, this is my dream job.
So I look like this most of the time: