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This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

I’m not a resident of Wisconsin and am not incredibly familiar with the issues involved in the Scott Walker recall, but, based on what I do know, I’m very much rooting for him to survive tomorrow’s recall vote – precisely because of the union issue.

Now, there is a place and a role for labor unions, and there were times in the Industrial Revolution era when they were really the only practical means for workers to escape what was outright exploitation. But, while our economy has changed, too many unions have responded by essentially acting as little more than interest groups whose ultimate goal is self-enrichment (or, to be more precise in many cases, the enrichment of the union leadership and not necessarily the rank and file!). Private-sector unions (which, in some cases, have been allies of Governor Walker) have to keep their demands somewhat realistic and practical, knowing that their own welfare depends upon the financial solvency of their employer. But, it seems to me that the growth of public-sector unions has removed this check of “reasonableness”, for they don’t look at the financial solvency of government in the same way that a private-sector union must view the financial state of a company. It really does seem, here in CA as well as in WI and probably many other states as well, that the public-sector unions often do view government as an entity that is ALWAYS able to grant what they demand (and that if government doesn’t do this, then it is simply because anti-union people are in charge).

When I hear of teacher unions here threatening strikes against districts that simply and objectively don’t have the money to give them what they want, it makes more clear to me that these unions really do need to accept the fact that public resources are NOT unlimited and that no government can simply raise taxes, sell bonds, or divert funds from some other function in order to give them what they seek. I also have a HUGE problem with public-sector unions engaging in partisan political activity and donating large sums of money – collected largely from union dues – to political campaigns or causes, especially in states that don’t have right-to-work laws. If I am forced to join a union in order to have a particular job, then should my union leadership take my dues and donate them to, say, the Democratic Party without giving me any say in the mattter? Unfortunately, this is commonplace.

Personally, I would support requiring public-sector unions to abstain from partisan political activity, just as we have laws that regulate the political activity of individual civil servants, for such unions are comprised of people who work on behalf of the public as a whole and are paid from public tax revenues.

So, I am hoping that Walker survives, if only to send the message that public employee unions have a responsibility to protect and promote the public trust and cannot count on being able to manipulate the system to protect their own interests at the expense of those of the public who employs them.

I say all of this, of course, as a public employee myself.

My husband, who arrives everywhere five years and one month before I do, was just allowed access to this year’s A.P. scores at 1 p.m. today and spent several hours updating his career spreadsheets. He posts:

In the category of “I’m starting to feel old”, I calculated that I have now taught 969 students just in A.P. classes in my career, and they have taken, for my classes, a combined 2,317 A.P. exams.
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I think he should have one of those old-fashioned McDonald’s signs installed in his classroom: “x number taught since 1996,” along with testimonials (which are legion) that “College history was a cakewalk after taking your A.P. Euro class” or (today’s contribution) “My parents took me to the casino for the first time and I didn’t enjoy it at all because I knew how the machines were rigged from taking your A.P. Stats class.” Oh, yeah, and “Thanks for ruining ‘The Wizard of Oz’ for me, Mr. J.” A [Peter] class is not a class unless he ruins _something_ for his students. šŸ˜‰

I’ve yet to find a person more interesting to talk to than Peter. He is “the most interesting man on earth,” not that bearded old guy guzzling Dos Equis. Sheesh, the least that dude could do is get himself a bottle of Mission Street Pale Ale and sit himself down for a lecture on the history of Italy (my favorite lecture of Peter’s)! šŸ™‚

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

I have never liked NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, and it is already painful to watch this time around as well. It is practically tailor-made for people with severe ADD or who only care to watch athletes from other nations when the top foreign athletes make major mistakes. They can’t stay on one event for more than a few minutes, and I am already quite tired of the fact that they have once again hand-picked a group of American athletes to turn into this year’s media darlings, complete with biographical videos and heaps of swooning praise from the commentators even before these “darlings” have won any medals at all. We have plenty of athletes who qualified for these Olympics by working just as hard to get there, but who apparently don’t make such good stories for NBC and hence are pretty much ignored. I keep hoping that Olympic coverage will some day return to sanity and fairness (and, ideally, more respect for the sports themselves and for the actual competition, even though I’m not sure that a few of these “sports” are worthy of much respect), but the John Tesh phenomenon that we were introduced to in 1996 (when we were practically forced to give all of our attention to a small group of athletes who each overcame some newsworthy obstance in a heart-wrenching struggle to get here) is still obviously NBC’s coverage mode of choice.

Back in 1996, NBC’s Bob Costas really annoyed me after one of our media “darlings” was defeated in a swimming final by immediately suggesting that the winner must have been using drugs. To me, that was a ridiculous lack of sportsmanship and journalistic ethics on Costas’ part. Because one of NBC’s favorite athletes lost, the winner must have been doping? Well, about two minutes ago, I heard Costas do the exact same thing again, suggesting explicitly that the Chinese winner of the women’s 200M individual medley may have been “doping” in order to achieve such a fast time (he presented no other warrant for his statement). Oh, he did say that we need to keep an open mind and not rush to judgment, but why did he even raise the possibility – something which he knew would create suspicion despite his disclaimer? Terrible journalism. What I can’t figure out is why NBC plugs Costas into its coverage of literally every sport it covers, despite the fact that he a) isn’t really an expert in any of them, as far as I can tell, and b) doesn’t exactly serve as a very good example of sportsmanship or fairness.

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

It blows my mind that Michigan, of all states, may pass a right-to-work law. I hope that it does, of course, just as I wish that California had such a law. At times in our history, unions have done great things for workers, especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when most legal protection for workers did not yet exist. But I really do believe that we need to get over this notion today, left over from those earlier years, that unions are somehow sacred, like churches, and that their moral virtue and necessity are thus dogmas that cannot be questioned. Any objective study of unions easily reveals that they are often led by people who are personally corrupt and whose own agendas clash with the real interests of their rank-and-file members. And, of course, their unabashed and aggressive political partisanship – regardless of the views of their individual members – shows a basic lack of respect for who their members are and how they think.

I work in an occupation that is largely unionized, and it sickens me to see teacher unions in other districts in this area openly preferring that cash-strapped districts lay off large numbers of younger teachers rather than make what are actually small cuts in benefits for those teachers who keep their jobs. How does that constitute the kind of defense of workers that unions claim to universally support? It seems to me that, while they serve some useful function today, unions have largely become a new sort of oligarchic elite, comprised of people who wish to restrict further entry into their field (lest the “pie” of wealth have to be split too many ways) and who are led by political activists who often enjoy rather lavish lifestyles as they steer union policy towards whatever will most benefit themselves and their political bedfellows (see: the Hostess collapse). Activists who oppose laws like the one that Michigan may soon pass couch the debate in terms of moral struggle, but what the union leaders are really afraid of is a dramatic drop in their personal clout and status.

Apart from all of these considerations, what Michigan is doing is simply a matter of practical sense. The fact is that states with right-to-work laws are doing a better job of attracting and keeping businesses (and hence jobs) than those without, and states like Michigan need to join the former crowd if they wish to catch up.

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

People complain that the cheating policies of schools like Harvard are too strict, but the real problem is that our high schools have policies regarding academic dishonesty that are moving further and further away from the policies students will encounter in college and which don’t really teach the students much at all.

Here at [my school], a student who cheats, on the first offense, gets a zero on the assignment (which, in most classes here, doesn’t have a huge effect by itself on the student’s final grade) and some detention (which consists of eating lunch in a classroom where one can socialize with the other inmates – unlike at [my previous Jesuit school], students in detention here need not complete any work whatsoever). On a second offense, students are supposed to be suspended, but enforcement is iffy and suspension is basically a vacation. California law requires public schools to give suspended students the opportunity to make up all missed work for full credit, so there really is no “bite” to it at all. Most public high schools out there have similar policies. And then these same students end up at universities where a first offense can mean forced withdrawal from school for a semester or more.

Students who have reached adulthood should certainly know better than to cheat and should know what “cheating” is, and so I have little sympathy for those who are busted for this at the university level, but I do believe that our high schools need to do a much better job of preparing students for this sort of thing and of sending a clearer message regarding the gravity of academic dishonesty. Granted, we don’t have the same ability to kick students out as a university has, but certainly there should be some punishments with a bit more “kick” to them.

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

This is one of the worst-written editorials I have seen in a while, but it illustrates one of the problems that we see when most American journalists try to cover issues related to the Catholic Church.

First, most of them just aren’t sufficiently knowledgeable about it. They don’t understand its doctrines or practices, and so they make quick, uninformed presumptions that are often flat-out wrong. If a journalist who is not Catholic and doesn’t know much about how the Church works is assigned such a story, I can understand how that would be a tricky and difficult story for that person to write. But, in that case, good journalistic practice would dictate being very careful in drawing and stating conclusions. What we see instead in most of our media outlets is journalists who are anxious to make bold and dramatic statements, even at the expense of accuracy.

Second, American journalists – like many other commentators throughout our society – see the Church (and often religion in general) through a set of very narrow American lenses. So, we have editorials like this one, which evaluates the papacy of Benedict XVI as if he were a presidential candidate. The kinds of changes that this editorial talks about – changes which the author blames Benedict for not making happen – are ones which can take decades, and the Pope is not someone who can wave a wand and change what others believe anyways. We Americans listen to our presidential candidates promise quick solutions to huge problems, and we expect them to make those happen. We start scoring them on their success almost immediately. And, we expect lots of glad-handing, lots of photo opportunities with a perfectly orchestrated appearance, and plenty of touchy-feely moments where our leaders engage in token interaction with groups of people that warm our hearts. Leaders who don’t do that here are often considered disappointments or worse, and this editorial seems to be applying those very same standards to Benedict XVI.

Some of the general issues he raises are ones we can certainly discuss. What was the real progress of ecumenism? What was achieved in terms of healing schism? But that requires actually study and perspective, not a quick “He failed!” like this author impulsively states. Seriously, if we are so disappointed with our quality of leadership here, as so many are, why should we so reflexively apply those same standards to religious (not political) leaders from other (not the U.S.) nations? But that won’t stop a torrent of American journalists from evaluating Benedict XVI the same way one would evaluate a candidate for the Oscars.

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

For those who haven’t come across this article yet, it is one of the best I have seen so far in terms of summarizing the new Pope’s vision for the Church and the world. Weigel is uber-connected as far as inside sources, and he includes here some fascinating details regarding the 2005 conclave, in which Cardinal Bergoglio finished second, as well as some good (though brief) analysis of the fact that he is a Jesuit.

It is quite amazing to see just how much vitriol has been thrown his way in just the last two days. Some people, it is true, simply can’t wait to levy verbal attacks against the Pope, regardless of who that person may be, but I am quite surprised at how many of these attacks are so poorly-conceived and researched, as if his critics have not even bothered to do their homework first and are jumping on any rumor they come across in hopes of smearing a man who, quite frankly, unnerves and perhaps even frightens them. I’ve been seeing this sort of thing online from ultra-traditionalists, who are accusing him of being some sort of closet heretic bent on perpetuating all of the liturgical abuses and doctrinal deviations of the post-Vatican II era (one site even claims to know that he will do these things, despite all of his previous actions and statements to the contrary, simply because he is a Jesuit and thus must be hiding his true intentions!). And, on the other side, I have seen him accused of hating gays, hating women, and hating all sorts of other people simply because he has always upheld (as we would expect him to do) Church teaching on issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Now we also have these creepy accusations of “not speaking out” sufficiently against the actions of earlier Argentinian dictatorships. Apart from some clear inaccuracies concerning actual sequences of events, I find these attacks especially nauseating because a) they often require no proof or substantiation in order to be persuasive to some people, since accusing someone of not doing something is so much easier than accusing someone of having actually done something, b) they often neglect the fact that action behind the scenes – unnoticed by critics such as themselves – is often more effective at accomplishing good than loud protesting, and c) they reflect the very “Americanist” viewpoint that the proper way to address injustice is to verbally protest publicly, which is a reflection of our culture’s naivete and the fact that we have never been ruled by a regime under which such protest is not safe and under which quieter routes of resistance are often far more effective. Besides, how many such critics here in the U.S. ever really “speak out” against injustices committed by our own government, which, for all of its faults, doesn’t imprison people or kill them for doing so?

The bottom line is that the new Pope is a person who does not operate by conventional social rules in terms of his own life priorities or his vision for the world, and that freaks some people out. There are many people who can tolerate those whose principles are different from their own, provided that those people are lukewarm in living those principles. What makes that tolerance disappear quickly is when such people actually take their principles to heart and live them.

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

Today is our annual, mid-year full day of faculty meetings, and the first two hours consisted of a presentation called “Teach Like A Champion” by some so-called “teacher coach” who works in the teacher prep program at [the local state university].

First, she talked to us as if we were elementary school teachers or even, at some points, elementary school students. In trying to illustrate how alternative pedagogical methods could be devised, she forced our biology teacher to come to the front of the room and sing a rap song about cell division. She put forth the usual, worn-out mantras from the 1980’s and 1990’s about how students should be teaching each other in the classroom, though apparently “cooperative learning” as a term has given way to “learning clubs” (I had never heard this term before, but apparently it refers to groups of three or four students who teach each other during class).

At a few points, she took very direct and pronounced jabs and Catholic schooling and at Catholic educational philosophy, mocking the supernatural dimension of it quite openly, though her biggest complaint about it seemed to be that the Catholic school teachers she had when growing up were not all state-credentialed (yeah, the credential makes the teacher . . .).

The kicker came later, though, when she was trying to teach us how to “celebrate” right answers in the classroom, suggesting that we make a tradition out of yelling things such as “Yippee!” when a student does something well (yes, she used that as an example).

Finally, she told us that we should celebrate ourselves as teachers, and so she passed out cheap party streamers to all of the faculty and asked us all to blow into them. I, like about half of my colleagues, gave her the “This is so stupid” look and declined to do so. The sad part is that our teacher prep programs at the university or district levels have lots and lots of people like her working in them.

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

Forty years now since Roe . . . The losses, in terms of the children who were never allowed to be born and the awful suffering endured afterwards by mothers and fathers of aborted children (for such parents often do not really understand what they are doing or are pushed into such a decision by people around them who have a very different stake in the matter) are beyond staggering and calculation.

It is easy to be outraged at the way the Court made that ruling. Here, you had some justices who wanted to uphold something not because there was a clear warrant for it in the Constitution, but because they personally supported it and wanted to find a way to legalize it somewhow. So, they scoured the Constitution to find some sort of reasoning they could concoct for making abortion a “right” on par with those rights explicitly provided there, and they arrived at a “right to privacy” (which they used, albeit in a very different context, in the earlier Griswold decision), which is apparently a “penumbra” that permeates and surrounds the Constitution(?!).

What they explicitly tried to avoid considering was the possibility that an unborn child might have some rights as well, and whose right to live – just as yours or mine – might take precedence over this “privacy penumbra”. Of course, they couldn’t avoid this entirely while maintaining some degree of credibility and so (perhaps also to try to quiet their own consciences, which I have to imagine were tugging at them here) they ruled that abortion could be restricted later in a pregnancy, thus establishing the horrifying precedent that we (or, more properly, a handful of people in positions of such power) can arbitrarily pick a boundary for when “life” begins and hence when we will afford people any protection under the law.

We have not yet even seen the full and terrible consequences of that way of thinking, especially given the momentum today towards denying life support to people who need it on the grounds that, since they are not “viable” on their own, they do not deserve to be kept alive. I do believe that, some day, legal abortion in this country will end, for tragedies such as this usually do end eventually once the disastrous effects become so manifest that society can no longer tolerate their continued existence. When that will happen, I cannot say. Sadly, slavery lasted two and a half centuries here before its end, and it took a century further beyond that point for people of all backgrounds to be granted equal rights under the law. Hopefully, it won’t take that long this time around . . .

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

This is a gutsy and worthy move by the relatively-new bishop of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, despite the heavy flak he is getting in return. If Catholic culture and society in the U.S. are faltering in terms of faith and practice, the problem starts with education, both in the classroom and without. And it is a real scandal to have teachers in Catholic schools making clear to the students that they personally detest what the Catholic Church values and teaches. I’ve seen plenty of this firsthand, and I’ve seen what the results often end up being for Catholic school grads later in life. I know that some will chide this bishop for violating “academic freedom” and for interfering in the personal lives of teachers, but it is a simple fact that teachers teach through personal example as much, if not more in many cases, as through classroom pedagogy. Catholic schools have historically recognized this fact more than public schools have, which is why education in Catholic schools tends to be more “personalized” than in the Industrial Revolution-model public system.

As for “academic freedom”, it is a well-established principle of human society, here and abroad, that, if you wish to work at propagating a message for a business, organization, or church, you need to be on board with that message yourself. Does the U.S. military allow all of its members to speak their minds however they wish and live as they please in the name of preserving personal freedom? Of course not. If you can’t be in line with what the military stands for, believes in, and practices, then you need to get out of it. If a Honda salesperson were to tell customers that he personally considers Toyotas to be superior to Hondas and that those customers should be shopping for Toyotas instead, we would not defend that employee’s right to remain employed there on the grounds that his freedom of expression must be protected. And political parties do the exact same thing. When was the last time the Democratic Party allowed anyone who was openly pro-life on the issue of abortion to have any sort of prominent party position or prime-time convention speaking slot? Why would the Catholic Church – and its schools – not have these same prerogatives that we concede are common-sense in secular society? If you’re going to teach at a Catholic school, it makes sense that, on the major moral and ethical issues of the day where the Church’s teaching is well-defined and established, you be on board with it.

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