This is Mr. C. here to once again give you an opportunity to excel. Do you have what it takes it to pick up the metaphorical gauntlet I’ve thrown down? If so, expand on this first sentence:
Quite by accident, I turned myself into an ant while camping this summer, and I spent an entire day as a drone in a colony.
Continue the tale of your day as an ant by adding another 250 or so words to the sentence above. Save your submission as a Word document file-named Gauntlet 1 [Insert Your Name Here]. For example, my file would be Gauntlet 1 Mr Chance. Email your submission to mchance at theregisschool.org.
Submissions are due to me by Thursday, August 18. After that, I’ll review, format, and start posting them under the Challenge Answered category, and then you too can join the Hall of Heroes. Huzzah!
Last post, I waxed philosophical and then briefly looked at how my priorities change from Vacation to Vocation. Now that I’m back in the classroom, I can’t do some of the things I did during the summer, whether at all or to the same extent. For example, if I decide I want to catch the matinee of Brad Pitt’s new movie today, people will likely wonder where I am and why I’m not in class where I ought to be.
“Ought” is a great word. It’s authentically English, dating back to the 12th century. It’s Old English roots relate to owning or possessing something. In the case of “ought”, what I own is a “duty or moral obligation” (to quote etymonline.org). It is a stronger form of “shall”, which itself is a stronger form of “will”. Consider:
I will wash the dishes.
I shall wash the dishes.
I ought to wash the dishes.
The first sentence is a statement expressing a modicum of intent. I’ll wash the dishes…but maybe not. The second sentence is stronger. The use of “shall” implies serious intent. But now consider the third sentence. Note the lack of direct object. “Ought” is intransitive, but the word’s definition means that doing the dishes is something that I owe to someone else. The dish-washing activity is a debt that either must be paid or else must be forgiven by whomever I am in debt to.
A student’s school work fits into the same category as that third sentence. His school work is a debt he owes. For my students, this debt is most immediately owed to his family, who has chosen to bear the financial costs of enrolling him in a private school. This is no small point. A student can fail to honor his debts in a public school for considerably less money.
And so we return to changing priorities. Let’s take a look at one part of the 7th grade’s ELA agenda:
Notice the four homework assignments. Only one of them is due the following day, but it is an assignment that (1) must be typed and (2) must be printed before ELA class begins on Tuesday, 9 August. Reading “A Message to Garcia” has a due date of Wednesday, 10 August, and the assignment requires reading and answering two questions to prepare for the class discussion. The third assignment isn’t due for ten days, but it’s not the sort of assignment most students can put off until the last minute and expect to do well. “The Tyger” must be memorized for recitation in front of the class. That requires daily practice (at a minimum).
Considering just ELA class, a student who during the summer became accustomed to staying up late, sleeping in, and doing little else other than playing video games and eating now finds himself with a dilemma. The several hours between sunup and sundown that were perhaps largely unstructured are now not only structured, but are structured by adults paid to ensure the student learns X, Y, and Z. His time is no longer his own. His family has purchased his time (in the form of tuition and fees) and then given that time to other adults.
We demand a lot from students, most of whom have what is effectively a full-time, unpaid job overseen by numerous competing bosses. Each student must now adjust. He has few hours remaining in the day which he might get to call his own. He can ignore what he ought to do about his ELA work, but he cannot avoid the consequences of those choices. The grade book does what it does with the data it’s given, and as King Lear noted, “Nothing will come of nothing”.
Fortunately, putting first things first helps, even if it doesn’t always make the task more pleasant. Earlier I wrote that the student’s time is no longer his own, which is true. What’s more true is the fact that his time was never really his own to begin with. Neither is my time really mine or your time yours. To begin with, the time we have belonged to God, Who in His wisdom and good grace gives us “our…threescore years and ten” (see Psalm 90). We’re supposed to use that gift of time to do first things first. This is how we honor the Giver.
When I get to part three of this series of posts, I’ll return to the ELA agenda and offer a concrete plan for one way that students may do what they ought to do.
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates dialogues with several younger men about the nature of justice. Early on in the dialogue, Glaucon and his peers lay out a forceful argument that justice is not a virtue. Instead, justice is a utilitarian consideration. We submit to the demands of justice only because the consequences for not doing so are worse. What would be best would be the ability to practice injustice without consequences. This way, all of one’s wants and needs would be met, albeit at the expense of others, all of whom would have to be powerless to resist or retaliate. Since it isn’t possible to practice injustice without consequences, we accept the demands of justice, chiefly defined by the laws put into place by the ruling class, because this is the only means by which we thwart injustice, or at least gain reparations when subjected to injustice.
Socrates has no easy answer to this formulation. His earlier assertion that the just man is the happier man regardless of the consequences of his commitment to justice has not been refuted. It has been rejected as not convincing enough when compared to the utilitarian conception of justice. Socrates demurs from further argumentation and instead engages his students with an exercise in creative storytelling. Socrates invites them to “make a city in speech” (Book II, 369c) as a way of determining what is justice. What follows is a discussion in the theoretical and the imaginative. The conclusions reached are neither prescriptive nor proscriptive. They are descriptive, and Socrates trusts that his students’ own good sense will help guide them, if not to the correct answers then at least away from the incorrect ones.
Books III and IV focus mostly on the guardians, that aristocratic class of warriors who serve the kings by defending the city against both lawlessness and foreign powers. Much of the discussion relates to the necessity that the guardians be both courageous and moderate, with emphasis on moderation. The students understand that the guardians are a threat to justice unless their courage is guided away from self-interest toward service to the city. Not only must the guardians’ needs be met, but their wants must be regulated not by outside force but by inner conviction formed by proper environment and education.
In Book IV, Glaucon grows impatient with all the talk of moderation. He wants to find justice rather than yet more reasons to set limits. He asks Socrates, “How could we find justice so we won’t have to bother about moderation any further?” (Book IV, 430d). As the discussion continues into Book V, it becomes clear that without moderation there can be no justice. Those who accept no limits to their behavior do not act justly. Those who do not moderate their desires will not experience justice. Instead, these immoderate persons perceive limitations on their behavior as unjust. Their rallying cry is, “That’s not fair!”
As the new school year begins, we approach a time of increased moderation. During the summer, I can stay up late, sleep in, binge watch the British sitcoms of the 1970s, et cetera, all without any serious consequences. The time I spend during the school year as a teacher is more or less on hold during the summer. Now, with August right around the corner, my priorities must shift. The hierarchy of tasks changes from Vacation to Vocation.
Think of this hierarchy as a sequence of events assignment in literature or history. Given a list of things, put them in the proper order, with the first thing first. Here’s my list in alphabetical order: Family, Friends, God, Me, Work.
I dislike sequence of events assignments for one reason: get the first item wrong, and odds are good that everything that follows is wrong. For example, here’s the proper order for the items listed above:
If I leave out God or put God at the bottom of the list, everything ends up wrong. Socrates touches on this point in Book II during the discussion about regulating the stories told to the children of the guardian class. He says, “…we must supervise the makers of tales [about gods and heroes]; and if they make a fine tale, it must be approved, but if it’s not, it must be rejected” (Book II, 377c). Children will be told only the approved stories in order “to shape their souls with tales” (Ibid.). Socrates understands that there is a necessary link between having a correct idea of the divine and having a correct idea of justice. If the stories children hear teach them that the gods are deceitful, greedy, and violent, then children either may think it’s okay to be deceitful, greedy, and violent, or else children may think that the gods should be ignored, resulting in a sort of practical atheism.
Either result is disastrous both for the individual and the republic, which is a form of government that requires belief in an objective reality in which human rights are grounded and that therefore imposes necessary limits on both human behavior and governmental authority. Without that belief, the results are either the anarchy of a mob or the tyranny of an oligarchy or an autocrat. Regardless, justice becomes impossible because whatever justice is, it cannot be merely what a majority can force a minority to do, nor can justice be whatever the police state dictates.
In my next post, I’ll look at the list above from the perspective of a student, attempting to suss out some of the implications related to what it means to be a successful student.
Graduation time conjures up a legion of people ready to offer congratulations, farewells, and wisdom. The graduates are told about what they can expect as they go forth. Speakers laud them for their achievements and remind them to use what they have learned. Graduates are ready to make their mark, to make the world a better place, et cetera. The analog clocks of graduation time tick and tock with the sounds of hope, and rightly so.
The Regis School seeks to form young men as gentlemen and scholars within an environment nurtured by the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. The greatest of those is charity because charity is the eternal virtue. Charity reigns in Heaven among the Church Triumphant, who no longer have need of faith or hope because they have no doubts and have achieved perfect happiness. But, as the Apostle Paul instructs, love remains.
Hope is for the Church Militant, for those of us still working out our salvation, perhaps with at least a modicum of fear and trembling. The world is often an unfriendly place, and influential societal shapers offer a bewildering array of distractions, most marketed not as a way of avoiding responsibility, but instead put forward as Just the Right Thing. Advertisers tell us in order to sell us products that our lives lack Just the Right Thing, but have hope because here it is, available to all who want to be happy for a price that, even if high, can be broken down into a series of easy payments.
So, in keeping with the graduation times, I come bearing words. The Beatles tell us the best things in life are free. The advice that follows this paragraph is free. Therefore, the advice that follow must be well worth reading.
I can already see some of my students rolling their eyes. Mr. Chance, who often has a hard time shutting up, is telling others to talk less. I admit it. I’m venturing into the realm of “Do I say, not as I do.” All I can offer in my defense is that just because I’m guilty does not mean I’m wrong.
It’s far too easy to get wrapped up in the negative. I struggle with focusing on the very many good things I encounter every day in my life. I know that I ought to share stories of victories, of good deeds, of unexpected blessings. More often than not, however, I have a hard time remembering those things. They get lost in the shadows of my pride and my disappointment. Then, when asked how my day was, all I can think of to share are those things that failed to live up to my expectations. How much better would life be if I could live according to just one Irish proverb?
“Leave the bad tale where you found it.”
I love the use of the word tale in the proverb. A tale is meant to be told to others. That is a tale’s function. Humans are tale-taking creatures, which means sharing stories is hardwired into our nature. If I could leave the bad tales behind, how long would it take for that proverb’s corollary to become a habit? I’d become one who takes good tales with me.
And, for a time, I’d probably talk less, at least until my store of good tales exceeded the burden of the bad ones that I didn’t leave behind.
I can see more eyes rolling. Of course the English teacher is going to say read more.
But let me explain. I don’t necessarily mean read more books. It’s not about quantity. It’s about quality, specifically the quality of how well I understand what I’ve read. We today have so much to read. Too much to read, really. In days of old before the invention of the printing press, books were rare and precious things. Those blessed with enough education to be literate had few books to choose from, and so readers in the ancient world chose carefully and they read not many books, but instead read a few books many times. I’ve read Song of Hiawatha at least ten times. Every time I read it, I understand something new. I’ve read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer more than that. Every time I read it, I understand something new.
The book read and re-read doesn’t change. I change. If I read a book once a year, every time I read it, I’m a year older. Another year of triumphs and failures has passed. Another year of experiences gets added to the lenses through which I understand the world. As a result, I’m better able to grasp Hiawatha’s helplessness when Famine and Fever invade his home. I’m better able to see the devotion shining in Becky Thatcher’s eyes because Tom tells a lie to take a beating for something Becky did. “Tom, how could you be so noble!" Becky says, and my heart breaks for want of hearing anyone I love say such words to me.
Be on the lookout for that good book that merits more than one read. When it’s found, keep it. Revisit it and see how what it says has changed.
Hear is different than listen. Hear is transitive. Listen is not. I can hear a voice. Voice is the direct object. Voice receives the action of hear. I cannot listen a voice. I can listen to a voice, and it’s long seemed to me that the prepositional phrase reduces the quality of the action. I don’t want to be listened to. I want to be heard. I ought to want to hear others as well.
Hearing involves more than just the ears. It involves the eyes as well, even if they’re closed so that I can hear better. Not too long ago, Mrs. Chance and I enjoyed a performance of Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin. We sat too close to the stage, and I found it a struggle to both hear and see different performers at the same time. When the lead male sang, if I focused on him, I could better understand his pathos, but then I missed the details — the context clues, to wax English teacher — provided by the reactions of the other actors on stage at the time.
Hearing also involves the heart and the imagination, especially when the eyes and ears can’t help. This happens when I read. To be present in a book requires the imaginative act of seeing, hearing, and feeling what the characters in the book experience. The author’s words help convey that information. Without the effort to hear more than just the order of the words on the page, I fail to do justice to the author’s work.
More than theater, movies, and books, the people in our lives deserve our attention. They deserve to be heard.
Nota Bene: The following Challenge Answered was submitted by the parent of a Regis Knight.
By Lady Ashley D.
I entered a Time Machine, knowing it would only work once but I had to go back and fix this one mistake. It seemed slight at the time and, after all, we’d never heard of Regis until that fortuitous day when I drove by Regis en route to showing a house around the corner. But, this I would fix – to have sent Baker to Regis for PK-3 instead of waiting until Second Grade. My biggest regret about Regis, is that we didn’t discover it sooner. It must be fixed because I have regrets about throwing him into busy halls with loud echoes, a lunch room too deafening to eat, and a playground too small for his stride, from PK4-1st Grade. If we’d only known about Regis, where he ultimately flourished, ate lunch in peace, discovered his confidence, made life-long friends, and was formed into a Gentleman and a Scholar.
But regrets give us a snapshot of the Goodness. Perhaps I wouldn’t have the regret if I couldn’t retrospectively ponder because I wouldn’t know the difference. Maybe then, I would have taken it for granted. So, I’ll acknowledge the regret, fix the mistake but remain keen on knowing the “why” and stay in the present, with overwhelming gratitude for Baker’s educational experience at Regis. Despite us not having arrived sooner, his benefit has not been shorted. He is prepared for High School and I’m confident he’ll emulate the 5 Goals of the Sacred Heart throughout his bright future. Thank You, Regis.
By Page Tennessee G.
I entered a time machine knowing it would work once, but I had to go back and fix this one mistake. The minute I stepped out of the time machine, which was shaped in a similar fashion to the telephone box in Dr. Who, I stepped out to look at Cambridge's surroundings, specifically in this new 1884 environment. I went right to Harvard University. Once I arrived at Harvard, I went straight to John Harvard’s statue of four lies. I then went to the administration of the school at that time and asked why the motto was “Veritas” which is Latin for truth, which is good, but just like Harvard sees applicants, not good enough. My belief is that Harvard’s motto should have been “Laborare, Expecto Rejectionis” which is Latin for “work hard, expect rejection.” The administration immediately accused me of being a witch, which is odd because I’m not a witch, but they tied me up and took me to a large hill where everyone in the town surrounded us. The administration of Harvard lit torches and exclaimed, “He knows secrets even our top scholars know not of! Thou shalt be burned alive!” At this point I began to panic. I looked around to see if I could escape. No chance I’m getting through this. The administration lit me on fire, which was unpleasant. I woke up and looked around to see if I was still on fire. I was not. I looked at my clock, and started to panic again, I’m late for class! I exited the apartment and headed off to my first class of the day at Yale.
By Page Asher R.
I entered the time machine, knowing it would only work once, but I had to go back to fix this one mistake. I had to stop the creation of disgusting Oreo flavors. I must fix this mistake because these flavors are outrageous abominations that shouldn’t exist. Oreos are chocolatey vanilla goodness. It is just wrong that the likes of Wasabi, Hot Chicken Wing, and Cherry Coke Oreos exist, and there are other crimes against humanity.
I will fix this by stopping Nabisco, the maker of this normally delicious treat, from ever hiring the demented people that came up with the evil flavors. I will use the time machine to convince Sam Porcello that Oreos must always be protected and kept in their original flavor. Most people don’t know this, but Sam Porcello invented the Oreo Cookie, and he is a flavor genius.
When I go back in time, I will explain to Sam what people have done to his creation, and I will let him sample some of the tragic flavors that I will delete from history. I am concerned that he might like some of the new flavors, but I will convince him that if Oreos are to exist, they must stay in their original state because a true Oreo can only be chocolatey vanilla goodness. It isn’t right for anything else to be considered a true Oreo, and Sam must protect his greatest legacy.
By Page Ruslan B.
I entered the time machine, knowing it would only work once, but I had to go back to fix this one mistake. I ponder before entering, for I could use it twice, to get in the past, and out of it. After some thinking I knew what I must do. I would go back to fix the mistake that cost me an honor reward in 5th grade. I press the button without hesitation, mentally preparing myself for what is to come.
It is now October 8, 2019. I recognized my school immediately. I walked up and grabbed the door, but all the entrances were locked. So, I came up with a plan to sneak inside. I saw a teacher walking towards the door. I followed her, and quickly slipped in after her. It was 12:22 p.m. on the clock, and my social studies teacher was currently explaining the project to the younger me.
After wandering the halls for a bit, I managed to find my younger self returning from a bathroom break. I told him to not delay on the project and do it as soon as you get home. I breath in relief as the young me stared at me blankly, wondering what was happening. I gave my past self a short explanation and surprisingly he understood quickly. I explained the consequence of how me delaying working on the project lead me work all night and get a D-. This caused a massive decrease of my Social Studies grade.
But my job wasn’t over yet. I came to Dean of Students and told him about the situation. And before he could respond, I cleared his memories of our encounters and told young me to tell no one, and I ran as fast as could to the time machine. And so, it was over, but I was very much unaware of the damages I caused to our timeline by pulling out the memories of the Dean.
At long last! Another Gauntlet! I’m throwing it right at your faces, O students of the Regis School of the Sacred Heart. Dare you pick it up and answer the challenge? If so, read on. The challenge is to expand on this introduction:
I entered the time machine, knowing it would only work once, but I had to go back to fix this one mistake.
Expand this sentence into about 250 words explaining the one mistake and why it has to be fixed. Save your submission as a Word document with the file name Gauntlet 7 [Insert Your Name Here]. For example, my file would be Gauntlet 7 Mr. Chance. Email all submissions to mchance at theregisschool.org.
Submissions are due to me by Thursday, 7 April. After that, I’ll review, format, and start posting them under the Challenge Answered category.
My son Christopher and daughter Adrienne are in their early 20s. Between the two of them, that’s more than four decades parenting experience. I’ve been teaching for about 25 years. Assume 60 students a year. That’s several centuries of time spent with other people’s children. Here are three of the more important insights I’ve gleaned about educating children.
1. Homework Is Second
A fundamental piece of the mission and philosophy of Sacred Heart schools is the idea that the one who leads the best is the one who serves the best. The saints, best exemplified by the Virgin Mary, demonstrate that leadership of others and service to others are linked. Of course, the paragon of the “servant leader model” is Jesus Christ, who “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 22:28). Homework, so the story goes, serves to benefit the student by giving him extra practice with important concepts. The beneficiary of homework is the student, not someone other than the student. After a long day at school, a student who returns home with homework should not give top priority to that homework. To be sure, it’s more than reasonable for him to rest a bit, put on some more comfortable clothes, have a snack, et cetera.
But then the things that must be done must get done, and first things have priority. Service to others takes priority over service to oneself.
So, before homework gets done, a student should train his leadership skills by doing something around the house that benefits someone other than himself. He could, for example, do the dishes. He could walk the dog. He could take out the trash, or mow the lawn, or help a younger sibling with his or her homework. This training in leadership works best when the student identifies what acts of service need doing, and then he chooses which one to do. The initiative ought to be his. When the student’s initiative falters, his parents — those primarily responsible for his education — ought to step in and at least offer a few choices.
As my 8th graders learned reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the difference between work and play is not the activity. Rather, the difference is found in the choosing. As Mark Twain explained, “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” When I choose to do the dishes, I enjoy doing the dishes. When I end up doing the dishes, the exact same activity irritates me. Young men — who are all leaders in training — deserve the opportunity to discover the distinction between Work and Play.
2. Devices Are Second, Too
Technology can overwhelm. Tools that are meant to make work easier end up making it easier for others to pile more work on us. Those same tools present numerous distractions that make work harder to get done. Add in technology specifically designed to facilitate play, and work diminishes further. Add to this a strange trick of the mind. Everyone has experienced being so immersed in an activity that one loses track of time. What seems to have occupied only minutes of my time ends up consuming hours. Soon, the time that I had to complete X, Y, and Z is gone, and I haven’t gotten beyond W.
Just as homework takes second place to service within the home, so to do devices that distract from work take second place to homework. The research about the destructive habits and negative psychological effects of too much exposure to the Internet and other forms of electronic entertainment, especially many social media sites, is enormous and pretty well established. Many of these entertainments thrive by presenting us with Pavlovian stimulus-response loops. After I’m done writing and posting this little essay to my site, I’ll post the link on social media. Then, since I’ve been trained to salivate when the bells rings, I’ll be drawn to check over and over again to see who has liked my social media post. Did I get an up thumb? If so, from whom? How many interactions have there been? If someone leaves a comment, I must respond to that comment. And so my electronically reinforced distractibility keeps me focused on something other than what I’m supposed to be focused on.
Time spent using devices, especially devices that grant access to the Internet, must be prioritized and limited. My children ten years ago did not have to deal with the level of distraction that today’s children face. If my son Christopher were in middle school now, I’d impose clear limits. It might look something like this:
* First, relax for a bit after a hard day of school.
* Second, pick which form of service you’ll perform and then perform it.
* Third, do your homework.
* Fourth, after all of the above is done, you can watch TV or play a video game or whatever.
And step four would include time limits. No more than an hour, for example, and it certainly would be the case that the various weapons of mass distraction would not be kept in Christopher’s room. They’d be in the shared spaces of the home, and, at night, even his phone would end up somewhere other than in his room. Bed time is bed time, and lights out means no electricity. The only activity that might delay lights out would be reading a book.
3. Personal Grooming Is Not Optional
Here I must speak directly to young men. Read and consider carefully these words of wisdom.
Like it or not, people judge you by your appearance. People judge not only you by your appearance, they also judge your parents — especially your mother — by your appearance. This isn’t fair. It’s not right. But it is the truth, and you can shut doors that ought to have been kept open by the way you present yourself in public. So, you must do these five things:
* Bathe daily with soap. That includes washing and combing (or brushing) your hair.
* If you wash your hair at night, you need to wash and comb (or brush) it again in the morning, unless your hair is as about as short as mine usually is.
* Wear deodorant everyday. If you sweat a lot during the day, bring deodorant with you to school. (I keep deodorant in my desk at school, but it’s mine; get your own.)
* Put on clean clothes everyday. This includes your shoes and the clothes that people can’t see because they’re worn under other clothes.
* Get a haircut at least every three weeks. The longer your hair, the more often it needs cutting.
There is one important rule for haircuts: If your bangs hide your forehead and eyebrows, your hair is wrong. It either needs to be combed away from your face or cut shorter. Fortunately, there are numerous options available for you no matter what kind of hair you have. Here are a few excellent links:
Best Haircuts for Black Men
How to Grow Your Hair Out Long (for Dudes)
A Man’s Guide to Brushes and Combs
Men’s Hairstyles: What’s the Difference Between a Taper and a Fade?
The Knights of the Mightier Pen gather in the hallowed halls of the Regis School in Houston, Texas, to share their tales and poems.