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?
Today, we celebrated our annual Father-Son Mass. The celebrant was Father Jim Murphy, CSB, President of St. Thomas High School. During his homily, he gave the us fathers and father figures a homework assignment. He instructed us to share a lesson our fathers had taught us. Here’s my homework.
When I was in the fourth grade, Mom, my sister Sarah, and I traveled to Harrison, Arkansas, with Jimmie Chance, the man my mother had recently married. He is my adoptive father. His parents, my new grandparents, lived in Harrison. I don’t remember much about the trip, but I do remember canoeing on the Buffalo River. I’d never done that sort of thing before, and it was an adventure in a strange place with many people who were strangers at that time.
About mid-day, we stopped on a pebbly riverbank for lunch. I asked Mom if I could play in the water. She said I could but told me not to go too far. I wore a life vest, but I could not at the time swim, so Mom’s caution was sensible. I told her I’d be careful.
I was not careful.
I went too far, and I discovered that a life vest, when water is sufficiently deep, has enough buoyancy to lift a fourth grader off his feet. The water’s current took over, pulling me toward the center of the river and carrying me farther and farther from the pebbly bank. I called loudly for Mom. She yelled Jimmie’s name.
Today, right now as I write this sentence, I’m more than forty years older than I was that day. I vividly remember the sequence of events after Mom yelled Jimmie’s name. He looked in my direction, tracking me floating away. He dropped his sandwich as he ran, taking several steps. He dove into the river, head up, eyes locked on me, arms outstretched so that as soon he plunged into the muddy water he could start swimming. He caught the life vest near my shoulder and backstroked toward the pebbly bank. When he could stand, he picked me up, cradling me in his arms, and walked me to Mom, who took me from him.
I don’t remember anything else from that day.
A bit more than a week ago, I began an educational experiment with my 8th grade ELA classes. Back in 2011-2012, I bought a copy of Microscope, “a fractal role-playing game of epic histories”, written by Ben Robbins and published via Lame Mage Productions. I’ve read of other teachers using the game as a learning tool, and for years I've wanted to do the same.
The set up for Microscope is simple enough. I randomly divided the 8th graders into groups of three or four students per group. Each group’s work is recorded in a shared document. I then randomly assigned each group one of five Big Pictures. Within an 8th grade class, every group has a different Big Picture. One of those Big Pictures is this:
Refugees carve out a new life in a distant land.
After establishing the groups and assigning each group a Big Picture, the students got to be creative, but within a few guidelines. The process moves between collaborative and non-collaborative. For the latter parts, each student gets his chance to establish more or less by fiat an aspect of the epic history the group creates. Continuing the history being written by one group for the above Big Picture, we see these facets, beginning with the Bookends, which are the start and the end of a group’s fictional history:
Beginning Period: Nuclear war has broken out, and nobody is safe. The only way to escape is up, defectors must enter the space capsule and leave behind earth to reach Mars.
Ending Period: The colonists' peaceful time on Mars has ended abruptly. The indigenous aliens oppose the colonization and fight for their land. Warships emerge from the emptiness of space seeking to reclaim their land. After a long war, the colonists lose, but they manage to board a space capsule and flee to their former planet Earth.
After the Bookends, the group decided on the Palette. This gives each student a chance to include or exclude an element from the shared story. The Palette is not collaborative, but one student cannot outright contradict what another student has already stated.
Included Elements: planets, Mars, NASA/space organization, plague/disease, and a human tyrant
Excluded Elements: children, Asteroids
After the Palette, each student gets to participate in the First Pass, during which he gets to add either another Period or an Event within a Period. This starts the process of fleshing out the fictional timeline by adding elements that occur between the Bookends. For example:
Period 1 - Time on Earth: Nuclear War leads to nuclear fall leaving Earth uninhabitable. A group of humans flees Earth in hopes of establishing a new life elsewhere.
Period 2 - Time in Space: After humans stole the spacecraft, they flew into space looking for a new planet to live on. Their engine broke down and they had to crash it into a planet that was discovered as Mars.
Period 3 - Time on Mars: After the humans land on Mars they find ways to survive on this unknown planet and must work together to survive.
Event 3.1 - The War between Humans and Aliens: After a brief time of uneasy peace between aliens and humans war breaks and life is in jeopardy for the Humans.
As our experiment with Microscope continues into the fourth quarter, the students will increase the detail of their fictional histories. They shall add characters. They shall act out short scenes to explore the outcomes of conflicts that they invent. The students’ points of view shall jump back and forth from the macro to the micro. While their work ends up in chronological order, the creative process itself is not constrained by fictional time. What the students choose to explore need not be sequential.
Along the way, the students learn and reinforce some valuable skills. Collaboration is not easy. Strong personalities have to tone it down to ensure everyone has a voice. Quieter personalities find themselves thrust into the spotlight, having to at least briefly take on a leadership role within the group. Attention must be paid to cause-effect in order to construct narratives that make sense. Elements of characterization come up, especially regarding motivation and consequences of choices.
The 8th grade gentlemen are done with the initial steps of the Microscope system. The ten groups have good starts made for their respective fictional histories. When we return from Spring Break and the last quarter of the school year begins, this experiment in team storytelling shall continue.
I am eager to see what their fictional histories reveal.
Correction: In the original post, I stated that Ben Robbins, author of Microscope, was a teacher. Mr. Robbins has since corrected me. Mea culpa maxima.
Today, I'm going to talk about a subject that I'm quite familiar with. I'm going to talk about me.
Several years ago at another school, an administrator explained to me that I ought not take my job personally. This administrator advised me that a student's difficulties in class aren't my problem. Those difficulties belong to the student, and as such do not reflect on my skills as a teacher or my dedication to the profession.
But each year when I was evaluated (often by someone who had never set foot in my classroom while I was working with students), the government-issued evaluation form claimed to measure the effectiveness of my classroom management skills. If students misbehaved, it was some combination of me:
1. Being too permissive with discipline.
2. Being too strict with discipline.
3. Being too arbitrary with discipline.
If my classroom management skills were fine, but students still misbehaved and/or got poor grades, then that too was my fault. When that annual evaluation rolled around, the same government-issued form explained that a lack of student achievement was due to some combination of me:
1. Failing to plan engaging lessons.
2. Failing to take into account student interests.
3. Failing to take into account student differences.
So, when that administrator told me that a student's difficulties are not my fault, that statement was not quite accurate. When it came time to be evaluated, the criteria used made it clear that at least some of the responsibility was mine. Imagine a student who does not behave properly or learn well in my class. Can I honestly say that I bear no responsibility for that student's lack of progress?
Which, of course, is not to say that I bear the primary responsibility. I remind my students that they cannot escape two great truths about education:
1. The primary responsibility for behaving like a scholar is yours.
2. The primary responsibility for behaving like a gentleman is yours.
No matter how well I plan a lesson or how clearly I communicate behavioral expectations, a student who refuses his primary responsibilities is going to run into problems, and that's his fault. When necessary, the student must be held to account for his failures, preferably in a way that demonstrates the benefits of cooperation.
But that does not let me off the hook. At other schools, I've worked under administrations that I felt were a bit too permissive about student conduct and/or achievement. That also does not let me off the hook. No matter what, I must do what I can to encourage my students to succeed both morally and academically (and it ought to go without saying that the former is more important than the latter). Thus, I must do these things:
1. I must set the example morally and academically. I cannot ask a student to be either a gentleman or a scholar if I am not both.
2. My example must be visible in both word and deed, especially in deed.
3. I must pray for my students, especially the ones who most vex me.
4. When praying for vexatious students, I must pray more for me to have the grace I need than I pray for the student to amend his behavior.
That last point cannot be over-emphasized. Returning the word to its Latin roots, "educate" means "to lead out of". If I'm going to be the best educator I can be, then I have to be out front of my students, leading them to where they need to go while pointing out the paths they ought to avoid. If a student gets lost, I've got to do my best to find him, to take him by the hand if necessary to get him back on the narrow way.
The Knights of the Mightier Pen gather in the hallowed halls of the Regis School in Houston, Texas, to share their tales and poems.