Wednesday, April 28, 2010

PowerPoint This!

In a classroom lesson, as in writing, anything that does not advance the lesson, or essay must be cut. Beautiful language is no excuse for gratuitous verbiage. A teacher, like an essayist, has only so many minutes and words to make his point, and therefore he must be ruthless with his editing.

The same can also be said for equipment and tools in the classroom. I love Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Hamlet, but at 242 minutes, it is simply too long to show to a class at the rate of 45 minutes per day. That’s six days of class time in the dark watching film. So we must select scenes to show.

Too much of any one thing spoils the soup, so to speak.

I read the recent article in The New York Times on the military’s use of Microsoft’s PowerPoint program with great interest. In education, PowerPoint has become, for many teachers, the only tool. Everything from notes to the final exam can be mounted on digital slides and thrust in front of students sitting in the dark staring at a screen.

The article comes with a sample slide depicting a visual interpretation of our military strategy in Afghanistan. It is worth checking out the article just for that. When General Stanley A. McChrystal, “leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan,” saw this slide, he thought it looked like “a bowl of spaghetti.” The slide definitely did not make our strategy clear. According to the article’s writer, Elisabeth Bumiller, “The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Bumiller goes on to write that in Brigadier General H.R. McMaster’s view, PowerPoint is overused. He banned the presentations when managing the war in Iraq. He saw the program as “an internal threat.”

“In General McMaster’s view,” Bumiller says, “PowerPoint’s worst offense is not a chart like the spaghetti graphic…but rigid lists of bullet points…that take no account of interconnected political, economic and ethnic forces.”

In the classroom, this means slides of lists without a narrative context will not help students make connections.

Here is what I have witnessed. Teachers put their notes on PowerPoint. They put up a slide of their notes, and read them to the students. Or, they put up the slide, and what follows is three to five minutes of awkward silence while the kids copy down the bullet points. Where is the narrative thread, the connective tissue among the points? The teacher must fill in the spaces between those bulleted points. In short, PowerPoint is no substitute for good teaching; it can only enhance solid pedagogy.

I was teaching John Keats’ “Ode On A Grecian Urn” to my seniors. We veered off into a discussion of how cultures have differing ideas of what is beautiful. This was a discussion—students and teacher freely sharing ideas. I wrote my notes on a plain white board in a kind of shorthand: words and phrases along with dates and names. I connected these ideas in a lecture format at the start of the lesson; once everyone had the background, we moved into discussion mode.

The discussion part, I allowed to flow freely. Students contributed, I added to the discussion, and we tossed around and mulled over themes and ideas. No technology needed, just good, old-fashioned thinking and discussing.

I wanted to show them some ideas from other cultures on beauty. I pulled up a slide of the primitive sculpture, Venus of Willendorf. Students marveled at the voluptuous figure. Next, I brought up an image of a Mursi woman from Ethiopia with her stretched lower lip. My final slide was a picture of a woman from Myanmar with multiple metal rings stretching her vertebrae and elongating her neck.

So to recap, for this forty-five minute lesson, I would have some notes on slides, saving me from having to write them out on the board during class. These notes would guide my lecture on the background of Keats’ work. I then would stop the slides and lead a discussion of the poem itself, stopping to add a term or a quick note on the board. When I wanted to illustrate different cultural ideas of beauty, I would show them three images of what other cultures think is beautiful. Again, I would allow a discussion of what we saw, leaving the images up so students could refer to them.

To use one piece of equipment, computer program, or teaching method exclusively doesn’t work. We need various tools and methods in our arsenal, especially today when students are exposed to so many different kinds of information sources. Multimedia is a buzzword, but a good one: life is a multimedia experience, so our classes and teaching must be as well.

Technology is a powerful tool. I am not a Luddite, and I welcome these new tools, but the passion for a subject like English cannot be over-shadowed by an obsession with gigabytes and wikis.

Teaching requires knowledge, passion, understanding, and dedication. A good teacher recognizes how kids learn, and knows the best way to get students fired up about Shakespeare, the intricacies of grammar, the power of writing. Technological tools can make that process more efficient and vibrant, but nothing takes the place of a conversation between teacher and student. To question and answer, debate and discover, takes the most basic, yet fascinating of technologies: the human brain.

In the end, that is all the technology we need.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Joyce Carol Oates In The Atlantic

One of my favorite writers, Joan Didion, wrote a book in 2005 about the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. I thought it was her best work, and that is saying a lot since her books of essays, The White Album and Slouching Toward Bethlehem changed me on a molecular level and continue to influence my writing to this day.

Joyce Carol Oates has always been, in my mind, the counterpart to Didion. They are the two women writers who set the bar by which all others are measured. Oates is extremely prolific, churning out novels, plays, and essays at a breakneck pace, all while teaching English at Princeton. Didion tends to take longer with her novels and essay collections, publishing frequently in magazines and journals like The New York Review of Books before gathering her work together for a book.

In the current issue of The Atlantic, Oates writes a piece on the death of her husband, Raymond Smith, well-known editor of the literary magazine Ontario Review, a project the husband and wife team started and have edited together since 1974. Since Oates is far more reserved about her personal life—something she addresses in the piece—I read her words with great interest. I find her fiction to be reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor, and her essays often have an edge of violence. What other woman writer takes such a blow-by-blow interest in the sport of boxing? However, she only occasionally delves into the personal whereas Didion has made a career out of parsing apart her life.

Oates’ work in “I Am Sorry To Inform You,” is riveting. When her husband dies, she returns to work within a few days, seeking the solace and objective distance of teaching literature. Focus on the work is her motto, to avoid falling into the chasm of grief. She hopes her students don’t know what has happened. “In the lives of teachers there are teaching-days, teaching hours like islands, or oases, amid turbulent seas,” she writes. The dead calm of the classroom is her sanctuary from those seas roiling inside her with the loss of her husband of 48 years.

Oates explains how she loses herself in teaching. “For two lively and absorbing hours I am able to forget the radically altered circumstances of this life…” In the classroom, she says, “I never discuss anything personal about myself, or even my writing…My intention as a teacher is to refine my own personality out of existence, or nearly—my own ‘self’ is never a factor in my teaching, still less my career.”

In her words, I hear Didion’s view of the role of the writer: to observe and report what happens, the way the writer sees the event, even if others do not necessarily see it the same way. In her essay, “On Keeping A Notebook,” Didion quotes Jessica Mitford’s governess whispering in her ear: “You’re the least important person in the room and don’t forget it.” It is the classic journalistic credo—the reporter observes and should stay out of the story. Third person objective. Of course, New Journalism blew this concept apart. Hunter S. Thompson, the pioneer of New Journalism, is as much a character in his work as the people about which he writes.

So Oates’ view is interesting to note: the personal does not enter her classroom. I teach from the personal all the time. We find connections between the literature we cover and our experiences, and that is one way we can access the themes of the text. I was taught to do this by several teachers I admired—that the literature may have been written a long time ago, but we must find connections to it in the here and now to make it relevant and immediate. Those connections—to our lives, to history, philosophy, science, and current events—are most important.

I like this article for what it offers beyond the portrait of grief—a rethinking of teaching methodology, the point-of-view of the writer, the way we think and operate in the classroom. I appreciate the window into her life and art, even though the situation is tremendously heartbreaking and tragic. Her response teaches strength and wisdom in the face of devastation.

She will be publishing a book on this period in her life in February 2011. The title is The Siege: A Widow’s Story. Like Joan Didion’s shattering book-length essay on the death of her husband—entitled The Year of Magical Thinking—I look forward to reading one of my favorite authors addressing how we live our lives in the face of pain, suffering and loss. Hopefully, she will expand on her teaching philosophy as well. For now, the article gives a powerful glimpse into her world of teaching and writing in the face of tragedy, in the way we all must carry on in the deepening darkness of palpable sadness.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Looking For Stillness

The bell rings, a combination of a shrill electronic note and the clang of tradition. The hallways flood with students. Someone is screaming in short staccato bursts. Four middle schoolers race down the hall at full tilt, yelling wild, incoherent squalls at each other, looking to be first in the cafeteria line. Their thunderous feet shake the building. A senior throws his backpack over the stairway; it lands with a solid thump on the first floor, nearly braining a sophomore girl making her way upstairs. Screams, screams, screams—two annoying juniors are laughing like hyenas: that is all they do—walk from one end of the hallway to the other shrieking like metal on metal, like a semi slamming into the center divider at eighty miles an hour. Stupid stuff.

I stand against the wall, eyes half closed, looking for the still point of destruction.

A stone tossed into a quiet pond radiates in concentric circles outward in tiny waves; so too does stillness begin at the center and ripple out. So I am trying to be still, to quiet the world from within. Most days, the world will not cooperate.

I was told by someone last week that I am “too emotional.”

My response, sitting here in my study on an unseasonably cold night? Do not mistake my intensity for hyperbolic emotion.

There is poetry in a grizzly bear, grace in the lumbering gait of an elephant. Somewhere, deep in the heart of the earth, magma shifts and the mountains grow a few inches. Air travel and capitalism are disrupted around the world by a cloud of ash.

Passion and intensity are good things, but through the cacophony of daily life, we also look for a small place of stillness.

Meditation: concentrate on the breathing, awareness, in, and out. My mind wanders. Stop. Refocus. Concentrate on the breathing, awareness, in, and out.

I go back to the orgiastic drone of maniacal life.

I know with the certainty of blood that I need to listen to the silences. Teaching is a way of life: literature, writing, words—all life.

Sometimes I fail to live the life the way I should. I must regroup, refocus, concentrate on the breathing, bring myself back to myself. This is who I am. This is what I do.

Simply knowing a subject, or the various theories and methodologies to teach it, does not make one a teacher. Some of the worst, most inept, recalcitrant failures are people who have all the degrees, credentials, and paperwork. They went to the finest schools of education. They are on the fast track. But they do not live the life, and therefore, they impede the forward motion. They clog the system.

Some days, I think they are the only ones working in education. The true believers, the ones who live the life and know the stillness that radiates outward, they have left the building. They have been run out by the know-nothings, the theorists who remain in the institution because as the cliché runs, “those who can’t, teach.” That is why education is a mess in this country. That is why the system fails—because most of the people in it, leading it, legislating it, are failures at understanding people. They love charts and graphs and computer data, but they do not understand the human soul or the power of learning. They do not find solace or comfort in the heat of a mind on fire.

In a few short days, my students will be sitting for the annual Advanced Placement exams. They are studying their literary terms, their test questions, the structure of essays, poems and stories. They practice writing. They take sample examinations.

I have been asked why I do not give more practice tests to prepare them. I have given my students three complete AP sample tests, but what is it with these small-minded people who think learning is all about drilling a test? Being an educated person, someone who loves to learn and absorb his world, is not simply about practicing or taking a single test.

To learn, we must question and think critically.

Be open to all things.

Listen and analyze.

Understand people and cultures, and believe in the power of their stories.

To teach, we must work from a still point inside so we can absorb the tumult of the world.

So I am looking for stillness. Some moments, I lose it; I despair; I am filled with anxiety. Then I go to my books, my philosophies, my poetry. I return to who I am, to what I feel called to do. If one is not passionate and emotional about learning, if the human mind is not sacred, she should quit the classroom and go home. This is not a job for robots or bureaucrats, or for those who hide behind mind-numbing paperwork and titles. Teaching demands passion, intensity, love of humanity, and wisdom.

The real test never ends. There is always more to learn and understand. It is a big town with a lot of streets and possibilities, hopes and dreams, journeys of a thousand miles and more.

“Come, my friends, ‘tis not too late to seek a newer world,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote. From a still place at the center of our souls, we must radiate peace out into the world. We must listen. We must be intensely passionate and filled with conviction that our work will lead to truth, that we will make this “newer world” a reality.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mount St. Mary's College

Last Sunday, I went to Mount St. Mary’s College, the Chalon campus in Brentwood, with my niece. She is thinking of transferring there for the fall to be an English major.

I have a long history with the Mount, as the faculty, students, and alumnae call it. My grandmother took a degree in dietetics from the school in the 1930s, and sixty years later, my wife followed suit with a liberal studies degree.

There was a point in my life, when I was on the cusp of adulthood, that my grandmother and I made the pilgrimage up the winding roads of west Los Angeles to the hilltop campus to hear a concert. It was the dead of winter, and my grandmother was trying to open some doors for me. She wanted me to attend Mount St. Mary’s for a music degree. I wanted to go to Cal State Northridge. CSUN had a jazz program. The Mount was steeped in classical.

Sister Teresita Espinosa, the music department chair, met us at the concert. She told us about the programs and facilities, the practice rooms, the fact that the school was mostly all-female, but certain majors were admitting men. Then she led me to the stage after the concert audience had filed out, and I sat down and played the gorgeous, seven-foot grand piano. The instrument was heavenly to touch and to hear. The notes echoed off the walls, reverberated through the hall.

Sister Teresita told me there might be scholarship opportunities, since my grandmother was an alumna. I stood there on that crisp, December night, and I turned it all down.

In the car on the way back down the mountain, my grandmother said, “Whatever the scholarship doesn’t cover, I will pay it.” She tried to change my life, and I walked away.

Years later, I accompanied my wife to the school for her classes. While she studied and researched, I worked in the basement of the library, writing my one and only unpublished, or should I say unpublishable novel. It was a quiet room with a large table and a view of the ocean. Sometimes I left the writing and thought about what my life could have been, the turn I might have taken, the doors that I closed. What if?

So there we were last weekend, with Kristina, walking the campus and listening to speakers, including school President Jacqueline Powers Doud. How familiar it all was, and how refreshing to hear someone speak of ethics and morals as a first priority of education. I haven’t heard someone speak of such lofty ideals for a very long time.

I went into the library, remodeled probably a few times since I worked on my writing there. Students shifted about, lounged in chairs reading, studied at desks. Silence, golden and pure.

Outside the weather was cold, the wind blew, and there was a hint of rain. Walking into the building to get warm, I passed a familiar face in the hall. She smiled at me with welcome. Sister Teresita. She thought I was a prospective parent, which for that day, I was.

Somehow, what I believed in as an English teacher, what I valued most about my job, why I finally did change my life long after that trip with my grandmother, all of that has been lost. I do not hear those ideals about education anymore. The idea of a classical education, one where character counts for something, and morals, ethics and values run like fine thread through the silk of golden dreams, that is what’s missing in the contemporary debate about teaching and learning.

My grandmother rests in her grave now. Her house has been sold, her possessions disposed of, her life remaindered to memory. I realized far too late, as is my habit, what she tried to do for me. I hope that I might be able to rectify my blindness by helping my niece. In this day and time, so much is uncertain. But I am glad the Mount still stands.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Weimaraner World

Since Stone the Weimaraner passed on, I have been warned by many people that I will see my best companion in the faces and mannerisms of other dogs. I have not found this advice to be true, but on Saturday at Woodley Park, the prophecy came very close to reality.

It was Saturday in the Park with Petey. And Bobo. And Hercules.

All are Weimaraners, and all frolicked in the park as part of the 16th Annual Weimaraner Festival presented by the Southland Weimaraner Club.

Events included a Weimaraner Health Exchange, where owners could swap stories of personal experiences with veterinarians, holistic healers, dog chiropractors, and canine acupuncturists. There was obedience training and a variety of games and activities for dogs and their owners, topped off with a potluck lunch and a rescue parade.

I have found myself lonely and desolate when I see dogs these days, and when I leave the house I cannot help myself. I touch Stone’s box of ashes and his picture on my way out the door, and once again when I return. My neighbor told me the best medicine would be to get another dog. I can’t. I am still in the stage where I will never have another dog.

When I drove up to the festival Saturday, I felt a little uneasy. But then I saw the grey ghosts. Ten, twenty, thirty Stone-like creatures all barking and sniffing and cavorting. It was good therapy.

I also got to touch base with Diane Monahan, the fearless leader of Friends For Pets, the Weimaraner rescue organization that put us together with Stone. Diane is a force of nature, a miracle worker with dogs. She once told me that Stone became the dog he was meant to be when he came to live with us. What she really meant was that Stone changed our lives for the better. I can only hope that we repaid the favor, at least in part, during the two years he was a part of us.

Accompanying these words are some pictures I snapped on Saturday. The lone non-Weimaraner is Madeline, the subject of my previous entry. She is getting along well, a little stiff, but enjoying her treats and a day in the sun.

I once found a book mark with a quote that said: “The dog is a god of frolic.”


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Please Help Madeline

A special Thursday edition of The Teacher’s View focuses on someone who needs your help. The following is a press release from Friends For Pets Foundation with an accompanying link to a video of a special friend-in-need:

Madeline is a friendly Wire Haired Pointer. Friends for Pets Foundation interceded for Madeline by taking her out of a shelter where she had been impounded and unwanted by her owner. She had a limp and her right rear hip muscle was atrophied. She was in a lot of pain.

An x-ray showed that Madeline's femur had been severely impacted and driven into her pelvic bone and it had fused that way. Our vet thinks she probably had been hit by a car when she was about 6 months old and didn't get proper treatment from her owner.

Madeline was going to need an expensive surgery if she was going to have a chance at walking and playing again.

Dawn VerMeulen took Madeline to a specialist and he said the only way to reduce the pain and let her lead a fairly normal life would be to perform FHO surgery. Dawn called FFP's Founder Diane Monahan from the parking lot at the surgery center to tell her the news. Without hesitation Diane said "How soon can he do the surgery?"

Madeline had the surgery the very next day.

And she's been in Dawn's care now as a foster, getting 24/7 attention and a lot of love during the rigors of her intensive physical therapy.

Obviously, Friends for Pets is committed to Madeline's future. She's now a happy, 10-month old tail-wagger who will become a wonderful member of some lucky family. She's healing up and should be ready for adoption in a few more weeks.

But the cost of the surgery and physical therapy is estimated at $5,000.

And that's why we are coming to you with this special appeal. Our funds are limited. It is only with your help that Friends for Pets can continue to rescue and care for pets like Madeline. So please open your heart and give a gift to help Madeline pay for her hospital stay.

Your gift of 25, 50, 75, 100 or 500 dollars, or any amount you can afford, will go a long way in paying off this surgery and helping us save countless other loving pets.

Send your check today or go to our website to donate now.


Here is the link to Madeline’s video on You Tube.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring Broken

Shhh!! I am trying to get something done here.

Amid all the splashing, crashing ocean waves, crystal clear skies and sunlight, I am chained to my desk. Spring break has broken. I have a week and a half off and I am frantically working to position myself for maximum teaching in the three weeks leading to AP exams starting in May.

In Los Angeles, there is no spring; we cut right to summer. It is eighty-plus degrees out and the Santa Ana winds are in full, gusty form. And I am correcting, correcting, correcting. I planned it out: seven days to do seven sets of essays. Plus, I must reread several books, organize handouts, and plan the next month of lessons.

Most people see this as a week’s vacation. Just add it to the eight weeks of summer and two weeks for Christmas, and we have a cushy job, right?

Teaching is a full time job, and even when I am home, I am working. At school, I am teaching classes, meeting with students, supervising teachers, attending various meetings, meetings, meetings. At home, I am writing lessons, correcting papers, reviewing curriculum. Year ‘round, I am teaching, thinking about teaching or preparing to teach.

Now, with the poor economy, I will probably teach summer session as well.

There is one upside to all of this: I can immerse myself in the reading and writing. I do not have to think about what I am missing in my life, what I wish I were doing, and what the future might hold. So maybe too much work is a blessing in disguise. Somehow though, I cannot escape the feeling that all this work is unhealthy. It is survival, that is all. But I will worry about that later.

Later has a way of becoming now, today, change your life.

I wanted to spend these days figuring out how writing will fit into my increasingly busy teaching schedule.

I wanted to exercise, and get a head start on losing weight and healthy eating.

I wanted to seek out an agent, a publisher, magazine markets that might accept me as a freelancer.

I wanted to get some sleep.

So far, I have accomplished the last one. I am getting a full eight hours or more of sleep each night. On that front, I do feel better. I will need the rest when we start back on April 12th.

I read an article in The New York Times about The New Yorker editor-in-chief, David Remnick, a writer I admire very much. Remnick has edited the magazine for twelve years now, week by week, amassing a track record of excellence in journalism in keeping with the long tradition of excellence at The New Yorker.

Oh, and he just published a 672-page biography of President Obama.

He did it with coffee, the original energy drink.

Malcolm Gladwell comments that Remnick “cruises around and chats with people and then disappears and writes thousands of words in 15 minutes.” Gladwell thinks Remnick makes it look easy, editing and writing.

“During the year he spent on The Bridge,” writer Stephanie Clifford says about Remnick and his book, “he rose at 5:30 a.m. to write and often stayed up past midnight, but rarely discussed the book at work.”

Remnick’s wife, Esther B. Fein, put the fine point on her husband’s work ethic. “He got up really early, went back to work after dinner with the kids, and took no weekends off and no vacation for more than a year.”

This is the kind of guy I would like to follow around for a week, not in a stalkerish kind of way, but just to see how he fits it all in.

I once thought that life would settle down in the middle years. Not a chance. In fact, I find myself more desperate now because time is short. When you are twenty, life seems almost limitless. Not so at 46.

Our consistent working is one forward motion. We cannot help ourselves. Maybe there is no rest for the weary. Maybe work—the stuff we were meant to do with our lives—keeps us sane as well as occupied.

I don’t have time to think much more about this. I have too many papers to correct, and AP exams are three weeks away.

So keep the noise down.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


It is a terrible shame that a growing group of perverts and child molesters is destroying the legacy of Catholic schools. Those of us educated in the Catholic school system know the value of that education facilitated by dedicated priests, nuns, brothers, and lay teachers, but that testimony will matter less and less in light of the current scandal.

To make matters worse, the Vatican cannot seem to stop shooting off its own foot, with Father Cantalamessa, senior Vatican priest, telling us that the world’s outrage directed at the pope and the Catholic Church over the sexual abuse of children is just like the persecution of the Jews.

Being Jewish is not a crime, and anti-Semites are a bunch of ignoramuses. The rapists-priests are criminals who victimize children, and those of us who find such conduct reprehensible, illegal, and morally indefensible are justified in our condemnation of those in authority—including Pope Benedict XVI—who failed to act on the sordid criminal behavior of those they were supposed to supervise.

The Catholic Church, a religion with a long established history, will not collapse overnight, but the end is near. Declining attendance in church, few candidates entering the religious orders, and this latest scandal will speed the process of destruction for the church. American Catholics have always been more liberal and forward-thinking than those in Latin America, parts of Europe, and Asian countries like the Philippines, and this spate of rapes and sexual abuse comes as no surprise to us because we have been dealing with this for years. Cardinals and bishops have resigned, and some may still face indictment for conspiracy and other related criminal behavior. But now we know that pedophile priests have spread their brand of evil to Ireland, Germany and other countries around the globe.

Catholic schools also suffer. Parish schools in particular have been hit hard by the scandals and the declining economy. Independent Catholic schools, many owned and operated by specific religious orders, have faired better only because they are not tied to Archdiocese systems that need money to pay out settlements in a number of multi-million dollar lawsuits.

Catholic schools were once known for the successful education of children, doing what public institutions could not, and doing it cheaper, more efficiently, and with better results. If parents wanted a good education for their children, the best choice was a Catholic school.

In the mid-twentieth century, nuns staffed the schools, and they worked for almost no salary. The church supported them, allowed them to live on campus, and provided for food and medical expenses. But as vocations waned and fewer young women were joining the religious orders, lay teachers took over the instruction. Many were paid substandard wages, received no benefits, and worked through year-to-year contracts, but the quality of student was better than those in public schools, parents cared about the education and involved themselves in the school, and the entire operation centered on the church and local community. The education was strict, by-the-book, rigorous, and intense. Some might argue the nuns and lay teachers were too intense: former Catholic school students all have stories of ruler-wielding nuns who were quick to smack the knuckles of a discipline-challenged student. But arguably, a Catholic school education opened doors for students, and many people will testify to the bedrock foundation of learning instilled by those nuns and lay teachers.

Catholic schools today struggle due to higher salary demands by teachers, increased costs of benefits and operating expenses as well as the declining economy. As tuition costs rise, many parents are unable to afford such an education, and whereas before the church could subsidize the costs, it is the church itself that needs funds to pay the legal fees and judgments rendered against it.

The church as a cornerstone of the community has also faltered. Many churches struggle to staff the parish with priests, and as religious orders face growing numbers of retirees, there are no new bodies to replace them.

So what will happen to the Catholic Church in America?

We need to empower lay people to take the leadership roles in the American Catholic Church. Already there are lay people working as parish administrators and assistants, performing many of the tasks of priests and pastors. It is time to allow married people to be ordained and to take full control of the church.

Catholic schools must continue to strengthen the education offered there, and develop ways of funding the schools for the future. At one school I taught at, almost half the student body was not Catholic, yet their parents chose to send them to the school. This is a testimony to the success of a Catholic education. Jews, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, Hindus and a variety of other students opted to enroll, take Catholic religion classes, and participate in religious services just to be part of that educational environment. In an era of budget cuts and entropic leadership in public schools, there is a market for Catholic private schools. Fresh, decisive, morally sound leadership in Catholic education will restore the system to its former luster.

I love and appreciate my Catholic school education, and there is not a day that goes by that I do not draw upon those memories of my teachers to inform my own instruction in the classroom.

I no longer attend church regularly. The last time I went, I felt verbally assaulted by the priest in the pulpit, demanding donations to defend the indefensible: the rape of a child. I find the words of most priests to be empty, vacuous, and lacking the moral determination that I expect from a spiritual leader.

What I do miss are the rituals, the comfort of congregational prayer and meditation, the taking of the sacraments, the spiritual renewal of participation in a religious service. I struggle with my beliefs. I have questions. I search for spiritual direction. But in the last few years, I have become certain that I will not find what I am looking for in the guidance of priests in the Catholic Church.

We need new blood, new vitality, a new leadership.

What we don’t need are skulking rapists victimizing the most innocent among us and hiding behind the cloak of the church to shield them from the law. The punishment for these predators, and those who defend them, should be swift, fiery, and decisive. Our faith demands it.