Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Eternal Vigilance

After reading this horrible, but unfortunately accurate, description of one of the books on the required summer reading list for Saint Ignatius High School, I sent the following email to both the President (Father William Murphy) and the Principal (Daniel Bradesca). The private Catholic grade school which my children attend currently has a 100% acceptance rate for its Eighth Grade boys who apply to Ignatius.

Dear Father Murphy,

I have always considered that St. Ignatius High School would be a great place to send some or all of my sons – I have six of them – assuming any or all could get accepted there. That was before I read this article in Catholic World Report, which literally sent chills up my spine. I question the judgment of a Catholic educator who would assign a book like this over the summer, a time during which a young person may not have a chance to discuss the moral implications of the many problematic passages with a responsible adult.

I also question the choice of the book altogether, seeing that there are many books to choose from which do not contain such infantile blasphemy, praise for the act of self-abuse and tolerance for the deviancy of homosexuality. This assignment of Alexie’s book is an example of why many people whom I know and trust conclude that certain faculty members at St. Ignatius are actually intentionally leading young people toward a modernistic view of religion and morality.

I realize that many of the classics contain adultery, fornication, prostitution, sacrilege, murder, bad language, prejudice, etc. – I’m neither a prude nor a naïf. Most of these same books show the consequences of such sins. When you read critically the quote page for Alexie’s book, you realize that this man has a relativist and cavalier attitude toward morality which epitomizes the hellish maxim, “If it feels good, do it.” I realize that the book won an award, but that is meaningless to anyone who believes in the possibility of gaining the world and losing one’s soul.

Please consider dropping this book from your list and replacing it with something more worthy for a young Christian man to read. Also please consider having someone trustworthy verify the choices made by the person or committee which assigns books like The Privileges and The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The Pope—who is also a Jesuit—recently attacked a tendency he said was rampant in our world which he called “adolescent progressivism”. These books seem to be illustrative of this tendency and assigning them to high-school kids over the summer can certainly endanger their souls. And those assigning them should not be teaching in a Catholic school.

I remember talking to a respected Catholic theologian who said to me "There is only one institution which is guaranteed by Christ to stand, and that's the Papacy—and it will barely stand." Then he quoted Luke 22:32, "... when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Saint Ignatius High School is an institution which appears to have a lot of good things going for it, but it needs to be pruned to be healthy. If you check out the English faculty page, you can pick out the professor who teaches the obligatory "multicultural" course. My sources say that he is one of the culprits behind material like The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie being assigned at St. Ignatius.

I advise anyone with concern for St. Ignatius to write an email to the President and the Principal of the school. See, I'm making it easy for you by linking their emails. And, of course, pray that the malevolent forces would be pruned out of our institutions. To protect what is good, beautiful and true in the world requires eternal vigilance.

21 comments:

  1. With rare exception, every "English" department in the country at the secondary and college level are indoctrination centers. There is no more study of literature, and at the fancier colleges there hasn't been for decades. That's why so many "educated" people are so clueless.

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    1. Kathleen, you're a great writer and you don't live too far away... If you have a second send the Pres. and Principal a short, polite as possible email about this. I think that is the only way to do anything about this. Father Murphy actually responded to mine personally.

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  2. As an aside, the phrase "required summer reading" really rubs me the wrong way.

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    1. I can understand this POV, however I don't have a problem with it in theory. My kids are pretty much high performers and avid readers, and everyone at St. Ignatius goes in with a 3.5 GPA.

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  3. Pauli, I feel your pain . . . sort of.

    Schools have a special responsibility to ensure that assigned readings are worthwhile for the students. Unfortunately, as kathleen mentions, today's teachers are largely unequipped for the task -- see today's WSJ story on the sorry state of colleges of education, for example.

    Having said that, the flip side are the too-many news stories about schools prevented from assigning The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it uses the "n-word", and too many blog screeds denying Christian truths because the Old Testament figures owned slaves. One must look to the profound truth told in a work, rather than on excerpted passages.

    I can't speak to the book at issue. But neither can any parents relative to this somewhat obscure book. If we are at a point where we cannot trust the schools, such that parents must pre-read summer reading assignments to ensure that they are not damaging or indoctrinating, then the schools ought to be shut down and we ought to start over. I fear we are close to that.

    I'm glad that the Jesuit high school our son attended years ago was pretty good about its reading assignments. (And that our daughter was wise enough to hate much of what she was assigned at her Ursuline high school -- enough so that she took Medieval Lit. when she got to college just to get away from modern fem lit.)

    Anyhoo, if the school thinks it must assign 20th century works, there are some good ones. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. Soldier of the Great War is another (long, but it moves along pretty well). That's just off the top of my head.

    P.S. Jesuit schools will push the envelope a bit -- but I'm not sure that's entirely a bad thing. The students learn to think, that's for sure. The good thing is that they will talk to parents about all of it -- at least that is our experience, and it sounds like it may be yours, too.

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    1. Pik, I wouldn't call this book obscure. It won an award in 2007, and that provides some cover for assigning it.

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    2. I see now that it achieved some renown in the "Young Adult Fiction" genre, which is why it was obscure to me.

      Funny, when I was a "young adult" I wanted to read real literature instead of books that old adults thought would be good for me (like cod liver oil). I thank my public schools for that, because we (all of us) were expected to read real full-version literature (E.g. Ivanhoe and Merchant of Venice in 9th grade).

      I shuddered when I saw that our kids were assigned abridged versions of Dickens and Shakespeare.

      So I have an aversion to YA lit, I guess. And I have a sense that many YA awards are incestuous, like peer-reviews of global warming papers.

      P.S. But I can recommend one YA book (award-winning, to boot) written by a high school classmate of mine. I've read it, and it's well done and inspiring.

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    3. The schools here assign Toni Morrison to high school students. I think her writing is abysmal. I have to say, I'm more attracted to homeschooling now that my kids are older.

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  4. Here's what one parent wrote to me in an email:

    I haven't had a chance to spend time on this yet, but I will say that St. Ignatius has listened to us when we raised a concern in the past. I know that even the summer reading assignement was changed once in the past after they received a lot of questions about it. This book does look terrible from your exerpt. I suggest that you write the president and principal letters expressing the concern.

    So I think correspondence is the key to this. Everybody is going to be checking out these summer titles now, and that's the good news.

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  5. I bought the Alexie book on Kindle, and I'm 10% of my way through it. It's not that long, has tons of pictures and is standard liberal fare. The character starts off describing all his physical deformities and handicaps and how poor his family is. So that inoculates him from any criticism right off the bat.

    He talks about if anyone had paid attention to his parents' dreams they'd be great people with plenty of cash, but nobody did. Later he mentions in passing that although his parents are drunks they aren't mean to him. Of course, that's unrelated to being poor.

    Then he and his friend go the the annual carnival to gamble. So they're poor, but they have gambling money. I have no doubt this could all happen many times on the Indian Reservations, but so far there is nothing redeeming about this book. And it's written horribly as well.

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  6. I've read TATDoaPTI (also Reservation Blues, Alexie's first novel, which might give a better indication of his writing ability).

    I won't defend putting this on a summer reading list, but I don't think it's as altogether irredeemable as Pauli has found it so far. I'd say it's a book for someone who reads five or six novels a month; not something to linger over, but not a complete waste of time. And someone who reads five or six novels a month shouldn't fall for the poor-me take on the narrator, who's kind of a holdencaulfield, if such language is allowed here.

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  7. Catcher in the Rye sprang to my mind as well. Despite the bad behavior recounted in that book -- recounted somewhat unapologetically -- in retrospect the book seems fairly harmless. I think what is so insulting here is that the Alexie book was selected by a catholic school for purely racial/multicultural reasons. It never would have been assigned if it weren't written by an Americna Indian. That just seems especially lame when the catholic church does it. The subliminal message is, "we are requiring you to read this over the summer because you are probably a racist little white kid being raised by a racist little white family." Meanwhile, I looked at the photos of the English faculty at St. Ignatius, and none of them appear to be anything but white. Maybe the good English teachers at St Ignatius should resign in protest at their own whiteness. Then I might buy the message they are trying to sell me.

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    1. It never would have been assigned if it weren't written by an American Indian.

      Bingo. This is the thing that drives me nuts. The Indian protagonist can make fun of Christianity because that's the "white man's religion".

      Caulfield might be vulgar, but he isn't amoral. He objects to the men using the women, whereas the characters in this book would just give each other "high fives". The whole thing is littered with animal behavior among the characters in the story who are supposed to be the heroes.

      The writing is on par with the screenplay for The Mighty Ducks. There are a few good passages but it is highly predictable. I'm sure that many English teachers adore it because it's supposedly "honest" and "gritty" and "real, man".

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    2. "The whole thing is littered with animal behavior among the characters in the story who are supposed to be the heroes."

      Here you prove my point that the book isn't irredeemable. A lot of good high school essays could be written on the general theme of heroism and TATDofPTI. Who are "supposed to be the heroes" in the story of a teenager's life? What passes for heroism in a failed society? That sort of thing.

      Now, to be able to write an essay along those lines, a student has to be a critical reader. Perhaps St. Ignatius only accepts critical readers into its English I program, though if I had to guess I'd go with the "Whoah, this will really make the kids *think*, man" (or possibly the "I'd bet at least a third of the students are capable of reading this book, given ten weeks") angle.

      That said, I can see where reading the book with an eye to every passage that will cause an Ohioan multi-cultist's heart to race would be disheartening. On the other hand, though white culture is certainly unfavorably portrayed, Indian culture comes off as pretty crummy too.

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    3. When I read my classmate's YA lit book (mentioned above), I realized that it requires a very special skill to write well but at an 8th grade reading level. My classmate did a good job of that, I think -- she didn't dumb things down, which kept the story interesting to adult readers.

      My guess and my experience is that many YA lit authors are not as skilled. From Pauli's review, apparently this one is in the less-skilled class.

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  8. OMG, I was 85% of my way through the book in Kindle and suddenly I see "The End". Why? Because the last 15% of the book is DISCUSSION QUESTIONS! Using the language of the book, no wonder it gives English lit teachers "metaphorical boners".

    In fact, you have to wonder if that's not the reason why they assign it. It's a brilliant marketing strategy. I'm guessing that what happened was 1) the book won an award, 2) schools started assigning it, 3) they added the discussion questions and began aggressively marketing it to schools, 4) even Catholic schools were tempted and fell for it.

    So, if my theory is correct, who's given up on being a critical thinker if they let an author or a publisher dictate to them the correct questions to ask?

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    1. Actually -- correction here. There are 10 questions; the last 15% of the book is not all discussion guide. There is also an interview with the illustrator and an interview with the author. I'll read them later and comment.

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  9. My son will be a Sophomore at St. Ignatius and he read the "book" his Freshman year as well. His comments about the book were that it was not very well written, the masturbation part did not even remotely add to the story line, and he thought that the narrator's grandmother seemed like a bitter old woman so he skimmed those parts. I love 90% of what St. Ignatius HS does for my son but it's that pesky 10% that keeps me on my toes. So far, my son and I have an open dialogue and he's very forthcoming about things that seem a little "off" to him. I will also write Fr. Murphy and Mr. Bradesca an email expressing my concerns over the book. Thanks for the information!

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    1. Thanks, Kelly. Your son can detect bad writing, that's for sure. I think the cover for the poor quality is "hey, this is supposed to be a teenager's diary, that's why it's poorly written!"

      I'm probably going to send my kids to the Lyceum when they are ready for high school. Driving to the East side is a small price to pay for 100%.

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