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A Digital Library

August 31, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

J.M. of Wikieup, Ariz., writes to suggest that “parents might get some insight into their children’s academic environment by delving into their required summer reading lists.” It is a point well taken. We cannot assume any longer that teachers will use these lists to introduce our children to the classics and uplifting modern literature.
There is a new breed of teacher, committed to waging the culture wars and the sexual revolution in their classes. There is no reason to assume that your children’s teachers will not be in that category.
J.M calls our attention to “an interesting article in The Imaginative Conservative (theimaginativeconservative.org). The article notes that a survey shows high school seniors read on average only about 5.3 books per year!”
J.M. does not think this an adequate number: “While doing some mundane research I was again introduced to the first three volumes in The Great Books series that include The Great Conversation and The Great Ideas. These three books should be the core of a senior year summer reading and freshman college year course sequence.”
He informs us he has found a convenient and inexpensive way to access this material: “I’m always on the prowl for used scientific equipment and instruments (my wife less graciously calls it ‘junk’), and in the process found a USB Digital Library for less than five dollars. The USB memory stick contains 3,000 classic books, including Gulliver’s Travels, Hamlet, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, A Tale of Two Cities, and thousands more.”
J.M. believes this is classic example of the “computer age presenting opportunities to those who want to take advantage of them. My little memory stick more than triples the size of my library, making pleasant, informative, and morally uplifting reading available for less than a penny per title! If the statistic about the number of books read by the average high school senior provided by the article in the Imaginative Conservative is correct, the USB Digital Library would provide over 500 years of reading material for our high school seniors!”
J.M. is pleased to have discovered that “such resources are readily available,” but finds it “interesting (depressing?) that they would show up on the overstock market, indicating that not enough people were interested in buying the digital library when it was initially offered at full price. Perhaps the problem of cultural literacy isn’t fueled by limited access to the resources, but by indifference. Of course, public libraries have always been available to folks who were truly interested, so this phenomenon might be nothing new.”
I am aware that many are reluctant to read books on “devices” such as iPads, and will not react well to J.M.’s suggestion about the digital library memory stick. But I have been talking to more and more younger readers who find this to be a more than satisfactory way to read a book. This could be one of those “newfangled” ideas that work well.
J.M. also comments on another topic discussed in recent editions of First Teachers: the phenomenon of parents moving from neighborhoods with underperforming and unsafe public schools to suburban areas with better schools. “The tendency of people who can afford to do so picking communities and school systems that match their level of comfort isn’t new,” he writes.
“It reflects a desire to improve the condition of the family. After WWII, people who wanted a more wholesome environment fled to the suburbs with Dad doing the commute so that Mom and the kids could have that wholesome environment.”
He uses himself as an example: “When I was in grade school in Chicago in the 1940s, a ‘diocesan exemption’ had to be secured for a Catholic child to attend public school. Cardinal Stritch, a man of integrity and vision, was determined to create a Catholic school system that no parent would see as second-rate in comparison to the public schools, hoping there would be few requests for the public school exemption. He succeeded. Catholic schools in Chicago at that time were considered an upgrade option to the public system.”
Stritch’s “requirement that all Catholic children attend Catholic schools was designed to put an end to any claim that Catholic schools were ‘elitist’ and achieved success only because they could weed out poor students and those with discipline and psychological problems. His goal was to demonstrate that Catholic schools could achieve better performance even though all Catholic children were attending them.
“I find it interesting that four Supreme Court justices attended Catholic high schools: Sotomayor, Roberts, Thomas, and Gorsuch. Gorsuch isn’t Catholic but attended a Jesuit prep school.”
J.M. does not see the “flight to the suburbs” as ignoble: “The clustering of folks in desirable communities, sometimes gated, with private schools reminds me of a secular Benedict option. The problem, of course, is that the barbarians exist more as ideas today than as physical hordes. The ‘educated’ and ‘civilized’ accept concepts and ideas (abortion, homosexuality, debasement of language and art, etc.) that are part of the barbarian culture: The barbarians are inside the gate!”
But J.M. rejects the idea of establishing Catholic schools as private schools designed only as a way for Catholics to escape the problems associated with failing inner-city schools. It is not enough to establish schools that are safe and educationally sound. He writes, “Catholic schools that neglect the core principles of the Church defeat the purpose of Catholic education. In the same vein, using CCD classes as a substitute for full immersion in Catholic tradition is a poor tradeoff. One hour of religious instruction per week will not be enough to counter the full immersion in secularism in the public schools.”
J.M. closes with a request that our readers may be able to help him with. He seeks information about which orders of modern women religious are not associated with what he calls the “insanity of Network and the Leadership Conference of Catholic Women Religious.” He is convinced that these groups do not “represent a majority of the nuns in the country.” He and his wife are willing to “support retirement funds for nuns, etc., but not to support the radicals.”
He complains that the efforts he and his wife have made “to find out which orders are actually part of the craziness seem to hit a blank wall; i.e., we can’t find a list of the orders that have signed into the activist organizations. We are usually stopped at a web page that requires a password for further access. Is there a list of orders that are actually active in the craziness?”
A reminder: I will step down from writing my weekly columns in The Wanderer at the end of August. I will be 75 this September and would like to spend more time traveling and pursuing leisure-time activities than a two-column-per-week deadline permits. It has been my great pleasure and honor to write each week for The Wanderer and to correspond with readers over these many years. My plan is to continue to submit an occasional article to the editors at The Wanderer; it is just the weekly columns that will stop.
Starting in September all correspondence to First Teachers should be sent to Shaun Kenney, c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Rd., Kents Store, VA 23084.

+ + +

Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about this and other educational issues. The e-mail address for First Teachers is fitzpatrijames@sbcglobal.net, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford, CT 06492. Note the address in Virginia above that should be used after September 1.

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