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Pontiff Lauds Internet’s Benefits for Seminarians, Asserts Central Role of Theology in Education

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VATICAN CITY, 8 Feb, 2011, 12:00 Hrs (Zenit.org)

The Internet is a valuable tool for seminarians, not only in their studies, but also in their pastoral ministries, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this today when he received in audience members of the Congregation for Catholic Education, gathered in their plenary assembly.The Holy Father spoke with the council members and its president, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, about a variety of issues related to education, both for seminaries and for Catholic schools and universities.”The topics you are addressing in these days have education and formation as the common denominator,” he noted, “which today constitute one of the most urgent challenges that the Church and her institutions are called to address.”

Though urgent, the task of educating is getting ever more difficult, the Pontiff warned, because of the culture that “makes relativism its creed.” Thus, “it is considered dangerous to speak of truth,” he lamented. But, “to educate is an act of love.”

The Pontiff noted the congregation’s discussion on a draft document regarding the Internet and the formation of seminarians. While emphasizing the need for well-prepared educators in this field, he spoke of the benefits of the Internet for future priests.

“Because of its capacity to surmount distances and put people in mutual contact, the Internet presents great possibilities also for the Church and her mission,” he said. “With the necessary discernment for its intelligent and prudent use, it is an instrument that can serve not only for studies, but also for the pastoral action of future presbyters in different ecclesial fields, such as evangelization, missionary action, catechesis, educational projects, the management of institutes.”

Benedict XVI went on to discuss the importance of theology in relation to the other disciplines of education.”Blessed John Henry Newman spoke of the ‘circle of knowledge,’ to indicate that an interdependence exists between the different branches of knowledge; but God is he who has a relationship only with the totality of the real; consequently, to eliminate God means to break the circle of knowledge,” he said.

In this regard, the Holy Father stressed the importance of Catholic universities, with “their openness to the ‘totality’ of the human being.” He said they “can carry out a valuable work of promoting the unity of knowledge, orienting students and teachers to the Light of the world, ‘the true light that enlightens every man.'”

Enroll Today in Father Fessio’s Theology  Online Classes! 

The Classroom Is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New

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By Prakash Nair

The overwhelming majority of the nearly 76 million students in America’s schools and colleges spend most of the academic day in classrooms. That’s a problem because the classroom has been obsolete for several decades. That’s not just my opinion. It’s established science.

The debate over education reform has been going on for longer than anyone can remember. Relegated previously to arguments between policy wonks, questions about how we should reform our nation’s schools have now entered the public consciousness in a very real way. The global financial crisis and our economic woes have collided with increased mainstream coverage of our failing educational system. The Obama administration has joined the chorus of critics and rolled out numerous reform measures.

Lost in all this hand-wringing is the most visible symbol of a failed system: the classroom. Almost without exception, the reform efforts under way will preserve the classroom as our children’s primary place of learning deep into the 21st century. This is profoundly disturbing because staying with classroom-based schools could permanently sink our chances of rebuilding our economy and restoring our shrinking middle class to its glory days.

The classroom is a relic, left over from the Industrial Revolution, which required a large workforce with very basic skills. Classroom-based education lags far behind when measured against its ability to deliver the creative and agile workforce that the 21st century demands. This is already evidenced by our nation’s shortage of high-tech and other skilled workers—a trend that is projected to grow in coming years.

As the primary place for student learning, the classroom does not withstand the scrutiny of scientific research. Each student “constructs” knowledge based on his or her own past experiences. Because of this, the research demands a personalized education model to maximize individual student achievement. Classrooms, on the other hand, are based on the erroneous assumption that efficient delivery of content is the same as effective learning.
“The classroom is a relic, left over from the Industrial Revolution.”

Environmental scientists have published dozens of studies that show a close correlation between human productivity and space design. This research clearly demonstrates that students and teachers do better when they have variety, flexibility, and comfort in their environment—the very qualities that classrooms lack.

At this point in the lecture, someone always raises his or her hand and declares: “But the open classroom experiment of the ’70s was a dismal failure!” Let me reassure you that I’m not talking about simply substituting open areas for classrooms. I’m talking about a way to design schools that closely follows instructional needs. This new model does not dispense with direct or large-group instruction. Instead, it provides opportunities for traditional teaching to seamlessly connect with many other modes of learning. Simply put, it is form following function, not function (unsuccessfully) following form.

Let’s look at how the development of a new or renovated school project might evolve if we did it right. We would open discussions with our education stakeholders, who include students, teachers, parents, administrators, community residents, business leaders, higher education partners, and elected officials. From these discussions, we would develop a set of key principles for design.

The following is a fairly universal list of education design principles for tomorrow’s schools, though it would be tailored to the needs of particular communities: (1) personalized; (2) safe and secure; (3) inquiry-based; (4) student-directed; (5) collaborative; (6) interdisciplinary; (7) rigorous and hands-on; (8) embodying a culture of excellence and high expectations; (9) environmentally conscious; (10) offering strong connections to the local community and business; (11) globally networked; and (12) setting the stage for lifelong learning.

In designing a school for tomorrow, such underlying principles should drive the discussion. They would allow us to address questions around how students should learn, where they should learn, and with whom should they learn. We may discover that we need teachers to work in teams, that parents and community volunteers are available to help, that businesses will offer off-site training, that community organizations will permit the use of their recreational, cultural, and sporting facilities. We may conclude that it makes no sense to break down the school day into fixed “periods,” and that state standards can be better met via interdisciplinary and real-world projects.

Yes, we will need enclosed spaces for direct instruction, but perhaps these could be adjacent to a visible and supervisable common space for teamwork, independent study, and Internet-based research. Arts, science and technology, and performance could be integrated in ways that would be impossible in a traditional, classroom-dominated school layout. Before we know it, we would have created a true 21st-century school.

But the process described above is not how we design our schools today, because we still think that yesterday’s classroom equals tomorrow’s school. Perhaps some would define “success” as students’ ability to perform well on a standardized test, rather than their developing skills to navigate a fast-changing world. Under that limited definition, classrooms tend to do fairly well, but classroom-based schools would do poorly in comparison with educationally driven designs for true 21st-century learning. Does this mean that effective education is impossible in schools with classrooms? Of course not. Good teachers work hard to overcome the limitations of classroom-based schools, and many succeed in spite of the odds.

So where does this leave us? What happens to the hundreds of billions of dollars of capital investment locked up in what can best be described as “dysfunctional” educational infrastructure? This is where the good news comes in. There is evidence that even the most rigidly “old paradigm” school facilities can be converted with modest investments of funds into effective places for teaching and learning.

These initiatives would not necessarily get rid of classrooms, but instead redesign and refurbish them to operate as “learning studios” and “learning suites” alongside common areas reclaimed from hallways that vastly expand available space and allow better teaching and learning. In many parts of the country, limited classroom space can be significantly expanded by utilizing adjacent open areas while simultaneously improving daylight, access to fresh air, and connections to nature.

Those who are intrigued or skeptical about the notion of education beyond classrooms may want to start their own research with some of the thought leaders in this arena. The School of Environmental Science in Apple Valley, Minn.; the Minnesota New Country School in Henderson, Minn.; the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul, Minn.; Forest Park Elementary School in Middletown, R.I.; Duke School in Durham, N.C.; Learning Gate Community School in Lutz, Fla.; Hellerup School in Copenhagen, Denmark; Wooranna Park Primary School in Victoria, Australia; Australian Science and Mathematics School in Adelaide, Australia; and Discovery 1 School in Christchurch, New Zealand, are just a few great non-classroom-based examples of schools. (In the interests of full disclosure, I need to note that my firm—and I personally—worked on several of these school-design projects.)

Let’s hope that scientific evidence, along with the economic imperative for change, will set us on a new path—one in which we break down the metaphorical and real walls that keep our children trapped in boxes. To get there, we first need to free ourselves from the mental box that limits our thinking about the real meaning and purpose of education.

Now in Print! Good Books Program 2nd Grade Literature Guide

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Our Good Books Literature Guides were written by Dr. James S. Taylor, author of the widely acclaimed Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education. Dr. Taylor took his first formal course in Children’s Literature from Dr. Dennis Quinn at the University of Kansas and had many conversations concerning these poems and stories with his colleague, Dr. John Senior. He has taught Children’s Literature at the high school and college levels for nearly two decades.

“What I have to say about the selections in these guides draws from my childhood memories and adult reflections as well as my conversations with Quinn and Senior. None of the age and literature categories used in the Angelicum Academy Good Books grade list are absolute. Think of the Good Books (grade levels) as notes of music with the freedom to work up and down the scale as you see fit.”

This 2nd grade guide comes with a full color front cover, answer key for each guide, true/false questions, essay questions to encourage young writers, and synopsis of each book.

Our 7th Grade Online Socratic Discussions Class is FULL (new class day/time posted)

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Please visit this page to see the new class time/day posted for the 7th grade classes.

New 7th Grade Online Socratic Discussions Class

Education Is More Than Instruction

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by Albert Jay Nock

Excerpted from The Theory of Education in the United States (1932).

The subject that I am appointed to discuss is the theory of education in the United States. This discussion has its difficulties. It brings us face to face with a good many serious disappointments. It calls for the re-examination and criticism of a good many matters which seemed comfortably settled, and which we would rather leave undisturbed. The most discouraging difficulty about this discussion, however, is that apparently it cannot lead to any so-called practical conclusion; certainly not to any conclusion, as far as I can see, which will at all answer to the general faith in machinery as an effective substitute for thought, and the general reliance upon machinery alone to bring about any and all forms of social improvement.

If Socrates had come before the Athenians with some fine new piece of machinery like a protective tariff, workmen’s compensation, old-age pensions, collective ownership of the means of production, or whatnot – if he had told them that what they must do to be saved was simply to install his piece of machinery forthwith, and set it going – no doubt he would have interested a number of people, perhaps enough to put him in office as the standard-bearer of an enlightened and progressive liberalism. When he came before them, however, with nothing to say but “Know thyself,” they found his discourse unsatisfactory, and became impatient with him.

So if a discussion of our educational theory could be made to lead to something that we might call “constructive” – that is to say, something that is immediately and mechanically practicable, like honor schools or a new type of housing or a new style of entrance examinations – one might hope to make it rather easily acceptable. There seems no way to do this. The only large reforms indicated by a thorough discussion of the topic are such as must be put down at once as quite impracticable on general grounds, and the minor mechanical changes that are indicated seem also impracticable on special grounds, besides having the appearance of uncertain value and therefore being unlikely to command interest.

Yet notwithstanding this rather barren prospect for our discussion, one thing may perhaps redeem it from absolute sterility – which is that we are presumably always better off for knowing just where we are, and for being able to identify and measure the forces which are at play upon us. I do not wish to adduce too depressing a parallel in saying that diagnosis has value even in a hopeless case. Hopelessness in many cases, for instance in cases of incipient tuberculosis, as you know, is circumstantial, and circumstances may change; it is almost never flatly impossible that they should change. Diagnosis, then, has obvious value when it shows only that in those circumstances the case is hopeless; and even when it reveals the case as hopeless in any circumstances, it affords at least the melancholy satisfaction of knowing just where one stands.

We may observe then, in the first place, that our educational system has always been the object of strong adverse criticism. No one has ever been especially well satisfied with it, or well pleased with the way it worked; no one, I mean, whose opinion was at the same time informed and disinterested, and therefore worth attention. Late in the last century, Ernest Renan said that “countries which, like the United States, have set up a considerable popular instruction without any serious higher education, will long have to expiate their error by their intellectual mediocrity, the vulgarity of their manners, their superficial spirit, their failure in general intelligence.” This is very hard language, and I do not propose, for the moment, that we should undertake to say how far its severity may be fairly regarded as justifiable.

I may, however, ask you to notice two things: first, the distinction which M. Renan draws between instruction and education, and second, his use of the word intelligence. We shall not lay down a definition of education in set terms here at the outset of our discussion; I think it would be more satisfactory if, with your permission, we should gradually work toward the expression of our idea of what education is, and of what an educated person is like. It is sometimes, indeed often, difficult to construct in set terms the definition of an object which we nevertheless recognize at once for what it is, and about which we have no possible manner of doubt. I could not to save my life, for instance, make a definition of an oyster; yet I am sure I know an oyster when I see one. Moreover, in looking at an oyster, I can point out a number of differentiations, more or less rough and superficial, perhaps, but quite valid in helping to determine my knowledge. So in gradually building up an expression of our idea of education, we find the distinction drawn by M. Renan especially useful.

Perhaps we are not fully aware of the extent to which instruction and education are accepted as being essentially the same thing. I think you would find, if you looked into it, for instance, that all the formal qualifications for a teacher’s position rest on this understanding. A candidate is certificated – is he not? – merely as having been exposed satisfactorily to a certain kind of instruction for a certain length of time, and therefore he is assumed eligible to a position which we all agree that only an educated person should fill. Yet he may not be at all an educated person, but only an instructed person. We have seen many such, and five minutes’ talk with one of them is quite enough to show that the understanding of instruction as synonymous with education is erroneous. They are by no means the same thing. Let us go no further at present in trying to determine what education is, but merely take note that it is not the same thing as instruction.

Let us keep that differentiation in mind, never losing sight of it for a moment, and considering carefully every point in the practice of pedagogy at which it is applicable. If we do this, I venture to predict that we shall turn up an astonishing number of such points, and that our views of current pedagogy will be very considerably modified in consequence. An educated man must be in some sort instructed; but it is a mere non distributio medii to say that an instructed person must be an educated person.

An equally useful distinction comes out in M. Renan’s use of the word intelligence. To most of us, I think, that word does not mean the same thing that it means to a Frenchman, or that the word Intelligenz means to a German. To a Frenchman like M. Renan, intelligence does not mean a quickness of wit, a ready dexterity in handling ideas, or even a ready accessibility to ideas. It implies those, of course, but it does not mean them; and one should perhaps say in passing that it does not mean the pert and ignorant cleverness that current vulgar usage has associated with the word.

Again it is our common day-to-day experience that gives us the best possible assistance in establishing the necessary differentiations. We have all seen men who were quick-witted, accessible to ideas, and handy with their management of them, whom we should yet hesitate to call intelligent; we are conscious that the term does not quite fit. The word sends us back to a phrase of Plato. The person of intelligence is the one who always tends to “see things as they are,” the one who never permits his view of them to be directed by convention, by the hope of advantage, or by an irrational and arbitrary authoritarianism. He allows the current of his consciousness to flow in perfect freedom over any object that may be presented to it, uncontrolled by prejudice, prepossession, or formula; and thus we may say that there are certain integrities at the root of intelligence which give it somewhat the aspect of a moral as well as an intellectual attribute.

Besides having laid up the benefit of a couple of extremely valuable fundamental distinctions, we are now perhaps in a position to discern more clearly the force of M. Renan’s criticism of our educational system. Some 10 or 15 years after M. Renan made these observations, we find a curious corroboration of them which is especially worth citing because it was made by one upon whom no suspicion of superciliousness can rest. Walt Whitman was “the good grey poet” of the common life, the prophet of the social mean. His love for America and his faith in its institutions may, I believe, be admitted without question. His optimism was robust and obtrusive; one might call it flagrant.

Yet we find him reflecting with great severity upon “a certain highly deceptive superficial popular intellectuality” which he found existing in our society of the late 1870s. He goes beyond this to say that “our New World Democracy,” whatever its success in other directions, “is, so far, an almost complete failure in its social aspects, and in really grand religious, moral, literary and aesthetic results.”

M. Renan was a foreigner and an academician, and his criticism, we may say, is to be taken subject to discount; he could not be expected to appraise properly the spirit of America. Well, but, here we have Whitman who was just the opposite of a foreigner and an academician, who is accepted everywhere and by all as of the very spirit of America – here we have Whitman bearing out M. Renan’s criticism at every point.

What is an educational system for, one may ask, if not to produce social results precisely opposite to those which M. Renan testified before the fact, and Whitman testified, after the fact, were characteristic of our country? If our system, then, could do no better than it was doing, it should be forthwith taken in hand and overhauled.

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