Beauty Will Save the Seventh Grade

By Callie R. Feyen

The_wednesday_warsThe school administrator wants to know when my students will experience beauty in my classroom. He asks this question while going over our teaching contracts. A copy of what I signed back in April is magnified on a screen in Covenant Hall, a giant room that serves as a cafeteria and also a chapel.

Last year, I took my eighth graders here to practice reading Romeo and Juliet. We took turns standing on a stage, reading about two houses divided while inhaling the scent of bologna sandwiches and orange peels.

His question pulls me out of the back-to-school funk I’ve been in. I don’t like teacher meetings and in-services. They make me sad. I’m shaking my right foot and twiddling my pen frantically when he asks about beauty.

I don’t hear anything else he says.

Less than a week later, I’m standing in front of my seventh graders with a copy of Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars in my hand. Holling Hoodhood, the main character, has to stay with his English teacher, Mrs. Baker, on Wednesday afternoons because he is not Catholic or Jewish. He is Presbyterian and has no religious classes to attend on Wednesdays. [Read more...]

Save the Economy: Read the Classics

booksI was reading Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si when I began an article called “What is Wrong with the West’s Economies?” Published in the August 13, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books, the article is by Edmund Phelps, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Economics, Director of Columbia’s Center on Capitalism and Society, and author of Mass Flourishing.

What surprised me was that sometimes I couldn’t tell which work I was reading.

“Many people have long felt the desire to do something with their lives besides consuming goods and having leisure. They desire to participate in a community in which they can interact and develop.”

“We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.” [Read more...]

The Bearable Weightiness of Being

By Amy Peterson
61pASF-GwkL._SL500_I was restless this spring, edging manic. I think my kids noticed. One Thursday I checked them out of school for an impromptu road trip.

“Isn’t this fun?” I asked. If this were a novel I’d say my eyes were glittering, but this is not fiction: I have no idea how wild-eyed I was.

“I just think it’s a little weird to leave school for no reason,” my six-year-old said.

It wasn’t for no reason. The responsibilities of adult life were weighing heavily on me, and I felt stuck with mortgage payments and email responses and writing deadlines and the feeling that every person in our small town was watching me. At the same time, my body was remembering another spring, the spring when I felt most free.

Karis and I took a gently rocking train from Budapest to Prague, clutching paper cups of coffee, steam fogging the green view outside the window. It was May 2002, and I was twenty-years-old, wearing my hair in greasy braids, mostly unaware of my privilege, and taking myself and my freedom very seriously. [Read more...]

These Frigates, These Chariots

Guest post by Kathleen Housley

It is a sunny morning in early June. A sabbath calm suffuses the empty Mt. Holyoke campus, the students having left for the summer. Other than a jogger, I seem to be the only one around, sitting on the stone steps of Pratt Music Hall listening to the sound of a small waterfall flowing into a nearby brook.

I am waiting for an old blue van, edged with rust, to arrive from Wichita, Kansas, over 1,500 miles away. Belonging to Warren Farha, owner of Eighth Day Books, any minute now it will chug up to the curb loaded down with the contents of an entire bookstore for Image’s Glen East Workshop.

Unfortunately, Warren will not be at the wheel this year due to another obligation; instead Joshua Sturgill, his able associate, is making the grueling twenty-four hour odyssey to South Hadley, Massachusetts. Because I live only an hour south in Connecticut, I have volunteered to help him set up the store in one day—a job so large it is on par with Hercules cleaning out the Augean stables. [Read more...]

In Praise of the Printed Book, Part 2

By Warren Farha

Guest Post

Continued from yesterday.

An increasing torrent of books and articles reflect on the Internet as The Great Distraction, and I’ve had the opportunity recently to read a few. The first I’ll mention is The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, by Mark Bauerlein.

Bauerlein is not saying that millennials—youth who’ve grown up in the Digital Age—are less intelligent than their predecessors. He is saying that due to the digital environment in which they live and move and have their being, they are working with a much smaller store of acquired knowledge, contrasting the dizzying quantity of information available online with that which has actually been embraced and mastered.

Bauerlein collaborated with former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts Dana Gioia on the influential NEA reports Reading at Risk and To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence, which combined careful research and a sense of urgency about the rapid decline of reading in all age groups in the United States.

The omnipresence of screens and immersion in texting and social media have steadily pushed aside time devoted to reading or attendance to serious music, theater, and fine art. Bauerlein warns: [Read more...]