Tolkien, Converts, and the Center for American Progress

A reader writes:

I had wanted to write you about  one matter, but in searching for your email address, I encountered another.

About the individuals suffering from the craniorectal impaction regarding Tolkien and LOTR.  Their argument is- No converts, ergo, not Catholic.  I am a convert.  I entered into full communion with the Church.  Tollers deserves a fair share of the credit.  One convert.  So their argument collapses.  BTW- I am working on a book on Tolkien and Catholicism.

The matter about which I did want to write is the statement by Paul Reville at the Center for American Progress to the effect that “All you child are belong to us.”  I have heard and read the reactions of some on the Right along the “cold dead fingers” line.

I have another suggestion, one that I carried out, and I am encouraging others to do so.

Take Mr. Reville and CFAP at their word.  Contact or call them.  Tell them that you need some help- whether it is standingg in at car pool for a child, or taking one to soccer while you run the other to ballet, or asking for help with tuition, from pre-school to college.  Have people contact them and ask for Mr. Reville, and leave a message.  Be polite and good natured.  Do not argue the big picture.  Be literal and make them look as foolish as they are.  Also, tie up their phone lines and servers. Also, if your child is of the age of reason, have THEM call and ask for a pony.

Just a thought.  There is another matter as well, for the moment, I covet your prayers that the Our Lady of Lourdes says yes.

Re: Tolkien.  The Reactionary who attempts the convert-scalp-counting method as a way of saying “No converts, so not truly Catholic” only demonstrates that Reactionaries (who hate evangelism) are so far removed from the process of evangelization and conversion that they simply do not know anything about actual human beings who have gone through it. I can’t tell you how many people, myself included, who regard Tolkien as being one of the hugely important influences in their conversion.  His sacramental vision, his plain goodness, were and are enormously attractive witnesses. I can’t help thinking heaven will have something of Middle Earth about it.

As to my reader’s suggestion, I’m all for creative, non-violent ways to stop evil.  That seems like one.

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  • HornOrSilk

    Isn’t it obvious? Tolkien was a convert, so he was a fake Catholic leading others to become fake Catholics with his Niggly Leaf from Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

    • Heather

      Oh no! He knows about the Fake Catholic Conspiracy! Fellow converts! To arms! We must silence him!

    • IRVCath

      No, Tolkien was a cradle Catholic. It was his wife who converted. That’s at least one conversion, no?

      • HornOrSilk

        No, Tolkien was a convert. His mother converted after the death of their father, and the two brothers converted at the same time, too. And of course, yes, his wife was a convert. But Tolkien, no, he was not born Catholic, and the conversion of his mother to Catholicism led to a lot of hostility from the rest of the family. Tolkien seemed to place some blame of her death on that!

        • In ‘Literary Giants, Literary Catholics’ Joseph Pearce writes: ‘J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the world best seller The Lord of the Rings, qualifies, technically, as a “literary convert” because his mother’s conversion to the Faith. It could be said, therefore, that he joins the ranks of the literary converts by creeping in through the back door or, perhaps, through the nursery door. With beguiling ambiguity he is neither a cradle Catholic nor a full-blown convert, but a charming mixture of the two – a cradle convert.’

        • Hezekiah Garrett

          No one is born Catholic. No one.

          Such a claim betrays miscatechesis.

          • HornOrSilk

            “Being born Catholic” means being born into a Catholic family, and so baptized as a Catholic in infancy. I would say, just as catechumens, before their baptism, are mysteriously united to the Church and have a right to be designation a Christian and a Christian burial, even if they die without baptism, so the infant in a Catholic family awaiting baptism is a catechumen, and one of us, and so is indeed born a Catholic.

            • Hezekiah Garrett

              Then so was Mabel Tolkien in his childhood, and therefore Ronald too.

              Really, this is just a theological justification of Catholicism as a culture or ethnicity, rather than an encounter with a Man. It is a reduction of the Faith. Just sad.

              • Bill

                Well like it or not, a Catholic milieu does exist that one is born into. You can talk theology here, but you cannot deny the ontological reality of a specific Catholic environment. Is it less pure than an encounter? Of course it is. But like how attrition, though certainly greatly inferior to contrition still saves a man, the milieu can aid and abet one’s Catholicity.

  • Dan C

    Re: the Center for American Progress quote.

    This is a statement of collective responsibility. I am unclear how, on its face, this is troublesome. I claim the conservative lacks any semblance of vocabulary for community responsibility. You will have to work hard to honestly claim the insidious malice behind this comment.

    The gentleman who made the statement is supporting a policy move that is debatable. The right is looking to make this comment into a some dictatorship. The gentleman is presuming to accept responsibility for education of children in many types if communities and finds economic differences as problematic to achieving educational outcomes.

    The evil of the statement is now questioned. In fact, critiques are required to explain why that is actually not a normative position- to worry about the educational performance of children beyond one’s own.

    I put forth that the isolationist position of the author of the letter is morally defective.

    • ivan_the_mad

      ” I claim the conservative lacks any semblance of vocabulary for community responsibility.” Now, Dan, this is neither fair nor true. There are no few strains of conservatism, and some evince a strong communitarian bent. Read Kirk, Nash, or Burke; it is in the sense of the thought of these men that I can say that my political disposition is conservative. Consider this excerpt from Kirk’s Rights and Duties: Reflections on Our Conservative Constitution:

      “Burke appealed back beyond Locke to an idea of community far warmer and richer than Locke’s or Hobbes’s aggregation of individuals. The true compact of society, Burke told his countrymen, is eternal: it joins the dead, the living, and the unborn. We all participate in this spiritual and social partnership, because it is ordained of God. In defense of social harmony, Burke appealed to what Locke had ignored: the love of neighbor and the sense of duty.”

      I’m not going to defend knee-jerk reactions by the modern right to any hint of a reality greater than “me and mine” , and indeed I disdain such. Nor do I dispute your criticism of such, since it is not without merit. But I know that you know better that to make such a categorical statement.

      • IRVCath

        I think he means ‘conservatism’ as it is practiced in this country.

      • Dan C

        I agree the conservative definition of Kirk mirrors a Fred McMurray world of local Boy Scout troop-like “Follow Me Boys” intermediary institutions. However, no conservative wants to return to an economic environment promoting such employment stability to have a “Follow me Boys” story- such needs more living wage arrangements.

        Also, the conservative focus on family and exclusively family to the exclusion of community so much so that a statement like “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” becomes threatening indicates the conservative movement actually rejects Kirk and has done so for the vast portion of my life. Family, in my assessment of conservative models, function as Randian units of selfishness and the community is a threat to that unit’s autonomy.

        My caricature is cartoonish, I agree. But the family-focus and the rejection of community leaves conservatives unable to understand the story of the Good Samaritan. No longer is the question “Who is my neighbor?” but “What is a neighbor and why do I care?”

        • the conservative focus on family and exclusively family to the exclusion of community so much so that a statement like “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” becomes threatening indicates the conservative movement actually rejects Kirk and has done so for the vast portion of my life

          Sadly, I kind of think Dan C is mostly right here. The one caveat I would add is that for many on the Left, the “village” which is going to help raise your child is the United States Government. In such a case, conservatives are right to smell a rat.

          Of course, the problem with “conservatives” is that economically they’re just as anti-local as their “liberal” opponents: they hold no real controlling loyalty to their local communities such that they would submit to their judgments of justice, and conservatives openly talk about exercising their freedom to move wherever they want in the country to avoid taxes or regulation or whatever else might interfere with their “freedom” (read, ability to make money).

          Family, in my assessment of conservative models, function as Randian units of selfishness and the community is a threat to that unit’s autonomy.

          Dammit, he’s right. This is absolutely the way post-Reagan conservatives think.

          • Dan C

            I think NYC will be interesting to follow. This is a very local real progressive leadership change.

            I do agree that the US government is the first place liberals look now for impact. The forces opposing their agenda are however, federal government-sized entities.

            The experience with attempts to impact environmwntal-protection at the state level is a failure. I think that colors the experience on the left, as well as how well local movements worked for change in civil rights.

            • Eve Fisher

              Part of the reason liberals look to government for impact (especially environmental) is because for years conservatives have been handing over our air, water, food, medicine, and natural resources to corporations, shredding regulations wherever possible, and allowing those corporations to become federal government-sized entities. “Government is evil, corporations are good, unfettered capitalism will set us free…” the usual schtick. Always amazes me. I’m well aware that government is just as susceptible to corruption as any corporation – but with government we can throw the bums out on election day. But I have no control over the CEO’s and middle-management of any corporation. I cannot hire or fire them, I can’t even find them to complain to them, and I certainly don’t have the money or power to bribe them.

              • Dominicanis


                You are broad-brushing conservatives the same way that they broad-brush liberals. I don’t believe that all liberals are evil, abortion-promoting fools who think with their glands, mainly because I know some, and they don’t. People forget Democrats like former governor of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, Sr., who was a pro-lifer.

                Like any other group of people, conservatives have a range of views within them. What you’ve been tarring as all of conservatives are actually libertarians, who advocate a hands-off approach to everything and basically no government on the federal level worth mentioning. Yeah, there are some loud looney-tune types in the mix, like those who promote torture and other cruel and stupid things, but there are also those who stand against that type of unjust treatment of other human beings.

                But conservatives as a group give more money, time and volunteer hours on the local level than their liberal counterparts and, despite earning less income than the liberals, donate more to charity. They even donate more blood. So, please read up on what you’re bashing before bashing.


                • Eve Fisher

                  Dear Dominicanis, I am sorry you took my comment personally. I was responding (agreed, with a broad-brush) directly to the broad-brush statement that “the US government is the first place liberals look to for impact,” and trying to give a couple of reasons why that might be so. I am well aware that there is as wide a mix among conservatives as liberals.
                  Purely personal note: I would give blood, but I can’t, as I have a hereditary blood disorder that makes me ineligible. Sometimes it’s not desire, but circumstances…

                • Dan C

                  Charity fails to exclude actions for justice. Additionally, that set of data to which you point notes that religious liberals donate as much as religious conservatives, that conservative donation to “charity” includes the American Enterprise Institute and Acton and colleges, etc. This is not just soup kitchens to which one refers.

                  And this data has not been replicated.

                  Also, one can see that libertarianism has invaded most corners of Catholic conservativism: Ray Arroyo, Robert Sirico, Elizabeth Scalia, Michael Novak, Dwight Longenecker, George Weigel, about half the columnists at NCRegister, Zuhlsdorf, the American Catholic, most of the posters on OVer the Rhine and into the Tiber, and many others. One has but to refer to Paul Ryan’s speech to the Heritage Society in 2012 to see Randian libertarianism on display. To pretend that libertarianism is not mainstreamed into Catholic conservative economic thought is a fantasy. Ms. Scalia is the editor of the Catholic bit of Patheos, Sirico and Arroyo consume a lot of airtime on EWTN.

                  This strand of economic thinking is prevalent and antagonistic to CST from its foundation. It is not unfair to claim that libertarianism is a tolerated feature of conservative Catholic discourse.

                  • Elmwood

                    Ever since Weigel wrote that biography on JPII, he has appointed himself as the only authentic interpreter of all things papal.

                    When i saw Arroyo interviewing Romney back in 2012 before the election, it was painfully clear he was stumping for the GOP. there was no critical catholic questioning, only sycophancy. i thought at one point Romney appeared all shinny and fuzzy (soft focus) like in those old star trek episodes.

                    • Dan C

                      Weigel had no access in Benedict’s household and Benedict left him upset. He was very disturbed throughout that papacy. Francis is even worse for him.

                      Weigel barely acknowledged the existence of “God is Love” as an encyclical.

              • ivan_the_mad

                Quite right. There is nothing conservative about failing to conserve small farms, small businesses, or the very world God has made for us.

                • BTP

                  I suspect that if you look at small, family farms that have been forced to sell out, the culprit is more often (_more often_) some ill-thought government regulation than it is some predatory corporation.

                  • ivan_the_mad

                    Even granting that, given that K Street’s corporate lobbyists author much of the applicable regulation and legislation, I’m not sure what this buys you.

                    • BTP

                      So, when the government is good, it is because it is good; when it is bad, it is because some corporation made it so?

                      If crony capitalists and crony governments work together hand-in-glove, isn’t that an argument for making decisions at the smallest level possible? Such that the degree of harm such troublesome institutions might inflict is as small as possible? Such that, those who are closest to the problem and have the most direct stake in the solution make the most important decisions?

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      False dichotomies and leading questions are seldom indicative of a discussion in good faith. Good day.

          • ivan_the_mad

            Oh, certainly, he’s good insights into the matter. I only wish to counsel him against the categoricals. Kirk, Burke, Eliot, et al., The Imaginative Conservative, Front Porch Republic, are friends who share his concerns, if he will have them.

            • Dan C

              There are good conservative voices changing the conversation: foks at TAC and Reno at First Things. I think Douthat has been beating a drum for a change in thinking.

              And did Paul Ryan change his thinking? Time will tell.

              Very prominent voices in Catholicism are very libertarian. Priestly orthodoxy fails to use degree of imbided libertarianism as a calculus whatsoever. Prominent writers among conservative Catholic media are shamelessly libertarian without consequence.

              If I have a task, it is to excise libertarianism from polite company. It should be dealt with as one deals with Marxism, as useless and damaging to the soul and the community.

        • ivan_the_mad

          Believe you me, I understand your frustration. I think you’ve given a very good diagnosis of the malady which besets what is popularly labelled conservatism. There are many of us who, conservative in disposition and orthodox in our faith traditions, would remedy this sickness with the rich patrimony of thought bequeathed us by giants who have come before us, whom I quote with the pleasing repetition of a broken record. I do not wish to nag you with the familiar refrain that “Not all of us …” because I am sure you are aware of that. I would counsel you to bear in mind that there are many conservatives who are your allies in this regard.

          • Dan C

            I fully understand.

            One difficult change has been economic instability for the average man. This inhibits at a basic volunteer level even, participation of individuals as Scoutmasters. So so many Scoutmasters locally in my youth were laborers in steady employ (union). The troops would suffer and decline over the course of the 1980’s as these men lost their jobs.

            Community stability relies at the local level on decently paid stable employ at routine hours. Otherwise those famed “intermediary institutions” will continue to be (as the Knights of Columbus are) an organization for retired men.

            • ivan_the_mad

              Where do you come up with this stuff? It’s like you read the social encyclicals, or you’ve been listening to Pope Francis … 😉

              I’ll not deny that unions can evidence corruption and greed, but I don’t think to a degree any greater than any other institution or individual. But I must hasten to add that these things are incidental to their legitimacy. I think the popes knew what they were talking about. We need the trade associations to help establish that stability of which a just wage is a sine qua non. I will steadfastly maintain that unions are a valid but imperfect realization of these classless trade associations.

              • Dan C

                In 2014, I won’t advocate for unions, but I will note that finding men with enough free time in stable employ is challenging today. This is a trouble in Scouting- in finding good volunteer leadership.

                Stable employ, decent work conditions, living wage. This would re-stablize communities and turn back the clock on many of the troubles.

                I claim the aphorism that “money is the root of all evils” has more truth in it than not. Both its excess and its absence cause troubles.

                But then again, outside my own voice, I never hear that aphorism- not since before 1980.

                • Neihan

                  Love of money is the root of all sorts of evils, certainly. And in the eagerness to be rich many people have, for love of money, wandered from the faith and found much grief. To paraphrase 1 Timothy 6:10.

                  Money itself is amoral, and can (and should) be used in service of good.

                  • Dan C

                    But the aphorism does not begin with “love of money.”

                    Also, it is of kite that when it comes to the economic aspects of the Gospel, conservative commentators seem to get all “squishy” on the details with a lot of “reading into” what the Gospel is saying. The Gospels are harsh about wealth. “Woe to the rich.” The story of Dives (note- no sin is identified to condemn him-he is just rich). The “eye of the needle” comment.

                    Choose to be “squishy” and read the warnings against wealth out of the Gospel if you want, but you do not read them with the same eye as, say Leo 13th who noted the grave utterances against wealth in Rerum Novarum.

                    Be squishy if you want. But the Gospels (and the aphorism) are not.

                    • Neihan

                      Conservative and liberal commentators. If you can reach above your belt and grab a handful of fat, then you might not be caring as much as you should about feeding the poor. If you open a closet and see more clothes than you honestly need, you might not care as much as you should about clothing the naked.

                      The typical Western liberal is no better than the typical Western conservative on this count. I’ve known many a wealthy, fat and well-clothed liberal who talked about how we should help the poor, even as they got richer, fatter, and bought more clothes.

                      It’s a problem for everyone, and liberals (as much as conservatives) struggle with the money portion. You, I note, have the internet and a computer. Do you need these things? How much a month do you pay for your internet, and could this money be better used to give someone a few meals? Are you being squishy? Probably as much as the rest of us.

                      The aphorism as stated is incomplete and not helpful. If money is evil then surely I should not give it to people – after all, would I give a starving man a stone, rather than a fish? If money is evil no one should be tainted with it, and we should just burn it. It’s certainly no help to give evil to a man.

                      However, if we adhere to the scriptural phrase (rather than your aphorism) we see that money is not evil and can be used for good. Money is, after all, an object. Objects are neither good nor evil – it’s in our choices (either in the pursuit or the use of the object) where we can commit evil. And we all do, regardless of our political ideology.

                    • Imrahil

                      There is a certain right to do some interpreting if the Gospel seems (note seems) harsh. There is a reason St. Francis made “Evangelium sine glossa” a motto of a specific order rather than the Church as a whole.

                      That said, Dives, for instance, turns out to know Lazarus by name (thus did not just overlook him but positively deny to help him). Christ never seemed to criticize the wealthy women in his followship. Christ said he did not change the Law which has some interesting statements both about legitimate enjoyment of property, rich oppressors, and the interesting “give me neither poverty nor riches” maxim.

                      Leo XIII. probably said (it’s been a time that I read the encyclical) that capitalists are working with greed against the just order, which was right, but he did not to my memory called it evil to own money per se; indeed he confirmed a natural right to own property and aspire to property for those who not have them.

                    • Neihan

                      Yes, I’d always read that parable as a pretty clear condemnation about having wealth and refusing to even acknowledge, let alone help, the man dying for lack. Same with the rich man whom our Lord loved – the problem wasn’t the wealth, but his attachment to it which caused him to leave our Lord disheartened.

                      I’ve read Rerum Novarum and I’m not sure what any Catholic would find particularly objectionable about it. Even ones who are, insofar as political ideology, conservative.

                      Anymore than I think that all those who are politically liberals dissent from it because it says:

                      “The great mistake made in regard to the matter now under consideration is to take up with the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict.”

                      It seems needlessly simplistic and antagonistic to attack either group whole-cloth, rather than simply positively affirming the teachings. When each of us gives an account of ourselves to God I can’t imagine any of us are going to be too proud of our records, including (perhaps most especially) those of us who strive to be faithful Catholics.

                    • Dan C

                      Leo supported private property and despised the disequity and inequality he saw (he used very similar words) in his era.

                      He saw private property as the antidote to deprivation but because man unjustly divided Creation, he saw limits to private property’s rights.

                      He is aggressive with regard to wealth. As I note above:

                      “that the rich should tremble at the threatenings of Jesus Christ – threatenings so unwonted in the mouth of our Lord(10) – and that a most strict account must be given to the Supreme Judge for all we possess. ”

                      He is honest with regard to Acts and the Gospel when it comes to assessments of wealth. “Woe to the rich” is hard to erase .

                    • Imrahil

                      (Supposed) tone does not make doctrine.

                      And that there are limits to private property is a straw-man, of course there are.

                      “Woe to the rich”, by the way, refers apparently to those who rest complacent in their riches as their sole consolation, as the Lord says according to Luke.

                    • Dan C

                      I make no claim to being anything but a sinner when it comes to my management of wealth. I think that is what you are passively noting in these many circuitous sentences. I am overweight with wealth. Yup. The Gospel and the Fathers of the Church accurately accuse me.

                      What you avoid quoting is Luke: “Woe to the rich.” My own sinful attachments do not stamp out the threat of this sentence.

                      And the “eye of the needle” quote accuses me.

                      Leo 13th had it correctly: “that the rich should tremble at the threatenings of Jesus Christ – threatenings so unwonted in the mouth of our Lord(10) – and that a most strict account must be given to the Supreme Judge for all we possess.”

                      You seem to stumble on this matter. There is a Truth and “Woe to the rich” is a hard sentence to erase from the Gospel. I stand accused before it.

                    • Neihan

                      Minus your specific targeting of conservatives (as though they’re somehow especially more sinful in this) I agree with almost everything you’ve posted (difficult not to, given the sources of your quotations). My point was only that in singling out conservatives especially for condemnation you’re not casting your net wide enough.

                      If they’re not the only ones guilty of this (and they’re not – lust for wealth is an almost universal temptation), then why not simply preach it as a truth we all must listen to and take more seriously.

                    • Dan C

                      In personal behavior, there is no difference between political affinities.

                      In identifying who has ideologically created an affinity to deny ‘Woe to the rich,” I have an easy time discussing an intellectual provenance proper to conservativism. Michael Novak, Robert Sirico (and his popularizer Raymond Arroyo), libertarian Elizabeth Scalia, Dwight Longenecker, Sam Gregg, and on and on.

                      Conservative thought has modified of late-but by folks ill-reputed among many conservatives as “sell-outs.” Douthat and Reno are among these.

                      I note the ideological treatment of wealth and economics is clearly supported differently by each pole of American Catholic divisions. Conservatives have an affinity to forget these passages and actually, can’t even cough them out on their blogs or writings.

                      It is fair to note that Catholic conservatives have an ideological fervor favoring wealth.

                    • Neihan

                      And yet, for all that, in personal behavior there is no difference between political affinities. So I guess there’s something going on here that has absolutely nothing to do with political ideologies.

                    • Dan C

                      Catholics espousing libertarianism have ideas about government and charity that are separate from the popes and CST and the USCCB official stances. It is therefore reasonable and just to say they do not have a Catholic response on law and policy matters like welfare.

                      There is a difference on social policy. It is dramatic. The poison that is libertarianism has infused conservative Catholic discourse and media without any critique. I make note of that in my comments. They promulgate teachings that differ dramatically from what the Church teaches on CST.

                      As such, there are differences that are important between conservatives and liberal Catholics and how they exercise and teach CST.

                • ivan_the_mad

                  I maintain the legitimacy of unions, normally I don’t advocate for them since I think the cooperative is a better realization of the social doctrine in this regard. The popes looked more towards, in the modern lingo, vertical institutions that brought all the classes together, whereas the unions are limited primarily to the workers and naturally tend to conflict with management and owners. But I am genuinely curious as to whether you have some sort of institution or body in mind that would fulfill a similar function. I don’t think Walmart is going to stop neglecting their duties to their employees any time soon.

                  • Dan C

                    I like cooperative leadership structures. Workers councils with input to management and, if reasonable, board-level input.

                    I do not normally advocate for unions. They have their place, but have their troubles.

  • Eve Fisher

    I agree with Dan C below – “Why should some towns and cities and states have no standards or low standards and others have extremely high standards when the children belong to all of us and would move [to different states in their educational lives]” is the quote, and it’s a valid question. Because (to use another hated phrase) it does take a village to raise a child. A child’s lack of education, health care, food, clothing, shelter – that all affects me, because that child is part of my world, is my neighbor, is a defenseless child. And not all parents are good at it. Or care. Not all states are good at it. Or care. Our governor here in SD slashed the education budget by 10% in 2011, and our legislature, despite protests from myself and many many others, went along with it. This year he proposed a 3% increase to the budget and everyone cried hosannah – except for those of us who remember 2011 and know that this means we’re still way behind. So… no, I don’t see this statement as anything but a reminder of our collective responsibility to take care of children and of each other.

    • Dave G.

      How exactly did the 10% cut in education negatively impact education as opposed to if it hadn’t been cut? Really. I’m not being snide. I mean exactly how would the situation have improved had they not cut that? I know that the cuts will probably go to all the wrong places. But the problem is, without the cuts, the money goes to all the wrong places just the same. My wife was an educator the first half of our lives together. Her Dad has worked with education and her Mom is a government employee. It’s not like we’re without sympathies, but the amount of money doesn’t seem to be the problem. Nobody – not even Fareed Zakaria (who isn’t exactly a right wing radical) – denies that America spends more per student than any country in the world. The problem seems to be how it is spent, and with that, can cutting or adding really make a big difference until the problems with how it is spent are addressed?

      • Eve Fisher

        Well, the school week was cut to four days in many districts, especially the rural ones where they couldn’t afford to cut teachers because they only had one or two for the whole school; school breakfast and lunches were cut, as well as lunch time (see cut in school week); 214 teachers were cut, and teacher pay in SD is at the bottom, nationally, in state teacher pay (and, of course, there haven’t been any raises in years); the cut in teachers meant classroom size increased. Per student spending decreased sharply – our state per student spending is half that of the national average (but of course we take every federal dollar we can get). And our per-student spending is about 2/3s that of neighboring states.

        I’ve been a teacher myself (now retired). I’ve heard the argument that the amount of money isn’t the problem: but money can make a really big difference when it’s 10% of the total budget, and in a rural state like SD where there aren’t many sources of income. And the state government will not allow local districts to pass sales or gasoline or other taxes (even when they want to!) in order to increase local spending on schools. I know. Some local districts tried. The state slapped it down. Think about it: what would happen if you lost 10% of your personal income? And were forbidden to get another job or earn any other money? What would you have to cut? Someone, something would suffer.

        • Dave G.

          How were they spending the money beforehand? We, too, were in a rural part of the state, and yes, the cuts always seem to hit the most necessary parts hardest. The problem we’ve noticed – and this from living in four different states – is that when the money is there, it’s not spent well at all. The money seems to go to all the wrong things.

          A couple years ago, CNN did a special on how we’re getting our educational butts kicked by other countries. They did segments showing schools around the world that were out-performing us. One thing I noticed: many of the actual schools in those countries looked like they were in abandoned warehouses or old office buildings. Or schools built during the reign of Queen Victoria. Not like our combination country club/shopping mall/food court/health spa/mega entertainment complex schools. They had the basics, the tech, the digital, all the latest learning materials. But much of the additional was spartan to say the least.

          When we were in Florida, the district she lived in lobbied for levies for several years. When they finally got it, one of the first things built was a new state of the art facility for the board of education. That story is often repeated.

          There are many other problems with our modern education of course. And no amount of money will solve those problems. But time and again we’ve seen the same story played out: money ill used, ill spent, spent on unnecessary frills and luxuries. And then when that is used by critics to impose cuts, instead of cutting the luxuries, that’s when we see what you saw. The meat and potatoes of schools falling to the ax. It’s a major problem I’ll admit. But it doesn’t appear to be one people actually want to solve I fear, as much as – like everything else – they just want to make sure their solutions and priorities come out on top.

          • Eve Fisher

            Actually, the main reasons we’re getting our butts kicked educationally are:
            (1) we have one of the shortest school years around. China spends 260 days a year in school; we spend around 180. And we give them a whole summer off to forget everything they’ve learned. I’ve run across – and surely you have as well – students who basically had to repeat the last semester in September…
            (2) our focus is on the poorest performing students, rather than the exceptional ones, who often end up bored. Our focus on constant testing – and $ dependent on test scores – means that everyone’s working their tails off trying to get the lowest students to pass; meanwhile, the bright ones, who could, say, be reading Shakespeare in elementary school, are yawning their heads off.
            (3) we do not have any sort of tracking for students based on ability, aptitude, vocation, etc. Most countries test out their students on a regular basis; everybody gets basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, but then, around 12-16 years old, you get tested and are “guided” to either vocational training or university. Or drop out entirely. What this means is that everyone knows going into the game that their future really is on the line at some point. And it mean that those brilliant foreign students we get at American universities are the best and brightest.
            (4) depending on the country, they’re hungry, desperate, will do anything for a good education. In the US, education is largely taken for granted, and educated people are often referred to with disdain as “the elite” as if they didn’t work very, very hard to get their degrees. Many people like to brag how little education they have and look where they are now.

            Back to funding: I believe it does matter. Many libertarians, like Rand and Ron Paul, want education completely freed from federal involvement – 100% local control and funding. I am terrified by that concept, because I’ve lived in enough places in the US to know that some towns and counties could barely fund one teacher for the whole area, and might not even do that. All I can say is that if they would once in a while ask the teachers what’s needed, re funding, testing, and teaching, instead of outsourcing it to various profitable think-tanks, or leaving it to politicians, we might get better results.

            • Dave G.

              Number 4 ranks high on the list IMHO. As I’ve said, when you come out of a generation that celebrated Bluto Blutarskys, Ferris Buellers and Jeff Spicolis, don’t expect hard work and education to come off well in the minds of our youth.

              Never mind the change in emphasis in education today. Is education merely a means to an end rather than an end?

              For the most part, there is little to disagree with the other reasons you list. I might disagree with the shortness of the year as a major problem. Like money, I think much of that is the way we use the time, not the amount of time we use.

              There are other reasons, and some of it is in how other countries operate. Some of them put kids into tracks based on their aptitude. You’re good at math, to math you go. I want to be an artists! To math you go. When my wife went into educational publishing, working with curriculum from other countries, she learned it isn’t always like we do things, or like we’d ever want to.

              Plus, there is that tendency schools have to implement the 10 latest strategic theories when they haven’t even figured if the last 10 latest strategic theories are working. This doesn’t even count our schools as the front lines of the agenda driven tug-of-wars so common in our times.

              And we have that lovely lack of horse sense our age displays. Such as bellyaching about fat, lazy kids while eliminating physical education and recesses. My boys had a whopping 3 and a half hours of physical exercise in school in a good week. When I was little? With no more hours in the year, we managed more than twice that much.

              I’m no libertarian, but for me, each solution seems to be long on digging heals in the ideological ground, and short on actually solving the problems. Which might just show that every problem in our education system is merely an extension of greater problems infecting our decaying society overall.

              • Eve Fisher

                And there are the parents who use TV/computers for baby-sitters and never make their kids do their homework (and then bellyache to the teacher about failing their kids!). And there’s the fact that some things – like memorization and math – are considered too hard or unnecessary now that we have computers. And…

                I know there’s a lot of stuff wrong with every educational system, and always has been, and probably always will be. There actually has never been an ideal educational system that I’ve run across: the 1950’s was a great time for education, as long as you remember that (1) blacks got the short end of the stick educationally, especially in the South (separate but equal was separate and you get squat); (2) it was assumed that most people would NOT go on to college; and (3) there were lots of well-paying jobs for non-college and even non-high school graduates that could support a family (strong unions had something to do with this). The Victorians produced some absolute geniuses – but only about 1% ever went to college, and most people got only a year or two of education, enough to read or write, if that. Even today, Japan sends its kids almost into a nervous breakdown to get educated enough to be accepted at college – and then college is a breeze. And Rousseau, who started the whole child-nurturing school of education back with Emile in 1762, had at least four children and put every one of them in an orphanage. Society has always been decaying.

                As Flaubert said in the 1800’s, “Our ignorance of history makes us slander our own times: people have always been like this.”

                Meanwhile, I think education would be better served, as I said before, by giving actual working teachers far more of a voice in decisions about how schools are run, what tests are administered, how the money should be spent, and even perhaps answering the ideological questions of what education is for. And the last one is a whole ‘nother ball of wax…

                • Dave G.

                  Oh, I think you and I could spend hours together listing the reasons for our educational troubles. I think just a general laziness, if you get down to it. A society that’s tired of being. But in the end, that’s my thing about the money. I’m not sure increasing budgets by 1000% will help as long as so many of the other problems are there.

                  • Andy

                    Your comment “A society that is tired of being” is so true. America or at least a loud vocal subset of America has embraced the concept of American Exceptionalism – meaning we haves to be first in everything and everything we do is right. The constant need to be number one is tiring, it is mind-numbing and it is destructive. Education is just one area where we see this need to compete and be the best. Maybe it is time to take stock of ourselves and ask – “Who cares if we are the best?

                    • Dave G.

                      I actually disagree. When I was in college as far back as the 80s, American Exceptionalism and Nazi social philosophies were portrayed as pretty much different sides of the same coin. If anything,we have embraced the evil twin of exceptionalism: the inability to see anything in our country’s past worth redeeming, and therefor no motivation to care about its inevitable demise. For some, the world will be a happier place without America (or at least the America that ever was). For others, it’s no big deal either way. That, I think, has caused those who still try to embrace the remnants of American exceptionalism to do so in a way that almost lives up to the stereotypes of what its critics said it was all about. And those things are, in many ways, what has caused the country overall to simply stop caring.

                    • Andy

                      The mindset that says our history is not worthwhile or redeeming I think is centered in the desire to ignore the less than shining moments in our history. It is an attempt at selective repression if you will. This selective repression is in itself tiring and causes a great deal of cognitive dissonance. To deal with cognitive dissonance we either create a new understanding – and then sell that or we overcompensate and create a new ideal that ignores our past. I see the new ideal as American Exceptionalism – as preached today.
                      It is the relief of cognitive dissonance that is tiring. ANd that cognitive dissonance is only heightened by our fear for the future. THis fear is equally as tiring.

                    • Dave G.

                      I don’t think so again. The overwhelming accounts of our history is an emphasis on the negative. Same for Western history in general (and that include the history of the Catholic Church of course). In fact, the big difference seems to be that those who still cling to exceptionalism have no choice but to admit to the bad, while those who, for various reasons, prefer to focus on the negatives do so ruthlessly, without ever giving a nod to the good without at least emphasizing the negative to the same degree. I mean, it’s the cultural backdrop of our historical narrative. Which is a boon for those seeking change and progress.

                    • Andy

                      I appreciate your response – we will have to disagree – I see the world through the lens of cognitive dissonance – this is most likely a holdover from my long ago college years, and life experiences.

                  • Eve Fisher

                    Well, I wasn’t asking for 100% – I was asking for the 10% that was cut two years ago. But here’s something to think about on the idea that more money won’t help education: that makes sense until you realize that corporations and
                    politicians never stop spending money on education, it’s just called
                    advertising (or propaganda). Education (advertising) works. Education (advertising) is vital. Education (advertising) takes a lot of
                    money: until it’s for children, in
                    schools, and then suddenly the meme is that no more money is needed, especially since “the system
                    is failing.” (NOTE: the system isn’t failing: we educate more people than any other
                    country, and we get more people to college than any other country. Some schools are failing, for a variety of
                    reasons, most of which are – to tell the truth – administrative and parental.) What I’m saying is to look at what we’ve been
                    subtly trained to think: that schools
                    don’t need money. But there isn’t a
                    corporation or politician in the world that is cutting their advertising budget
                    by a penny. Instead, they’re increasing it every year – using our dimes. Think about that for a while.

            • Dave G.

              Oh, and that’s without getting into the disastrous teaching to the tests. We encountered that full force in our own school system. One of the reasons we home school (among others).

            • jroberts548

              The best performing students still perform well. We won’t improve our education system by writing off poor students and poor districts.

    • BTP

      Try using the google to read about “subsidiarity,” sometime. That will answer the “why” part of your question. Indeed, and not to be cranky, but the idea that it takes a village would ordinarily mean stopping at some level of collective action below the Federal level — it takes a village, not an empire.

      As for being affected by various villages that have standards you judge to be too low: It seems to me you think quite a lot of yourself. Put differently: mind your own business.

      • HornOrSilk

        Subsidiarity alone leads to individualism, where the higher principle is the individual. The Church does not teach subsidiarity alone. Moreover, subsidiarity, in its truest form, does not say it will stop at some collective level below the Federal – that is an assumption, not the principle because the principle would say if it is needed to be done on the Federal level, it should be done there.

        • Imrahil

          However, the general talk of subsidiarity has – and apparently legitimately (this is quite present in the social encyclicas) been rather fearing usurpation by the higher of what belongs to the lower, than vice versa.

          And subsidiarity is also *not* what we Germans call mission-type tactics; you know: the superior says what is to be done and if the subordinate does on his own fine, otherwise it reverts to the superior… Subsidiarity, on the other hand, leaves the aim, not only the means to the entity of smaller order… if, well, it does not fall into the higher order’s province.

          However, the “federal – state” thing is not primarily a subsidiarity thing at all. I can imagine someone saying that what’s crucial enough to be in the state’s province has a good probability to be crucial to the federacy also. Subsidiarity usually goes by: individual – family – village – state and parallel worker – business – association of businesses – customer – controlling offices of the state.

          Whether the state, where he is large enough to be essentially more than a village, is now federal, state-state, district or perhaps megacity (though even a megacity shares some traits of the village) is then only of secondary importance.

        • BTP

          Subsidiarity tells us that collective goods should be delivered by the smallest groups that have the ability to do so. Local communities are competent to deliver all sorts of collective goods: they build roads and build fire departments and enforce laws and have courts and all kinds of amazing stuff.

          But, in an exact analogue, we might wonder why some communities have better levels of police protection, or building code enforcement, or whatever. We would immediately see that these are not arguments for throwing subsidiarity out the window.

          • HornOrSilk

            Local communities often are not competent to deliver the goods which people try to pitch subsidiarity against. That’s the problem.

            • BTP

              It seems to me that, if the local parish school is thought competent to deliver education, the vastly larger resources of a town should be assumed to have the resources to do so. To suppose otherwise is, if you don’t mind, absurd.

      • Dan C

        Subsidiarity fails to exclude the use of more centralized governmental mechanisms. In fact, it suggests one should be ready to appeal to them. The question is whether due to the size of corporations, localities and states are up to the ability to “take on” corporations. I claim, “no.”

        Let it be clear: I do not use the word “federal” as a curse word, some profanity that gets hissed out between clenched teeth.

        The passionate embrace of conservative Catholics and their dear corporations have created entities that make the Federal government look like the savior. The Empire the federal government may take on is actually a transnational corporation, so big that even Benedict in Caritas in Veritate and Francis in EG suggests international juridical bodies may need to supervise and regulate these entities.

        In terms of judging village standards, there exists a “Truth.” Injustice is injustice in Alabama as in my neighborhood. We do not get to disallow advocacy for our fellow citizens because they live in your locale. So, “mind your own business” is an inadequate response. And actually, without any foundation in Catholicism. We do not “mind our own business.”

        • BTP

          Shea seems to attract this sort of reader for some reason — I suspect that is not a random effect.

          I don’t know what started your rant (when did corporations and the alleged love affair between conservative Catholics and these dangerous entities become the subject?), but it seems to me that an argument that engages the concept of subsidiarity would need to show a) that the local organizations are failing and the b) larger governmental institutions would succeed. I very much doubt this is a hurdle that can be met in the US.

          • Dan C

            Mr. Shea attracts a Catholic reader. One that thinks that “mind your own business” is not a Christian operating principle.

            Now you are discussing policy as opposed to some absolutist matter. Why yes, one can certainly envision transnational corporation opposition to need support beyond the level of the village. Subsidiarity, something well known to me (along with solidarity) was not a definition I needed to google, which was insultingly suggested.

            I don’t help any libertarian echo chamber. Yelling “subsidiarity” has never been a conversation stopper for me, when I read papal encyclicals discussing transnational juridical bodies (which of course you read in Caritas in Veritate).

            In general, subsidiarity works only so long as it works. If it doesn’t work, and the question remains whether national standards are required for education due to the poor state of education, then lower levels have failed. Then we are obliged to do more.

            You merely insulted and then said Subsidiarity!

            Then “mind your own business” and “this sort of reader.” I am going to define therefore the uses of subsidiarity, why it’s appeal today is routine, and the note that conservatives, using the language of “makers and takers” since at least 2008, have an affinity for big business and corporations. This affinity is not loss on any including conservative writers like Reno and Douthat.

            This is the sort of reader that Mr. Shea attracts.

            • BTP

              Apparently, Shea’s Catholic readers are quite convinced that they know better than everyone else how best to educate other people’s children. And whenever outcomes are not equal across jurisdictions, well, let’s do away with jurisdictions.

              This is not Catholic thinking. It isn’t even coherent.

              • Dan C

                Jurisdictions are legally hierarchical in the US.

                And I think I leave exacting discussions as to policy out of the details. I just note how preposterous “mind your own business” is.

                Some people do know better how to educate children than others. You seem to presume that does not occur. It is arguable if this is the case in this instance. But again, that is a negotiable policy discussion, not some theory of absolutes.

                I did not suggest any deviation from the legal structure.

  • Scot Martin

    Here’s my message to CFAP: Dear CFAP,
    As I read about Mr. Reville’s recent statement that all the children belong to you, I reflected that that makes good sense. I have two school-aged children and I am a laid-off teacher. I’m wondering what kind of help you can offer for “your” children. Money for food or gas for shuttling them to school would be appreciated. What other ways are you willing to help raise children, I wonder?
    I’m looking forward to the assistance for your children. Will Mr. Reville be personally involved in the raising of his children or will that be outsourced?

    Scot Martin

  • James H, London

    CFAP. C FAP run.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. Now that’s over with, I feel at pains to point out that Tolkien was a convert, too – his mother converted when he was very young, on the strength of a caring priest in Birmingham (the original one).

    Craniorectal impaction – got to remember that one… 🙂

  • Eric the Read

    I have always imagined Purgatory as told in Leaf by Niggle. That vision by itself was probably a great part of the reason I came back to the Church in my 30s.