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Blaine from Maine

There are several high-profile, charged cases set to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court this year. But one, cited in this New York Times preview, is of particular interest to Catholic schools.

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue tests the state’s ability to exclude religious schools from state aid available to all children. The U.S. Catholic Bishops signed an amicus brief which puts the question this way:

Does it violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause to invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student-aid program simply because the program affords students the choice of attending religious schools and on the basis of a state-law provision that singles out religious schools for adverse treatment?

Or, can there be any state aid for students and families attending religious schools?

Fairness dictates “yes,” but history is not on our side. At the height of ant-Catholic sentiment in 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant gave a speech stating that state and federal governments should not “support institutions of learning other than those sufficient to afford to every child growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan or atheistical dogmas.” In 19th-century America, “sectarian” typically meant Catholic. And “dogmas” speaks for itself. These sentiments led to the so-called Blaine amendments found in states such as Montana — and Massachusetts — that prohibit even the most common-sense funding for students in religious schools.

Should the Montana Supreme Court action be upheld, it will be a blow to students and families seeking basic fairness from the state while attending religious schools.

‘We Learn the Curriculum of Life’

At last month’s Catholic Schools Week Mass, celebrated for all students of Cape Cod’s Catholic schools, Shannon Cummings, ’18 shared her thoughts near the culmination of her twelve years of Catholic schooling.  With her signature style, Shannon makes the case for the special sauce in Catholic schools.

Read Shannon’s remarks here.

Remember “Staff Picks?”

You might remember visiting your local video store, at a certain point in recent history, where you would find “staff picks” shelves. Whether independent stores, Blockbuster, Hollywood, or some other, staff picks sought to rescue perhaps lesser known, forgotten-yet-favored choices close to (some)one’s heart. Seinfeld even has a staff picks-themed episode.

This year, JPII staff members have been invited to open high school staff meetings with favored verse, in addition to customary prayer. Such verse gives the staff the chance to mull words, to step back from the business of school operations, and to share a bit of ourselves in the reading.

Perhaps you’ll enjoy these selections as well. Here are JPII staff picks, for verse, this year:

August, 2016: Blessings, by Ronald Wallace. Offered by Mr. Keavy. Wry and upbeat way to start the school year.

September, 2016: The Dead of September 11, by Toni Morrison. Offered by Dr. Spadaro.

October, 2016: The Heart of the Teacher, by Parker Palmer. Offered by Dr. Ballou.

November, 2016: The Village Blacksmith, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Offered by Mrs. Hufnagle, in memory of her father.

December, 2016: The Station, by Robert J. Hastings. Offered by Mme. Medeiros, in memory of her brother.

January, 2017: The Benefits of Ignorance, by Hal Sirowicz. Offered by Mr. Keavy. Nothing personal, parents!

March, 2017: Carmen XXII by Gaius Valerius Catullus. Translated from Latin by Ms. Smith.

Define Your Terms

In our Introduction to Western Philosophy course, we read Plato’s Euthphryo and Plato’s Meno, two dialogues that show the importance that Socrates places on defining the basic terms we use. This thought came to mind recently when I was at a meeting where, when considering the advent of distance, online, for-profit, and other new and non-traditional school models, the very notion “what is a school” took center stage — not as a thought exercise, but as an important question.

Ours is a traditional school; buildings of brick and mortar housing teachers and students who share time and space. But what is a school?

Most important to defining our term ‘school’, it seems to me, is formation and transformation. A school — our school — is a community where students are formed and transformed. Our basic units are called courses, which suggest that when students take them, they arrive, at the end, in a different place. We strive that students be formed and transformed with knowledge and skill. Even wisdom. While there may be many ways to achieve such formation and transformation, we’ll put our stock in the shared time and space inhabited by our excellent teachers and students. Our school = people in formation and transformation.



Casual but Not-So-Casual

Funny thing happened during a local running event recently. During a long run, I fell into sync with a pair of runners and we started casual conversation. One runner holds an interesting position in the community and was gracious as I peppered him with questions. Naturally, he asked what I did, and I was happy to tell him of my involvement with our school.

We meandered, and after we hit the final 10k, he turned to me and said, “Look, in the interest of full disclosure, I resent private schools. They undermine public education. Also, Catholic schools are based on a fairy tale. After all, religion has done much more harm than good.”

I felt a shot of adrenaline in my gut. Keep your mouth shut. Listen and respond, don’t react, I thought.

He went on. Private schools create social stratification. Religion is responsible for wars and intolerance. America should be a place of equality. It’s ridiculous that people do things based on what one guy said. There’s no proof.

This casual, but not-so-casual conversation, forced me to articulate what we do and why we do it outside the friendly confines of mutual understanding. I explained that Catholic education is different ‘in kind’ from public education; Catholic schools recognize and infuse a supernatural vision into what we do. My companion objected that this does not belong in education. But without God, I said, there can be no true education. How can we divorce the reality of the Creator from knowledge of His creation? I don’t want that, he said. Fair enough, but our families choose this for their children and we are all better for it.

As is often the case, forced together as we were by the miles of pavement, we came to understand one another a bit better. We shook hands as we parted. God gave me a gift that day, a Lenten jolt, and I am grateful. I see this because I believe it.

Casual becomes not-so-casual.

That’s A Wrap

Today was a bittersweet day as seniors finished up exams, cleaned-out lockers, received yearbooks, and passed their last school day as JPII students. Bittersweet because the tremendous familiarity and closeness that we share with these 27 students (and families!) has made them essential fabric in the life of the school and we now glimpse life at JPII without them — mixed, of course, with feelings of pride in who they have become and how they will carry this special four years in their bigger adventures that lay ahead.

Many words will be uttered next week putting the experience in perspective  For today, it’s feelings.

Better Than They Found It

Senior legacy logo_EKF
My apologies for the long delay since my last post. With the onset of this new, exciting, and historical year at JPII (174 students!), my original intent with this blog — to chronicle these unique years for students, friends and families — has returned to sharp focus. Stay tuned for more frequent posts and this special year unfolds.

The journey undertaken by our first pioneers — the Class of 2011 — reaches its apex this year. The true measure of success in life is found in what we leave behind. In any arena, we can ask if our family, friends, school, and community are better off from our presence; and know that this answer speaks the truth of our efforts.

On our first day of classes this year, seniors were greeted by the theme of ‘legacy’ — taped to their lockers as a reminder of their pioneering role and spoken of in a special meeting with me. These seniors and all of us in these first four years are charged with leaving a legacy for the untolled students to come. We must leave the school better than we found it. You be the judge.

‘Legacy’ art (above) designed by Emily Fenuccio, ’11.

What It Takes

Two events this past week at JPII have caused me to think about what it takes.

After a successful first season in football and in the midst of his second (successful) campaign in baseball, JPII coach Paul ‘Spanky” Demanche announced his departure to assume new duties at Harwich High School. Later, officials of the newly formed Cape & Islands League selected the graphics package submitted by Emily Fenuccio as the league’s official logo image. These occurrences help us see that JPII’s graphic design, football, and baseball programs have achieved success at an early age.

From these, we get a glimpse of what it takes. Programs need the right combination of factors in order to “take off” — a lesson we learn through successes such as these (as well as the occasional slightly-less-than-success!). It takes:

  • Right materials and support (Have you seen the Mac lab?)
  • Right leadership (expert knowledge and strong communication, traits Mrs. Lyons and Coach Demanche share)
  • Right attitude (“This is something I want.”)

No guarantee yet, though, because the ‘actually doing it’ of a new enterprise converts vaguely dreamy notions to the work it really is (“This isn’t what I expected!”). So the critical fourth component:

  • Right commitment. Starting from scratch takes a stick-to-it-iveness from all involved in order to get past inevitable early struggles.

So this week I’ve been looking at football, graphics, and baseball and seeing what it takes. Launching new programs provides a laboratory; and for JPII students, the hard-earned knowledge of what it takes gives wisdom for a lifetime.