Friday, August 26, 2016

What are you reading?

By Sr. Laura Coughlin

Several years ago, I was at our motherhouse chatting with the sister who had been the superior when I entered.  She is a highly intelligent woman, sought out for her ability to think both creatively and logically.  For these reasons, I enjoy listening to her analysis of almost any topic.  In the midst of our conversation, she caught me off guard with a very simple question – “what are you reading?”  I was embarrassed because at the time I wasn’t reading anything other than the sophomore world history textbook from which I was teaching.  The book was so lacking in anything that would genuinely interest readers that I felt compelled to turn its banal presentation into a personal song and dance in the hopes that my “performance of a textbook” would make up for the its deficiencies.  This wringing of blood from a starved text was a poor teaching strategy, but it felt like an apology to learners saddled with book-based boredom, a gift of committees holding no value for nuance, challenging vocabulary, or subordinate clauses.  I once ran across a sentence about an American hero that read, “He did it!”  

Seriously textbook factories - Stop color coding the books
and write something interesting!
I think the exclamation point functioned less as a sign of surprise than as an indicator of low expectations on the part of textbook engineers with educational psychology degrees.  At any rate, I’ve never forgotten my superior’s question – it haunts me sometimes when I know I’m not challenging myself with lively ideas that spring forth from worthy texts.

I’m happy to say that I have been reading a lot lately.  To a large degree this is owing to the education I am receiving at Boston College.  Often I reread formerly assigned texts in classes already completed.  For your pleasure, this post offers up two excerpts from recently read texts followed by a little commentary about why they may be interesting to you.  Enjoy!

The Boise Public Library – why the exclamation point?

* * *

From Marshall Berman in All that is solid Melts into Air

“…the sort of individualism that scorns and fears connections with other people as threats to the self’s integrity, and the sort of collectivism that seeks to submerge the self in a social role, may be more appealing than the Marxian synthesis*, because they are intellectually and emotionally so much easier.”  

*Marxian synthesis = the idea that a collective, after having discerned the “self’s deepest resources” through struggle will fight for the “self’s beauty and value”

I’m no Marxist, but the description of the easy choices – individual isolation versus repression of the individual mind in the adherence to a collective – strikes me as an accurate portrayal of the tension evident almost everywhere today.  Berman is writing about modernism and sees the “Marxian synthesis” as a more substantial choice than the easier options.  For me, Christ supplants the Marxian synthesis, but Berman and I agree that the only way out is through.  I just think there’s a person who takes us there, and the person is the God-man, Christ.

Even so, Berman’s book is a wonderful read full of lively description and creative examples.  As an aside, his portrayal of Robert Moses, who built the the Cross-Bronx Expressway, Jones Beach, and several very beautiful parkways in and out of New York City, would likely give readers significant insight into what a Trump presidency would look like.  Berman describes Moses through Francis Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor in these words – “he loves the public, but not as people.”  Sound familiar?

* * *

Pat Summitt in Reach for the Summit…

“Discipline is about more than just punishment.  Discipline is the internal structure that supports your organization.  Used properly, it can help you maintain order without ever having to actually do the unpleasant work of punishing people.  It is the basis of leadership.  But most important, discipline fosters achievement and self-confidence.  Discipline is the only sure way I know to convince people to believe in themselves.”  

You may recognize Pat Summitt as the former head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols.  By a stroke of luck, she gained this position when she was only 23 and went on to become the winningest NCAA basketball coach in history with 1,098 career wins.  Summitt’s influence extended far beyond her statistics, however.  Many of the players she coached have gone on to become successful coaches themselves – a fact Summitt points to as proof that Tennessee built a system with fruits beyond winning.  

I would recommend this book to just about anyone, but it seems particularly useful for those in the teaching profession who must constantly motivate their students.  The book’s lessons on leadership are clear, inspiring, and based on very high ethical standards.  The text connects analytical thinking with practical examples at every turn so it is usable for both personal reflection and personal action.  

And if you pick it up, keep in mind that you are reading about success from a woman whose brave embrace of early-onset Alzheimers five years ago has powerfully challenged the stigma of dementia and other related neurological conditions.  Summitt died in June, but her influence is powerfully felt in the larger story of her life which speaks of winning and sacrificing and working and loving.  If she were alive and well today she’d get my vote for president – even if I had to write her name on the ballot. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment! Once our admin it approves it, you will see it posted.