Typically, I change the topic of my blog from week to week. The exception is when I am commenting on a large study where the data and findings seem better shared over several weeks. I had a new topic in mind for this week, but then the reactions to last week’s blog came pouring in.
From week to week, I receive 20-30 responses to my blog. Last week’s blog on “What Would Pope Francis Say?” generated over 70 responses. About half agreed with my perspective. The rest were critical and followed two lines of thought.
Some argued that the Pope didn’t mean that issues related to life and contraception were not paramount in the Church. For these responders, this is the first and primary issue about which the Church should speak and advocate.
Others argued against big government and social service programs. If I ever see a picture of Pope Francis reading Dr. Seuss, perhaps these responders are correct that the Pope’s position is similar in some way to that of Senator Ted Cruz. But I really don’t think so.
First, none of us can really speak for Pope Francis. It is a rhetorical question. But what is clear after six months of his papacy is that this Pope is still an enigma. His every word and action is interpreted and used to advocate for a position. But we all need to listen more, read more, pray more, reflect more … and over time, we will come to understand his vision and his leadership for the Church and for the world.
My major concern, however, is with those who argue for a narrow agenda for the Church and a singular definition. If one agrees that the dignity of human life is paramount in the teachings of the Church, why is this the only issue about which the Church could, should, must speak? There are many Gospel values that we share with fellow Christians and people of all faiths and traditions. Shouldn’t the Church also speak out about injustice throughout culture and the world? Shouldn’t Church leaders speak out often and loudly?
More important, I find it difficult to accept the most narrow interpretation of the dignity of life. I share the belief in the sanctity of life and the need to protect unborn children. But the dignity of life that I read about in the Gospels and I hear preached about by Pope Francis has equal concern for the sick and the poor; the young and the old; the able and the disabled.
As passionate as the Church is about abortion and life issues, should we not also be as concerned that all people have health insurance and access to medical care; that all people have enough food and are paid a livable wage; that all people live free of war, violence and abuse; that all people are treated with respect and dignity; that all people experience the love of God if only through each of us?
Last week, the students of Anna Maria College, assisted by our Campus Ministry Department, sponsored a Homelessness Awareness Week. Every day, these dedicated students learned about issues related to homelessness, engaged in community service to directly help and support the homeless in our region, and even slept outside overnight with little comfort to experience if only briefly what it is like to be homeless. I was honored and humbled to address these students at their closing prayer service. Words can not describe how proud I am of their commitment to gospel values and their response to a call to action.
Homelessness Awareness Week is an expression of dignity of life. Social service programs are an expression of dignity of life. I cannot wait to hear what else Pope Francis helps us to better understand as we walk our journey of faith and service.
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
Ten days ago, the world read with fascination and interest the interview conducted with Pope Francis six months into his papacy. For Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Pope Francis has been interesting to listen to and observe as he reveals more and more his approach to leading the Church.
Many, who are often uncomfortable with the grandeur of the hierarchy in contrast to the message of the Gospels, are energized by Pope Francis’ choices to live in community and in a more simple lifestyle. His spontaneous and never-ending pastoral approach and his smile are infectious.
But what is more important is to listen … to really listen to his words. While clearly conservative in his theology, Pope Francis seems determined to reframe the world’s understanding of the message and meaning of the Church rooted in hospitality to all and a spirit of hope.
The headlines ten days ago focused on the Pope’s concern that the focus of the Church in recent years has been too limited to teachings related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraception. While clearly affirming these teachings the day after his interview was released, Pope Francis called for “a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
As one would expect, the news reports simply highlight only the most surprising comments made by the Pope in this interview. I would strongly urge those seriously interested in Pope Francis and his leadership to read the entire interview, readily available online. It helps us to understand better the depth and spirituality of this man. It also helps to understand Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s life (For Italian opera fans like me, it was wonderful to read the Pope’s reference to Puccini’s great work, Turandot, in his response regarding the importance of hope!).
Over the past two weeks, the reactions to the Pope’s statements have been relatively few from within the Church. Hopefully, his vision of the Church will be embraced in word and deed by dioceses all over the world. But I wonder?
On the same day that the Pope’s interview was released, the House of Representatives in Washington voted to cut $40 billion dollars from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as the Food Stamps program. The rationale for this draconian decision was the improving economy and the waste in the program.
If waste was the primary criterion for reducing government programs, they should all be cut immediately. Administering federal programs of this magnitude have an inherent element of mismanagement and abuse. The fact is that a high number of Americans still cannot afford food and basic sustenance. The percentage of families in Worcester County who qualify for food stamps is 20%. There may be signs of an improving economy, but not among the poorest of our neighbors.
In light of Pope Francis’ speech, I have been waiting to hear the American Catholic Church speak out against this potential cut in a critical program in this country. I scan the web and news reports regularly, but have yet to find any statements from Church leaders. I was hopeful when I found an article entitled, “Food Stamp Cuts a Cruel Proposal.” But this well written critique of this potential congressional decision was authored by political strategist Donna Brazile.
Maybe Church leaders have been silent because they assume this legislation will not pass the Senate. But maybe they are silent because it does not relate to the limited moral issues so prevalent in the rhetoric today. Maybe it would help if they would read the interview with Pope Francis. Because I wonder … if Pope Francis was an American Cardinal … what would he say? Actually, I think I know!
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
Higher education has its fair share of myths, biases and stereotypes. Last week, for example, I provided some evidence to address the bias against the value of online degrees and the myths about on-ground (face to face) instruction.
There are also many myths, biases and stereotypes related to classroom instruction. For example, most people inside and outside of higher education tend to believe that the quality of instruction is better with full-time (tenure track) faculty rather than adjunct or part-time faculty. But the results of a recent research study conducted at Northwestern University challenges this preconception.
Last week, the National Bureau of Economic Research released a paper entitled, “Are Tenure-Track Professors Better Teachers?” The study was based on data drawn from over 15,000 students who attended Northwestern University from 2001-2008. It focused primarily on instructional quality in introductory courses, the courses every student is required to take.
According to the authors of the study, there was “strong and consistent evidence that Northwestern faculty outside of the tenure system outperform tenure track/tenured professors in introductory undergraduate classrooms.” These qualitative differences were consistently found across disciplines and subject areas. The differences were even more pronounced for students of “average” ability and those “less qualified.”
The data also revealed other interesting trends. Students who took an introductory course taught by an untenured instructor were more likely to take a second course in that same discipline than those instructed initially by a tenure-track/tenured faculty member. Students taught by untenured faculty tended to earn higher grades as well.
Critics of the study point to the facts that it was conducted at a single institution and one that attracts students who are not necessarily reflective of the entire college-bound student population. However, while the authors accept these limitations, they state, “Our results provide evidence that the rise of full-time designated teachers at U.S. colleges and universities may be less of a cause for alarm than some people think, and indeed, may actually be educationally beneficial.”
From my perspective, this study’s greatest benefit is to help break down the myth or stereotype about adjunct faculty. I doubt that any college or university will use this study to dismantle its full-time, tenure-track faculty. But many institutions utilize many part-time faculty and this study corroborates what some of us already know.
Good teachers are good teachers. Whether full-time or part-time … tenure-track/tenured or adjunct, colleges and universities have great instructors and those who are less inspiring. The common element is not the type of contract or employment status. Rather it’s the knowledge and understanding of the material, the creativity and dedication to effective pedagogy, and the abiding commitment to serving the educational and learning needs of the students.
College students are fortunate to have so many wonderful instructors who enter the noble profession of teaching for all of the right reasons. Some pursue their teaching careers full-time … others part-time … but they all share a love for teaching and a dedication to student learning.
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)