Tuesday, December 4

Katie's Catholic school is having a book fair this week. You know, a week-long event in which the library is taken over by commerce and fund-raising and portable shelves housing books from Harry Potter to Tom Sawyer to various biographical tomes on Britney Spears. Scholastic is the biggest sponsor of book fairs, although there are others, and bookstores sometimes get into the act.

I was struck this time around by a couple of things:

The preponderance of victims-overcoming-adversity and white people-gaining-understanding books. I think most of the novels concerned either the Holocaust or Civil Rights issues. This has been the trend in children's literature since the 1960's, and while it's important that there be a place in children's literature for consideration of such issues, the tone of most of these books is almost unbearably prescriptive and, as a result, predictable and uninteresting to children.

The absence, in this book fair at a Catholic school, of any religion books. Yes, it was sponsored by Scholastic, and, as such, was selling only that imprint, but it still made me wonder. Why have Catholic schools become such sell-outs? It used to be that publishers produced textbooks that were Catholic specific for Catholic schools. I have a small collection of them on the bookshelf behind me. Readers, social studies, and even science textbooks were produced strictly for the Catholic market. When I was in eighth grade (in 1973) in a junior high school in Tennessee, my English teacher (in a public school) used an old Catholic grammar textbook as a supplement in our class. She mainly used it as a resource for sentences for us to diagram. She explained this to us once while dictating a sentence to us that had some religious content - I think it was about the Holy Spirit - briskly noting that she really didn't care if anyone might be offended - it was the best grammar textbook she'd ever seen, and she was going to use it.

No more, of course. The accommodation has gone completely in the other direction now. Catholic schools seek, not excellence and integrity, but acceptance by the educational establishment, and that acceptance has a concrete form: it's called accreditation. Accreditation is the cause of a host of ills ranging from the mind-numbing waste of time called the "in-service" to eviscerated and dumbed-down to course offerings to the capitulation to secular textbook publishers.

Anyway. Back to the book fair. As I said, no religion books - I take that back. On a small table displaying items adults might be interested in for themselves, right next to an Italian cookbook, was a book on Chinese astrology. Pardon me.

Wouldn't a book fair be a fabulous time for a Catholic school to get religious books into the hands of parents and children? Why don't they see it this way? Are there any organizations or companies out there that do Catholic book fairs for Catholic schools? Shouldn't there be? Shouldn't they all prominently feature my books?

Instapundit, one of the more popular Weblogs out there, is the handiwork of Glenn Reynolds, who teaches in the College of Law at the University of Tennessee. Today he noted a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal written by Sheldon Cohen, a UT professor of philosophy. Ah yes. Sheldon Cohen. Here are my memories of Sheldon Cohen:

A guy with a mob of crazy black hair, short, squat and a little wacked out. I took one class from him. Half a class, rather. It was on 17th and 18th century philosophy - Locke, Hume, and so on. A month into it, I was lost. Totally and absolutely lost. (I was also taking four other classes at the time.) I would read a sentence of one of the primary works, then move on. After reading the next sentence, I would sit and try to understand how the two sentences I had just read were related. I just couldn't do it. And Cohen's lectures were no help. I never had any idea what he was talking about.

I'm not a person who has particularly vivid memories, but this is an exception. I vividly remember lying in my bed in my dorm room, experiencing some of the worst anxiety I'd ever felt over this class. I had never been so clueless in my entire life, and I didn't see how I was going to pass an exam, much less write a paper. Then I realized something. Little Miss Achiever, Little Ms. Only Child Star of the Class figured something out. I didn't have to go on. I could actually drop the class. Sure. I wasn't majoring in philosophy. What did I care? What did anyone care? A little moment of liberation there in Melrose Hall. All thanks to the Inscrutability of Sheldon Cohen.

Joseph is 8 months old today. He spent yesterday roaring again, although sometimes it sounds more like a pirate "Aaaargh!" Either way, it's pretty darn scary. He's perfected pulling up on stuff, and has the most catholic sense of humor. The slightest things can send him chortling. Last night, it was the sight of Katie brushing her teeth. This morning, the guy at the convenience store just said hi to him, and Joseph threw his head back and started laughing. The poor guy wasn't that funny looking!
Puts my worries about my own 19-year old in perspective. Here's the Weekly Standard's excellent take on The Boy Who Loved Bin Laden.
My husband, Michael Dubruiel, has written a new book that will be out in March. You can see the cover here: Praying in the Presence of the Lord with Fulton Sheen.

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