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Connecting the Dots on Environmentalism #cisva

I feel I’ve been inundated for years with environmental messages about how my comfortable/decadent/wasteful lifestyle is contributing to the heating of the Earth and the gradual destruction of mankind.  While I have always known that I should be respectful of creation and a good steward of resources, I was always turned off by the radical nature of the stereotypical environmentalist and had a hard time signing on to that kind of movement.

A couple of years ago Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudatio Si helped to bring the issue of environmentalism into a context that I could relate to a little better.  Our school started a garden to help children get in touch with nature and sustainable food practices.  We began composting food waste at school.  We replaced inefficient windows with new ones.  All of this is well and good, but it still wasn’t personal.

It wasn’t until my amazing wife got me to watch a documentary on Netflix that I began to see how my own personal choices were having a real impact on the lives of ordinary people in the developing world.  The True Cost, a 2015 documentary by director Andrew Morgan, examines the fashion industry and how “fast fashion” has transformed how we shop, think of ourselves, and how our choices have a worldwide impact.  From the psychology of shopping to pesticides on cotton farms in India, this documentary connects the dots on human rights, environmentalism, and consumerism that lead directly back to me.  Our family has changed its shopping habits and as a result are living a slightly more peaceful, minimalist, and meaningful life.

I highly recommend this documentary to every family and high school Christian Education class.

Thanks for reading!

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The Root of Wisdom is Humility

I’ve been re-reading a book by Peter Kreeft entitled Philosophy 101 by Socrates.  As was the case the first time I read the book, I am surprised by the simplicity of Socrates teaching.  When I picture in my mind a “philosopher”, simplicity is not on my list of imagined attributes.  Nevertheless, Kreeft and Socrates make an amazing case for humility and simplicity being at the very heart of philosophy and ethics.

Lesson number one in the book is a famous line of reasoning by Socrates that goes something like “There are two types of people in the world; the foolish who think themselves wise and the wise who know that they are foolish.”  Socrates came to this understanding when a friend of his asked the Oracle of Delphi if anyone in the world had more wisdom than Socrates.  When the Oracle replied that there wasn’t, Socrates began his lifelong quest to discern the meaning of this riddle.  He knew many men far “wiser” than he so what could the Oracle possibly mean?

Socrates came to the conclusion that the beginning of wisdom is simply knowing that you do not know.  Letting go of your own presumed wisdom and arrogance opens one’s mind to realities that are right in front of our eyes but that we have always been too proud to see.  If this sounds familiar you may also have heard a similar message from Jesus Christ.  Like Socrates, Jesus’ teaching was simple.  Though he was the wisest and most knowledgeable man ever (all-knowing in fact), he never presumed to speak down to his friends.  Instead, through stories, questions, and personal example he prodded his followers to come to their own conclusion that is surrendering to humility and love that we gain access to true wisdom and freedom.

It is beautiful to consider how God has unveiled this simple but beautiful wisdom through the ages from Socrates, to Plato, to Aristotle, to Jesus, to Paul, to Thomas Aquinas and many many others throughout history.

Thanks for reading!  I hope to write many more blogs this summer!

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Why can’t kids get along? #cisva

My kids will sometimes ask me “Dad, why is there war in the world?  Why can’t people just get along?”  In response I say, “Why do you fight with your brother?  Why can’t you just get along?  If you can’t along with your brother whom you love and know personally, how can you expect strangers whose families and cultures have clashed for centuries to get along?”

The same is true in school.  Parents will often ask, “Why are kids so mean to each other?”  If we can’t relate to each other as parents, how can we possibly expect our children to be able to relate to each other?  I know first-hand just how difficult it can be.  One time one of my kids had an issue with friends at school.  I knew the right thing to do was to talk to the parents about it, but it was hard to pick up the phone.  I was so afraid of sounding judgemental, or being judged, that I was close to changing my mind.  I did end up making those calls and guess what?  The other parents were great!  They listened and we talked about the challenges of being a parent.  We didn’t necessarily fix everything for our kids, but at least we kept open our lines of communication and built empathy among each other.  What if that call hadn’t gone well?  It would have hurt my feelings and damaged my ego, but at least I’d know why our kids can’t get along and appreciate my child’s experience even more!

I often tell people that our children are a reflection of the very best, and the very worst, of us.  While I do see the mean behaviours at school sometimes, they are exponentially outnumbered by the good I see every day.  The overwhelming majority of our students are empathetic, understanding, compassionate, and kind most of the time.  Each day I witness acts of kindness and love between students that melt my heart.  God’s grace is active in our school and I see it alive in our students.

If your child has done something mean, or if something mean has been done to them; take heart.  There is compassion and understanding all around us if we look for it.  As long as we as parents can model empathy and communication, our children will be resilient and get through the hard times.  The challenges are just one small chapter in the story of their journey to sainthood.

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Moral Virtue and Parking Lot Safety #cisva

I had a really interesting conversation with the Grade 6 class today.  I asked them “Why should we do what is right?”

Their answers were great.  They included: “because God gave us free will and by doing what is right we are being who he has called us to be”, “because even if no one else knows we should do what is right”, and “because if you are a good person you should just want to do what is right”.  Aristotle would be pleased.   He defines moral virtue as a disposition to behave in the right manner.  In short, good people desire to do the right thing simply because they are good people.

At school, we try to instruct the children to do what is right because it is the right thing to do; the proper use of the gift of free will from God.  We also teach them that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.

When I was a child I would not have been able to give answers nearly as good as the students in Grade Six.  In Grade Two I learned the Act of Contrition which, at that time, was not simplified in children’s language.  One very memorable line states “I detest all my sins because of your just punishments.”  When I was a child, the main reason I did what was right was that I was literally scared to death to get in trouble!  This was an immature, albeit relatively effective, moral code.

Within the context of this discussion of moral virtue let us turn our attention to the epicentre of ethical dilemmas; our school parking lot.  Why should you drive slowly?  Why should you not double park?  Why should you drive in the right direction?  Why should you use the crosswalk?  The immature responses would include “so you don’t get in trouble from Miss Easterbrook” or “so nobody gets hurt.”  These reasons are limited but true and good.  Even better reasons would be “it contributes to safety and order” or “it sets a good example for the kids.”  The best answer would be “because it’s the right thing to do.”

Whatever the reason; fear of punishment, safety, or moral virtue, it is time to step up as a community be safe in the parking lot.  Please drive slowly.  Please only park in designated parking spots and do not double park.  If being good for the sake of being good is not reason enough, consider the little girl in Toronto who died in the school drop-off zone this week.  For every reason, being safe in the parking lot is the right thing to do.

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Social Media: The Modern Day Forbidden Fruit for Teens #cisva

As a Grade Seven teacher for ten years, a principal for eight years, and a parent of 3 (almost 4) teenagers, I have seen my share of online behaviour.  I can say with confidence that access to social media is one of the greatest sources of anxiety, temptation, and pressure there is for teens.  At this age kids are seeking (sometimes desperately) approval, acceptance, and affirmation.  They are often unsure of their identity (Who am I?  Why do I matter?  Where do I belong?) and will look anywhere for it.  Social Media sites and apps provide what appears to be the perfect forum to answering these questions.

Just as the apple in the story of Adam and Eve truly gave knowledge of good and evil, social media does indeed give knowledge to our kids.  Like Adam and Eve, however, it is not knowledge and access that they are ready for or meant to have.  In having it, they get exactly what they want but rather than bringing them fulfillment, confidence, and peace, they are left feeling empty, lost, and often abused.

As well-intentioned and involved as parents are, they are often the last to know about what their kids are really doing online.  It is not that trusting your kids is bad, but is just so EASY and so TEMPTING for kids to hide certain aspects of their online lives.  In many cases kids have not themselves done anything wrong, but they hide bad things they see because they don’t want their parents to get involved or become more diligent in their observation of their online activity.  In other cases kids are too ashamed or embarrassed to tell their parents what they have seen or done online.

This year the teachers and I want to take a much more positive and proactive approach to this problem.  In the coming weeks we will be sending home more information and a social media contract you can discuss and sign with your child.  Our hope is that, together, we can help our kids build their self-esteem and grow to be the confident, capable, and holy young men and women God wants them to be.

Thanks for your involvement and if you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave a comment below.  You can also check out this excellent website for more information https://www.commonsensemedia.org/social-media/age/tweens.

Thanks for reading!

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How a Catholic Worldview Inspires a Catholic School’s Special Education Policy #cisva

Below is the Principal’s Address I gave at our school’s Annual General Meeting from May 24th… 

First I would like to talk about what makes us special.  There all sorts of schools in the province.  There are public schools, private Christian schools, other religious school, private non-religious schools, and other Catholic schools.  What sets Catholic schools, specifically Cloverdale Catholic School, apart from the rest?  What is a worldview? What, specifically, is the Catholic worldview?

At it’s very essence, a Catholic Christian worldview is the worldview of Jesus Christ Himself.  The more we see the world and its inhabitants as Jesus does, the more we are aligned with Christ’s worldview.  How does this differ from the secular worldview?  After all, do we not share the values of the “secular” world; truth, beauty, science, making the world a better place, freedom of speech and tolerance?  First of all, part of the “Catholic intellectual tradition” is to define our terms.  What does a typical secular person mean by words like “truth” and “beauty”?  I’m fairly certain that the Catholic definition of these terms would differ from the secular one.  Nevertheless, let us assume for a moment that we do agree on the definition of these terms.  What then differentiates the “Catholic” worldview from the secular one?

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE VIDEO THAT INSPIRED THIS BLOG

I would argue the fundamental difference is why these things matter.  Beauty, truth, science, the environment etc… do not matter for their own sake.  They matter only insofar as they contribute to our eternal destiny.  Through knowledge of truth we understand the truth of God.  Through appreciation of beauty, we grow in our love of God our creator.  Through environmentalism, we share in God’s gift of creation by caring for our common home.  Through the lens of a Catholic worldview, all aspects shared with a secular reality take on an eternal purpose.  In believing that we are all destined for immortality, we erase the boundaries of class, race, religion, ability, and utility.  In a Catholic worldview we see all people as beautiful, good, and worthy of love not just based on their usefulness and achievement, but because they are children of the King, our creator.  If all ends in death and nothingness, there are human limitations to how far we will go.  With an eternal purpose in mind, or a Catholic Worldview, there are no limits to our love and care.  Not even death can stand against our eternal purpose; to know, love, and serve God and be happy with him in this world and the next.

As an example let me discuss how a Catholic Worldview has influenced how we approach Special Education at Cloverdale Catholic School.  At CCS each and every child is valued and treasured, not because of their potential as learners, athletes, musicians, or future workers, but because they are created in the image and likeness of God.  Therefore when we accept students into our school we do not consider how much their support will cost or how challenging certain behaviours may be.  We accept all children unconditionally.  I am proud of the progress we have made in the area of Special Education.  When I started here 8 years ago we had only a few Special Needs students and only 3 Educational Assistants on staff.  Now, we have 14 designated Special Needs students and 14 Educational Assistants on staff.  We have gained a reputation not necessarily for expertise in the area of Special Education, but in our willingness to love, accept, and support every child and their families unconditionally.

Let me conclude by answering the question that may be in the minds of some; that is great for kids with special needs, but how does it help my child?  First of all, I have seen countless examples of students growing in gentleness, compassion, and acceptance by working daily with kids with challenges.  But I think the real impact is far deeper than that.  What I want for my children is to know deep down that they are loved unconditionally not just by God, but by the adults in their lives who they admire.  What greater way for them to learn this than by seeing unconditional love at school every single day.  They can look around themselves in every single classroom in our school and see that unconditional love at work.  When my child fails a test, loses a game, or makes a stupid mistake they can know that like all the students in the school, without exception, they are loved and valued not because of what they can do, but simply because they are a child of God.

Thanks for reading!

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Play Hard, Play Smart, and Play Together: Sports Philosophy at CCS #CISVA

Our school sports motto is “Play hard, play smart, and play together.”  This motto has served us well over the years and has helped to direct coaches and players in the choices they make.  Living up to this motto is often a challenge as we seek to balance competition with participation, teamwork with personal achievement, humility with confidence.  We are far from perfect, but having a vision of teamwork, thoughtfulness, and effort is helpful at every game and practice.

While I am so grateful for all the parents and staff members who have contributed as coaches over the years, I want to highlight the effort of one special coach in particular.  Tara has been coaching soccer at CCS for many years.  First with her son, then with her daughter, and sometimes when neither of her kids were on a team, Tara has been a consistent and expert coach.  She is always uplifting and constructive.  She never settles for less than everyone’s best effort, but also never stops building up every player’s confidence and self-esteem.  She builds confidence not through shallow or false praise, but through building skills that also translate into real success on the field.  She celebrates every accomplishment, whether it be a championship goal or just being in the right position while the ball is downfield.  Tara is in every way the epitome of what I want in the CCS sports program.

Tara’s commitment to the athletes of CCS is something I will always be grateful for.  I have learned so much from her about what it means to have a team play hard, play smart, and play together and I aspire to be a coach more like her.  Go United!

Thanks for reading!

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