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Friday, July 22, 2016

Why Should My Homeschooled Child Learn Philosophy in High School?

Note: Dr. Rioux is teaching ST. THOMAS ON THE HUMAN PERSON for Homeschool Connections in the Fall 2016 semester. Dr. Rioux also offers several outstanding philosophy and logic courses through our Unlimited Access program

This article is an excerpt from the book Why Should I Learn This. To order click here:

Why Should I Learn Philosophy? 
Jean Rioux, Ph.D. 

Aristotle once observed that philosophy is inevitable. Absent a conscious and deliberate reflection upon the larger questions in life, one will invariably come to some sort of conclusion about them. A sound conclusion? Nothing guarantees that, and much harm has come from bad philosophizing. The point is that unless we take it upon ourselves to philosophize well, we will definitely end up doing it poorly. 
This same sentiment is echoed by Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical, Fides et Ratio1. He notes that we cannot avoid coming to the world with questions; we are natural wonderers. Some of these questions have only a small impact upon our loves and our lives if they remain unanswered. Others, however, end up defining who we are and how we live. Is there a God? Is there a life following the present one? How ought I to live? What does being fully and authentically human require of me? This is a perilous prospect. If the Pope is right, then we will all confront such questions at some point; how we answer them determines whether we shall be happy or not, good folk or bad, hopeful or despairing, pious or impious. 
Granted that these are questions we all must face, why do we need to study philosophy to address them? Why can’t we take our answers from the society in which we live? 
The first thing to note is that society’s answers did not themselves spring from the void. They are the inevitable result of philosophical principles defended and embraced by thinkers of the past. Some (for example, don’t do unto others as you would not have them do unto you) are nearly universal and have stood the test of time. Others (for example, we can know an action is good by observing its outcomes) are highly questionable, though many people live by them. It takes discernment to distinguish among them, and there we are, philosophizing. 
Another, and obvious, problem is that the there is not just one such norm; societies and their guiding principles vary from here to there and from then to now. Whose answers will you choose to guide you? To answer that question itself requires thoughtful reflection, and there we are again, philosophizing. 
Further, some norms and values, when measured against the standard for life set out by the Christian faith, run counter to Christian hopes and beliefs; indeed, they often flat out contradict one another. Apart from separating the wheat from the chaff through philosophizing, surely part of an authentic Christian life includes helping those who have followed the wayward paths set out for them by the world, and this begins with an understanding of the origins of such views. And there we are, again, philosophizing. 
Aristotle’s point, then, is pretty clear: either one will end up unconsciously embracing faulty philosophical principles (given our fallen nature—of which Aristotle seems to have had some faint inkling—this seems to be the default), or one must rise to a deliberate consideration of these same questions, working them out, as St. Thomas More was to have said, “in the tangle of his mind.”2 
On the other hand, beyond reason, we hold, there’s faith. Surely it provides sound answers to all these foundational questions. What need is there for philosophy? 
Faith is a sure guide. And there are many whose simple faith leads them with sure steps to a blessed life here and in the life to come. 
Still, as Pope St. John Paul II is sometimes quoted, following the ages-old tradition of the Church, faith seeks to understand, and with such knowledge comes a deeper love—for God and for neighbor. There is a good reason why the Catholic Church educates its priests, not only in theology but in philosophy. Its greatest theologians, St. Augustine, St. Anselm, and St. Thomas Aquinas were also students of philosophy and philosophers themselves. If a properly philosophical account of God, our neighbor, and one’s self is the inevitable framework with which the human person comes to a life of faith, then not just any philosophy will do. Some philosophical views present principles or conclusions which conflict with authentic faith, and a life lived by two different, conflicting sets of guidelines ends up neither here nor there. 
For all these reasons, then, one ought to study philosophy. It is, without a doubt, the most ancient of human studies. It is also time well spent, and most closely fitted to us as rational beings, made in the image of an omniscient God. 

About the Author 
Dr. Jean Rioux received his BA from Thomas Aquinas College, and the commencement speaker was Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Jean received both his MA in Philosophy and Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He is currently the Philosophy Chair at Benedictine College in Kansas, where he received the Distinguished Educator of the Year award. Additionally, he teaches philosophy to high school students for Homeschool Connections. Jean has published books on logic and natural philosophy, including Nature, the Soul, and God: An Introduction to Natural Philosophy. His articles have appeared in The ThomistAquinas ReviewReview of Metaphysics, and International Philosophical Quarterly. 
Dr. Rioux offers several philosophy and logic courses at Homeschool Connections including EthicsParadoxes and FallaciesWhat Do Philosophers Do and How Do They Do ItIntroduction to Early Modern Philosophy, and moreDr. Rioux has a gift of making philosophy understandable and enjoyable to the average teenager, and his classes provide an excellent foundation for college and beyond.  
Dr. Rioux lives in northeast Kansas with his wife, Maria, and their eight unmarried children. One married daughter lives just a half mile from their renovated farmhouse. The Riouxs have been developing their own curriculum and educating their children at home for over twenty-five years. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Introduction to Computer Science

Homeschool Connections has added a new fall course to the catalog: Introduction to Computer Science. One interesting aspect of this course is that it will be Catholic themed. See the course description to learn more.


Maximum number of students: 15
Class dates: Mondays and Wednesdays, September 7th to December 19th. No class Wednesday, November 23rd.
Total classes: 29
Starting time: 4:30 p.m. Eastern, 3:30 p.m. Central, 2:30 p.m. Mountain, 1:30 p.m. Pacific.

Suggested grade level: 7th – 12th
Duration: 50 minutes per class
Prerequisite: You will need to access Graphical programming tools including Scratch, App Inventor, and Processing to assist you in building foundational computer science knowledge. The tools are available on the web, and you can either use them on the web or you can download and install them on your computer. App Inventor requires either Google Chrome or Firefox internet browsers, and to run your apps you may need to install an emulator if you do not own an Android device. Students should have a general familiarity with computers – the ability to open applications, use menu-driven commands, and type using the keyboard – so that the emphasis of time can be placed on specific programming lessons. To access the course tools:
Suggested high school credit: 1 semester Computer Science
Fee: $225 if you register on or before August 15th, 2016. $250 after August 15th for all 15 classes. ($270 after September 5th)
Instructor: Margaret Morrow, Ph.D.
Course description: This is an entry-level course, which is designed to expose students to what computer scientists do on a daily basis. . Students will build games, illustrate stories, and create art, animations, and music during their exploration. The tools we will use have similar properties to building block toys used by children to construct model sized homes, stores, and towns. Students will learn about computing careers, the history of computer science, hardware and software design, and discovering ways for technology to serve people and communities. By the end of the class, students will be able to discern whether or not further studies in this eld are their forte.
Homework: Assignments will have a Catholic theme to them such as create a video adventure game that illustrates a story from the Old Testament, create a quiz game that prepares someone studying for confirmation, research computer science projects at a Catholic University and report what you need, investigate how your Diocese/Church/Priest uses technology tools, completing programming exercises, and online quizzes which provide immediate scoring feedback. In this course, students have an option to share their programs with fellow students via a short in-class demonstration, or by uploading them to the tools website. All assignments are given and graded by the instructor. Students will also collaborate with fellow students and mentor them when needed so as to reinforce their knowledge by helping others. Students can expect 2 to 5 hours of time per week (outside of class time) dedicated to homework. Regular feedback will be provided to the students and their parents to ensure that all are aware of the progress being made throughout the course. 
Course materials: See prerequisite section for a list of required software applications. Extensive handouts and online resources will be provided free by the instructor. Some book recommendations will be made available, but are not required for purchase.

About Peggy Morrow, Ph.D.
Dr. Morrow holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Applications Management and a Masters of Science in Technology Management from the University of Maryland University College Campus, as well as a Ph.D. in Policy Science from University of Maryland Baltimore County. In the beginning of her career, she worked for 20 years as a software engineer, and she worked on a number of interesting projects for employers including the National Weather Service, D.C.’s Metro System, and Orbital Science. More recently, she has spent 17 years teaching computer science, business, and math at the university, middle, and high school levels.
     Currently, Mrs. Morrow homeschools her youngest son (a high school senior) and teaches a Financial Algebra course locally. She has taught Catholic religious education, helped with the middle and high school youth at her parish, and volunteered with Catholic Prison Ministries. She also enjoys singing in her parish choir with her youngest son.

     Dr. Morrow; her husband, Dennis; son, Ben; live about an hour north of Denver. Her two grown sons are on their own at this point, and she sees them whenever possible to catch-up and enjoy her two beautiful grandchildren.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Joseph Pearce and Why Shakespeare is Important in High School

Joseph Pearce speaking at the annual Shakespeare Celebration
Aquinas College Nashville
This article is an excerpt from the book Why Should I Learn this. To order click here:

Why Should I Learn Shakespeare? 
Joseph Pearce 

He was not of an age, but for all time! 
Ben Jonson on William Shakespeare1 

These famous words of praise by the great poet, Ben Jonson, in honor of the even greater poet, William Shakespeare, were published in the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays in 1623, only seven years after Shakespeare’s death. The words of praise have, therefore, become words of prophecy, because none of the Bard of Avon’s contemporaries could have foreseen the extent to which Shakespeare would conquer the world in the centuries after his death. Today, the writer stands as a colossus who straddles the centuries, towering above all other writers, with the possible exception of Homer and Dante. His stature as a giant of civilization is itself sufficient reason to read, watch, and study his works. In spending time with Shakespeare, we are communing with genius. Can there be better and more fruitful and edifying ways of spending our time? 
There is, however, another and deeper meaning behind Ben Jonson’s words. It is not merely that Shakespeare has survived the test of time; it is that his plays, and the truth and morality contained within them, transcend time. They are not merely works that endure in time; they are works that are beyond time. They are timeless. They have their inspiration in eternal verities, and they point to those same verities. Such truths do not change with time, nor are they changed by it. They simply are 
Perhaps the best way of illustrating this timeless dimension to Shakespeare is to compare the Heilige Geist with the zeitgeist, the Holy Spirit with the Spirit of the Age. The Holy Spirit does not change from one generation to the next. He simply is. The Spirit of the Age, on the other hand, is always changing. It is subject to time and is changed by it. The literal meaning of zeitgeist is Time-Spirit. One who serves the Time-Spirit is one who wants to seem relevant to the fads and fashions of his own day. He is primarily concerned with being up-to-date. The problem is that those who are up-to-date are very soon out of date, because, as C. S. Lewis quipped, fashions are always coming and going, but mostly going. One who is relevant to the fashions of today will be irrelevant to the fashions of tomorrow. 
The reason Shakespeare is not of an age but for all time is that he serves the Heilige Geist and not the zeitgeist. The truths that inspire his Muse, and the truths that emerge in the fruits of his Muse (his plays and poems), are the truths of the Holy Spirit, the truths of the Trinity, the truths of Christ, and the truths of the Catholic Church, which is Christ’s Mystical Body. Such truths do not merely stand the test of time; they are the very truths by which time itself is tested. This timeless aspect of truth is very important for us to understand but is a little difficult to grasp. In order to help us, it might be useful to employ a famous philosophical riddle: If a tree falls in a forest and there’s nobody there to hear it fall, does it make a sound? The answer is that, of course, it makes a sound—because the sound of the tree falling is not dependent on anyone hearing it.  
We might rephrase the riddle thus: If Shakespeare’s works are neglected so that in five hundred years from now, when nobody can read, they are no longer performed or read, will Shakespeare and his works cease to be relevant? The answer is that, of course, they are still relevant, because the goodness, truth, and beauty of the works are not dependent on our ability to see or understand them. Indeed, it could and should be argued that a culture that could no longer read Shakespeare because of its illiteracy and barbarism was suffering the woeful consequence of neglecting the truths that Shakespeare’s plays reveal!  
Another way of understanding the timeless dimension of truth is to see it in relation to eternity. When we say that God is omnipresent, it doesn’t simply mean that God is present everywhere in time and space, though He is. More importantly it means that everything in time and space is present to Him. There is no past and future from the perspective of the eternal presence of God. His omnipresence means that everything is present to Him. In a similar though less perfect sense, Shakespeare enters eternity when he dies. On the assumption that he goes to heaven and not to the other place, he will enter into the eternal presence of God. He will be timeless. Insofar as Shakespeare’s works are good, true, and beautiful, which (of course) they are, and insofar as they are the fruits of God’s presence in the creative process (which is indubitable), those works will be enshrined with Shakespeare in eternity. They will be with him because they are an integral and essential part of who he is. In this sense, Shakespeare’s works simply are. They will be even when the world passes away.  
These metaphysical first principles are crucial to our understanding of why we should learn Shakespeare, or indeed why we should learn anything else that contains goodness, truth, and beauty. The learning of such things points us towards eternity and helps us to get there. Can anything else be more worth learning? 
Lest we be tempted to think that the foregoing discussion means that the learning of Shakespeare is purely a spiritual or mystical undertaking, connected solely to what philosophers call the anagogical meaning of life, we should remind ourselves of the paradox that the timeless is always timely. If the timeless resides in the eternal, it means that all times are present to it. If it is timeless, it is always true—and if it is always true, it is always relevant. It is for this reason that Shakespeare’s works are rightly listed amongst the “permanent things,” those things that are and will always be, and, in consequence, those things that are and will always be relevant.  
Let’s conclude by looking at a few of the timeless truths in Shakespeare that are also and always timely. 
In Romeo and Juliet, the difference between true and false love (i.e. rational and irrational love) is highlighted. The sobering lesson that the play teaches is that the thing possessed possesses the possessor. This is evident in Romeo’s blasphemous remark in which he exclaims that “heaven is here / Where Juliet lives.” Juliet is Romeo’s alpha and omega, his beginning and his end. She is the goddess to which he owes the sum of all his worship. It is for this reason that he chooses this “heaven,” even when it becomes his hell. In Dante’s Inferno, the lustful are described as “those who make reason slave to appetite” or as those who let their erotic passions “master reason and good sense.”2 Like Paolo and Francesca in the Inferno, Shakespeare’s lovers have overthrown reason in pursuit of passion. Embracing their madness and blindness, their “love” has surrendered to the force of feeling. Their love is headless and, therefore, heedless of the bad consequences of the bad choices being made. Shakespeare and Dante, both believing Catholics, are well aware of the danger of separating love from reason. Love, like faith, must be subject to reason; a love that denies or defies reason is illicit and is not really love at all. 
In some ways, Romeo and Juliet can be seen as a cautionary commentary on the two great commandments of Christ that we love the Lord our God and that we love our neighbor. The two lovers deny the love of God in their deification of each other, with disastrous consequences, and their respective families deny the love of neighbor in their vengeful feuding. It could be said that the venereal and vengeful passions of Verona represent the culture of death in microcosm. A society that turns its back on Christ and His commandments is on the path to suicide, to its self-annihilation. If the lessons are not learned and the warnings heeded, the sinful society will be doomed to be damned 
Similar lessons to those taught in Romeo and Juliet are taught in The Merchant of Venicein which the test of the caskets shows that true love is about dying to oneself in order to give oneself fully and self-sacrificially to the beloved. This true love is contrasted with the self-centered desire of those who fail the test. In similar vein, the test of the rings at the end of the play reinforces the necessity of self-sacrifice in the sacrament of marriage. Finally, of course, Portia’s timeless wisdom reminds us that we must love our neighbor, showing the quality of mercy that God has shown to us. 
In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare pours scorn on Caesar’s vanity, on Antony’s bloodthirsty opportunism, on Cassius’ ambition, and on Brutus’ brutal idealism. Yet, he is not cursing from the perspective of a worldly cynicism but from that of a believing Christian, at a time when believing Christians were being tortured and put to death by the vanity of monarchs, by bloodthirsty opportunists, by political ambition, and by brutal idealism.  
There is, however, a deeper level of meaning in Julius Caesar that is all too often overlooked completely. It is the sound of silence within the play—the scream in the vacuum of the play’s vacuity. It is the unheard and unheeded voice of the virtuous. It is the voice of Calpurnia, which, if heeded, would have saved Caesar’s life; it is the voice of Portia, which, if heeded, might have urged Brutus to think twice about his involvement with the conspirators. It is the voice of the Soothsayer and of the augurers. It is the voice of Artemidorus, a teacher of rhetoric, whose note to Caesar is devoid of all rhetorical devices and direct to the point of bluntness. The note is not read, the voices are not heard, and the consequences are fatal. All that was missing in the play is the one thing necessary: the still, small voice of virtue and wisdom that the proud refuse to hear               
The whole of Hamlet turns on the crucial distinction between reason and will, and between that which is and that which seems to be, and the test of success is the extent to which the protagonists conform their will to reason. This is Hamlet’s struggle throughout the play. In the end, through conforming his will to reason and in connecting reason to faith, he becomes the willing minister of Divine Providence, bringing justice to the wicked King Claudius and restoring justice to the realm. 
In many ways, Macbeth can be seen as an anti-Hamlet. Whereas Hamlet begins in the Slough of Despond, temperamentally tempted to despair, he grows in virtue throughout the play until he reaches the ripeness of Christian conversion and the readiness to accept his own death as part of God’s benign Providence. Hamlet grows in faith because he grows in reason; Macbeth loses his faith because he loses his reason.  
In a more general sense, the dynamism of the underlying dialectic in Shakespeare’s plays, and therefore of the dialogue, is centered on the tension between Christian conscience and self-serving, cynical secularism. Whereas the heroes and heroines of Shakespearean drama are informed by an orthodox Christian understanding of virtue, the villains are normally moral relativists and Machiavellian practitioners of secular real-politik 
In the final analysis, the right reason for learning Shakespeare is to learn the right reason that Shakespeare teaches!  

About the Author 
Joseph Pearce is a writer, editor, and Professor of Humanities; Series Editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions; and Executive Director of Catholic Courses 
Joseph’s recently released memoir, Race with the Devil: A Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love (Saint Benedict Press), recounts his conversion to Catholicism from a rabidly anti-Catholic, white supremacist who served two prison sentences for hate crimes in England. 
Today, Joseph is writer in residence at Aquinas College in Nashville and Director of the Aquinas Center for Faith and Culture., where he also teaches courses in the humanities. Additionally, he teaches classic literature for Homeschool Connections and a variety of Shakespeare literature courses for 8th through 12th grade, along with Dr. Henry Russell. 
 Joseph is a recipient of the John Pollock Award for Christian Biography (Beeson Divinity School, Samford University) and received an honorary doctorate in humanities from Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. 
An author of twenty books, Joseph is also the editor of approximately twenty-five books. His articles have appeared in a wide variety of periodicals including Gilbert and St. Austin Review. 
Professor Pearce and his wife homeschool their two children.