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A Head Start

Saving the Humanities,” by Raymond A. Schroth, S.J. (12/23), addresses a most important topic. Many of the reports cited expand the discussion to secondary education, and one report discusses the whole educational continuum. To even start to develop oneself into a fully educated person, one must be a reader, and to progress along that developmental path, one probably needs to be an avid reader; one must enjoy it and actually thirst for it.

The origin of this thirst, in terms of age and environment, is elementary school and home (“home” meaning, if not actual house or apartment, then at least a home-like environment, like a neighborhood library, center or parish). To enjoy it, it ought to combine some element of actual fun with some element of self-satisfaction over an accomplishment.


Perhaps we are trying to burden the college years with more responsibility for this kind of development than they can bear.

Charles Erlinger
Online comment

Require Public Exposure

One surefire way to get students to read is to require them to publish something about what they have read. This could be in a formal campus journal or an online journal open to the university at large. Exposing students’ written thoughts to the “vulgar gaze of the crowd” would compel them to come to grips with the limitations of their own learning more effectively than any formal grading process.

Paul Loatman Jr.
Online comment

The Conservative Arts

Given that the word liberal has become such a political insult, many consider a degree in humanities or liberal arts as “worthless”—in more than just an economic sense. In light of this, maybe it would be better for colleges to start promoting a “conservative arts degree.”

Yes, indeed: “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Thanks to Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., for an article that illustrates the enviable quality of an education in the humanities.

Paul Ferris
Online comment

An Author Responds

Re “Novak’s Travels” (12/9): I am grateful that Writing From Left to Right was assigned for review to a longtime friend, who has never spoken to me less than cordially. And I am grateful that David O’Brien laid out his many disagreements with me over the last 30 years.

I am even glad he put into print a moral judgment on my intellectual efforts of these last 30 years—not at all one I would want to show to my mother. In my experience, my friends on the left do not easily brook radical disagreement, so it is useful to get that passional dimension out front, too.

Finally, I would have thought certain that my earlier works, and this new one, had already laid out arguments in reply to the same criticisms I have been hearing for so many years. But I expect the argument between my many good critics and me will continue on and on.

Michael Novak
Ave Maria, Fla.

To Talk or Not?

Re “The Ordination Question” (Reply All, 12/9): Mickey Matesich Edwards claims that the pronouncement prohibiting women’s ordination does not meet the required criteria for an “infallible” teaching. Unfortunately, even if true, that argument goes nowhere. What does matter is that the hierarchy is treating it as if it were an infallible teaching, giving them the right to silence all discussion to the contrary.

Problems and questions don’t disappear merely because of gag orders against voicing alternative views. The “definitive” statement on women’s ordination only ended the discussion in the media controlled in some manner by the church hierarchy. The independent Catholic press outlets continue to explore the question in the finest tradition of good journalism.

Joseph Keenan
Netcong, N.J.

Subsidiarity in Education

Left Behind,” by Joseph J. Dunn (12/2), offers just one view of the complex web of factors that trap many in multigenerational poverty. The article is accurate in describing a serious moral issue in many modern societies, but it is persistently single-minded in stating only information consistent with a preconceived conclusion. Mr. Dunn writes about the “correlation” between literacy skills and various economic outcomes, but correlation does not imply causation.

Mr. Dunn advocates more programs, more spending, more assignment of educational responsibility to the teaching profession. There is an alternative solution, one more consistent with the philosophical notion of subsidiarity that underpins much of Catholic theology. Parents bear primary responsibility for all aspects of raising a child. Among those responsibilities, education probably ranks below physical and emotional nurturing, but this does not mean it ought to be abdicated to teachers. In moral terms, teachers support the parents, not vice versa.

Until education bureaucracies accept the principle of subsidiarity and, correspondingly, parents accept their primary responsibility, our education process cannot provide an effective solution to breaking the cycle of poverty.

L. Michael Braig
Kirkwood, Mo.
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