I was born and raised in Highland Park, a suburb of Los Angeles, and was a longtime parishioner of St. Ignatius Church and school. I credit the Dominican sisters for much of my grammatical expertise and Faith formation. When I graduated from Stanford University, I applied for my first teaching position at St. Ignatius, teaching seventh and eighth grades English, religion and social studies. In fact, it was my later assignment to teach a large class of forty five notorious sixth graders in a self-contained classroom that became my greatest challenge and joy. Because of my senior year abroad in Florence Italy, taught by formidable Stanford professors, that I was introduced to Italian art and classical sculpture, knowledge that would in time permeate my approach to teaching critical thinking through a combination of literature and the fine arts. In my teaching assignment at St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque, I began a series of thirty tours abroad, guiding students to experience great art and historical sites in over nine countries. Those excursions would also inform many of my teaching anecdotes refracted through the eyes and voices of my myriad student learners’ reflections on everything from the Sistine Ceiling and Rodin sculptures in Paris to the thrill at viewing the Cliffs of Moher and whitewater rafting in Switzerland. Teaching at the American School in Florence also introduced me to the physical realities of Dante and Michelangelo’s favorite city.
Holy Family: Home at last!
In the current climate of anti-intellectualism and relativist thinking, where Truth is disdained in favor of subjective judgment, I bore the brunt of teaching in public schools where teachers became less important to the learning process in favor of cumulative data gathering through constant testing. Great literature from the classical past, including the foundational teachings of Plato and Aristotle, were suddenly suspect and even replaced in favor of more emotionally soothing, contemporary literature. In effect, the legacy of Western civilization and thought evolution was abandoned. After suffering a long drought of state mandated “teaching,” I happened (by God’s Will) upon an intellectual haven: Holy Family High School. In the past first year I was encouraged to initiate a writing program, teach the humanities to place great literature in cultural and more cognitive context, introduce students to different linguistic maxims in Greek, Latin and other modern languages, connect ideas to great art and construct a true dialogue engaging the students to reflect and respond, not only orally, but also in their weekly “syntax” journals.
In addition to exercising pedagogical diversity, I entered into dialogues with different members of the faculty whose artistic, scientific and theological expertise taught me, a very enthusiastic learner myself.
The centrality of the Catholic spiritual identity is also a constant inspiration in the weekly Mass gathering, retreats and para-liturgies that remind our girls of how God is always present in even the most secular of holidays. Finally, Holy Family’s mascot, the Gaels, informs any observer of the school’s sacred mission: to create a lasting identity of moral commitment and courageous engagement with a world of repudiation and resistance to those values. Holy Family is a rare pearl of great price!