U of SC Prof. Jennifer Frey on National Catholic Schools Week & Flannery O’Connor’s Fiction

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As we celebrate National Catholic Schools Week, “The Learning Curve” co-host Cara Candal talks with Dr. Jennifer Frey, an associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America. Dr. Frey shares why Catholic education is so vitally important in the lives of families, schoolchildren, and communities, with its commitment to nurturing an appreciation for “the true, the good, and the beautiful” among students from all faith backgrounds. She offers thoughts on the steps educators must follow to confirm a strong faith-based role in students’ lives. They next discuss the life of Southern fiction writer Flannery O’Connor, among the most important Catholic authors of the 20th century, and how her powerful writing about grace can impart timeless truths to high schoolers. Dr. Frey describes O’Connor’s mix of humor, tragedy, and satire, some of the troubling elements of our age that she depicted, and how her life, faith, and fiction can guide readers toward moral courage in the face of adversity. Dr. Frey concludes the interview with a reading from one of Flannery O’Connor’s works.

Related: A Vision of Hope – Catholic Schooling in Massachusetts

Stories of the Week: In Texas, the president of the new University of Austin, Pano Kanelos, a Shakespeare scholar, hopes to help restore open inquiry and civil discourse in higher education. Teachers are leaving the classroom for jobs in sales, software, healthcare and other fields that offer higher pay and more flexibility.

The next episode will air on Weds., February 9th, with Virginia Walden Ford, education advocate and author of Voices, Choices, and Second Chances and School Choice: A Legacy to Keep.


Dr. Jennifer Frey is an associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America. Prior to joining the philosophy faculty at USC, she was a Collegiate Assistant Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she was a member of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and an affiliated faculty in the philosophy department. She earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, and her B.A. in Philosophy and Medieval Studies (with a Classics minor) at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana. She has published widely on action, virtue, practical reason, and meta-ethics, and has recently co-edited an interdisciplinary volume, Self-Transcendence and Virtue: Perspectives from Philosophy, Theology, and Psychology. Professor Frey’s writing has also been featured in Breaking Ground, First Things, Fare Forward, Image, Law and Liberty, The Point, and USA Today. She is the host of a popular philosophy, literature, and theology podcast, Sacred and Profane Love, and lives in Columbia, SC, with her husband, six children, and six chickens.


Tweet of the Week:

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Pano Kanelos Wants to Remake Higher Education


Teachers Are Quitting, and Companies Are Hot to Hire Them


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[00:00:00] Cara: Hello everybody. It’s Cara Candal here with my favorite cohost, Gerard Robinson. And we are coming at you. It is, February 1st. So Gerard, it has been national school choice week. It is now national Catholic schools week. It is also the, yeah. Black history month. so many weeks of a great month ahead of us.

[00:00:21] And I think that the learning curve, try and do a good job of talking about black history on this show, but excited to kick off this month, tomorrow is Groundhog day. I’m not quite as excited about that sort of snuck up on us. We’ll see what the guy says, but, but coming off of a blizzard, I guess maybe I should be excited about what the Groundhog has in store.

[00:00:38] how are you doing


[00:00:40] GR: I’m doing well. , it’s sunny, no snow on the ground, at least new snow. So I’m feeling good and really feeling excited about the article that I have for this week, because in fact, it ties in your, former university, , university of Chicago and university of Chicago also has a long history in producing [00:01:00] black PhDs, went on to do great things.

[00:01:02] So.

[00:01:02] Cara: Let’s go. you should talk about it right now. Just like dig in. I always love hearing anything about university of Chicago. Some days I just dream about going back, although they have snow to not blizzards, but take it and tell us, what are you thinking about? What is your article about.

[00:01:17] GR: So we know you have Chicago roots and particularly your mom.

[00:01:21] So there’s a guy named panel Kanellis who grew up in Chicago. He worked at his family’s Greek diner, and the goal was for him to take over the diner once he became an adult. So while he worked there, he was been time, after hours or in the back reading books. And so he definitely became a book guy and he told his parents.

[00:01:40] I want to go to college. And so he became the first in his family to enroll in college, initially at Northwestern university. And he did so because he said it’s the only campus he had visited. Well, of course his love for books led him to do a PhD, social philosophy and literature at, , the university of Chicago.

[00:01:58] In fact, it was political and that’s no [00:02:00] joke, no joke. Oh yeah, they are. at that place. And so he took that and moved to the west coast and became a professor at Stanford university, university of San Diego, and then found himself moving toward the east. Well, recently he was a president of St. John’s college, which I’m a big fan of rate book school.

[00:02:21] And we actually have. Associated with us at the Institute for advanced learning here at the university of Virginia. who’s got an affiliation there. Well, in the season of trying to think entrepreneurial about K-12, we often forget that there’s also an entrepreneurial movement in. And so he decided to leave his job as president of St.

[00:02:41] John’s university, where he had done a great job of recruiting students, but get this. And I say, this is someone who had a college age daughter, and we have two more in the future while he was the president. He actually decreased tuition from 52,000. To [00:03:00] $35,000 in 2018, that’s almost like

[00:03:03] Cara: heresy from 50,000 to one.

[00:03:06] GR: He helped cut St. John’s annual tuition from 52,000 to 35,000. In 2018, there was 150% rise in private school tuition across the board and in public education we seen even higher. So, I mean, this is really. So he been at a great book school, a Shakespearian scholar, pretty big in ideas. He said, you know what?

[00:03:35] I think we need to start a new school. And so he is the new president of a school called the university of Austin located in Texas. it has no accreditation. it has no students, although more than 4,000 students have shown interest, he has no full-time faculty as of yet. Although a thousand faculty from across the country have reached out to him and said, we’re interested in this idea.

[00:03:58] And so he said, listen, there are three [00:04:00] things that we need to think of. Uh, school, focused on liberal arts where you can actually decrease tuition. number two, he said, we need to do a better job of investing in faculty, but not over investing in spending tons of time in adjunct faculty. Now I have worked as an adjunct faculty member.

[00:04:20] I know the importance we play in the academy, but what he’s saying. we have too many adjunct faculty members doing the bulk of the work. When in fact we should have full-time people who wake up and go to sleep every morning during this work, he’s going to push for that. And third, he said, we are at a point in American history where speaking freely, let’s say can cost you a lot in terms of being gaslighted. Another thing. So he connected with an entrepreneur and a few other people, and the school at least is starting to move forward. He put out a tweet about the idea, a hailstorm of criticism fell upon him because he questioned the fact that maybe we don’t need as many [00:05:00] administrators at universities as we do now.

[00:05:02] You and I both know as you left. Okay. You and I both know. then in the K-12 sector over the last 25 years, there’s been tremendous growth that administration people think it’s more principles, but in fact, it’s actually a staffing surge. at Kennesaw state and Georgia has written a wonderful paper about Vecchi think he’s updated recently.

[00:05:23] So there’s always growth in bureaucracy. The question is what’s the return on investment in terms of student learning, student efficacy. Investments and faculty. So I took a look at the webpage and come to find out, Barry Weiss we had on here recently, the, trustees. And when you look at the board of visitors, we have people like Arthur Brooks, who is former president of the American enterprise Institute person who hired me, where I am still a fellow at AEI.

[00:05:50] We have Yon Ali who we’ve had on the show. She’s also there, , Glen Lowery brown university. In fact, the most. Mr. Lowery, later this week in person [00:06:00] and even Nadiem, Strawson, who’s a professor of law, but get this former president of the ACLU. So you got AEI ECLU and people in the middle having this conversation.

[00:06:12] So there are two big takeaways for me. Number one. K-12 knows really well. If there’s a demand, there will be a supply. I can’t tell you that every supply is quality because it’s not, but the supply demand market is there. Higher education is doing it right now. Number two,

[00:06:31] . We are to a point in American higher education where students and faculty are fearful of speaking freely on a campus. That’s supposed to be open for ideas. And at the point that we’re having conversations with people across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans about democracy, about free markets.

[00:06:52] We here have. A free marketplace of ideas and that’s where higher ed moving. So I applaud his effort. [00:07:00] Of course, he had a connection with the university of Chicago, reminded me that in 2014, the president of the university of Chicago and the provost put out the Chicago statement and they were pretty clear.

[00:07:12] Of what they thought was a marketplace of ideas. It of course received also another hailstorm of criticism, but also a hailstorm of praise. And so I think this is a great articles from the wall street journal. I’m going to follow this experiment with great. What do you

[00:07:28] think? I

[00:07:29] Cara: mean, I think that you had me at Greek diner, first of all, because the laundry you’re taking me back to Chicago, where the food is just so good all the time, especially at any Greek diner, but digress.

[00:07:41] I mean, this is just, I love this because number one, entrepreneurial-ism in higher education, just saying. my darling husband is always asking me when I’m going to go back to teaching in higher ed. So that at some point we might get tuition remission for our kids, but I want to work for that guys university, the ones that I worked for in the past.

[00:07:59] And [00:08:00] let’s take this point though, Gerard about, the marketplace of ideas. And I have to say now some of our listeners might know. That I lean a little further to the left than you do Gerard politically, but let’s not make the assumption. I mean, I, could not agree more. I think that when we look around, I experienced this as a professor in the school of education.

[00:08:25] I experienced this in my current just day to day life. I think I really agree with you that it’s so dangerous that We’re at a place it’s just rampant in higher education, trickling down to all aspects of society. Certainly, you know, there are things that are appropriate and K-12 and things that are not, but what are we teaching kids in higher education?

[00:08:45] The idea that there are certain things you can’t say certain opinions that you should not be able to express. I think it’s really, really scary. So I love this board of diverse thinkers. I love. It stands for. I’m very proud of my Alma mater the [00:09:00] university of Chicago for the statement it made in this vein, despite criticism.

[00:09:04] ,

[00:09:04] and I think that .

[00:09:04] this is going to challenge what has become the status quo in some really, really interesting ways. I also love that it’s an

[00:09:12] Austin, cause

[00:09:12] you know, cool city, great food, great music and nice and warm. So, thank you so much for that story, Jared. I hope you do keep an eye on it and I don’t know, maybe you and I, they won’t hire many adjuncts, but maybe they’ll hire us for a class here or there , we can call ‘ some of the wonderful people that have been on the show to, plead our case.

[00:09:28] So I have a different story this week, but I don’t know that know our listeners know that you’ve been a teacher. I too was a teacher back in the day, a teacher of English language learners and of English literature. just a couple of days ago when I was in my twenties. And like so many, I decided to leave the profession to pursue different career.

[00:09:50] But this article today from the wall street journal, Is entitled. Teachers are quitting and companies are hot to hire them. And I mean, the title [00:10:00] really says it all. And we know that teachers, you know, we can talk about teacher shortages, but what has become, what are we calling it? The great resignation, right?

[00:10:08] is affecting all sectors, but certainly teaching, just give. Not only the job market, but what teachers have been through in the past year. And this article talks about how as more and more teachers decide, they just can’t take it anymore. At one point it paints a picture of a woman who really loved her teaching career, but was so, Horrified by the pandemic and all the stress that it caused, , that she was like arriving an hour before school to sort of like cry in her car. She couldn’t get out of the car. Like that’s when you know that the job isn’t working for you. Right. but it. Talks about in this article. How so many of these teachers are finding second homes in places that really value the skills that they bring to the table, whether that’s they know how to train people, right?

[00:10:52] teachers know how to teach. And so companies are hiring them , to be trainers. Companies are hiring them for creative [00:11:00] endeavors. Companies are hiring them to write, and teachers are finding homes that they might not have known that they had before. And it’s not

[00:11:06] all. Higher

[00:11:08] pay because yes, many of them are getting higher pay, but it’s also about more flexibility.

[00:11:12] It’s about having more autonomy, as we know, we’re in a place where, and I won’t, pin this on state standards. Like a lot of people will draw because I believe that you can still have a lot of autonomy to teach while still teaching to a high state standard. But , a lot of school districts are prescribing.

[00:11:26] teachers, every movement at the local level. and people feel that that

[00:11:30] sort of sucks the soul

[00:11:32] out of this thing that they love. So they’re finding another home. And what I was thinking when reading this Gerard is that certainly as long as I’ve been in education policy, and I know you’ve been in a lot longer friends, so maybe you can remember a time, but we’ve been talking about what’s going to happen to drive.

[00:11:52] whether you think about it as the market, or just drive schools to treat teachers differently, to attract and retain [00:12:00] teachers using different mechanisms. This might be it because if teachers are making a mass exit, especially good experienced teachers, and they’re going places where they’re making a lot more money schools, districts, states might have to get really creative around.

[00:12:16] What are the things that they offer teachers beyond money, money being important, but one of the things that they offer teachers to make them feel fulfilled as some of these other things. Appear to be doing. So I think, this is going to be something that will have a long arc. I think we’re going to be talking about this for years to come.

[00:12:35] And I really hope that this exit us of wonderful people from the profession as scary as it is to some extent, especially when we see our experienced, , highly capable teachers leaving the classroom and we lose those mentors for our younger teachers, but I hope that this might drive. To really get more creative about how we entice people to teach in our schools and how we make teaching a really high profile profession that people [00:13:00] want to be in.

[00:13:01] So, we had two great stories of the week, this week write, but as a former teacher and watching what’s happening, what are your thoughts on this

[00:13:09] article?

[00:13:10] GR: So as you know, I have a. podcast is not as regular as the one that you and I do. It’s called in character and you can find it@ourculturefee.org webpage.

[00:13:21] And I’ve interviewed, , over 130 teachers and principals and social entrepreneurs and a number of them. In fact, left the classroom even before the pandemic to pursue options in the nonprofit sector, for both teaching and learning opportunities, but also the for-profit sector. Some of them created.

[00:13:38] LLCs or they’re working for company, but the pandemic again has opened up opportunity. Trinity’s partly driven by frustration. Yeah. I’m with you. If someone’s crying before they want to get out. Yeah. It’s time to go. And in the private sector, they often see ways of using talent in ways that maybe even the educator, , had not him or herself.

[00:13:58] So. I’m glad to hear the [00:14:00] I know of teachers who are doing it even 20 years ago, friends of mine whose moms or dads were teachers often work in the summer for a company as a consultant, yes. To supplement salary, but also it gave them an opportunity to work with adults and to work with some cutting edge thinking on teacher science, learning.

[00:14:20] That they would not have gotten either at a school of education or they would have to re-enroll into a school to get that. But working in the private sector gave them a chance to look at it from a public private standpoint. So I’m glad to see this happening, sad to see teachers leaving in part because of the conditions, , that the pandemic has put them in our politicians.

[00:14:37] even some of the things, some of our folks on our side of the fence for school reform has done, but I’m glad that there’s a pathway for people moving forward.

[00:14:45] Cara: And who knows maybe this new university in Austin, we’ll train some

[00:14:51] teachers. See, we’ll see, we’ll

[00:14:53] be, watching it. Okay. Gerard,

[00:14:57] GR: I just thought about something Kara, and maybe we can [00:15:00] get the pioneer Institute to think about tuition, remission for our kids.

[00:15:05] Just food for thought.

[00:15:07] Cara: Jim stir. Just if you’re listening,

[00:15:08] let’s start that conversation. I’ve got three.

[00:15:14] We’re working out. Yeah. You’ve only got two more to get through. I’m staring down the, oh my goodness. Gracious. So yes, we’ll take that conversation up at a later date. Maybe we need to talk to the board to Gerard. We’ll talk about it. , all right. We’ve got another great guest as we always do here on the learning curve.

[00:15:30] And this week we are going to be talking to Dr.

[00:15:32] Jennifer Frey. She is

[00:15:34] at the university of South Carolina. Fellow at the Institute for human ecology at the Catholic university of America. So listeners, we’re going to take a really short break, some curated music for you,

[00:15:46] and we

[00:15:46] will be.[00:16:00]

[00:16:35] Learning curve listeners. We’re very happy to have with us today, Dr. Jennifer Frey. She is an associate professor of philosophy at university of South Carolina and fellow of the Institute for human ecology at Catholic university of America. Prior to joining the philosophy faculty. She was a collegiate assistant professor of humanities at the university of Chicago, where she was a member of the society of fellows in the liberal arts and affiliated faculty in [00:17:00] the philosophy department.

[00:17:01] She earned her PhD in philosophy at the university of Pittsburgh and her BA in philosophy and the Naval studies with a classics minor at wait for it, Indiana university in Bloomington, Indiana, my Alma mater as well. She has published widely on action, virtue, practical reason, and Metro. And has recently co-edited an interdisciplinary volume self-transcendence and virtue perspectives from philosophy theology and psychology professor Frey’s writing has also been featured in breaking ground.

[00:17:30] First things fare forward image law. The point and USA today, she is the host of a popular philosophy, literature and theology podcast, sacred and profane love. And she lives in Columbia, South Carolina, with her husband, six children and six chickens. Is that as chicken for each child. I’m curious to know Dr.

[00:17:50] Frey, welcome to the.

[00:17:53] Jennifer: Thank you for having me. It is a chicken for each child, but it turns out they just sell them a [00:18:00] half dozen or a dozen. So it accidentally worked out that way. We received to get our kids and indoor pets and like the chicken for a compromise. Also they lay eggs.

[00:18:13] Cara: Yeah. So they’re very useful.

[00:18:14] I have to say, I held out on the indoor pet for many, many years, and now that we have one, it is a different life. it’s still a good life, but a little bit more, especially here in New York. Lizard impending. I’m wondering exactly who’s going to walk the dog tomorrow because it’s not going to be me exactly.

[00:18:30] And enough about pets. , we are here to talk to you during national Catholic schools week. And as I said, you’re a mother of six. You are an educator. , I myself have published books on Catholic education specifically here in Massachusetts. Very interested in the topic. Could you. Tell our listeners and maybe with a specific, voice to those who aren’t Catholic and who don’t know much about Catholic education, why Catholic education [00:19:00] is so vitally important in our communities, even for folks who aren’t.

[00:19:06] Jennifer: Yeah. So I think the thing that we tend to forget in contemporary discourse is that education is really about formation. like a true education. Isn’t just about conveying facts and knowledge and skills. Although, of course it does involve conveying facts and knowledge and skills, but it’s about forming young people into a certain kind of person.

[00:19:30] And so we’re really talking about the cultivation and shaping of young minds. And feelings and perceptual capacities and imagination. Right. And we have to do that and accordance with some vision of, what a well-educated person is like. Right. When we think about education information, we always have to have in mind what we think an ideal.

[00:19:56] Graduate is like from whatever [00:20:00] institution of education we’re talking about. And I think that, you know, Catholic education and Catholic schools have a really unique vision of the human person that is based in an understanding of what is, , true and good and, beautiful. And I think that’s very important.

[00:20:18] , it’s important for Catholics. Of course. , Catholic education is, really vital because when it’s done well, it doesn’t leave any aspect of that personal formation on touched. So within the context of specifically Catholic education, right, we can talk about the virtues in their fullness, ? So we don’t have to leave out faith as the perfection of the end of.

[00:20:44] Or a charity and hope as the perfection of the will. , and we can talk about those virtues as sort of crowning or perfecting the more kind of natural or Cardinal virtues, right. As just. And [00:21:00] practical was, um, and temperance and courage and things like this. And we can also teach our kids, to be open to the promptings of the holy spirit and to recognize things like our dependence on God’s grace.

[00:21:12] And I think that, outside the Catholic schools, you miss out on these aspects of personal formation and they’re really like at the heart of human life. We’re talking about the proper formation of conscience as well. and also of course, things like biblical literacy and understanding how the story of Christ brings a kind of ultimate meaning and purpose to lives for non-Catholics.

[00:21:33] So all my kids are in Catholic school and only about half of. Their classmates are Catholic. And one reason for that is just, well, one reason, I think, frankly, it’s just the pandemic. There are a lot of kids in the Catholic schools to have, because like it’s a school that’s open. but I also think that Catholics are, so I live in the deep south and Catholic parents, South Carolina are a minority.

[00:21:59] Right. [00:22:00] And so the Catholic schools are always going to have, , lots of non-Catholics and. for a variety of reasons. and I think this is good. because I think that, we can remind parents that Catholic capitalist city really refers to. The universality, this vision that we have, , that it really is grounded and human nature.

[00:22:24] And again, talking about how we’re cultivating that human nature, , in specific ways, so that like it is fully reaching. It’s potential as we understand it in the Catholic tradition as for its impact on the community. I mean, I think it just speaks for itself. So in the Catholic schools, , you don’t just have like your academic grades, like you have your.

[00:22:49] you have grades that involve your service to the community. So even in the elementary schools, the Catholic students explicitly as part of their education, has to involve [00:23:00] themselves and being and really in contributing to the common good. And they can do that in a variety of ways.

[00:23:07] They can be creative about it. As part of their evaluation, it’s part of their education. , and also anytime that we’re talking about character formation, forming young people to be good human beings and citizens, and to contribute to the common good, , that is always to the benefit of the broader community beyond the school.

[00:23:29] and even when we talk about. a good education. We’re talking about the foundation of something like a strong democracy, I think that sometimes we forget the connections between education and a flourishing democracy and the idea that nearly all the founding fathers held, which is.

[00:23:49] your Republic, your democracy is only going to be as good as its citizens. Like you have to keep this going. and so I think that the Catholic, yeah, I think Catholic schools have a [00:24:00] very strong case to make for themselves, , that they are engaged in this larger civic project of, laying the foundations of a good and healthy and strong democracy.

[00:24:10] Yeah, they

[00:24:10] Cara: certainly do. And of course the pandemic has, helped Catholic schools that have seen a decline in enrollment in recent decades. But I think that even long before that they were Catholic schools, to your point, we’re certainly helping many members of the community might not consider themselves Catholic.

[00:24:25] I want to push you on one point. So you, mentioned, the Catholic commitment and the ability for schools and teachers to talk about the true, the good in the beautiful, the context of Catholic education and in Catholic identity and faith. Can you talk about two things? So the first time.

[00:24:44] A little bit about how Catholic educators and Catholic schools do that in practice. And then the second thing I would like you to comment on is, is it in fact impossible for public schools to do this, to talk about the true, the good and the beautiful in a [00:25:00] non-religious sense, , , to give their students a commitment to service to that.

[00:25:02] Can you talk to me a little bit about how you think about that? About maybe what the public schools could learn from some of what

[00:25:08] Jennifer: happens in the Capitol? So that’s a great question. I appreciate that question because I’ve been writing a lot about this. so a lot of people are skeptical of. That more classical models of education sort of education that, really embraces this concept of Paideia or build on or deep formation of a person.

[00:25:29] people tend to be skeptical that you can do that in a public school because of, I don’t know, some kind of commitment to like liberal neutrality. Like we can’t enforce any one vision of the good on our. , but actually, like, it’s not true. It’s just simply not true that our public schools are like morality free zones.

[00:25:53] You know, it turns out that they have rules and values and then the most successful schools, they’re [00:26:00] very explicit about why they have the rules that they have. And the sense that they explicitly connect the rules to sort of connect the rules and the values or the character traits that they’re trying to instill in their students.

[00:26:14] They connect it to their success in the school, right. Their academic success, but also their, success that citizens in the school, in the broader community, that is the school. And I mean, there’s really no way to talk about it. Any kind of institution without the embracing values. , so this idea that we’re going to have any kind of strict neutrality, is not workable and practice.

[00:26:42] And I think that it’s really important for public schools to adopt this kind of richer language of the transcendentals for the various simple reasons. That they are aligned to actual human nature. I think that one of the benefits of the [00:27:00] Catholic schools is that at least when it’s done well, there’s like a model for talking about it, where you can talk about truth as the good of the intellect.

[00:27:09] Right. So what you’re trying to do when you’re thinking and reasoning is to get at truth, like that’s the measure, that’s the good condition. That’s what you want. , and that the good, right? Yeah. What you actually desire and want and your life, what you find fulfilling. And the beautiful is just that, which is the light close to the senses, you know, delightful in itself.

[00:27:31] And the truth is, that we are drawn to what is true and good and beautiful, but we need a good education. We need a proper cultivation of these kinds of natural desires so that they can be directly. Towards these more kind of self-transcendence horizons. And they have to be directed in a way that reflects and an understanding of some kind of like, ordering role that they play in a human life.

[00:27:55] And that really is like, I mean, that’s the job of education, right. And I think we [00:28:00] really shouldn’t shy away from this thicker language. it actually. Very appealing to young people, and it’s not surprising that it’s appealing. and , what’s appealing is also motivating. I think in the Catholic context, you know, you’re also able to connect the true and the good and the beautiful as different names for the divine essence.

[00:28:22] And so there’s a kind of ultimate horizon for this. but you need to have. And the public school context, you can just talk about things like, what does it mean for a person to develop themselves to the truth? Like in spite of hope of good consequences or bad consequences, and you can look to lots of exemplars of people who have been willing to fight for truth and justice and all of these things.

[00:28:52] but We can’t give children these exemplars, , for them to imitate [00:29:00] and to like form their imagination, unless we’re willing to come out and say, , these people were working for things like truth and justice. would have to, without that Richard Lang.

[00:29:12] Cara: And this is really thank you for that very astute observations.

[00:29:16] I would, add to what you said, one of my own observations, which is that, , you can do this in the public schools. You can talk about such things you can certainly no form of education is valued free. but I’ve noticed in some cases that Catholic schools. Some Catholic schools.

[00:29:31] I appreciate that. You said when this has done well in Catholic schools, because you know, just a trend in the past decade of some Catholic schools, perhaps with declining enrollment looking to become more or less. They’re public counterparts in terms of the curriculum they deliver or whatever, in sort of sucking the Catholicism out of it.

[00:29:48] And one of my observations was always, well, this is what distinguishes you. So, people are choosing you whether they are Catholic or not in large part because of the character formation that. , to students and families. [00:30:00] So something we want to see Catholic schools and indeed any faith-based school retain is that distinctive character.

[00:30:07] Now we want to shift gears a little bit. and I want to ask you about the Southern fiction writers. Flannery O’Connor who was really among the most important Catholic novelist of the 20th century. can you tell us a little bit about her, about her life and why her works in your opinion, serve as a basis for learning through literature for maybe for our high school?

[00:30:27] Jennifer: Yeah. So I love playing O’Connor especially since I’ve moved down south and Flannery has been my constant companion. Flannery, have you mentioned she was a Catholic novel. so she wrote two novels and she died. She died really young. So she died in 1964 at the age of 39. She died of lupus, which is really sad because she was nearly finished with her third novel.

[00:30:53] and in fact, they may publish her third month. , and the next decade, we’ll see, , there just peace with the family, [00:31:00] but, she managed in her very short career to write two novels. She also wrote 32 short stories. So the bulk of her work is actually short stories. And, she is, , just a widely acclaimed, you know, as one of the best writers of her generation.

[00:31:17] So she’s not somewhere that is simply beloved by cats. but she did write with a distinctively Catholic and I would argue a distinctively Thomas vision. So we know that, she read St. Thomas Aquinas every day. Um, it was sort of like her theological habit. , and anyway, so she’s a masterful, right?

[00:31:37] her writing is very powerful, but it’s not simply because she was a master of the craft of writing. So she was, but it’s really because of the vision that informs her writing or stands behind it. And that vision is a vision that speaks to the reality of human fallenness or human sinfulness, and therefore the need for God’s grace and [00:32:00] redemption.

[00:32:00] And basically all of her stories are tracing the way that God’s grace works and our lives. So grace is sort of the, engine driving, the drama of perfection, and she is interested in the ways that God’s grace can work changes in us. so she was often described as a hillbilly man. Because of course she’s from rural Georgia and she sounds like a hillbilly.

[00:32:27] If you actually like watch interviews with her on YouTube, like she’s barely understandable. the accent is so thick, but she protested and she said, no, she was a hillbilly Pellman. And she said, no, I write happy stories that centered around the work of grace. stick with the promise of God’s mercy and redemption.

[00:32:48] And I think this is really incredible to people because for fiction is actually sort of grotesque in the literary sense, grotesque or Gothic. It’s very dark and violent and all of the [00:33:00] comedy that’s in it. I mean, actually her stories are very funny, but it’s a very kind of dark comedy, not happy go lucky comedy.

[00:33:08] And so I think what you tend to see. And critics. And I would also say that Flannery O’Connor is really misunderstood, I think, as an author. And that’s because people sort of focus on the violence and the frequent quality of her stories, but they miss her point, right. They miss the fact that she’s talking about grace and redemption and that she sees.

[00:33:31] And I think this is none of her deep insights. She sees the movement of grace manifests itself as violence to one who is in the grips of. And violence in the sense that if your spiritual orientation is towards, then, then it takes a kind of violent movement of the soul to orient you towards what is really good.

[00:33:52] And that is how God’s grace is playing out in the lives of her characters. And so, and it’s true. Like her [00:34:00] characters, they, are gored by bulls and they are murdered and they are, I mean, like bad things happen to them. And post, some people are really like, oh, you know, she’s too hard on her characters.

[00:34:12] Like for example, Marilyn Robinson who’s appeal with her prize winning. , Christian novel is very famous. Like she’s always, kind of digging into this learning O’Connor for being too violent, but the truth is she doesn’t really see what Flannery O’Connor is doing. Right. And a Flannery O’Connor is really talking about the reality of sin and the stakes there.

[00:34:36] And, the fact that God’s grace. Really doesn’t work like a nice comforting electric blanket. Like it doesn’t necessarily make us feel good. It can be really shocking. And that shock is necessary to get us to see what is kind of like right in front of us. it takes the kind [00:35:00] of shock of the system or shall come the soul to get us to see what is really in front of us to really get of.

[00:35:08] Well, in some

[00:35:09] Cara: would say that she saw more than what was just in front of us or in front of her, but that she was actually pretty far sighted. And, , , thinking about some of the more troubling elements of this life that we’re living now, the society that we’re in. , can you comment a little bit about those things that maybe she saw that others didn’t at the time.

[00:35:28] Jennifer: absolutely deep thinker or really great artists is a kind of profit and the sense that they have this kind of foresight, so they can see in the present, like in a way, the future, but only in the sense that they can trace. What’s likely to come given the way things are. And I think she was kind of prophetic and a lot of ways.

[00:35:55] And I, guess I would say, I mean, just to focus on one plannery was [00:36:00] very opposed to a kind of prevailing sentimentality that she saw around her. , where the idea is kind of general universal benevolence. , is the best moral posture. And that involves like, , a kind of false mercy is really where all we want to do is like, make people feel good and alleviate their suffering.

[00:36:27] And we won’t talk about. And we won’t talk about the needs for redemption, but we will talk about, , personal safety and comfort and feeling good and all of this stuff. and I think she thinks, this kind of sentimentalism, , is extremely shallow and spiritually, devastating, but then it also kind of leads to more.

[00:36:53] You know,

[00:36:53] she

[00:36:53] talks about how the tender mercies of the wicked lead to, , all kinds of [00:37:00] cruelty. And in a way, I think you can trace a line there, between this, kind of sentimentality and the legal embrace of. false mercies, you know, like euthanasia, for example, or assisted suicide or things like this, where, you’re killing people in the name of mercy rather than helping them to live an authentic human life and which it is the case that you don’t have technical control over everything and that you will suffer and that your suffering isn’t meaningless.

[00:37:38] so I think that she sees this sort of thing. I also think that she sees, our need to escape from reality and our flight and to fantasy and I mean, for her, it takes the form of self-deception, but you can also see it and all the various ways that we distract ourselves from reality now [00:38:00] with technology, and this is a huge problem for our school.

[00:38:04] because of course, all of our young people now, , live in a kind of virtual reality for a lot of their days. and a lot of their friendships are mediated almost completely by technology. And, there’s 10 patients who sort of retreat from the real world and escape into a kind of virtual world.

[00:38:26] I think that she sees that , as a bod impulse of needs to be fought. And that is related to her Christian realism, which she explicitly relates to Thomas Aquinas. , she says, look, you know, shit, man. She takes him St. Thomas, this idea that what it means to live well is to know, and to love reality.

[00:38:45] To seek and conform oneself to what is true so that you can have a kind and loving communion with the good and to take your delight and what is beautiful. But in order to do that, you really have to be connected to reality. and of course having an understanding,[00:39:00] of God is the ultimate reality, And so this kind of retreat and to fantasy or a sort of virtual world, I think she would connect to that again. With a kind of, inability, to live the truth, right? To live with reality, which is often quite painful. And again, if you look at all of her stories, they’re all stories of grace working to kind of Pierce the sale of perception and to force characters, to deal with the world to confront reality and most, especially the unpleasant reality of the effects of sin in their own.

[00:39:38] Like the way that grace operates. And a lot of perfection is to force people to see themselves as they really are, and also to see other people as they really are. And that she thinks is actually a very difficult surgical day.

[00:39:54] Cara: Well, thank you for that. We have actually come to the end of our time together, but because we’ve been talking about her, we were [00:40:00] wondering if you would close us out with a quote or a passage from Flannery O’Connor.

[00:40:06] Jennifer: Yeah. So I picked the quote that, , really kind of speaks to her capitalist city, because I really think the keys to understanding Ms. O’Connor is to realize the Catholic vision behind her fiction. So this is a little quote that I take from mystery and manners. So this is binary. The truth is my stories have been watered and fed by dot.

[00:40:29] I am a Catholic. And at some point in my life, I realized that not only was I a Catholic, but that this was all I was, and I am as a Catholic. Not like somebody else would be a Baptist or a Methodist, but like someone else would be an atheist. So if my stories are complete, it is because I see everything as beginning with original sin taking in the redemption and reckoning on a final.

[00:40:55] Cara: Professor Jennifer. Fred, thank you so much for joining us, especially during this [00:41:00] national Catholic schools week, it’s just been a pleasure chatting with you.

[00:41:02] Jennifer: Thanks for having me. Thank you.

[00:41:45] Cara: And of course, Gerard, we have got to close it out with our tweet of the week and, , Here is a shout out to formal. Colleague a former host of this show. So Bob Bowden has stepped down as executive director [00:42:00] of choice, media TV, and his last hashtag story of the day, the Instagram story on the day, his message was thank you.

[00:42:07] And I’ll see you soon. So certainly very best of luck to our friend, Bob, in his next endeavors. And thank you to him for his service and all that he has done. For the school choice, movement and Gerard next week, we’ve got somebody who, another person that has done maybe. Worlds for this movement that you and I are both.

[00:42:26] such fans of, and we both buy in so important. We are going to be speaking with Virginia Walden Ford of miss Virginia fame. you know, her work, many of our listeners will know her work, but boy, has she been a huge influence in opening up more educational opportunity for kids in this country? And can’t wait for that conversation.

[00:42:48] I have to

[00:42:49] Cara: say, you know, that

[00:42:51] Cara: I will not be able to be here for that conversation, which I’m very disappointed about because I’m going to be taking a little hiatus, a short vacation with my [00:43:00] family. I’m going to leave you in the capable hands of our friends, DRL Bradford. So just please don’t misbehave while I’m gone.

[00:43:07] Like.

[00:43:09] Cara: It’s Virginia Walden. I need you to, I need you to keep it cool

[00:43:14] GR: behave when you’re gone. I know

[00:43:16] Cara: I don’t. That’s okay. I’m going to talk to Kimberly about that until then, though. Jordan talked to you a couple of weeks. You have a wonderful one and, can’t wait to listen and can’t wait to be back with you

[00:43:26] Cara: again soon.

[00:43:26] GR: Safe travels.

[00:43:28] Cara: Thank you. Take care. Bye.

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