• EWTN profiled Sacred Art School Firenze in a segment that aired while MaryKate and I were there this summer:

    I spent the month of July working remotely while my wife completed the Sacred Art School‘s summer painting program alongside two friends from Fransiscan University of Steubenville and others from all over.

    Sacred Art School offers summer programs focused on painting, sculpture, and gold smithing, as well as three-year masters-style specializations in each of those areas.

  • The late Roger Scruton on the “metaphysical nature of our city temples and tombs:”

    Adolf Loos, founding father of architectural modernism, maintained that only in two of its applications is architecture an art—in the temple and the tomb. For it is only in these structures, built to house the non-existent, that architecture escapes from its everyday function as a shelter against an inhospitable reality. …

    Tombs, temples, and memorials form the heart of our ancient settlements, marking the public squares, the crossroads and the places of pilgrimage. They are the nodes of the urban network, and the streets radiate out from them, carrying the message of belonging to the furthest reaches of the city. Every town in Europe is built around a church, and public spaces are marked by monuments and chapels, reminding us that the place has a meaning more durable than the people who reside there. …

    People moved out to the suburbs, and into the suburbs from the fields. And yet no new places were created. The suburbs were no-places, and the city itself became a concrete platform, on which the glass boxes could be shifted back and forth like pieces on a chess-board. In an astonishingly short time, many of  the places that we knew had disappeared, and no places had come in their stead.

    … I have been even more struck by a deeper metaphysical difference. The old buildings belong in the places that they create; the new buildings typically belong nowhere, and create a nowhere wherever they are constructed. Physically the old city center is a space; metaphysically, however, it is a place, a somewhere to which buildings, people and the institutions that unite them can belong. But the new developments are spaces that refuse to be places, spaces where nothing belongs. …

    How does the peculiar experience of belonging enter human consciousness, and to what end?

    These questions return me to Adolf Loos’s observation concerning the temple and the tomb. In constructing these memorials to the non-existent we are fixing ourselves to a space. Temples and tombs are massive, immovable, as though the spirit contained in them has been fixed forever to the ground. The god and the hero cling to their allotted space with all the force of the imagination, and this causes us to reimagine that space as a somewhere to be shared and defended. In a space that has become a place it is not the body only but also the soul that finds a home. So much recent attempt at placemaking fails because it bypasses those core emotions. Yet how can you make a place for people if you do not first make a place for their heroes and their gods? We settle down by inviting our gods and heroes to settle beside us. And in that way the place is sanctified as ours.

    When the Antifa activists gather in the squares to pull the statues from their pedestals and the busts from their plinths, they are sending the message that this place is not ours, that we do not belong here, and that we want to start again outside the community that brought us into being. And the result of their destructive pranks will surely be no different from the result of so much modern building—the replacement of somewhere by nowhere. And I suspect that that is where we are going.

    I like Ave Maria so much because it is a space that strives to be a place—a place with Our Lord at its center and with the life of the community radiating from the reality of his Eucharistic presence.

  • Pre-dawn run in Miami

    I’m back in Washington after a restorative weekend in Miami. Late August weather in South Florida is exactly what I like, and I was able to go for some good runs—including an early morning run yesterday at 5:30am before catching my flight back.

    The sunrise from the Uber to the airport was a reminder of why this part of the country is so great.

  • Reading in Miami

    Reading in Miami

    I’m reading John Garvey’s The Virtues while I’m in Miami. It’s an accessible book and worth reading, probably annually.

    From the book’s Amazon description:

    An ancient question asks what role moral formation ought to play in education. It leads to such questions as, do intellectual and moral formation belong together? Is it possible to form the mind and neglect the heart? Is it wise? These perennial questions take on new significance today, when education ― especially, higher education ― has become a defining feature in the lives of young people.

    Throughout his more than 40 years in academia, John Garvey has reflected on the relationship between intellectual and moral formation, especially in Catholic higher education. For 12 years as the President of The Catholic University of America, he made the cultivation of moral virtue a central theme on campus, highlighting its significance across all aspects of University culture, from University policy to campus architecture.

    During his two decades of presiding at commencement exercises, first as Dean of Boston College Law School and then as President of The Catholic University of America, Garvey made a single virtue the centerpiece of his remarks each year. The Virtues is the fruit of those addresses. More reflective than analytical, its purpose is to invite conversation about what it means to live well.

  • Miami for the weekend

    I’m heading to Miami for the weekend, for a few days away. I’ll be working remotely today and tomorrow, but enjoying the change in climate and scenery and spending as much time outdoors as possible.

    It’s the simple things. Views like these never grow old.

  • Brookland neighborhood scenes

    After being away for most of the summer, it’s good to be back home in Washington and to be enjoying the last weeks of summer. I’m spending today working outside:

    A few Brookland neighborhood scenes.

  • David McCullough, America’s greatest contemporary historian, has died at 89. Miles Smith remembers McCullough as “a historian of the people” who “wrote about an America he loved:”

    In many ways, McCullough represented the last vestige of an older way of thinking about the United States. He claimed to be a historian of the people, and for McCullough those people were a relatively unified body of Americans who gloried in their flawed but nonetheless remarkable past. In an era of increased social and cultural Balkanization, McCullough’s works, his public speaking, and his presence pointed an imperfect people to aspire to the type of citizenship and nobility that Americans high and low could achieve. …

    Nature, and especially the seeming unquenchable American desire to conquer nature fascinated McCullough. His books on the creation of the Panama Canal, the Wright Brothers, the Brooklyn Bridge, Theodore Roosevelt’s time in the Dakota Badlands, and the settlement of the Ohio River Valley showed how Americans rose to the challenge when confronted by natural obstacles to the progress of civilization. 

    McCullough’s appreciation of civilization, and particularly American civilization, is what made him so popular in his own era, and perhaps what made him less popular with the present generation of academic historians. His last book, focusing on the late 18th-century settlement of Ohio, was criticized by “a new generation of historians, scholars and activists” who “took to social media to accuse McCullough of romanticizing white settlement and downplaying the pain inflicted on Native Americans.” This is now typical fare among historians, who embody a zealous binary amid their ideological venting. The particular book, The Pioneers, did nothing of the sort.

    What made McCullough so different from his critics is that he maintained affection and charity towards the United States and its peoples despite its flawed history. McCullough had the courage to admire American civilization and its virtues. He understood that history is not always good versus evil or in linear directions. History is complicated. McCullough understood this in ways that much of academic history does not.McCullough had the courage to admire American civilization and its virtues.

    Affection for his subjects characterized McCullough’s works. His critics complained about his obvious sympathies, but the proposition that a biographer or historian can truly remain neutral towards their subject has always been at best an aspiration and at worst a sort of fiction that academics tell themselves. McCullough was never an academic and even though he received an elite Ivy League education he never seemed interested in writing for the adulation of the guild. This, perhaps more than anything, gave him the courage to love his country, its story, and its people.

    In an era when the idea of preserving any transcendent national identity is often called a dog-whistle for far-right politics, McCullough’s books offer a substantive vision of an American nation committed to virtue, the common good, and human liberty.

    I think McCullough’s 1776 was my entree to his works. I still haven’t enjoyed all his books, but so far The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris ranks as my favorite.

    A decade ago Brian Bolduc at The Wall Street Journal interviewed McCullough, and he shared an observation in that interview that’s stuck with me ever since: “[Y]ou can’t love something you don’t know anymore than you can love someone you don’t know.”

    David McCullough helped us get to know both the somethings of our history and so many of the someones of our history. Those encounters with our own story that McCullough offers, with the good and the bad alike, make it possible to have a rightly ordered love for our country.

  • In State College for ten hours

    I drove up to State College early Saturday morning for my friend Kevin Horne’s wedding at Rolling Rails Lodge. It was a fantastic day for a drive and great day for Kevin and Jessica’s marriage to begin. I caught up with many Penn State friends from years past and met some new ones, too, before driving back at the end of this very full day.

    Looking forward to being back in town sometime this fall.

  • Among the many costs associated with our approach to COVID-19 has been massive “learning loss” for students. Nicole Asbury at The Washington Post highlights what has happened in the Washington, DC area:

    In the District, researchers found that students in third through eighth grade fell behind during the first year of the pandemic by about five to six months in language arts and mathematics, compared with test results from 2018-2019, before the pandemic began. Montgomery County — Maryland’s largest school district, with about 160,000 students — similarly found learning gaps in a study it released in the fall. Eighty-two percent of its second-graders, for example, were meeting literacy readiness measures during the 2018-2019 school year. But at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, about 47.5 percent were meeting those measures. The numbers also declined for math. In Virginia, 2020-2021 results show that 69 percent of students passed their reading exams, 54 percent passed math and 59 percent passed science. Those passing rates were a drop from the 2018-2019 school year, when 78 percent of students passed reading, 82 percent passed math and 81 percent passed science. (The test was not given for the 2019-2020 school year.)

    The scores were lower among the school districts’ most vulnerable students.

    Youth Leadership Foundation (YLF) was founded in 1997 to build character among the youth of Washington, DC, and has stepped in alongside others to serve children who have been hurt by the learning gaps and disengagement caused by our recent public policy decisions:

    The Youth Leadership Foundation’s summer program teaches core curriculums — such as math, English, science and social studies — and extracurriculars — such as sports and character development — over five weeks. Most of the students’ families learn about the program through word of mouth, because the foundation has partnerships with schools for after-school programs, too. The program also offers one-on-one mentoring.

    “The mentorship is the bread and butter of YLF,” said Janaiha Bennett, the foundation’s executive director. “We realize the importance of the individual — that everyone’s story is different, everyone’s needs are different.”

    For Kingston Kershaw, a rising fourth-grader at Tyler Elementary in the District, he said he’s excited to be back in the classroom in person, because he has always loved learning. He felt trapped while virtually attending school, because he was never able to go anywhere. Plus, as much as he loves his brother, the two would sometimes get tired of each other, he said after his one-on-one mentoring session at one of the campuses for the Youth Leadership Foundation’s summer program.

    The impact of YLF over so many years has been huge. A snapshot of YLF’s impact:

    YLF students outperform their District area peers in educational trajectory and across measures of future leadership. Of the 4,000 YLF alums, 97% have graduated high school (compared to 60% of area peers), and roughly 80% have continued their education beyond high school at university, community college or trade school (compared to 48%).

    A mission worth supporting.

  • Hadley Arkes soberly assesses the Dobbs decision in a letter in the Wall Street Journal:

    The majority in Dobbs sought [like the dissenters in Roe] also to avoid speaking those key words about the human standing of the child, though it would have been no strain to speak them.

    Following “conservative jurisprudence,” the court held back from pronouncing any judgment on the moral substance. That is why Justice Brett Kavanaugh could write that “many pro-life advocates forcefully argue that a fetus is a human life”—as though there has been no long-settled, empirical truth on this matter, found in all the textbooks of embryology and obstetric gynecology. If the court had set down those simple, key words, it is hard to imagine that your editorial board could offer a warning to “those who believe life begins at conception.” Clearly, there are people who affect to “believe” that pregnant women carry living, growing offspring that may not yet be human. The editorial urges pro-lifers on to persuade these people, but on the anchoring premise that there is no ground of truth on which to test the arguments.

    The court, in Dobbs, overruled Roe, and I have been working in that cause for 49 years. But Roe also changed the culture. It transformed abortion from a thing to be abhorred, condemned and discouraged into a thing to be deeply approved, even celebrated and promoted. It would be a folly to think that Dobbs did anything to impart moral conviction or momentum to the pro-life side as it seeks to rescue even a handful of lives from the 800,000 annual U.S. abortions. As we survey the debris from Dobbs, I wonder whether some of us came to hate Roe v. Wade more than we hated abortion itself.

    I was speaking with someone in their late 70s recently about the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade. This person asked me why the Court didn’t go further in Dobbs—why the Court didn’t rule to the effect that abortion was unconstitutional, and in fact not a matter for states.

    “No one,” this person said, “believed abortion was constitutional prior to the Supreme Court deciding it was in Roe.”

    Yet today, a majority of conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court appear to believe what those seven pro-abortion justices who imposed Roe believed: that the constitution permits abortion.