Yesterday (Friday) I had a very full day, beginning before 6 AM when I left the house with coffee in hand for an 80 mile drive (straight into the rising sun) to the Catholic school in Cocoa Beach, Florida, to spend the day teaching Church History to primarily Catholic school teachers, with a representation of other parish ministers. My route takes me across the Banana River past the Kennedy Space Center and Port Canaveral, where Disney and Royal Caribbean, among others, dock their cruise ships. Before arriving at the Church I naturally stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts, placed a healthy breakfast order, and then was reminded it was free donut day. No glucose testing today!
This particular DD, as does the church hosting the course, sits on the busy AIA along the beach. I sat on the outdoor deck of DD and reflected that fifty years ago this was “Space City USA.” Movie buffs may recall that Cocoa Beach was ground zero for much of the 1984 film “The Right Stuff.” In the movie John Glenn loved Cocoa because he could jog on the beach with Scott Carpenter; Betty Grissom, on the other hand, hated the place. “If you think I’m risking my kids’ life to cross this busy highway (A1A) just to play on the worst beach in Florida….” In defense of Cocoa Beach, the Grissoms were having a bad day, as Gus had accidentally sunk his spaceship a few days before.
The majority of my students yesterday work in the schools and parishes that were built doing the boom years (although, ironically, I can only recall one Catholic astronaut of the Mercury/Gemini era, Jim McDivitt.) The ending of the Apollo program in 1972 marked a mass exodus of both blue and white collar workers from the Space Coast. To my knowledge our diocese has not had to close a school on the Space Coast since the astronaut days, but it has not been easy to keep them open, either.
Every year I teach courses for the diocese during what we call here our “Summer Institute,” a large block of June one-day theology courses for the teachers, primarily, before they leave for summer break. The Diocese of Orlando, like many, does not own much “common space,” so this kind of program (which runs all year, actually) depends upon the invitation of school principals or faith formation directors, depending on circumstances. I have a special place in my heart for these June hosting centers and the people who attend—school here in Florida has just ended, summer parish youth programs are just beginning, and workmen are feverishly cleaning and repairing facilities in preparation for August. Teachers are worn out, it is 90-some degrees, and yesterday the Atlantic was beckoning across the street, right behind our landmark Ron Jon’s swimsuit emporium, also across the street and almost next to the DD. (It’s an interesting neighborhood.)
And yet, the morale and level of interest on the part of the students is very impressive. Church History can be a snoozer course, and in the present format of courses we do it all in one day. (I felt like an unindicted co-conspirator in a bad catechetics crime; I am on a committee to address this, I hasten to add.) But everyone was warm and friendly, and in reading the evaluations this AM I was very impressed with what they took away from the course.
Since Saturday is officially “Books and Apps” Day on the blog, I should mention that I asked the teachers yesterday if they accept Wikipedia as a legitimate research reference from their students. Universally they said no. This got me to thinking that perhaps I should talk about my own policy regarding Wikipedia, since I do use it here and elsewhere.
I should start by commenting that for a long time now I have heard that the Internet is a gateway to a world of learning. I agree to a point. But I have also observed that navigating the internet can be a very rocky road. I’m not talking about stumbling into porn sites. Rather, I am thinking of the old Roman saying, “Quis custodes custodiet?” (Who will shepherd the shepherds?) Aside from the CIA scouring national security leaks, there is no real standard or supervision of the internet. While it is true that there is a lot to be learned, it is near impossible in many cases to separate the wheat from the chaff.
This is unfortunately true when doing Church research. In my own work I will come upon sources that identify themselves as Catholic and provide a decent summary of a topic at hand, only to find on the same page a link to an article that Pope Francis is the Antichrist and Benedict is still the reigning pope. I’m not sure I need to be spreading that agenda in a catechetical setting. In other circumstances it is necessary to pay a user’s fee.
I will use Wikipedia (1) for its summary value, as when it neatly condenses what I know to be true from other established sources; (2) when it provides appropriate footnoting and citations to books and authors I recognize as accepted sources in the academic community; (3) for dates and spellings that have slipped my mind and (4) for what I would call secondary information to the main subject, if someone had never heard of Aristotle or the Enlightenment and needed a clarification.
I do not use any Wikipedia links where the site itself tells me that its editors have doubts about a particular submission or it is known to be incomplete. I never use Wikipedia as a primary or first source. For the record, my college teaching years ended in 2002 and if I were teaching today I wouldn’t accept Wikipedia as a research source, either. But, by the same token, I would expect that a teaching institution includes internet access to databases and professional research links as part of the tuition package, much as we used college libraries in the 1960’s.
A discussion for another day—and I promise you it will be soon—is how an independent catechist or minister obtains access to the professional theological resources needed for study and research.