Monday, August 22, 2005

Course Coordination and the Catholic Church

There is a fair amount of administrative pressure for the students in each of our 42 sections of College Algebra to each have roughly comparable experiences. Ditto for our other large enrollment courses. Especially in terms of quantifiables, like grades and scoring. Previous efforts to enforce similarity through suggestions, meetings, and rumors have not proven strong enough, so this semester we have standardized the syllabi for our coordinated courses. As with any change from the top, some people are upset. I've been unable to successfully communicate the nature of the sameness that we're trying for.

And then it struck me this weekend when I was watching TV. My favorite TV station -- especially during the summer when nothing good is on regular TV anyway -- is the cable access channel. And on Saturday night I flip past and see a procession of people in albs, chausibles, and vestments: no mistaking it, it was Catholic Church on TV. With most religious programming on cable access (and also on the Jesus Channel), it's really hard to tell what denomination it is. Methodists? Baptists? Lutherans? Who can tell? But when I see Catholic Church on TV, I can recognize it in an instant. But beyond that, I knew exactly when to say "amen" and "and also with you" and all of the other stock responses.

As Catholics know, this isn't just for Church on TV. This is for church everywhere. With a few minor changes (kneeling vs. no kneeling, Renew vs. Old School, how to line up for communion), all Catholic churches everywhere are EXACTLY THE SAME while simultaneously being TOTALLY DIFFERENT. Back in college I dated an organist who could recite the entire Catholic mass from memory (both in English and Latin). When my mother travelled in Europe in the 1960s, she could go to church in any country and know exactly what to do and what to say and when to say it. For example, this coming Sunday if you went to a Catholic church, these would be the readings. But the differences are huge, too. If I was visiting my parents and if Father Joslin was saying mass and if my going to church would make the breakfast logistics easier, then I would probably go. But if it was Father Allen? Well, I'd pick a time to meet my family at the Blue Ribbon Diner. Exactly the same, but totally different.

But how to communicate this to all the non-Catholics around here? Yes, the structure of what we're doing and the calendar are centrally controlled, but just because all the sections have to be exactly the same doesn't mean that they can't be totally different.