Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Texting!

This is Mr. Weber's assembly address for September 1.

For a long time, we've heard the anti-alcohol slogan "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk." Texting while driving is the new drunk driving, and too many of us are doing it. Here's a video that helps put that risk in perspective.

Don't do it!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Who's Noticing?

This is Mr. Weber's 4th assembly talk of the year.

The average American is bombarded with over 3000 advertising messages each day, counting commercials on TV, internet ads, road signs, radio, sponsorships, email, telephone and the like. Corporate America spends over 620 billion dollars a year in advertising, and they’re not doing it to be charitable. They are clamoring for your attention in what is a very noisy, very crowded playing field.

Because we’re under siege, we've developed a habit of not paying attention. Even when we're in the same room with each other, we are likely somewhere else, on cell phones or texting. When I visited downtown Chicago with a friend, he told me not to make eye contact with the homeless or else they’ll ask you for money. He said to keep looking forward and give the appearance you’re in a hurry. If you’ve ever watched people walk around in a big city, that’s exactly how most people operate, putting on deliberate blinders, trying hard not to make eye contact, being as careful as they can to avoid contact with others.

I had exactly the opposite experience at JPII on Thursday of last week. Some of you noticed I was pushing around a lady in a wheelchair, showing her our campus. That was my mother in law. A little over 2 years ago she was on her deathbed, but has recovered such that she was able to visit us for the first time since we moved to Hendersonville in June of 2008.

As I wheeled her around, you opened doors for her. You moved gym bags out of the way so that we could get by. You smiled at her. Teachers came up to her and introduced themselves and told her how wonderful it was that she was here. In short, all of you NOTICED her, and your hospitality said something very powerful, very counter-cultural, about the kind of place JPII is. Beaming after the experience, she told me, “Boy, you have a really nice people at your school.” I consider that a high compliment for all of us. So should you.

Hospitality is, after all, all about paying attention to people. Some people are easy to pay attention to—they’re personable, or funny, or good looking or smart. They have a natural charisma that demands attention. But the mark of a truly Christian community is how well it pays attention to the others: around JPII, our Cross-gate cleaning ladies, or our cafeteria staff, or perhaps the quiet student who doesn’t seem to have any friends.

Also visiting us last week was my wife’s uncle and aunt from central Ohio. After piddling around town for a few days, they said “It’s really amazing how friendly people in the south are.” As someone born and bred in the south, I consider THAT a high compliment too. May it always be said about us southerners, and may it always be said about this student body and Pope John Paul II High School.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


This is Mr. Weber's address to the students of JPII on August 17, 2009.

In the readings from this Sunday, there was a single line from Proverbs that caught my attention:

Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding (Proverbs 9:6).

To “forsake foolishness” isn’t just nice alliteration; it’s one of the two most important goals at JPII, goals which are so important they are engraved into our school building as you walk up from the parking lot. “Fides et Sapientia” those words say, or translated from the Latin, “Faith and Wisdom”. A wise person is the one who “forsakes foolishness”.

Being wise doesn’t mean having the most factual knowledge. There’s too much of it. In fact, St. Albert the Great, who died in the year 1280, is believed to be the last person to know all the knowledge there was to know of his day. The world’s knowledge base is growing so fast , it doubles every 2 years in some fields like nano-technology and every 20 in others. That means if you’re getting a four year degree in a nano-technological field, by the time you graduate, most of what you've learned is already outdated. If being wise means knowing most of what there is to know, I'm afraid we’re all just a bunch of idiots.

No, wisdom is more than knowing facts. It is recognizing what is significant among the facts. Here’s a brief story:

A giant ship engine failed. The ship's owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure how to fix the engine.

Then they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was young. He carried a large bag of tools with him when he arrived. He immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom.

Two of the ship's owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do. After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. He carefully put his hammer away. The engine was fixed!

A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars. "What?!" the owners exclaimed. "He hardly did anything!" So they wrote the old man a note saying, "Please send us an itemized bill."

The man sent back a bill that read: Tapping with a hammer...$2.00, Knowing where to tap... $9,998.00

Knowing where to tap, knowing what’s significant, discerning truth from all the advertising, all the lies, all the opinions, all the arguments, is wisdom. In other words, wisdom really means being able to separate out what is true from what is noise. We live in a noisy world.

And here’s our problem. Because we're members of this noisy world, we are influenced by it and often not aware we are under its influence. It’s like we’re in a boat which is in the idle position, so it feels like we’re not moving, but in fact the boat is in a river with a strong current carrying us downstream. Our culture’s values, our culture’s way of thinking becomes our way of thinking. If you don’t believe that’s true, consider the fact it was once considered scandalously immodest for women to wear swim-suits in public that showed anything above their knees. Consider that in the 1980s, the sit-com “Cheers” was considered scandalous for its openly sexual jokes, but now appears on TV Land, regarded today as a children’s network. If Cheers was scandalous in the 1980’s, how far down that river have we drifted given the wild popularity of Springer,Family Guy, and South Park?

So because we’re conditioned, because we’re part of this noisy culture, it’s hard for us to even recognize what IS true. This is why, I believe, our faith is so important if we’re going to be truly wise. How do we know that we’re really moving downstream when we think we’re standing still? We look for reference points not on the river with us. We look at houses on the shore, or bridges above us. Because they remain fixed, we can detect our movement. In terms of our faith, we read the Scriptures and consider the teachings and traditions of our Churches to remind us what is right, noble and beautiful so that we can discern what is also wrong, crude and banal.

Let us then, as a community of JPII, pray this year that we forsake foolishness and grow to be people who live up to what we acclaim in our walls, people of faith and especially today, people of wisdom. Jesus makes clear the path:

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. “ (Matthew 7:24-25)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Big Laws or Small Laws?

This is Mr. Weber's 2nd assembly address to the students of JPII, on August 10,2009.

Listen carefully and hold your opinion until I finish.

The new discipline code is as follows. Disciplinary incidents will be classified as either Class A, Class B or Class C violations.

Class A violations include acts that interfere with educational processes or other areas of school jurisdiction. Examples of Class A violations include: distracting other students, littering, failure to follow directions, offensive touching (non-sexual), rude or discourteous behavior, cheating, failure to follow the dress code, missing homework, gum chewing or eating candy. Typically, Class A violations are handled within the discretion of the teacher.

Class B violations are those which seriously disrupt the educational process in the classroom or other areas.

Rule B08: Criminal Mischief/Pranks/Vandalism
Rule B09: Defiance, Disrespect, and Opposition to Authority or Rule B10: Willful, Persistent Disobedience
Rule B16(A): Possession of Cellular Telephone or Other Communications Devices
Rule B20: Harassment or
Rule B31: Threats/Intimidation
Rule B30(A): Inappropriate Display of Affection/Touching
Rule B30(B): Sexual Offense
Rule B32: Possession or
Rule B33: Sale or
Rule B34: Use of Tobacco Products, Matches, or Lighters
Rule B35: Trespassing
Rule B36: Truancy/Unauthorized Absence/Tardies
Rule B58: Other School Rules and/or Board of Education Policy

Consequences for violating Class B violations will include suspension not to exceed 3 days or, if repeated, a recommendation to the principal for expulsion.

Class C violations are considered illegal acts.

They include
Rule C01: Purchase, Possession, or
Rule C02: Sale, Delivery, Distribution or
Rule C03: Use of Alcoholic Beverages
Rule C04: Arson (Setting a fire on/in school property)
Rule C06: Bomb Threat
Rule C07: Burglary/Breaking & Entry or
Rule C24: Larceny/Theft/Possession Stolen Goods or
Rule C25: Unauthorized Use of Vehicle (Theft)
Rule C11: Disorderly Conduct/Disruption of School
Rule C12: Disruptive Demonstration involving five or more students or
Rule C22: Incite Others/Create a Disruption of School
Rule C13: Purchase, Possession or
Rule C14: Sale, Delivery, Distribution or
Rule C15: Use of, Marijuana, Narcotics, Stimulants, and Any Other Unauthorized or Illegal Substance or Drug Paraphernalia; Inappropriate Use of Medications, and/or Use of Intoxicants
Rule C17: Fighting Among Students
Rule C18: False Fire Alarm
Rule C29: Sexual Harassment
Rule C30: Possession of a Handgun or Realistic Replica of a Weapon

Violations of Class C offenses will result in a minimum of a 5 day out of school suspension up to expulsion and the filing of a police report for the student committing the illegal act.

More detail is available on line. For example, a weapon is defined as:

1. A firearm, including, but not limited to, any hand gun, shotgun, black powder firearm, flare gun, zip gun, or
any other device from which a projectile is discharged by explosive powder.
2. A realistic replica of any firearm, including, but not limited to, realistic replicas of a handgun, rifle, or shotgun, black powder firearm, flare gun, zip gun, air gun, blank gun (starter’s pistol), gas-operated gun or arrow gun.
3. Knife, irrespective of the blade length, including, but not limited to: Box cutter, Fixed-blade knife, Lock-blade knife Spring-loaded knife Swiss Army knife, Butterfly knife, Folding knife, Paint scraper, Stiletto knife, Utility knife , Carpet knife Key chain knife Palm knife Straight razor , Exacto knife, Linoleum knife , Razor blade Switch blade
4. Numchucks, throwing stars, fighting claws or other weapon utilized in martial arts.
5. Explosive device of any type including, but not limited to, fireworks.
6. Fingernail clippers or other items that contain a knife blade or metal fingernail file.
7. Bicycle chain or heavy duty chain, bike sprocket.
8. Other weapons including Baton, Cattle prod, Ice pick Mace/Pepper spray, Spear, Black jack, Club, Machete, Taser, Bull Whip, Bow and arrow, brass knuckles or hand axe, Bull whip, Hatchett, Loaded gloves, Sling shot , or any device capable of discharging a projectile or invented for or used for the purpose to inflict injury.

OK, I asked you to hold your opinion until the end. So what do you think? I don't like it either. I guess we won’t adopt the new Code of Discipline for Montgomery, AL Public Schools here at JPII.

I outlined this policy in some detail for a reason. G.K Chesterton, a famous Christian writer, once said:

When you break the big laws, you do not get liberty; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.”

I think the policy I just outlined is a pretty good indication of what he means. If we can’t agree that we’re going to be a school where honesty, integrity and respect rules the day, then we’ll have to be a school ruled by laws that are increasingly detailed and specific, written by liability lawyers which must define what the word “knife” means.

I don’t want JPII to be place ruled by small laws—and neither do you. Rather, we want to stay committed to the big things—the ideals for which this institution stands.

What we stand for is contained in our Veritas pledge, which, for the sake of the 189 students who are new, we recite from time to time at our assemblies:

I promise before God and members of this community that I will be a person of integrity who will not lie, steal, cheat, plagiarize or break the bonds of trust that define this community. I will take responsibility for my decisions. I make this promise in order to build a community of trust and integrity with my brothers and sisters at JPII. (JPII’s Veritas Pledge)

May God give you the integrity to live by what you promise.