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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Correlation and Causation

Life paths.

September 19, 2013

I often teach in my statistics class that correlation should not be confused with causation. That is, observing that two variables move together does not necessarily mean that one variable caused the other to change. My favorite example of this is the case in which the rooster crowed and then the sun rose. The rooster did not cause the sun to rise, but the two events are indeed correlated. I found myself thinking of this recently as I began attending a seminar offered on our campus about the writings of Angela Merici, the founder of the Ursuline Sisters, the women who built and now run our college.

When I arrived at Georgetown in 1981, I knew little about the Jesuits that founded that college. However, that was soon to change. I had spent my teenage years trying to reconcile a Catholic faith and my intellectual curiosity, something that I managed to do with more (as in the case of evolution) or less (as in my search for an answer to the question of why women could not be ordained as priests) success. When I discovered the Jesuits, I was thrilled to find a group that took intellectual inquiry seriously and who also still professed the Catholic faith. With them, I could hold onto my sense of wonder for learning and not have to abandon the side of me that was still very much Catholic. I decided that I wanted to spend my life working with and for the Jesuits, and my life began what was to be a very Jesuit trajectory, in both graduate school and later my first job out of grad school. However, I eventually realized that I needed to find another job, and was lucky enough to land at Ursuline College.

I had been here a while before I began to hear small pieces of the writings of Angela Merici, the founder of the Ursuline Sisters. I was shocked to hear in those writings an echo of the writings of Ignatius. Could these two thinkers have encountered each other and perhaps influenced each other? I began to wonder. A similarity could even be seen their respective mottos (“Ad Maioriam Deo Gloriam” for the Jesuits and “Soli Deo Gloria” for the Ursulines.) I began to suspect that some contact might have been possible between the two groups, both dedicated to religious education. And then I realized that Angela Merici formed the Ursuline a few years before Ignatius founded the Jesuits. The plot thickens.

This year, I am participating in a seminar offered by our office of Campus Ministry in which we will read the writings of Angela Merici. I am very curious to see how these thinkers might have influenced each other or perhaps been influenced by world events at that time. And so, I ask my readers, some of whom I know are much more schooled in European history in the 16th century than I am; was there any cross-fertilization of ideas between the Jesuits and the Ursulines in those days? I even wonder whether the Jesuits might actually trace their intellectual heritage back to Angela Merici. Or, perhaps, like the rooster and the sunrise, this is an example of correlation and not causation. Of course, all of this still leaves me with the question of where my daughter will study some day; with the Jesuits or with the Ursulines? I guess I’ll just have to ask her when the time comes.



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