Mating in Captivity: Chapters 3-5

mating in captivity

The analysis of the introduction through chapter two can be read here.

Chapter 3- The Pitfalls of Modern Intimacy: Talk Is Not the Only Avenue to Closeness

Of the three chapters outlined in this post, Chapter 3 is the one in which I find the most valuable insights. By valuable, I mean I agreed. It basically expands on what its title implies; that talking is not the only way to cultivate marital intimacy.

Given the topic of the book, it’s obvious that Perel is making the case that sexual communication is a valid avenue to close connection. And that for some people, most notably men, it is the primary route to emotional connection within marriage. I agree with her that we both talk to much and prioritize talking too much:

Interestingly, while our need for intimacy has become paramount, the way we conceive of it has narrowed. We no longer plow land together; today we talk. We have come to glorify verbal communication. I speak; therefore I am [els: I laughed]. We naively believe that the essence of who we are is most accurately conveyed through words. Many of my own patients whole heartedly embrace this assumption when they complain, “We’re not close. We never talk.” p. 41

In an insightful turn, she notes that despite their happy union, her own parents (Perel is 61), would struggle to find the relevance in questions about emotional intimacy. She continues to explore what she describes as the “feminization of intimacy” being as harmful to women as it is men. She’s staunchly feminist in outlook but it doesn’t make this any less true:

If one consequence of the supremacy of talk is that it leaves men at a disadvantage, another is that it leaves women trapped in a repressed sexuality. It denies the expressive capacity of the female body, and this idea troubles me.

In so much as my dear fellow Christians have almost completely obliterated any notion of sexual pleasure in marriage as something women need and desire as well as (if not quite as much as) men, it troubles me, too.  When a secular, feminist psychotherapist hits on a truism that the church has denied (more accurately abandoned), something is amiss. The freedom of a wife to express amorousness towards her husband is important, because not every woman is wired to bridge the gap to intimacy through verbal chatter.

Chapter 4- Democracy vs. Hot Sex: Desire and Egalitarianism Don’t Play by the Same Rules

This chapter is most accurately summed up as “Americans are politically correct prudes who don’t appreciate that some women enjoy being a submissive in the bedroom as a counterbalance to relief from the dominant roles women now occupy in almost every other sphere of public life.”

It’s basically a passionate defense of S &M and the role it can play in some relationships as the only escape from reality the parties might employ. Apparently, her American clients and colleagues see such behavior in the intimate realm as demeaning to the women involved. She disagrees, as do I, but that’s not to say I agree completely with her conclusions either.

She tried to balance it with male and female and examples, but I stand by my aforementioned summation of the chapter. Although re-assessing realities one feels a need to escape is probably the first order of business, I don’t have the mental space to wrestle with what another married couple does in their boudoir.

Chapter 5: Can Do! The Protestant Work Ethic Takes on the Degradation of Desire.

This chapter takes on the Western idea of fixing whatever is broken by reducing it to the sum of its parts. The idea that something as existential as passion burning out can be fixed by scheduling, lingerie, more talking or even a prescription, is an idea that Perel finds counterintuitive at best:

But this can-do attitude encourages us to assume that dwindling desire is an operational problem that can be fixed. From magazine articles to self-help books, we are encouraged to view a lack of sex in our relationships as a scheduling issue that demands better prioritizing or time management, or as a consequence of poor communication. If the problem is testosterone deficiency, we can get a prescription- an excellent technical solution. For the sexual malaise that can’t be so easily medicalized, remedies abound: books, videos, and sexual accoutrements are there not only to assist you with the basics, but to bring you to unimagined levels of ecstasy. p.72

Perel isn’t intensely averse to some of these remedies, particularly if there is a clear medical reason for the dilemma. In general however, she sees our American predilection to stripping the problem into parts rather that acknowledging the complexity of desire and the unpredictability of eroticism in ways that will help couples reconnect.

Later in the chapter, after much questioning of the sexual performance industry, Perel returns to her original thesis of the importance of a level of separateness. Using one couple and a single male patient as her examples, she takes pains to invite the readers to understand how much of these issues are rooted in the mentality each marriage partner brings with them into the sexual relationship.

In general, I think she’s on to something, although our over sexualized culture places its own pressures onto couples to meet arbitrary standards set by the nebulous “they” as well as movies and other forms of entertainment media.

I also think that while she places far too much emphasis on eroticism as a gauge of relational health, she’s right that the ability keep that part of a marriage alive over time requires a level of surrender that many people find hard to achieve. More than ever, we are almost always on guard. The ability to drop those walls and *go there* with your spouse makes all the difference.

Until next time…

 

 

 

 

 

Rabbit Trail: Sometime in the distant future…

In his recent installment, Wave of the Future, More Screens in the Classroom?, Joshua Gibbs envisions a future where employers weed out prospective employees based on a test which measures their screen dependency. Theoretically, they do it the same way testing currently detects recreational drug use.  Am I the only one who finds that terminology, recreational drug use, sadly humorous? Such damaging things described as recreational. But I digress.

Using a fictional dialogue between a teenage part-time job seeker and the grocery store manager he petitions for employment, Gibbs lays out a scene. The confused job applicant wonders how this “old” dude could be so clueless about the wonders and advantages of technology.

Food Country Manager: Sorry, but based on the way your tests came back, I cannot offer you a job.

Kid: Why not? I couldn’t have failed the drug test.

FCM: Your drug test was fine, but your light scan came back hot.

Kid: My light scan?

FCM: The retina scan they did after you peed in the cup.

Kid: Yeah, what was that about?

FCM: A light scan measures screen exposure. Yours came back at a 73 and Food Country has a policy of not hiring anyone with a light scan reading over a 35.

Kid: What’s a 73? 73 what?

FCM: A 73 suggests that you view screens between 7 and 8 hours a day. That kind of screen dependency makes you a significant liability as an employee.

Kid: (confused) So, I “view screens”? What does that mean? Everyone views screens.

FCM: We’ve found that employees with significant screen dependencies simply get far less work done than employees with lower light scans. Four years ago, before Food Country instituted light scan tests for potential employees, analysts estimated the company lost between 240 and 280 million dollars a year in labor value to employees viewing screens on the clock. Of course, the higher your light scan number, the more likely you are to look at your phone on the clock.

This kicks off a hearty dialogue between them in which the store manager updates the clueless teen that people -and parents- in the know have largely abandoned technology in the same way the majority of the public abandoned cigarettes a generation ago. In fact, that only the poor and uneducated view technology as something to embrace:

Kid: Where am I supposed to work?

FCM: I don’t know. Try to get a screen-related job. Although even that could be tough. Nobody fears the power of screen addiction quite like the purveyors of screen addiction. Did you never hear all those stories from the early 20s about how the CEOs of tech companies wouldn’t let their kids have phones?

Kid: What?

FCM: Tim Cook, Bill Gates, all the billionaires at Facebook… none of them let their kids use social media.

Kid: I doubt that’s true. Why wouldn’t big tech CEOs let their kids have phones? You’ve got to stay connected.

FCM: The same reason why drug dealers don’t do drugs. They see what happens to people who do.

Kid: How long has the general public known that big tech CEOs don’t let their kids have phones?

FCM: The last twenty years.

Kid: Why didn’t that stop people from giving their kids phones?

FCM: Back in the day, having a tech-savvy kid was a point of pride. It was often viewed as a sign of maturity. It was thought very urbane and modern.

Kid: Why?

FCM: Because it was new and because it was just a little uncommon.

Kid: Is it not still considered urbane?

FCM: (laughing) Heavens, no. You don’t read parenting blogs, do you? Why would you? Today, handing a child a tablet or a phone is considered no less vulgar than giving a child a cigarette— that is, among the same kind of people who thought it fashionable thirty years ago.

Kid: So, it’s just a matter of fashion? Perhaps giving kids screens will become a fad again. Maybe in being addicted to screens, I’m actually ahead of my time.

FCM: Perhaps, although giving a child a cigarette has been considered abuse for quite some time now. I don’t think that’s going away. So far as wealth and privilege are concerned, the trend is so strongly away from tech, I don’t know that tech will ever recover a luxury image. High tech has become a symbol of slavery and oppression over the last twenty years— this is the way adults with money see the matter, anyway. High tech is a sign you’re being monitored, conditioned, manipulated, like some kind of little child or animal. Cash has made a huge comeback. The number of discount stores has decreased, but the number of stores aimed at the upper middle class has skyrocketed. After a long drought, cash is making a comeback. Real libraries— the kind with books— are reopening in affluent neighborhoods. But you’re seventeen and don’t have any money, so you don’t see any of this happening.

Kid: This is starting to sound like classism.

FCM: (shrugging) Yeah, maybe. I don’t know. How are they defining “classism” this week?

Kid: It’s when one class of people keeps another class down. It sounds to me like people who can afford screenless lives are oppressing people who can’t afford screenless lives.

FCM: You can’t afford a screenless life? Given that your screen addiction just cost you a lousy job, it seems more like you can’t afford anything except a screenless life.

I’m not convinced the future looks the way Gibbs is painting it here. Frankly, there are too many people who have too much to lose should the current mass technological dependency wanes.

Secondly, from what I have read, there are powerful forces at work trying to push us toward a cashless society. I’m doing my part to resist, being something of a cash girl myself, but still. I do however, foresee greater and greater numbers of people making an earnest attempt to circumvent the all-seeing, all-tracking capabilities being employed by the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook. The “right” to privacy as a nonexistent reality will eventually be too much for people to take. Or at least it will be when the recognition of thoroughly we’ve all been compromised becomes common knowledge.

Will a day come when only expensive private schools employ physically present teachers? When public schools will be little more than shells of their former selves, reserved to meet the minimum legal education requirements for the children unfortunate enough to born into families who can employ no other options? It all sounds rather dystopian to me, but I appreciated the opportunity Gibbs offers to contemplate what our future might look like if we continue on our current trajectory.

Currently, our family’s livelihood and standard of living has been funded completely through the expansion of the use of technology. And yet, we have reservations about most social media platforms and are routinely taking stock of the role of technology in our lives. We are far from perfect in this regard, but it is something we take time to consider and tweak. We haven’t yet abandoned it wholesale, in case that isn’t glaringly obvious.

I find the predictions about education particularly intriguing. It is the reason why the article inspired this post, in fact.

So tell me, what do you all think? Are we looking at a technological futre where teachers are obsolete and students obtain all their education, such as it is, via screens? And what about the possibility of determining a job applicants suitability for employment based on an analysis of their screen time usage? Personally, I think the former question is more likely answered in the affirmative than the latter, but if we live ling enough, we’ll see.

 

The Two-Income Trap

two income trap

The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers & Fathers are Going Broke, by Elizabeth Waren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. Published in 2003. Hardcover, 272 pages.

Even though we began a discussion of this book in a recent Coming Attractions post, there is a lot more to unpack about this book than we covered a few weeks ago.

Despite my general disagreement with its conclusions, I liked that The Two-Income Trap was honest about a critical cause of the family economic crisis that was introduced when families switched from the one-income model to the two-income model. The authors struck a key note by undercutting the falsehood turned “truism” which was made popular by Betty Friedan. Namely, that a houswife’s job could by capably handled by a competent 8-year-old.

Warren and her daughter, working mothers and committed feminists, openly acknowledging that the two-income trap burdens families in ways other than just economics was an intellectually honest, cross-partisan, breath of fresh air that we won’t hear anyone utter today except religious or conservative commentators. They note that the at home wife and mother was a family’s safety net, and here’s why. When hard times hit a family whose entire economic structure is based on two incomes, the family begins to sink almost immediately because its income and resources are all accounted for. Conversely, if the wife has to get a job temporarily to help things stay afloat while her husband looks for a new job or recovers from an injury, her income is an actual boost to help cover existing expenses.

All of the aforementioned economic considerations are only part of the equation, and astonishingly, Warren also acknowledges the importance of wives as cregivers to aging parents as well as children, and the boon this is to not only families but community life. Before you get too excited, Warren is in no way suggesting that women return home en masse from the work force. Instead, she explores what she thinks is the key econimic impetus behind the exponential rise in two-income families: the urgent need for parents to raise their children in the safest envirnonment with the best schools they can obtain.

With this as her foundation, she asserts that this urgent need for the best educational outcomes for kids effectively caused the parents to engage in a bidding war for homes in the best school districts, driving up suburban housing costs. Because a greater family income translates into approval for a bigger mortgage, Warren argues, the income produced by mothers is going directly toward monthly expenses rather than toward savings. Additionally, she goes to great pains to destroy the argument that middle-class families are over leveraged and hanging on due to overconsumption, but that they are in trouble because their already precarious situation offers little to no financial margin to handle the inevitable challenges of life such as deaths, illnesses, or income reductions that come in a volatile economic climate.

After laying the case for her proposed solutions using real families as examples, Warren begins to lay the groundwork for what she believes government can do to help solve the problem. She writes at length about predatory lending and regulating the banking and credit card industries. In fact, she spends a lot of time on those two issues, sounding a lot like the Elizabeth Warren we have known and loved (or loathed) in the years since she entered the political arena. There was one particular solution she proposed that no one could have convinced me she ever believed; the issue of school choice. The biggest shocker was a pretty strong advocation of vouchers, with emphasis on parental choice:

Short of buying a new home, parents currently have only one way to escape a failing public school: Send the kids to private school. But there is another alternative, one that would keep much-needed tax dollars inside the public school system while still reaping the advantages offered by a voucher program. Local governments could enact meaningful reform by enabling parents to choose from among all the public schools in a locale, with no presumptive assignment based on neighborhood. Under a public school voucher program, parents, not bureaucrats, would have the power to pick schools for their children—and to choose which schools would get their children’s vouchers.

Obviously, her proposed voucher program wouldn’t support private or religious schools, but it still opens public schools up to the forces of competition and the related accountability. The far left and teacher’s unions hate that idea. So in the wake of her increasingly high ambitions for public office, Warren decided that parental choice isn’t the be all end all anymore, but in 2003 when she wrote her book, she said:

any policy [which] loosens the ironclad relationship between location-location-location and school-school-school would eliminate the need for parents to pay an inflated price for a home just because it happened to lie within the boundaries of a desirable school district.

Gotta love politics.

Overall, this book is a mixed bag. It’s better than most  progressive manifestos you’ll read because whatever it’s failings, it at least parks alongside the truth sometimes. The title alone is shocking from the likes of Warren.

At the end of the day, it’s mostly a treatise on how government can save us from ourselves and what policies can be enacted so that the two-income family becomes as viable an entity as the one-income family once was. Without the sacrifices to Mom’s autonomy.

When I didn’t hate it, I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

Rabbit Trail: In Defense of Being Average

There are a few book reviews in draft for next week, including The Two-Income Trap, of which I offered a preview some time back.  In the meantime, I ran across this piece from Mark Manson that really struck a chord with me. Manson makes the case, complete with his characteristic smattering of colorful language, that our current cultural obsession with being exceptional has caused most people to lose sight of the glaringly obvious: most of us are average Janes and Joes. And that’s perfectly okay.

We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. But the fact is, most of us are pretty average at most things we do. Even if you’re truly exceptional at one thing — say math, or jump rope, or making money off the black gun market — chances are you’re pretty average or below average at most other things. That’s just the nature of life. To become truly great at something, you have to dedicate time and energy to it. And because we all have limited time and energy, few of us ever become truly exceptional at more than one thing, if anything at all.

We can then say that it is a complete statistical improbability that any single person can be an extraordinary performer in all areas of their life, or even many areas of their life. Bruce Wayne does not exist. It just doesn’t happen. Brilliant businessmen are often f*ck ups in their personal lives. Extraordinary athletes are often shallow and as dumb as a lobotomized rock. Most celebrities are probably just as clueless about life as the people who gawk at them and follow their every move.

We’re all, for the most part, pretty average people. It’s the extremes that get all of the publicity. We all kind of intuitively know this, but we rarely think and/or talk about it. The vast majority of us will never be truly exceptional at, well, anything. And that’s OK.

Which leads to an important point: that mediocrity, as a goal, sucks. But mediocrity, as a result, is OK.

Few of us get this. And fewer of us accept it. Because problems arise — serious, “My God, what’s the point of living” type problems — when we expect to be extraordinary. Or worse, we feel entitled to be extraordinary. When in reality, it’s just not viable or likely. For every Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, there are 10 million scrubs stumbling around parks playing pickup games… and losing. For every Picasso or DaVinci there have been about a billion drooling idiots eating Play-Doh and slapping around fingerpaints. And for every Leo {expletive] Tolstoy, there’s a lot of, well, me, scribbling and playing at writer.

That last bit gave me quite a chuckle, as an aspiring writer myself, but I know he’s right. Thankfully, I’m depending more on my message than the medium should I finish what I have begun to write. Nevertheless, Manson is spot on. We live under what could almost be described as the tyranny of exceptionalism:

So here’s the problem. I would argue that we have this expectation (or this entitlement) more today than any other time in history. And the reason is because of the nature of our technology and economic privilege.

Having the internet, Google, Facebook, YouTube and access to 500+ channels of television is amazing. We have access to more information than any other time in history.

But our attention is limited. There’s no way we can process the tidal waves of information flowing through the internet at any given time. Therefore the only ones that break through and catch our attention are the truly exceptional pieces of information. The 99.999th percentile.

All day, every day, we are flooded with the truly extraordinary. The best of the best. The worst of the worst. The greatest physical feats. The funniest jokes. The most upsetting news. The scariest threats. Non-stop.

Our lives today are filled with information coming from the extremes of the bell curve, because in the media that’s what gets eyeballs and the eyeballs bring dollars. That’s it. Yet the vast majority of life continues to reside in the middle.

You really should read the entire piece. The bell curves are informative, the graphics are entertaining, and the videos are funny.

I actually love my average life, as I have come to greatly appreciate a life filled with love, but there is one area where I am definitively on the right side of the bell curve: I’m 5 feet, 9 inches tall!

men_women_height

Y’all have a good weekend, and if your father is still with you, show him that he’s exceptional to you.

Happy Father’s Day to the dads who honor this little blog with your time and attention.

Content advisory: Manson drops the occasional f-bomb. If you hadn’t noticed.

 

A Logophile’s Educational Musings

I really enjoy word games. Whether Words with Friends, Word Cookies, or Word Cross, they can keep me entangled and unproductive for longer than I care to admit. I love words in general, and my children have inherited many of my logophile ways. Grammar, turns of phrases, and puns are regular sources of conversation for us; as well as the origins of many idioms and axioms. Words fascinate me. More than fun or even useful, words are also powerful.

We throw them around far too carelessly, forgetting that words can be agents of uncommon inspiration or destructive demoralization. I am among the aforementioned we.  I’m not always careful with my words either. I’d like to think that as a lover of words, I’m more careful than most, but a subjective analysis isn’t worth much.

In a culture where nearly everything is dumbed down to its base level, is it any wonder that great ideas, expressed in beautiful prose, are lacking? Where does the ability to express ourselves and encourage others come from, whether verbally or in written form? If “intellectual stimulation” is gathered mostly through Twitter, television, YA fiction and Facebook blurbs, it doesn’t offer much to draw on for discussing big ideas.

Lindsay Brigham Knott examines what this means for helping students to develop as writers in her recent offering at Circe Institute’s Apiary blog.

Amongst the greatest gifts a classical school can bestow upon its students is the opportunity to become skilled in the use of words.

“Opportunity,” not “ability,” for no institution nor teacher nor curriculum can make good writers any more than one man can convert another: the student himself must labor to train his hands for the task, and pray for the Muse to animate them. But it is incumbent upon classical schools—which aim to make students more human, tend all their natural capacities into full blossom, unshackle their desires and discipline their wills towards the wise use of leisure time, and enable them to know and live “the good life,” all by nurturing them in wisdom and virtue—to commit a large portion of their and their students’ energies to word-training.

In other words, words and their usage are vitally important. A cursory glance or slightly perked ear easily reveals how words can be used to manipulate everything from our spending habit to political policies to social and cultural mores. She adds:

It’s in attempt to communicate this vision that I often begin writing classes by asking students to consider all the parts of their lives that involve words. By words we commune with family and friends who give our days meaning; by words we decree the rules and call the plays of sports that delight our bodies and imaginations; by words we advertise the commodities that flood the markets and saturate our desires; by words we scribble out daily lists of chores, assignments, groceries, goals, dreams that form us down the years; by words we struggle to illumine the murky impulses of our own mysterious souls; by words we receive God’s scriptural self-revelation and respond in prayer and praise.

The question this author poses is whether or not those of us committed to classical education are seeing the fruits of our labor as graduates from classical schools and programs are launched into the world. Do the students reflect a level of thoughtfulness in their use of language which reflects years of studying St. Augustine, Homer, or Spenser? She determines that the answer is negative, but that most of us barely notice or see this as a problem. After all:

…they made good grades in their classical schools. Their college professors compliment their uncommon ability to express individual opinions and formulate intriguing thesis statements. Their essays ruin the curve for the rest of the class. They do in fact use words well . . . in the supremely limited context of academic writing and speaking.

This dichotomy suggests that classical school students are, in fact, mastering what their schools give them opportunity to learn about using words—but that schools themselves may not be shaping those opportunities as holistically as they could. Consider: most classical schools do prioritize training in language. Indeed, many schools of the Classical Renewal so emphasize the subjects and sequence of the Trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) that some onlookers may equate “classical education” with “linguistic and literary education,” consisting of lots of Latin, lots of old books, and lots of essays. But by and large, curricula and classroom instruction suggests that skill with words means merely correct grammar, proper essay structure, varied diction and syntax, and a tasteful sprinkling of rhetorical flourishes, for that is what they teach and assess.

In other words:

I wonder whether classical schools, in their laudable zeal to train students to write well, have unconsciously adopted a model of writing instruction that does not in fact cohere with their larger aims for students—humanness, rightly-formed desires, the good life, wisdom and virtue. Too often they have taken the best of the writing instruction that non-classical schools use, focusing exclusively on academic writing like persuasive essays, literary analysis, or research papers, and married it to classically-influenced content of old books and rhetorical terminology. The fruit of the union is a program that is more college preparatory than classical, and graduates whose skill with words differs from that of their peers only in the classroom.

You should read the whole thing.

What Mrs. Knott describes is the perpetual challenge homeschoolers of every stripe must overcome. For those of us who were traditionally educated, the tendency to transfer the strategies, pace and benchmarks to our kitchen tables –while using better literature- is a constant temptation. Old habits die hard and all that.

These habits, coupled with unhealthy media consumption and reading habit, don’t only create writers with less appreciation for using words well, they also fail to inoculate emerging adults with the foundational ideals necessary to counter the onslaught of propaganda and clever use of words they’ll encounter throughout their lives.

Words, read, spoken, and written, are powerful. We forget this to our peril.

Building the Benedict Option

building the benedict option

Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name. by Leah Libresco. Published in 2018. 163 pages. Foreword by Rod Dreher.

File this one under, “What a misleading title!”

This book, inspired by Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, offers ideas and strategies for building Benedict Option style communities on a small scale so that fellow believers can forge lasting and meaningful relationships of support in a world where Christian values are increasingly coming under assault or being discarded.

Overall, I really like this book. The spirit of community and fellowship this author taps into through her ideas and recounting of her experiences and struggles to build intentional community are a breath of fresh air. Nevertheless, I found the title misleading because what she describes and suggests falls far short of the proposition offered in The Benedict Option. In fact, I find that her prescriptions are more achievable, realistic avenues to community support than you’ll find in the original book, and here’s why.

The Benedict Option (BenOp, as it is referred to by those most familiar), is built on the idea of Christian families of like faith and values withdrawing from the dominant culture, building separate communities, and hunkering down to wait out the inevitable collapse of our current cultural and political house of cards. Those believers who remain when the dust settles will, theoretically, be able to rebuild on the foundation of a sane culture and a pure, robust faith.

At least, that was my initial understanding of BenOp, before I read and reviewed the book. The Benedict Option book provided a much less strict version of my original understanding, but it was still based on the idea of Christians’ near full withdrawal from the dominant culutre. It was more understanding of current reality, as well as our commitment to the Great Commission, but Christians were certainly called to be on the outside looking in as much as possible.

Building the Benedict Option, on the other hand, is more about building the kind of intentional community that provides believers a respite from the madness and a touchpoint with other Christians to pray, discuss matters of faith, and offer spiritual and emotional support. At no point does her book intimate that Christians should be completely withdrawn in a way that keeps them out of the loop of the world around them.

Libresco draws heavily on the idea of the beguines, Christian lay orders which existed in the 13-16th centuries. Although beguines were controversial at the time of their existence because the non-monastic orders were comprised solely of women, Libresco believes there is much we can learn from the model as we attempt to build intentional Christian communities. The basis of her idea is that we can start small gatherings of the faithful and watch our communities grow from there:

If you want to start creating community, look for examples around you to imitate, or even co-opt. If free pizza attracted people in college, maybe it will keep working now that you’re all (ostensibly) adults? If beguines shared their lives and had home-based trades, maybe you should take up…weaving. Or Etsy crafting. Or whatever it is the twenty-first-century equivalent that lets people be home and ready to welcome each other during the day. Branching out from what is already working or what you know has worked in the past isn’t a bad way to begin, but if you stop there, a lot will be occluded from your view.

From there she encourages Christians to go beyond things like books clubs or other types of events that have been done before, and to think more along the lines of events that can meet a real need that people across a wide life spectrum may have. It’s a great idea, and she does a great job laying out her case and examples. However, as I said earlier, this is not exactly BenOp in its purest form. Not as I understood it.

According to the parameters put forth in this book, our family has been steeped in BenOp activity for at least a decade, and especially so over the past three years. We have been cultivating deep friendships with other families, spending time in one another’s homes, celebrating and mourning together, and generally have a pretty tight social bubble even though our cadre of families attends different churches on Sunday. Which leads me to ask the question I’ve never quite been able to get a clear handle on, not even from its originator’s writings: What exactly IS the Benedict Option?

This book doesn’t answer that question, but it does do a good job of encouraging Christians to think more deeply about how much we need each other, even in our convenient, individualistic, atomized culture.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Leah Libresco, who authors this book, is Roman Catholic and the flavor of Catholicism is strong throughout the book. Rod Dreher, who wrote the forward for this book and the book which inspired it, is Orthodox. These are perspectives you should keep in mind as you read the book.

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing School Library

A quiet trend is emerging in many schools as our culture has shifted almost completely towards technology as the main source of information: the demise of the school library.

Our youngest children have never attended a traditional school. They have been exclusively home educated, with additional supplemental instructions provided through enrollment in educational programs and cooperatives which we pay tuition and fees for them to attend.

Our oldest children, however, attended traditional school from Kindergarten through 12th grade, and the school library as well as its librarian, was a large part of the life of their schools. Because we have been disconnected from the happenings at our local schools for most of the past 7 years, I was quite surprised to read this by Krysta at Pages Unbound:

Years ago, my school library closed. The administration declared that no one was using the library and that it had become “obsolete” with the age of the Internet. The room that was once a library is now a computer lab. And the administration probably still feels proud that they are being “innovative” and keeping up with modern technology. The irony, however, is that the school library was only ever as obsolete as the administration and faculty made it. And, if they had wanted to, they could have saved the school library within a few months.

My school library closed because no students ever used it. No students used the library because it was primarily open during school hours and briefly after–and no teacher ever seemed to think about bringing their classes to the library. Students were not allowed out of class for essentially any reason (except, of course, sports), so could not go to the library by themselves. In short, the school itself prevented students from using the library because they blocked access to it.

I was completely incredulous of this as a trend. I usually am when I read about the disdain supposedly smart people have for libraries. Leaving aside for the moment fiscal issues or drag queen story times, a library is useful for all kinds of things and to all kinds of people no matter what our particular ideological bent might be. Our local library branches nearly always have brisk traffic and our family’s use of its services is so frequent, the fiscal argument is lost on me anyway. My tax dollars may be wasted with regard to the public school system, but I more than make up for it with our use of the local library.

After reading the Pages Unbound post, my incredulity remained, so I decided to do a bit of clicking to find out if it was really true: Are school libraries becoming obsolete even as school districts clamor for greater and greater tax increases and gambling legislations to pump more money into education? Have we really decided, as we simultaneously learn how damaging excessive screen time is at young ages, that access to books is unimportant and the printed word is obsolete?

Unfortunately, it seems Krysta was not being Chicken Little here. (I never really thought she was!) This is a real and troubling trend. One of the most enlightening articles I found was a piece at Architecture and Education’s Disappearing School Libraries-Why?

An interesting question posed by an Australian researcher, Terry Byers, on Twitter got me thinking. He asked, “Why do architects and school leaders see them [libraries] as redundant spaces?”

Is part of the redundant libraries issue a bigger problem with teaching spaces winning ground (quite literally) from more social, perhaps less official learning spaces then?

My guess is yes. In this logic, it’s not just that space is redundant but that if that space can’t be directly and demonstrably linked to pre-established assessment-oriented learning activities it is now seen as an opportunity cost – get rid of it, use the space elsewhere.

The moral injunction that schools do all they can to improve learning when learning is tied to increasingly narrow definitional pressures and measures, and teachers’ and principals’ own careers being pegged to the visibility of student progression puts pressure on how physical space is seen. It changes what kinds of space are efficient in this logic. As Lyotard put it, “be operational (that is, commensurable) or disappear” (1984:xxiv also online here). If your library or staff space cannot be shown to contribute to the performance of the system and so its efficiency or value (within the terms of the system) remains an unknown, it loses out. This is the “terror” of which Lyotard writes. To be unvalued is to be anyway devalued. To be value-able means changing what you are.

Architecture and Education is a UK website. Interestingly enough, most of the articles I found initially were from English publications. Apparently, we’re not the only ones closing school libraries. However, this author’s point about pre-established assessment oriented activities rings true here. If there isn’t a clear connection between the use and presence of a library and the scores produced on the standardized tests, then the library occupies a space that would be much more efficient if put to use in a way that shores up the bottom line. Everything today, including education, is all about the bottom line. All the talk about doing things “for the children” is just that; cheap talk.

This cognitive dissonance is deafening to anyone who bothers to hear it.  The people who are most likely to clamor for more money to boost student achievement are also among the people to pretend to champion the plight of the poor and downtrodden: the families of children who are least able to afford to buy their children books. I’ll go back and pick up those ideological concerns that I initially laid aside because there actually is a direct link between academic achievement and library access.

The data shows that children with access to school libraries and librarians do better in school, so one has to wonder how the educational powers that be (who also primarily inhabit the political class which pretends to defend the poor) arbitrarily destroy school libraries rather than trying to revitalize them for the sake of the students. The data as present by Kappanonline:

Data from more than 34 statewide studies suggest that students tend to earn better standardized test scores in schools that have strong library programs. Further, when administrators, teachers, and librarians themselves rated the importance and frequency of various library practices associated with student learning, their ratings correlated with student test scores, further substantiating claims of libraries’ benefits. In addition, newer studies, conducted over the last several years, show that strong school libraries are also linked to other important indicators of student success, including graduation rates and mastery of academic standards.

Skeptics might assume that these benefits are associated mainly with wealthier schools, where well-resourced libraries serve affluent students. However, researchers have been careful to control for school and community socioeconomic factors, and they have found that these correlations cannot be explained away by student demographics, school funding levels, teacher-pupil ratios, or teacher qualifications. In fact, they have often found that the benefits associated with good library programs are strongest for the most vulnerable and at-risk learners, including students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities.

Funny that I, with my conservative values and money to buy my homeschooled kids a book whenever I feel like it, care more about student access to libraries than the people whose job it is to serve those students’ interests.