Culture, educational, Els' Rabbit Trails

Edifying and Educational Meditations

As is my custom, I am currently reading two books of vastly different genres and topics. Despite knowing that it makes for a much longer reading time on both, I continue to to do it anyway.Thankfully, that is not all I am currently reading.

It is commonly known by regular readers here that I am great admirer of both Joshua Gibbs of Circe Institute and Cal Newport’s blog, Study Hacks. Both have offered mentally stimulating food for thought in recent posts, so I thought I would share portions of them here in the optimistic belief that you will be intrigued enough to click over and read the articles in their entirety.

Joshua Gibbs discusses the question of whether Rousseau and St. Augustine should be taught in the classroom alongside, or perhaps replaced by, the works of contemporary theologians such as John Piper. In this partial dialogue, he explains why such a move is not appropriate in a classical educational setting:

Parent: I wanted to tell you that I read this really amazing book by John Piper recently and it blessed me so much that I thought I should tell you about it. I think it would be a great fit in the school’s theology curriculum.

Dean: I am sure the book is quite good, but given that John Piper is still alive, the book does not meet the basic criteria which this school uses for admitting new titles into the curriculum.

Parent: What criteria would that be?

Dean: For starters, curriculum books ought to be old.

Parent: How old?

Dean: It is best if the author has been dead for a hundred years.

Parent: Why a hundred years?

Dean: After a hundred years, it is safe to assume no living person ever met the author. If the author is still considered worth reading after he has been dead for a hundred years, it means he speaks from the grave. It means there is something immortal about his wisdom, something divine.

Parent: I know the book I am recommending was written recently, but it is good and true. Don’t classicists care about truth, beauty, and goodness? If so, does it really matter how old a good thing is?

Dean: Yes. Classicists do not simply care about the truth, beauty, and goodness of a book, they also care about who is claiming the book is true, beautiful, and good. Classicists are not content to trust their own judgments, but act in harmony with the judgments of their ancestors. We might judge a recently published work of theology to be good, but that judgment could not be made in harmony with our ancestors, because our ancestors never read the book.

You can see how the conversation unfolds by reading the entire post here.

In Must We Treat Every Bad Idea With Respect and Patience?, a discussion of whether a general consensus on modern art is enough to consider said art worthy of being taught in a classical setting:

McLaren: Some students told me that you were not covering Jackson Pollock, de Kooning, Franz Kline, or any of the great 20th century abstract expressionists in your art history class. Why is this?

Gibbs: This is a classical school, and I don’t take that kind of art seriously.

McLaren: The larger art world takes them seriously, though.

Gibbs: I don’t really take the “larger art world” seriously, either.

McLaren: You style yourself a conservative, though. Is it not strange for a self-professed conservative to reject the majority opinion on significant, well-respected artists?

Gibbs: Respect for Pollock and Kline is not really a majority opinion, though it is certainly a fashionable opinion over the last several decades. I can’t imagine someone like Caravaggio or Rembrandt having any respect for Pollock, and I try to align my tastes in art with the tastes of artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt.

McLaren: Have you ever read an essay which unpacked Pollock’s art?

Gibbs: Yes, and I thought it far more brilliant than Pollock’s art.

McLaren: But you did not ultimately trust the essay?

Gibbs: No. One does not need a PhD to recognize that Pollock’s art is no good. I have showed Pollock’s art to my little daughters, who are 7 and 9 years old respectively, and they simply laughed at it.

McLaren: You’re not suggesting that little children are competent to judge art?

Gibbs: Children have common sense and knowing that Jackson Pollock’s art is no good is simply a matter of common sense. It’s just a lot of painted scribbles. The same kind of common sense informs little children that two women cannot marry each other and that eating an entire birthday cake will lead to a stomach ache. On the other hand, children have terrible taste, which means they think Thomas Kinkade and Bratz dolls are interesting. You have got to train them out of that kind of delusion by showing them things of real beauty, and a thing of real beauty can be appreciated by bishop and child alike. If I want to tell my children that Bratz dolls are ugly, I cannot, in good faith, tell them that Jackson Pollock is good.

Lastly, in Sam Harris and Stephen Fry’s Meditation Debate, Cal Newport discusses the supposed benefits of meditation, and why our unnatural way of life makes it a necessity for so many people:

What sparked the diversion in the first place is when, early in the conversation, Fry expressed skepticism about meditation. Roughly speaking, his argument was the following:

  • Typically when we find ourselves in a chronic state of ill health it’s because we’ve moved away from something natural that our bodies have evolved to expect.
  • Paleolithic man didn’t need gyms and diets because he naturally exercised and didn’t have access to an overabundance of bad food.
  • Mindfulness mediation, by contrast, doesn’t seem to be replicating something natural that we’ve lost, but is instead itself a relatively contrived and complicated activity.

Harris’s response was to compare meditation to reading. They’re both complicated (read: unnatural) activities, to be sure, but they’re both really important in helping our species thrive.

Fry, who is currently using and enjoying Harris’s meditation app, conceded, and the discussion shifted toward a new direction.

I wonder, however, whether Fry should have persisted. Rousseauian romanticism aside, there’s an important application of evolutionary psychology undergirding his instinctual concern.

He rounds out this article with some interesting insights:

Fry was instead correctly noting that meditation is an unnatural solution to a modern problem. Meditation helps, but it doesn’t solve the underlying issues .

What, Fry seems to be asking, is the cognitive equivalent of the natural behaviors like exercising and healthy eating that our species used to enjoy but are now missing in modern life?

I’m not the first to ask this question, and many people have proposed compelling answers (see, for example, Mark Sisson and John J. Ratey).

But something that became increasingly clear to me as I was researching Digital Minimalismand the reason why I’m bringing up this topic in the first place, is that in recent years, our relationship with our screens has almost certainly exasperated this modern separation from a more natural way of living .

I hope you all find these as intellectually provoking as I did.

More book reviews are coming soon!

 


Culture, educational, nonfiction, philosophy

Digital Minimalism

digital minmalism

Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport. Published February 5, 2019. Hardcover, 304 pages.

This highly anticipated new release from Cal Newport arrived at my doorstep promptly on February 5, and I read through it at a speed which is highly uncharacteristic for me. That might mean that my anticipation propelled the momentum of my study, but I suspect it is best attributed to Newport’s engaging tone. It also helps that the topic he is covering is a hot topic of the day.

It seems every where you look, you can find discussions of the perils of social media, online distraction, and the lurching menace of the world’s largest technology companies as they encroach into every area of our lives, making privacy rare and more zealously guarded by many, such as this woman who disconnected from all services connected to the “big 5” tech giants. It is into this atmosphere that Cal Newport actually manages to offer a fresh perspective.

I hesitate to say that he offers a new perspective, because he doesn’t. He actually draws on the wisdom of those who have gone before, beginning with Aristotle and moving forward to more modern minds such as Wendell Berry. I am a great admirer of Wendell Berry, so the invoking of his unique and uncommon wisdom made this book all the more alluring to me.

Newport doesn’t use an abundance of pages offering tips on how to better manage your online life (although he does present a few). Neither does he use his megaphone to condemn any and all social media. Instead,  he calmly and methodically makes his case for a more intentional way of living, using an engaging and conversational tone. When he finishes, the reader is left to draw her own conclusions about the value or disadvantages of technology and online distractions in her life.

The best and most compelling arguments in the book are in the chapter dedicated to the importance of high quality leisure.  In this chapter, we find a most concise and piercing synopsis of why the subject of leisure, along with the role of the Internet in our daily lives, are such vital issues to confront. While discussing an example of a man whose time without access to the constant connection of the Internet, Newport notes that the man wasn’t missing any one specific digital activity. Rather, he was most uncomfortable with the general lack of access he was used to. Here is the linchpin of his presentation:

The more I study this topic, the more it becomes clear to me that low-quality digital distractions play a more important role in people’s lives than they imagine. In recent years, as the boundary between work and life blends, jobs become more demanding, and community traditions degrade, more and more people are failing to cultivate the high-quality leisure lives that Aristotle identifies as crucial for human happiness. This leaves a void that would be near unbearable if confronted, but that can be ignored with the help of digital noise. It’s now easy to fill the gaps between work and caring for your family and sleep by pulling out a smartphone or tablet, and numbing yourself with mindless swiping and tapping. p.168

Newport doesn’t assert that this instinct is a a new thing, of course. If it were he wouldn’t be able to draw on Aristotle in his quest for solutions. Whether through drinking, television, or any other number of alternatives, man has always been tempted to revert to low-level distractions to divert ourselves from the pain of physical, emotional, and spiritual realities we’d rather not face. The difference today of course, is that it is so much easier to avoid these realities than in times past. Our comfortable, easy physical existence makes us ripe to be mined by the masters of the new attention economy.

The best parts of this book are the chapters which chart the economics and psychology behind this new way of living, and later the importance of being careful of how we use our leisure. Most importantly, the reader is admonished of the importance of leisure activities that stretch us and grow us as human beings rather than viewing leisure as a time to indulge a mindless, vegetative state via screens.

As I read the examples given, I was reminded of the scene at our house on Super Bowl Sunday. Our kids -as they always do whether we have company or not- made great food, and turned on the set mainly for the purpose of ranking the commercials. There are two people in our house who know enough about football to sit through a game and maintain interest. I am one, and one of my daughters is another. My husband, having played high school football, knows the game, but is not at all interested in watching. My interest has steadily tanked in recent years as well.

While the girls watched commercials, and chattered in between, my husband was working on a project he started for me a couple of weeks ago but which has taken a lot longer than it might have if he hadn’t begun a new job this year. As he cut, sanded, measured and worked with his hands (I offered some help as well with staining), it was a prime example of what Digital Minimalism described. Rather than sit and watch the game, which would have drained the energy from someone like him, the time was spent doing something infinitely more satisfying. In the book, Newport referenced the difference between being able to point to something -anything- produced as a result of proficiency and effort being infinitely more satisfying than a nebulous number of likes in response to a saucy tweet or a photo of your plate at a trendy new restaurant.

In addition to stressing the importance of high-quality leisure, the book also emphasizes the importance of meaningful, in-person socialization. I especially appreciated those parts of the book.

In Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport turns on a light rather than simply railing against the darkness. As more and more people awaken to the reality that their overly connected lives are out of control, they will be looking for constructive counsel and directions out of the digital wilderness. Digital Minimalism provides both of those and does it well.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

children's books, Classics, educational, novels

Anne of Green Gables: Reviews of two versions

anne of green gables

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Originally published in 1908.

As I re-read this book along with the kids in my writing and literature class, I was almost instantly reminded, as I often am , of this saying from the late C. S. Lewis:

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

Because Anne of Green Gables is such a widely read and well-known story, I’ll offer the Goodreads synopsis for the sake of time. There are several angles concerning the story and its recent modern adaptation that I wish to explore in this post. From Goodreads:

As soon as Anne Shirley arrives at the snug white farmhouse called Green Gables, she is sure she wants to stay forever . . . but will the Cuthberts send her back to to the orphanage? Anne knows she’s not what they expected—a skinny girl with fiery red hair and a temper to match. If only she can convince them to let her stay, she’ll try very hard not to keep rushing headlong into scrapes and blurting out the first thing that comes to her mind. Anne is not like anyone else, the Cuthberts agree; she is special—a girl with an enormous imagination. This orphan girl dreams of the day when she can call herself Anne of Green Gables.

The Cuthberts do keep Anne, of course, else this delightful story full of adventure and learning wouldn’t be the beloved story it has become for over 100 years.

One of the most wonderful, and for me equally taxing aspects of Anne’s character, is her persistent insistence that everything must be expressed or executed in the most romantic and poetical way possible. There are times when I find her expressions utterly delightful. I laughed out loud this:

“People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?”

And conversely rolled my eyes at this, despite my sympathy with Anne’s drab dress as insisted on by Marilla:

“It is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable.”

It was such fun to revisit the characters of Green Gables and Avonlea. As before, Matthew Cuthbert and Gilbert Blythe were my favorites (besides Anne of course). A good story, including those written for children, never goes out of style.

Book: 5 out of 5 stars

As it happens, I learned that there is a new adaptation of this beloved story recently released on Netflix. I made a point of refusing to watch or allowing my kids to watch it until we had finished reading the book in class. We are not quite finished as an entire class (this week we’ll wrap it up), but I and my daughter have finished reading it, so I decided we could safely take a peek at how these producers adapted the story.

The first season, despite artistic licenses and addition of melodrama for viewers, wasn’t horrible. Because I love the original story, I was a little perturbed at the ways they changed the story to create a more dramatic effect. I didn’t feel such changes were warranted.

I appreciated most of the castings, including the casting of Anne. The actress beautifully captures the spirit of the character as Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote her over 100 years ago. I felt a similar satisfaction with the casting of Marilla Cuthbert, Mrs. Rachel Lynde and Gilbert Blythe.

They did a less than stellar job with Josie Pye. Further, I detested the fact that made Miss Josephine Barry a spinster due to the fact that she was a lesbian who lived for many years with her “partner” Gertrude, recently deceased.

They licenses they took with some story lines were understandable in some ways, and in other ways unnecessary.

Overall, I was so turned off by the development of Miss Barry’s character that I was thankful for having done the research ahead of time -actually my daughter did it- which clued me in on what to expect in the episodes. It spared me from being blindsided by the “inclusive” propaganda.

As it turns out, not having seen those episodes left a better impression of the show on me than would have remained otherwise. As it stands, I definitely won’t finish it, and the kids and I are looking forward to enjoying the PBS adaptation sometimes later in the spring, after the hustle and bustle of the second semester is over.

Netflix adaptation: 3 out of 5 stars

 

coming from where I'm from, Culture, educational, Els' Rabbit Trails, parenting, philosophy

Corrupting language and education is a political strategy.

Words, their meanings, evolution, and usage are a subject of endless interest to me. Hardly a day passes when I don’t hear or read a word used in ways that are not only incorrect, but defy the actual meaning of the word in insidious ways. The topic emerges with such frequency in conversations in our home that our 12-year-old has taken to making jokes about it at my expense. This is a story worth retelling, so I will.

I mentioned previously that we read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a part of this semester’s literature course. The kids mostly read the book independently, but at particular intervals, we’d sit together and use the chapters as an opportunity for them to listen to me read, with appropriate intonations and emphasis so that they could fully appreciate the story and language. While I read, they also read long in their personal copies of the book. Yes, we procure three copies of every book their literature teacher assigns them.

One of the things it is important to do while studying classic books is guard against those which are slightly abridged or in which the language has been tweaked to be easier on the modern ear. I am very careful of that, and as I read a particular passage where Mark Twain referred to females as a sex, our 12-year-old stopped me and said, “Wait. My book says gender”. When I asked her to read the passage for me from her version, she smiled and said, “Nah, it says ‘sex’, I was just messing with you.” Touché, young one.

This changing of language, and the redefining of words in ways that our grandparents wouldn’t recognize is common, normal and mostly seen as harmless. For most of my life, I thought so too. That was before I came to realize that the evolution of language has not only accelerated, but has rapidly watered down the desire to think critically rather than simply emoting. Because I am short on time and also desire to leave openings for you all to fill any gaping holes in my argument, here are just a few examples of linguistic evolution that are not only frequent in occurrence but also shockingly unquestioned, even among the sharpest tools in the shed.

  • Sex, which is most accurately and classically defined as one of the two biological classifications assigned to male and female creatures, has been shifted to reference coitus or sexual intercourse and it has been replaced by the word gender, which changes male and female from biological realities to subjective identifications. Even I have to make a conscious effort to avoid the ambiguous gender when I really mean sex.
  • A matriarch is a mother who is the head of her family, household or tribe, and a patriarch is a father who is the head of his family, household, or tribe, but patriarchy is suddenly “the patriarchy, defined as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are abused and excluded from power. Hmmm.
  • Health insurance, rather than understood as a type of insurance coverage which  covers medical and surgical expenses for a policy holder, has now been shifted and  defined as health care, which is more accurately and classically understood to mean doing the things which maintain and improve one’s physical and mental health. Ergo, you can be perfectly healthy, doing healthful things, but without health insurance, there is no health care*. Marginalized groups have higher percentages of members without “health care”. So we should look at what it means to be marginalized.
  •  Things and people which are marginalized are treated as insignificant or peripheral, and forgotten or abused as a result. At least, that’s the correct and accurate definition of marginalize. Today however, if you are a part of a minority group, you are hereby and forever labeled as marginalized because everyone is permanently slotted into the caste to which they belonged in 1950 America. This satisfies agendas of the current power brokers in education establishments and media. Even if you enjoy whole months of designated to your celebration, and every conceivable legislative policy is amended for your protection, you must be perpetually protected and elevated in status -by force if necessary. Marginalization has its privileges. The greater the number of marginalized groups you belong to, the more you need to be protected because….
  • Intersectionality. This one is so new my browser put the squiggly red line under it, even though it is ubiquitous in academia and grievance industry propaganda. I know how it works in practice, but I’m still working out the intricacies of its use so I’ll just offer the official definition. My dictionary defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Standard application of intersectionality means that my combination of race, sex, and class, categorizes me as part of a marginalized group with no privileges at all (using the class I was born in rather than the class my zip code and husband’s career has placed us in). There’s even a rubric to tell me how marginalized I am!  I’m in a bad way, let me tell you! It sounds ridiculous, but consider that this is how the majority of Americans are being educated. Which brings me to my last word for today.
  • Education, which long, long ago was defined as an enterprise of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, form the manners and habits, and fit youths for usefulness in their future stations has now been reduced to mean to go to school*.  School has become a convenient place to check off countless arbitrary boxes for the purpose of securing corporate employment. Fitness for future stations such as citizen, volunteer, spouse, parent, mentor, clergy or even logical thinker, is no longer included in our definition of education although these are all future stations to which most people aspire. That one can attend school for a full 17 years and yet be uneducated in ways that truly matter hardly occurs to anyone before the age of 30, when the extent our ignorance rushes in like a flood.

Just a few thoughts on linguistic evolution and why we must be ever so careful of how we educate our children. The transitions of today have profound implications on not only the people they become, but the world they have to live in.

* I realize that health insurance and health care are considered strongly correlated, as are schooling and education. Rather than flippantly dismiss that with “correlation does not equal causation”, I’ll just note that often our definitions of “healthy” and “educated” are the real issues.

 

books for men, Culture, educational, nonfiction, politics, short stories

The Black Man’s Guide Out of Poverty

BM guide

The Black Man’s Guide Out of Poverty: for Black Men Who Demand Better, by Aaron Clarey, Kindle Edition. Published in 2015.

I ran across this book by accident doing tangentially related research, and decided to spend the $5 to purchase the Kindle edition. I was driven by curiosity more than an expectation that I’d find any new information in it, but I’m glad I took the time to give it a quick read. It is a very quick read.

Author Aaron Clarey says several things in his book with which I vehemently disagree. Those disagreements center mainly on the tenets of my Christian faith against his pretty strident stance of disbelief. However, because he makes it clear that this book is written with very clear and practical aims in mind, I made the decision early in to focus my attention on the steps he offers to black men which will lead them out of poverty, and to base my conclusions and review on whether or not his book does what he says it will do.

I can draw no other conclusion than yes, the lion’s share of the counsel Clarey offers here will help not only young black men, but any young men who would take the advice offered in it. I can speak to the veracity of his advice because much of it –though not all of it- is identical to the path my husband took on his journey to building a successful life and family. This is particularly true of the advice related to education and career choices.

Among the sage pieces of wisdom Clarey offers are things such as:

  • Don’t major in stupid degrees
  • Be suspicious of the education establishment while using it to your advantage
  • Stay out of debt
  • Budget
  • Live minimally
  • Critically gore the sacred cows which are taught in the black community to determine their value and level of truth
  • Be willing to abandon the tribalism and dysfunctional elements of black culture
  • Choose your wife (if you choose to marry) well
  • Don’t get a girl pregnant

There was a lot of sexual and dating advice in the book which many would find problematic at best, and misogynistic at worst. As a Christian, there was plenty there for me to take issue with. The frank talk regarding the nature of relationships, women, and the treacherous landscape created by the current marriage of sex and politics is not for the faint of heart nor clutchers of pearls. Clarey pulls no punches as he expresses his beliefs on those issues.

Conversely, there were elements in those sections that I couldn’t argue with. Even though they offended my sensibilities, the reality is that black men suffer a disproportionate amount of financial harm as a result of poor sexual and relationship choices. These self-inflicted injuries needed to be addressed in a direct and no nonsense fashion, and was also why this book was written for men, to men, by a man. I was just an eavesdropper passing by.

I appreciate that Clarey acknowledged something that isn’t acknowledged anywhere else in American culture in an obvious, unambiguous way. Namely, that for all the wailing and beating of the chest on behalf of so-called “marginalized” groups in this country, American black men are among the most marginalized people in our society. It’s not women, not black women (at least not when it comes to college and career opportunities), and it isn’t immigrants. It’s certainly not the sexually degenerate fluid, who are celebrated everywhere we look. Last I checked, being celebrated is the exact opposite of being marginalized, which underscores how poorly educated our populace is, despite the fact that we experience more schooling than any other generation in history. It’s why you’ll find more and more commentary on the nature of a true education in the archives here. Clarey, to his credit, and using what shouldn’t even be keen skills of observation, got that part exactly right.

There were some definite areas in this book that could stand improvement. Firstly, I think it would have benefited greatly by having a ruthless editor. While the conversational tone made it an easy-flowing read, it also made for frequent errors more suited to a ninth grade composition student than an educated, successful author and consultant. Subject-verb disagreement, which commonly goes unnoticed in conversations, stands out more starkly in black and white.

In the Kindle edition, the charts and statistics which bolstered the arguments presented were not always easy to access and zoom in on. Also, there was profanity which was distracting at times. The latter note is just one more indication that the book wasn’t written with a Christian woman in mind as its audience.

Taken in its entirety, the book does what Clarey’s title says it does: Gives black men the tools and guidance they need to rise above the pack and build a successful life. Because of that, I think it’s worth the time to read it and worth purchasing. This is particularly true for black men who are grappling with the common handicaps and setbacks of being raised in the inner city or from the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

4 out of 5 stars.

 

Culture, educational, homeschool, philosophy

Rabbit Trail: The Ways We Teach.

We often focus on what we’re teaching to the exclusion of why, and most importantly how, we’re teaching. As a result, there is a lot of instructional wheel-spinning. That’s my formally uneducated conclusion on the subject. I’ve considered this frequently of late; whether I am teaching my kids as well as other kids I teach, effectively.

Over the weekend I had occasion to be part of an encouraging and informative session facilitated by an intelligent young teacher on the subject of mimetic teaching. It added more blocks to the structure my mind is erecting around what it means to be educated, and what it means to teach to the appropriate ends.

The antithetical aims of education, as a pragmatic tool for potentially securing wealth on the one hand versus a vehicle through which we pass on virtues to produce well-formed human beings on the other, confound me on a regular basis. This is not because I am unclear on which is more important. I am also fully aware that is possible to do both, and that we must do both.

Rather, it leaves me scratching my head because the former aim -education as a tool for securing material comfort- is accomplished via a mapped path where the destination is reached through checking the appropriate boxes at designated checkpoints along the way. Check off the right boxes at the right time, then you reach your destination. Based on the checked boxes you are declared educated, thus fully formed; or at least formed enough to embark on a responsible adult life.

The latter and less pursued aim- education as the vehicle through which we pass on virtues to produce a well-formed human being- feels more like meandering a scenic route. It includes many of the checked boxes, but also other disciplines of higher value, which are not as easily quantified. This is the understanding of education defined much more aptly in Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language published in 1828:

The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.

This is where I fear myself doing a less than stellar job educating my children. It isn’t the acquisition of the checked boxes as outlined by the current education model that is difficult. Further, if we view “usefulness in their future stations” solely in postmodern economic terms, I’d dare say I’m doing pretty well, and certainly no worse than most. I know plenty of parents who are doing an even better job than we are at box-checking, religious education, arts, and manners.

For reasons I couldn’t quite grasp until very recently, I still hadn’t been able to shake the notion that somewhere there is a huge gap in my kids’ education and it has absolutely nothing to do with academic achievement or economic readiness. I’ve no doubt I’ll leave some gaps there too, but the gap I fear we are leaving is the one we won’t see until it too late to fill except by letting our children learn the hard, painful way. It’s the gap of learning to make decisions and be at ease and secure apart from us, a skill we value far too little in our culture which insists we make our children the center of our worlds; the be all and end all of our existence, lest they be damaged. Or worst of all, have low self-esteem.

Ironically, the technology which makes our lives so much “easier” is the very thing that is creating a generation of young adults who are incapable of navigating simple decisions on their own. It was a conversation in a grocery checkout lane with random, strange women where the only apparent shared experience is the fact that we are all mothers, that crystallized for me many of the things we fail to teach. More than that, however, are the ways we teach. In this particular case, it was the fact that most of our kids could barely stand to allow us a simple quiet trip to the neighborhood grocery store to buy milk or eggs without numerous calls and myriad text messages.

I was raised by a generation of parents who wouldn’t even allow us to enter the living room to interrupt conversation among adults unless someone was “sick, dead, or dying”. While I am not advocating that level of extreme separation of spheres between parents and children, we did learn at least two things. The first was what was worthy of interrupting our parents for while they were busy. The second was how to decide for ourselves if it would be more appropriate to have an apple or a banana for snack. The number of young adults -and not so young adults- I have encountered who are incapable of living life and making relatively simple decisions without the consultation of experts via Google or approval via Facebook is a repudiation of the ways we as parents are teaching them.

The greater implications of refusing to cut the apron strings in the appropriate ways and times strikes at the heart of Webster’s definition:

series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations.

It encompasses a whole lot more than anything which can assessed via the SAT or ACT tests.

coming from where I'm from, Culture, educational, Els' Rabbit Trails, just for fun

In which I don’t contemplate the Rule of St. Benedict.

This post isn’t going to be nearly as deep as it starts. I figured I might divulge that lest anyone expects profound wisdom. However, you just might find it if you click on the references linked.

If you’ve read here any length of time, You know that I am quite a fan of Joshua Gibbs. Gibbs, a teacher who leads students through a tour of the great books at a Christian classical school, authors a blog called The Cedar Room at Circe Institute. He recently authored a book which I’ve yet to read although I plan to. When I do, I’ll review it here. Almost everything he offers regarding the intersection of education, faith, and creating an atmosphere conducive to learning resonates with me, and I always look forward to reading what he has to say because it inspires me both as a teacher and as an aspiring writer.

Tonight is a rare date night, so as I was soaking my feet in preparation for the  softest possible result, I decided to catch up on his most recent posts. I often read educational inspiration on Fridays, as this is when I self-flagellate while re-examining the week behind me; from my time with my students at home (my children), to the students I teach at school. I was working backwards from today’s post to the first of the week, as I often do. Between a welcome opportunity to contemplate the rule of St. Benedict  (seriously, go read that!) and the role of the “sage on the stage”,  Gibbs drops in this ditty which sends me off on a mental rabbit trail, which may or may not be of worth at some point. I’ll have to ponder. Note the bolded part, which is where I’m about to park:

Students made eyes at one another, mouthed little conversations to one another, flirted with each other, and studied the six dozen pencil pouches and other gear (why everyone must have a water bottle these days is beyond my reckoning— were children of my generation dying of dehydration in math class and I simply never heard about it?) which filled the table. I found myself constantly working around the additional distractions the table created, and neither did I find conversation richer around the table than inside a classroom wherein all were oriented to the front.

And with that simple, unimportant, yet astute and accurate observation, my contemplation of the deep things concerning education and life was derailed as I wondered: Why DO we all send our kids off to school and every where else, with a big, reusable, and often expensive water bottle in tow? I carry one as well but I know why, and the answer startlingly simple and vain: If I drink more water, I eat less food, and my fabulously caramel skin stays hydrated, staving off the wrinkles a wee bit longer. Surely, your average six-year-old spending his days shuffling between an air conditioned classroom and a covered playground harbors no such concerns.

Our 10-year-old has already lost one $19 water bottle this school year, and she almost lost a second except this time we had the presence of mind to write her name on it. When she left it on the playground a while back, I got a call from another mother to inform me that she had taken possession of the water bottle and would reunite it with us on Monday.

Mr. Gibbs asked the question concerning those of us who were students in years gone by: were we all suffering from the dehydration we all seem so intent on sparing our children? I doubt it highly, but it still leaves me wondering. Usually with a little thought, a book and a few clicks, I can connect the dots and ascertain some idea of how particular cultural and parenting tics gained a foothold in our daily lives. The water bottle obsession, however, eludes me.

Just maybe, when I figure that one out, I can revisit the sage on the stage and the rule of St. Benedict.

Y’all have a great weekend, now!