Neil Postman’s Syllogistic Conundrum

The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman, published in 1982. 177 pages.

It has taken me several weeks to read this relatively short book mainly because I got sidetracked, not only by the runaway cultural train that we’re all witnessing, but also by a sudden and overwhelming curiosity about the late Neil Postman; who he was and what he was all about. What I found is that he is a man who, like so many sane secular commentators, parked right outside of Truth’s house, but failed to finish the leg of the journey that would take him through the front door.

One thing Postman does extraordinarily well is lay out the historical development of childhood as we commonly understand it today. By today, I mean the image cultivated between the years 1850 and 1950 as exposited in The Disappearance of Childhood.

The period between 1850 and 1950 represents the high watermark of childhood. In America, to which we must now give our exclusive attention, successful attempts were made during these years to get all children into school and out of factories, into their own clothing, their own furniture, their own literature, their own games, and their own social world. In a hundred laws children were classified as qualitatively different from adults; in a hundred customs, assigned preferred status and offered protections from the vagaries of adult life. p.67″

Before this, Postman laid the groundwork for his argument that prior to the printing press and widespread literacy, children didn’t experience the shelter and protections from adult life that they enjoyed after those developments. Postman argues that children were not only were exposed to hard physical labor but also to ribaldry and all things adult-like. This was because childhood’s boundaries were not determined by literacy, but by verbal acuity which reaches maturity at a much earlier age than literacy education as we understand it today.

There’s room for a robust conversation about the happy medium, if you will, between childhood as we know it, complete with its own language and accouterments, and a healthy overlap between the lives of children and adults. Postman sees the overlapping of childhood and adulthood mostly through a negative lens, and when viewed from his vantage point, he’s right to see it that way. He frames most of these negative developments from a snapshot which has grown increasingly vivid with each technological advancement. Somehow the printing press is omitted from judgement, which only Postman could explain. I hope to find out if he did as I continue to read more of his work. While most scholars trace the disembodiment of communication back to the radio, Postman asks us to consider that it really began with the telegraph. A question attributed to Thoreau addressed the issue and was expounded on 120 years later:

“A hundred and twenty years later Marshall McLuhan tried to address the issue Thoreau raised. He wrote: ‘When a man lives in an electric environment, his nature is transformed and his private identity is merged with the corporate whole. He becomes “Mass Man”. Mass Man is a phenomenon of electric speed, not of physical quantity. Mass Man was first noticed as a phenomenon in the age of radio, but he had come into existence, unnoticed, with the electric telegraph’.

In my opinion, McLuhan, whose metier was hyperbole, is far from exaggerating the case here. The electric telegraph was the first communication medium to allow the speed of a message to exceed the speed of the human body.” P. 69-70.

I would argue that the printing press fits this bill, but as a man of literature, Postman is unable to appreciate the distinction.

My fascination with the overlapping phenomena of technological advancement and the destruction of geographical community (a phrase which would have been redundant 100 years ago), is causing me to omit the true thrust of Postman’s argument, which really hinges on the advent of television as a mass medium and the breathtaking speed at which it transformed the way we live and interact.

Postman’s thesis, and I agree, is that a picture may “be worth a thousand words, but it is in no sense the equivalent of a thousand words, or a hundred, or two.” He presents the argument that television has the potential to put our minds to sleep. This is where it differs from the printed word.  Though the printed word can also contribute to Mass Man as a phenomenon, it doesn’t put the mind to sleep.

As it relates to the disappearance of childhood, Postman offers a very interesting argument for why these moving pictures with targeted entertainment formulas contribute not only to the “adultifying” of children, but to the rise of the “childified” adult. His cultural references are outdated since the book was written in the 1980s, but no matter. In 2020, the references have leaped from the screen and are now a part of daily life. Who among us does not know these people, except they aren’t characters on a television show?

Laverne, Shirley, Archie, the crew if the Love Boat, the company of Tree, Fonzie, Barney Miller’s detectives, Rockford, Kojak, and the entire population of Fantasy Island can hardly be said to be adult characters, even after one has made allowances for the traditions of the formats in which they appear. With a few exceptions, adults on television do not take their work seriously (if they work at all), they do not nurture children, they have no politics, practice no religion, represent no tradition, have no foresight or serious plans, have no extended conversations, and in no circumstances allude to anything that is not familiar to an eight-year-old person.” p.126-127

To this, I have two responses. The first is welcome to the modern/postmodern era! The second is an indictment of Postman’s secular worldview. Much as a feminist is all for unbridled sexual autonomy until a 16 year-old boy competes and wins in a sporting event that should have merited her daughter a chance at a collegiate athletic scholarship, Postman cannot acknowledge that the practice of religion and extending of traditions across generations is tethered to accountability to God and man. It’s also inextricably linked to the understanding that for moral values to have substance, moral law must support them, and all laws have a Law Giver.

Childhood, as an intrinsically valuable stage of life, came of age with Christianity’s spread across the West much in the same way as female dignity was born at the Samarian well. Once we decided that every man should decide for himself what is right, there was nothing left but the destruction of all things good, true, and beautiful. Including the innocence of childhood.

The book itself, however, is excellent. It presents a powerful case and offers lots of opportunity to contemplate the fruits and limits of modern living.

4 out of 5 stars

Oh, yes! The syllogism:

If man determines his own values

Which are subjective rather than objective

This fluidity renders everything worthless ~me

Word Nerd Wednesday: Systemic

It is my earnest attempt to keep this as word nerdy and apolitical as possible, but given the way this word is being tossed around of late, I thought it warranted a closer look. So against my better judgment, I want to parse the word systemic, because I am fairly certain it doesn’t mean what most people think it means.

What can I say? Inigo Montoya looms large here at Reading in Between the Life. First, a definition, or more accurately, several definitions, from two etymological sources:

System (From Webster’s 1828 dictionary, where the word systemic isn’t listed):

1. An assemblage of things adjusted into a regular whole; or a whole plan or scheme consisting of many parts connected in such a manner as to create a chain of mutual dependencies; or a regular union of principles or parts forming one entire thing. Thus we say, a system of logic, a system of philosophy, a system of government, a system of principles, the solar system the Copernican system a system of divinity, a system of law, a system of morality, a system of husbandry, a system of botany or of chemistry.

2. Regular method or order.

Systemic (Merriam Webster online):

a: affecting the body generally systemic diseases

b: supplying those parts of the body that receive blood through the aorta rather than through the pulmonary artery

c: of, relating to, or being a pesticide that as used is harmless to the plant or higher animal but when absorbed into its sap or bloodstream makes the entire organism toxic to pests (such as an insect or fungus)

d: fundamental to a predominant social, economic, or political practice

So the word systemic shows a framework or “system” intentionally designed to produce a particular outcome, whether negative or positive, for particular citizens.

When you live in a system with layers upon layers of legal prohibitions and protections to ensure that certain positive outcomes are enhanced and other negative outcomes are reduced for all citizens (even when the positive outcomes aren’t merited and the negative outcomes are deserved), then it’s probably a good idea to think critically about whether the definition of the word, as it’s being espoused, is correct.

This is especially true when there is access to legal and historical information distinguishing a time when the system was one way, legally, and there is a clear and direct line of systemic reforms which show a pattern of moving from one system to another.

Lastly, “microaggressions” are interpersonal, one-on-one occurrences, and are therefore not acceptable examples or proof of systemic design. Humans gonna human, and we all suck sometimes in one way or another.

Now, go. Educate yourself. Most schools are not equipped to do it for you, at least not properly.

Word Nerd Wednesday: What does Grandma taste like?

You’ve no doubt heard the grammar lesson on commas which begins with the farcical one liner, “Let’s eat Grandma”.  It’s universal, and a hilarious way to teach the importance of proper comma usage.

One of my favorite types of books is a funny, readable grammar book which tackles common English language mistakes without the stodgy feel of a textbook. I recently picked up a copy of The Grammatically Correct Handbook at our local used bookstore and am enjoying it quite a lot. I am always surprised to run into rules I didn’t know that I didn’t know. This book, which I am still reading, inspired a recollection of how many other cute yet functional grammar books I’ve read over the years. Here are just a few:

  • Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English–Like every book on this list, this book is easy to read and entertaining. I’m operating from the assumption that someone other than I find grammar entertaining. Even if you don’t, this book shoots straight, which brings me to the next book on the list.
  • Eats, Shoots, & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation– Lynne Truss makes punctuation fun by giving you a page-side seat as she offers uproarious examples of commas gone wild. It’s an excellent way to teach punctuation to your kids. Even if they go to school, the grammar education isn’t very good, and punctuation knowledge is even worse, so grab this book and take the drudgery out of it.
  • Between You and Me– This one is more geared toward adult writing mistakes, given the references that the average millennial will not recognize, but it’s funny. Worth a read if you’re a blogger or writer of any kind. Yeah, I know we all have Grammarly now (I have a subscription to ProWritingAid on my computer), but what happens to your writing if the Internet goes ‘kaput!’ tomorrow? Huh?
  • Write Right: A Desktop Digest of Grammar, Punctuation, and Style– This book tackles all the steps of the writing process, while also tinged with lightness and humor. It’s not as entertaining as some aforementioned books, but it’s a darn sight better than your 7th grade English book.

Those are just a few of the books tackling grammar that I have enjoyed, and I have more still to explore.

Do you have any favorite books that you used to help you as you improve your use of the English language, in speech as well as writing?

The Current Crisis Reinforces the Importance of Books

I recently disengaged myself from the small bit of social media that I was engaged in. The overwhelming barrage of keyboard battle waging wore me out. I couldn’t take anymore, and I have learned over the years the danger of publicly emoting over every cultural and political upheaval coming down the pike. Social media doesn’t really reward silence. You’re supposed to use your supposed platform to say something, and I cannot be bothered.

As a natural fact finder and researcher, I know that the vast majority of what we’re told is twisted and manipulated to produce maximum emotional reaction. The result is a further breakdown of civility and dialog, so I checked out. Measured, reserved voices have no place in such an environment.

As I took my leave and considered the way information is disseminated, eliminated, and policed across various platforms and it occurred to me how important it is to read books. Not just history books, although those top the list, but many books. Preferably, read books written at least 100 years ago. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read newer books. A quick perusal here reveals that I have reviewed books from every modern era. On the Internet, information can be manipulated and withheld on the whim and according to the political preferences of powerful people. That makes it a poor substitute for the wisdom that has gone before, preserved in hard copies.

We’ve explored the choice to be made between digital reading and hard copies of books. I recognize that the day is coming when digital reading will completely overtake bound paper books, and that many people will welcome the development. I understand why, but I disagree. The only thing I offer concerning the current crisis is a bit of advice:

Put down your phone, get to know your neighbors as human beings, and pick up a book.

 

Friday Faves: More Baking Fun.

If you’re averse to gluten-laden goodies, click away now. For real.

One of my guilty pleasures is watching chefs cooking and baking all kinds of foods on YouTube. As I have mentioned here numerous times before, ours is a family that enjoys cooking.

Recently I ran across a video featuring a chef, Richard Bertinet. He’s a French pastry chef and cookbook author whose style intrigued me. He was making these cinnamon buns and despite my very low-carb diet, I couldn’t resist trying them.

This is a different take on a traditional cinnamon roll. They not only shape differently than the traditional pastry, but the dough is much more rich and buttery. Very French!

This is not the kind of baking I would suggest as regular fare. These buns are more appropriate for special occasions such as Christmas breakfast or Easter brunch. They are just that decadent.

As always, taking the pictures was all kinds of fun. Getting a a decent shot in friendly light requires a bit of strategy.

I’m interested in getting my hands on chef Bertinet’s cookbooks. I hope my library has them so I can review them without commitment.

Happy Friday from my kitchen to yours!

Word Nerd Wednesday

I’ve been catching up on the news of the day, and the utter absurdity of the world we’re living in made me think of the word scintilla.

Scintilla: A spark or trace.

For example: It seems there isn’t a scintilla of common sense or common decency left in this world.

That was harsh, and I know it isn’t true, but this is what occurred to me as I caught up on the headlines of the day.

Happy Wednesday?

Last Train to Paradise

last train

Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad That Crossed an Ocean, By Les Standiford.  2002. 288 pages.

The story of this robber baron and railroad magnate is not new to me. Florida history has fascinated me for a very long time, and you can’t examine it without repeatedly running into the name Henry Flagler. Nevertheless, when I ran across Last Train to Paradise in a local used bookstore, I couldn’t resist picking it up and giving it a read. Les Standford takes an admirable turn at recounting a most exciting time, not only in Florida’s history but in America’s industrial history.

After partnering with John D. Rockefeller as a founder of the Standard Oil Company, Henry Flagler was a very wealthy man. His life, however, was not without its tragedies. As was common near the turn of the 20th century, a doctor prescribed sea and sun as a remedy for Flagler’s very ill first wife. It was during that time that he first came to the sunshine state. The first Mrs. Flagler eventually died from her illness, but Henry Flagler’s love for the state continued and when he remarried, he honeymooned in St. Augustine. Despite its natural beauty, he found vacation amenities in the state sorely lacking. Being a man of action, Flagler embarked upon the building of an elaborate high-end resort hotel in St. Augustine, The Ponce de Leon. Almost instantly, it was the place for the wealthiest most powerful people in the world to vacation during the winter months.

The hotel still stands today and looks very much as it did back then. Now the site of Flagler College,  it is a breathtaking exhibition of craftsmanship, extravagance, and ostentatiousness.  We visited for a tour the weekend before the pandemic panic officially began, and the spectacle of that building along with Memorial Presbyterian Church also built by Flagler, never gets old.

In addition to being an oilman, Flagler was also a railroad magnate. It was in the context of his Florida East Coast Railway Company that he became known as “the man who built Florida.” It was also during this time when he became obsessed with building what was popularly known as “Flagler’s folly”, a railroad that ran down the east coast of the state, extending off of the peninsula, with connections all the way to Key West.

Between the swampy, mosquito-infested marshland of the Florida peninsula, the difficult and unprecedented nature of the work, and the repeated setbacks brought on by hurricanes one season after the next, few believed Flagler would conquer the challenges required to fulfill his mission. Last Train to Paradise documents all of the challenges, setbacks, and triumphs that paved the way for Flagler’s ultimate success. Although old and frail at 82 years old, he fulfilled his dream of riding his railway from the peninsula to Key West:

On the afternoon of January 21, 1912, almost 7 years after work on the Key West extension had begun, the project’s equivalent to the driving of the “golden spike” took place.  At Knight’s Key, nearly fifty miles north and east of Key West, a bridge foreman threw a switch that closed off access to the trestle curving from the main line toward the temporary docks. For the first time, traffic was open across the Seven Mile Bridge- at the time, the world’s longest continuous bridge- and from there, all the way to Key West. The process of rail building that had begun in 1892 was complete. There were now 366 miles of FEC track linking Jacksonville with Miami, and 156 more connecting Miami to Key West. p.201

It was known at the time as the eighth wonder of the world and with good reason.

Key West Extension

The Key West extension operated from 1912-1935 until it was partially destroyed by the Labor Day hurricane of 1935. With sustained winds of 185 mph, the bridge never stood a chance.

Standiford describes the last-ditch effort by FEC to send a rescue train to The Keys, but part of the train was washed away after having picked up a handful of its intended cargo. Somehow the engine compartment, along with the crewman in the engine’s cab survived the battering of a monster wave. The storm was the end of FEC’s Key West extension. However, the state of Florida used the remaining bridge spans as the route for a highway through the Keys. Thousands of tourists use the highway each year to visit the nation’s southernmost city. It’s totally worth the trek.

Despite making it onto the New York Times’ bestseller list, I would still categorize this book as written to a particular niche of readers. Even as a Florida history buff, I found several chapters too heavy with technical information concerning the nature of railroads and the construction of the bridge. I appreciate why the author found important the details of what was at the time, a marvel of modern engineering. It still made for much slower reading than the narratives describing the partnership of Rockefeller and Flagler, and their run-ins with trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt.

Calling Henry Flagler “the man who built Florida” is not hyperbole. That his singular vision transformed a muggy, swamp-filled, mosquito-infested landscape into a highly desirable destination is nothing short of extraordinary. He was a robber baron, an arrogant one at that, but at least he did more than the robber barons of today. He left something behind other than hollowed-out towns and empty factories.

Summertime is approaching, and it’s 90 degrees today in this former mosquito-infested marshland. Well, it’s still muggy and mosquito-infested, but now we have infrastructure and homes with central air conditioning.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Faves: A few Favorite Children’s Books

Happy Friday, all!

The slowdown of new normal life continues. After nearly 8 weeks, there’s only so much to keep a girl busy around the house, so my reading pace has picked up again. That means more book reviews in the queue. I know how much you all miss those! Meanwhile, with school winding down and more children at home this spring and summer, I thought this would be a good time to discuss children’s books.

If I had to narrow down my list of favorites to even 10, I’d never be able to do it. However, I do have some guidelines for choosing children’s books as well as a few books that I genuinely love as much now as my children did when they read them. I have reviewed several of the books in this post, so if you’re interested click on the link for more insight. I’m a big fan of bullet points and categorization, so here we go.

Books for Young Children

sal blueberries

  • Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey, 1948 Caldecott Award Winner. Our youngest child turned 12 this week, and one of my fondest memories of her toddler years was when I read this book to her and her sister, now 13. They requested it over and over. It wasn’t long before we had bought little metal buckets, and spent countless days dropping blueberries in them making the “kuplink!” sound and eating the blueberries.
  • Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey, 1942 Caldecott Award Winner. The story of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and their large family of ducklings never failed to delight our kids when they were young. Like Blueberries for Sal, the Caldecott medal is an indication of the beautiful artwork in the book.
  • Olivia, by Ian Falconer, 2001 Caldecott Award Winner. This quirky, confident little pig stole my girls’ heart from the first read.
  • Frog and Toad, by Arnold Loebel, 1970, Caldecott Award winner. I’ve written at length about the beauty of the Frog and Toad stories. You can find that post here.
  • Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter, 1901. This classic tale has never gone out of style. Peter’s mischievous adventures are sure to keep kids entertained and delighted. It also makes for very good discussions about obedience and prudence.

Adventure for Older Children

captains courageous

  • Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling, 1896. The link is to my original review of this wonderful coming of age story. Kipling weaves the tale of an entitled boy growing into a man and it’s a great book.
  • The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom, 1971. The link is to my review. This book qualifies as an adventure, but not in the sense that we’re accustomed to thinking of adventure. This story of a family defying Nazi orders and extending Christian love during WWII is a magnificent read.
  • The Lion’s Paw, by Robb White, 1946. Again, the link is to my review. This is another coming of age story, but it takes place on the high seas off the coast of Florida. If you’ve read here for any length of time, you know I read a lot of books set in and around this state I call home.
  • Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie, 1904. The link is to my review. I’d never read this book until one of my children was assigned to read it, but once I started, I could not put it down. This book is worth reading no matter how old you are really. It’s a fast-paced, rip-roaring good time from start to finish. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
  • The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Graeme, 1908, link to review. Even now, when I think about Mr. Toad’s motorcar adventure, daring prison escape, and inability to keep his mouth shut when he most needed to, I chuckle a bit. If you haven’t read Wind in the Willows with your kids, you should.

These are just a fraction of a fraction of my favorite children’s books. I could literally go on all night, but I won’t. An excellent resource for a comprehensive book list is the book Honey for a Child’s Heart, by Gladys Hunt. It is by far the best, suggested reading list I’ve found in one place.

What are some of your favorite children’s books?

Knowledge of the Holy

knowledge of the holy

Knowledge of the Holy, Kindle edition, by A.W. Tozer. Originally published in 1961.

It has taken me a long time to review this book, despite having read it weeks ago because it turned out to be far more personal than I anticipated. I strongly considered not reviewing it all. However, because I believe it is worth sharing and encouraging others to read, I’m going to make an attempt at a proper review.

Books that call me out of my stoic, reserved, cards-close-to-the-vest nature tend to make me uncomfortable. The Practice of the Presence of God was such a book, and this one was similar in that regard. What was different about this book was that while Tozer demanded that “reason kneel in reverence outside” the place in the spirit where love and faith reign at home, Knowledge of the Holy was still full of intellectual stimulation. It just stimulates the reader to remember that true Christian faith can never be fully validated intellectually:

Philosophy and science have not always been friendly toward the idea of God, the reason being that they are dedicated to the task of accounting for things and are impatient with anything that refuses to give an account of itself. The philosopher and the scientist will admit that there is much that they do not know; but that is quite another thing from admitting that there is something which they can never know, which indeed they have no technique for discovering. To admit that there is One who lies beyond us, who exists outside of all our categories, who will not be dismissed with a name, who will not appear before the bar of our reason, nor submit to our curious inquiries: this requires a great deal of humility, more than most of us possess

Indeed this is true, and the distinction between acknowledging a lack of knowledge and accepting the impossibility of full knowledge is an important one. We currently live in a world where we are being told that science reigns supreme and is certain despite many of its obvious contradictions and limitations.

As Reformed theology is growing as a reaction against watered down, emotion-driven postmodern Christianity, I appreciate being reminded that childlike faith and perfect love trump intellect and reason in God’s economy.

One of the reasons it took me so long to read -and review- this book is that I had to stop several times to do some introspective work. This book compelled personal examination about what I really believe. Challenges such as this were good for me:

The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.

The question Tozer posed here is one that occupied me for several days, and in many ways I am still considering it, distinguishing between intellectual assent born of a lifetime in the church, and the reality of what I truly believe. It is a question we should all consider from time to time:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

There is a lot more to said about this book, but I’d rather you read it for yourself. It is an excellent exposition on the modern man’s interpretation of God compared to how Scripture reveals God to us.

It will make you think, regardless of whether or not you ultimately agree with Tozer’s conclusions… if what he reaches can be called conclusions.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

A Time to Laugh…

There will be a book review tomorrow. I promise. In the meantime, here is a very funny song by Matthew West as he and his family make the best of this “Quarantine Life.” I hope you all like it as much as we did: