Pride and Destruction


I want to tell some stories. They are stories I have told in part here before, and they are not pleasant stories. If you are among the sadly increasing tribe of those walking wounded who need trigger warnings, consider this a warning.

These are not my stories, but some of them could be. They may not be your stories, but I guarantee you know more people than you wish, more than you are aware, who could be telling these stories.

The first story: JImmy Hinton is a preacher in the churches of Christ. He grew up there. His daddy John was a preacher, too, well loved, respected, popular, and much admired by everybody, including his own children. And then one day their world came crashing down when they learned that John had been molesting children pretty much his entire adult life. Jimmy turned his father into the police, and his dad is in jail now (or was the last I read). This was incredibly brave and altruistic and the right thing to do, but he did more than that. Jimmy took that heart-ache and grief and turned it into an outreach where he helps teach others to recognize the signs and how to deal with the uniquely dishonest, deceptive, and elusive pathology of the pedophile, and more importantly and often entirely overlooked for some reason, how to love the victims.

He says he hears a lot from church members who are hurt, stunned, horrified, shocked, and often directly wounded by pedophiles in their midst- first by the wicked themselves, and then by the responses of leadership. He doesn’t hear much from leaders asking what to do, how to respond, what to watch for. In fact, he says, “many leaders are making uninformed decisions and doing it with complete confidence. They routinely shut down people who try to warn them that they are making dangerous decisions.” {1}
Here, he says, are the most common excuses leadership give for handling things as they do:

“He (or she) did his time
We don’t want to bring shame on this brother
It’s not fair to publicize his past sins
He poses no threat to children
We’re keeping an eye on him
He’s not allowed near the children’s wing
We met with him and he’s very remorseful and repentant
We need to encourage him and his family and shining a light on his past sins will greatly discourage him
You’re not to tell anyone about this because you’ll be undermining the leadership” {1}

I hope none of this sounds familiar to anybody reading this.

That’s one story. Here’s another one.
There was once a church leader in his fifties who was convicted of molesting two fatherless boys who were part of the church’s outreach program. He molested them while chaperoning a church outing for underprivileged children. He insisted it was his first time, ever. He was convicted of those two counts and spent a short time in jail.

Released from prison, he placed his membership at another congregation in the same denomination in the same large city where his previous church as. The elders wrote a letter to all parents when he first joined to let them know the boundaries they put in place to keep the children of the church safe. They promised he would not to come into contact with children, would not to be in the classroom areas, and would always to have an escort with him while on church property.

One of those parents saw him alone in an isolated hallway, chatting up a vulnerable youngster, no supervision or escort in sight. The parent notified leadership who had no apologies to make, but promised to ‘remind’ the pedophile of the boundaries he was supposed to be keeping.

Shortly thereafter his name appeared on a list of volunteers for a children’s program, where he was prominently thanked for his help. The same parent went to leadership again, and was assured his help was in preparing materials, that there was no contact with children at all. Also, leadership said, “He’s repented. And he’s not ‘like that’ anymore anyway.”

Here’s another story:
A prosecutor who specializes, if there is such a thing, in prosecuting sex crimes against children says that in all the years he practiced, he often saw church leadership and members show up at court and sit on the side of the accused, to support him. He never saw church people at court sitting with the victims. He’s retired from procescuting and now works with an organization dealing with such abuse in church settings. {2}

Here’s another one:
A 16 y.o. girl asked for help with a see you at the pole event and the 25 year old pastoral student who answered her call proceeded to seduce her, use her, and drop her in what she would later realize was classic pastoral abuse. She told church leadership multiple times, shocked to learn her abuser was an overseas missionary working with kids. The Southern Baptist Convention’s church missions board knew. They investigated and found the allegations were true, “more likely than not”, and that he was dishonest with them about the extent of the relationship. He resigned but went on to serve the same church organization in other capacities which gave him access to teen-agers and parents were not warned. His crimes against his first victim were severe enough that when she went to the police ten years later, there was no statute of limitation and he was charged and prosecuted. Meanwhile, the advice of church leadership to is victim was that she needed to forgive and move on. {3}

You don’t really have to work hard to imagine this, because it’s happening all over the country.  Some of the minor details change, but the gist of it remains the same and church leadership gambles recklessly with children in that church while claiming to protect them.

In many situations where a perpetrator is caught, he will do what they all do in these circumstances- sob, cry wretchedly, express self-loathing, claim repentance, and say this is the first time it ever happened, or some other way minimize what he did, focus on his feelings, and try to stop you from looking deeper. If law enforcement gets involved,they may confess, but only to the exact same children law enforcement taxed him with, not one child more. That’s a red flag. Short of something like a brain tumour, no normal, healthy upright adult of integrity just gets the urge to violate a single child out of the blue in his fifties. It’s happened before, many, many times. It’s going to happen again.

It is not appropriate for leadership to act like law enforcement. A crime has been committed, a crime against children, and it needs to be referred to law enforcement and anybody who could have had contact with that perpetrator needs to know. Not just church members, not just parents. Are there no uncles, aunts, neighbors, grandparents who might bring along a child to church? Shouldn’t they know? What about visitors? Do we really only care about protecting the congregation’s reputation and not children who are not associated with our group? You cannot put in place enough protections to keep children safe while allowing a known child molester in your midst.

Quite often people who pride themselves on being good judges of character are the worst people in the world to decide what to do about a pedophile in the midst of the church (or anywhere). Pedophiles are clever manipulators and con-artists. Child molesters love people who think they are good judges of character. They are charismatic con-artists and gifted communicators who work very, very, hard to manipulate their image to get into positions of trust. They need to get you to let them have access to children and to have everybody trust them and think “What a great guy!” They are incredibly good at it, and they convince people so thoroughly that they doubt themselves before they would doubt the predator.

Molesting children is not just a whim, a taste that one loses. IT is always there, that attraction to children. IT’s not normal. You can’t use your healthy mind to assess the future behaviour of somebody else’s unhealthy mind and make determinations that put children at risk. Nobody can know they ‘aren’t like that’ anymore. And even if it were true, people can repent and yet still fall prey to temptation. Dont let them in temptation’s way, and more importantly, do not risk children over your pride in your own judgement.

There is some horrifying research showing molesters typically have abused 200 children by the time they are caught, and many of those children multiple times. That number should horrify you. Don’t let the 201st child be one that happened because of your silence.

Be wise as serpents here. It’s entirely possible that the people nattering on about forgiveness and believing in repentance without much proof other than the kind of thing that we already know pedophile excels at (tricking people into believing he is something he is not) are just naive. but there could be more sinister reasons at play for sweeping this kind of thing under the rug as well. I have become increasingly cynical. At the very least, pride is often at play- they want to believe in him (he’s one of them, after all), and they don’t like being challenged or told they are probably wrong. They probably consider themselves good judges of character. But sometimes, birds of a feather… Don’t be paranoid. But don’t be stupidly naive, either.

Here are some tools to help you be wise rather than gullible dupe:
http://wineskins.org/article/protecting-children-pedophiles-practical-steps-parents-churches-organizations-identify-address-problem/

http://www.churchprotect.org has some helpful programs and resources.

http://wineskins.org/2014/04/08/what-place-do-pedophiles-have-in-the-church/”>Definitely read this: “Good hard statistics show that the vast majority of sex offenders re-offend when put back into a high risk setting, such as a church. Why? Because they are tempted by children and because we give them access to the drug of their choice. I believe that, with good treatment and lots of prayer, pedophiles can repent. But make no mistake—they will always be attracted to children. And because they are attracted to children, and because they have successfully offended in the past, and because survivors of abuse fear their presence, and because we are called to protect the vulnerable, when we invite them in a gathering with children, and because there is no true test to know if they’ve repented, and because they prey on the naivety of church members, and because sexual abuse has such devastating spiritual, mental, and emotional effects, we owe it to everybody to keep children and sex offenders separate. Period.”

From the comments on that  article: “According to a very reliable study of thousands of pedophiles done my Dr. Gene Abel, 93% of pedophiles described themselves as religious. Religious people go to church. My dad told me the 2 easiest places to get away with sexually abusing children are churches and Christians daycares.”

Also from the comments: “If there is evidence that pedophiles, as defined by the medical definition of pedophilia, can successfully break their attraction to children for good, I am unaware of those studies. There are studies that evidence about 40% of pedophiles can successfully avoid offending again but only with constant treatment. The downside is that these studies only follow them for about 4 years. And the attraction still remains. They can learn how to identify and avoid high risk scenarios. The reality is that nobody knows of people who have successfully avoided offending again long-term. We certainly are made new creatures in Christ, but temptation is still a very real factor.”

And this: “we do not mix registered sex offenders with children is because of the revictimization that is so commonplace among survivors of abuse, which accounts for anywhere from 40-50% of our church members. Sometimes in an effort to accommodate the sex offender, we forget about the victims.”

This is also by Jimmy in the comments of the Wineskins article:
“people diagnosed with pedophilia average over 200 victims each. That’s not 200 instances of abuse, it’s 200 children. Some of those children are abused by the perpetrator hundreds of times. Dr. Gene Abel, et. al predicts that a pedophile only has a 3% chance of getting caught each time they abuse a child. It literally is that difficult for us to detect it. Had someone not spoken up when they did about dad, he would have abused children for the rest of his life and none of us would have ever known it. One common misconception is that registered sex offenders (specifically pedophiles) just “messed up” and had a run in with one child. Once people understand the grooming process, however, we find that it is anything but accidental, and there is rarely ever only one victim. The reason this misconception sticks is that plea deals are struck and they usually are only charged for one victim, even though there could be hundreds. For example, dad confessed to 23 victims and only had charges on 3. So in the news, they reported that he had 3 victims which is entirely inaccurate.”

“Another point to make is that probably 40 percent of the women at any given congregation, as well as a large number of the males, were likely molested as children. Openly letting a convicted child molester be involved at this level is re-traumatizing them.

“It is unfair to your child to assume that someone couldn’t be a pedophile.”

“John the Baptist, as he was baptizing people, said, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8, ESV). In other words, prove that you have changed, don’t just say it. Paul, in giving a defense before Roman authorities, tells King Agrippa that he preached the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles, “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20, ESV).

In other words, Paul didn’t give them the benefit of the doubt. Paul wasn’t so naïve as to think that, just because people claimed that they loved God and were good people, it meant that they really were. He demanded, as John did, that they prove themselves through their actions. Jesus, as he sent the 12 out to preach, warned, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In other words, don’t be naïve and think we live in a safe world where all people should be trusted just because they go to your church. Remain innocent, but don’t be fooled. So with that in mind, I demand that people prove themselves when they question my boundaries. You want me to believe you are a good person? Don’t violate my boundaries and then we’ll talk!”
That’s adapted from here:
http://jimmyhinton.org/2013/09/24/boundaries-part-2/#comment-328

Pedophiles will violate boundaries. It will be an accident.  They will have a good reason.  A good excuse. Plausible deniability.  Understand that they were already given the benefit of the doubt before people found out they were pedophiles. They don’t get more.  Now the burden is on them.  Keep an eye on them, and report suspicious behavior to the police.
What is suspicious behaviour? For somebody who is known to have a pedophile history, it’s contact with children. Gift giving, no matter how small, passing out suckers, pretty much anything endearing him to children is no okay once the predilection is known. Consider, too, that a truly repentant person would want to avoid any contact with children himself, and would certainly not be trying to make them comfortable with him or attached to him.

Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be swayed by tears and pleas. Remember this person has a history of deceit, look back and remind yourself how you were previously deceived.  Learn about they groom potential victims and their parents and other adults, some of the links in this post will help with that.  Remember that Evil hates the light and fights it tooth and nail.  It will be hard.  But don’t give up.  There are children, children who were victimized, and children who need to be kept safe from future predations, children who need strong advocates for what is right.

{1} http://jimmyhinton.org/churchtoo-why-leaders-respond-so-poorly/
{2} http://prospect.org/article/next-christian-sex-abuse-scandal
{3} http://thewartburgwatch.com/2018/07/13/did-the-southern-baptist-conventions-international-missions-board-decide-not-to-report-sexual-assault-they-knew-about-for-years/

Jimmy Hinton’s mother blogs about her horrible experience being unknowingly married to a pedophile, here: http://www.findingahealingplace.com/chosen-to-be-a-child-molesters-enabler-the-beginning-of-my-story/

Her story also gives insight into how predators work and how they groom their victims.

 

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Knowledge and Education

Reposted from 2006

“Root ideas are much more important in practical affairs than we usually realize, especially when they are so much taken for granted that they are hidden from our view.

In American education, the ideas that influence us, though often hidden from view, come to us from the intellectual movement known as Romanticism, which held great sway during our country’s formative years. It is thanks to the Romantics (also known as transcendentalists, pragmatists, and, in education, progressives) that the word “natural” has been a term of honor in our country and that the ideas of “nature” and “natural” were elevated to a status that previously had been occupied only by divine law. We can hear these romantic beliefs in John Dewey’s writings, which continually use the terms “development” and “growth”—terms that came as naturally to him as they do to us.

…. unnoticed metaphors like “growth” and “development” unconsciously govern our thought—and continue to do so….

These ideas become unspoken assumptions, accepted without even realizing we’re accepting anything, just as we take in air without consciously thinking about breathing. This particular idea, says the author, is directly responsible for a number of ‘deleterious romantic ideas’ influencing our schools and particularly the growth of ‘whole language’ and its replacement of phonics in schools of education.

The most harmful idea is that children do not need a knowledge-rich curriculum to become proficient readers. The word reading, of course, has two senses. The first means the process of turning printed marks into sounds and these sounds into words. But the second sense means the very different process of understanding those words. Learning how to read in the first sense, as vital as it is, does not guarantee learning how to read in the second sense, comprehending the meaning of what is read. To become a good comprehender, a child needs a great deal of knowledge. A romantically inspired long delay in beginning to teach that knowledge is socially and economically harmful to our students—especially our most disadvantaged students. (emphasis added)

This ‘disparagement of factual knowledge, as found in books,’ is a ‘strong current in American thought.’ We make movies romanticizing the ignorant (Forest Gump), and we here have seen teachers and others dismiss a high goal of literacy as elitist.

Instead of a respect for the importance of knowledge, Romanticism gave us faith in the half-truth that the most important thing for students to learn is “how to learn.” It bequeathed to us a tendency to dismiss the acquisition of broad knowledge as “rote learning” of “mere facts,” to subtly disparage “merely verbal” presentations in books and by teachers, and to criticize school knowledge unless it is connected to “real life” in a “hands-on” way. These ideas are now so commonplace that we don’t think twice about them; we don’t scientifically scrutinize them. Yet, these ideas underlie what we as a nation think about reading comprehension.

This particular assumption has become so internalized that I have even heard homeschoolers talk wisely about ‘it doesn’t matter what they learn, so long as they learn how to learn.’ Usually everybody in the room will nod sagely, as though something profound was just said. I’ve done it myself. We seldom think about the meaning behind such a statement. Of course it ought to matter immensely what the children learn, especially since we all know, if we would only think about it, that healthy children already know how to learn. They do come hard-wired with a desire to know. It’s the stuff of learning that they don’t have. As early as the 1900’s Charlotte Mason was addressing this faulty assumption. In fact, though she usually is gentle to a fault when speaking of ideas with which she disagrees, she goes so far as to call this one a farce:

We must give up the farce of teaching young people how to learn, which is just as felicitous a labour and just as necessary as to teach a child the motions of eating without offering him food… The multitudinous things that every person wants to know must be made accessible in the schoolroom, not by diagrams, digests, and abstract principles; but boys and girls, like ‘Kit’s little brother,’ must learn ‘what oysters is’ by supping on oysters. There is absolutely no avenue to knowledge but knowledge itself, and the schools must begin, not by qualifying the mind to deal with knowledge, but by affording all the best books…. We have to face two difficulties. We do not believe in children as intellectual persons nor in knowledge as requisite and necessary for intellectual life.

Charlotte Mason was a British educator, and I hope that her fellow educators in her native land paid her words some heed. Here in the US, we continue to be rather dismissive towards knowledge. We hear it in classrooms, see it in our textbooks, and portray this attitude in our movies and cultural icons.

Pick up a typical basal reader and the clear implication is that comprehension skill depends on formal “comprehension strategies,” such as predicting, summarizing, questioning, and clarifying.2 Look in them fruitlessly to find evidence that the publishers believe reading depends on imbibing a body of knowledge. I call this romantic idea, “formalism”—a belief that reading comprehension can best be improved by acquiring formal comprehension strategies, not by building children’s knowledge base.

The more we know, the more we are able to know, because knowledge is related to other knowledge in marvelous ways. There are myriad connections between one thing and another. Relations formed with one group of knowledge (say, the names of common wildflowers) give us tools and keys to understanding and knowing something else (allusions and similes in literature). This is what I think Miss Mason means when she observes that education is the science of relations. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. puts it this way:

knowledge of content and of the vocabulary acquired through learning about content are fundamental to successful reading comprehension; without broad knowledge, children’s reading comprehension will not improve and their scores on reading comprehension tests will not budge upwards either. Yet, content is not adequately addressed in American schools, especially in the early grades. None of our current methods attempt to steadily build up children’s knowledge; not the empty state and district language arts standards, which rarely mention a specific text or piece of information; not the reading textbooks, which jump from one trivial piece to another; and not the comprehension drills conducted in schools in the long periods of 90-120 minutes devoted to language arts. These all promote the view that comprehension depends on having formal skills rather than broad knowledge.

This may sound like an academic point. It is, in fact, an important argument about the science that underlies learning. I believe inadequate attention to building students’ knowledge is the main reason why the reading scores of 13- and 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have not budged in years. I believe this neglect of knowledge is a major source of inequity, at the heart of the achievement gap between America’s poor and non-poor. I also believe that if this idea about what is limiting students’ comprehension isn’t understood and aggressively addressed, reading scores won’t move up, no matter how hard teachers try. And the public debate will wrongly continue to pillory teachers and public schools for stagnant achievement scores….

….Formal comprehension skills can only take students so far; knowledge is what enables their comprehension to keep increasing.

Unfortunately, our typical response is not to increase knowledge, but to decrease complexity, to dumb down. Think about this the next time somebody says something like, “That’s too hard. Kids these days can’t understand those words. We need something easier….” This is to condemn children to a spiraling down of their ability to understand, and the less we respect their abilities and the importance of a body of knowledge, the less they will be able to cope with new information.
This is truly disturbing:

Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich have shown that under current conditions of American schooling, vocabulary in second grade is a reliable predictor of academic performance in 11th grade.11 They have also shown that the biggest contribution to the size of any person’s vocabulary must come from the printed page (whether it is heard or read), because print uses a greater number of different words than everyday oral speech does.

The entire article is rather long, but those who are interested can find it here.

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Air Travel Tips

I’m back in the Philippines after 45 days in the states, visiting three states, and sleeping at five different houses.
What with one thing and another my journey back home to the Philippines took me 52 hours from first take-off to final landing and I was in five airports. I slept in chairs and on a carpeted floor of a private lounge (they had sort of curved lounge chairs falsely advertised as comfortable but they were hard, the cushions hit me in the wrong places and the curve left my feet dangling below my heart and my ankles were already the size of melons even wearing compression socks). In random order here are a handful or tips which may or may not be useful to you:

Visit sleepinginairports.com. Bookmark it. Make it your friend.

When you get off the plane at an airport never, ever visit the first bathroom you pass. Everybody else on your plane is in that bathroom. Walk fast with your knees together and make it to the next bathroom, which will be empty and there won’t be a line which is good because by that point you are desperate.

Carry diaper wipes whether or not you have a baby.

Get a small atomizer/spray bottle of rubbing alcohol and add a few drops of your favourite essential oil and use it on armpits and other creasy places.

When you have to use a bathroom do wall pushups

There are exercises you can do from your plane seat that help with circulation and stiffness. I did the following:
Ankle circles- stretch one foot in front as far as you can, draw circles in the air with your toes (3-5 of them) then alternate.
Foot lifts- put your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Leaving your heels on the floor raise your toes and balls of feet as much as possible. Then put your toes on the floor and lift your heels.
Arm stretches: lock your fingers in front of you, back of your hands facing you, and lift your arms as high as you can
Neck stretches: lower your left shoulder while tilting your head to the right. Reverse and repeat.
Twists: While still in your seat twist to the left as far as you can and then to the right. Repeat. This is easier if your seatmate is sleeping and better still if you don’t have a seatmate.
Bend over and touch the floor, first to the left, then to the right- pretend you lost something if you need to.
Roll your shoulders forward 3-5 times and then back. Repeat.
Squeeze your buttocks, together, alternating.
Blushing when your fellow passengers stare at you is probably also good for circulation.

We all know we should walk more and use the moving sidewalk less. Put that knowledge into practice if you can, or walk on the moving sidewalk.

Wear Compression socks. I have done both of these: https://amzn.to/2K0GeiT, https://amzn.to/2uVm0SZ

Airports are cold, even the one in Manila. Have something you can use as a light wrap, whether it’s a shawl, extra shirt, or sweater. You can also roll these up and use for extra padding for a pillow or arm rest on the plane.

Bring your own headphones. Mostly I find the ones provided by the airline do not work.

I bring a small bottle of mouthwash and dampen my toothbrush with this to brush my teeth- no need to rinse and spit and leave toothpaste residue on your face.

Eye mask or at least sunglasses to dim the lights so you can sleep.

Put your hair up while it’s wet and clean. Take it down 12 hours later and it will look fairly clean still.

Another reason to pack that small spray bottle of rubbing alcohol- if the passenger behind you sticks his bare foot up on your arm rest you can fake sneeze while spraying that offending foot at the same time.

Pack a couple of plastic bags and a change of socks and underwear at least.

If you have a chance for a massage (available at the Hong Kong and Manila airport) and can afford it, take it. It’s not a luxury. It’s a real health and wellness tool.

Keep a sense of humour.

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Experts and the Science of Relations

A few years back Scientific American published an article on how experts are made, or rather, about how scientists attempted to discover how experts became experts.  It’s science, so they wanted something measurable, even though it’s hard to do that when working with the human mind. However, chess acumen provides a fairly measurable standard, so that’s what researchers looked at- chess champions. How did they get to be chess champions?

In one series of studies the players were blindfolded. The researcher posited that the players must have a near photographic image of the board and pieces, but he learned that this wasn’t true. What they had was a general idea of the pieces in relation to each other, and this idea was more abstract than concrete. The chess-master doesn’t have to remember details “because he can reconstruct any particular detail whenever he wishes by tapping a well-organized system of connections.”  Emphasis mine.

Of course, that brought to mind Charlotte Mason’s principle that “Education is the Science of Relations.” What researchers learned is that “the expert relies not so much on an intrinsically stronger power of analysis as on a store of structured knowledge.”  Think about that- it wasn’t analysis that mattered as much as having a good collection of knowledge organized in the mind.

In order to have a store of structured knowledge, of course, we have to fill the store-room. Charlotte Mason also addressed this when she said that children ought to have a wide and generous curriculum. She complained that many educators of her day believed that it is “more important that a child should think than that he should know. My contention is rather that he cannot know without having thought; and also that he cannot think without an abundant, varied, and regular supply of the material of knowledge.”  Emphasis mine again.

One interesting study tracked a mediocre player who rose to the level of master player over the course of nine years.

Neil Charness, professor of psychology at Florida State University, showed that despite the increase in the player’s strength, he analyzed chess positions no more extensively than he had earlier, relying instead on a vastly improved knowledge of chess positions and associated strategies.

Emphasis mine once more. Surely we have all experienced that confusing truth that the more we know the more we understand, yet the more we realize we don’t know!  And in spite of learning and knowing only to reach the point of realizing how ignorant we are, the more we also realize we can know. Read one well-written book and we learn new words, and new ideas are presented with new food for thought. Read a second living book, and even if it’s not on the same topic and has nothing in common with the previous book except that both are living (or so we think),  our knowledge base increases exponentially rather than additionally, because what we learned in the first book is broadened and expanded in the second, and what we read in the second sheds light on ideas from the first, and both combine to give us new insight into what we see and hear around us.  New words will have been used in one context in the first book, and they are used again in the second book with a slightly different context, adding nuance to our understanding.  Phrases, ideas, connections, concepts, these strike our brains with force- and which ideas strike us, which connections we make will be deeply influenced by who we are, where we are in life, and what we have read and experienced before (this is partially why vocabulary tests and ‘critical thinking’ lessons are not much use in real education).   We think we are adding information, but in reality, when in the realm of ideas and connections and the mind we are dealing in compounding square roots.    The connections we recognize multiply, expand, and stretch us,  and the sum is greater than the parts.

In order to get this rich, mental nourishment, notice the three components she mentioned: abundant, varied, and regular.

Regular servings of the mind food that comes from good books: Connections build this way.  You have to read broadly and you have to read in order to know to make the best of these connections.  We do make some important connections and expand our minds even through haphazard, careless reading (especially if we are reading great books), but reading to know, and providing the mind with regular servings provide for better understanding, healthier minds, and a better mental environment for thinking through the ideas and seeing the connections we are exposed to.  We want a steady diet rather than a gluttonous feast one month and starvation from books another month.  To quote a great book- slow and steady wins the race.

Abundant and varied: In addition to regular servings of the food for the mind (ideas, which are found in living books), we want abundant servings, and we want variety. We have to read many good books, and read broadly (that wide curriculum Miss Mason talked about).

It’s not the idea that doing well in Algebra makes you better at analyzing literature because

“ability in one area tends not to transfer to another. American psychologist Edward Thorndike first noted this lack of transference over a century ago, when he showed that the study of Latin, for instance, did not improve command of English and that geometric proofs do not teach the use of logic in daily life.”

Experts, it seems, don’t really know more, but they organize information in connecting parts and are better able to pull up those chunks of information. But it takes time and work to build up that knowledge base:

The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

Since what we want is to give our children as many relations with as many topics as possible to establish this wide knowledge base and then to recognize the connections all around us, it’s more important that our young students, for example,  read and learn poetry than that they spend their time making uninformed judgments about  things like which poet has the ‘keener eye’ for nature than others.   This is why we give them a wide array of subjects to study- nature, botany, stars, poetry, hymns, Bible, history, literature, art, music, and more.   This is why they should spend more time reading and writing about what they are reading than in creative writing exercises where they ‘express themselves.’  I am speaking here of assigned writings- children who write creative stories on their own should of course be left to follow that muse in their free time and encouraged appropriately, it’s just not really an appropriate assigned topic for ten year olds, for instance.

Children (like the rest of us) express themselves as a matter of course. What they don’t do is inform themselves without a little practice and guidance as to what to read and how to direct their attention, as Miss Mason explained a century ago:

There are bird-witted people, who have no power of thinking connectedly for five minutes under any pressure, from within or from without. If they have never been trained to apply the whole of their mental faculties to a given subject, why, no energy of will, supposing they had it, which is impossible, could make them think steadily thoughts of their own choosing or of anyone else’s. Here is how the parts of the intellectual fabric dovetail: power of will implies power of attention; and before the parent can begin to train the will of the child, he must have begun to form in him the habit of attention.

Or, as one scientist explained in the S.A. article:

…what matters is not experience per se but “effortful study,” which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time.

Emphasis mine again. Effortful study:  we read in order to know, and if we do not read we do not know.   Read in order to know.  Tackle challenges just beyond your comfort zone.  Whatever you or your children are reading or doing, try kicking it up a notch so it’s just a little harder. After that gets somewhat comfortable,  then kick it up again. And then again. We (by which I mean me) tend to reject that. We not only want to do things the easy, lazy way, we want to find some way to reinvent that as the more virtuous way. This shows that we are ‘relaxed,’ not driven, rigid, or ‘A-type.

‘Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance–for instance, keeping up with one’s golf buddies or passing a driver’s exam–most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind’s box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.

Are we (meaning me) allowing ourselves (meaning myself) to be ‘impervious to further improvement?’ When we put it that way it sounds a little less noble, doesn’t it? I should so much prefer to believe that I just have no talent for playing an instrument, for housecleaning or for math than to believe, as the researchers suggest, that:

motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise.

We must read in order to know.  Is that why we are reading, why our children are reading?

I’m not sure I completely agree with every single word and nuance behind that when it comes to becoming an expert musician or chess player, but I do suspect there’s more general truth to it that applies to reading and learning and recognizing the connections that make for real knowledge than I find comfortable.

Posted in Charlotte Mason | 1 Response

Rambling thoughts on mothering

“Oh, those people. I don’t know why they even had kids. I think it’s important to never have kids until you are sure about your reasons and never just because it’s the default choice.”

I agree that there are some very bad reasons to have children- and as a default certainly could be a bad one. But in the end, each of us knows our own reasons better than anybody else and I’m not sure it’s a good idea to assume others just had kids for no good reason just because we don’t approve of their parenting. So look at our own reasons closer than others.

OTOH, even when looking at ourselves, one can start something for bad reasons or less than noble and cerebral reasons and finish for better ones. It seems to me ‘why’ doesn’t matter, when you *are*. As long as those ‘bad’ reasons (and false expectations) aren’t coming into play I don’t know that I think we need to have some compelling, noble reason that would be generally recognized and received as socially acceptable.

I wrote this years ago when we had a large family, were used to hearing people ask us why or what we were thinking or whether or not we knew what caused it, but we seemed to be near the end of our childbearing years:

We like kids. We especially like our kids. We think they’re neat
people and we wouldn’t mind having more of these neat people around.
If no more happen to show up at our house, that’s a little
disappointing, but it’s still okay (I’m not going into major
depression over it). The ‘welcome’ sign is still out.=) That’s not
a line of reasoning many people think ‘good enough,’ but I don’t
care. It works for us.=) We have what we believe we need to have to
support any children we have- time, food, shelter, clothing, love,
knowledge, good growing space (not necessarily in that order, of
course).
We don’t have them to fill our needs, to alter the balance of world
power, because we can’t think of anything better to do, because we
can’t define ourselves in any other way but as parents, or because
we’re going to raise children with our political views (an idea I
find shockingly disregardful of children’s rights as persons) to
counter those we disdain, or…. for any other reason that centers on
ourselves.

Sometimes I’ve heard people lament wasted time in careers they have put on hold and perhaps cannot easily return to later, or that they discover they don’t love after all, or aren’t really good at, or that they had to drop because somebody needed to be a full time parent, or whatever.

I’m not so sure it’s always wasted time. I’m a great believer in stages of life. I wonder if the previous things were the right things for a person to do
at a certain time in her life, and rather than fouling them up, you
fulfilled what you needed to do at that stage. Now it’s simply time
to do something else, if you’re not interested in returning to and cannot return to whatever went before. They weren’t ‘mistakes.’ You probabably learned things,
accomplished goals, and touched others in a way you couldn’t have
done any other way. But now maybe there are other things to learn,
do, accomplish- in other ways, in other fields, maybe in something
so ‘out of the box’ that you haven’t thought of it yet, that isn’t
even a traditional ‘career’ at all.
You probably dated other guys before you met and married your
husband. Were they all mistakes just because they aren’t the guys
you ended up staying with? Or did you learn important things along
the way? You probably studied other subjects in school before you settled on a major. Were all those studies a mistake or did you learn along the way?

It <em>is</em> important to learn from mistakes, but I think a lot of things
we call mistakes aren’t really mistakes. They were the right thing
for us at that time. Like diapers, you know? I mean, diapers are
not a mistake at a certain time in life, but there comes a point
where it’s time to be toilet trained and move on- no regrets, just
move up to the next stage.

It’s good to assess where we are and where we’ve been and how we got there and what we’re doing. But it’s also good to just accept where we are and not obsess and do what we are doing in the moment, since quite likely, what we are doing is what we are really called to do just at that stage of our lives.

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