Tuesday, August 31, 2010

To Control or Not Control Every Little Thing

I saw a commercial yesterday on t.v. advertising Subway sandwiches. It started out with a girl about eleven or twelve years old sitting and staring blankly at the camera. In a depressed voice, she says, "Everything is decided for me." Scene of her looking at her clothing: "What to wear." Scene of her sitting with a math book open: "What to read." Scene of her lying in bed with a parent turning out the light: "And of course... when to go to bed." Switch scene to the girl, now smiling, cheerfully contemplating the selection of veggies, cheeses, and meats available at said restaurant: "But when I go to Subway, I have the power to choose." She goes on to select so many toppings that her sandwich is ridiculously huge, but she bites into it with obvious relish. 

Maybe it's just me, but this commercial was a disheartening reminder that so many children have basically no say in the many decisions affecting their day-to-day lives. The vast majority of children I know are told (just like the girl in the commercial) what to do for every aspect of their existence: get up, wear this, go to school, study this, write this. I don't agree with the philosophy that says children should be allowed to make all their own decisions (followed by unschoolers), and I do agree that parents and adults have the responsibility to look out for the well-being and continued education of children, but what is so difficult about letting children have input? 

There are certain times when a child does need to be taught what is appropriate, or necessary for safety. However, inviting children to be involved in what goes on with themselves and their family, seems like a good idea. So what if a little girl likes wearing two different colored shoes or her hair in three pigtails? Let her figure out her own style. So a teen wants to stay up until midnight or one in the morning reading? Okay, but the next morning they're going to be groggy and muddle-headed when school time rolls around. There are boundaries adults can and should set for children, yet at the same time children also need to find out the hard way occasionally that there will be consequences to their actions. 

I saw an episode of Super Nanny the other night, which added more confirmation to my belief that discipline is an important part of any child's life. Without structure and some rules, children cannot grow or function properly. However, if children are never given the option to direct their own choices, good or bad, then their ability to reason, think for themselves, exercise creativity, and learn from experience will not develop. 

Monday, August 30, 2010


While driving with Chris to his family's home in Ohio a few weeks ago, we had a long discussion about what qualities we respect in a person. I never realized how stringent my standards were in order for me to respect someone. Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of people, and admire many qualities I see. But "admire" and "respect" have different connotations in my mind. Admire seems more synonymous with approval or appreciation; respect is a much stronger word, meaning to look up to someone, and to hold them in high honor. I admire a good number of people, but I respect few. 

I respect people who:

...have positive, strong leadership abilities to guide others in wisdom, yet are humble and willing to accept advice.

...go out of their way to help and mentor others.

...seek to improve their knowledge, understanding, and skills in meaningful ways.

...know what they want to accomplish in life, and work with all their might to achieve their goals.

Those I esteem most, I desire to emulate. But how do I know if my guidelines are too strict? Am I looking for a hero? I don't think so. I just want to find men and women who are honorable, strong-willed, determined, creative, and thoughtful. 

Not as easy as it seems. They're out there, but you have to look to find them. 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What Kids Watch and Learn

I had a chance to watch some of the new Nickleodeon shows the other day because several friends were waiting around for a while (long story). One of my friends was a thirteen year old girl, which is why she chose that channel. 

Now, this is not at all a diatribe against my friend, because I like her very much. She does not exemplify or condone the practices of the characters on the t.v. shows we saw. However, I was rather shocked by several things that the shows epitomized. 

The shows I saw were iCarly, Victorious, and Hannah Montana. iCarly appeared to have characters who were between twelve and fourteen years old, Hannah Montana's were between thirteen and fifteen, and Victorious was set in a high school, so the characters were between fourteen and eighteen. I won't bother explaining all the shows here. 

After thinking about the episodes I watched, here are some of the messages that are being imparted to the audience (who, from what I've understood with my students, range from the age of six or seven and up). 

- It's okay to be mean to people who are mean to you.

- It's natural and fine to argue with/talk back to your parents.

- Kids are almost always smarter than their parents anyway. And teachers. For some reason, people automatically become stupid when they reach adult-hood.

- Once a child reaches eleven or twelve years old, one of their main concerns should become "who likes who". 

- Being kissed is of utmost importance in the teen/pre-teen's life, and is a goal to be pursued at least every other episode in the t.v. series by the characters involved.

- If you have a problem or question, the best thing to do is ask your friends, rarely your parents. Peer advice is preferred over adult wisdom ninety-five percent of the time.

- It's okay to laugh at people who are socially awkward and make them look stupid. 

- Wearing designer clothing, make-up, and jewelry and having your hair perfectly styled (all according to the latest fashion) is what makes a person attractive. By the way, since when is it acceptable for anyone, but especially a middle schooler, to wear a dress so short that their butt is barely covered when they sit down?

- Being ditzy is cute.

- Being famous is the most desirable accomplishment a young person can hope to attain. 

- Being famous is the most desirable accomplishment a young person can hope to attain. Yes, I just wrote this twice. Look at the premise of most of the t.v. shows on the kid-oriented channels.

- Witty sarcasm is the norm for the majority of relational interactions. 

- If you actually enjoy school, you are a complete nerd and uncool.

- In one show, a group of elderly people were called an "antique parade". Um... I can't even begin to describe how angry this makes me. 

Television is one of the main forms of indoctrination children experience in our culture today. What kind of lessons do I want my future children to learn? Not any that are embodied in children's shows currently. Yes, each show has a moral of the story like "sisters should be nice to each other" or "always be true to yourself", but they are vague at best. Giving a child twenty minutes of an ADD plot full of the messages I described above, eight minutes of commercials promoting cheap materialism, and two minutes of a weak ethical lesson is not what I would call a worthwhile half hour of television programming. 

Why don't we have valuable, positive entertainment for youth? Or do those adjectives lose all meaning when paired with television? 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

To Guard

And now, since we have come together so unusually, let us lead no common life; let us work together in a noble manner, and for noble purposes! It is inconceivable how much a man of true culture can accomplish for himself and others, if without attempting to rule, he can be the guardian over many; can induce them to do that in season, which they are at any rate disposed enough to do; can guide them to their objects, which in general they see with due distinctness, though they miss the road to them. 
- Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

What are noble purposes?

What makes a man possess true culture?

What are the boundaries of being a guardian?

What makes a person disposed to do anything?

How do we know which road to travel?

Does it matter if we miss it?

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Well-Educated Person

In order to search for truth, I want to educate myself as much as I can. Here is an excerpt from an article that John Gatto wrote for the magazine Yes! This is his definition of what constitutes a well-educated person.

  1. Establish an individual set of values but recognize those of the surrounding community and of the various cultures of the world.
  2. Explore their own ancestry, culture, and place.
  3. Are comfortable being alone, yet understand dynamics between people and form healthy relationships.
  4. Accept mortality, knowing that every choice affects the generations to come.
  5. Create new things and find new experiences.
  6. Think for themselves; observe, analyze, and discover truth without relying on the opinions of others.
  7. Favor love, curiosity, reverence, and empathy rather than material wealth.
  8. Choose a vocation that contributes to the common good.
  9. Enjoy a variety of new places and experiences but identify and cherish a place to call home.
  10. Express their own voice with confidence.
  11. Add value to every encounter and every group of which they are a part.
  12. Always ask: “Who am I? Where are my limits? What are my possibilities?”

So what do you think? Would you call yourself a really educated person?

One thing I would add to this list would be:

13. Accept and welcome the wisdom of others. 

It's all well and good to be independent, but shutting out the opinions of others completely puts one at risk for erring as one develops their own thoughts. "Thinking for oneself" as number six states is very important... as long as one is still willing to hear the voices of others. If I ever decide that I know more about a subject than anyone else, then I am no longer teachable. Do we have to accept blindly everything anyone tells us? No. Have enough humility to listen to others, yet also possess discretion, reason, and knowledge to sift through what they say. 


Hi, and welcome!

My name is Lys. I am a Searcher of Truth. From truth, I believe we can find goodness and beauty. This is the place where I will write my thoughts as I ponder, seek, debate, and find truth. Please feel free to leave your comments. I love to hear what other people think!