Did I Mention Liza’s Culture Kitchen Seems to Be Gone?

30 07 2012

. . .so gradually I am using the Wayback machine to bring up my old essays there, when the need arises to link them in some discussion or other; posting a version here gives me a link that can work without said magic machine. Today it was a conversation at Radical Unschooling about whether to “lie” to children by telling them about Santa . . .

Is this the way the world ends, not with a lie believed — but truth disbelieved?

January 2006

Submitted by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
Abuse of Belief Junior – the Home Game
Blogging with Lorraine about truth and lies, and whether we have the wisdom to know the difference, I commented that moms understand how children construct meaning that is both truth and lie, or to be more accurate, meaning for which the labels “truth” or “lie” have little or no meaning!

. . .just ask a child who ate the last cookie, or why his dog suddenly has a bald patch and where are the scissors?! The answers will depend (most passionately!) on what the child believes you may believe, and what he or she WANTS to believe, and not much on evidence, objectivity or looming jurisprudence.

Then this morning, I came across a book review of “Real Kids: Creating Meaning in Everyday Life” in which Susan L. Engel apparently pleads with us to be at least as interested in the ways that children think, their thought processing if you will, as we are in their outcomes or achievements.

(And JJ pleads with citizens everywhere to reject the lie that society’s Job One is to label the natural thinking processes of children as some unnatural problem or other, the better to impose years of professional intervention in the name of national security and all that is holy.)

Engel argues that children’s play
and storytelling provide clear evidence that children’s thinking is not a simplified version of adult thinking, but rather reflects a qualitatively different way of interacting with the world — a way of interacting in which the boundaries between fantasy and reality are highly permeable.

To which a liberally educated British dad now living here and homeschooling his own, added a snatch of T.S. Eliot — “humankind cannot bear very much reality” — and some pithy comments:

I think that anybody looking around after 9/11 has to agree that “the boundaries between fantasy and reality are highly permeable” for all of us. To give other examples, there’s the drive to impose Intelligent Design and the Strict Construction[ist] approach to the Constitution — two attempts to deny change and progress by imposing an arbitrary barrier.

So I’m beginning to think this could be the cultural conversation of our times.

Although speaking just for my own truth, before I could muster much scholarly attention for the Constitution today, I was as usual seduced by a powerful whiff of story, wafting my way from Eliot’s own “highly permeable boundaries between fantasy and reality.”

Was he American poet or British poet, I mused. Off to check.

Aha, both are factual but neither is true alone — these facts are dependent on each other for their truth, either is misleading stated as absolute and isolated fact. Was he a poet? Yes, BUT also schoolmaster and professor as much as brilliant artist — what does that inconvenient complexity do to the falsely dichotomous “truth” that

those who can, do;
those who can’t teach;
those who can’t teach, teach teachers?

[More snarling, never mind me – I come from a long line of professors, teachers and omnivorous intellectuals with extremely porous boundaries between fantasy and reality, not to mention between thinking and breathing.]

Summing up the power of story in today’s lesson, then, it seems likely to be true of Eliot that we don’t know much of what’s true about Eliot, not even supposedly simple facts of the type with which we love to fill reference books and test mental mechanics in schools everywhere.

“Never compromising either with the public or indeed with language itself, he has followed his belief that poetry should aim at a representation of the complexities of modern civilization in language and that such representation necessarily leads to difficult poetry.”

So like a child’s mental constructs, lots of what we’re unsure we understand about Eliot is because he didn’t plant it in neatly labeled little standard rows of true-false and multiple choice, controlled to the nth degree by social common denominators and heavy pesticide applications.

Time Magazine in 1988 said Eliot “produced a body of work — poetry, criticism, plays — that permanently rearranged the cultural landscapes of his native and adopted lands. Exactly how he created himself and his era remains something of a mystery, the topic of continuing debate.”

And it is certainly true (but will you believe me? You’ll have to take my word for all this, unless Smoking Gun is having a VERY slow day) that I laughed aloud upon reading this puzzled yet gamely authoritative declaration, explaining what we know about what we don’t know:

It is rather difficult to find much information on T. S. Eliot, which is quite hard to understand, considering the profound impact he had on American and English literature. However, it can be explained that since Eliot was a very private man and also forbade in his will an official biography, the dearth of information on Eliot is justifiable.

Is this the way the world ends, not with a lie believed but truth disbelieved?

**************************************

That essay was called “Junior” because I’d written an adult version about truth and lies a few days before, as had fellow blogger Lorraine as referenced in the first paragraph. Here’s that adult essay, introduced by the fuller comment I’d made to Lorraine and quoted above, which I guess we can now consider all part and parcel:

As moms, we know children construct meaning from events as they go along, in ways that depend on who they are talking to – just ask a child who ate the last cookie, or why his dog suddenly has a bald patch and where are the scissors?! The answers will depend (most passionately!) on what the child believes you may believe, and what he or she WANTS to believe, and not much on evidence, objectivity or looming jurisprudence.

Men — well, husbands at least — are like this. They quite truly believe we’d rather have a lie we can believe, than a truth we (and they) would all prefer to downplay. (Ah, there’s a thread for more thought – downplaying and playing up truth.) Our girlfriends are like this too. They temper their truths and calibrate their lies with astonishing sensitivity and responsiveness to their surroundings and relationships. I have been told lies with far more true love and uplifting beauty in them than the clearest, most factual honesty for my own good — haven’t you?

Which gets me thinking: whenever some purist or literalist rejects the relevance of interdependent environments, circumstance, backstory and relationships, how much actual meaning can any “truth” they muster possibly claim, and where would it come from?

January 2006

Submitted by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
Abuse of Belief – Truth, Lies and Videoscape
Talk about Power of Story! Literally *and* figuratively.

This week the news includes a provocative book about true believers versus doubtful thinkers, confessions and confrontations, legalized academic cheating, even a new lawsuit about God-given truth as fraud. Who is manipulating innocent masses, and with what lies? Can cheating and conspiracy to defraud ever serve the larger cause of truth?

What do we really owe people we believe are getting conned?

With James Frey versus Oprah as only the latest public chapter in this powerful story, we’re being forced on every front to face our ambivalence about truth and lies and how we confuse them to our own detriment — is my blogging either, neither or both? I feel a headache coming on, and that’s both truth and lie — so maybe it’s not surprising that now the Bible itself is legally challenged as fraudulent memoir rather than historical fact and redemptive truth, thereby duping those desperate to believe.

A righteously indignant Maureen Dowd labels Oprah the saint, Frey the sinner, his bestselling book “bunk” and our President no better than Frey, that he too defrauded us and the wages of his sin are death, not redemption.

She does this with a straight, Pulitzer-Prize winning face, omitting equally true facts of her lying news colleague Jayson Blair, and her venerable publication’s contradictory roles in the Wilson-Plame-Miller circle of cynicism — fact-stacking for dramatic effect, self-interested stonewalling and hype, and general manipulation of its public powers — which together left us with no one to believe about any of it.

Note to the New York Times, and to public and private eyes and spies everywhere: whatever competitive lying that whole mess turns out to have been about, don’t expect us to “believe” that any of YOU believed in our right to the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. (Sadly, even the guy on the white horse of truth, whom I liked and admired, apparently had rules and codes he believed in more than unexpurgated, unspun facts and truth.)

So our belief in academic and intellectual accountability is manipulated everywhere, in public and private acts big and small. Prominent historians such as Stephen Ambrose come under fire for fraud. Scientists defraud research journals. Teachers cheat with standardized testing, pandering to our need to believe they represent facts and truth and critical thinking. Charities cheat with money entrusted to them for making the world a better place, child protection employees falsify reports with tragic results, ad nauseum.

Thus we’re all too familiar with belief issues when it comes to public stories from textbooks to memoirs, politics and news. The new twist is religious issues as fraud.
Intelligent Design versus evolution. Catholic Church child abuse scandals, with institutional lying for generations to cover it all up.

(Isn’t Maureen Dowd a good Catholic girl? Hmm . . . she is right in the
middle of ALL of this, isn’t she? I may need to learn more about her,
connections keep popping up . . .didn’t she just publish her own somewhat dubious nonfiction memoirs?)

We lie to our friends and lovers, and whether we get caught or not, maybe personal lies aren’t different when it comes to the larger harm — Excalibur’s Merlin darkly warns his brash and ethically challenged warrior-disciple that “when a man lies, he murders some part of the world.”

Oscar Wilde said our supposedly harmless lie about telling the truth, the one we teach our kids about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, reflects how truth-worshipping our lying culture is, a point reiterated this week by Jerry Stahl:

” . . .The anecdote, Wilde noted, perfectly exemplifies the American psyche: all about honesty, and completely contrived.
Now, as then, we are a people grown fat on fabrication. The truth is just another artificial flavor . . .”

We scream for a little (head)chopping in the name of truth now and again, ho-hum, makes great fiction for the news and publishing industries, but all we can come up with
as society-wide solution — seriously?? — is re-labeling the other guy’s truth? And alternately defending and confessing our own lies while continuing to teach them to our kids? What good is that?

No wonder public schools are dysfunctional and public education an oxymoron. There IS no truth we can
agree on objectively, to teach kids. And the truth is we know it and won’t fix it.

Wilde again:

. . . tired of the intelligent person whose reminiscences are always based upon memory, whose statements are invariably limited by probability . . . Society sooner or later must return to its lost leader, the cultured and fascinating liar.


Catholic leaders claim The Da Vinci Code is
manipulation of belief
, fraud for profit, harmful lies we must warn the world to reject.
Now comes the titillating and, one supposes, quite predictable reverse play, the
crowning glory of the news and belief cycle (whoops, not to be redundant!) — historical Christianity itself challenged as fraud, with the courts as the objective Standard of Truth.

It’s being called “abuse of popular belief” by the plaintiff.
Can we even call these stories about the stories actual news — or is it closer to sensationalized fiction in service of larger redemptive “truth?” Words seldom fail me, let’s see, where’s the connected Power of Story in all this . . . yeah, “ abuse of popular belief” is a keeper.

I think it’s time we add it to our mandatory graduation standards — if we can find anyone qualified to teach the course.





Maybe If We Had Known That We Didn’t Know. . .

28 10 2011

This is headlined as “The Boomer Parent’s Lament”:

“Maybe if I knew that our children would be coming of age in an economy that would crush even the best and brightest among them, I would have cared a little less about their score on an advanced placement history test, and a little more about helping them find happiness in moments at the margin.”

UNSCHOOLING boomer parents though, knew this all along and we aren’t lamenting any such thing. Finding happiness in the moment and the margin AND smack-dab in the middle of the morning too, while everyone else was sweating yet another test — that was the whole program, the whole point, the whole power of our story.

Didn’t JJ just finish saying something like that? 😉

There was a book excerpt in the NYT Sunday magazine so stunning that I ordered the book online. I was waiting to read it before blogging anything about it but it’s been on my mind in every current conversation, now including this one. The book is “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and its professor author Daniel Kahneman was a 2002 Nobel laureate in economics.

The big point is that we humans tend to hold fast to (often false) confidence that we’re doing the right thing and that we can “know” what that is, even when we’re smart enough to SEE that we aren’t, and don’t, and can’t.

The Hazards of Confidence:

We rarely experienced doubt or conflicting impressions. . . [but] as it turned out, despite our certainty about the potential of individual candidates, our forecasts were largely useless.

The evidence was overwhelming. . . our ability to predict performance at the school was negligible. Our forecasts were better than blind guesses, but not by much.

What do you think about the right way to school kids and prepare them for quantifiable success? How confident are you that you’re right about that? 😉





Some “Very Good Advice” About Parenting Advice

24 10 2011

The Guilted Age:
Making Your Own Rules

This week’s guest post is from the fabulous JJ Ross, who has worn many hats including academic, secular humanist, and unschooler. She shares her thoughts about parenting beyond the advice of others.

This is the first in the series “Good Advice / Bad Advice,” with a new post every week from now until the end of November. –LN





Spring Comes to Florida Despite Worst Governor Ever

4 03 2011

Young Son's reading tree in full flower as he reads Sherlock Holmes, of course (photo credit - Mom's phone)





Unschooling Lion in Winter: Deb Lewis Is Classic

14 01 2011

Chilly cock of the snook to one of the two unschooling yahoolists I still actively enjoy, where I was reminded of Sandra Dodd dot com having EVERYTHING. It’s been so cold even in Florida this winter, that I thought it was a good time to highlight this.

(I don’t know how old the list, is but if I were updating it now I personally would add something new to us this winter, something fun for which I’m thanking the FSM while the light is thin and it’s stuck at freezing outside: Netflix!)

Deb Lewis’s List of Things to Do in the Winter:

I have found so many interesting things to do around our little town just by talking with people and asking questions. . .

The man who runs the local green house lets us help transplant seedlings. He grows worms too, and lets Dylan dig around in the worm beds.

The guy who works at the newspaper speaks Chinese and draws cartoons. He’s given Dylan lots of pointers about where to get good paper and story boards, etc.

The old guy at the antique shop was a college professor and is a huge Montana History buff; whenever Read the rest of this entry »





School House Rock Smarter Than Tea Party?

6 01 2011

Cock of the snook to the brilliant Dr. Rachel Maddow and thank what’s left of the American people’s common sense for the common good, that we elected a constitutional scholar as president for these raving lunatic times:

So to quote Dr. Maddow, let’s get the Constitution-reading Party started!





Homeschool Dad Sam Sending Sons to School

22 12 2010

Nance and Lynn, Meg and Beta are homeschooler moms who also sort of parent schooled kids. And sooner or later many of us get far enough along in homeschooling to see kids off to college and university (yep, sorry, schools!) and to see that not as giving up identity but the opposite, and such a GOOD thing.

So Sam will have a lot to talk about with all sorts of Thinking Parents, going forward after the holidays. Meanwhile in his signature introspective style, here is how he sees it:

A huge part of my desire to continue homeschooling, I have to admit, is that I’ve allowed homeschooler to define my identity to such an extent. . .It’s like that whole homeschooler thing. I don’t really think that I’m losing the identity or becoming not a homeschooler, I’m becoming more, maybe?

I admire Sam, more and more. Like a homeschool-to-school parent I wrote about here in town, he’s thinking about some school for himself along with his children.

The first time I encountered Sam, he struck me as a young dad who still had a lot to learn about parenting and homeschooling as identity, vastly richer and messier than clear, tidy fundamentalist labels can define and delimit:

Last night an unschooling dad . . .finally sniffed at me and Nance, said even his eight-year-old son understands how calling something by a different name doesn’t make it so.

This dad, let’s call him Sam — because he says that is his name, although it might be an online alias, and I once knew a schnauzer named Sam, but hey, it’s not my business to research and relabel this fellow homeschooler, or worry about whether the name he chooses to use in this context is confusing, disingenuous, or possibly outside the LAW as documented on his official government birth certificate — DadSam says Nance and I are clearly wrong, and he figures we know we’re wrong but won’t admit it and he’s done listening or thinking. . .

. . .who has more to fear here, the definers or the defined?

Now DadSam has learned so much about labels that he can leave them behind and as he says it himself with the wisdom of well-earned education — not mere schooling! — he isn’t losing his individual identity. He’s becoming more, maybe.

Here’s how I had described for Sam, what our son was learning at home, whatever anyone wanted to label it:

He already grasps at some level that learning about the world and negotiating it through relationships with all its inhabitants, no matter how you do it or what you call it, doesn’t mean being TOLD WHAT IS RIGHT.

It means thinking and feeling for yourself, and the words you eventually choose to express it all must be yours and yours alone. Don’t let anyone tell you different, son, no matter what they call themselves or you or your education, your work, play, politics, parents or future children.

Vaya con Pasta. Go with the FSM, Sam and sons. It really is about home, not school, and we’re all traveling companions on the roads home that count.