Thursday 25 January 2007

Educating in the Virtues 2

Here’s our strategy: show and tell.

It really is that simple, and that difficult. That is to say, we try to demonstrate the virtues in the way we live our lives, so that when we discuss them with the children, they recognise them in practice and see that we really believe in them.

The great benefit of this approach is that it forces us to think very carefully about the virtues we would wish our children to demonstrate - and then live by them ourselves.

A few examples may help.

With all the current furore over gay rights versus the rights of conscience of Christians who actually believe in the Bible and the traditional teachings of the Church, we have been talking to Ant and Bernie about these issues. We want them to be quite clear that one can believe a homosexual lifestyle is wrong, without being prejudiced against homosexual people. It really helps that we are able to point to the fact that when a homosexual friend of ours was in a terrible state as his partner had been sent to jail for possessing pornographic images of children, we invited him to dinner on a weekly basis. He was and is a good friend: we still disapprove of his lifestyle and believe it to be bad for him and his (now ex-)partner.

Likewise, when we come to discuss the importance of love in the most practical sense, they will know that for years we have been supporting children in India.

And so on. That means that the virtue, when discussed, reveals to them something they already know from experience is very important. It also means we have to work hard to pursue in practice those virtues which we are quick to pay lipservice to!

Wednesday 24 January 2007

Educating in the Virtues

In a previous post, I wrote: ‘The tougher issue is helping them to recognise the dysfunctionality of homosexual behaviour without that turning into a prejudice against people who find themselves drawn to it. But that, I believe, is a lesson worth learning.’

But how does one do that? And more broadly, how does one educate children in the virtues?

Come to that, what are ‘the virtues’?

That will be the subject of a series of posts over the next few days.

Tuesday 23 January 2007

More on homosexuality

While it’s still legal to say so, and before the thought police are given their full warrant, I would mention that this counter-cultural father thinks it iniquitous to place children with homosexual couples: it is being done for political correctness rather than in the interests of the children.

I go further and maintain that homosexual behaviour is clearly deviant: to say that it is natural because a number of people are born that way is fatuous. Many may be born with a prediliction to murder, or paedophilia, or stamp collecting, come to that - it tells us nothing about whether such things are good, bad or neutral.

What is interesting in the recent debates is that the libertarian argument (it’s nobody else’s business what two consenting adults get up to...) seems to be a one way street. Two consenting adults who agree to run a bed and breakfast which excludes practicing homosexuals will soon find that it’s somebody else’s business.

Moreover, the gay rights lobby is moving well out of the field of what individuals get up to, and into the fields of public policy and education.

So how does a counter cultural parent respond?

Well, kids are not stupid: they can pretty soon see that sex is about babies and bonding. The tougher issue is helping them to recognise the dysfunctionality (and dangerous nature) of homosexual behaviour without that turning into a prejudice against people who find themselves drawn to it. But that, I believe, is a lesson worth learning.

The Worm Turns?

It’s funny for an interested observer to watch as the British Roman Catholic bishops are cornered and have to start behaving like...Roman Catholic Bishops. Normally they’re an inoffensive lot, quick to preach on the green agenda and other culturally acceptable things. But now they are having to confront the government over the Sexual Orientation Regulations. Specifically, they are having to point out that as these are currently framed, the Catholic Adoption Agencies in this country will have to close. Whether they would rather compromise and allow the agencies to place children with homosexual couples we will never know. What is certain is that the Vatican, under the leadership of the new Pope, will certainly not condone any such thing. So they are caught between a rock (Peter) and a hard place (Caesar). Caesar is starting to squirm a bit too: will that worm turn?

Sacred Drama

The Greeks (who knew a thing or too) took their drama seriously. The production of a Tragedy was an important communal experience, and one of the goals was catharsis, that purging of the soul through the extreme emotional and intellectual stimulation which good drama provides. Perhaps a close analogy is a family of wine connoisseurs who open a rich and potent bottle and fully appreciate the subtlety and power of the winemaker’s art.

We seem to have lost this understanding, and use drama and alcohol to while away idle moments.

This, you will realise, is one of the may reasons I believe that television is dangerous. Even if (and it’s a big if) the quality of programming is high, watching television regularly can be a bit like getting drunk regularly: we lose the capacity to enjoy the quality, we need stronger and stronger fixes to give us the same kick, and we develop a craving that makes life seem empty and flat (or at worst unbearable) without the constant stimulus of our drug of choice.

Which is why those who make television programmes have constantly to push the boundaries; why things which it would have been unthinkable to screen a few decades ago are the staple even of soap operas; and why the producers of Celebrity Big Brother in the UK have become the victims of the programme’s success. Through the media, not only television but also radio, press and much of the internet, we are bombarded with drama.

The key mechanism of drama is conflict. Open any book on how to write, or any critical analysis of a dramatic work and you will find that conflict is the spring which provides the motive force for drama, whether it is the inner conflict of an individual (Hamlet) or the epic conflict between Good and Evil (Lord of the Rings). That is why all news now has to be dramatic, every interview confrontational: we cannot follow sustained argument easily - we are so addicted to drama, that unless there is conflict, we lose interest and drift away.

So, as counter-cultural parents, we limit our children’s (and our own) exposure to drama. We make a big occasion of going to the cinema (and more rarely the theatre) and we notice that we and our kids get a far bigger kick out of drama as a result.

Sunday 21 January 2007

Prophets of Doom

I read this quotation recently:

"Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice." G. K. Chesterton.

It cast some light on my resistance to the prophets of gloom whose current demon is Global Warming. Whilst I am prepared to believe there is a problem, and certainly that we should not pour filth out into the atmosphere without heed to the damage we do, there is something about the fiercest prophets of doom which repels me. And it is precisely as Chesterton points out: focusing too much on these issues takes our attention from the real dangers.

Which is why it is particularly sad to see so many religious leaders jumping so whole-heartedly onto the green bandwagon.

Looking back over my life, I have been assured that many things (nuclear anihilation, over-population etc etc) were the deadliest threat facing us, complete with graphs or data proving that unless drastic action were taken we would never survive until the millenium. And yet here we are...

It all ends in tears...

An interesting occurrence at school the other day. Ant’s class were talking about IVF and embryo experimentation. Ant managed to get more and more worked up at the fact that nobody seemed even to notice that there was a moral question involved here, to the point where she felt that she needed to leave the class. She raised her hand to ask to be excused and promptly burst into tears (this is an absolute first! And given that she’s sixteen a very embarrassing one for her).

However it transpired that the minute she was out of the door, the conversation turned to what could have upset her, and a number of the kids piled in on how questionable the whole business was. Her teacher was good about it too, saying that she had been about to go into how many people felt extremely srongly about the issue - and Ant demonstrated that, provoking exactly the discussion the teacher wanted.

And none of the kids has been anything but supportive of her about the incident.

So while it was most unpleasant for her, it had some very interesting consequences.

Saturday 13 January 2007

Divorce Made Comfortable

I was interested to read the reports in The Times purporting to show that divorce does no harm to children. There is clearly a huge interest in making divorce ever more acceptable in society at large, as so many people experience it.

However, reading the report it became clear that the methodology was to ask children how they felt about divorce some years afterwards. Children being tolerably robust, this revealed that they tend to say it’s not been too awful. In fact, with their (divorced) parents and possibly new step-parents wanting to justify the new status quo, doubtless it will have been something of a mantra in many cases: ‘things are so much better now than when mummy/daddy and I were fighting all the time.’

However what this research did not seem to address (from the reports published) were issues like:
the educational, emotional, psychological or health outcomes for children post-divorce compared with those from a stable marriage;
the ability or otherwise of such children to sustain permanent relationships in adult life;
the impact of creating a culture of temporary relationships on children at large; and so on.

In fact, I fear that either the research was conducted with a particular pro-divorce agenda in mind, or it has been hijacked by those who wish to justify divorce.

Here is some contrary research - as published in a page called ‘5 myths about divorce’ by a Catholic Family organisation. Yes, yes, of course, they have a particular point of view - but look at the research!

The full site is at :

Myth 3: A divorce is better for the children - the conflicts in a bad marriage are too upsetting for them.

False! Another myth that seems reasonable to most people. But the facts are clear: "The outcomes for children in 'high conflict' intact families more closely resembled those for children in 'low conflict' intact families than those in [divorced] families". Whilst no-one denies that parental conflict is bad for children, the evidence shows that divorce makes things even worse.

Data, The University of Exeter: Exeter Family Study 1994.
Myth 4: The divorce makes a 'clean break' from conflicts so everyone can settle down and rebuild their lives.

False! "The experience of most children whose parents divorce is of increased conflict over an extended period". The advent of new 'partners', conflicts over access rights of the father or mother all mean conflicts can continue indefinitely.

Data source as above.
A nice summary is also provided by the Centre for Family Research at Cambridge University:
"Children whose parents have divorced were on average less emotionally stable, left home earlier and divorced or separated more frequently ... The critical thing seems to be children's awareness that parents have, through choice, separated and for many this means a parent choosing to leave them."

Myth 5: The children would prefer it if their fighting parents would split up

False! "When children are asked what they would like they almost always say they only want one thing, that their parents should stay together".
Data source Centre for Family Research at Cambridge University.

Thursday 11 January 2007

Counter Cultural Parents

One aspect of raising counter cultural kids is to be counter cultural parents. So, for example. we are committed to each other regardless of what the future may bring - for better for worse was the promise we made, and we will honour that. That simple fact gives our kids a great deal of security - especially in an environment where they see their friends’ parents splitting up and all the problems that entails. One part of that is not using artificial contraception, but rather natural family planning. One could speculate about why, but the statistical data is clear: couples using NFP are vastly more likely to stick together than couples using artificial contraception.

Other ways in which we are different from the modern norms: we don’t owe money other than the mortgage on our house, and never borrow to buy things we can’t afford; Anna has given up her professional job to be able to bring the kids up; I work freelance, and keep as much of the holidays and half terms clear as I can. That means money can be tight (we haven’t had a family holiday away from home for years) but it feels worth it for other reasons. We aren’t great ‘consumers.’ We spend a lot of time with the kids - just hanging around with them as well as in more structured activities; we read a lot, we enjoy music, both performing and listening, we go to the theatre, we pursue hobbies and interests which all the family can enjoy (walking, climbing, sailing, cycling etc.) we play family games: card games, board games, charades etc. We work actively to educate the kids in our values and also to be critical and independent thinkers: an interesting balance to strike. We read to the little ones, and discuss the books the older ones are reading with them. And much of this is possible simply because we don’t have a TV - which frees up a huge amount of time and energy for many of these other activities.

Monday 8 January 2007


The kids went back to school today and Ant got her Mock GCSE results - all very good (nearly all A*s) which was heartening. The teachers are not all keen on our counter-cultural approach - some cannot imagine how a child without a TV can possibly be well informed and intelligent - so it was important to me for that reason (as well as intrinsically of course) that she should do well. I feel vindicated!

Thursday 4 January 2007

New Year

We were invited to stay with another counter-cultural family over New Year. They too have no TV (always a good indicator!) and do things a little differently. So when we arrived we found that they had set up a Quest in the woods behind their cottage. Our kids had been asked to bring Elven gear so came kitted out in cloaks etc, and were presented with beautifully made scabbards, daggers, swords pouches etc. Then all the children (our four plus our hosts’ three,) along with my wfe and I and two dogs set off on the Quest. This involved following a number of clues through the woods and undertaking various challenges, in order to collect the three essential whatever-they-weres. The challenges including swinging on ropes, walking on logs, going over or under fallen trees, following a rope trail blindfolded and so on.

It was a huge success, and got all the kids enthused about a long walk in the woods on a wet and windy afternoon, when they should have been watching commercials on telly...

Later our kids performed their traditional New Year’s Show (this year it was Snow White) with a tasteless script and songs set to tunes all the kids know (eg: (To the tune of Silent Night) Apples for sale, Apples for sale, Red and sweet, Such a treat. Don’t open your door, I don’t need to come in, Just open the window, I’ll pass you one in. Red and juicy sweet apples - Juicy sweet apples for sale.) Again this was a lot of fun for all.

What’s heartening is that our 16 and 13 year old daughters both enter into all of this with great enthusiasm for the benefit of the younger kids - neither of them are embarrassed or reticent about wandering through the woods in the rain in elven cloaks with younger kids, singing silly songs, dressing up, etc etc.