Have You No Shame?

…Without a well-developed idea of shame, childhood cannot exist.

-Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood, p. 9

I bought this book used. The person who owned it before me made a comment in the margin that the sentence I have quoted above is ‘disturbing.’ I don’t think they understood the point.

Throughout the book, Postman is making the argument that the concept of childhood is a relatively young one that began to develop in the 16th Century after the invention of the printing press. With mass amounts of printed material becoming available, Westerners decided that children needed boundaries to protect them from the flood. Before that time, he argues, children essentially lived in an adult world. They did not go to specialized schools; they didn’t live lives essentially distinct from their parents. By the age of seven, they were a part of the work-force – whatever that looked like at the time.

The sense of shame he writes of is the sense that some things are shameful, or inappropriate, for certain groups of people – children in this case. Over the centuries, it became agreed that some things simply weren’t suitable for children, and parents were entrusted with being gatekeepers of such things.

Now, especially with the internet, but even with television before it, this task is all the more difficult; and even beyond the difficulty, Postman is asserting, we are losing the sense that many things are inappropriate for children to begin with. We are losing that sense of shame – the sense that there are boundaries, the sense that parents are to discern the acceptability of content introduced to their children. That is what is disturbing.


Blogging through The Disappearance of Childhood, by Neil Postman


-Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (1982, 1994)

The publisher’s description:

From the vogue for nubile models to the explosion in the juvenile crime rate, this modern classic of social history and media traces the precipitous decline of childhood in America today ˆ’and the corresponding threat to the notion of adulthood.

Deftly marshaling a vast array of historical and demographic research, Neil Postman, author of Technopoly, suggests that childhood is a relatively recent invention, which came into being as the new medium of print imposed divisions between children and adults. But now these divisions are eroding under the barrage of television, which turns the adult secrets of sex and violence into popular entertainment and pitches both news and advertising at the intellectual level of ten-year-olds.

Informative, alarming, and aphorisitc, The Disappearance of Childhood is a triumph of history and prophecy.

I’ll be sharing quotes and thoughts for the next few weeks. Join me, won’t you?

Tension and Attention in Turning Pages

You’re reading a book – or at least you call yourself reading it. You zone out. You’ve turned two pages and come to the realization that your eyes have covered the words on those pages but hardly any of them has moved from the eyes to the mind.

I was reading a book while my kids were taking a bath. They came into my room and started talking. I was half reading the book and half listening to them. After turning a page I realized that by half reading and half listening I wasn’t actually listening or reading at all. Not a word on the pages registered and not a word my kids said registered. Perhaps this is a metaphor for life?

It goes back to an idea I’ve discussed on the blog before: ignore-ance (not ignorance). Ignore-ance is the conscious decision to ignore something. I needed to decide in that moment which object was a) more worthy of my attention and b) more worthy of ignoring. I found both to be worthy of attention and neither worthy of ignoring. The net result was the opposite of what I intended: they both got ignored.

We flip through pages without the words penetrating our souls. We flip through life without people penetrating our souls. And we are surprised to find that we are shallow in our intellects, emotion, and experience.

Whenever We Do Work Together (Living Into Focus)

Adopting technology often deeply affects our relationships and interactions. Maggie Jackson notes that even in the difficult and tedious labor of taking care of homes and families, whenever we do work together, ‘we’re creating the glue that binds us to the humans we love.’ She is concerned that the relationships may be thinning out so that we are ‘roommate families’ rather than having intimates with deep, intense interactions with each other.

-Arthur Boers, Living Into Focus, p. 16 (emphasis added)

Leah comments:

What really stuck out here for me was when Maggie Jackson said “…whenever we DO work together…” On a daily basis I struggle with involving my oldest son, who is 3, in some of the chores around the house. He likes doing it, but my desire to be “productive” fights against including him. I think “I could get this job done so much faster without him, and then get even MORE stuff done.” Yet, as Maggie points out, these experiences provide the “glue that binds us to the humans we love.” There are deeper objectives that must take priority. I hope to remember this.

I thought this was a great observation.

Today at work we had a down-time conversation about children. One of my co-workers just became a grandparent for the second time. He made the comment that two was enough. I began to ask probing questions at that point and found that his reasoning was basically that it is too expensive to have a bunch of children. I find that most people tend to reason that way nowadays.

This lead to me pontificating for a few minutes about the evils of our cultural system, which has become such that it wants us all to act like kids, but at the same time is not child-friendly. In generations gone by children were looked at as practical assets. In the Old Testament, for instance, male children were the greatest possible asset a family could have, because male children meant more hands to work in the farms and fields and to serve as protectors of the the family. Not so these days. We have built a culture in which children primarily exist to be served and and are not given the opportunity to serve.

Christians, seeking to live counter-culturally, and, more importantly, for the good of our children, must find ways to allow our children to serve. This may mean that we must allow them to make some messes with flour and eggs, and it may mean a few headaches for us, but it is vital that we allow them to serve. If we do not give them such opportunities, they will never be allowed to develop in their sanctification. Yes, kids need sanctification too. And a major part of our sanctification is learning to lovingly and joyfully serve others.

Ironically, no one ever serves others more willingly, lovingly, or joyfully, than when they are a child. My kids love to do things for me. It delights them. There’s just not a lot they can do from my perspective. But who cares about my perspective? Helping me scramble the eggs isn’t much from my perspective, but it’s huge from the perspective of a five-year-old. I need to serve my children by allowing them to serve. And these moments of service provide moments of familial intimacy, ‘the glue’ that binds families together in love and joy.

Did I mention that I can learn a lot about service from simply watching how joyfully my kids are willing to serve? Let’s remind our families that we are more than roommates with similar genetics.

20 Principles for Christian Parents (Richard Baxter)

Here I offer a condensed summary of Richard Baxter‘s The Duties of Parents for their Children:

1. Understand their need of a Savior and dedicate them to God’s covenant mercy

2. Teach them the principles of their relationship to the Covenant of Grace

3. Serve as an authority and do not let them be self-willed

4. Serve as a loving authority, both to be feared and befriended

5. Teach them to have reverence for the Scriptures and holy things

6. Always speak with reverence and seriousness about the things of God

7. Teach them by example to respect those who are worthy of respect and to loathe the life of sin and godlessness

8. Teach them and show them that the way of holiness is the way of happiness

9. Teach them of the dangers of sensuality and encourage them to care for their minds before their bodies

10. Teach them to care for their bodies and exercise physical self-control

11. Allow them to engage in sports and hobbies, but not to the point that those things become central priorities

12. Discourage pride and promote humility

13. Teach them of the dangers of materialism and seeking riches

14. Teach them to control their tongues from lying, crudeness, and taking the name of the Lord in vain

15. Guard them from company that will further corrupt them

16. Teach them to value time, improve time, and consider that their time is short

17. Use corrective discipline (a) not too often but not too little, b) according to the temperament and ability of the child, c) primarily for sins rather than pet-peeves, d) never when you are angry, e) with tenderness and love, f) with the aid of Scripture texts

18. Teach by example (not ‘do as I say; not as I do’); strive to be the person that you would desire them to emulate

19. Be proactive, not just a spectator, as they seek someone to marry

20. Especially for mothers: 1) Look for every opportunity to teach them throughout the day and 2) be especially concerned with teaching, and encouraging, them to read

A word for those who cannot have children:

But if God deny you children, and save you all this care and labour, repine not, but be thankful, believing it is best for you. Remember what a deal of duty, and pains, and heart’s grief he hath freed you from, and how few speed well, when parents have done their best: what a life of misery children must here pass through, and how sad the fear of their sin and damnation would have been to you.

Read the original work in its entirety HERE.

Side Effects: She Swallowed the Spider to Catch the Fly

This nursery rhyme, ‘There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,’ was quoted in the PBS Frontline documentary entitled Medicating Kids. As someone who has children, is a student of psychology, and works in the pharmacy business, it resonated. Medication can do wonderful things, but it can also do harmful things; and those harmful things, which we call side effects, need to be treated with another medication, and another: swallowing the spider to catch the fly. I’d recommend the documentary for anyone interested in ADHD and other psychological disorders diagnosed in children. You can watch it for free HERE. Note that I am not making a personal statement here; I am only recommending the documentary, which is quite intriguing.

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.
I dunno why she swallowed that fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider,
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly –
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a bird;
How absurd, to swallow a bird!
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly –
Perhaps she’ll die

There was an old lady who swallowed a cat.
Imagine that, she swallowed a cat.
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird …
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly
Perhaps she’ll die

There was an old lady who swallowed a dog.
What a hog! To swallow a dog!
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat…
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird …
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a goat.
Just opened her throat and swallowed a goat!
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog …
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat.
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird …
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a cow.
I don’t know how she swallowed a cow!
She swallowed the cow to catch the goat…
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog…
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat…
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird …
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a horse –
She’s dead, of course.

On Reading Tragedies with Children

I just finished reading a book with my young daughter. I will refrain from sharing the title of the book at the moment because the author is still alive. I have learned from experience that when you reference a living author your post might end up on that person’s Twitter. Believe it or not I don’t really want that type of publicity! And also, for full disclosure, I am in a somber mood at the moment. That will likely come across in the post.

Anyway, the book turned out to be a bit of a Tragedy, ending in somber despair. I am not big on Tragedies, at least deep, dark Tragedies – Tragedies that are tragic all the way up and all the way down with no hope in sight. Those types of tragedies quite frankly aren’t true to reality…or are they? That’s the big question.

Nihilism is Tragedy (with a capital T). All is meaningless. Life sucks and then you die. And while, for some, life may appear meaningless, and while life may suck, and while they, and I, will surely die, the vast majority of humanity, not just Christians, have always realized that the premise simply isn’t true. We demand hope.

The question, then, becomes, Do we demand hope and therefore invent forms of hope to satisfy us, or Is this something engrained into us from the outside in? Is this an inside out thing – we feel the need for it, and so we invent mechanisms to provide what we need (hope in this case)? Or is the sense that tragedy is meant to be overruled and overturned engrained into us because of the Truth of reality? Are Freud and Nietzche right or are Tolkien and Lewis right? Freud says we invent big daddy in the sky in order to make up for the failures of little daddy down below. Nietzche says we need Supermen who, in the end, can’t save us anyway. Tolkien and Lewis say that tragedy and disaster are little stabbings of pain, shared by all of humanity, that never end a story ultimately. They never end the story because God himself took on flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, to share in our suffering, that when we suffer we might be sharing in his – and that his resurrection might become ours.

So I do not believe that a good story ever ends without hope. It may not end the way we want it to. But the question is, Does the story leave you despairing, or does it leave you longing? Even if you are not rejoicing, are you at least crying out for the happy ending? Is there enough there to whet your appetite, as you close the book, for the possibility that something good good happen on the next page, if there were another page? That’s the tell-tale difference. And it makes all the difference in the world, and in your soul. If it doesn’t do that, then chuck it right across the room. I’ve done it before, you should try it. It’s no tragedy to quit a bad book.

The title of this post mentions children, and here is where they come in. Children should not be sheltered from sad books. I do not mean that children should be forced to read sad books. But when you read with your children, or when they share what they are reading with you, and they don’t want to read what comes next (this is what happened to us tonight), I do not think you should encourage them to stop. They need to see that not all stories, in the here and now, end happily. They need to see the main characters suffer, and even die. It is better for them to experience it there before they have to deal with it in their own literal experience. Having read of such givens them imaginative furniture to may lead to greater poise when real tragedy strikes.

There goes that word again – tragedy. I am not a fan of the word in general, because most things that we call tragedies are not truly tragic. And most books aren’t either. We have made cliches out of clouds and silver linings and songs about rainbows for a reason. So let the sadness of the book waft over the imagination of your children. But remember that your job is to teach them that Nihilism is a farce. Jesus Christ says that he is making all things new. If he rose from the dead, then indeed it is true. There is hope, no matter how bleak the present, or the present story, is. He calls light out of darkness. He really does. That is why Tolkien could never have truly finished The Lord of the Rings, or at least it could never have been the masterpiece that it is, if Sam Gangee had never said, ‘Is everything sad going to come untrue?’ Catastrophe is meant to lead to eucatastrophe, death to resurrection. That’s Reality, with a capital R.

So read on. Be sad. Cry if you need to. And then teach your children that we do not grieve as those in the world because our hope is sure. And if you’re in the Nihilist camp, then why do you care anyway? Just move on. This post doesn’t really mean anything anyway. And neither does the book you read. It’s all dust in the wind.

Sheltering Your Kids

True story:

In a discussion, a man who works at a bar (though we were not in a bar at the time) says to me, ‘You shouldn’t shelter your children.’

I respond, ‘Well, should I bring them to your bar?’

He says, ‘Lord, I hope you wouldn’t bring them there.’

To which I reply, ‘So do you do want me to shelter my kids!’

And the subject was quickly changed (not by me).

Leaving Children on Doorsteps (G.K. Chesterton)

Chesterton says that the modern Western world sees the existence of children as a problem. How does the world then handle said problem? In several ways, one being the following:

The third way, which is unimpeachably Modern, is to imitate Rousseau, who left his baby on the door-step of the Foundling Hospital. It is true that, among the Moderns, it is generally nothing so human or traditional as the Foundling Hospital. The baby is to be left on the door-step of the State Department for Education and Universal Social Adjustment. In short, these people mean, with various degrees of vagueness, that the place of the Family can now be taken by the State.

He wrote that in 1932. He continues,

And if all the babies born in the world were left on the door-step of the Foundling Hospital, the Hospital, and the door-step, would have to be considerably enlarged.

Follow the logic. If it is the job of government to educate all children, then government cannot help but grow. He continues,

Now something like this is what has really happened, in the vague and drifting centralization of our time. The Hospital has been enlarged into the School and then into the State; not the guardian of some abnormal children, but the guardian of all normal children. Modern mothers and fathers, of the emancipated sort, could not do their quick-change acts of bewildering divorce and scattered polygamy, if they did not believe in a big benevolent Grandmother, who could ultimately take over ten million children by very grandmotherly legislation.

Did I mention he wrote this in 1932? He concludes,

Government grows more elusive every day. But the traditions of humanity support humanity; and the central one is this tradition of Marriage. And the essential of it is that a free man and a free woman choose to found on earth the only voluntary state; the only state which creates and which loves its citizens. So long as these real responsible beings stand together, they can survive all the vast changes, deadlocks, and disappointments which make up mere political history. But if they fail each other, it is as certain as death that ‘the State’ will fail them.

Marriage and the Modern Mind, from In Defense of Sanity, pp. 223-224.

A Small Home is a Big Place

In his essay, Turning Inside Out, G.K. Chesterton makes a case for the central importance of education in the home, especially by mothers. The essay is quite timely. He sees a world in which education is seen as a grand task – so grand that it takes great experts and specialists to accomplish it. But he doesn’t think this is the way the world actually is:

Private education [i.e. education in the home] really is universal. Public education can be comparatively narrow. It would really be an exaggeration to say that the schoolmaster who takes his pupils in freehand drawing is training them in all the uses of freedom. It really would be fantastic to say that the harmless foreigner who instructs a class in French or German is talking with all the tongues of men and angels. But the mother dealing with her own daughters in her own home does literally have to deal with all forms of freedom, because she has to deal with all sides of a single human soul. She is obliged, if not to talk with the tongues of men and angels, at least to decide how much she shall talk about angels and how much about men.

In short, if education is really the larger matter, then certainly domestic life is the larger matter; and official or commercial life the lesser matter. It is a mere matter of arithmetic that anything taken from the larger matter will leave it less.

Hence his case for the massive, and massively important, role of mothers in the education of their children.

Modern Western societies would argue that in going out into the world, mothers are leaving the cramped, claustrophobic confines of a small house for the big wide world of freedom and advancement; or the small, tedious interaction with a child or two or three for ‘life out there’ to seek their fortunes on the market and with the masses. Chesterton says this line of thinking is wrong:

Every word that is said about the tremendous importance of trivial nursery habits goes to prove that being a nurse is not trivial. All tends to return of the simple truth that private work is the great one and the public work the small. The human house is a paradox, for it is larger inside than out.

His argument goes like this: society says that the State should be highly, maybe most highly, concerned with education. Mothers have the greatest opportunity to educate their children. And if these premises are true, then why on earth would the state want them separated from their children? That’s the argument (look up the essay to see it fleshed out), but that last quote is the takeaway for me.

When your children are at home, do not let them get the notion, and don’t get the notion yourself, that they are trapped in a small world. The home is, or at least should be, a place filled with God, the heavens, the stars and planets, human history, art, poetry, drama, story, love, joy, and much more. A small home should be a big place. And it ought to produce big people – who will, in turn, create their own small-big homes.

Quotes from the essay Turning Inside Out by G.K. Chesterton, from In Defense of Sanity.