Virtue vs. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism


Mike Austin has a new post today at Being Good.com: Virtue vs. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. MTD is a challenge to America’s teenagers and emerging adults. It is a challenge to parents. And it is a challenge to America’s churches. I urge you to read Mike’s post!

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How Families Can Support Japan and Its People


Smart donors with deep pockets have a practice of matching donors’ gifts dollar-for-dollar. This is something parents can do with their children, no matter the ages of their children. If you have kids, they probably know about recent events in Japan. And they probably are concerned about the trials people are suffering. But is there anything they can do about it?

There is!

Young kids have great attitudes. They don’t often worry that their efforts, however small, are insignificant. This should inspire parents. And parents can build on the charitable inclinations of their kids. They can talk about concrete needs and specific organizations that are in the best position to assist with those needs. They can support their kids’ desire to help by offering to match their contributions by some multiple of every dollar they give or raise for charitable support.

Two organizations impress me as most worthy because they are best organized, most experienced, and most fiscally responsible and efficient. They are Samaritan’s Purse and the American Red Cross. So one option is for parents to invite their children to consider what they can give and tell them that whatever they give will be matched by five or ten or twenty or a hundred additional dollars.

If you have a seven-year-old who is prepared to sacrifice $5.00 he’s saved for something else, then you might offer to match it with $100 for each dollar. Explain to him how each dollar he donates creates an additional $100 of support to meet needs in Japan. This can sound a little abstract if you don’t illustrate with concrete goods that will be supplied or numbers of people who will be helped. So you’ll need to do your homework. Try to determine what your $100 will cover and communicate this to your kids in ways that will make sense to them.

Challenge your older children to give more. You may have to match their contributions with fewer dollars because of your budget.

Here’s another idea. Begin setting a portion of your charitable giving aside for emergencies that arise. Place this portion in a fund that will accrue interest or in a stock portfolio. As emergencies arise, you will already have available a measure of money designated for giving in times of emergency.

Fidelity Investments, for example, has a Charitable Gift Fund. You can open a Charitable Gift account, select the type of portfolio you wish to contribute to, then make deposits to this account according to your own schedule. The funds you deposit will rise and fall with the vagaries of the market and the portfolio you adopt. Your tax deduction for charitable giving is for the year in which you make the deposit. Once the money is deposited, it cannot be withdrawn. At the time of your choice, you decide whom to support and for how much. You then authorize Fidelity to post a check to the designee, charging your Charitable Gift account for the amount you have designated. It’s pretty simple and a great way to apportion your giving for special needs, whatever they may be.

Of course, you can combine this idea with the matching idea, and get your children involved in regular giving. They can help you decide when it’s time to give to a particular cause. And they will, no doubt, be sensitive to needs that aren’t on your radar.

If you have other ideas about how families can join in efforts to assist with emergency needs, especially during this time of trial for people in Japan, I welcome your suggestions.

By the way—I think this is also a way to inculcate your values into your family culture. Love, self-sacrifice, patriotism, and other values can be reinforced with careful attention to the motives that lie behind our concern for others less fortunate or differently blessed than ourselves.

Teaching Logic & Critical Thinking to Your Kids


Cover of

Cover of Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking

It’s pleasing to know that parents are taking a more proactive role in the education of their children, whether or not they are homeschooling. I’ve been asked if I can recommend tools that could be used to teach children the elements of logic and critical thinking.

  1. My first suggestion is that the best way to teach children how to think critically is to be a visible model of critical thinking. Children have a far greater aptitude for critical thinking than adults credit them for. They tend to be good at inferential reasoning. Their powers are limited in part by their limited storehouse of information from which to make inferences.
  2. Modeling excellence in critical thinking presupposes skill in critical thinking. So parents need to be students of logic and critical thinking themselves. Unfortunately, most have not had the opportunity for formal education in these skills. But there are accessible books to consider. I’ll add a list of recommendations at the end of this post.
  3. If your children see you making the attempt to sharpen your skills in reasoning, this will itself be a good example to them. You can tell them what you’re learning.
  4. Learn the names of basic inferential moves (for example modus ponens, modus tollens) and use these labels with your children when they demonstrate their own ability to make such moves. This should reinforce their awareness of the significance of their mental powers, and affirm them in the use of their powers.
  5. Encourage your children to think about the implications of something they have said or heard. You’ll have to be alert to opportunities for this. But once you’ve been at it for awhile, you’ll get into a natural groove. It will eventually become a part of your routine interaction with your kids. How to do this? I’ll save that for another post sometime.
  6. Get your children reading at their grade level (or above!) books that exemplify and encourage critical thinking. Mystery and suspense novels, carefully selected for their sophistication and interest, can be useful. I read the Hardy Boys as a kid. I also liked the stories of the Sugar Creek Gang.
  7. If you’re home schooling (or not), you can include in the curriculum some materials that teach critical thinking. The Fallacy Detective is a good source for this. (See below.)

Recommendations:

So, here are a few of the many resources available. I’m recommending those that provide a good place to start. Each title is linked to its Amazon page.

Books that inspire parents and other educators to teach children these skills:

Books for self-education in logic and critical thinking:

With adequate preparation in the early years, children in junior high and high school may be ready to work through these books themselves. They don’t provide a complete education in logic, but they are satisfactory for pre-college preparation. For more rigorous study in high school, I recommend using one of two textbooks:

Like most textbooks, Copi and Hurley are pricey. So you may want to settle for a second-hand copy. The illustrations and exposition of old editions will be dated, but the logic will be the same! I shop for second-hand books at AbeBooks.com.

For grade school and up:

Fiction classics for youth:

This post is cross-referenced in an interesting post here.

Related Posts by Doug Geivett:

Best Reason for Homeschooling


“Homeschooling” is a noun; “homeschool” is sometimes a noun, sometimes a verb. “We homeschooled our daughters”—verb, past tense. Also, a true sentence.

This week we move our second daughter to university. She, like her older sister did, begins one year sooner than she would have if she had not been homeschooled. But this is not why she was homeschooled.

We began homeschooling in 1998, in part as a convenience for our family while I enjoyed a sabbatical at the University of Oxford. Homeschooling was portable. It was a reasonable experiment. Also a successful experiment.

At that point, our older daughter had been to public school for kindergarten and first and second grades. These were not bad experiences. But there was something missing. Later, she experimented with a return to public school in high school and changed her mind after one semester.

Our younger daughter was homeschooled from the beginning, but attended junior high for two years at an excellent private school. Then it was back to homeschooling.

Each year, and for each of our daughters, we made the best decision we could about their education. This is a parent’s responsibility. Thankfully, it is a freedom we still enjoy.

With each decision we considered several things:

  1. Where could they be taught what they needed to know?
  2. How would they be taught what they needed to know?
  3. Would the things they would be taught be true?
  4. Would they be taught how to think intelligently for themselves?
  5. Would they eventually be able to teach themselves the truth about things yet to be learned?
  6. Would they be treated fairly and respectfully by their teaching authorities?
  7. Would they be learning in a physically safe environment?
  8. Would they be learning in an emotionally healthy environment?

These were our major questions. Athletic programs, music programs, theater programs, and the like, were important but secondary. Whatever talent they had for any of these things deserved development, but not at the risk of shrinking—or, God forbid, losing—their souls.

Now I think of it, much of our concern reduced to three basic things, revolving round one major concept: (1) proper respect for truth; (2) effectual methods of obtaining truth; and, (3) behavior in accordance with truth.

The second of these depends on growth in reasoning powers and skill in assessing evidence. It’s here where many educational options in the United States prove so terribly inadequate.

I was reminded of this today when I came across a nice little article by Susan Wise Bauer, called “Dodging the Homeschool Stereotype.” She explains why she opted for homeschooling in the style of classical education:

Classical education leans heavily on the evaluation of evidence: The educated child learns to avoid logical fallacies, to decide whether arguments are trustworthy or flawed.

I believe she’s right when she adds:

And both secular and religious classrooms are prone to simplistic thinking.

The reasons why traditional classrooms, whether secular or religious, are prone to simplistic thinking deserves development in other posts. But I stress the point that simplistic thinking is the blight of current cultural discourse, infecting all of our institutions—political, educational, ecclesiastical—and methods of knowledge management—schools, media, church, and home.

It happens that homeschooling is susceptible to the same infection. But it need not be. And parents have more direct control over this dimension of childhood education if they do not rely on traditional classrooms.

Homeschooling is a choice. Parents must be free to exercise the option. The future of our culture, the outlook for the common good, may depend on the success of homeschooling.

TR on Reading Fiction for Personal Improvement


Book Cover.TR's Letters to His SonsThe American President that most fascinates and inspires me is Theodore Roosevelt. I’ve read several biographies, the best of which is by Texas A & M historian H. W. Brands. I also enjoy collections of TR’s essays and letters.

In a letter to his son Kermit, written from the White House February 3, 1906, the President reveals something of the way he viewed fiction:

Dear Kermit:

I agree pretty well with your views of David Copperfield. Dora was very cunning and attractive, but I am not sure that the husband would retain enough respect for her to make life quite what it ought to be with her. This is a harsh criticism and I have known plenty of women of the Dora type whom I have felt were a good deal better than the men they married, and I have seen them sometimes make very happy homes. I also feel as you do that if a man had to struggle on and make his way it would be a great deal better to have someone like Sophie. Do you recollect the dinner at which David Copperfield and Traddles were, where they are described as seated at the dinner, one “in the glare of the red velvet lady’ and the other “gloom of Hamlet’s aunt”? I am so glad you like Thackeray. “Pendennis” and “The Newcomes” and “Vanity Fair” I can read over and over again.

If TR felt he could read such titles by Thackery over and over again, it is because he did. Thackery is mentioned in many of his letters. Here the father takes pleasure in a shared enthusiasm with his son. And why is he so pleased with the boy’s reading predilections? Apparently because of the power fiction has to form character, to provoke thought about values and truth, and to encourage wise decisions in life.

Evidence for this dominates the quotation. Notice that TR is, in effect, counseling his son about choices in marriage. He is very subtle in this.

It’s pleasing to see that this accomplished public figure had such a relationship with his children that he would write about such things in his letters from the White House.

From the quoted portion of Roosevelt’s letter to Kermit, there is much of positive value to glean:

  • He takes time for his children in the midst of major official responsibilities.
  • He writes in a slow, reflective pace.
  • He guides by example.
  • He engages his son in discussion of ideas and values on the basis of a shared interest.
  • He shows genuine enthusiasm for great literature outside his range of responsibilities.
  • He exemplifies a manner of reading fiction that is directed by the desire to grow in wisdom.
  • He advises the young without preaching at them in any condescending fashion.
  • He regards his son as a peer in the realm of ideas.
  • He looks for points of contact between the fictional characters he meets with in reading and living individuals he knows personally.

It’s enough to make you want to go back and read David Copperfield, and check out the works he cites by William Thackeray.

William Makepeace Thackery, Painted by Sir John Gilbert

William Makepeace Thackery, Painted by Sir John Gilbert

Works mentioned in this post:

Kindle users should know that there is a Kindle collection of over 100 of Thackery’s publications (including the three mentioned in this post) that you can get with a single purchase (cost: $4.79 at the time of this post). Click here. I like the Kindle!

Book Cover.TR's Letters to His Sons.2The quotation is from page 80 in The Letters and Lessons of Theodore Roosevelt for His Sons, edited and compiled by Doug Phillips.

Recommended Reading for Doing Apologetics in Your Home


My lecture on “Apologetics in Your Home” has been popular at conferences. During this presentation, I recommend the following books to parents:

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) is best known as a great hymn writer. But his two books contain much timeless advice for the education of children in piety and critical thinking.

J. Budziszewski is a Christian author and professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas. He converted from Marxism to Christianity and has written these two books to guide Christian university students through the thickets of their “higher” educational experience.

American philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952) was a leading figure in the pragmatist movement in philosophy, and is well-known for his work on the philosophy of education. If used with caution, parents will find much wisdom in his book on How We Think.

Three books are listed here for the exceptional value they offer in areas related to logic and critical thinking. I recommend beginning with D. J. McInerny for an overview of issues related to the nature of truth, evidence, logic, and good judgment. The book by Bowell and Kemp is an excellent textbook—the best of breed, in my opinion. Parents should learn this material early, and lead their children through a close study of its principles before graduation from high school. The book by C. Allen and M. Hand is a useful reference work.

The book by Norman Geisler and David Geisler explains the challenges of relativism and postmodernism and offers practical advice for combining critical thinking with conversational skill in dialogue with nonbelievers.

Here are two additional books to consider: How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler, and Study Is Hard Work, by William Howard Armstrong.

Finally, for general wisdom on the cultivation of the mind, I highly recommend the classic by A. G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life.

The Religious Lives—and Questions—of Children


I know from experience that children think deep thoughts and come up with the most difficult questions. Throughout their childhood, my daughters plied me with questions about the nature of the universe, the existence of God, whether we have souls—that sort of thing. I have always been amazed by two things as a parent and a university professor. First, grad students in philosophy ask questions they probably had when they were three to five years old. They had’t forgotten the answers; they had forgotten the questions. Second, the quirky solutions young kids reach in answer to deep intellectual challenges are seldom more quirky than the ideas of philosophers and theologians about the same things. Come to think of it, their answers often bear a remarkable resemblance!

I’m not the first to marvel at this. My friend Jim Spiegel also teaches philosophy. He has twice as many children as I do, and they’re about half the ages of my kids. And his kids don’t let him relax from doing philosophy when he comes home from work. Fortunately for us, he’s written a spanking new book about his experiences in this arena.

It’s called Gum, Geckos and God: A Family’s Adventure in Space, Time, and Faith. My copy just arrived and already I’ve read the first forty pages. Jim is a talented writer and an insightful parent. He can tell a good story, and this book is loaded with them. He’s funny, too, and self-effacing. If you have children or grandchildren, or know someone who does, and you haven’t given up asking questions about faith, I think you might enjoy and grow wiser reading this book.

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