on the moral education of children

Mark T. Mitchell, in Touchstone, on developing a moral imagination in your children.

Excerpt:

Are we raising kids who won’t fit in? I have asked this of myself regularly over the past few years. My wife and I are educating our three boys at home. We don’t watch television (only an occasional video). We emphasize books. We read to the kids and make them memorize poetry. We pray together on our knees. In many ways, our kids are culturally ignorant. They don’t know about Disney World. The other day, my five-year-old asked, “Who is Mickey Mouse?”

So I guess the answer to the question has to be yes. But the “yes” is a qualified one, for when one considers the concept of “odd,” one should ask, “compared to what?” This moves us in a helpful direction, for if “normal” is merely what everyone else does, then what is normal changes with the times. What is odd in one time might not be odd in another. On the other hand, if “normal” refers to a proper way of being human, and if human nature is unchanging, then what is odd, in the sense of being opposed to the majority, may in fact be normal.

As we consider exactly what, in our culture, sets the odd kids apart, it seems to me that the clearest and brightest line can be drawn when we ask the following question: Will your kids be raised primarily on books or on television? To put it another way: Will your children be educated in a logocentric environment, where the written and spoken word is the primary conveyer of meaning, or will they ingest most of their information through electronically generated images?

****

Several years ago, when I was away at a conference, my wife took our three young sons out to eat. It was a family restaurant; still, apparently so families wouldn’t have to talk with each other, televisions were positioned at strategic points around the room. Now, children who don’t watch much television seem almost hypnotized when they encounter it. It is extraordinarily difficult for them to ignore. So with the television hovering overhead, my wife struggled to maintain a conversation with three young boys who were craning their necks to see the screen.

Somewhere in the course of dinner, an episode of The Simpsons came on, and this episode just happened to include a spoof on Homer (the Greek poet, not Bart’s dad). Our oldest son, Seth, who was six at the time, soon pointed and exclaimed, “Mom! That kid is pretending to be Odysseus!” He didn’t know Bart and Company, but he did know Homer. Score one for normal.

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3 responses to “on the moral education of children

  1. “Now, children who don’t watch much television seem almost hypnotized when they encounter it. It is extraordinarily difficult for them to ignore.”

    Trust me, this doesn’t change when they become adults.

    Thanks for posting this. The wife and I often reflect on the possibility that our kids are going to be… well, weirdos, to put it nicely. This frames the question in a helpful light. I hope one day they can thank us for rejecting cultural normality for something that may be more human. If we’re wrong, well, it won’t be too difficult for once when they grow up to buy a TV and start fitting in.

  2. Speaking of mastery of the spoken and written word, that should be:

    “If we’re wrong, well, it won’t be too difficult for them to buy a TV and start fitting in once they’ve grown up.”

  3. If Mark Mitchell scored one when his son didn’t recognize Bart Simpson, here’s an example from the opposite extreme:

    I was having dinner the other night at a local restaurant when a little boy rushed up to the fish tank with his parents and exclaimed, “Where’s Nemo? Where’s Nemo?,” repeatedly.

    Apparently he genuinely expected to find the animated fish from the Disney/ Pixar movie in that fish tank.

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