Today’s method is: Reduce all talk of love to narcissism and sex. The idea here is that our culture has taken love–real love–and all but eliminated it from the realm of human interaction. What has replaced true, humble, sacrificial love is self-serving, mechanical sexual behavior.
I have a few thoughts on this.
First: this is more common than we’d like to think
I was catching up with an old friend this weekend, who works for a public high school. She convinced me that we would be appalled if we really knew what went on with teenagers today. She equated the situation to how it was with us when we were in school together over a decade ago. At that time, we ran with the “good kids” who tended to be honors students focused on academics. Today, the honors students still appear, externally, to be “good kids” but their morals resemble what was only fringe when we were in school.
I am sure there are exceptions, but my heart broke for these students. I was reminded of one of our high school pastors scolding parents in the main service once, and almost breaking into tears over the condition of his students. When I put these two incidents together, I’m thinking the state of things is not pretty, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Which brings me to my next point.
Second: that popular culture has as much (or more) to do with this than the educational system
I’m not a big fan of the contemporary approach to education, but I’m not sure this is an instance in which we can try and leave the teachers holding the bag. Yes, many modern teaching methods completely and utterly dehumanize teachers. But I’ve talked to too many teachers of preschoolers and kindergarteners to think that many children don’t already arrive at school this way, or at the very least bent in this direction.
It’s the culture.
Long before they are being introduced to self-serving, mechanical sexuality, they are being taught (usually indirectly, through circumstance) that they exist to be entertained, to have their appetites fed and pleased.
Do you remember the Greek concept of paideia? Paideia, I think, respects reality a little more than our English word “education.” While education tends to narrow our view and tease the intellect out and away from the soul, paideia is an expression of enculturation. From the time the child rises in the morning, until he tumbles into bed at night, he is learning. His soul is being influenced.
As are our souls, I might add.
Education is a piece of the puzzle, I have no doubt, but so much of the culture is learned through the mass media. The problem is not all of the mass media, but our mass, indiscriminate ingestion of it. As my husband likes to say, we not only shape culture, but are shaped by it. We take it in and we vomit it back out and we wonder how our children got to be the way they are.
This reminds me of how Charlotte Mason said that “education is an atmosphere.”
I can’t help but think that if all a child did was daily watch MTV and the Disney Channel at home, he would be injured in soul, regardless of whether his school focused on the 3-R’s or not–whether his school was Christian or not.
Third: I wonder how the “birds and the bees” are learned within the context of a healthy, human culture
I can’t help but think that we can use paideia to our advantage by providing our children with many wonderful books in which love stories are played out beautifully. I am thinking here of a book my son is reading right now, Children of the New Forest, in which the love story is incidental, to be sure–the story is really about learning to survive in a forest without parents, living in a tumultuous time (English Civil War), etcetera. But there is a love story. The Cavalier Edward falls in love with Patience Heatherstone, the daughter of a Puritan Roundhead. He falls in love with her character. He grows attached to her as he comes to know and respect her. When he is out in the world, he thinks of her:
I saw many high-born women when I was away, but none could I see equal to Patience Heatherstone, in my opinion.
Or I think of the many fairytales, in which a lad endeavors to be worthy of a great woman, often enduring trials and tribulation in order to “earn” her from her father’s house. Surely, these stories add depth to the idea of love and marriage.
I also love a Barbara Cooney fairytale we own, which ends not in marriage, but in the happiness found in having a large number of children and a kingdom to call their own.
But I know there is more to it than this.
My husband and I talked last night, and to be honest, we are a bit baffled by the idea of The Talk. I know all parents are. This doesn’t mean we feel it any less. I know that, at the age of our oldest, we already “knew everything.” I don’t think my parents necessarily wanted me to know so young, but rather they wanted me to hear it from them, rather than from my classmates, who were taking The Class at school.
They were heading off the inevitable, I suppose.
But what to families who can wait until a more appropriate age do? I have seriously contemplated sending out a questionnairre and posting the answers on my blog.
I still might.
I loved the example Esolen gave of Odysseus encountering Nausicaa.
Just like I want to raise children capable of heroism, should their lifetime and circumstances bring about the need, so I want to raise children who are capable of great love, who can read the examples in the book, for instance, and feel empathy, rather than the sense that they are reading about an alien race.
How is this accomplished?
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