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Many of our students are wading perilously through the glut of misinformation and propaganda proliferated by the media and internet, without the tools to think critically about what they are taking in. We have the responsibility to train our future leaders to evaluate the credibility, reliability, and quality of information.
Before the internet, mainstream media remained competitive by providing high quality information. Accuracy was valued, and procedures were in place to verify information. To a degree, accountability was built in to the process.
In the internet age, we now enjoy free flowing information and up to the minute news, which is mainly uncensored. Anyone can publish anything at any time, without having to convince anyone to publish it. There is no “gatekeeper.”
This means virtually no earthly accountability – which can be a recipe for anarchy. Scammers, con-artists, crooks, propagandists and predators have made the most of this environment, and many children are unprotected from these outlaws.
On average, children are exposed to 7.5 hours of media a day, seven days a week — that’s more time than they spend in a classroom. Children watch an estimated 40,000 TV commercials per year (over 100 a day).
The US Department of Education reported that 81% of children aged 2 – 7 watch TV unsupervised. In a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 48% of kids surveyed had no rules about what they are allowed to do on the computer. 71% of these kids had a TV in their bedroom. 66% of them had a mobile phone (about 25% of 9 and 10 year old Canadians have a cell phone). That’s a lot of potentially unsupervised access to media.
Advertising to children is now big business, with American companies spending approximately $17 billion on this in 2009, at least doubling what they spent in 1992. The US Federal Trade Commission reported that 80% of R-rated films and 70% of adult rated video games were targeted to children under 17.
Marketers attempt to shape values, change attitudes, and direct behaviour. While in the past, stories were used for the moral training of our children, in today’s culture, stories are used by marketers to sell their products.
Marketers use media and mind manipulation to sell a moral value system that supports the behaviour that they wish to encourage, creating a “need” for their products. Traditional biblical moral values and character qualities that were once readily recognized as admirable are now out of style.
The change over the last few decades has been dramatic. When I was a girl, a Nancy Drew mystery was considered junk food reading. She solved crimes and helped people. Today’s girls read stories about vampires, who suck the life out of people.
The vampire romance series for young people, Twilight, written by Stephenie Meyer, has spawned several films and much merchandise. The estimated total franchise sales of this series is $5,736,100,000 – no small potatoes.
Mind manipulation’s aim is moral sell out. Marketers want you to lust after their products. If the manipulators can move you away from making moral choices, they’ve done their job. The aim is to have you choose not to delay gratification, put another person’s interests ahead of your own, or discipline yourself to do something that you don’t want to do. Lust was defined by Oswald Chambers as an attitude of “I must have it at once!”
Moral choice making, on the other hand, results in moral character development. Children who do not make moral choices and act on them do not morally mature. This arrested development affects every aspect of their lives, including intellectual progress; but especially their relationships with others.
We can help our children develop a taste for good literature and worthwhile media by cultivating in them a love for that which is beautiful and true. We have to feed their imaginations on the good and honourable, so they will recognise the counterfeit. We need to help them to rejoice with the truth, both in our words and in our actions toward them.
Moral premises function as a foundation for all rational thought. The wise man builds his house upon the Rock of Christ. Without this foundation, thinking and conclusions will not be whole or coherent. As Ray Stedman said, “In the secular realms of knowledge there are great missing elements, great blanks, that the people of the world try to fill up in a dozen different ways, but only the church possesses the truth, the bread that can feed the hungers of life.”
We can expose the aim and tactics of marketers to our children. They can be trained to recognize faulty logic, invalid deductions, bias, lies, propaganda, and over-generalizations that do not line up with the biblical moral truth they have been taught. We can show them examples of mind manipulation and advertising strategies and give them the opportunity to practice uncovering the errors in thinking. With training and repeated practice, I have witnessed twelve year olds do this with skill.
It is important to embed critical thinking in everyday learning. When watching a program or reading an article together, stop and question it out loud. Ask them to uncover the writer’s bias, or any errors in thinking. Require them to evaluate any sources that they select as reference materials for their papers, and give them guidelines and checklists for evaluating the reliability of those sources.
We can equip our children to recognise what is morally good, and teach them to defend themselves against mind manipulation; both are needful.
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by Tina Olesen
Annie Sullivan was a young teacher from the Perkins Institution who demonstrated exceptional courage and tenacity in moral training. The story of how Annie broke through to her famous pupil Helen Keller as a child is so remarkable that it bears examination (although this is not an endorsement of Helen’s highly controversial views in religion and politics as an adult).
Helen lost both her sight and her hearing after a babyhood illness. Her father, Captain Keller, and his wife hired Anne Sullivan to teach their blind and deaf daughter. Up until the time Annie came, Helen was undisciplined and pitied. Her parents felt sorry for her and mostly let her have her own way, which resulted in her behaving like an animal and having a tantrum whenever she could not have what she wanted. In her autobiography, Helen admits: “I was strong, active, indifferent to consequences. I knew my own mind well enough and always had my own way, even if I had to fight tooth and nail for it.” [i]
In the 1962 film “The Miracle Worker” (based on the true story) Annie’s character bravely protested Helen’s treatment by her parents:
“Pity for this tyrant? Is there anything she wants she doesn’t get? I’ll tell you what I pity… that the sun won’t rise and set for her all her life, and every day you’re telling her it will. What you and your pity do will destroy her, Captain Keller…
“Mrs. Keller, I don’t think Helen’s greatest handicap is deafness or blindness. I think it’s your love and pity. All these years you’ve felt so sorry for her you’ve kept her like a pet. Well, even a dog you housebreak… It’s less trouble to feel sorry for her than it is to teach her anything better…” [ii]
Not only was Annie up against Helen’s moral rebellion, but she had to stand against Helen’s parents and their indulgence, which harmed Helen terribly. In the film, Annie’s character pleaded with Helen’s father:
“…To let [Helen] have her own way in everything is a lie – to her … You’ve got to stand between that lie and her.” [iii]
Annie took Helen out of the family home altogether for a time, so that Helen’s parents would not be able to interfere in the disciplinary process. At first Helen objected vehemently to Annie’s discipline, and they had many battles. Annie would appear severe to Helen because Helen had neither experience nor understanding of moral authority. Her parents had abdicated their responsibility to discipline her, and their pity of her encouraged her to pity herself. In her dark hole of self-pity, Helen lashed out at everyone around her and trampled over people to get her own way. Thankfully Annie did not abdicate her responsibility, however, and she held Helen accountable for her actions. She did not pity her or allow her to pity herself. She had expectations of Helen: “I treat her like a seeing child because I ask her to see, I expect her to see…” [iv]
Annie proved the more persistent of the two, and when Helen began to obey her it was not out of love, but out of resignation. This obedience, however, paved the way for Helen to learn language. Annie tirelessly finger spelled words into Helen’s hand, teaching her a finger alphabet, but Helen did not immediately understand that these symbols had meaning; that they stood for something.
Finally one day, Helen had a break through. She understood that W-A-T-E-R spelled into her hand stood for the wet substance flowing out of the pump. Annie described it:
“We went out to the pump-house, and I made Helen hold her mug under the spout while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I spelled “w-a-t-e-r” in Helen’s free hand. The word coming so close upon the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her. She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face. She spelled “water” several times. Then she dropped on the ground and asked for its name and pointed to the pump and the trellis, and suddenly turning round she asked for my name. I spelled “Teacher.” … All the way back to the house she was highly excited, and learned the name of every object she touched… She has flitted from object to object, asking the name of everything and kissing me for very gladness. Last night when I got in bed, she stole into my arms of her own accord and kissed me for the first time, and I thought my heart would burst, so full was it of joy.” [v]
When it dawned on Helen what Annie had been trying to teach her all along, she embraced her as “Teacher.” Helen understood that Annie’s actions toward her were loving, even though she had not recognized them at first as being loving. The little girl was filled with gratitude and love in return. By her treatment of Helen, Annie modelled unselfishness and introduced Helen to the joy of caring for others.
Annie wrote: “I have thought about it a great deal, and the more I think, the more certain I am that obedience is the gateway through which knowledge, yes, and love, too, enter the mind of the child.” [vi]
The book of Proverbs bears witness:
- “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15)
- “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)
- “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)
Children experience love and security when they are lovingly disciplined. Moral training paves the way for all other learning.
[i] From: “The Story of My Life.” Parts I & II by Helen Keller (1880-1968); Part III from the letters and reports of Anne Mansfield Sullivan (ca.1867-1936); edited by John Albert Macy. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, , c. 1902, 1903, 1905. Accessed at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/keller/life/part-I.html
[ii] From the film: “The Miracle Worker”, 1962 Playtime Productions, Inc.,USA.
[v] “Part III.” from the letters and reports of Anne Mansfield Sullivan (ca.1867-1936), edited by John Albert Macy.
From: “The Story of My Life.” Parts I & II by Helen Keller (1880-1968); Part III from the letters and reports of Anne Mansfield Sullivan (ca.1867-1936); edited by John Albert Macy. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, c. 1902, 1903, 1905. Accessed at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/keller/life/part-III.html#L386
by Tina Olesen
“Imagination is seeing with the eyes of the heart… Because being follows imagination, the battle is always for the mind… Imagination that is based on truth is tremendously powerful.” [i] Let’s not underestimate the power of the imagination in moral training.
Last year I attended a teacher training workshop on the subject of internet social media and our young people. After taking us through all kinds of sad and sordid internet train wrecks, where teens had posted things so outrageous that one just wanted to look away, the workshop presenter gave us his assessment of “why” this is happening. It is not because teens need to be taught how to have more shrewdness with the internet. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) it is because now that religion has been taken out of public schools, these youth no longer have moral training and so they lack moral judgment. I wanted to give him a standing ovation.
Think about what is feeding and forming the imaginations of our young people in today’s culture. Imaginations are no longer fed with truth and goodness, but with perverted fantasy that calls good evil and evil good. We have libraries full of books praising vampires, werewolves and witches. Zombies are celebrated and humor is often crass. Minds that continually dwell on what is vulgar produce vulgarity.
The problem with much of the so-called moral training curricula offered in our public schools is that it is not anchored in anything. It has no biblical basis and therefore it floats away on an ocean of moral relativism. Children are encouraged to do “whatever is right for you” which competes with whatever is “right” for their classmate, parent, or teacher. Moral absolutes are shied away from, and so children are set adrift on a stormy sea without an anchor. We wonder why we have so many shipwrecks!
Another difficulty with these supposed “character building” programs is that they are often obviously directive and trite, and our students resist the leading that resembles lecturing. Truth that impacts our hearts often comes to us indirectly; for example, in a story rather than a speech. The reception of the truth by the imagination can topple the prideful intellectual barriers to truth that we so often put up. Jesus’ use of the parable is the model for this method.
One of the finest things that a story can do is to awaken in its reader a hunger and thirst for holiness. By holiness, I mean that quality of character that only Jesus Christ perfectly exemplifies. Jesus was the master storyteller. He knew well the smug intellects and hard hearts of his listeners, and He used parables to circumvent their predictable rejection of His message. Concealed in a parable, His hard hitting Truth would either bounce off the stone cold hearts of His hearers, or slice like an arrow straight to the unsuspecting heart, bypassing the self-righteous intellect and penetrating the depths of the conscience. Some listeners responded by hardening their hearts further and walking away from Him. Others experienced the unexpected relief of conviction, humbled themselves, and submitted to His conquest of their hearts.
In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis wrote, “…the task is to train in the pupil those responses which are in themselves appropriate…” Children have to be trained even in the right responses – to rejoice in the triumph of good over evil, to be disgusted at that which is disgusting, to recognise and love that which is beautiful.
Our children ought to have more than warnings against moral evil; they should be given a captivating vision of moral good. The tale of Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey illustrates this well. Ulysses was commanding a ship of men sailing near the cliffs when up ahead, they spotted the Sirens. These Sirens could enchant the men with their song, bewitching them into crashing the ship on the rocks. Ulysses acted quickly to have the men plug their ears with wax, and made them tie him to the mast of the ship. The enchanting song of the Sirens reached only the ears of Ulysses, who begged his men to untie him, but they did not heed. They safely sailed past the Siren’s song and the rocks. In the Argonautica on another ship, we see an entirely different approach. Orpheus also knew of the dangerous song of the Sirens. Rather than having the men block up their ears, Orpheus wielded his own weapon: his music. He played such a beautiful melody that he captivated the men’s attention (and hearts) away from the song of the Sirens. [ii]
What makes a story, or characters within a story, beautiful? A story is beautiful if it is morally true; that is, true to the holy character of God perfectly personified in His Son, Jesus. If a story stimulates a desire for that holy beauty, perfect order, satisfying justice and gracious humility that is exemplified in Jesus, then the story is imparting a hunger and a thirst that can only be truly satisfied in Him.
The beauty of Jesus Christ is captivating. He said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Let us lift Him up, not only with our lips, but with our lives.
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