jasonbwatson

October 29, 2014

Self-Contradiction

On Monday of this week Pope Francis addressed the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, where he made some startling statements about God and creation. I am not Catholic, but the statements of the Pope carry tremendous weight among Catholics and are often carefully considered by non-Catholics as well, in no small part to determine the course of the Catholic church and its adherence to Scripture.

In his comments, Francis said, “When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything — but that is not so.” I do not think he is calling God a magician here, but his use of the magician as an illustration could be seen as poignant or inappropriate. Regardless, the real problem is his statement that God was not able to “do everything.” Indeed, this goes well beyond an assertion that evolution, even theistic evolution, is consistent with the Bible. Instead, it asserts that God is not omnipotent. By suggesting that God was not able to do everything, Pope Francis is suggesting that God is not God–or at least is not God as the Bible presents Him. Jesus Himself said, in Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27 and Luke 1:37, that nothing is impossible for God. God Himself said, in Jeremiah 32:27, “Is anything too hard for Me?” This, of course, was a rhetorical question, with the understood answer of “no.”

Now, Francis’s remarks grow confusing in his next paragraph because immediately after suggesting that God did not create everything, he said, “He [God] created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.” If God created human beings then the macroevolution espoused by Darwinists is not true, since it holds that humans evolved over millenia from non-humans. Indeed, Francis continues to try to straddle the fence, saying later, “creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became which we know today, precisely because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the creator who gives being to all things.” Francis’s comments will no doubt confound evolutionists, too. If God created human beings, where does the “millenia and millenia” come from? The only possible explanation is the “gap theory,” which holds that there is a significant gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, meaning that God created the heavens and the earth, and then there was a long expanse of time before the six days of creation. There are significant problems with this theory from a biblical standpoint, not least of which is that it presumes the existence of death and dying before sin entered the world.

In keeping with his self-contradiction, Francis says that God is not a “demiurge.” This is an unfamiliar term, meaning, in Platonism, the one who made the world. In Gnosticism it refers to a supernatural being who created the world in subordination to God, and may also have been the originator of evil. Whatever Francis may have in mind, he seems to be saying that God did not create the world as we know it, even though he just said before that that God created human beings, and he says immediately after that God is “the creator who gives being to all things.”

Immediately thereafter Francis said, “God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.” And thus the contradictions continue… God is not a divine being? I cannot even imagine what Francis has in mind with that statement, so I will not try to guess. It simply makes no sense, particularly given the other statements Francis is making at the same time. And if God is not a divine being then what, one is left to wonder, is He? The opposite of “divine” is “earthly, ordinary, ungodly or unholy.” If God is not a divine being, then, He is not God! And again, Francis follows his statement that God is not a divine being by saying that God is “the Creator who brought everything to life.”

About the only thing that Francis says that is correct is that evolution is not inconsistent with the notion of creation–if by that he means microevolution within a species. Given the convoluted statements he made in the rest of his address, though, one has to seriously question whether or not that is what he had in mind. If he had evolution between species in mind then not only is he wrong, but he is contradicting himself again since he already said that God made human beings.

These comments from Pope Francis serve to reinforce the danger that comes from getting ones understanding of God from the decrees of a earthly leader. This is not specific to Catholicism, by the way. Protestant denominations have various structures of leadership, whether it includes a denominational president, district bishops or simply the pastor of the church. All of these individuals are human and therefore fallible. Our faith must be based on the Word of God, not on anything that man has to say. God has gifted many humans with the ability to teach, and those teachers whose teaching is consistent with God’s Word can help us to understand the Scriptures. We must always test the Scripture against the Scripture and the teaching of humans against the Scriptures. When there is an inconsistency the Scriptures must always “win.” And when the human leader teaches inconsistently and self-contradictorily, one must question whether the teaching should be given any merit at all.

October 27, 2014

Come to the table!

A number of years ago Dan Kindlon, an educational psychologist, author and former faculty member at Harvard University, wrote a book entitled Too Much Of A Good Thing. Among other value insights, Kindlon explains in the book that his research indicated that one of the most influential differences between students who excelled in school and citizenship and those who misbehaved and struggled academically is that the families of the exceptional students regularly ate dinner together. Interesting that the fundamental ingredient of raising exceptional children might be something so simple, isn’t it?

Earlier this month HealthDay News posted an article reporting on a University of Minnesota study on family meals. Researches found that “positive, calm and friendly family meals might help a child avoid becoming overweight or obese.” It has been recognized for a while that regular family meals can reduce the risk of childhood obesity, so researchers decided to find out why, and to determine “whether some family meals might have a more positive effect than others.”

Their findings indicate that “Normal-weight children were more likely to have family meals during which parents offered encouraging statements and everyone seemed to enjoy each other’s company,” while obesity was connected to negativity at meal times. Healthy children also eat together with their family at focused meal settings more regularly than obese children. The study found that “30 percent of meals for overweight kids occurred in the family room, compared to 17 percent for healthy-weight children. On the other hand, 80 percent of the meals of healthy-weight kids occurred in the kitchen, compared with 55 percent for overweight children.” In other words, the actual act of eating has some merit, but the activity, behavior and conversation that accompanies the meal are significantly more important. When a family eats in the family room, for example, they are far more likely to be watching television while they eat, which means they are unlikely to be talking to each other or checking on how each other’s day went. Eating the family room to watch a movie or a favorite show can be fun, but if it becomes the routine it will diminish the health value associated with eating together.

Eating together does not need to be an elaborate production, either. While I would suggest that sitting down at the table together is valuable, it matters little whether you’re dining on fine china or paper plates. It also matters very little what you are eating (within reason, of course) or how long you spend eating it. The average length of a family meal for healthy-weight children was only 18.2 minutes. Jerica Berge, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, said, “When we looked at the logistics around the family meals, they are more doable than most people think. They don’t have to be that long to have a positive effect, and they can be any time of the day — breakfast, lunch or dinner.”

The connections between well-behaved and highly accomplished children (identified by Kindlon), healthy children (identified in the U of M study) and family dining are similar. Said Berge, family dining “gives the kid a sense of security in the world, and the sense that the kid can regulate their lives.” Children who are secure are certainly going to be more likely to succeed in school and to be meaningful, productive members of their community. Parents eating with their children can also serve as role models for healthy eating, including proper portions and proper diet (not to mention proper manners).

The presence of a “screen” during dining–whether television, cell phone, computer or video game–did not impact the health of the children in the study. In fact, approximately 60% of families of both overweight and healthy weight children had a screen on during meal times. I would suggest that eliminating the screen during most meals would add even more to the value of family meals but that is purely my opinion; I have no scientific evidence to support it. While the presence of a screen seemed not to matter, though, the study found that the presence of something else did matter–a second parent. The healthy-weight children were more likely to have both parents present at mealtime. “It could be helping keep the chaos under control, or it could be extra modeling, but it did make a difference,” Berge said. Both are possible–even probable. Probably, however, it made a difference because when two parents are present the security and stability in the home is usually increased.

“One has to ponder, if a mother and father have the intention of having a family meal, you can almost say the next idea of that is they are going to be better parents in general,” said Melinda Sothern, chair of health promotion at the Louisiana State University School of Public Health. “It’s much easier to drive through a fast-food window, or place the children in front of the TV with a frozen meal.” In other words, family meals are indicative of good parenting in general, which is why there is an association between family mealtimes and healthy, successful children. I am not suggesting that good parents never miss a family meal, never let the family eat in the family room and never eat at McDonald’s. But I am suggesting that what may seem like little things matter when it comes to parenting our children. So make the effort, and take the time, to eat meals together, as a family, at the table. Our children are worth it.

October 24, 2014

A fourth view

In the October 2014 issue of its magazine, Christianity Today asked three individuals to answer the question, “Do the Common Core education standards endanger religious freedom?” with the subtitle to the Open Question column reading, “Why a nationwide standard for classrooms may cause concern.” While I think that Kevin Theriot, Karen Swallow Prior and Kristen Blair each offer some valuable insight and perspective, I think that Theriot and Blair are wrong in answering the question in the affirmative—especially since they are reaching to do so.

Theriot, a senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, writes that while the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will have only an indirect effect on religious liberty “at least initially,” the CCSS create “another tool for big government (judges, legislators and education policymakers) to control the beliefs and actions of parents and their students.” This is a bit of a stretch. The case in question, Parker v. Hurley, ruled that once parents decide what school their children will attend, they have no constitutional right to dictate what their children will be taught in that school. While neither you nor I may like the fact that in this specific case the material being objected to was sexual material in kindergarten and first grade classrooms, the ruling is otherwise consistent with what we would expect and hold to in a private school. The decision of parents to enroll their student(s) in a private school does not entitle them to dictate the school’s curriculum or to pick and choose which elements of the school’s chosen curriculum their student will learn, so why would it in a public school setting? While the à la carte approach to education may seem desirable, the result would be to significantly impair the ability of a school or a teacher to prepare for instruction and grade student learning.

Theriot suggest that the CCSS will “creep into parochial schools and even homeschooling,” with the result being that students will necessarily be taught material that is inconsistent with their religious convictions. Since the CCSS are being reflected in college entrance exams and the GED, Theriot thinks that homeschooling parents may “feel pressure to align with Common Core.” While I think that is an alarmist argument, it also ignores the fact that the CCSS is not a curriculum. Any teacher—whether in public, private or home school—could use any curriculum he or she chose (within the confines of the district or school curriculum decisions in the first two instances) to satisfy the CCSS. In other words, there is nothing within the CCSS that would—or even could—require anyone to teach their student material inconsistent with their religious convictions even if they want to align with the CCSS.

Theriot further argues that “allowing the federal government to make decisions historically left to local school boards necessarily weakens the individual parent’s ability to influence those decisions.” That is no doubt true. The use of that argument in this context, however, assumes facts not in evidence. Actually, it assumes facts that are not facts. The federal government has not, and cannot under current law, make decisions about what state or local school boards will adopt for standards, curriculum, testing, etc. The CCSS was not developed by the federal government and it has not been forced on any state by the federal government. Every state that has adopted the CCSS has done so within the guidelines existing for that state. Yes, the federal government has incentivized the adoption of the CCSS by tying Race to the Top funds to the adoption of the CCSS or equally rigorous standards, but there are two huge facts ignored by most even acknowledging that fact. First, the federal government incentivizes all kinds of things by tying its desired result to dollars. If “we the people” do not like that then there are ways to change it, but that is a problem entirely separate from the CCSS. Second, the option to develop equally rigorous standards and still tap into Race to the Top funds is one that few states have chosen to pursue, though several are doing so now that they have received an outcry of opposition over the adoption of the CCSS. Standards development is difficult and time consuming and many states chose to simply adopt the “off the shelf” standards that are the CCSS rather than invest the time, effort and money into developing their own. Too, foregoing the federal dollars is an option no state is likely to pursue, though it is a legitimate option.

Karen Swallow Prior is a professor of English at Liberty University and she is alone among the three respondents in CT to answer the question in the negative. Prior correctly states, “So many myths and misunderstandings have proliferated about Common Core that some of its critics seem not to know that Common Core is limited solely to these two foundational subjects: math and language arts.” I have read and even heard teachers from other schools suggest that the CCSS is dictating the teaching of sex education in their schools. This is absurd; there is nothing in the CCSS that addresses sex education or requires it in any form.

Prior also writes, “Common Core is merely the foundation upon which those states and private schools that adopt the standards can construct a building of their own choosing.” She goes on to elaborate on what I stated above—that there seems to be considerable confusion, whether innocent or intentional—over the fact that standards and curriculum are two different things. Writes Prior, “standards are the goal; curriculum is a means of accomplishing the goal; testing is the measure of success in meeting the goal. Common Core consists only of standards (or goals). Curriculum and testing are up to schools to adopt.” Any school could teach toward meeting the goals of the CCSS without ever changing its curriculum. The CCSS involves very little of what is taught or learned and focuses much more on how students learn. The intention of the CCSS is to ensure that students are equipped with the skills needed in order to enter the workplace or pursue higher education. That, I would suggest, should be the goal of every school in the world; if any school did not have the adequate preparation of students for success in adulthood as a goal I would question the purpose for the school’s existence. I have said for years that the ultimate purpose of education should be teaching students how to think. This is no small part of the goal of the CCSS—to equip students to learn information, facts and skills but also to learn why those things are and how they can be used, applied and developed in the real world.

Prior makes an excellent point that few so focused on screaming about the government take-over of education seem to be paying any attention to, and that is that Christian schools should be among the most well-equipped to achieve the goals of the CCSS and to provide curricular resources that assist teachers in meeting those goals. “Christians are particularly equipped to create and provide back-to-basics, skills-based curricula aligned with these strong educational standards. Not taking advantage of this opening for cultural influence would be to squander a unique opportunity.”

Prior also writes, “Fears about Common Core’s potential to infringe upon religious liberty stem from broad concerns about governmental overreach.” She is correct in that assessment but, again, this is an unfounded concern because (1) the CCSS does dictate the teaching of any curriculum, and (2) the government is not dictating or requiring the adoption of the CCSS anyway. To the point about religious liberty, Prior concludes, “Equipping the students who are the future of our nation with the most basic intellectual and life skills will help religious liberty to flourish,” and I agree with her wholeheartedly on that point.

The final perspective in the CT piece is provided by Kristen Blair, an education writer and author. She begins her response by writing that the CCSS has pushed to “the forefront of fierce national debate” the question of who decides how and what children learn. While this assertion is accurate, it does ignore the fact that the CCSS do not dictate or prescribe what children learn. (In case you are wondering, I am well aware that I sound like broken record as I keep saying that, but the alternative is so widely declared by CCSS opponents that I have little alternative). The CCSS does address how children learn, and if the national debate were solely about that I would suggest that would be a good thing. Do we want our students to memorize math facts or do we want them to memorize math facts and understand why they are facts? Do we want students to be able to name the titles and authors of classic literature only, or do we want them to be able to do that as well as understand the positions and arguments made within those works of literature while also learning how to read, understand, interpret and utilize informational and technical texts? I know where I stand, but those are legitimate debates to have.

From there, however, Blair strays. She writes, “the [CCSS] over time will likely diminish local choice.” Her support for that position is that the CCSS were developed “without significant input from parents or the public.” This is debatable too, but even if granted this has nothing to do with diminishing local choice. The adoption of the CCSS is local choice (if you define local broadly enough to include the state government) and the implementation of the CCSS—including curricular choices—is truly local choice (since most public schools have procedures for the adoption of curricular materials at the local district level).

Blair continues with yet another of the wide-spread assertions that the CCSS has been “divested of much classic literature.” This is simply not true. The CCSS text exemplars (and again, these are recommendations– they are not mandated) include a healthy variety of “classic literature” in addition to the “informational texts” that some think are replacing literature. Grades 9-10, for example, include recommendations for stories, drama, poetry and informational texts. Homer’s The Odyessey, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Shaara’s The Killer Angels, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Poe’s “The Raven,” Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73,” and Dickinson’s “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” are but some of the recommended reading for high school freshmen and sophomores.

What are informational texts recommended for grades 9-10? Speeches by Patrick Henry, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ronald Reagan are listed for Language Arts. The History/Social Studies information texts include works on Custer, art, fish, African Americans in the Civil War and great composers. Science, math and technical subject recommendations include Euclid’s Elements as well as works on stars, the circumference of the earth and a government document on recommended levels of insulation. Not only do the fiction recommendations exceed the nonfiction recommendations, there is nothing wrong or detrimental about the nonfiction recommendations. The fact is, there simply is not sufficient time for students to read, study and learn all of the text exemplars included in the CCSS and it would be difficult for anyone to argue that are insufficient options contained with the standards. In other words, even if these were prescriptive titles and not simply suggestions, there is plenty of “classic literature” included. The fact is, though, they are not prescriptive. Blair seems to think that they are, writing, “They are no longer open for discussion,” and suggesting that the CCSS are “muting parents’ voices.” At the risk of being blunt, that’s a lie.

To her credit, Blair acknowledges that the CCSS is not a curriculum, but she also suggests that it does not matter. Differentiating between standards, curriculum and testing is “disingenuous” she says, because “standards, curricula and tests form a trifecta: standards drive curricula and testing.” To a certain extent that is true; who would intentionally test students over information they have not been taught? For the CCSS to dictate curriculum, however, the standards would have to include student knowledge about specific texts, and that expectation is simply not there. The closest that the CCSS come to addressing specific authors or titles in grades
11-12 are as follows:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

If having standards that expect high school seniors to read at least one Shakespeare play and one play by an American writer, or to be able to show how two texts from the same period of American literature treat similar themes or topics is overly prescriptive than I cannot imagine any standards that would be considered acceptable.

The bottom line is this: whether you like the CCSS or not—and that could certainly be a legitimate debate—they do not endanger religious freedom. Religious freedom is under attack and endangered on many fronts in America today but the CCSS is simply not one of them. Effective countering of the attacks on religious freedom could be far more wisely directed at the judicial requirements that states accept same sex marriage, at the legislatures and educational organizations trying to grant “civil rights” to transgender individuals, at government attempts to coerce privately held organizations to provide abortifacients to their employees, or at judges penalizing individuals for refusing to provide services for homosexual marriages. If you want to argue about the merits of the CCSS please feel free to do so…but do so from a position of truth and an accurate presentation of the facts.

October 14, 2014

Just a few more minutes!

The September 26 issue of USA Today included an opinion piece by Vicki Abeles entitled “Students Without a Childhood.” Abeles leads her piece by sharing that her middle-school-aged son Zak has trouble sleeping, often waking up in the middle of the night wondering whether or not he has finished everything on his to-do list. Interestingly, she then goes on to explain that Zak is, by design, “not the classically overscheduled child.” Zak’s only activities, Abeles says, are school, jazz band and homework. That would indicate that there may well be more to Zak’s troubles than the level of his activity, but I’ll return to that shortly.

Abeles uses Zak’s situation to segue into her assertion that the collective “we”–by which I assume she means parents, teachers, coaches and American culture in general–are causing harm to our children “by overpacking their schedules in the name of productivity, achievement and competition.” Let’s ignore for the moment that her son is not one of those children, because that is not the point I want to get at. Let’s instead examine some of the claims that Abeles makes about this “overpacking.”

First, she states that studies indicate that children in America “spend half as much time playing outdoors as they did in the 1980s.” I do not doubt that that is true, though Abeles does not cite any specific studies and I have not researched that myself. I do doubt, though, her implication that the decline in outdoor recreation is due to overpacking children’s schedules. In the 1980s very few children had access to a home computer and VCRs were just becoming common. Atari was the only gaming system for much of the decade, with Nintendo bursting onto the scene mid-decade along with the far-less-popular Sega. Extremely few people had cellular phones in the 1980s and those that did had to be strong enough to haul around the brick-like devices (that could do nothing but make and receive calls, of course). None of those cell phone users were children. So yes, children in the 1980s probably did spend twice as much time outside as they do now, but that’s because many of them are now spending their time inside, fastened to their cornucopia of digital entertainment devices.

Abeles then suggests that the “frantic pace of modern life has even trickled down to kindergarten, where students are already bringing home piles of homework.” According to on article in US News in February 2014, kindergarten through fifth grade teachers assign about 2.9 hours of homework per week. Given the range in grades included in that figure, though, it is impossible to say that kindergarten students are getting too much work. After all, the oft-cited rule of thumb that a reasonable among of homework for students is ten minutes per night per grade level would mean fifty minutes per week for 5-day kindergarteners and five hours per week for fifth graders. A January 2010 article from the Stanford Graduate School of Education, fifteen to twenty minutes per day for four days is appropriate for kindergarten students. That would mean up to an hour and twenty minutes per week. So I am not sure “piles of homework” are the norm for most American kindergarten students. There is also evidence that the amount of homework is not, on average, out of line for older students, either. According to “Changing Times of American Youth, 1981-2003,” by F. Thomas Juster, Hiromi Ono and Frank P. Stafford at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, the average American child between ages 6 and 8 spent 2 hours and 33 minutes per week “studying” in 2002-03, while students ages 9-11 spent 3 hours 36 minutes. Assuming “studying” and “homework” are synonymous, the US News report would indicate that the amount of time spent on homework by elementary students is holding, if not declining, over the past ten years.

Immediately after her suggestion that the “frantic pace of modern life” has led to kindergarten students being inundated with “piles of homework” Abeles suggests that it is no wonder that “young people nationwide suffer from alarming rates of anxiety, sleep loss and depression.” No wonder, indeed…but not because their homework loads.

A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that teenagers spend an average of 7.5 hours per day consuming media which, according to the Washington Post, includes “watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, and playing video games.” I would suggest that that figure has only gone up since 2010. Way back in 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics published a three-page handout for parents entitled “Understanding the Impact of Media on Children and Teens.” Some of the side-effects of excessive media use that were warned about included poor school performance, frequent nightmares and increased eating of unhealthy foods. PEDIATRICS, a publican of the American Academy of Pediatrics, published online on March 28, 2011 a study under the title “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families.” The study reported that “a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones.” And while the study touted some benefits of this expanded digital familiarity, it also warned of dangers, including cyber bullying, sexting and “Facebook depression.” This is “defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression” and adolescents suffering from it “are at risk for social isolation.”

In November 2013 the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health warned, “Studies find that high levels of media use are associated with academic problems, problems with sleep, unhealthy eating, and more.” It also reported that the American Academy of Pediatrics “recommends that adolescents have less than two hours of screen time per day.” in November 2013, Rachel Ehmke, a senior writer for the Child Mind Institute, wrote “Teens and Social Media” in which she reported, “…experts worry that the social media and floods of text messages that have become so integral to teenage life are promoting anxiety and lowering self-esteem in the young people who use them the most.” Ehmke also wrote, “When they’re not doing their homework (and when they are) they’re online and on their phones, texting, sharing, trolling, scrolling, you name it.” Maybe, just maybe, the fact that so many teens are “multitasking” while doing their homework has something to do with the amount of time it takes them to get their work done?

Abeles ends her column with a plea: “These many concerns drive me to ask my fellow parents, teachers and administrators to help me give Zak back the time he needs to learn, grow and interact. The crazy demands schools place on our children’s time need to be scaled back–for their long-term health and emotional balance as much as for the optimum development of our children’s minds and the meaning they find in life.” The problem, again, is that Abeles never really connects Zak’s struggles with anything that schools are doing. I do not know how much time Zak spends on digital media and I do not know if he has learning challenges that make school work difficult for him. What I do know is that Abeles’ headline asserts clearly that schools are at fault for the overscheduling and “crazy demands” that are stressing out “our kids.” Her column fails to prove her assertion, though–citing some studies as well as anecdotal evidence, but failing to demonstrate that schools are demanding anything that is harming students. Maybe there are some other culprits Abeles should consider, as well. In fact, maybe she should have done her homework, because I suspect she would find that, more often than not, students are giving their childhood away for “just a few more minutes” of digital connectivity.

October 10, 2014

Promoting a Mental Disorder

Not unlike the issue of Common Core not too long ago, the transgender issue is taking entirely too much of my time and effort these days. Wait, who am I kidding? Common Core has not gone on away, is not going away, and could still be a source of topics for this blog every day if I let it. Since I have decided to move on from Common Core I probably need to do the same with the transgender mess, because I think I have made my position pretty clear by this point. Before I move on, though, I want to bring in one additional perspective, one that does not get much attention in the mainstream media. The reason for that, of course, is that it is not a popular position. But one mainstream media outlet did give voice to this position a few months ago–the Wall Street Journal, on June 12, published an opinion piece by Dr. Paul McHugh, the former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The piece was entitled “Transgender Surgery Isn’t the Solution,” with the subtitle “A drastic physical change doesn’t address underlying psycho-social troubles.” You need read no further to identify why this position is not a popular one. After all, any suggestion that gender identity confusion is related to psycho-social troubles will quickly get you relegated to the status of right wing extremist or intolerant wacko. (Some people would consider those two terms redundant). But McHugh was able to give voice to the facts about the transgender issue in a respected national publication, due no doubt to his credentials and experience.

He wasted no time getting to the point, either. After setting the stage in an introductory paragraph that referenced the decision that Medicare could pay for gender reassignment surgery, Chuck Hagel’s statement about being open to the idea of transgendered individuals serving in the military, and the issue of TIME devoted to the transgender issue, McHugh writes the following:

Yet policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention. This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken—it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.

Clear, unequivocal language stating the reality of the situation! The feelings and confusion faced by transgendered individuals that are leading to policy changes and laws across the country are in fact the result, McHugh says, of a mental disorder. McHugh offers a comparison to anorexia and bulimia nervosa, calling all three “disordered assumptions” wherein the afflicted individual holds an assumption that is different from the physical reality. “For the transgendered, this argument holds that one’s feeling of ‘gender’ is a conscious, subjective sense that, being in one’s mind, cannot be questioned by others,” McHugh writes. “The individual often seeks not just society’s tolerance of this ‘personal truth’ but affirmation of it.” As I have written before, we can never allow rights to be granted on the basis of what someone feels or even has convinced themselves of. If someone wants to insist that they “feel” female when they are, in fact, male, there is nothing we can (or maybe even should) do to change that, but that individual cannot insist that everyone else recognize him as female and allow him to demand that he be treated as a female. That is because there is a reality that contradicts those feelings. Just as I said in yesterday’s post, there is an actual distinction between boy and girl! If anyone can demand anything based solely on the certainty of their feelings we will have to grant anything–we will have eliminated the possibility of saying that anything is wrong or unnatural and, soon, that anything is illegal.

Another very dangerous side effect of the transgender movement that McHugh highlights is the violation of parental rights. He explains that several states have passed laws “barring psychiatrists, even with parental permission, from striving to restore natural gender feelings to a transgender minor.” He further explains, “That government can intrude into parents’ rights to seek help in guiding their children indicates how powerful these advocates have become.” It is more than that, though. It indicates that those who have decided they know better are successfully removing the rights of those they have determined are wrong. Removing the right of a parent to seek counsel and treatment that they believe is in the best interest of their child(ren) is a serious and incredibly dangerous step to take. Historically speaking, it was not all that long ago that those who were determined to be right were allowed to restrict who could marry or who could reproduce, even going so far as forced sterilization of those not deemed good enough to procreate. Who would have thought we would be heading back in that direction early in the twenty-first century?

McHugh also highlights the fact that life-altering decisions are being made for and by young people who claim to be transgendered when, in reality, many of them will “outgrow” that feeling. “When children who reported transgender feelings were tracked without medical or surgical treatment at both Vanderbilt University and London’s Portman Clinic, 70%-80% of them spontaneously lost those feelings,” McHugh writes. Yes, that means some maintained those feelings, but clearly that was a distinct minority. Yet, young people are being given hormones and even having gender reassignment surgery when we are all well aware that teenagers go through many phases and change their minds on many matters as they grow and mature.

[T]here is the subgroup of very young, often prepubescent children who notice distinct sex roles in the culture and, exploring how they fit in, begin imitating the opposite sex. Misguided doctors at medical centers including Boston’s Children’s Hospital have begun trying to treat this behavior by administering puberty-delaying hormones to render later sex-change surgeries less onerous—even though the drugs stunt the children’s growth and risk causing sterility. Given that close to 80% of such children would abandon their confusion and grow naturally into adult life if untreated, these medical interventions come close to child abuse. A better way to help these children: with devoted parenting.

No one would allow a teenager, or a pre-teen, to make a permanent, binding decision about their political party, career path, hair color or anything else, let alone allow their parents to make such decisions for them, so why would we allow such decisions to be made when it comes to gender identity? McHugh reports that the findings of a 2011 study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden indicate that individuals who have sex-reassignment surgery begin, around ten years after the surgery, to have a severely heightened risk of suicide (“20-fold above the comparable nontransgender population) as well as other mental difficulties.

McHugh boldly asserts that one of the biggest problems young people are faced with is a culture which encourages them to do whatever they want, to resist those who challenge or caution their feelings or choices and even to move away from the advice and counsel of their families if that advice and counsel does anything other than support the feelings they have. “‘Diversity’ counselors in their schools, rather like cult leaders, may encourage these young people to distance themselves from their families and offer advice on rebutting arguments against having transgender surgery. Treatments here must begin with removing the young person from the suggestive environment and offering a counter-message in family therapy,” McHugh writes. School personnel and counselors used to teach students to respect their parents and seek out their advice and guidance. Now they are more likely to teach students that mom and dad are wrong and should be ignored because they do not understand and are just trying to prevent the child from being him/herself. Yet again, we see those who have been deemed to be the wise ones being given authority that exceeds the God-given authority of the parents.

We need to encourage and support Paul McHugh and others who are bold enough to take this stand against the insanity that the anything-goes crowd is trying to force on the rest of us. The future of our children, our families and, therefore, our nation is literally at stake. We are seeing, all across the country, states lining up to grant “civil rights” for what is nothing more than a feeling at best, a mental disorder at worst. McHugh closes his opinion piece with a point-blank reality check, and I’ll close with it, too:

At the heart of the problem is confusion over the nature of the transgendered. “Sex change” is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.

October 9, 2014

More insanity

I do not mean this to be a dig at Nebraska at all, but the Cornhusker State is not where I would have expected to see a big push toward gender inclusiveness. Then again, the Nebraska motto is “Equality before the law,” so maybe some fine Nebraskans are confusing equality with insanity when it comes to this issue. On October 1 the Lincoln Journal Star ran an article entitled, “LPS staff’s transgender training concerns parents.” That story was picked up by Todd Starnes of Fox News, who published his thoughts on the subject on October 9. I have addressed the foolishness that is proliferating from the “gender inclusive” movement in this space before, so I will not rehash all of the previous points I have made. I will, however, provide you with a few examples of the idiocy that is infiltrating the public school system in Lincoln, Nebraska and will, no doubt, soon be making its way to a school system near you.

The Journal Star article’s lead paragraph states that Lincoln Public School leadership is addressing transgender issues with staff “so they can better help students.” The second paragraph is a quote from Brenda Leggiardo, the district’s coordinator of social workers and counselors: “The agenda we’re promoting is to help all kids succeed. We have kids who come to us with a whole variety of circumstances, and we need to equitably serve all kids.”

What does that look like, then? Well, apparently it includes not using the terms “boys” and “girls”. According to Rachel Terry, a parent with students in middle and high school in Lincoln and who intends to address to school board at their meeting on October 14, the school district’s personnel were given three handouts to assist them in “equitably serv[ing] all kids,” including one from GenderSpectrum.org entitled “12 easy steps on the way to gender inclusiveness.” Step one reads like this:

Avoid asking kids to line up as boys or girls or separating them by gender. Instead, use things like “odd and even birth date,” or “Which would you choose: skateboards or bikes/milk or juice/dogs or cats/summer or winter/talking or listening.” Invite students to come up with choices themselves. Consider using tools like the “appointment schedule” to form pairs or groups. Always ask yourself, “Will this configuration create a gendered space?”

Having been in education for a number of years now, I can tell you that educators have far more important things to worry about than whether or not a configuration of students will create a gendered space. In fact, there would be many situations in which a gendered space would be entirely appropriate. The second step instructs teachers not to say things like “boys and girls,” “you guys” or “ladies and gentlemen” but to instead say things like “calling all readers,” “hey campers” or “could all of the athletes come here.” In other words, do not classify students by their gender, but feel free to classify them by their behaviors, talents or interests. And if that does not work, then create some goofy labels to use within the classroom such as the recommended “purple penguins” included on the handout.

Think that sounds crazy? It gets exponentially worse. Step 3 goes like this: “Provide an opportunity for every student to identify a preferred name or pronoun. At the beginning of the year or at Back- to-School Night, invite students and parents to let you know if they have a preferred name and/or pronoun by which they wish to be referred.” So not only do teachers in this scenario have to remember not to address students as boys and girls, they must also ask students what name and pronoun they would prefer and then remember those all year, too. And of course when we begin allowing people to choose whatever name or pronoun they want we eliminate any semblance of reality or fact. Instead, everything becomes based on whatever someone feels like or prefers at any given time. Oh, unless you feel like being in an academic environment wherein boys are boys, girls are girls and pronouns are the old stand-bys “he, she, him and her.” If that is what you prefer you’re just out of luck. And out of touch with what is politically correct these days, too.

Step 5 of the GenderSpectrum worksheet instructs teachers to avoid using references to gender but, if such references are unavoidable, to say “boy, girl, both or neither” and then, “when asked why, use this as a teachable moment.” Just for fun, try this next time you’re out to eat and placing your drink order. Tell your server you’d like “Coke, Pepsi, both or neither” and see what you get. Tell the fast food employee on the other end of the intercom at the drive-thru that you’d like “a hamburger, a chicken sandwich, both or neither.” When you see your doctor next time tell him that you seem to be having “trouble hearing, upset stomach, both or neither.” Better yet, when you go to the ballot box next month, try indicating that you’d like to vote for “candidate A, candidate B, both or neither.” See what they do with your ballot. These examples are ridiculous, of course, and that is because there are actual distinctions and it is not possible for it to be both things. Gender is no different, try as anyone may to change that. It matters not how someone feels or chooses to identify, their gender is their gender.

Now, that makes me intolerant and openly hostile, and I realize and accept that. I wear that label with pride, actually. Ryan Dobson wrote a book a few years ago entitled Be Intolerant: Because Some Things Are Just Stupid. I could not have said it better myself. What it really comes down to, of course, is the relativism that those who promote this kind of gender inclusiveness want to see infiltrate every area of society. Indeed, number 10 on the GenderSpectrum sheet says, “Teach them phrases like ‘That may be true for some people, but not all people.'”

Feel free to look for the articles on this subject online–you will find plenty more to fuel your aggravation. But I’ll close with this gem from Todd Starnes: “While we’re on the subject, what’s a gender-neutral term for morons?”

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