Sunday, November 18, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter 12 - Part One

Life continues well here in Michigan.  My Spawn-baby is almost two now!  The sudden onset of winter always reminds me of the days and weeks after he was born.  Man, those first few weeks were rough - but I have so many amazing memories, too.  Seeing his eyes unseal and open for the first time.  His left eye took 10 days longer to unseal than the right.  Holding him for the first time when he was 8 days old and feeling the Spawn-shaped hole in the middle of my heart fill in again.  Learning that he preferred to lay on my chest in a Superman position and drum his tiny fingers on my collar bones during skin-to-skin.  He was so tiny - when he'd grab my index finger his entire hand barely reached from one side to the other.  Seeing him move his eyes without moving his head at 30 weeks and realizing that he couldn't move his eyes in their socket before that.  Spawn was out of an isolette by 31 weeks gestation which we were told was surreal.  Turns out he's a little polar bear like I am.

 Right now, I'm listening him thump his crib upstairs - God only knows how he's doing it now - between giggles 90 minutes after we put him down to sleep.  He laughs a lot at night; we joke that his preferred stuffed animal Kitty-Kitty tells him jokes after sundown.  We find him cuddled up in the cutest ways with Kitty-Kitty.  My favorite is when he's sleeping in a face-down Superman position with Kitty-Kitty under his head or chest.  My husband calls that a visible explanation as to why we obeyed safe sleep guidelines rigorously when he was an infant.

The world is a mysterious place.  I'm happily raising my dear son while substitute teaching.  Sarah Maxwell, who is about six months younger than I am, is about to publish her 12th novel-length children's book.  I know my dreams have come true.  I hope she's living the life she dreams of, too.

We've made it to the last chapter in Teri and Steven Maxwell's self-help book "Making Great Conversationalists."  Near as I can tell, this chapter is about how good conversations can...convert people or at least build your personal business.  Maybe both.  It's not the most coherent theme - and with the Maxwells that's a low bar to miss.

The introduction was completely forgettable - but one section made me laugh:
We did a survey asking Christian families questions about conversation skills to try to determine exactly what people felt was important in a conversation and what made someone a great conversationalist. In that survey, one of the things we asked the respondents to do was to rate their conversation skills from 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best. The average was 7.5. That really surprised us, considering the difficulty we have in getting people to talk to us when we are at conferences. (pgs. 187-188)

My Master's degree research includes both a closed-ended survey with  opened-ended questions and a semi-structured interview with participants.  I'm relatively new at collecting information by surveys - but I can confidently say that the Maxwells are bonkers. 

There's nothing wrong with choosing the participants in a survey from a defined group of people - but it's best if every member of the group has a chance to participate.  Now, I guess it's ok if the Maxwells reached out to every person they knew through their conferences and/or ATI-based events - but if they skipped some people for any reason, the validity get shaky pretty fast. 

The Maxwells have never published this survey so we can't discuss the good and bad points of the survey design itself - but the fact that the Maxwells used an average on an ordinal data set that's probably very small and very nonparametric is not a good sign.  I really want to know the range and modes on that data set as well; I'm betting the data is highly skewed towards "I'm a good conversationalist" with very few people giving themselves low marks.   There are lots of ways the Maxwells could have corrected for that effect - but all of them do require spending a solid chunk of time reading books on survey design and statistical analysis before making the survey in the first place.

Maxwells' shock that the average was 7.5 tells me that the family didn't attempt to run the survey on a few sample people outside of their family before moving to a broader group.  Personally, I feel like that average is lower than I would have expected - but false modesty is more strongly rewarded in CP/QF land than it is in the rest of the US.   Plus....I doubt the Maxwells have been shy about their feelings about how crappy everyone else is at conversations.

In open-ended interviews, I am fascinated by the way people deal with cognitive dissonance.  As part of the interview, I present people with a series of facts that will shake a common understanding of how science works.  Some people discard their previous understanding.  Some people modify their previous understanding.  Some people double-down on the previous understanding by rejecting the facts. 

So far, no one I've interviewed has doubled-down as hard as the Maxwells did when confronted with the results of their surveys. 

Before the survey was dreamt up, the Maxwells found that people are not interested in talking to them at conferences.  The Maxwells told each other repeatedly what great conversationalists they are and decided to teach all the other weak conversationalists by writing a book.  They write a survey and tally the results.  Imagine the horror and confusion when the Maxwells realize that the people they meet at conferences self-assess their conversational skills as pretty good.   What does this mean?  Could this mean that the Maxwells are not seen charismatic in the CP/QF society?  Does this mean that the problem lies with the Maxwells rather than everyone else in their lives?  What does it mean if the Maxwell Family has a fundamental flaw visible to everyone else they know? 


The Maxwell clan was presented with a fact that undermined what they believed about themselves - or in fancier terms - experienced cognitive dissonance.  They could have accepted the new belief by saying, "Huh.  Other people think they converse well.  Maybe there's a different reason people avoid talking to us at conferences."   They could have adapted their previous belief to something like "People think they converse well - but maybe in higher-stress environments like conferences they don't converse as well as they do in other settings. That's why we are so isolated at conferences" or even "People think they converse well - but they'd rank themselves lower if they realized how much they are missing out on by not conversing like the Maxwells do". (Notice that the adaption doesn't necessarily have to be true or grounded strongly in fact - the adaptation just needs to make both the model and the facts seem plausible enough for the person undergoing cognitive dissonance.)  The Maxwells decided, however, to discard the survey results in order to preserve their personal model of the world where not only do the Maxwells converse better than everyone else, but everyone else is waiting for the Maxwells to teach them how to converse better.

Really, the saddest bit is the fact that the Maxwells keep telling us that no one wants to talk to them at conferences.   I've never had that problem before as a conference attendee and certainly not as a presenter at a conference!   And the Maxwells have no plans to change anything about their lives - and that is the most depressing thing of all.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter Eleven - Part Two

I had an interesting week.  Two of my subbing positions were standard secondary classroom positions - nice kids, interesting enough lessons, but nothing much out of the ordinary.  The other two days I subbed in an SXI (severe multiple disabilities) classroom for 3-5th graders and as a gym teacher for K-5th graders at a regional EI (Emotional/Conduct disabilities) program.

 I had an absolute blast in both programs! 

The SXI classroom had six kids who each had a slew of goals for physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech, academics and living skills.  Two of the kids were working at speech and academic goals of 3-4 year olds while the rest were at goals between a few months to two years.  As I'm writing this, I realize this sounds rather grim on paper - but the kids had lots of fun during the day.  Each kid spent at least an hour a day integrated into a traditional classroom.  I worked with the most severely affected kid - and she loved having a third-grade buddy who would read her stories.  Her third-grade buddy was super-excited when I showed him that the other student could pick between two books if he held them about three feet apart.  Most of the day, the students were in a self-contained classroom within a 4th-5th grade building.  Students from that building would volunteer to take the students to play in the gym before school, eat lunch together and take the kids in wheelchairs for adventures during recess.  The biggest help was having a mass of helpers to keep track the one boy who was independently mobile.  He was the littlest kid in the class, showed the most skill at pre-planning escapes and was a fast and silent runner.  The only problem I had was that when chasing our little escape artist, I tripped over a PT mat, flew through the air and landed on the mats.  If all of me had hit the mats, I'd have forgotten the incident by now - but my right thumb landed between two mats.  The mats held my thumb in place while most of my body weight crashed down onto my thumb while my thumb twisted slightly.   I managed to sprain both of my thumb joints on that hand about two hours into the day.  This greatly messed with my ability to fasten the scads of belts and harnesses needed by the kids when they were in various adaptive devices.  Luckily, the kids were big enough that I could use my forearms as the main lifting points under their arms rather than hands/thumbs.

My day at the EI program was pretty much the same as every other gym class I've ever taught.  The youngest group of K-2 (who were mostly 2nd graders) enjoyed trying to shoot baskets and working at dribbling basketballs.  The oldest group of 5th graders took to shooting soccer balls and passing back and forth like future soccer phenoms.   The group of 3rd and 4th grade boys played more tag than I've played in years - and they were very careful to avoid touching my visibly bruised and taped right thumb.

I had a blast - and I feel kind of sad.  See, both programs had an insanely hard time recruiting subs and paraprofessionals.  I look at all the blogs of stay-at-home daughters who are young, unencumbered by needing to earn enough to live independently and bored out of their minds waiting at home for someone to marry them - and I wonder how much more enjoyable their lives would be if they filled one of those empty parapro positions in a local school.   Sure, sure - they wouldn't want to parapro in a "traditional school" since that would be turning their backs on homeschooling as the only way to Jesus - but working in a self-contained classroom with severely disabled kids is so clearly one of those Christian things to do that only a lunatic would object to that.  Plus, it's so very motherly; I joked that both days I pretty much did what I would normally do with my son - but for cash.

Seriously - what's a better preparation for being a wife and mother: writing occasional blogs / instagram posts / vanity-published books while mostly doing nothing at home OR helping kids learn the skills they need in day-to-day life?

This struck me as I was reviewing this chapter.  Steven and Teri Maxwell spend most of chapter 11 in "Making Great Conversationalists" explaining that the major goal of conversation is to convert random stranger to fundamental evangelical Christianity.  Now, I've never hidden my skepticism around the likelihood that these methods provide any long-lasting conversions to Christianity.  Reading this chapter failed to change my mind mainly because the following conversation feels so contrived:
Bob goes to church with his wife, but over time it has become obvious to Jim that Bob doesn't have a relationship with Jesus. Jim has been praying for Bob's salvation ever since he realize the Bob wasn't saved. Today appears to be the perfect time to share the gospel with Bob. After some small talk, Jim decides to take the plunge.


"Bob, I used to go to church just like you, but there came a time when I realized heaven isn't just a matter of going to church. That was the best day of my life, and that is what I wanted to talk to you about. I'd like to share a few of the Ten Commandments with you and ask how you have done in keeping them. Bob, have you ever told a lie?"

"Sure I have, Jim. Hasn't everyone?"

" Bob, I have too, but that doesn't mean it is acceptable to God. God's law says," Thou shalt not bear false witness," which means to lie. If we have ever told a lie, we have broken one of God's commandments. Have you ever stolen anything, even a paperclip? (pg. 179)

Yup.  Every bit of that conversation feels so natural and realistic, doesn't it?   No, seriously, this reads like how the Maxwells' dream of conversations going instead of the normal response of people visibly trying to get out of a conversation that has turned awkward as hell without insulting the other person. 

Let's run over the weirder bits one by one. 

People inside CP/QF land - heck, evangelical Christians in general - must not realize how arrogant they sound when they decide that another person must not be a saved Christian in spite of the target attending a Christian church.   Here's a little hint: the idea of needing a personal relationship with Jesus that includes a deeply emotional moment where they realize how much of a sinner they are is a relatively recent construct in Christianity.  This idea popped up in a few different Protestant branches.  The older denominations including Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Coptic Churches along with the majority of Protestant denominations do not require moment of being born-again for salvation to occur.   The absence of born-again theology in the largest groups in Christianity doesn't mean that being born-again is a bad thing; the experience is clearly deeply moving and important for many Christians.  My issue comes when people decide that their salvation requirements trump the requirements of the church that a person belongs to.

Bob launches himself into "The Good Person Test" disseminated by Living Waters Ministry.  If you've never taken "The Good Person Test" the link above takes you to an entirely online version.  The Maxwells drag Jim through recognizing that he's a thief and a liar and stop before Bob attempts to convince Jim that Jim's an adulterer, a murderer and a blasphemer. 

There's a reason the Maxwells stopped there; the test falls apart hilariously over the next few steps in real life.  See, the test becomes super-creepy when a random person starts pressing in casual conversation to make the other person admit that they've looked at another person with lust.   The conversion-hound is forced to imply the other person is lying or change the meaning of "lust" to include "desire".  The Bible, of course, views desire as being natural and healthy.  Lust requires treating the other person as an object for the purpose of sexual pleasure only - and that's not a major issue for a lot of people.

Let's say the conversion-pusher gets through adultery and decides to try to convince the other person that the fact that they've been angry means they are a murder.  People who have read the Bible realize that the conversion-o-holic is really stretching Jesus' teachings to make that connection.  A more accepted understanding is that a person who allows anger to mutate into hatred and a desire for revenge is moving in a dangerous direction.  Jesus spends most of the Gospels being angry.  He's angry at his disciples for being prats, at various religious groups for being judgemental, at religious authorities in general and goes a bit bonkers on the money-changers at the temple.  Christians are allowed to feel anger when treated unjustly or when seeing others being treated unjustly.   Anger can be a motivating force - but it must not be allowed to change into hate. 

The blasphemy bit is relatively easy. 

Most of the time the conversion target will simply nod along while regretting letting this person into their life.   Added fun occurs, though, when the target refuses to play along.   One option is arguing about the meaning of the verses as I did above.  A more amusing option is to ask the conversion-eer if each of the statements about them is true since they've been saved.   Imagine if Jim - poor Jim who was expecting a social conversation with Bob - asked Bob if Bob has lied since he's been saved.  Bob, I assume, would say "no".  What if Jim pushed a bit?  After all, this entire test is a series of lies.  Bob lies when he says that his goal is to talk to Jim about what commandments Jim has disobeyed; Bob's goal is to convert Jim.   The Maxwells lie by omission all the time when it suits them.  The Maxwells set up a balloon animal and face-painting booth at the county fair every year to attract people to give out informational fliers to.  That's a pretty mundane and harmless activity - except that the Maxwells allow their daughters to paint images that the Maxwells view as improper for their own family to view.  The Maxwells teach that professional sports fandom is a one-way street to alcoholism, underemployment and marital discord - but they let Mary paint little Kansas City Royals logos on kids' faces in hopes the kids will pick up a tract.   That's a bit discordant, isn't it?

I hope someone calls Steven Maxwell on the hypocrisy of using this test when he dishonored his father and mother in "Preparing Sons....Families".   In that lovely book, Steven Maxwell blamed his dad for Steven Maxwell's teenage drinking.  Was his dad abusive?  Neglectful?  Absent from the home?  No, Steven Maxwell's dad let young Steven have a sip of his beer when Steven brought him one from the kitchen.   That's insanely disrespectful towards his father because I also had sips of alcohol as a kid....and didn't drink prior to turning 21.  Steven Maxwell didn't drink as a teenager because his father gave him sips of beer; he drank because he wanted to drink beer. 

According to the online version of the test, eventually the converter will lead the convert-mark through a theological awaking of their need for Jesus.   I've never made it to that part because I leave after pointing out that the other person's born-again moment didn't seem to make much of a difference if he or she is still a lying, murdering adulterer who is also saved. 

After getting "The Good Person" test out of their system, the Maxwells gush over "Roman's Road" (sic) as a method of conversion.  The Maxwells lost me as soon as they misspelled "Romans' Road" - the book of the Bible is the Letter to the Romans so the correct possessive form is either "Romans'" or perhaps "Romans's". 

Personally, I've got a soft spot in my heart for Romans' Road because some of the most fun I've had with former evangelicals is asking them to remember the verses in Romans' Road after trying to remember how many verses are in Romans' Road.  As a Catholic for whom Romans' Road is supposed to magically lead to born-again salvation, my experience is that even the most excited Romans' Roadie gets completely turned around and lost by about the third verse in.   I don't blame my roadie friends for that; the verses are taken from all over the Letter to the Romans so there's not a very good connectivity between them.  That lack of connectivity also makes it nearly impossible to finish if a person completely forgets a verse.  Since Romans' Road has five, eight or ten verses that need to be delivered in the correct order, I'm always amazed that anyone thinks that this is likely to end well.

Added bonus: getting out of a Romans' Road conversation is so easy! 

  • Option one: When the person is struggling through a verse, say "I don't think that's the right verse.  I'll catch you later." and run away.    
  • Option two: Wait until the person is visibly lost in the middle of a verse, get their attention and say, "Wait, I was just thinking about the previous verse, but I can't remember the exact words.  Can you tell me that one again?"  Then loop to option one.   Ok, it's a bit mean, but no one practices Romans' Road in reverse.   
  • Option three can be used if the person includes the chapter and verse and makes it to the third verse.  The first verse is from chapter 3 followed by a verse from chapter 6...then a verse from chapter 5. Remark on that fact then ask, "If this is such an integral part of the Letter to the Romans, why are the verses so scattered and so out of order?"  
  • Option four is for church members who listen to entire chunks of scripture at church each week including Catholics: When you get bored, interrupt the person and remind them that your church reads ALL of the Letter to the Romans yearly.  Follow up by asking how the person thinks the Romans' Road fits in the broader theme of the salvation of Christians through the salvation offered to the Jewish people found in the Letter to the Romans.
  • Option five - Romans' Road Drinking Game!  One drink of whatever you have handy for each awkward pause in a verse. Two drinks every time the person starts a verse over.   Three drinks if they realize the verse they are reciting is out of order.    Another drink for every less than smooth explanation of what the recited verse means.  One drink for every nervous gesture, tic or involuntary bodily reaction like sweating the other person shows.   Finish the drink when the other person gives up in exhaustion. This is a good option when you feel sympathy for the other person and want to seem engaged....but you know it's not going to end well. can spend a lot of time trying to teach your offspring hokey or misleading ways to convert random stranger or you could teach them the skills needed to genuinely help other people.  Use your time wisely.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter 11 - Part One

I apologize for the sporadic posting recently.   Life is good - and rather busy right now.   Because of the severe teacher shortage in my state, I've been subbing 4 days a week on top of multiple-medical appointments Tuesday with my son. 

Honestly, the added income has been nice. I know in CP/QF land the fact that I'm working outside of the house while my husband looks for more steady employment is supposed to end in affairs, divorce, wayward children and the complete collapse of Western Civilization - but this seems to be a tenable and fairly pleasant situation for us.   My husband misses having a consistent job - but I think he'll be settled into a new industry pretty soon.  I find working out of the house to be invigorating and allows me to enjoy the time I spend with my son more.  My husband is really good with our son - and he and Spawn are getting even closer as my husband is the primary caregiver more of the time than I am.

 My son is doing well across the board. Weekly PT has greatly increased his torso strength and I suspect he'll be walking independently in 3-6 months. His current goal is to get his physical therapist to admit that she's really a demon sent to torment him - which is deeply ironic since she'd go to the gates of Hell and back for him.  Toddlers may not be the best at judging people.   ( :-P )   He'll be having eye surgery in early December.  Patching and glasses have corrected his lazy eye a bit - but not enough, so his opthamologist will be performing outpatient eye surgery to loosen a muscle in each eye to correct his vision.   I'm amazed what a difference nearly 2 years makes; if he had needed surgery when he was tiny, I would have been a nervous wreck.  As the mother of a robust, thriving toddler, my main concern is that applying "eye ointment" for a week after the surgery sounds....gooey.  (I think my actual words were "Man, that's a skill I was hoping to wait for the next kid for.")

And then our house was hit by the plague.  There is some evil, evil cold going around that hit my husband hard and had me laid up for the better part of a week.  The little guy, however, seems to be getting over his bout with it in good time so we are very, very grateful for that.

And then I realized that I managed to erase the few thousand words of transcription I had done for the blog before the plague hit.   Turns out that while my transcription software is good there is no software good enough to handle Michigander accent complicated by stuffed-up nose.   Today is the first day my transcription equipment was reasonably accurate so I can start blogging again!  Hurray!

More good news: The end of this book rapidly approaches!

Chapter 11 of Steven and Teri Maxwell's work "Making Great Conversationalists" has a title of some kind - but it should be titled "How to Lose Friends and Isolate Yourself through Evangelizing Badly".   Here's the very beginning of the chapter where little Thomas approaches his grandmother with CP/QF created fear:

"Why, Thomas, you are way too young to be worried about anything. What is bothering you?" Grandma asks.

"I have been thinking about how Jesus saved me last month. I was so excited when I prayed and asked Jesus forgiveness and accepted him as my savior. I have Jesus living in my heart now. I haven't heard you talk about Jesus saving you, though. I am worried that you don't have Jesus as your savior and that you won't go to heaven when you die but will go to hell! Jesus died on the cross for our sins. I love you so much, and it scares me to think of you not being in heaven with daddy, mommy, Christie, and me. Grandma, are you saved?" (pg. 177)

Thomas should be doing normal little kid things like convincing Grandma that an extra chocolate chip cookie is critical for his optimal growth or trying to pet Grandma's ancient, ornery cat.   Being terrified that Grandma isn't going to be in heaven when she dies isn't normal.  It's certainly not healthy for Thomas.

This kind of fear-mongering-meets-childish-pleas-for-others-salvation places the adult in a super-uncomfortable situation.  What is Grandma supposed to do?  If Thomas was an adult, I'd pull out the Bible and read through Matthew 25:31-46 which is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  Once we've read that, I'd point out that on Judgement Day God seems to put no stock in how often a person talked about having Jesus in their heart but relied on whether they helped other people.  Because of that, I don't talk much about having Jesus in my heart but instead work on helping others.   Thomas, though, is a kid.  Am I supposed to tell him that his parents have mangled the Gospels beyond all understanding and are using him as a form of emotional manipulation? Am I supposed to flip the emotional manipulation around and ask him how he feels about the fact that I doubt his Mommy and Daddy are going to heaven - but there might be time to save Thomas and Christie if they get to work now?    See, I feel queasy and slimy at the idea of doing that - but the Maxwells encourage their followers to do the same things with their children.

I wonder how much of the "success" of cold-calling evangelical techniques is due to the fact that most people are far too polite to tell their neighbors or random strangers that their sudden impulse to "share the Gospel" is as obnoxious as if I tried to convince the Maxwells that they need to start watching Star Trek - right now!

 Here's a great example of why neighbors in Maxwell-land learn that no good deed goes unpunished:
When John was 14, we had a neighbor who was unsaved. The neighbor was retired school teacher who asked John to help him troubleshoot a problem with his lawn mower. While they were working, they talked. John was able to lead the discussion to spiritual things and eventually present the whole plan of Salvation. The neighbor rejected what John told him, preferring to remain agnostic, but he John knows he did with the Lord wanted him to do. (pg. 178)

The Maxwells are so oblivious to other people that it makes my eyes water.

Why did the retired school teacher ask John to troubleshoot a problem on his lawnmower? 

Teachers know people in the community and finding someone to fix a lawnmower is not hard so if the retired schoolteacher asked John to help him, we can safely assume there is a better reason than that the best choice was the local 14-year old.

 Most, if not all, of the Maxwell boys had lawn mowing businesses during their teenage-years; the Maxwells include daily schedules for Joseph and John with "mowing" time in "Managers of the Homes" and "Managers of their School".   Asking the neighbor's teenage kid to "help" you fix an issue you are pretty sure you know how to fix on a lawnmower would be a nice way to give them some more business while showing the kid a new skill.  Plus, teachers like to teach so an afternoon or two with a teenager fixing a mower is likely to be fun for the retired teacher as well.

How do the Maxwells repay him for this kind - and rather sweet - act?  They remind John that the guy is an agnostic and have John try one of the Maxwell traps to convince people that they should be saved. 

Ironically, as a retired teacher, I'm sure the Maxwell's neighbor has been a mark for salvation attempts before.   I had well-meaning students try and save me in alternative-ed so I'm assuming it happened to this guy, too.  Personally, I fell back on a very dry, detailed and dull explanation of the separation of church and state and how I choose to keep my religion (if any) out of the classroom to prevent undue influence on minor students.  The important part is to keep talking about minutia until the teen's eyes glaze over just a bit before changing the subject to the next task at hand.

In the next post, we'll see how the Maxwells think "The Good Person Test" and "Roman's Road" should be used - and yet they have no examples of anyone being converted by either test.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

CP/QF Crazy: Follow-up On Family of 9 Living in a Garage

How freaking crazy can you be?  No, seriously. 

Lots of people dream of living a completely debt-free life.  In the absence of being independently wealthy, most people decide to manage debt responsibly by restricting debt to secured debt like loans to purchase a new or used car or a house, debt that raises the income of the person like educational debt and limiting the amount of unsecured debt like credit cards.  On a more personal level, people committed to living debt free chose to delay child-bearing until one or both people are in secure careers and often choose to limit their family size.  Homes are quite expensive and large families cost more money. 

On the other hand, a lot of CP/QF large families live in poverty while idolizing families who live in even more extreme circumstances.   A common lament of huge CP/QF families where the mother is reaching the end of her reproductive years is that domestic foster care and adoption has ridiculous requirements like that prospective adoptive families who will be adopting unrelated children can show income over the federal poverty level for their new family size.   For new readers, the federal poverty income guidelines in the US are agreed to be absurdly low by people who work in poverty prevention.  A good rule of thumb is that most families need at least 200% of the poverty guidelines to live a frugal middle class life - so the US poverty guideline of  $20,730 for a family of three should be closer to $42,000.    To size this up to QF families, Kimberly at Raising Olives used to complain that their family of 12 kids and two adults couldn't adopt domestically because the family lived on less than $72,620 per year. 

Back in 2005, Amy at Raising Arrows wrote a blog post about a family she idolized who had nine kids living in a garage for one year so they could build the home of their dreams.   In 2018, I wrote my response to the major reasons I could think of why living in a garage is probably illegal; my more obvious concerns were a lack of exits, too little area of windows,  too little square footage per person, infestation prevention issues and the fact that the taxable value of the land is affected by having a second dwelling onsite.  It turns out that Amy managed to get a hold of that family and write a follow-up in 2017; I'll refrain from guessing as to why it took 12 years to catch up with them. 

Turns out some of my unspoken assumptions were just plain wrong.  Silly me - I assumed that living in the garage would start when the family had all of the money set aside to build the house so that the time living in the outbuilding would be limited to a single building season.  Oh, boy, was I naive!  FIVE YEARS!  The family lived in a garage for 5 freaking years! 

I'm still shocked and horrified - so I guess I'll start with the size of the garage.  The family says that the garage was 24' by 30' and at least partially built to purpose for living in.  The square footage is 720 square feet.   Now, the 1986 guidelines for safe living spaces stated that the minimum square footage could be calculated by 150 + 100(n-1) so a family of nine would need 150 + 100(8) or 950 square feet minimum.

Now, if I was living in a garage, I would be on like 5 forms of birth control - including "we're not having sex until we get a real house or apartment" followed by 4 other forms.  Apparently, I'm crazy because the family happily admits that two children were conceived and born while living in the garage.  That pushes the minimum square footage to 1150 feet - but I'm more horrified at the idea of adding two newborns sequentially to a garage home.   The family mentions that the time they lived in the garage was extended because of unexpected building costs and high medical bills.  I wonder how much of those medical bills were due to two labor and deliveries; childbirth is expensive even when everything goes perfectly.

In terms of exits, the garage did have two external doors that were not garage doors.  Assuming the drawing provided by the family was reasonably accurate, the garage was not compliant in terms of emergency window egresses from the bedrooms.  Personally, I'd be very worried about exiting from the kids' bedroom in case of a fire.  There was one small window, an internal exit towards the main area of the garage and an external exit across the room where the washer, dryer and hot water heater were located.  If anything happened involving the washer, dryer or hot water heater, the kids' fastest exit would be compromised. 

Speaking of the garage doors, the "front" of the garage included a large standard garage door.  This threw me a bit at first; why would a family waste that much wall space on a garage door when they were making plans like building 10 foot ceilings on the garage to make it a workable future temporary home?  Then I remembered - the local tax authority would notice in real time if a family wanted to build a second home on a plot.  Silly me and my beliefs about obeying civil codes and taxation.

Really, the author of post sums it up better than I can.  The 5+ years of living in the garage are great in hindsight.   Looking back at my life, I have a lot of memories that are far more fun in hindsight than they were at the time.  After all, memories allow me to enjoy the fun, exciting or satisfying bits without reliving the pain, frustration or tedium.  For example, I chaperoned a group of teens on a mission trip to Beaver Island when I was around 26.  I had lots of fun on the trip - but I also broke my tailbone early in the trip, one of the other chaperones was having what I can only describe as an untreated manic episode, and I was going on slightly less than 5 hours of sleep a night for over a week.   My memories are of teaching my small group to pain sets and watching sunsets over the lake - not the pain of hiking miles each day with a light pack with a broken tailbone. 

Be cautious of taking advice from people who enjoyed an experience only in hindsight.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter 10 - Part Three

Subbing for a few middle school classrooms last week brought back memories of how new, wonderful and completely exasperating the waves of adolescent emotion are.  Watching and dealing with pre-teens and young teenagers was rather tiring for me - but that's nothing compared to the exhaustion that comes from managing the sudden thirst for independence that hits right around the time that young people first look at another person in their age group and think, "I really want to kiss them!"  One of my strongest memories was of a substitute teacher we often had.  Most of the other students didn't like her because she was rather strict, but I liked her because she generally brought a knitting or crocheting project to keep her hands busy.  In other words, pre-teen Mel saw a kindred spirit.   One of my compatriots asked her if she missed being in junior high.  Without missing a stitch, she laughed and said "Never.  No one could pay me enough to be a junior high school student again. I know well meaning people are always telling you that you have it made - no job, free schooling, no worries - but I found junior high to be one of the most frustrating and least enjoyable experiences of my life.  High school was better.  College was much better - but being an employed adult was far better than any of those times."   Hearing that was such a relief to me!  I wanted to do more, to know more, to be more - but I didn't know if I was ever going to feel less haphazard, lost and angst-ridden.  What if the rest of my life I kept feeling like I did at 11 or 12 or 13 - but picked up more responsibilities?  Would I ever be able to talk to a boy without turning beet-red and alternating between awkward silence and a torrent of words?  Would a boy ever like me?  Would I find a boy that I liked - and who liked me?

Everything felt completely overwhelming at the time - but looking back 25 years later I have to admit that the substitute teacher's statement that junior high sucks was dead-on.  Academics got harder as time went on, but I also became much more skilled in logic, mathematics, critical thinking, research, writing and speaking so the overall process was easier.   Working at a job did bring different demands, but even being a bagger-utility-worker-janitor brought a feeling of satisfaction and spending cash.   As I became more skilled at communicating with boys I was attracted to, I realized in hindsight that I probably could have gone on "dates" - such as they were - with 4-5 of my classmates in junior high if I had recognized the fact they were attracted to me.  The biggest breakthrough I made in my life was realizing that if I avoided romantic relationships to prevent the pain of a broken heart, I'd end up suffering more pain by closing down otherwise healthy, happy relationships.  I'd be paying interest on a debt that never came due.   Equally important was the realization that broken hearts heal.  I've had more crushes than I can remember, more first dates than I can remember easily, and a handful of long-term relationships.  Obviously, all of those except one ended.   Sometimes I was crushed, but the pain does fade over time.

Presumably if you ask Steven and Teri Maxwell or Geoffrey and Victoria Botkin to honestly recount their romantic experiences prior to marrying their spouse, you'd get a story not dissimilar to mine.  Lots of crushes, some dating experience, dating your future spouse and eventually marrying your spouse is a pretty standard trope.   And yet, they state that the dating process has ruined marriages beyond repair.  They've created an alternate, non-standard form of romantic pairing known as "courtship" that is supposed to protect the hearts and bodies of their kids prior to marriage - but the track record on protecting hearts, protecting bodies and finding suitable marriage partners is shaky at best.  The Maxwells have married off four of their sons, leaving one son and three daughters unmarried.  The Botkins have fared worse with three married sons along with two unmarried sons and two unmarried daughters.  Sons have a better chance at marrying for a few reasons.  Males are allowed to earn a living which takes them out of the family enclave into the wider world where they can meet eligible women.  Males are allowed to initiate courtships without the involvement of their families of origin.  The reproductive penalty of age is much weaker for men than women so that a CP/QF man who decides to marry at age 35 could still have a very large family if he marries a woman in her early twenties.  For example, Sarah Maxwell's brother Christopher married a woman nearly 10 years younger than him when he was 32 and they currently have 5 children.   Meanwhile, Sarah is unmarried at 36.

I bring this up because the Maxwells use the end of Chapter 10 to harp on the importance of deciding in advance how unmarried children should deal with conversations with people of the opposite gender.  The Maxwells try to seem impartial, but based on the stories they chose to share, they show a tendency towards preventing communication between girls and boys.  Let's move into the quotes:
We encourage families to discuss and to set guidelines for boy/ girl conversations. Some think nothing of girls initiating conversations with boys or vice versa. Other say that they shouldn't be allowed until the young people are ready for courtship. Some families only want their children involved in conversations with the opposite gender once a courtship is started. (pg. 170)

The first memorable fact in this quote for me was the fact that the guidelines that my husband, myself, and everyone I know from our generation who is happily married was completely skipped over.  My parents didn't worry about me talking to boys.  I could initiate the conversation or the guy could.  They trusted that my crushes of my tween and early teen years wouldn't kill me - and emotional purity wasn't on their radar.  Actually, it was barely on anyone's radar since "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" wasn't written until 1997 when I was a 9th or 10th grader.

The second interesting idea for me was how absolutely silent our junior high years would have been if only guys were allowed to initiate conversations with girls.  Looking back, there were two...perhaps three.... guys in my class of 34 6th graders who might have been brave enough to start a conversation with a girl.  Not letting girls start conversations with boys is crazily archaic - and I'm pretty sure it would make a church youth group an ice-cold war zone with all of the girls staring wistfully at boys who are mostly oblivious to the romantic longings of the boys.  Since the girls can't talk to the boys to realize that the boys are just not that into them yet, the girls would end up jockeying for position with other girls to catch the boy of their dreams.

CP/QF land has a truism - no matter how crazy one idea is, there is someone who holds a more extreme idea that make the first crazy idea seem sane.  Teaching daughters to let guys lead a conversation seems surprisingly sane compared to making them wait to talk to boys until the teens are courtship age....or actively in a courtship.   I'm assuming most families put off courtship until a teen is of marriageable age so I'm thinking there are families that instruct their teenagers to avoid conversations with the opposite sex until age 18-20.  For the Maxwell males, courtship age is based mainly on their ability to own a home outright which means they can't court until they are in their early 20's.   Many people put off dating seriously until at least their early twenties - but I've never met anyone who avoided conversations with the opposite sex before then.  I'm sure people of certain groups who prefer extremely structured arranged or semi-arranged marriages do that, but I've never known someone from one of those groups well. 

Putting off any conversation with the opposite sex until a young adult is in a courtship sounds like a recipe for disaster for fundamentalist Christians.   The leaders creating the courtship models are trying to force the most extreme form of parental involvement available in arranged marriages along with highly chaperoned interactions with the opposite sex without changing the US narrative that people fall in love first and get married second.  Let's write out what that looks like in the ideal outcome: two extremely sheltered young people who have had very little experience outside of their own family system are talking to each other trying to decide if they should get married.  That would be insanely awkward at best - and a total train wreck at worst.

For any poor deluded souls who think like I do, the Maxwells spell out the possible consequences:
Please realize that there can be dangers with boy / girl conversations. While it starts innocently, heart attachments can easily grow. That is a total unknown when of the first conversations occur. Many grieving parents have come to us when a child has become emotionally and then sometimes physically involved. That could have been avoided if the family had boy/girl conversation policies in place and adhered to. (pg. 171)

The Maxwells must have much looser standards for physical intimacy than I do.  I can safely say that I've talked to a few hundred thousand men in my life between school, church and, oh yeah, working as a cashier/bagger/pharmacy clerk/ men's department clerk for eight years.  Of all of those men, I probably went on dates with 15 of them total and have had sex with one of them.   In other words, talking with a guy - even an attractive, funny, smart, kind guy - is not even associated with sexual activity in my life let alone a causal effect. 

The emotional purity component is even stupider.  Why are romantic attachment the only form of relationships that "give pieces of your heart away"?  The only time I've felt like I lost a chunk of my heart is when I had my younger brother die and when my best friend died.   I have fallen deeply in love with men other than my husband and the break-up of those relationships hurt - but even that pain paled in comparison to losing a sibling and a friend who was like a sister to me.   

I love my husband in a way that is similar to and yet completely different than the ways I loved other men.  We had that whole infatuated-walking-on-air-he's-the-bestest-person-ever phase that I've had with other men - but my husband is the only person I've built a life with.   We own a home together.  We've weathered career changes together.  We've cared for elderly relatives together.  We produced an amazing child whom we are raising together.   None of those life-giving activities have been undermined by the fact that we had kissed other people (and each other) before we married. 

Our last vacation together before our son was born was a trip up to Mackinac Island.  We had both been there previously with other people we were dating - and our trip together was phenomenal!  Being up their gave us a chance to share all of our previous memories with each other and create new ones.  Awesome new memories like trying to help a guy in a rented surrey get his understandably confused horse to turn left.  See, the guy was reining his horse in and holding the reins out to the left which made the horse stop while failing to signal the horse to go left.  We explained that he needed to release the reins so the horse could move its head, then gently pull the left rein back so the horse could move her head to the left and her body would follow.   My husband and I started encouraging the horse to move left by talking calmly, but firmly to her like "Hey, now, boss* now.  Let's go left, girlie.  There you go.  Goooood, boss. Gooood, boss" while pointing left.  The horse looked relieved like "Oh, Thank you, Horse God for sending these nice people to help the weird stranger to stop pulling my head back."  The horse was easing into a nice left turn when the driver decided to pull back on the reins again causing the horse to prop to a stop.   We wished him a nice day and wandered off since we only had so many times we were willing to help someone who wasn't listening to directions :-).   

Guess what?  That's a unique memory that I share with my husband that is completely different from my memories of other trips to Mackinac.  Corollary: If I am widowed or divorced someday, I may well remarry.  Visiting Mackinac with my second spouse would be equally awesome because we'd create our own memories separate from our previous relationships. 

I'm so over this EmoPure crap. 

In case there was any question about where the Maxwells fall on the spectrum, they included this lovely guideline from some other family shared with them.

Here's an example one family shared with us on the boundaries they place on the boy / girl conversations for their family. " When we hand out tracts or do any ministry, we always pair the children. Even in business, we try to have Isaac talk with a male customers and Morgan with the female customers. We know there could be danger with lengthy conversations with those of the opposite gender." (pg. 171)


Here's a conversation that's never happened to me in 8 years of customer service:

Me: "Hello!  Did you find everything you needed today?"

Customer: "I sure did!  You are so great!"

Me: "That's great.  Can I interest you in a fountain pop?"

Customer: "I love you so much!  I want to spend my life with you!"

Me: " that's a "no" on the pop, I guess."

Customer: "Ha, ha, ha!  No pop - just a lifelong romance with you!"

Me: "Huh.  I could do worse, I guess.  Let's have sex.  I'm scheduled for a break in 20 minutes."

Yeah, that's palpably absurd - but it's the type of situation that the Maxwells and Maxwellite followers imply will happen if Morgan is allowed to give out tracts to men or Isaac answers a woman's questions at his family's business.    I'm starting to believe that the CP/QF folk have much lower boundaries for sexual activity to occur since they live in dread fear that their kids will have sex with random business customers if left to their own devices.

Good news: The end of this book is rapidly approaching!

*I'm really not a horse person, but I'm aware the term "boss" is supposed to be used for cows, not horses.  Since I spend most of my time around cows, "boss" just slipped out.  Ironically, most of the people who staff stables during the busy season on Mackinac Island are ex-Amish or Mennonites who speak Pennsylvania Dutch so the horse visibly relaxed when I said "boss" because the professional teamsters pronounce "horse" as "hoss" from the horse's point of view I must know what I was doing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter Ten - Part Two

Steven and Teri Maxwell's book "Making Great Conversationalists" offers parents worried about their children's speaking skills a fool-proof way of teaching their kids to be brilliant speakers.  That's the premise of the book - but I'm wondering by this point if the real purpose of the book is to raise a generation of children as socially isolated as the Maxwell offspring are.   After all, the main themes in the book so far are "ignore nonverbal cues from other people", "demand information of the other person" and "prattle on about topics of interest to your family". If a kid has any friends around the same age as them, the next section of the chapter is filled with pieces of advice that should drive away their friends within days.

Topically, the chapter has covered naturally quiet kids, wanting to talk to kids their age instead of adults or "littles", the use of filler words, and angry responses from adults who don't appreciate being lectured to by 15-year olds.    This chunk teaches us about pride and shyness, people who interrupt, overly talkative people, mocking, criticism, gossip, crude words, and inappropriate questions.   I feel compelled to point out that these topics could be arranged thematically or in order of severity instead of being mixed together like a salad. 

Let's discuss pride and shyness first.  Obviously, in CP/QF land, any trait that is not attractive to parents is always rooted in some big shortcoming in the kid's personality.   To me, the logical issue behind shyness is anxiety.   Talking to someone you don't know well can be anxiety provoking for adults; it's even more nerve-racking for kids since this is a new skill.  CP/QF homeschool super-sheltered kids are at even higher risk for this because they don't get the conversational skills practice that traditionally schooled kids do when placed in a classroom of 15-30 peers and left to their own devices.    In the Maxwell world, the besetting sin that causes shyness is pride.   On the positive side, the Maxwells skip bashing shy kids for being prideful after the first sentence.  On the much more negative side, the Maxwells advocate pointing out shy children and how hard they are to talk to.  From that disturbing habit, kids are supposed to decide that they don't want to act like that shy kid and start talking.   There's no data to support this idea - not even a Maxwell story - and I'm highly skeptical it would work.  As a shy kid, I'd be more likely to take comfort in the fact that other people are shy too and that our combined shyness didn't cause the world to end.  When a reformed-shy kid meets a shy kid, the Maxwells recommend the following course of action:
If your child has struggled with shyness, he might be able to encourage the other child that he too was shy once, but God has helped him overcome it. He could share how happy is to be beyond that shyness. (pg. 166)

I really doubt blurting out a personal testimony about God's power in helping a person overcome shyness is going to matter at all to the under-5 crowd where shyness is most noticeable.  For kids older than that, there's a definite risk of offending them since the Maxwells are pretty extreme in their condemnation of shyness.   A confounding issue is that not everyone is highly social and very few people are open to a conversation at all times.   As an adult, I'm quite social once I've gotten the lay of the land at a new location.   When I first arrive in a new situation, though, I tend to hang back and wait to see what the social norms of the group are.   If the group is chatty, I'll chat.  If the group is quieter, I can be quiet, too.   Assuming that everyone and anyone is willing and able to chat with a Maxwellian follower simply because the Maxwellian follower wants to talk is absurd and self-centered.  The Maxwells, however, throw it back as a sign of sin in the other person:
Not speaking to someone, or ignoring them, indicate self-love. Your child appropriate response is not to be offended, but to pray for the other person, and to continue to try to break through communication barriers. (pg. 166)

I agree with the Maxwells that not talking all the time is a form of self-love.  I view self-love as a good, nay necessary, thing!  The Golden Rule is to love your neighbor as you love yourself - so clearly there is an assumption that we care for ourselves and make choices that are good for ourselves.    There is a different solution to the problem of trying to talk to someone who is not responsive: asking the person if they want to talk or not.   That's respectful of both people and acknowledges that the other person has agency.   The current Maxwell stance is far too self-important and too self-centered since there is never a point where kids are taught to be respectful of other people's wishes, wants or desires if those cravings are to avoid conversation with a Maxwell.

The next topic crams avoiding mocking, criticism and gossip into a single page.  For me, I clump mocking and negative gossiping into the category of discussions I avoid - but some gossip is positive and I welcome that!   I'm not comfortable with a blanket condemnation of criticism.  People learn to look at the world around them and see ways in which the world comes up short.  Criticism is simply recognizing that mismatch and thinking of ways to rectify it.   Constructive criticism from administrators, other teachers and students greatly improved my teaching skills.   Similarly, my husband and I give each other feedback on a wide variety of domestic matters.  Women and children in CP/QF land are disproportionately affected by lack of power.  One way to change that is to teach children how to provide constructive criticism at appropriate times.  For example, complaining that a field trip sucks is not very helpful because the complaint is very non-specific.  On the other hand, saying that having to wait for lunch until 2pm when lunch is usually at 12 noon  makes going to the zoo less fun is constructive criticism.   Well, I've now devoted more words to types of criticism than the Maxwells have so I should get back on track.   The Maxwells close by giving an example of how a kid could bring a conversation that has veered into mocking back to safe territory:
For example, a child might say something like this: "Hey, guys, I'm convicted about the way we are talking about what Danny wears. Maybe his family doesn't have money to buy him nicer things." (pg. 168)

I can't speak for Danny, but I'd honestly be less bothered by people being rude about my clothing than I would someone stopping the conversation by declaring that my family is poor.  At best, I'd be embarrassed by the public declaration that we were poor.  At worst, my defender has just said that the only defense for my clothing is dire poverty.  What if I just like that outfit or outfits?   Personally, I think the kid would have better luck if they said "This is boring.  Let's talk about ..." and inserted any topic other than Danny's clothes.

By the way, that quote is completely messing with my understanding of what the verb "to convict" means.   I thought it meant to have a deep and abiding set of principles about a behavior - but I don't see how that definition works in the quote.  I assume the writer meant that the kid was convicted talking about Danny's clothing was rude....but that's not clear from the quote alone.   I ask again that the verb form of "to convict" be allowed to simply stand for judicial proceedings.

In the next topic, the Maxwells recommend talking about God a lot or using the term "blessed" as a hedge against hearing crude or even curse words.     The Maxwells' rationale is that doing that will remind the other speakers to police their own words.  I can see where they are going with that - but this is a method that can backfire massively depending on the audience.   Personally, I watch my own speech and let other people do the same.  I avoid cursing in front of children and in business situations.   If I'm around other adults, I swear occasionally.  My live-and-let-live attitude is unknown to the Maxwells who gift us with this gem for use when cursing starts:
If that doesn't work, your child can interrupt the other person and explain that Jesus Christ is his Lord and Savior, and therefore, he doesn't want to hear those words. It is possible your child might have to choose to leave the conversation. (pg. 169)

Allow me to tell a quick story. 

At my college, all student organizations were required to have a student senate member who would attend monthly meetings for voting on items of varying importance to receive funding.  This requirement was ragingly unpopular and finding members of clubs to be the senate rep was like pulling teeth.  My junior year I missed the organizational meeting of Tri-Beta because I had my wisdom teeth pulled and was voted in absentia to the position of senate rep. 

I realized when I went to the student senate that there were about 5 members who enjoyed being a part of the senate and 40-odd reps who were either bored, checked-out or seething with rage.  The way this silent disinterest was shown was that most reps would vote "Abstain" instead of "Yes" or "No". 

 After a few months, the governmental board pitched a fit when a vote on some minor issue had 20 "Yes" votes, and 0 "No" votes with 20 abstentions.   One of the board members went on a verbal rampage about how reps were failing to do their moral duty....that abstain should only be used if there is a conflicting interest....failing the college and clubs.....I don't really remember the rest because I was really irritated at the amount of time being wasted.

We moved on to the next topic of minimal importance.  A vote was taken.  The measure passed with 10 "Yes" votes, "0" No votes, and 30 "Abstentions".   Pitching a hissy fit about abstentions caused 10 reps who normally voted "yes" or "no" to abstain with no people moving into the voting category.

Similarly, I probably wouldn't swear in front of a random stranger who dropped God into every sentence.  If said stranger started yelling at me about Jesus not wanting to hear swear words, though, I'd be dropping F-bombs like they were going out of style.

Of course, using the "Jesus doesn't wanna hear swears" will also greatly reduce the number of conversations that kid will be in once they've reached puberty, fyi.

Finally, the Maxwells share how to free a kid from tricky conversations where the kids are lured into theological conundrums like this:

When someone is trying to trick your child with foolish questions such as "Did Adam have a navel?" or "Can God make a rock so big he can't pick it up?" That individual has a hidden agenda. (....) Your child could say something like, "To be honest, that's a question that one doesn't really need to answer. The more important question to be able to answer, though, is where will you spend eternity? Have you thought about that question? Do you know the answer to it?"(pg. 170)

Surprisingly, my first irritation with this question comes from the Maxwells' cavalier dismissal of genuine theological questions.  American Fundamental Christianity has a tendency to dismiss out-of-hand both the study of theology and the history of the Christian churches outside of their own.  Both of those questions were not originally asked as questions to trap poorly educated Christians, but rather as ways of trying to deepen our understanding of religion as it interacted with science and logic.   The question about Adam is trying to reconcile a scientific understanding of how the umbilicus forms with the mythical understanding of the Book of Genesis.  And honestly, I'm not sure why that question would trip up a young Earth creationist since their answer is "no".   My answer would be "I doubt that was an important point in the story."   The question about God and a rock is trying to understand how God could be omnipotent in a physical world.   I don't have a great answer for that one either - and I have no problems saying so. 

I prefer to appear ignorant or backwards over assuming that everyone else has a hidden agenda.

Man, I'd be really hesitant to send a Maxwell out with a fall-back of "Quick! Ask pointed questions about the other person's salvation status if you are flustered".   I suspect - or perhaps I hope - that the Maxwells would be able to handle pushback against their own salvation status - but could they handle a fast pivot where the stranger points out that the Maxwells cannot know the salvation status of the stranger without blaspheming? After all, the Maxwells are not God and do not know what God's plans are for us all. That assuming that someone else is unsaved due to external features is exactly what Jesus reproached the Pharisees for? 

There is one more post from this chapter because the Maxwells decide to handle the really tricky topic of boy-girl conversations.   Because apparently conversations between boys and girls can be...really....tricky. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter Ten - Part One

This chapter is worth its weight in comedic gold!  Steven and Teri Maxwell's "Making Great Conversationalists" has plenty of stretching Bible verses to the breaking point along with monotonous stretches of tripe - but the Maxwells are great at trying to put a positive spin on some family stories.   This chapter includes several stories that if the Maxwell parents reflected on their children's gift of conversation...well, this book might never have been written.

Chapter Ten is about "roadblocks" that might occur during teaching conversations or during conversations themselves.  The first category in this chapter is essentially "what should you do if your kid balks at learning to converse with people?"   Perhaps I'm missing something - but isn't a given that kids will whine about anything?  My toddler grumbles about the fact that his parents won't read him "Hop On Pop" for the 59th time today. Yesterday, I had a student complain that the clipart on a worksheet was ugly.  I had a student today complain that they didn't want to go to the gym for a pep-rally; his complaint was something about it being too early in the morning and not caring much about the activity for the day.  Most teachers have to create detailed plans for determining when a window can be opened.  Without one, classes can deadlock between the "I'm too hot" and "I'm freezing" kids.   After eight kids, I'm sure the Maxwells know to expect whining. 

Not only should the Maxwells expect whining - but there is no way that the answers to kids whining about conversational skills should take three pages to work through!  The Maxwells attempt to argue that "I don't know what to say", "I'm a slow thinker", and "I don't have anything interesting to say" are three different situations.  The only reason the divisions makes sense is to take up additional space in the book.   In the wider world, no one would have repeated conversations - or consequences - about a kid who wasn't that into conversations.  Being a quiet kid has its own set of natural consequences.  The consequences are hardly bad - in fact, they work well for kids who are quiet - but unless the kid wants to be more talkative I don't see the point of the Maxwell's ideas of spending time helping a kid pre-plan a conversation or convincing the kid that God will tell them what to say.

After exhausting the topic of whining, the Maxwells jump to the next logical topic: peer dependency.  When I searched "peer dependency" on a whim, I was glad to see that the search results pulled up lots of semi-obscure coding websites instead of the CP/QF belief that people of all ages should want to spend time around people of all ages without any sort of preference for being around people in their own age cohort.   As near as I can tell, this is used primarily as a cudgel to shame preteens and teenagers for wanting to spend time with their friends instead of their siblings and parents.   After some haphazard discussion of brainstorming topics for younger and older audiences with the peer-dependent child, the Maxwells created this surreal gem:
Perhaps that is a self focus that indicates that the child wants to talk to his friends because he is interested in them, they in him, and he likes what they talk about. In that case, you will go back to the reason why conversation is important-- to communicate love. (pg. 162)

*rubs forehead until the strained muscles relax*

Teri and Steven Maxwell graduated from college.

In spite of that, the quote was thought, written, edited, proofread and published.

Let's take this to the natural conclusion in this simulated dialogue between a mother and daughter:

"Lise, I need to talk to you about something I've seen at church.   You primarily spend the time after church with Stephanie, Emily and Maria.  Why do you do that?"

"Well, Steph, Em and Mari are nice.  They ask about how my week has been.  We talk about what we've been doing during homeschooling.  Plus, we're all learning how to cook together and share recipes."

*Mom falls to her knees in anguish and howls*   "Why, God, why?  Why does my daughter spend time with people who care about her and share her interests?  Please help me show her that true love means pushing into conversations with adults and stifling boredom to interact with children at their level."

"I can do that, Mom.... but the kids looked happy playing together and the adults were having an intense conversation that they shooed all of us away from in the first place."

"Oh, Lise, when will you learn? Love means never being happy or content; it's an itchy feeling of isolation and self-repression."


After giving that sage advice, the Maxwells transition naturally into the next topic: filler words.  According to the Maxwells, people shouldn't use filler words and the best way to break people of using filler words is to remind them every time the person uses the filler word.   I use a lot of filler words and having people point them out works with a few caveats.  First, only do this with the other person's permission.  Being interrupted every time you say "uh" or "like" is frustrating and irritating even when you've asked people to do it; do it to an unwilling person and you might get hit.   Second, set a time limit for this activity.  Filler words are a minor linguistic quirk or oddity.  People still have the right to communicate even if they do so with a less than perfect gloss.

What follows filler words?  Oh, yes. Anger.   (Let me know if anyone can figure out any sort of patterning in Maxwell topics; my only guess right now is drawing topics randomly.) The Maxwells launch into an amazing story about how well their conversational training worked for Jesse Maxwell when he was a teen:

A few years ago while attending church after a conference weekend, fifteen year old Jesse was talking with a father. The conversation moved to the subject of college, with the father telling Jesse about his son's plan for college. Jesse entered the conversation by asking the man some questions about college and sharing why he was choosing not to go to college.

Suddenly the man became quite emotional and angry with Jesse. Jesse said the man's anger flared when confronted with why Jesse was choosing not to go to college. The logic of Jesse's no college points shared innocently in the spirit of a typical conversation exchange sparked emotion in the dad without warning. Jesse was able to remain calm when confronted with anger.

And talking about the situation afterwards, Jesse said he realize that he wouldn't have given his thoughts on college had he known it was a touchy point for the dad. He said he also gained experience on when to quietly drop off point and when to continue the exchange. (pg. 164-165)

Your kid can be like this too if you follow the Maxwell Plan for Making Great Conversationalists! Yay!

An adult man tells Jesse Maxwell a bit about his son's future plans.  The deliciously naive, completely self-assured and exceptionally sheltered 15-year old decides the best response is to educate this adult man on why his son shouldn't go to college.   Oh, I know, the Maxwells try to spin the story to make it sound like Jesse was just discussing his personal choices - but precious few adult men would be angered by the statement "I don't think I'm going to go to college myself" from a 15-year-old they've just met.

Oh and a few paragraphs after the story, Maxwell inserts the warning that teens shouldn't use absolute terms like "always" and "never" and shouldn't sound like know-it-alls to adults.   Hmmm.....wonder what prompted that bit of advice?

Look, Jesse learned an important life-lesson; people do not appreciate having their choices criticized by an ignorant stranger.  The only sad thing is that he would have learned that long before if his parents hadn't kept their family chronically isolated.

The Maxwells also imply that Jesse was right because he was "logical" while the stranger was "emotional" - but the Maxwells use appeals to emotion all the time!    One common example is the argument that a college education is synonymous with drinking alcohol, premarital sex, and rampant atheism.  Each of these issues is possible on a college campus just as it is possible in the backseat of a car, or the edge of a field, or a back porch.  Conversely, at no point when I was filing the paperwork to finish my college degree did I have to demonstrate that I had gotten drunk, had sex or become an atheist!    Most of the appeals to courtship and stay-at-home daughterhood work along the same lines.  The logic is scant - but following the CP/QF way will lead to happiness while leaving the path will lead to despair.

Jesse's reflection on the whole conversation is meant to seem mature - but it is full of contradictions.  Jesse took a stand about an issue he thought he knew a lot about.  When he received unexpected blowback, his response is that he wouldn't have taken a stand if he knew there would be mildly unpleasant consequences.   Tell me: if Jesse can't handle one man being mad at him when Jesse "educates" him, how on Earth is Jesse going to handle the level of scorn he's going to get from people when Jesse starts telling them how to raise their daughters or become real Christians or convert their families into personal cults?  For all that CP/QF folks rail on about converting the US, they sure raise their children with thin skins and poor ability at reading other people.

The next post fill us in with more Maxwell maxims about shortcoming in conversations.  Until then, may your life be filled with real love and not CP/QF love!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine in Steven and Teri Maxwell's self-help book " Making Great Conversationalists" amuses me every time I read it.  This chapter - for people who hadn't already caught the pattern - explains the skills an advanced conversationalist is supposed to have.   Honestly, I had no idea of what an advanced conversationalist looked like before  I read this book and I am no better informed after reading the book.  The great part about the chapter is that the Maxwells have crammed all sorts of different types of speaking in between various other topics they forgot to address in earlier sections.

The chapter starts off with a very Maxwellian boast that people who teach their kids how to converse like a Maxwell will be better conversationalists than the average American adult.   That boast is walked back slightly in the next sentence, but mainly because the Maxwells needed a chance to slam how bad most Americans are at talking to Maxwells.  I suspect the Maxwells haven't connected the Maxwell Family's obsession with tracting and judging random strangers with the "bad conversational" skills of the people they meet.  There are a lot of people who will happily shoot the breeze with complete strangers; there are relatively few people who will continue a conversation once the Maxwells make it clear that the only reason they are talking to you is to convert you.

I wonder what would happen if people were more vocal about why they are leaving the conversation with the Maxwells.   I'd be tempted to say something like "Entering a conversation with an unstated external motive is something conmen do, not Christians.  I'm disappointed the fact you were afraid to be upfront about your reasons for starting this conversation.  Goodbye."  Of course, I'd have to practice that a few more times before I could say that on the fly, but you get the idea.  And, truthfully, I am much more willing to listen to someone who states upfront that they are trying to teach me about their religion.   Sneaking it into a conversation is creepy and unbecoming of people who are supposed to be a city on a hill and a light shining in the darkness.

The first major topic in the chapter is that conversations require back-and-forth exchange of information.   I agree with that - but very few of the "good" conversations involved mutual back-and-forth earlier in the book.   Really, the good conversations either had an adult male say "Amuse me!" and his family compiled by talking at him or a kid say "Dad, hold forth on your most recent Biblical obsession!" and the father did.   Most of this section is an extended bitching fest about how an adult career woman told one of the Maxwell sons who was traveling for business all about her job, but failed to ask him any questions about his job.    I was genuinely surprised that any of the Maxwell men travel for business until I remembered that Nathan Maxwell does consult some professional computer security specialist organizations and that Christopher Maxwell travels to take wedding photos.   I'm also surprised that neither Maxwell parent realizes how catty this story sounds:

(...) However, sometimes all one can do is to keep asking questions when the other person doesn't ask any questions in return. That was the exact experience of our son as a talk to the lady next to him on his flight. She was delighted to talk about herself, but she had absolutely no interest in him. She didn't ask our son even one question about his life. Our son stepped off that plane having learned many new things. She left without any new knowledge. (pg. 143)

This enraged snippet says far more about the Maxwell Family level of entitlement than it does about the passenger traveling in the next seat over.  An earlier paragraph explains that the woman worked at setting up pharmacies around the US.   I've been involved in turning over retail areas to a new product before and the process is always chaotic, rushed for time, and physically demanding.  If she's also managing staffing as well, that brings in a whole new level of craziness.  The lady had probably been working 14-16 hour days during the entire trip and had no interest in hearing about the random stranger's life in the seat next to her. 

On top of the expectation that an unrelated woman should jump at the chance to educate and entertain a Maxwell man, the Maxwell son is strangely ignorant of a basic conversational truth.  If the other person is answering your questions - especially if they are giving the most basic answer possible - while not asking any questions of you, the person is trying to end the conversation without being rude.   Can you blame her?  She's stuck on a plane for at least 2-3 hours next to Chatty Chester but answering Chatty Chester's questions is safer than worrying he's going to turn into Grumpy George or Enraged Ernst if she ignores him.

Once the Maxwells have worked out that imaginary insult, they move into teaching your kids to lead conversations away from problematic topics.   Again, this is an important skill for people to have - but why are the Maxwells waiting so long for this idea?   In my childhood, I didn't run into potentially "inappropriate" topics until I was in 3-5th grade because my parents were sane.  They kept us away from sex, drugs, inappropriate alcohol use, and scary stuff that would keep me up at night - and didn't worry about the rest.  In CP/QF land, inappropriate topics start as soon as a kid can talk.  My son watches "Sesame Street" at 18 months old - so presumably a 3 year old CP/QF kid needs to be able to steer the conversation away from terrible topics like "Paws Patrol".

Smoothly changing the topic of a conversation is a good skill to have.  Don't do it like this:

"Hey, Joseph, did you watch that great paramedics show last night?"

" No, I didn't, Daniel. Last night I was working on a web-design project that I am creating for homeschool family that has a home business. I am doing the work for free because I need it to for my portfolio and because I want to help the family's business grow. What do you think are the most important components of websites you go to? What draws you to the site, and what makes you buy what they want to sell?" (pg. 143)

Allow me to summarize this stellar conversation:

"Hey, Joseph, let's bond over a common cultural experience!!"

"I'm gonna bulldoze over you, Daniel!  Hey, answer a few questions for me so I can skip market research, 'k?  How should I make a website that's not geared towards your demographic at all?  Like should there be colors or buttons or something?  Daniel?  Daniel, why are you walking away?  Not cool, Daniel!"

Really, the only thing that I could think of that would top that is if Daniel started describing everything he appreciates in a porn website without specifying that he's describing a porn site.....

The rest of the topic discusses how kids should work at steering the conversation to topics that they are knowledgeable about.   And - again - the Maxwells are far more heavy-handed about that idea than anyone needs to be.  People prefer talking about subjects that they feel comfortable with.  Heavens knows I feel much more confident discussing educational methods in secondary schools than I do discussing the differences in techniques in an artist's collection of works.   Being able to manage the discomfort that comes with being inexperienced in an area is equally important as turning every conversation to a topic that a person can shine in.

As annoying as having every conversation steered towards a Maxwellian topic of excellence, the next section manages to make conversations worse.   The Maxwells glorify people who jam references to God into every conversation.  Like many people who reference God incessantly, the examples the Maxwells find manage to be trite or insulting rather than edifying.   The Maxwells have a mutual friend who didn't recognize Steven Maxwell's voice on the phone, but did once he left a voice message.   When discussing this quirk a day later, the lady goes into a whole spiel about how missing Steven's voice made her wonder how often she missed God's voice in her life.    The Maxwells find that digression profoundly edifying; I am merely grateful that my friends would laugh about that and move on.    A different family has taught their children to redirect all compliments back to God.  If you said to the kid, "Jackie, you play the violin so well!", Jackie would reply, "Thank you.  I am so glad God has given me this talent!"   That quirk stuck with me because it's the same method that women and children in the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints were expected to use to reflect compliments back to their husband or father as the headship of their home.

After that, we get a mild break so the Maxwells can discuss how important storytelling is as a conversational skill.  I love a good story - and the Maxwells use up a page and a half re-telling John's story of being instructed by the California Highway Patrol to drive 300 feet behind a cruiser to form one part of a slow-moving traffic wedge in the middle of the night.   The story caught my attention - but what I remember most is that the Maxwells have no idea what caused the need for a traffic wedge in the middle of the night.   Oh, they have lots of reasonable ideas - presidential motorcade? high-speed chase? - but John didn't turn on the TV and no one thought of using the internet to see if any news site reported on an issue in that area. 

If you guessed that the next topic is the importance of inserting religious references into stories, you win! 

The remaining four pages in the chapters are reviews of previously covered topics, so I'm not going to drag you through them again.

Chapter Ten is about how to teach kids to deal with common issues in conversations - or at least that's what the title implies.  My husband and I agree that the real outcome of following this chapter is to drive every human who talks to you far, far away....

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists - Chapter Eight

Traditionally, people tend to learn items best in groups of three.  I think the Maxwells heard that precept somewhere and decided that they should divide the process of teaching kids how to hold conversations into three parts.  The problem occurs when there isn't enough material to create three distinct groups.  In Steven and Teri Maxwell's self-help book "Making Great Conversationalists", the chapter on training kids at the intermediate level is scant.

The chapter launches with a conversation between the entire Maxwell Family and a nine-year-old who clambers into their bus for a tour.  The author of this section swears the entire family remembers this kid - but fails to attribute the conversation to any individual family member.  The nine-year-old asks some sensible questions about the bus and the Maxwells answer the unison?  In another jarring moment, one of the Maxwells states that the odometer had been replaced before they purchased the bus so they are assuming there was one million miles on the 1995 bus before they purchased it and have added 60,000 miles since then.   I guess that's possible - but from my informal internet searching 500,000 miles is what most transit buses put on when used for 12 years in a dense metropolitan area.  It's not that I doubt that the Maxwells found a bus that had one million miles on it; I'm questioning the sanity of buying a million-mile bus unless they know an experienced mechanic who gave the body a through inspection prior to buying it.  The nine-year-old shares my skepticism apparently because he points out that their family uses a school bus to get around and it's only got 200,000 miles on it.  In spite of that, the Maxwells declare that the kid is in the intermediate stage of conversation because he's better at talking about what they want to talk about than most adults!  (Ok, the last bit is my spin  - but they don't explain why he's an intermediate stage conversationalist.)

The next topic glossed over is the importance of teaching kids Bible verses so they can use those verses in conversations later on.  The topic takes up a page and a half - but I've summarized both the main topic and all pertinent details in ....*counts quietly to self* .... 23 words.  The rest of the space is taken up with single verses from Proverbs or Psalms that involve conversation.

After that topic is duly crossed, the Maxwells discuss how important enthusiasm is in a conversation.  Apparently, a good conversationalist should be like their neighbor's dog who goes into a riot of excitement whenever anyone comes by.  And like the dog, the child shouldn't differentiate enthusiasm levels based on the age of the person they are talking to or the subject at hand.   Personally, I find indiscriminate enthusiasm disconcerting.   I know that a lot of topics that I like talking about are esoteric, geeky or appeal to a niche market; I don't expect strangers to begin to fawn when I say that I've been subbing at local high schools recently.   Plus, acting highly enthusiastic about a subject that a kid either knows very little about or dislikes is setting up an untenable situation.  Eventually, their relative ignorance of a subject or dislike is going to come through - and I'm going to be far more annoyed or upset when I realize they were play-acting.  As always, the Maxwells included some fake dialogue to show the difference between a teenage boy who is trying to get out of a conversation with an adult man at their church and the same kid describing his vacation in great detail to the older guy.  My confusion is pretty simple:  If the teenager is close to the older guy to start with, the kid is being rude by not explaining why he doesn't want to talk right now.  If the two aren't close, why is the older guy asking a bunch of questions to a teenager about his vacation?  That's a weird place to start a relationship.

I kid you not: the following section is titled "Are questions important in a conversation?" 


I just saved the Maxwells a few cents of printing costs taken up over a page of ramblings.

The last three pages of the chapter are a review of alternating between asking questions and giving answers in a conversation and how to practice conversations.   This sounds familiar because both ideas have been covered extensively previously in the book - and there are no new additions in this section.

Finally, we reach an abbreviated list of questions that parents can teach their kids to ask other kids followed by a list the kids can ask adults.  I'm going to start with the kid-to-kid questions and chunk them as I see fit:
Tell me about your family.

Where do you live?

Tell me about your house.(pg. 138)

When I was in grade school, we discussed the question words - who, what, where, when, why and how.  Notice the absence of "tell me" from the question words because "tell me" is a command rather than a request or a question.   Let's not train children to be tiny drill sergeants demanding information from their peers. 

I know the Maxwells travels quite a bit for conferences - but the question "where do you live?" doesn't scale well to local areas.   It's not like the kids are going to be meeting people who live terribly far away.

I can't imagine launching into a description of my home to a new person I've met as an adult.  I think I might have described our house as "the green one between the two yellow ones on the left side of the street" when giving directions.  Outside of that, I really don't remember talking about my house as a kid.    As a question goes, it feels like a form of bragging.

What are your interests?

What do you do when you have free time?

What activities are you involved in?

What is your favorite thing to talk about?

How do you most enjoy spending your time?

Why do you enjoy that? (pg. 138)

This section is the same question phrased slightly differently over and over and over.  The larger issue I see is that the Maxwell kids are likely to get answers that are forbidden to their family.   "I like to watch Paws Patrol on TV.  What do you like to watch?"   "I play soccer as a midfielder.  Do you play sports?"  "I read books.  What's your favorite book?"

 Oh, heavens.  I just realized that the Maxwells would probably pipe up that their favorite book is the Bible - or the books that their sister writes and you can buy one at their website!

Where is your favorite place to go as a family? (pg. 138)

That's a good question.    The Maxwells skip the obvious follow-up question of "where's your favorite place to go?" since not everyone in a family goes to the same place.

Do you play an instrument? If so what is it? How long have you played it? Why did you choose that instrument? Why do you like playing it? Do you ever play for other people? Where?(pg. 138)

Oh, the Maxwells approve of people playing instruments.  That's allowed.  I think they allow people to sing as well.   I'm curious how the Maxwell kids would respond to the common complaint that a kid badly wants to give up (pick an instrument), but their parents won't let them.  Oh, wait.  Bible verse about disobedience and witchcraft. 

Do you have or have you had any pets?

What kind? What do you like about them/it?

Did you train your pet to do anything?

If you could have any pet, what would it be and why? (pg. 138)

Whoo-hoo!  The Maxwells had a section of age-appropriate and not weird questions!  YAY!

Where do you go to school?

What do you like best in school? Why?

What do you like least in school? Why?

What are you studying in school that you enjoy? Why?

What have you learned recently that you could share with me?(pgs. 138 and 139)

Again, the two questions about things the person likes at school are the same question.  I'd pay to be the fly on the wall when a bored homeschooled teen responds that the thing they like least about school is being homeschooled. 

Let's not turn what little peer-to-peer time CP/QF kids have into enforced tutoring times, ok?  It's a bit nightmarish from my perspective as a teacher to expect kids to update other kids in different school systems about random topics.   There's a lot of way that could go wrong - and not many ways it could go right.

Corollary: At what age do the Maxwells learn about human anatomy and reproduction?  Does it match all the kids they might meet in CP/QF land?

Next up are the questions for kid-adult conversations:

What is your name?

How many children do you have?

Do you have any grandchildren?

What are their names and ages?(pg. 139)

There's an odd missing question in this list.  Do the Maxwells really want their kids to ask unmarried  adults if they have children?  This oversight is quite odd considering their daughter Sarah is single in her late thirties.  Presumably she's had the awkward situation where a well-meaning kid assumes she's married with kids of her own at some point.

More broadly, it's not a great idea to send kids off to ask adults if they have kids or grandkids.  That's a rather rude question to blurt out at people - and potentially hurtful to people who badly want a spouse, children or grandchildren but do not have any.

Where do you live?

What do you do for a living?

Where do you go to church?

What do you like to do? (pg. 139)

I think we can agree that kids shouldn't be telling adults they don't know well where the kids live, amiright?  That was agreed to be good practice when I was a kid in the 1980's and I've seen no sign that's changed.  With that assumption, don't set kids up for a situation where an adult shares their address and then asks for the kid's address. 

I don't want to know how the Maxwell kids respond when someone tells them they belong to the Catholic Church...or the local synagogue.....or the local mosque. Oh, wait.  Bible verses.  *rolls eyes*

What is your salvation story?

Do you homeschool your children? (pg. 139)

Yes!  Yes!  Open the door to hearing random strangers' salvation stories.  Remember, the greater the sinner, the greater the glory of God when they are saved!  Be sure to share the utter depravity of your life before Jesus to the Maxwells; don't hold back!

The next chapter begins the most unintentionally hilarious sections of the book.