Monday, July 31, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Nine - Part Three

After an allegory packed with dead plant allusions, Ms. Mally decides to use more of her personal life experiences to demonstrate how dreams must die.

She starts with a story of when she was around 20 and her brother Steven was 14.  He was discussing how much  he wanted a laptop and said that he wanted one badly but would be shocked if he ever got one - like how his sister views marriage.  When Sarah asks him how he would feel about getting married, he says that that would be like Sarah getting a laptop instead of getting married.

Sarah uses this to spring-board into the idea that all young women want to be married, but I'm stuck on how obvious and all-consuming her desire to be married must be to make such an impact on her teenage brother.   My brother and I have about the same age difference - he's 4 and a half years younger than me - and he's never commented on my desire to be married.  He met my boyfriends and had pretty good relationships with most.  He offered to beat up (mostly jokingly) one boyfriend who dumped me in a particularly callous manner; I declined, but appreciated the offer and the kindness that it came from.  Sarah's hunger to be married must burn in her to be that obvious.

Sarah Mally trots out a standard chestnut of hers by talking about how a nine year-old friend of hers wanted a boyfriend more than anything else in the world.  Now, Sarah was 11 and in the process of starting to witness to her friend so her friend may have decided to nip that conversation in the bud.  I live in an area where enthusiastic attempts at conversion are taught at a strangely young age.  I don't remember anyone trying to convert me, but my brother had a friend who tried about every 18 months or so.  Well, he did until my brother chased him down the street waving a rosary at him and throwing "holy water" at him.  My only question was where my brother got the holy water; we received cheap plastic rosaries at school every so often so I knew he could find one or more in our junk drawer but we're not the kind of people to keep holy water at home.  My ten year old brother looked at me and replied "Yeah, well, he doesn't know that, does he?"  That was the last time I worried about my brother.  Any ten year old who can improv his way out of conversions using a cup of tap water and a junk rosary is going to do fine in life.....

Next, Ms. Mally describes a point in her Bright Lights ministry.  She started Bright Lights when she was 17 and had mentored three groups that formed in her area by the time she was 21.  After presenting Bright Lights at a conference, she found that there was a lot of interest from other girls and mothers for her ministry.  Understandably excited about expanding her ministry, she realized that Bright Lights was going to need materials for groups to use, training for future leaders and outreach at mother-daughter conferences to raise awareness of their ministry.

I see nothing wrong or misplaced about her excitement or planning.  She had a workable ministry model that she had ironed the kinks out of locally.  Mally connected with a larger audience - presumably at an ATI/ATIA/IBLP conference - and found that her model was wanted across a larger geographic area.   I don't like her ministry - but she's following a tried and true method for ministry expansion.

Then comes the self-doubt:
" As the weeks went by, I began to realize that some of my ideas were rather unrealistic and that many obstacles had to be overcome. I began to wonder whether all these ideas were really from the Lord or just my own dreams. I began to search my heart and evaluate whether my motive was to truly reach young ladies or to gain something for myself. I desperately wanted to want only what the Lord wanted, but I was confused. My dream seemed to be from the Lord - yet I also knew how easily prideful and selfish motives could creep in. (pg. 173)
  • Based on what she wrote in the book, none of her goals were unrealistic.  
    • Writing lesson guides would be time-consuming, but she's already taught three groups her curriculum.  
    • In terms of gaining wider attention, she JUST finished presenting at a conference.  Getting accepted to other conferences shouldn't be too hard and she'd have material to give to attendees (e.g., a sample lesson plan she created earlier).  
    • Leading training conferences for leaders (teenage girls) would take a longer time-span to accomplish because she'd need a certain mass of publicity and momentum before she'd have enough interested candidates to pay for the conference - but "long-term goal" is not a synonym for "unrealistic".
  • Sarah Mally and I would not get along well in real life.  If someone tells me that they're worried that their small, local ministry for pre-teen girls is a manifestation of their "prideful and selfish motives", I don't know if I'd laugh or cry.  This might be a sensible reaction, though, to being a follower of Gothard her whole life.  Her subconscious might have been picking up on the dangerous vibes that he puts off.
  • This is a handy way to prevent people from being ambitious at all.  Sarah Mally is freaking out at enlarging her ministry from small/local to medium/regional.  Imagine how much more panicky she'd be if she wanted to do something that was a bit more taboo like getting a college degree in nursing, teaching, social work or business. 
" I distinctly remember one day just a few weeks later when I got on my knees and made a list of all my ideas and dreams for Bright Lights -- every little desire and every big dream. I put them all on my list. Then, one by one, I surrendered them to the Lord, asking that He would purify my heart and use me to accomplish His purposes, not my own. Finally, I ripped up the paper and asked the Lord to exchange my dreams for His will --whatever it might be. I still had a strong desire to minister to young ladies, and I still felt that the Lord was leading me to pursue the vision He had given, but I also knew if the Lord's plans were different than mine, He could be trusted. Even if none of my ideas came to pass, I was resolved to put my whole heart into His assignments and follow His leading." (pgs. 173-174)
  • I was moving along pretty well with Ms. Mally until she started ripping up the paper that she outlined her plans for Bright Lights.   I visualized God/Jesus watching her and saying "Wait? What are you doing?  Those were the plans!"
  • This is a strangely detailed ritual to get rid of Ms. Mally's guilt or unease about being an active participant in her own life.  After all, nothing she's alluded to about her ministry is sinful.  It's a pretty mundane form of proselytizing.  After the ritual, she's on the same path she was before with the same feelings of excitement and drive and a bit farther along in planning. 
"Several years later it suddenly dawned on me that every single one of those dreams had to come to pass. And even more exciting to me was the fact that dozens of other ministry opportunities that had never even crossed my mind had also been part of the Lord's bigger plan. Waiting was involved, and God's timing was definitely different than mine. In fact, some of the things that I hoped would happen immediately took nearly five years, but in hindsight it is clear that God sees the whole picture and writes the last chapter." (pg. 174)
  • This is the bit where the wheels fall off.  The net outcome of Ms. Mally letting her dreams for Bright Lights Ministry die is that all of her dreams come true.  This is a slightly watered down version of the Prosperity Gospel.  Gothard's ATI/ATIA/IBLP is a pro-natal, anti-education version of the Prosperity Gospel where if a person follows Jesus, Jesus will give them everything they want.  Sarah Mally makes the deal even sweeter by claiming that she's received even more possibilities than she had ever dreamed of.
Immediately after this, Ms. Mally explains that she went through the same ritual for her dreams of building her own family.  When the book was written, she hadn't married and discloses that obviously that set of dreams have not come true - but that she believes that God has a plan for her life.  

I wonder if she's truly resigned to "following the Lord's assignments" for her personal life.  The Princess and Sarah describe wanting romance with a man they love and wanting to be a mother.  Romance and getting married do not come with an end date - but bearing biological children gets much harder as women age.  Ms. Mally wrote this book at 25-26 years of age when she had at least 15 years of potential childbearing ahead of her.  She's now 37 years old; women can have first babies in their late thirties, but the success rate drops markedly every year.  The successful pregnancy rate drops more rapidly for women who have never had a child than women who have had a previous pregnancy and scientists aren't entirely sure why that happens.  Ms. Mally's situation is complicated by her alliance with Gothard's cult.  Members of ATI do not use birth control, do not use assisted reproductive technologies and do not adopt children.

How many of the various girls that Ms. Mally has bashed as boy-crazy are now married mothers? I'm willing to bet that around 80% of them have been married at least once and most have had one or more child.  That's the strange irony of parent-led courtship: for a culture that idolizes marriage and parenthood, they are failing miserably at getting their kids married and reproducing.
  • The Botkin Family has married off 3 sons out of 7 kids for a 43% marriage rate.  
  • The Maxwell family has married 3 out of 8 for 37.5% success rate.  
  • The Duggars have 11 kids over the age of 18 with 4 marriages and one engagement for a 45% marriage rate.  
  • The Bates Family has married 4 out of 9 over the ages of 18 for a 44% marriage rate.  They win a consolation prize for not having an unmarried child over the age of 25.
  • I can't find any information on Sarah Mally's brother - which I hope means he ran away from the cult - but their family has either a 0% or 33% success rate.
Next up: Sarah Mally's scariest family story yet....

Friday, July 28, 2017

Homeschooling Badly: Basic Life Lessons Counted as Academic Learning

After finishing the four remaining chapters in "Before You Meet Prince Charming", I'd like to begin addressing another concerning area in CP/QF teaching: homeschooling as a method of indoctrination.

I am not against homeschooling across the board.  I've known plenty of students who have been well-served by learning at home.  The main connecting point of homeschool successes is that parents were homeschooling for the academic benefit of their student and were willing to adapt their methods to advance their child's academic success.

The main problem with CP/QF home-schooling revolves around both the end goal of indoctrinating children into a narrow lifestyle and the rationales used to justify continuing homeschooling when parents realize that they are doing an inadequate job due to the stresses of raising a large to extremely large family of closely spaced children on a single income while attempting to homeschool.

The first toxic rationale I'd like to look at is the idea that the day-to-day living skills taught by parents is the equivalent of academic learning.   For example, my parents taught all of their kids how to keep a home in an age-appropriate manner.  We learned to wash dishes, clean floors, organize our belongings and do laundry.  What my parents did not do was to decide that learning how to cut the grass was equivalent to a science class.

This is more egregious when used with older students.  For young children, living is filled with learning experiences.  As students gain the basic methods of exploring the world - reading above 2.2 grade, expository writing, basic arithmetic - students need to be exposed to more abstract theories within academic areas.  In English, students need to start looking at how writers create works.  In Social Studies, students need to start exploring how cultures are the same and different.  Science begins to focus on how explaining why changing a factor in a system causes a certain result.  In math, problems require using more abstract concepts to answer more complicated questions.  This can be accomplished in a myriad of methods - but all of the methods require meticulous advance thought and planning by the parent-teacher.

An example of a "quiz" to help parents ameliorate their feelings of inadequate academic homeschooling is found on the blog Guilt-Free Homeschooling.  After a few paragraphs discussing reasons homeschooling parents think they might not be doing enough, this quiz appears.  Whether or not the quiz is supposed to cover academic material wavers depending on which sentence the blogger is writing.  Since the main goal of public and private schooling is producing students who are proficient in academic skills, homeschooling success should include comparable academic results.

For each of the 20 questions, parents decide if each of their kids is described as "Yes/Nearly Always" (5pts), "Maybe/Sometimes" (2pt) or "No/Rarely" (0pts). Parents are expected to adapt the questions to the age of each kid.   For each question, I am going to reflect on if the question reflects an academic goal and what point value I would award for my nearly 5-month old son.  Since a 5-month old is far too young for academic work, the correct end score should be 0 pts.
1. Is your child interested in his schoolwork?
This question has some academic value since engaged students tend to learn a subject more easily.
My son has no school work so that's 0 pts.

2. Does your child have multiple interests and duties to fill his time each day (schoolwork; home chores; pleasure reading; hobbies; playing beneficial or educational video or computer games; playing board, table, card, dice games; open or unstructured playtimes not involving TV; outdoor sports and activities; and artistic or musical pursuits)?
I can't see an academic value to this question.
My son likes open, unstructured play time, playing with adults, trying to sing along with people and is fascinated by paintings so that's a "Yes" for 5pts.

3. Is your child able to entertain himself during free time?
This is an important question in terms of time and emotional regulation, but it's not an academic question.
Little Guy is quite good at amusing himself in a wide variety of ways so he's earned another 5pts.

4. Is your child involved in any hobbies that could become lifelong pursuits?
Not academic at all.
My son likes exercising, music, watching films (he vocalizes like the characters are talking to him), and being outdoors. That's another 5 point "Yes" response.

5. Does your child read anything for pleasure (books, magazines, comic books, internet articles, etc.)?
Reading is an important academic skill! Yay!
My son does not read yet. That's 0 points.

6. Does your child beg to keep the light on past bedtime so he can “finish the chapter”?
While reading is an important skill, reading for pleasure after bedtime is not a critical skill.
My son can't read yet - although he can be pretty solid at trying to convince us that he should be able to stay up all night :-) 0 pts.

7. Can your child read and follow directions (directions for traveling to another location, directions for assembling a new toy or playing a new game, and directions for preparing a recipe)?
The question has a problem: it's double-barreled. This means that the question is asking two different skills - reading and following directions. How do you score a dyslexic kid who can't read well but can follow complicated verbal instructions? Since reading has been assessed once already, the question should just ask about direction following which is an important academic skill.
My kid can't follow directions of any type yet. That's 0 points.

8. Does your child possess an extensive vocabulary for his age?
Vocabulary is an important Language Arts skill! Yay!
Little guy can't speak yet so that's 0 points.

9. Does your child willingly speak when spoken to? Will he answer questions from relatives or friends regarding his schoolwork? Does he give complete answers using full sentences?
This is a triple-barreled question that covers not being shy, discussing schoolwork with outsiders, and age appropriate verbal sentence construction. The last question is part of Language Arts skills.
Here's another example of a problem with triple barrel construction: My son gleefully chatters at people who talk to him, but can't answer questions or use complete sentences. Since he's doing age appropriate speech practice, I'm going to give him a 5.

10. Is your child comfortable (considering his age) speaking in front of a friendly group of people (family or friends) in an informal setting?
While public speech is an academic skill, the setting of this question covers an informal situation without academic content.
My son loves chatting with people. 5 pts.

11. Can your child react appropriately to people he does not know in acceptable situations (store clerks and sales associates, restaurant wait-staff, police, and medical professionals)?
This is an important life-skill for parents to teach their kid - but it's not an academic skill.
Little Guy shows an age-appropriate level of initial reticence towards strangers followed by willing interaction if the person appears friendly. That's a 5pt answer.

12. Does your child play a variety of games (board & table games, card games, dice games, solitary games & group games, and games focusing on math, geography, and varied trivia)?
I like playing games but I wouldn't have classed this as a major academic skill. Does playing outdoor games like group sports count?
My son does enjoy playing solitary games like "Smack the toy"...but I don't know if that's what the question is asking. I guess I'd give him two points....

13. Can your child accurately handle money and make change (whether in real life or as part of a board game)?
This is an important academic skill that involves skip counting, addition and subtraction. The problem is that this question doesn't scale up well for kids beyond early elementary school.
My son can't do that yet. In fact, I'm not sure he's ever seen me handle money; he's restricted from being out in densely populated public spaces like stores and I rarely use cash for most purchases. That's 0 points.

14. Does your child help with home chores on a regular basis?
Helping out around the house does give some important language practice along with both fine and gross motor skill practice for young children. The benefit of routine chores for academic skill building drops off by late elementary unless parents spend a lot of time connecting the chores to scientific or mathematical principles. The longer-term connections to chemistry involved in cooking or using cleaning products are more a real-life connection to make an abstract principle clearer. In other words, many people are excellent cooks without understanding the science behind cooking and everyone should know not to mix cleaning products without knowing how to explain the scientific reactions behind the reason.
My son creates more household chores. That's a zero point response.

15. Does your child possess basic life-skills? Can he prepare a simple meal (make a sandwich or scramble eggs)? Can he clean himself, his clothing, and his living quarters?
Life skills are different from academic skills. The question is also triple-barreled.
My son's doing well in life skills. He's showing increased emotional regulation through self-soothing. He can communicate pleasure. He can let others know when he is uncomfortable or upset. His gross and fine motor skills are progressing normally. That's 5 points.

16. Does your child possess basic computer skills (type with more than two fingers, control the computer mouse or track-ball, open a word-processing program and begin a document, and navigate through safe internet sites)?
Computer literacy is an academic skill - although this is hard to scale down for young children. The list of skills given is also a bit restricted for a high school student who I would want to have experience using multimedia programs, cloud-based programs, and ability to determine the weight to give information found on different websites.
No, my son can't use a computer yet - but he does like to bang on my laptop keyboard. 0pts.
17. Does your child possess basic research skills (finding a specific book at the library, finding a specific number in the telephone book, finding a specific place on a map, and using a dictionary)?
Research skills are important academic skills - but that list is a strange mix that should be accomplished by 3rd-4th grade at the latest. Older students need to know how to cite sources, differentiate author biases', use more advanced research tools like thesauruses, and interpret distance and topography on maps.
Kiddo does none of those things yet. 0 points.

18. Does your child witness and/or assist in a variety of adult responsibilities so that he will be comfortable when faced with those situations himself (paying bills, balancing checkbook or bank account, simple home repairs or auto repairs, meal planning, making appointments, and organizing a home)?
Another double-barreled question - how do you score a kid who witnesses, but does not assist? These are important life skills. A few of them require basic math skills - but most can be accomplished well long before graduating high school.
My kid has witnessed all of those items except balancing a checkbook since we do that online. He's too young to help. 2 points, I guess.

19. Can your child take notes from a speaker? (Your pastor’s sermon is an excellent training ground for taking notes in future college lectures.)
Note-taking is an academic skill! The "helpful" tip only works in certain congregations; having a kid take notes at a Catholic Mass would be considered at best odd and at worst rude.
No, Little Guy is not a note-taker.

20. Does your child possess basic religious beliefs and know why he believes what he believes? Does he know how to learn more about his faith?
This isn't a major area of academic study outside of parochial schools. More importantly, I don't know how to answer this question coherently for most age groups.
Well, we think our son has pledged his undying allegiance to a toy sun that has a face painted on it. When he sees it, he stares deeply at it and talks intensely to it. So....probably a 0 so far.

Net outcomes:
1)In the most generous scoring possible, eight of the questions cover academic topics at least partially.  The remaining 12 questions cover life skills - so a student could earn 60 points without any academic learning.   The academic questions are heavily weighted towards reading.  Reading is of critical importance, but a basic education needs to cover math, science and social studies as well.

2) My five-month old son scored a 39 out of 100 possible points.  While that was a fun exercise, using him as a control has grounding in creating surveys.  A solidly constructed quiz should give a 0pt response for person with no academic experience.  This exercise shows that the quiz has a bias of +39 points which means the quiz awards 39 excess points.

To interpret the results of the quiz, parents add up the score for each kid and get one of three outcomes.
  • Students who score less than 40pts are not doing enough.  With 39 excess points, it is nearly impossible to score low enough to end up in this category!  If my son was old enough to speak, he would have moved into the next category up.  For students who can read, it is impossible to fail this quiz.
  • Students scoring between 40-85 are "off to a good start".  Removing the biased points means that students only need to earn between 1-46 points.  If a student enjoys reading, they will pick up roughly 30 points.  
  • Students above 85 pts are doing fine.  I agree these kids are doing fine in life skills - but they may or may not being doing well academically.
Next post: "If I teach my child how to learn, they can learn whatever they need to know in the future" is a nice poster, but may be rough on your kid.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Nine - Part Two

The first portion of the allegory from the chapter on how dreams have to die revolved around the Princess meeting and talking with Sir Valiant for a few minutes.  This meeting got her emotions all stirred up since she's got a crush on Sir Valiant.

Since Sir Valiant doesn't return to see her again, the Princess' excitement about being on the verge of having a relationship fades.  She does some light-weight work for others - the list includes being hospitable to dignitaries, standing in for her father at functions, sewing for the poor and playing with orphans - then indulges in her favorite past-time: moping and wringing her hands about her future.

One day when she's especially down she goes for a walk.  Her mother follows her and they have a conversation.

"Hearing soft footsteps, she turned around and saw her mother walking behind her. The princess waited but said nothing, telling herself that she was determined not to start crying.

Her mother seem to already know how she was feeling, as mothers usually do, and gently asked if everything was alright.

The princess was silent for a few moments then began to speak slowly. "Years ago I decided that I had a purpose in life much bigger than marriage and that I would gladly stay single if my Heavenly Father asked this of me. Time after time, I have prayed for His will to be done and purposed to be content. And just when I had thought I had finally understood contentment, just when I thought I had finally learned how to patiently wait, Sir Valiant came to visit, and... and... made everything harder. I don't understand why I can't learn to trust and I'm so easily distracted. And why- " she concluded with a sigh, " why does this have to be so difficult?"

"Struggles are a necessary part of life," her mother said. "They strengthen us and prepare us for the new trials that lie ahead. When one struggle is overcome, another is often around the next bend."

"I suppose. But Mother, I feel like I'm failing in each struggle, not overcoming them."

"Thou art growing. Thou art learning. These are the very things the struggle is designed to accomplish in thy life. Do not forget, dear daughter, that except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. " "(pg. 169)
  • No one in this book ever discusses emotions.  The Princess sounds sad, scared, discouraged, lonely and self-critical.  She's also infatuated with Sir Valiant.  All of these feelings deserve validation from her mother.  The royal family ignores all of their daughter's feelings at their peril:
    • The Princess is at least 21 at this point in the book and she's had minimal life experience.  She hasn't spoken to a friend in years according to the book.  Every time she wants to make a choice in her life, her father guilt-trips her about having met Sir Eloquence five years ago and railroads her into staying "pure".  No wonder she feels sad.
    • The Princess has been given the same quid-pro-quo promise given to all women through "emotional purity" or Emo-Pur:  if she guards her heart vigilantly by staying at home and letting her father lead her romantic life, she will have an early, fertile, romantic and deeply satisfying marriage.  The Princess has kept up her part of the bargain and all she has received in return is years of aching loneliness relieved only by circular arguments exchanged with the Allegator.  No wonder she feels scared, lonely and discouraged.
    • The Princess has received no direct compliments in the whole book.  Her parents describe everything positive she does as being based as a given.  By doing absolutely nothing, she's a rose or a candle.  When she struggles to follow the way, she's learning and growing in the way expected of her as a Christian.  When she wants to deviate from the way, that's all her fault.  No wonder she's overly self-critical.
    •  The Princess has so little exposure to potential mates that she's having a hard-core crush on a guy who she's seen on one occasion and talked with for a few minutes total.  Having a crush is normal and healthy; being continually distracted by marital fantasies about a man she hasn't seen in months and has no relationship with is abnormal. 
  • The most annoying part of the King and Queen is their continual claims that they understand exactly why everything happens in the Princess' life.  The Queen tells her daughter that all of her struggles happen because the daughter still needs to "grow".  On top of being insufferable, that's an extra-Scriptural claim; the Bible is pretty clear that life is simply hard at times.
  • This would be an excellent time for the Queen to commiserate with her daughter.  The Queen has to have struggles of her own.  She has to have struggled before on some issue.  Sharing her feelings and how the situations resolved themselves would be a lot more comforting for her daughter than telling her to suck it up and deal.
"Bear fruit --that is exactly what I want to do," the princess said quietly, as if deep in thought.

"Then your dream must die. "

"But my dream is a good dream, not a bad dream. It is the dream that God has given me. It is nothing wicked I desire, but only what is natural, wholesome, and beautiful. Why must it die? "

Her mother stepped off the path, knelt down, picked up an acorn, and explained, "Observe this acorn, perfectly designed for what it is intended to do - die. The acorn does not know why; the acorn does not understand what is ahead, but only if it is buried in the cold and dark earth --forgotten and alone --does it fulfill its purpose and become what it is created to be. Would the acorn ever have imagined that it would become the beautiful oak tree you see before you? Not in its wildest dreams. When you admire the oak tree, do you mourn the loss of the acorn? Of course not. By losing its life, the acorn becomes something so much greater, so much more beautiful, so much more valuable. The death is forgotten. The fruit is remembered. Nevertheless, death was required." (pgs. 169-170)

  • This section is the only section where the Princess admits that's she's got sexual feelings.  Oh, it's always disguised as either vaguely chaste romantic dreams like walking under the stars with a guy or as a longing to be a mother, but the Princess' has sexual urges.  This is the most normal moment the Princess has ever had in the book and one of the most honest moments.  The response of her all-wise mother is "Don't go there!  That's something you have to give up right now!"  
  • The Queen's appropriation of the verse about needing to die to bear fruit makes no real sense in the Princess' life.  The traditional interpretation of the verse is that humans as sinners need to overcome selfish desires to follow Christ.  The Princess isn't discussing any selfish desires - even under Emo-Pure guidelines!   She's not saying that she wants to chase after Sir Valiant, wants to go out from her father's protection. or saying that she questions any of the basic ideas. Having been thoroughly broken in spirit by five years of solitude, she's more meek than she's ever been before in the whole book.    Remember, the Princess' sole purpose in the Royal Family's "ministry" to the kingdom is to show how Emo-Pure is crucial for young adults to fulfill their God-given duty of marriage and reproduction.  Her testimony fails miserably if she doesn't marry and produce kids.  The plot hasn't introduced a more holy ministry that she's forsaking by wanting to marry and have kids because there is NO other option available in CP/QF theology.  That's the main reason the Queen's invocation of dying to self falls flat; she's telling her daughter that following Christ means giving up the only way available for her daughter to follow Christ....
  • Do not home-school using ATI/ATIA booklets.  Just say no to bad educational texts that teach kids that seeds die before producing plants.   That should reduce the number of books written that talk about dead, anthropomorphic acorns.
  • Replacing wheat plants with oak trees creates all sorts of problems with the metaphor from the Bible.  
    • The wheat plant acts in a way that makes the metaphor meaningful because wheat seeds that are buried have a good shot at becoming a wheat plant.  Wheat lives for a single season, produces a lot of seeds, scatters the seeds, and the parent plant dies before the seeds germinate.Wheat seeds need to be covered by a small amount of soil to retain enough moisture to germinate but that can be accomplished by forces as common and slight as rain drops, wind, the movement of animals or leaf litter from the parent plant.  Since all of the seeds are facing a growing area empty of adult wheat plants at the beginning of the next season, each wheat seed has a good chance of becoming a wheat plant.  
    • Oak trees are completely different.  Oak trees are long-lived perennials that produce massive crops of acorns every few years.  The vast majority of acorns will never become oaks and that's a feature, not a bug of reproduction.  Acorns are large enough that they need to be moved away from the parent oak and buried by an animal dispersion agent like a squirrel.   To attract the animal dispersal agents, oaks produce heaps of acorns at once.  Most of the acorns will be eaten directly or buried by an animal and eaten later.  Most of the uneaten, buried acorns will never grow because they are buried too deep, do not receive a signal to grow before the embryo dies or were injured in a way that destroys the embryo's food supply or the embryo itself.  Quantifying exactly how many offspring a plant produces is hard, but the best modeling suggests that the average tree in a forest produces at least 10,000 acorns to have 4-6 offspring survive to seedling age in hopes that 1-2 seedlings survive to maturity.
  • Incongruity point: The Queen delivered her whole "Dead Acorn" monologue while kneeling in the dirt.  When writing character actions, make sure that the action matches the personality of the character and that the writing conveys the right action.  There's no way a Queen regnant would kneel in the dirt to lecture her daughter about how trees work.  Rather than listing every action, keep it simple.  If the lead-in said "The Queen picked up an acorn", the basic idea of the Queen showing an acorn to the Princess is solved without the Queen groveling in the dirt.
That's the end of the allegory.  Literally.  The Queen's kneeling under an oak tree and the Princess never responds to her.

The exhort-and-advise section trots out some memorable (read: odd) anecdotes to support the "Let Your Dreams Die" theme.  The net outcome, however, becomes "If you let your dreams die, they come true!" which doesn't quite fit.....ah, well.  

Monday, July 17, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Nine - Part One

This chapter has the smooth title of "Dreams Must Die".  The book has been uniformly depressing since the Princess' most intimate relationship is with the Alligator who lives in moat who is trying to get her to have a life.  I don't even want to know how much worse this can get.

The allegory start with the Princess enjoying the nice weather while thinking and praying on the balcony.  She's decided to not go to the Merchants' Fest and plans to serve God with more energy.  There's no discussion at all of how she plans to serve God which is unfortunate; the Princess really needs a job, a hobby, an education or something that cuts down on the amount of time she spends alone in the castle moping.

Anyways, she's on her way to tell the King of her plans when she finds Sir Valiant in the courtyard. As near as I can tell, the Princess has seen him once when she was about 17 years old.  She's now 20 or 21 years old.  The two of them have never spoken to each other.  Sir Valiant did give talk with the King about plans to fight Temptation and Lies in the Kingdom, but the Princess isn't aware of that whole discussion.

The two of them chat for a few minutes.  This section below is their whole interaction:
It was, as you may have guessed, Sir Valiant. He had finished a lengthy conference with her father and was just mounting his horse to depart from the castle, dedicated in his service for the king.

The princess stopped suddenly. Then she quickly smiled and cheerfully exclaimed, " Oh, hello! " Though her voice was calm, her heart was trembling, and dozens of questions raced through her mind. What shall I say? Shall I introduce myself? Why is he here? Does he know who I am?

Her anxiousness was forgotten, however, when Valiant dismounted his horse, returned her greeting, and said " Oh, and you must be the king's daughter? I have heard so much about you. Many in the village speak of thy virtue and kindness."

The princess laughed and replied, " Oh, well, I have heard about you as well. My father says thou art among his most trustworthy knights. He deeply values thy loyal service.

The princess thought that Sir Valiant looked even more handsome and radiant than ever as he stood there in the bright sunlight. In reality, if she could have seen herself, she would have been equally surprised to see the brightness in her own face. It is perhaps a good thing that the princess did not realize that her beauty was only becoming more and more radiant with time.

The two of them did not talk long, but as the princess waved goodbye and watched him ride away, she felt as if her heart would burst. She had never felt that way before. (pg. 166)
  • Historically, the reign of the King and Queen is in much more jeopardy from Sir Valiant than Sir Eloquence. 
    •  Sir Valiant has started making connections with other knights within the Kingdom; Sir Eloquence had none.  
    • Sir Eloquence was approaching a princess who was barely at marriageable age and emotionally dependent on her parents; Sir Valiant is approaching an adult woman who has started to push back against the rules of her parents.  
    • The Princess was defensive against Sir Eloquence; she's partial towards Sir Valiant.  
  • If the Princess marries Sir Valiant legally without their permission, the King and Queen are facing two unpalatable options: Overlook the lack of permission and allow Sir Valiant to reign with the Princess in hopes that the grandson(s) of the King and Queen inherit the throne or remove the Princess from succession and leave the throne to the next nearest relative.  
  • I feel really bad for the Princess.  At 21, she's as disconcerted and flustered at running into a guy she's got a crush on as most people are at age 12.  More disturbingly, she's got a crush on a guy she's seen once five years ago and has never spoken to.  The Princess is the poster child of crushing loneliness. 
  • I'm confused about what virtue the townspeople are attributing to the Princess.   The book is obsessed with chastity and modesty, but those are not virtues that people praise others for.  I'm trying to imagine one of those young women the Princess taught to goldsmith saying "The Princess is such an amazingly virginal person!  Not only has she not had sex, she's never given her heart away to anyone!"  On the other hand, I can't attribute any other virtues to her. She's not wise, not prudent, has shown no courage, has show no interest in justice, has very little hope and does a handful of charitable acts per decade.  I guess she might be faithful, but that's not usually a virtue that townspeople find attractive in young princesses.
    • Of course, this makes much more sense if Sir Valiant is buttering the Princess up as a first step in taking the throne.
  • *pssst* Princess!  When someone compliments you, the polite response is to acknowledge the compliment with something like "Thank you".  Blowing past the compliment is dismissive of the other person.  
  • If the Princess is not the only heir, she'd better hope that the King thinks that Sir Valiant's loyalty is a bit shaky; the King would be best served by marrying the Princess off to a lineage who he needs to keep in line rather than a slavishly devoted toady.
  • Reminder: Sir Valiant's service to the King so far has been offering to train knights and squires to fight Temptation and Lies.  He's not actually done anything for the King yet.
  • When looking at dynastic marriages, the physical attractiveness of the parties was pretty low on the list of concerns especially if they were next-in-line for a kingdom.  
The Princess is understandably excited by this turn of events and completely forgets about her previous plan to be a better servant of God.  She meets her parents and asks bunch of questions about Sir Valiant's meeting with the King.  The Princess was super-excited for a full week before she realized that putting the cart before the horse since Sir Valiant hasn't reappeared.

I'm going to stop here because there is still a long quote involving the Queen and Princess that deserves discussion.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming - Chapter Eight

This chapter is titled "Have a Life Purpose Bigger than Marriage".  That sounds promising - but that material was already covered poorly in the chapter titled "When God Says Wait".

The allegory section involves the Princess for less than a full page.  Like every other chapter, the Princess meets the Alligator.  The Alligator asks the Princess what she's going to do with her life.  The Princess has no idea what to do besides talk to the Alligator and mope.  The King appears and chides her that she needs to do something like training up the young women in the kingdom to live pure lives.  The Princess is cheered.  A messenger appears and tells the King that knight is here to speak with the King.  The Princess and the King part.

The rest of the allegory is a talk between the King and Sir Valiant about the dangers that are facing the Kingdom.  The Kingdom is being threatened by a giant named Temptation and a dragon called Lies.  The King decides that the Kingdom must stand up against the giant and dragon.  The King sends Sir Valiant to train the young men in the Kingdom to stand up against Temptation and Lies.  After a rousing speech from the King, Sir Valiant leaves and the allegory is finished.

The first oddity that jumped out at me in this allegory is that the Princess has no way of knowing anything about Sir Valiant's quest for the King.  The book is clearly setting up Sir Valiant as a worthy suitor for the Princess - but the book is giving the readers way more information about Sir Valiant than the Princess has.  From the Princess' point of view, Sir Valiant is a guy she saw read a message to the King several years ago.  That's the sum total of their interactions over the FOUR YEARS this book has been following the Princess.

The Giant and Dragon allegory section falls flat.  I think the root of the problem is that Ms. Mally hasn't focused on the difference between internal and external quests.  Temptation is an internal issue.  Avoiding Lies is an internal issue.  Since Sir Valiant is fighting against internal issues, the allegorical solution must align with a solitary knight.  Training legions of knights to fight against Temptation and Lies doesn't work.

The last oddity about the Giant and Dragon section is that the King is strangely reliant on a very young knight of from some unexplained lineage.  Successful monarchs know how to balance the desires and strengths of the noble families that underpin a stable reign.  Handing off control of any number of knights and squires (*sighs* letting it go....) to a young nobody is a great way to be deposed by disgruntled nobles.

Thus ends the allegory and begins the advice section.  This advice section is a mishmash of vaguely hopeful cheerleading about being single interspaced with mindless personal stories.

The main theme is that women should use their single years to do ministry of some kind.  That's a theme I could support.  The problem comes with the stories she picked:
  1. Sarah is feeling sad one day because she's never been in a romantic relationship.  She prays and realizes that wanting personal happiness is a bad purpose in life.  Sarah's going to work at making everyone else happy because that's what God wants!  

    At the risk of stating the obvious, her second goal will be impossible if everyone decides to forgo personal happiness like she did.....

  2. Melissa was mad at her dad.  Because she didn't immediately rid herself of anger, she felt angry about everyone and everything in her life and "hurt people in her life" (pg. 152) before she realized that the real key to happiness is overlooking negative things about other people.

  3. That story is a perfect setup for major depression and a great way to train children to attract abusers. Finding the people in your family deeply annoying is a normal, universal part of growing up.   The phase doesn't last forever so CP/QF writers need to stop treating mild teenage rebellion like high treason.

  4. A 15-year old decides to found a Bright Lights group for the girls in her area.  The girl thinks this is a great idea and feels awesome about this choice.

  5. Hey!  We have a story that supports the theme!  That's 1 in 3.  Whoo-hoo!

  6. The Mallys are trying to get to a place on foot before it closes in a busy city without extra time. They run into a parade that is blocking their route.  The Mally family proceeds to make their way down the parade route by snaking through the crowd, going in and out of shops, etc., until they get ahead of the parade to cross the street.  Sarah alludes to the fact that the Mallys must have been pretty annoying to parade watchers, but the family didn't stick around to hear any complaining.  They make it to the place with time to spare.

  7. I think the Mally family needs to work on being better humans.  Having five people who are carrying items start plowing through a parade crowd is simply rude.  What kills me is that they picked the least effective way to get around the parade I can think of.  They would have saved even more time if they walked back a block or two and traveled on a street that parallels the parade route.  Walking on a nearly empty sidewalk is much faster than weaving through crowds.  Another possible trick is walking towards the end of the parade instead of trying to race in front of the parade.  Plus,  they could probably cross the parade route between floats if they timed it right in most locations.

  8. The Mally Family takes two cars to church each week because not everyone can get ready on time.  One Sunday morning, someone left them a GPS module and power cord in unmarked envelopes in their front door.  

  9. Ms. Mally attempts to spin this into discussing how important knowing where you are is in getting your life in order.   My mind is blown that a family of 5 can't get Mr. Mally to get to church on time.  I am also really confused as to why someone would leave a GPS device in envelopes without an address.  More to the point, this has nothing to do with the theme of the chapter.  That's 1:5 that are on-topic.

  10. The Mally Family are in Florida and carrying all of their people-traps for conversions.  They decide to visit a family friend named Clorinda.  Clorinda wanted to advertise the Mally Family's visit at her retirement home, but the administration had a policy against "outside religious groups".  The Mally Family offers to play harps in her room for a group of friends as an opening to conversion.  Clorinda thinks this is great.  When they get to the home, the elevator to the upper levels is broken.  Since they can't carry the harps up the steps, they ask permission to hold their meeting in a ground-floor meeting room.  Permission is granted.  Lots of people show up to hear them play the harps and do chalk drawings.  The administration is ok with this.  The elevators start working when the Mallys are done.

  11. The fact that the home only has a single elevator that stopped working is far more concerning to me than the potential states of the souls of the people there.  In case of a medical emergency, making paramedics evacuate a patient down a stairwell is time-consuming and potentially dangerous.   This is also age-appropriate for high-school students; I went with our women's choir to sing at local retirement homes in the area.  
Well, that gives a grand total of 2 on-topic anecdotes out of 6 for 33% rating.  That's underwhelming.
This is all of the material for chapter eight.  Chapter nine brings some new crazy to the table when the Queen has a talk with her daughter.....

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming - The Tobbogan Ride

There are many activities in life that I am clueless about.  I don't know how to play any instruments.  I've never ridden - let alone drove - an off-road vehicle.  My understanding of all things equestrian is based on what my best friend who adored horses told me.  

As a born and bred Michigander, though, there is one thing I know: sledding.

Look, I live in a place that becomes a grey and brown slushy-wasteland from Thanksgiving to Valentine's Day in a good year.  Throwing yourself down a hill on a sled is God's way of making up for the fact that Western Michigan has no appreciable sunshine due to cloud cover from October through Easter.  We are a land where our high school mascots should be Seasonal Affective Disorder.  That's why sledding and other winter sports are beloved here - we need something to look forward to.

I don't remember the first time I went sledding because I was a toddler.  If your kid is old enough to walk up a hill, they are old enough to sled down the hill - with a parent steering the sled.  Heck, my young infant son would probably be able to handle sledding on a gentle slope with my husband or I this winter.

Needless to say, I have feelings about this scene in the book.

The Great Toboggan Ride

Testimony by My Sister Grace

"Come on, you guys! " I called to my friends at the top of the sledding hill. "If we get a lot of people on this toboggan it will go really fast!" It was the first big snowfall of the year. The hill was packed. I had arranged for a group from our church to go sledding together, and I was delighted when I saw that one of my friends had bought a toboggan. This is going to be fun, I thought as I took the front seat and four of my friends piled on behind me.

As we were about ready for the push off, my dad approached the scene.

"Wait! You can't go down on that!" he said. " That's really dangerous!" (pg. 141)

Sledding can be dangerous if people aren't careful.  There are some pretty basic safety precautions that parents teach kids.

  • The most dangerous accidents involve collisions with objects so don't sled near trees, telephone posts, fences, etc.  
  • Be sure that you have plenty of room at the bottom of the hill to stop before roads, parking lots, ponds, etc.  
  • Be sure you can reach the bottom of the hill without hitting someone.
  • Climb the hill outside of the main sledding areas.  (Allegedly, people climb near the edges and sled down the middle of busy hills.  That's not quite how we did it on the hills we used when I was a kid.)
  • Know how to bail from a sled.
  • The only safe position seated with your legs in front.
A toboggan is a large sled with a curled front that can fit multiple riders at once.  A kid's sled is like driving a sedan; a toboggan is like driving a semi.  A toboggan requires the front person to have much more upper-body strength than a single person sled to steer.  A toboggan also handles much more slowly than a sled does.

Now, with that background, Mr. Mally is facing Grace and four other non-relatives in a situation he believes is dangerous.  Watch how he handles the situation.

Oh great, why does Dad always have to get involved and spoil the fun? I thought. Feeling slightly embarrassed by his cautiousness, I told Dad that we would be fine.

" No, " he insisted. "Look down there. There are tons of little kids. You could hit any one of them! It could be a very serious accident." (pg. 141)

This was the point where I started wondering if this story happened to Grace Mally or if it's being adapted from another one of Uncle Arthur's bedtime stories because I can't get this part to make much sense.

I grew up in an area that had fairly broad hills that could have many different groups of sledders at once.  On these hills, sledders sorted themselves by skill level.  The shallowest part of the hill was where the little kids sledded.  The steepest part with a bowl-shaped depression half-way down was where the teenagers sledded.  The remaining section was for the intermediate sledders.  In this type of sledding hill, Mr. Mally would be better off directing his kids away from the bunny slope area filled with little kids and into the area with teenagers.

My husband grew up in an area that had much more narrow hills.  Everyone was using the same area - but that also meant that everyone waited for a turn.  Little kids might well be on the hill right in front of you, but once they were at the bottom they needed to clear out so that the next person - or toboggan group could take off.  In that case, a bit of patience will take care of the kids in the way - plus you can always yell a polite reminder to them if they start messing around.

On a positive note, Mr. Mally is making a clear, basic statement about his views.  With some finesse, he can either re-route the group or convince them to go on individual sleds.

"Oh brother, everyone knows that sledding involves a little risk, but it always turns out fine, I thought.

"This toboggan is like a killer machine going down the mountain!" Dad continued. "Someone could die!"

" Dad, " I explained, " This is what sledding is. People know to move out of the way. "

"That's false! It will be going too fast. The hill is crowded. I don't think you should go down!" (pg. 141)

I adore sledding - but it doesn't always turn out fine.  My family has broken every rule I stated at the beginning - and that's when the injuries get worse.

  • As an adult who should have known better, I didn't bail early when I was losing control of a sled on an icy hill. I picked up enough speed that when I lost control that I rolled down the rest of the hill.  That sounds funny, but my clothes twisted and rolled too so that I skinned my torso from my bra line through my upper hips.  
  • I sprained two ankles in a single toboggan accident when I was in fourth grade when some cousins went down a heavily wooded hill.  
  • My brother knocked one of his front baby teeth out when he hit a fence.  
  • My uncle got a severe closed head injury when he was sledding head-first and hit a tree.
Having laid out my family's horror stories, Mr. Mally is making me want to break all the rules in front of him.  A killer machine that is too fast for people to dodge?  It's a toboggan, not a runaway freight train, man.

Getting completely unglued is not beneficial to drawing people to your point of view.

On the flip side, I'm not sure why Mr. Mally is arguing with his daughter.  I am very open to negotiation between parents and their kids - but not on issues of immediate safety.  Mr. Mally believes the toboggan is an imminent and severe danger to others on the hill.  He needs to clearly and calmly state that his daughter should not go down on the toboggan.  Right now, he sounds increasing frantic and that's not helping his case.

"By now the whole church party was listening and wondering what would happen. My friends on the toboggan all thought it would be fine. Sarah thought it was fine. I thought it was fine. Even the other adults didn't seem very worried, so finally my dad reluctantly backed off, and we started down the hill.

"We'll just yell really loud so that people will get out of our way, " we told my dad." (pg. 141-142)

Every other human being on the hill thinks Mr. Mally is acting crazy.  He can't even bring the other adults over to his point of view - at least not enough to get them to interfere.

There's also a minor continuity problem in the story.    Adding "we started down the hill" before telling her dad that they'll yell really loudly makes it seem like she's talking with her dad as they ride down the hill.

More importantly, some number of adults and kids/teens have been having a detailed discussion at the top of a hill with a toboggan.  That's given anyone near them plenty of time to clear out.
Down we went. We got going faster and faster and it was really fun - until - we hit a little 6 year old girl. She went flying and did a complete flip over the top of the toboggan.

We came to a stop, jumped off, and ran back to the girl who was now standing up and in her dad's arms. " Is she okay?" my friend asked.

"Well, what do you think? " her dad snapped back. It was obvious that he was very upset. Why did this have to happen the one time my dad cautioned us not to go? I wondered. (pg. 142)

True confessions time. I've hit kids accidently while sledding before. I've also hit siblings on purpose before when we were all a little bit older.  There are exactly two reasons why people don't hit other sledders while sledding.  The obvious reason is that people don't want to cause other people pain.  The second less obvious reason is that a sledding accident has a good likelihood of hurting the person(s) on the sled along with the person hit.

I've never managed to hit someone with enough speed to cause them to do a complete flip over the sled - and I highly doubt Grace Mally and her friends did either.  Presumably, the kid was walking up the hill or standing on the hill.  When the sled hit her, the front of the toboggan would knock her legs out from under her.  Depending on where her center of gravity was, the kid would either fall to either side of the toboggan or fall directly onto Grace Mally.

Notice that Grace Mally's response to hitting a kid is extremely bizarre.  She was steering the sled, but she's not the one who asks if the kid is ok.  She doesn't apologize for hitting the kid.  Grace seems completely oblivious to the fact that getting run over by a sled can lead to broken legs or head injuries.  She shows no sense of relief that the girl is uninjured.  Her main concern is that this happened when her dad warned her not to go down the hill.

"It turned out that the little girl seemed fine, just shook up. Then a disturbing thought came to me: Dad is at the top of the hill and saw all this happened.

Yes, Dad had endured several seconds of sheer horror from the top of the hill as he watched the little girl fly through the air. I returned to him right away, feeling repentant and concerned, and we discussed what to do. We looked for the little girl and her family but they had already left. (pg. 142)"

Let's discuss Mr. Mally's aberrant parenting style.  He started by failing to convince anyone to not go down the hill in the toboggan.  Grace implies that he gives into peer pressure since none of the other parents' present seem concerned about the situation.  To me, that is a damning statement since he was convinced that the toboggan was a "killer machine".  Parenting is not a popularity contest when health and safety issues arise.  Finally, he watches his daughter nail a kid on the sledding hill and does absolutely freaking nothing.  This is not rocket science or a complicated parenting moment.  When you see a potentially dangerous accident that your kid is involved in, you move to the scene of the accident immediately.  If the 6-year-old was injured, Mr. Mally would be needed there to help control the traffic of sledders on the hill, call for help, provide first aid, and keep an eye on Grace.

What you don't do: skulk at the top of the sledding hill while your kid interacts with an understandably upset strange adult and his frightened, possibly injured child.

To me, Mr. Mally is a coward, pure and simple.  He doesn't have the guts to order his daughter off the sled.  He never admits his responsibility for capitulating to peer pressure.  Mr. Mally remains at a safe distance from the accident and all of the messy ramifications of the accident until his daughter comes to him.  He also manages to "discuss" their next step long enough that the other family is gone before he has to interact with them - and that's not a coincidence.


The rest of the "testimony" is about how Mr. Mally gives them a small toboggan and poem at Christmas about how things that seem fun can be really dangerous.

I hope Grace Mally gave him a copy of Stephen Crane's "A Red Badge of Courage" for that Christmas.