"Intellectual distinction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for election to a Rhodes Scholarship. Selection committees are charged to seek excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. The Rhodes Scholarships, in short, are investments in individuals rather than in project proposals..."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Intellectual Friendships (Part 2 of 4)

for our Children

Children need more than just play friends, especially as they move into the tween/teen years. I hope my kids build intellectual friendships. It starts very basic for kids, though. My book clubs were designed with that purpose in mind. I wanted my kids to be able to have intellectual conversations with other kids about great books or other topics important to us, like Catholicism.

All to often, we want our kids to "go play" and they view their time studying and schooling as "work". I think that is because our misconception about learning. Kids have a natural Love of Learning that we spoil.

One of the ways we do that is to tell our little kids that want to help us with our "work" to go play. So, is it any surprise that when we want them to "work", they would rather play? Ask a two or three year old if cleaning the tub is fun and they will say yes. They also like to wash dishes. I did things any differently with my older kids. I could just get things faster and better. They have a lower interest in helping to clean. My little kids, however still want to wash, scrub, dust, vacuum and sweep. For this I am thankful.

As I stated in part one of this topic I came upon this while reading a lovely little book. In the book, Mark Henrie goes even further into some of the problems with teens/young adults (dare I say almost everyone) in America in A Student's Guide to the Core Curriculum.
...we (Americans) tend to understand leisure as the absence of work. The ancients, however, understood work as the absence of leisure. Leisure (otium, in Latin) was the substantial thing. and work the negation or absence of that (negotium). The ancients understood that human beings were made to enjoy their leisure seriously: the serious use of leisure is the cultivation of the mind, which is pleasant and good for its own sake. Americans, however, approach university studies as "work," as negotium, from which, once the work is done, they are "freed." Free time, such as time spent with friends, is thus kept clean of any trace of the learning of the classroom. This is no way to learn. It isn't even any real way to enjoy yourself.Our society is hung up on entertainment, not leisure. We look at education as "work" not "leisure."

The truly well educated use their free time to learn, not to be entertained. Or, perhaps you could say that the educated are entertained by learning. What do you do with your free time? Do you passively seek entertainment or do you seek to gain better understanding? Passive or Active?

The Ancient emperors used different forms of entertainment to pacify the urban masses, including chariot races, theatrical and musical performances, wild-beast hunts, mock sea battles, public executions, and gladiatorial combat. In the Colosseum, Rome's huge amphitheater, 50,000 Romans could watch the games. Look at our society now. TV and sports arenas are the Colosseums. The Internet, movie theaters, our TVs at home are the theatres. They serve to pacify (make us peaceful*) and we are passive (to suffer**) through it.

Education is an activity ( from L. actus "a doing" and actum "a thing done,") where entertainment is a passive event ( "to keep up, maintain,"). I'm not saying all entertainment is bad and I will tell you that I will used media in my education and that of my children. They do find it entertaining.

So, my goal is to help my tweeners to find intellectual friendships, not necessarily passing friendships where free time is frittered away in front of a TV or video game. This is a bigger challenge for my son than my daughter. I think boys are just drawn more to screen time. There are lots of studies to support my desire to limit the amount of time my boys, in particular, waste in front of a screen. One book, The Minds of Boys, states studies done using MRI technology while boys engaged in activities like reading, watching TV and playing computer games. Certain neural pathways were not engaged during activities that involved a screen. Our priest talks about how boys need to have real social relationships, not virtual relationships, like those found on Facebook or MySpace. I want them outside playing or discussing something while building Legos.

Perhaps if you are struggling with this, you can do what we have done by starting a book club or finding a Boy Scout organization or American Heritage Girls group. Both organizations help build character in children and they develop life long friendships. Perhaps an even more important aspect is having a mentor, someone other than a parent, that will guide them to the right books and activities, to develop them into a whole civilized person.

I challenge you to think about your kids' free time (and yours) and how you both use it.

* Pacify is from L. pacificus "peaceful, peace-making," from pax (gen. pacis) "peace"
** Passive is from L. passivus "capable of feeling or suffering," from pass-, pp. stem of pati "to suffer"

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