Texas reporter gets flak for interviewing 9-year-old freethinker

Six days ago I put up the transcript of an interview of Mason Crumpacker (the 9-year-old freethinker who had a felicitious meeting in Texas with Christopher Hitchens) conducted by Dallas Morning News reporter Todd Robberson.  While Robberson got some criticism for this, there was also lots of support, something that’s heartening in a religious state like Texas. But some of the readers here, too, doubted that Mason could really have said the things she did, or suspected that she’d really been indoctrinated by her parents.

In a followup piece,”What’s the harm in interviewing a 9-year-old?” Robberson (who, by the way, won a Pulitzer Prize last year), explains why he wrote the piece (ten to one he’s gotten flak from the editors) and asserts that Mason’s statements were real and unprompted. Here’s an excerpt:

 Some think she has been indoctrinated by her parents and that she’s simply mouthing everything that they’ve told her to say. Every child is influenced by his or her parents. That’s natural and unavoidable. But being allowed to figure things out, without being immersed in religious doctrine at an early age, strikes me as a healthy approach. Mason doesn’t reject all religious thought. She says she wants to think about it before she decides. What’s wrong with that?

I promise you, everything she said in that interview was the result of her own impromptu thinking. I deliberately tried to throw her curveball questions just to see if she could handle them, and she handled the questions amazingly. Her parents did not intervene except for the few times when Mason seemed overwhelmed and buried her face in her hands out of apparent frustration that she couldn’t express herself the way she wanted to. Her parents told her she was doing fine and to keep going. I did the same. But nobody prompted her to say anything.

My father in law and one other reader asked if this was a spoof of some kind. They just couldn’t believe that a 9-year-old could recount the various stages of evolution in such intricate scientific detail, then translate it all into French. I assure everyone, this was no spoof. It was the real deal.

For those of you who were outraged at what Mason had to say, please remember the venue of this interview. We didn’t publish it in Neighbors.go. We published it in Points. The whole idea behind Points is to present unusual points of view and out-of-the-box thinking. We want to stimulate discussion and offer new perspectives. Maybe Mason isn’t the first person on the planet to question religion or the existence of God, but she’s pretty rare among 9-year-olds for her ability to do it so eloquently. She absolutely belonged in Points.

I like this guy.  He’s been at the paper for five years, but I wonder how long he’ll stay in Texas.

Oh, and one byproduct: actress Martha Plimpton put this up on Twitter:

 

83 Comments

  1. Posted November 4, 2011 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    I’d like to see ‘balancing’ reporting criticising children for kow-towing to their parent’s christian religious indoctrination.

    But such an event is (say) 10 or less years in the future for the USA, once Mason, Coyne, and Hitchens[1] charge into the bright future of non-superstition! :)
    __________________
    [1] Sounds like a firm of barristers.

  2. Posted November 4, 2011 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    *Applause* for Tod Robberson. And Mason, of course.

  3. Posted November 4, 2011 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    Is it just me? People in Texas, an extremist religious state if ever there was one, are complaining about a child being indoctrinated?

    I rather suspect that they are only uppity about it because it’s not the kind of indoctrination that they would do to her.

    Sigh!

    Cheers,
    Norm.

    • Matt G
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 5:29 am | Permalink

      Exactly – they have no problem with indoctrination, just the kind of indoctrination. Of course to them, religious indoctrination is just “education.”

      • Strider
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:05 am | Permalink

        Right. Grounding in reality = bad. Believing in magical cloud beings = good.

    • ManOutOfTime
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      Seems to me if it’s okay with her mom … and, yeah, YouTube is littered with prodigy “preachers” of 9 and much younger. Where is the faux outrage there?

  4. Matt G
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    I know a lot of brilliant kids her age who could be just as articulate, if only they had been exposed to the right environment. Fortunately I know many kids who DID have the right environment. Funny how Mason’s thinking is more advanced than that of most adults.

  5. Teemo
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    My favorite moment on tv was during the 2004 elections on CNN. They have the different numbers you call to voice your opinion for Dem, Rep and Independent. On the Republican line this hoity toity sounding woman said she was voting for Bush, and oh yeah her twelve year old daughter decided on her own, without any influence, to be a Republican.

    Then, the funny part. The host had her put the daughter on the phone and asked her why she chose to be a Republican. She said that Republicans are very moral and the Democrats don’t have any morals. It’s probably pretty easy to come to this conclusion when you’ve been religiously indoctrinated.

    Of course, two callers later was a man complaining about the woman and how obvious the kid didn’t really have a choice. All the host could do was say, “Well, she said she made the decision on her own.”

  6. Posted November 4, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Mason is very articulate for a 9-year-old but coming from the UK I can’t see what is so surprising about her knowledge of evolution or her being multi-lingual.

    • Dermot C
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      I don’t think we can afford to be too smug about our position here in the U.K. Tony Blair enabled private entrepreneurs to open schools which in principle could give as much credence to creationism as to evolution. We have many Islamic-run schools; I should be astonished if they presented natural selection as fact. Furthermore, the U.K. as a whole is very poor at speaking foreign languages, compared to most European countries.

      • Griff
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

        Yeah, thanks TB for setting us back 200 years. And of course, allowing kids to be separated along religious lines REALLY helps integration doesn’t it?

        • Dominic
          Posted November 4, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink

          +1

      • Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        If you’re in the UK and concerned about this, please support the BHA campaign!

        /@

  7. Steve Smith
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    Robberson … asserts that Mason’s statements were real and unprompted

    Scandal! Little Mason Crumpacker is the new atheist Marjoe Gortner, whose mother would hold a pillow over his face until he memorized and preached the Gospel while learning to become a child evangelist.

    • Posted November 4, 2011 at 5:54 am | Permalink

      This can’t be real can it?

      • Strider
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

        Sadly, it is from a documentary film. I’ve heard of this child before but never saw the film.

      • Steve Smith
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:28 am | Permalink

        The 1972 documentary Marjoe won an academy award. Gortner estimates that he raised $3 million (1960s) dollars in donations, none of which he ever received. Marjoe Gortner quotes from the documentary:

        I’m hoping that [the faithful will] see that it’s not necessary to look to some person to jerk you off to get off and put your belief in
        Would you get out your checkbook tonight? … Bring what you would for JESUS tonight.
        [To an elderly women requesting a blessing.] Do you believe that the Lord’s going to do it tonight? Do you believe that he’s going to touch this condition? Say Yes Lord. Say THANK YOU JESUS! In the name of Jesus! In the name of JESUS! [Woman collapses in euphoria.] Thank you Jesus. Hallelujah!
        You just come to them and look them straight in the eye and say, “Yes brother, I’m washed in the same blood as you.” It all comes in the blood—you hear all these sayings “power in the blood,” “are you washed in the blood,” it’s a very bloody religion.

        • Dermot C
          Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

          Once heard an army type saying to his soldiers, “Your sweat and your hostilities must be congealed in the blood of Jesus.” I have no idea what it means either, but it must put the fear of God into those poor squaddies.

      • abb3w
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        Marjoe Gortner is quite real. He went on to a modest C-grade acting career after the documentary. He’s retired from public life these days.

        The most mind blowing things are he decided to end his revival circuit days by doing the documentary, and that once upon a time Bible thumper preachers were careful about not getting caught with their pants down amidst the flock. (Perhaps most still are, and the same fraction exceptions merely get more press these days.)

        • phaenarete0042
          Posted November 4, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

          Of course if you enjoyed “Marjoe” be sure to watch “Jesus Camp.”

    • phaenarete0042
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      Actually her father and I have always preferred thumbscrews. Doesn’t mess up our fine linens.

  8. Posted November 4, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    I have heard and seen young evangelicals (children) whipping up and inspiring crowds, and preaching like adults. No doubt about it, these precocious kids are influenced by parents and/or teachers. So, what’s wrong with that?

    • BradW
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      One way is indoctrination — more accurately stated as brain washing(remember memorizing all the bible verses that had no meaning at all to you?) — and the other is education.

      Quite a difference I would say.

    • Chris Booth
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      I was picking up some chicken tikka at a nearby Pakistani restaurant, and while I was waiting, I watched the program they had on. Kids of 5 to about 9 0r 10 would be my guess, preaching. I saw a girl of 6 or 7–with her hair covered–and she said, index finger raised, hand beating in the air to punctuate, “the Holy Quran is the greatest book ever written”. I turned away in disgust.

      What’s wrong with it?

      Think about it.

      And that’s not precocity. It is brutally controlling manipulation. The kids learn to parrot by severe imposition of rote, and then are paraded as a righteous side-show. Precocity is Richard Feynman working out algebra on his own at 7. Children forced to parrot for their parents is not precocity.

      • Dermot C
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        Hands up who has read the Koran. Second worst book I have ever read; “Mein Kampf” comes first by a whisker. Any other nominations?

        • Occam
          Posted November 4, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

          Easy.
          - Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, by V.I. Lenin;
          - Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, by I.V. Stalin

          Against these two, the Quran reads like Venedikt Yerofeyev on a bad LSD trip in Kabul. (As a döner kebab vendor once explained to me in Hamburg: “I’ll tell you all about the Quran. Muhammad was having a tough time with his wives, had no fridge, and moreover could not hold his beer.”)

          As to “Mein Kampf”: if by ‘worst’ you mean the worst consequences in the shortest timespan, check. If you mean a criminal madman’s rant, check. But as history showed, this was the one book that Hitler’s contemporaries ignored at their peril, for this was the one madman who, once in power, did exactly as promised. Some books, no matter how bad, make vital reading.

          • Dermot C
            Posted November 4, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

            What do the Koran and Mein Kampf have in common? A complete absence of irony; never trust anyone who can’t see it!
            My favourite Sura is the one in which Mohammed, under instructions from Gabriel, admonishes the faithful to stay to the end of every lecture he gives. Why? Because during his previous lecture, a wedding group passed by, playing music, giving promise of celebrations, and the prophet’s congregation upped and left to join the drinking party. The man had no sense of his own absurdity.

            • Marella
              Posted November 4, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

              People with temporal lobe epilepsy often have no sense of humour.

              • Dermot C
                Posted November 4, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

                How interesting.
                I seem to remember Hitchens (I think) at some point mentioning the prophet in the same breath as epilepsy.
                I wouldn’t want to have a go at Mohammed for being epileptic (my best mate is afflicted with it, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone) but is there any reputable research which tends to confirm the idea?

              • Microraptor
                Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

                @ Dermot C- as far as I’m aware, the descriptions of Mohammed outside the Koran are actually pretty limited and consists primarily of posthumous documents, there’s not much surviving that was written during his life.

              • Dermot C
                Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

                And the Koran was written after the life of the bloodthirsty, delusional, rackety and illiterate paedophile as well. “Last Testament”, indeed.

        • abb3w
          Posted November 4, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

          I’ve skimmed the Koran. Some of Ayn Rand’s work might be in the running.

  9. Julien Rousseau
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    How hypocritical of religious people to claim that atheists indoctrinate their kids when you cannot teach religion without teaching that religion’s various doctrines hence any early religious education is by necessity in large part indoctrination.

    The difference with science education is that you can not only teach what we know about the world but why we know it to be the case; all religion can do when asked “how do we know this to be true” is say “god told us in this book” with no grounding in the real world.

  10. phaenarete0042
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Two items:
    1) Mason knows so much about evolution because it was taught in detail at her school in third grade. They spent the whole year reading, writing, and studying human evolution. That is why she turned to me for help- she wanted to make sure she was using the correct words in English. The point is, in other countries, such as France, the students actually cover evolution in depth and at an early age.

    2) It is time the debate be taken up by an adult. My good friend Zachary Moore, PhD. has been petitioning the Dallas Morning News to include a secular humanist in the “Texas Faith” blog.

    I have signed the petition and I am passing it around online.

    From the petition:
    Although the “Texas Faith” blog includes participants from just about every type of organized religion, nearly one out of every six Americans have no religious affiliation, and many of these secular people rely on humanistic values to determine their responses to political and cultural issues. The editors of the Dallas Morning News have been asked repeatedly to include a secular humanist voice within the “Texas Faith” blog, and have explicitly stated that such a perspective shall not receive equal participation with members of organized religions.

    http://www.change.org/petitions/dallas-morning-news-include-a-secular-humanist-participant-in-their-texas-faith-blog

    I think that Zach would make an excellent addition to “Texas Faith.” But if not him, then I think judging from the readership response to Mason’s story, the Dallas Morning News should commit to adding a reasoned secular voice to the online blog.

    My husband and I do not want to see Mason become the Freethinkers’ Colton Burpo. There isn’t a book deal pending, but if you have enjoyed her story please sign the petition. It is time for Dallas to hear an adult secular voice.

    Thank you to WIET for your support. It has been a fun few weeks!

    Mason’s Mom

    • Kevin
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      I have a strange feeling that you’re living the old Bedouin curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

    • Julien Rousseau
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Hi,

      First let me congratulate you on a very good job raising your daughter.

      If you are still looking for potential reading material for Mason I would encourage Asterix (in French of course as she speaks it and that way she will be less likely to miss all the hard to translate jokes) as I not only liked it myself as a kid but also read a lot more into it when rereading them as an adult.

      It has nothing to do with freethinking in particular but not everything she reads has to, right?

      Maybe they already have some in her French school library?

      • phaenarete0042
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

        Merci! Nous adorons les BDs d’Asterix! (et n’oubliez pas Lucky Luke!)

      • Chris Booth
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        I’ve been snickering for decades over the three drunken Roman soldiers hiccuping:

        “Hic!” “Haec!” “Hoc!”

        Oh, delicious!

        • Chris Booth
          Posted November 4, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

          Uh, not snickering non-stop, just whenever I think of it.

          Asterix is wonderful.

          • Microraptor
            Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

            Totally agree, even if (like me) you can’t read French.

        • Julien Rousseau
          Posted November 5, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

          Not knowing Latin it totally went over my head previously but this is exactly the kind of multilayered reading that I was talking about.

          • Filippo
            Posted November 5, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

            As he attempted to intelligibly quote Caesar, “Veni, Vidi, Vici.”

  11. Griff
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I work in an engineering environment where the majority are atheists. Almost to a (wo)man, they do not attempt to impose atheism on their children, but prefer to “let them make their own minds up”.

    How many religious people do the same?

    And on those few occasions when a parent (naturally) derides such stone-age beliefs, I have seen others look at them askance as if to say “don’t tell them that”. However, it’s quite alright to ram “gentle Jesus meek and mild” down their throats until their their eyes pop.

    • Sigmund
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      My son is 8 and the way I approach it is to explain to him that some people believe in things like Gods but I do not because I don’t see any evidence that any God exists.
      I think it is important to emphasize that it is not a choice with two options – there are many different Gods in which people believe.
      I don’t tell him “there is no such thing as God” – I let him make up his own mind.
      He came to the conclusion that looking for evidence is indeed the best way to figure out which claim was real and now, every time he hears a religious claim, he proclaims “it’s just a fairy-tale!”.
      This hasn’t endeared us to everyone. The mother of one of his classmates is a lutheran priest, and another couple are devout muslims from Iran! Then again we live in Sweden so there is little pressure to show a deference towards religion.

      • Griff
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        I have no children, but if I did, I’d probably take the same approach as you. Unfortunately, influences outside the home feel no such obligations. The UK has no separation of church and state (what about Sweden?)

        In practice, this means that UK schools are OBLIGED to have an act of worship every day. Also, a large number of the schools are run by the Church of England (with public funds), so they are subjected to the usual Jesus b.s. on a daily basis.

        Freethinkers want their children to develop critical thinking and decide for themselves. The religious want to decide for them.

        • Sigmund
          Posted November 4, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          The Swedish church is very happy clappy – pro gay, women priests etc. There isn’t any religious instruction in school although they sometimes take the children to plays with a religious theme (such as nativity plays). I don’t particularly like that bit but having grown up in Ireland it’s nothing like I had to put up with myself.

  12. Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    He isn’t just getting flak for the freethinker interview. I Googled “todd robberson” dallas & he’s getting a lot of heat from a range of people ~ sample:

    “obsessive this Todd Robertson [sic] is another left wing nut bucket on the prowel” [sic]

    I’m not qualified to judge what’s what in Texas, but I can’t help noticing the same names in the messages boards with their knives out for him ~ this goes back long before Texas Freethought Convention. The freethinker article is just more welcome fuel on the fire for some of his critics.

    • phaenarete0042
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      Here’s why Tod Robberson gets grief. He fights for the good guys:

      From the Pulitzer Prize…
      Awarded to Tod Robberson, Colleen McCain Nelson and William McKenzie of The Dallas Morning News for their relentless editorials deploring the stark social and economic disparity between the city’s better-off northern half and distressed southern half.

      Prior to coming to Dallas he was a foreign war correspondent.

  13. Posted November 4, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    They’re complaining that the child has been indoctrinated to think for herself?! We should all be so lucky.

  14. Freethinking Jew
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Be sure to “like” the new Mason Crumpacker Fan Club page on Facebook to show your support!!

    • Posted November 4, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      Are you Etan Blass who set up the page? This seems weird to me ~ a bit more pressure on a child.

    • Filippo
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      I think her mother’s website accomplishes that quite nicely. I hope young Crumpacker keeps Facebook at several arm’s lengths.

      • phaenarete0042
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Thank you. The Facebook page was a thoughtful gesture and very flattering, but it has been taken down by my request.

        If y’all haven’t been back to see the new website there have been lots of improvements. I hope you will visit again and take a quick look. I need all the suggestions I can get to help it be successful.

        http://socraticmama.com

  15. Posted November 4, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Thank you for spelling “flak” correctly. My father was a B-17 crewman over Europe during WWII.
    Everyone should take a moment to look at a dictionary and figure out the difference between “flak” and a “flack.”
    It’s one of those things even smart people always get wrong.

    • Filippo
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      I’ve also noticed that it’s more and more common for the relative pronoun “that” to be incorrectly used instead of “who,” i.e., in the construction, ” . . . people that . . . .” instead of ” . . . people who . . . .”

      My take on it is that it is the increasing tendency to consider flesh-and-blood human beings merely as “objects,” as “human resources.”

      • Dermot C
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        Pedants’ corner: plural of “person” is “persons” not “people”. Hence, “persons who…”.
        So, “…people which…” makes sense: “Sitting Bull was a member of a people which was destined for near-extermination.”

        • Filippo
          Posted November 5, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

          Re: “Pedants’ corner: plural of “person” is “persons” not “people”. Hence, “persons who…”.

          So, “…people which…” makes sense: “Sitting Bull was a member of a people which was destined for near-extermination.” ”

          (I did not take the trouble to change double quotation markes into single in the above, in order to show a quote within a quote.)

          I congenially agree with your very carefully worded example employing “a people,” versus “people.” That word “a” seems to make a crucial difference.

          Common use (or is it “usage”?) here in The Land of the Fee and the Home of the Craven is to use “people” as if it were “persons.”

          In any event, the point I was making was that “that” was not the correct relative pronoun. Or is that necessarily true?

          I confess that (which?) I’m not happy with the relative pronoun “which,” which (“that”?) objectifies human beings. When it comes to either “persons” or “people,” I’m like Horton, I want to hear a “who.”

          Consider these sentences:

          1. “That which was ours, is ours again.” (from an original Star Trek episode.)

          2. She said, “He says that that is the correct tool with which to accomplish that task.” “Which tool is that?” he replied. “That tool,” she said.

          3. She asked, “Which one is yours?” He replied, “That one is mine.” She asked, “Is that one yours, too? Also, is this one yours? How about these here, and those there?”

          He said, “This (“that”?) business of “which” and “that” is a bit confusing.

          “Really? Just what business is that which you find a bit confusing?” she said.

          FURTHER THE AFFIANT SAITH NOT.

          • Dermot C
            Posted November 5, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

            Very good!
            Microsoft word spelling and grammar check repeatedly offers “that” or “which”; irritates the hell out of me.

  16. Occam
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Perhaps because I had the good fortune of growing up on a substantial diet of Jean Piaget, I find one reaction to Mason’s interview galling in the extreme: So many people are so blunted, so stymied, that they apparently can’t imagine how a child of her age “could recount the various stages of evolution in such intricate scientific detail, then translate it all into French.”.

    I find Mason admirable, and she has wise parents and the luck of an excellent education. But hey, intelligent inquiry is the business of a human child’s brain, when it’s not being dumbed down on purpose. Mason is outstanding, but hardly singular, and not a freakish exception per se. The real scandal is that our civilisation (and many others doing far worse) does not grant to so many children the freedom and opportunity to develop the way Mason is developping. Each according to their own lights, of course, but the salient fact is that Mason’s light is mercifully allowed to shine, and many other children’s lights are willfully put out.
    The ‘Ennemies of Promise’, so named by Cyril Connolly, are busy at work, perhaps busier now than for many decades.

    • phaenarete0042
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      I couldn’t agree more. Mason is a normal child but we’ve enrolled her in a quality school where she can get a science based education. We are fortunate to have the means to put her in private school, but the curriculum the school follows is identical to French public school.

      Aside from covering human evolution in great detail in third grade, the entirety of human sexuality was studied in second grade. No question left unanswered.

      I don’t mean to suggest the French have it all figured out, but the difference in approach has been very interesting. I do think the American system could learn a thing or two from “les francais.”

      • Occam
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

        Good for you, and good for her!

        The French have most certainly not figured it all out, and there has been a marked decline in the quality of public education in France in recent years.
        Still, the very fact of being able to learn foreign languages and cultures at an age when one still can do so playfully is immensely enriching. Few things can be so stimulating for a child as finding out about cultural differences – so much we take for granted is just the by-product of habit and prejudice. And, to quote both Piaget and Feynman, when you’ve learned the name of a bird or a snail in English, Latin, and French, you realise all the more forcefully that you still don’t know anything about the bird or the snail itself.

        May I ask how you found the resolve to grant Mason such a far-sighted education? I’m asking because mine was so, too, but entirely by chance, due to the unforeseen tribulations of emigration.

        • phaenarete0042
          Posted November 4, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

          Happy to respond. I was a public school French teacher prior to Mason’s birth (a French teacher is Texas is becoming a pretty rare thing- LOL).

          I’m surprised that no one has commented to date about Mason going to a christian preschool- I confess that was my idea. I find all this talk about “indoctrination” a bit odd because I was a christian until about 5 or 6 years ago. Every day, Mason would come home from preschool spouting off the little biblical nuggets she had learned and I began to question if what she was learning was true. I read “End of Faith” and then “The God Delusion” and “volia!” The lightbulbs went off in my brain.

          It was awkward because I was the PTO president at the christian school, but we withdrew her and needed to find a school that would accept a three-year-old. The French school begins at age three and goes through to high school.

          We attended an open house and met the senior high Biology teacher. I flipped through the textbook (in French) and was shocked. I said to the teacher, “This is all evolution!” He looked at me baffled and replied in a thick gallic accent, “But of course. That is what Biology is all about!” I felt so stupid- but I knew we had found the right place for Mason.

          • Occam
            Posted November 4, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

            Thanks for sharing the fascinating story of your ‘evolution’ (double-entendre intended, but no pun).

            All the best to you and Mason!

            • phaenarete0042
              Posted November 4, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

              Evolution isn’t easy. There are lots of intermediate steps. ;-)

              Thanks for the support

            • Chris Booth
              Posted November 4, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

              Ditto MacAnaspey!

              • Chris Booth
                Posted November 4, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

                For some reason my post came out in the wrong spot. I meant to “ditto” Occam’s “thank you” and best wishes.

                By the way, I showed my 17-year-old daughter the WEIT posts about Mason, and she was delighted, too. It sent her on a Hitchens-YouTube jag.

    • Lyndon
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Occam I agree mostly with your account here and thank you for bringing a little Piaget in.

      I do disagree with the message of “freedom and opportunity” that will allow children to become who they truly are and become more fully educated (that feels a little similar to Dewey’s message, as well). Such a message fails to naturalize what it means to be human, fails to ask deep questions about why an individual is the way they are. There may be a sense in which allowing the child to explore problems on their own is a good pedagogical tool and will encourage that child to work harder and to take greater ownership of their actions, but Mason does not have some essential “light,” some essential way of being that is sitting out there waiting for her to find if she is given adequate freedom and opportunity. Even the idea that she has some core genetic disposition that is going to corral her into a certain function or mode of thought or into some career, in a manner greatly different than the rest of relatively healthy children, is misleading.

      Mason is not getting a good education/socialization because she has been provided a certain freedom and opportunity, she is getting a good education/socialization because her environment has been structured in an appropriate way, perhaps one of the more appropriate ways today. If what you mean is that she is “able” to succeed given the opportunities afforded her and the freedom she has to take advantage of them, then that is a misleading idea about the capacities of the individual to act on the world, one that fits in well with our obsession with individualism. How and why she acts in the world, the way her character becomes fully developed, including actions that she- her self- will take that will structure her future character, are things that in the end she does not have some radical control over.

      Anyways, this is a wonderful story and full congratulations to her parents and other social influences, may they shine a bright light in our wary state and country of inadequate education and parenting.

      • Occam
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        Lyndon, thanks for the opportunity to clarify what I was trying to express, no doubt inadequately.
        The message is certainly not naive-Dewey “freedom and opportunity”, and most certainly not any form of innate-ism, genetic or otherwise. I don’t know whether she will be able to “succeed”. I don’t even know what that means.

        Your point about Mason getting “a good education/socialization because her environment has been structured in an appropriate way”, to use your much better formulation, is essential.
        In my simpler, and to you probably simplistic, words: Mason appears to be allowed and encouraged to ask questions and probe for answers. Plus, she is allowed to do so in an intellectually stimulating and supporting environment. I have seen children intellectually thwarted, and children intellectually supported and encouraged. The difference, whatever the other environmental variables may be, is huge, and predictable. In my experience, faith-based education tends to thwart children in a way detrimental, sometimes gravely so, to their process of ‘structuration’ (to use Piaget’s French term). This is not to say that conventional schooling in a non-religious context fares vastly better. But the squelching of questioning, the cramming of ‘eternal truths’ ex-cathedra is stultifying. Mason has been spared that, many other children aren’t.

        • Lyndon
          Posted November 4, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

          I agree Occam. The concept of “freedom” anywhere around the issue of education/socialization is to me a buzzword that probably set me into action.

          I should of expanded on the idea that “freedom” to explore answers is an excellent pedagogical tool, one that is wholly necessary for all children to become better problem solvers and encourage other educational skills and knowledge; it probably is also psychologically and emotionally beneficial. I would also say that children are very much capable of and structured for blossoming as empirical problem solving, as you said, and the freedom and encouragement to engage in such activity is very important. And these are things that are difficult to do within overly-strict religious or culturally-conserving paradigms.

          I am concerned about over-emphasizing what comes out of such freedom’s. If two children are given seemingly the same “freedom” to encourage intellectual growth, and one takes advantage of such things and one fails to grow in important ways, I hope we then accept that the failure of the one and the “success” of the other is going to be rooted in other factors that are structuring these individuals, and not in some inherent or essential quality of these individuals. I am thinking here of Bruce Waller’s analysis in Freedom Without Responsibility, among others, that talks about how even things like “effort” are going to be controlled by genes and prior environmnental influences.

          • Lyndon
            Posted November 4, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

            One more clarification. Though I said that these are things difficult to do within religious and culturally conservative socialization practices, I think it is probably across the board a failure in active and knowledgable parenting and schools. Mason’s mother was an enlightened parent, probably as much simply to do with a different cultural background as anything else, who was being very active in her daughter’s education, including spending (and having the opportunity to spend) the resources on a top-notch private school.

            The problem of most parents and our school systems, I believe, is not troubled because of religious reasons, but is more just cultural practices of naive educational/socialization procedures. They are people who have not read or even heard of Dewey or Piaget or of the much better updated versions nor of newer theores from cognitive science and development psychology, among other programs. What concerns and confuses me most is what is happening within the higher level members of educational systems and within education departments at universities, but of course they also get their cues from psychology, philosophy, etc. Maybe someone else can give a brief overview of how such a system and our society are blind to such a message as why Mason and others like her are getting the education/socialization that they are and why so many others are getting something else bordering on neglect.

            • Filippo
              Posted November 4, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

              Read the “mission statement” of the average public school system, and it will have words to the effect of making the student a “productive citizen.” Just what does that mean?

              I take “productive citizen” to mean a compliant “human resource.” I’d like to see some mention made of developing ones potential; to define, and live, “The Good Life. “Self-actualization” and all that a la Abraham Maslow.

  17. Tim
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    As a native Seattleite who has lived in Texas for 24 years, I think it might be worthwhile to remind people of some things I’m sure most of you know, but tend to forget when throwing around generalizations. 41% of Texans didn’t vote for Rick Perry when he ran against an unexciting but competent Democrat. More than 52% of Wisconsin voters did vote for Scott Walker and against Russ Feingold and Michelle Bachmann represents a district in Minnesota. This country has a winner-take-all political system, Texas just has a 10-15 greater proportion of retrograde rednecks; there are still plenty of them everywhere else.

    • phaenarete0042
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Agreed. I think the reason this story has had any significance at all is that it has given many of the good people of Texas an opportunity to voice a protest to the shenanigans of our governor (BTW- don’t forget who was the governor prior to Rick Perry). Many people here are just sick and tired of being made to look foolish to outsiders. But the religious right has had the political upper hand for so long and regular people are wary to speak up for fear of offending someone. I can’t begin to tell you how many people have “come out of the closet” to me the past few weeks.

      • Laura Norder
        Posted November 4, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        I recognize myself in your description. We moved to Texas seven years ago from the Pacific Northwest, and it is hard not to feel somewhat like a foreigner. We have extraordinarily nice neighbors, but politics and religion are off the table as topics of discussion. Well actually the latter is not entirely true, but is is one-way, and often dropped into everyday conversation (“we are hoping that God will grant us children one day” for example.) So far no-one has asked us which church we attend, but I am guessing that they have probably figured out that the answer is none.

        I recently created a facebook page and have been friended by one of my neighbors. Now I find myself filtering my likes and dislikes, which drives me nuts!

        By the way, I read the Q and A in the Dallas morning news, and I think we might live near you!

        • phaenarete0042
          Posted November 4, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

          Laura, you just described my life one month ago before all this happened. I love Texas, but there are some things we just don’t talk about ’round here. I had a very private FB page and would occasionally post a non-religious or Democratic (gasp) post. Yet, I have a lot of friends who don’t think twice about posting the “Bible Verse of the Day” kinda stuff.

          I’m sure we’ll meet up soon. :-)

  18. NelsonMuntz
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Yeah, that Colton Burpo kid wasn’t “influenced” by his parents, was he?

    • phaenarete0042
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      One of the things I find amusing about Colton’s story is that all the angels in the heavenly battle are still fighting with Bronze Age weapons. If you are God and are waging war against the Devil wouldn’t you equip your guys with flamethrowers, poison gas,and machine guns instead of swords? I’m just saying…

    • Microraptor
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      Ah, I was going to mention that some of the people complaining about “indoctrination” here were likely the exact same ones who were busy gushing to me about how wonderful Colton’s story was.

  19. MadScientist
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    It’s easy to tell that Mason is not indoctrinated. If you want to see/hear examples of the indoctrinated you simply have to look at Ray ‘Banana’ Comfort, John Haught, and Ken Ham (among others). When a response is obtuse or is infantile (“How do you know – were you there?”) that is a clear sign of indoctrination. When someone genuinely makes sense that is a sign of thoughtfulness – indoctrination will never be able to fake thoughtfulness.

  20. Posted November 4, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    I had a crush on Martha Plimpton for the longest time after the Goonies. Now I will follow her on twitter.

  21. Posted November 24, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    This is a great post. It’s funny how if a religious couple raises a child to be religious its ok, but when it comes to raising a “free thinking” child, then it is Indoctrination.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Erin


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