Sunday, 25 February 2007


Lent is upon us again.

The kids have given up sweets, chocolate, and juice. We have given up alcohol...

We all went to have Ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday morning: children love this kind of symbolism and ceremonial - they tried to keep the ashes on their foreheads through the whole day.

I have been teaching them the Gregorian Chant Hymn Attende Domine. You will gather that I am as counter cultural in my religious and musical tastes as in most other things.

Educating in the Virtues (5)

The one aspect of this I have not yet mentioned is the importance of habit.

What we are striving for is a habitual virtuous response.

Clearly the ideal is for an individual to consider each situation and choose a virtuous response. However, in reality, much of the time we do not stop and consider each situation - we react quickly and habitually. Which is why cultivating habits of virtues is important.

For example, I have a good friend who has the virtuous habit of only saying positive things about others, unless there is a genuine reason to say something negative (eg to offer a warning).

I would love my kids to have that virtue (not one I have yet cultivated myself, alas).

The key to developing habits, of course, is repetition. So exercising the virtues is like any other exercise: done regularly, it increases the strength of the particular virtue.

A great read on all this is C S Lewis' 'The Abolition of Man'.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Doubly vindicated

Two reports in two days have confirmed many of my prejudices about the dangers of TV.

The first, in yesterday's Times (19 Feb) was about research linking watching TV from an early age with various health problems including obesity, and premature puberty in girls (this regardless, of course, of the quality of the programming). "Watching too much television as a child may trigger serious health problems such as autism and obesity, and in girls the early onset of puberty, a scientist has claimed. "

The second, reported on the BBC News WWW site today (20 Feb) was about the dangers of the sexualisation of young girls: "
The consequences of the sexualisation of girls in media today are very real," said Dr Eileen Zurbriggen, chair of the group and associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz."

This second obviously includes many other media, especially the dreadful teen magazines, but for younger girls TV is probably the prime culprit.

Two more reasons to opt out of the prevalent culture and bring your kids up with your values, not those of the media, advertisers and other exploiters and corrupters of kids!

Educating in the Virtues (4)

The other elements in our strategy to educate our children in the virtues are to seek out and discuss examples and to catch them doing it right and praise that (as well as, when necessary, chastise them for wrong-doing).

So we often discuss behaviour of friends etc at school, or characters in stories, in terms of the virtues (or lack thereof) displayed and the consequences.

Particularly when this is negative stuff about people we know and like, it also reinforces the whole notion of hate the sin and love the sinner, which is a very important distinction.

It also means we have to be honest when we as parents have failed in a virtue - I often find myself apologising for shouting unfairly at one or other of them, for example.

But the most important element is probably the positive reinforcement. So when Ant broke her nose, and was extremely brave about it, she received lots of praise and some tokens of appreciation to acknowledge her bravery.

Thursday, 15 February 2007


I have often boasted that our children have far fewer injuries than those of parents who are much more risk-averse. I have had my come-uppance!

Ant broke her nose the other day, precisely because of our careless and irresponsible parenting.

We were out for a walk with some other (counter-cultural) friends and the kids were palying a complex game involving all sorts of charging around. Charlie and his friend set up a trip wire (using Goldie's lead). We all saw it - except Ant who chose that moment to charge at Dom and her friend, tripped spectacularly, and skidded over the smooth grass (which is why we'd thought the trip wire was safe) and found the one rock nearby with her nose.

We weren't sure she was hurt at first and only stopped laughing when we realised she was really crying.

To her credit, she was very brave, even able to say through the tears what a fine booby trap the boys had set!

But we still would rather take the risks and have them charging about enjoying themselves - even if Ant's nose is a little crooked for the rest of her life...

Educating in the Virtues (3)

A couple of posts ago I raised the question: ‘what are the virtues?’

There seems to be a bit of a contrast between modern ‘values’ and old-fashioned virtues. And as so often, I think the wisdom of centuries has more to offer than the current consensus.

To take an example, one of the few virtues which is universally applauded these days is tolerance. But I would far rather be treated with charity than be tolerated. By the same token, I would far rather treat others with charity - including ‘tough love’ where necessary, than tolerance.

If someone tolerates me, it often means they simply don’t care or understand enough to engage with me seriously. I’d prefer a good row to that! Not least because I might be wrong, and if tolerated will never discover that.

So the system of virtues we use when considering our children’s upbringing (and therefore our own behaviour - see previous post) is the classic set of faith, hope, charity, justice, fortitude, prudence and temperance.

In The Abolition of Man, C S Lewis describes values commonly held by all civilisations worthy of the name through history, and gives them the label of the Tao. Lewis was a Christian, and clearly the values he is describing are consistent with Christianity. However he was quick to point out, and give examples to demonstrate, that the values he is describing can be found in Norse, Ancient Greek, Roman, Ancient Egyptian, Jewish, Indian, etc etc cultures.

From another point of view, John Finnis, a legal philosopher at Oxford University, tries to establish the basis for good law in his book Natural Law and Natural Rights. He reaches a similar conclusion: that there are certain basic forms of human good on which any civilised society must base its code of law. His list is different, as much in style as in content,
from Lewis’s.

Lewis’ list includes: Beneficence (ie refrain from doing harm to others; do good to them where you can), Justice, Mercy, Good Faith and Veracity, and Magnanimity.

Finnis identifies the following as the basic forms of human good on which any civilised society must base its code of law: Life, Knowledge, Play, Aesthetic Experience, Sociability (friendship), Practical Reasonableness, and ‘Religion’ (or a common philosophy).