Social Media and Illusions of Granduer

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Social media is a great tool. We can connect with old friends and meet new people. It’s a place to interact and it’s nice for moms like me who are a bit isolated as they raise their children. I have observed and experienced a rather disturbing trend, however. That is, because we have our own social media pages and interactions, our opinions and feelings on a specific matter either must be voiced or must be submitted to without discussion.

When I read an article by someone who is formally trained or who works in a specific field, I take into account their expertise. It does not mean that I agree with them, but it is something I consider. Whenever I read an article or blog, I always read about the author so that I can get a feel for their background and knowledge. If I am going to disagree about something, I want to consider the source of the first argument.  This is not how most people see it, though.

I have tried to discuss articles or issues with various people and it always devolves into ad hominem attacks. I try to get people to stay on topic and they won’t or can’t. This is a universal problem. It is not just “liberal” or just “conservative” it is also throughout the Church. There is a very strong anti-intellectualism that has crept into our culture and into the Church. Instead of being knowledgeable on any given subject, we believe that we can make uneducated opinions at will based on our emotions. The evidence or arguments, no matter how sound, do not matter.

This is a break down in an understanding of how truth is conveyed to the senses and in its essence. Once mind-object agreement is no longer the norm, it becomes perfectly acceptable to live in a dictatorship of self. What I mean is that when we become the ultimate source of truth and not reality, things become incoherent and irrational. Unfortunately, what this has turned into is an inability to discuss things rationally and logically. It also creates an environment that is suspect or hostile to intellectual pursuits and within the Church creates a breeding ground for either clericalism or relativism depending on the situation.

First, we need to accept and know our own limitations. There is a vast array of subjects that I do not know enough about in order to form an opinion or share any insight. There are certain subjects, even theological subjects, in which I struggle with emotionalism. Once again that is a limitation within myself that I must accept. If I cannot control my emotions on a specific topic, then I need to avoid a discussions on it until I can. I have improved a lot in this area, but I still do it every now and then.

Feelings are not a sound reason for forming an opinion. Feelings are tied to the passions and can result in automatic, not rational, responses to specific items. When confronted with, let’s say, a theological argument that is formed by reason and that is based on acceptable theological tradition, we cannot respond with I don’t agree because I “feel” this way. No. Feelings are not a valid response to reason. In order to disagree with say, St. Thomas Aquinas (which is perfectly acceptable on certain matters, but I would do so with humility), we need to be able to provide another theological school of thought in response. Your feelings and my feelings do not change reality or a sound argument.

When feelings become the deciding factor in policy decisions, theological decisions, or other areas of our lives, things get ugly. When we are no longer ruled by reason and correct thinking, our feelings become a force of power that subverts those who do not agree with our particular emotional state. This is happening at an alarming rate in our culture. Decisions are being made that have nothing to do with sound or right judgment, but have everything to do with how people feel. This is not just a problem in our culture, it is an issue within the Church.

In the past couple of years, I have encountered a very destructive form of anti-intellectualism within the Church. People say we should move towards Protestants, well yes and no, but anti-intellectualism is something that we cannot borrow from certain (not all) Protestant sects. The Catholic Church is where faith and reason are united on their journey to God. A Catholic told me yesterday that theological study was pharasaical. I was flabbergasted, but not surprised because I left a group recently that focused on a false sense of piety in place of sound intellectual understanding within the Church’s tradition.

The problem with anti-intellectualism is that it works hard to control those who have intellectual strengths. A strange power struggle erupts. Not everyone is called to study theology or philosophy; however, we are called to respect and understand the gifts of other people. Anti-intellectualism comes with an overinflated pride and sense of self that is based on emotion and not study. It is the opposite of the person who has vast knowledge, but uses it in the service of self. Both are inherently wrong.

The individual who referred to me and another friend as Pharisees because of our theological knowledge had no business being on a thread that was discussing Thomistic thought. Rather than accept their own limitations they decided to engage in emotionalism that devolved, as it always does, into ad hominem attacks. They could not respond theologically, so they attacked the people who could. Once again, we need to know and accept our own limitations. If we do not know Thomistic theological and philosophical arguments, then we shouldn’t respond until we do. This is common on other threads as well. I see it often in comment sections.

Here’s the reality, just because we have an opinion does not meant that we should or need to offer it to people. If we, myself included, cannot add to a discussion with insight then it is better that we stay quiet. The Internet is not the place for us to share our ignorance with the world under the guise that we have a right to share our opinion. The Internet is not where I go to have my feelings validated.

I got myself into a discussion last week that I knew I should stay out of. I could not argue the position with sound reason, because of my own personal experiences that still have an emotional hold on me. I also have little patience for presumption. When we are discussing issues with people, we need to stay on topic. I do not know many of the people who I discuss ideas with on social media and that means that I cannot assume anything about them as persons. That is why it is crucial for discussions to keep to the topic at hand. The minute they go off track, I leave.

There is an amazing amount vitriol and venom that we spew at one another on a daily basis in social media. A lot of it could be avoided if we accepted our own limitations, control our emotions, and work on humility. The world does not need to know all of my opinions, especially the ones that are not properly formed by reason. This goes for me, as well. I need to accept that there are certain topics I need to stay away from at the present.  Can you imagine how our interactions would change if we focused on humility, intelligent discussion, and charity? Social media does not make us gods of our own domain. Rather, it is an opportunity to connect with people all over the world and to share sound ideas. Not everyone is expected to engage in discourse at the doctoral level, however, any person should know the difference between the topic at hand and personal attacks. Let’s all consider how we interact in social media as we go through this Holy Week. God bless.

My Choice to Homeschool

There is a disturbing trend in this country in regards to discourse and the right to personal opinion and free speech. I know that most people who frequent the Internet have noticed that comment sections on Facebook, Twitter, articles, and blogs are filled with name calling, vilification, irrational rants, and unintelligent and unintelligible arguments. People in this country cannot seem to reason through their arguments. If you do not agree with them you are either a) attacking them personally or b) a bigot, hateful, judgmental, intolerant, or whatever other name they can come up with, some are pretty colorful. What this says to me is a couple of things: First, we are egotistical and this includes me at times. We think that someone else’s personal choices or opinions have something to do with us personally. A wake up call to all of us: The world does not revolve around you or me! Second, there is a breakdown somewhere in our vast, and I mean vast, education system that is no longer encouraging reasoned thought. Instead we are taught to regurgitate information that we have heard, rather than think through, and reason our way to the truth or our own subjective opinion. In fact, many people cannot even defend their opinion without personal attacks.

I find these trends disturbing because they are a first step towards the oppression of others. This can be seen currently in the “gay marriage” debate, land owner issues, abortion, education, secular versus religion etc. While this trend exists on all sides of the political spectrum, they appear to be gaining most traction right now on the Left. If you are against us then you are a bigot, is a very common response to disagreement. What this does is shut down discussion. I will vilify you if you disagree with me no matter if you are objectively right or well-reasoned in thought. This is a very useful tactic for the oppressor. It allows a group of people to be demonized, and that is taken up by national groups like the media. Once word gets around, people tend to assume that this group or that, are in fact villains. Truth does not matter. This tactic is used by many professors and teachers with students. That is why so many parents are having to reteach their children who have heard various assertions that are taken as fact. If you are not with us then you are against us. This is very difficult for children who are already trusting and vulnerable. The hot button issues of our day usually produce these kinds of fights. Another one is education choices by parents. I have very passionate views on this topic after years of study, teaching, and observing our culture make dramatic and disturbing shifts.

To give you a bit of background about myself. I am the product of public education. I graduated from high school in 1999. My family could not afford the Catholic school in town. The bulk of my education is in large part thanks to my mother and even more my father. He is the one who taught me how to reason to a proper answer. He taught me the Aristotelian method of understanding truth and reality when I was 14 years old. The object sets truth not the viewer. This is diametrically opposed to the post-modern view of today that is largely from Rene Descartes. This is why relativism is so rampant in this country. We think that we set truth. As I used to tell my confused classmates in college, just because you think that a tree is a fish, does not make it any less a tree. Clear as mud…

As long as I can remember I wanted to be a high school English teacher. I joined the Navy so that I could pay for college. After my military service, I went back to my home state of Montana to finish up my degree. As I worked on my Education degree, I worked as a debate coach and teacher in my old high school. I was not prepared for the mediocrity, frustration, and apathy that I found there. I struggled to get students to do their work. The other teacher cared even less than the students. This school had failed to get its funding from No Child Left Behind, so major blocks of time were dedicated to teaching to the tests that were required. Coupled with what I could see were largely ridiculous Education courses, I switched majors. Sorry, Dewey! While I was working at the school I began to read extensively on the history of public education in this country, research on the low ranking of the US against the developed world, and how unions are damaging our public system. Add to it the openness to teen sexuality that I encountered and immoral behavior that was widely ignored, I made the decision to switch out of education. I was deeply saddened, but knew that I do not have the personality for such a broken system. I would have led a life of not so quiet desperation.

I have continued to monitor the system since then and have only grown more and more disturbed by what is coming out. With the new Common Core requirements I knew that my daughter would never step foot in a public school. We cannot afford Catholic education, and even then, it is not always reliable. I am firm and blunt on this choice. I finally got fed up with reading articles and made my sentiments bluntly known on my Facebook wall. And I meant when I said my daughter ‘will go to public school over my dead body’. It is how I feel, you are not required to agree. Let’s pray it does not come to that. It led to an irrational, and at times disturbing debate.

Do I think all people should homeschool? No. I don’t think that it is possible for everyone. Do I think that it is a better choice as our culture and system spirals more and more out of control? Yes. The Catholic understanding of education, is diametrically opposed to the system as it is today. Public schools largely undermine the Faith whether it be through teaching the gay agenda, handing out condoms or Plan B, taking away Bibles, teaching neo-feminism, or completely re-writing history to support secularism. These are just a snippet of what is going on today. Children are overwhelmed by peer pressure and a culture that is amoral. If we parents think that our children will go through public education unscathed then we are deluding ourselves. I can remember some pretty crazy things about high school, junior high, and grade school. I can count on one hand the teachers that really impacted me. I think that there are some superb teachers out there, but I will not say they are the majority. Tenure systems allow mediocre and even predatory teachers to keep their jobs even though they are not benefiting students, they may even harm them in some instances. I have not even mentioned school violence. It doesn’t even need to be a mass shooting. There were fights between gangs regularly at my old high school. How do school lock-downs not damage children’s sense of safety? Getting back to education, if we go to my original premise, students cannot even reason through to a correct answer. Everything is about “me” and my subjective understanding.

As a mom who is choosing to home-school, I am placing myself against a very large and powerful group of people. Home-schoolers are given all kinds of delightful titles. I was informed that I was ruining the economy and taking away jobs from teachers yesterday. This type of argument made me angry and horrified me at the same time. My daughter is not a meal ticket. She is a human being made in the image and likeness of God. My obligation is to educate her, not some teacher who sees her as a paycheck. Home-schoolers are unsocialized. I love this argument because it is so false. The difference between a home-schooler and a public school student is that home-schoolers by and large can carry on a conversation with any age group, including adults because they are not told all day that they are a 4th grader and only belong with that age. I see it in my friends’ kids. It is a great way to ostracize a group of people and claim that they are “weird”. It once again shuts down discussion. Reasoning and research do not matter. The charge that I am sheltering my child is partially true. She will not live in a bubble and will be well aware of our Fallen world. She will be in extracurricular activities and ministries. She will be around her peers, but not all day five days a week. However, topics will be done in an age and maturity based time. Not because someone says everyone is doing this and so should we. The clarion call of “everyone” is usually not from Christ.

Home-schoolers are a threat to those who choose public or private education. This is taught over and over again to Education majors. Talk about indoctrination! Our choice somehow has something to do with them. In the case of the public school system, we are taking away students and it is competition. I don’t sit around and think about all of the people I know and then make a decision. I look at my daughter and the systems available and decide what is best for her and where I believe God is calling me. My choices are not about you. Blunt, yes, but I get tired of politically correct tinged language. All of us are becoming toddlers when we cannot handle someone else’s opinion, even a blunt one, at that. I am guilty of this at times too. Parents need to choose what is best for their children and stop being offended because someone made a different choice. No matter what, parents need to educate themselves on what is going on in our schools. We are not sheep. We do not mindlessly follow what the government officials in our town are telling us. We study and research to get an educated picture. Regardless of what our government is trying to tell people, our children belong to us, the parents. Theologically they belong to God, but you know what I mean. I am beholden to no one, except Our Lord, for my choices as long as I am not doing anything immoral. I am not going to get into civil disobedience in this post.

My path to homeschooling is an unexpected and daunting one, but I know it is where God has called me. Yes, there will be times when I will express my loathing for our public education system, but that is because I know that people deserve better. The problem is that the system is just too dang large for me to get involved without risking harm to my daughter. While I believe one person can make a difference, which I try to do through my ministries, the political environment right now is so diametrically opposed to Catholic thought that it is not worth the battle. We must pick and choose our battles. I have chosen to home-school and you must do what is best for your kids. No matter what we decide, I pray that all of us help lead our children to Heaven and that at the end of their early education, their Faith will still be intact. God bless and Happy Easter!

*If you are interested in further reading, pick up the books by John Taylor Gatto as a start. He was an award winning public school teacher in New York for 30 years who now encourages home-schooling. Some of his books give an extensive history of public education in this country. It is not what you think!