Diverse Reading: Why You Should Not Choose Protagonists Who Look Like You

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Do not underestimate the power of the written word and its ability to influence lives for better or worse.

People ask online all the time, “I’m looking for book recommendations featuring a protagonist that- (fill in the blank) is homosexual, is a man, is a strong female, is a minority, is asexual, is a redhead, is a single parent, etc. etc.” It’s even better when readers ask for these roles in their favorite genre.

It isn’t a problem to have strong protagonist characters of a specific type featured in a novel or story or song, but it is a problem to only read books with those kinds of characters; characters who look strikingly like us. And the problem is that we indulge in a kind of literary segregation, only and ever choosing our favorites and leaving the rest-a very wide swath of literature, indeed-to collect dust on the shelves.

The entire point of reading is to explore new people and places and situations we have never encountered and possibly never will. When done right, reading broadens our expanse of understanding and sympathy, it deepens our humanity and imagination, and it takes us to new places. Reading is ultimately about thinking and learning, although reading can be great fun in the process as well. But if all we ever do is read about ourselves or our fantasy-selves, then we, by necessity exclude the rest, resulting in our own echo chamber and perpetuating the very real societal ills of racism, homophobia, and general lack of community we are currently dealing with in American culture. Be diverse in your reading, and encourage your children to be diverse.

Read about protagonists that are mentally or physically disabled; that are your opposite gender; that are a different skin color than you; a different religion; a different culture; a different language (or more challenging/antique one); a different time; who love the things you hate; who hate the things you love. Stretch your mind, and find that it is so much less what we or others look like, than our underlying humanity that connects us.

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Prager University Review

   Originally written and posted on Quora, Dec. 19, 2017. See link.

Prager University is an up-and-coming and presumably popular website that targets Millennials and touts freedom of thought and speech. The site is confusing a lot of people who think it is a real school (it’s just a website), and folks are beginning to ask questions.

My first run-in with PragerU was a commercial that made my jaw drop, in which a poised young lady announced confidently that she had learned more from working at McDonald’s than the traditional brick-and-mortar university (a real school) she had attended. She further encouraged everyone to follow her path, in order to leave college debt and liberal indoctrination behind…

This ad is on PragerU’s site. “Stop giving to your Alma Mater (and give to us!)”

PragerU was founded by Dennis Prager, a sixty-nine-year-old, ultra-conservative, Jewish radio talk-show host and author/public speaker with an established agenda for converting people to American conservatism. Dennis Prager – Wikipedia

And that pretty much explains PragerU in a nutshell, too. It’s sole purpose is to convert young people to conservatism through short, easily sharable videos. The biggest issue with PragerU is that the videos present opinions (all of which are actually really old arguments that young people in particular-PragerU’s target audience-may not have heard yet) on provocative questions many people have, as if those opinions were facts.


Cite Your Sources

For example, Crowder’s video, “Democratic Socialism is Still Socialism,” (FreeToThink | PragerU) claims that adding the word “democratic” to “democratic socialism” does not change the meaning at all. The phrase is still equal to “socialism.” Which is an illogical and untrue argument. Adding “un” to “untrue” changes the meaning of “true” entirely, adding “baritone” to “saxophone” specifies an entirely different instrument from a “soprano saxophone,” and adding “jerk” to “chicken” connotes a Jamaican recipe, not a mean bird. jerk chicken – Google Search

Later in that same video, Crowder, talking a mile a minute, shoves together several examples of countries that are neither democratic nor socialist to “prove” his point that democratic socialism is bad, then skips quickly over to Denmark and Sweden, using quotes out of context to confuse the issue. This article from CNN does a fairer job of explaining the terms and ideas, I think. Bernie Sanders’ American Dream is in Denmark – CNNPolitics

If/when you watch PragerU’s “Free to Think” videos (I have not seen all the videos, and am aware that some are done by professors), notice that rarely are facts cited or sources given*, and there are never references at the end or clickable links to research more. Many videos are either confidently-presented misinformation (like the Crowder video above) or simply testimonials/anecdotes with relatable scenarios, like this one by Jay Stephens (FreeToThink | PragerU) about college debt, “College Made Me a Conservative”.


Free to Think Like Us

Another issue is the use of certain words like, “Trigger Warning”, “Snowflakes”, “The Left”, etc. in a subtly derogatory and not informational way. There is clear bias in the way these words and many others are used. Take for example the fascinating video, Gun Rights Are Women’s Rights, in which Katie Pavlich asserts that “men being stronger than women is controversial these days,” (is it?) and ends with a snarky, “it’s called, ‘biology.’”

There are other subtle problems too, like the video, The Biggest Issues in the World Today: Why Do People Become Islamic Extremists, which implies in pictures, text, and speech that only Muslims (especially those outside of the USA) can become religious extremists who kill people. And once again, even though the presenter is an adjunct professor at Georgetown U, he only uses his own stories to prove his points, instead of using verifiable evidence outside of his own experiences.


Conspiracy Theories

PragerU videos and PragerU sponsored speakers’ videos, reveal a general theme of victimization, conspiracy, and persecution against conservatives. This narrative allows PragerU fans to reasonably “fight back in self-defense” (just like Jesus didn’t say), and continue to express moral outrage over events that are not as they seem.

Take for example, the several banners on PragerU’s site that claim YouTube has discriminatorily targeted PragerU for Restricted Access on a host of PragerU’s videos, which they outline here:   PragerU has gone so far as to launch a lawsuit, garner signatures for petitions, and (of course) ask for donations to “help free the videos.” But when I visited YouTube via a private browser of which I was not signed in, I was able to access several of the videos (I did not test all 40) PragerU claimed could not be accessed by children “for educational purposes.”

Furthermore, it looks as if PragerU took down several videos in their own list themselves; YouTube’s stated policy regarding Restricted Access includes political videos; and finally, yes, some of the videos are meant to be downright inflammatory (and if you have a problem with it, you’re clearly a liberal snowflake).

Gee, I wonder why this one is deemed offensive by some?

Education or Bust

If you investigate the folks who speak in the videos or write articles (for other conservative organizations with close ties to PragerU), you will find some interesting trends including a surprising lack of credentials among the “Free to Think” videos presenters, many adjunct professors or research analysts from private universities (most with a current strong religious leaning like Georgetown and Duke), and the same few websites featuring the same people again and again like TownHall.com and the Cato Institute.

Matt Walsh is one such person I’ve investigated before, who has run his own controversial opinion blog for years (Militant Christianity and Matt Walsh’s Misinterpretation of the Gospel of Peace). I have never been able to learn if he has a college degree or what he majored in, and citation of facts (or even Biblical concepts) is something consistently lacking in his writing. But he is bombastic and gets attention, so people follow along.

Caroline Kitchens is another writer/speaker who appears to have gone to college at Duke U, but never states that she graduated or in what area. Yet these people are deriding college and higher education when they’ve seemingly never been or completed a degree!

No one can “get educated” from a series of 5-minute videos. Take it from me, a highschool reading tutor: education takes a lot of work, reading, study, and guidance, no matter your field. There are no shortcuts.


Mission: Engage!

To put it bluntly, PragerU is not about education but political and even religious indoctrination. The people behind PragerU want young, relatable-sounding and looking spokespeople who will say what PragerU wants them to say, to convince other young people to follow conservatism. Many other Christian churches and groups seek to “reclaim” the “lost Millennials” who have been leaving ultra-conservative churches in droves in the past few years as well. how to reclaim millennials for god

Ironically, many of the pertinent questions and important issues PragerU addresses were created or aggravated by…(wait for it)…conservatism. I’m a living, breathing example of the damage such ideas can cause:

Bringing Back Child Labor?
The Ideology of Underage Marriages in Conservative Christianity
Loura Lawrence’s answer to What is the most frightening moment you have ever experienced?

We absolutely need to talk about all the different issues and problems plaguing our country. We absolutely need to hear different viewpoints (hint: there are more than just 2 sides). But we also must absolutely have our opinions informed by facts, not just pretty/handsome faces, “nice” people, confident people, slick videos, or fast talkers.

Note:

*I tried to look up the quote and study by David Kopel of Denver U cited in the video, “Gun Rights are Women’s Rights,” but could not find the study. I also learned that he was an adjunct professor at Denver U, that he is a member of the NRA, and a long-time gun rights advocate. Gun Rights Are Women’s Rights

Going Home for Christmas to Coal Mining Country

See more “misty mountain” photos from my trip here

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Tiny towns dot the landscape in rural, Eastern Kentucky.

 
These communities rely almost solely on the dying coal industry that operates mines in the Appalachia mountains throughout Kentucky, Southern Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Not only do these areas struggle with economic depression, and an aging population, the heroin epidemic has hit these communities particularly hard as well.


The mountains here have been dynamited over the years to make room for better, wider, and safer roads. Shale rock breaks easily, so “steps” and ditches have been formed to prevent accidents from falling boulders and rock-slides.

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Remains of the Sidney Coal Mining Company, now defunct. Images of the dying coal mining industry are tucked everywhere in the Appalachia mountains near Pikeville, KY.

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Bringing Back Child Labor?

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Breaker Boys of PA Coal Co., 1911

An international friend brought a horrifying article to my attention over the weekend. It did not involve terrorism, Syria, the Standing Rock fiasco, or even Harambe. It was far more subtle a subject, far more insidious, and based on many misconceptions and quiet propaganda. The article was originally called, Bring Back Child Labor, until the author, Joseph Sunde, received such backlash he changed it to, Work is a Gift Our Kids can Handle.

Posted on the Acton Institute Power Blog, I detected some hints of conservative Christian homeschooling rhetoric I remembered from a few years ago, when I was involved in that movement with/for my small children. The Acton Institute’s stated mission is, “to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.” While the rest of the About page seeks to portray an ecumenical, almost secular and educated feel (nowhere is the word “Christian” mentioned), a quick look through Acton’s bookshop* proves their exclusively Christian underpinnings.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s current pick for Secretary of Education, who recently made headlines with her trademark support of charter schools and school vouchers, is also a supporter of the Acton Institute, among others. This, in conjunction with the article in question, has deeply concerned many onlookers about the possible future of public education in America, but the rabbit hole goes deeper still.


And Now a Word from our Sponsors…

For at least the past 10 years, the Homeschool Legal Defense Fund (HSLDA) has made it their mission to reduce state laws pertaining to child labor. In the states of Missouri and South Dakota, they have successfully overturned previous child labor laws in the name of homeschool anti-discrimination. They have been working on a federal bill to the same end nationwide since 2006*. The HSLDA represents the welfare and rights of not just homeschoolers, but ultra-conservative Evangelical Christian homeschoolers in particular (more on HSLDA in another post).

It is the position of the HSLDA, that children as young as 12 should be allowed to work, if their parents view such work as beneficial to the child’s education.

“…a 12-year-old homeschooler in Illinois was manning the cash register for his family’s business after his morning schoolwork was done. He enjoyed the opportunity to earn a little money, and his parents knew that it helped him hone his math skills. Unfortunately, a customer did not feel the same way. She turned the family in to the Illinois Labor Department. After looking into the matter, the department prohibited the boy from working during school hours.” –Source

The article claims many of the child labor laws enacted by states in throughout the 1800s were necessary for their time, but are “outdated”, and suggests that all federal laws regarding child labor restrictions were and are superfluous (no question where this organization stands on states’ rights!). The article continues by outlining general laws pertaining to working children at different ages. A few key laws include:

  • No child under 16 may work during school hours, which are defined as public school hours (typically 8:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m., depending on the state).
  • The child is limited to 3 hours of work per day during a school week, or 18 hours a week.
  • He may not work before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. except from June 1 to Labor Day, when evening hours are extended to 9:00 p.m.
  • Children may perform agricultural jobs for employers who have filed a waiver with the federal secretary of labor for exemption from the work hours and minimum age requirements for those particular jobs.
  • A child may only work during school hours if he is not getting paid. An example of such a situation is a school “work study” program, in which children gain work experience for educational purposes. –Source

The question remains: Why should some Christians seek to overturn these child labor laws?


Look how “Happy (Doc and Dopey)” are the “children” working in the mines! They exemplify proper economics and virtue!

Why would Sunde (getting back to the original article in question) feel encouraged to blithely insist the Washington Post’s recent photo montage of dirty, poorly clothed child laborers from the early 1900s, was over-the-top for (rightly) calling the pictures “haunting”. Several of those kids were smoking for crying out loud! Or does Sunde think being filthy, poor, abused, and developing lung cancer are signs of virtuous character?

He seems to ignore those details, opting to focus on a favorite conservative fantasy that these children were using their “creative talents” to “build enterprises and cities, using their gifts to serve their communities, and setting the foundation of a flourishing nation.”

Sunde quotes heavily and with admiration, one Jeffrey Tucker from the Foundation for Economic Education. Tucker’s article titled, Let the Kids Work, is a perfect example of someone who is disconnected from reality. He calls the Washington Post’s photos, “beautiful”, and proceeds to imagine what the children in the pictures must have experienced:

“They are working in the adult world, surrounded by cool bustling things and new technology. They are on the streets, in the factories, in the mines, with adults and with peers, learning and doing. They are being valued for what they do, which is to say being valued as people. They are earning money. Whatever else you want to say about this, it’s an exciting life.”

Tucker pretends to believe the whopper that, “it was the market, not the government that reduced and nearly eliminated full-time grueling child labor.” Didn’t he just say those abused children were actually having the time of their lives? Didn’t he then proceed to make fun of those who might protest on the children’s behalf with, “Oh, look how exploitative it is!”

While Sunde insists in a new disclaimer, “I do NOT endorse replacing education with paid labor…nor do I support getting rid of mandatory education at elementary and middle-school ages.” Yet his own essay quotes Tucker’s insane words, “If kids were allowed to work and compulsory school attendance was abolished, the jobs of choice would be at Chick-Fil-A and WalMart.” (emphasis added by me)

Sunde goes on to say,

“In our schools and educational systems, what if we stopped prioritizing “intellectual” work to the detriment of practical knowledge and physical labor, paving new paths to a more holistic approach to character formation? In our policy and governing institutions, what if we put power back in the hands of parents and kids, dismantling the range of excessive legal restrictions, minimum wage fixings, and regulations that lead our children to work less and work later?”


Our forefathers’ greatest mission was free and public education for all American citizens, so Americans would not be subject to oppression! Washington and Franklin and the others are spinning in their graves to hear such blasphemies from so-called modern educated (Christian) men.

The reality of working children due to the continued and inexcusable lack of oversight of homeschooled kids is already a current problem:

“In some cases, educational neglect may occur when a homeschooled child is expected to work rather than study. In some cases…homeschooled children may be treated as servants and expected to do childcare and housecleaning rather than completing homeschool lessons. In other cases, homeschooled children’s education may cease at age 12 or 14 as they are expected to work full time, often in family businesses or doing various manual labor. “By 11, he was working full time with his dad who did construction,” writes Miranda of her homeschool graduate husband. “By 14, he was in the woods logging, carrying the full weight of a grown man’s job, helping bring home income for his parents.” These children are frequently not paid for their labor, and are thus both deprived of an education and exploited…These children often reach adulthood limited by their lack of education, their career path chosen by their parents through their failure to educate.” –Source

It’s even more of a problem for some homeschooled girls, whose educations are often devalued as they are raised to be “keepers at home”. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education quotes from Christian leader RC Sproul Jr., ““She [a nine-year-old homeschooled girl] doesn’t know how to read, but every morning she gets up and gets ready for the day. Then takes care of her three youngest siblings. She takes them to the potty, she cleans and dresses them, makes their breakfasts, brushes their teeth, clears their dishes, and makes their beds.” Now I [Sproul] saw her rightly, as an overachiever.”

Though it hasn’t been updated in 3 years, Sunde’s blog, Remnant Culture, features a telling who’s-who* of Evangelical and Catholic leaders and organizations whose mission is to instill pure capitalism (free market/free enterprise) in order to bring back the individual freedoms of religion and democracy they believe they have lost.

It is rather shocking that the very people who give the most lip service to education, America’s Founding Fathers, the value of children, and Christian morals, are the same ones advocating for elimination of compulsory education laws, a reduction of child labor laws, and the idolization of one form of human (i.e. fallible) government. In their minds, free enterprise is next to godliness (more on that in a later post). Make no mistake, the Industrial Revolution, America’s purest age of capitalism sans legal restrictions, saw the exploitation of everyone that possibly could be exploited. It was no less than the Northern form of slavery, without the personal investment of human chattel.

*Note: the shop link on the About page appears broken.

** When I first read Sunde’s essay on 11/27/16, he had included a statement about ending compulsory education at 8th grade. You will not find this quote in his current essay, it has since been deleted. The following comment references this quote, and there may be others: http://disq.us/p/1dx5k74.

*If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to my blog for just $1.50/month.


Resources

The Coalition for Responsible Homeschooling

Responsible Homeschooling, “Abuse in Homeschooling Environments”

Reuters, “India Children Labour”

Homeschool Federation, “Child Labor: What’s Going On?”


Cited Sources

http://blog.acton.org/archives/89837-bring-back-child-labor-work-is-a-gift-our-kids-can-handle.html

http://blog.acton.org/archives/author/jsunde

http://blog.acton.org/

http://blog.acton.org/about

http://shop.acton.org/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/23/betsy-devos-trumps-education-pick-is-a-billionaire-philanthropist-with-deep-ties-to-the-reformed-christian-community/

https://www.hslda.org/hs/state/sd/201403240.asp

http://www.hslda.org/cms/?q=bill/hb-1132-changes-child-labor-laws-make-them-homeschool-friendly

http://nche.hslda.org/courtreport/V22N3/V22N303.asp

http://nche.hslda.org/courtreport/V22N3/V22N303.asp

http://www.responsiblehomeschooling.org/policy-issues/abuse-and-neglect/educational-neglect/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-sight/wp/2016/10/31/20-haunting-portraits-of-child-laborers-in-1900s-america/

https://fee.org

https://fee.org/articles/let-the-kids-work/

http://remnantculture.com/

http://www.naspaa.org/jpaemessenger/Article/VOL20-1/06_Cook%20Klay.pdf

http://www.responsiblehomeschooling.org/policy-issues/abuse-and-neglect/educational-neglect/

http://disq.us/p/1dx5k74