Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Killing Monsters by Gerard Jones: book review

An unschooling mom suggested this book to me when we were talking about violent shooting games for her 13yo and I asked her why she allowed them.  My boys are currently 6, almost 4, and 2.  So violent games are not really on their radar now.

As I've encountered so frequently in the past, what people say about the book gives me a certain feeling about a book, which is completely different than how I feel when I actually read the book.  I was reluctant to read Freud for years, feeling that he was arrogant and obnoxious.  In reality, when I read him inside, I found him charming.  The reviews of Killing Monsters either felt what he said was obvious and simplistic, or they raved about how wonderfully he defends violent video games.  I had a completely different experience reading the book.

Of special note is his analysis of the research that states that violent video games and media lead to violent behavior.  He makes a compelling case that the research is insufficient, out of date, too simplistic and incorrectly interpreted.  He discusses how nuanced the range of violence is (from Tom & Jerry to slasher films, from a few punches to lots of blood) and how inaccurately the ensuing "violent behavior" was diagnosed, and how we would really have to categorize each type and study the effects in better designed studies.

In order to better explain how this book affected me, I should explain that 17 years ago I started off parenting opposed to all multimedia.  In general I felt that it's preferable to make up games and stories rather than watch or play them.  I hoped to avoid all movies, books and TV shows that encouraged fantasy, preferring stories that dealt with conflicts that children have and present emotionally healthy resolutions.

My first misconception was that children are blank slates and that they won't have unrealistic fantasies without being exposed to them.  I eventually came to see the absurdity of that, and realized that there is an inherent human struggle between fantasy and reality, and this is a human conflict that every person will wrestle with, regardless of how many or how few movies and stories that person has been exposed to.  (However, I still felt that there is no need to go out of my way to show them to my children, and thought there might be a possibility that a fantasy might be unhealthily concretized by a movie or story.)

Gerard Jones brought up Bruno Bettelheim and how he wrote about the psychological value of fairy tales.  I had heard of the book but never read it.  I wonder if I should read it now.  I've now been looking at all entertainment through the lenses of Killing Monsters and I feel like I'd been looking at everything too literally and completely missing the point and not understanding what it does emotionally for children (and probably for adults, too).

I am not certain I understand exactly what the book says about the benefit of violent games and stories.  At times I found what he said incredibly insightful and eye opening, and at times I felt he was unclear or contradictory or not really on point psychologically.  

What I gained from the book:

1. Stories help kids deal with fears and conflicts by playing with them.
Children have their internal aggression to cope with, and are concerned about violence in society.  Stories that show people being violent are a relief because then they know other people are thinking about it, too.  Media expresses the fears that kids have and makes them explicit.
The stories also play with different endings and possibilities.  It shows that these thoughts are not inherently scary, but part of the range of human possibility.

2. Really insightful analyses of girl action fantasies and of Pokemon.
I never really understood why the girls have to be so scantily clad.  It turns out it's not just for hormonal young lads.  He explained the incredible fascination with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how it plays with girl power and being sexy/attractive and physically and mentally powerful at the same time.
His explanation of Pokemon showed me how it is a metaphor for childhood and how no matter what type of mood or personality, there is a pokemon that matches it.  And how it's a metaphor for growing up, and learning to work with unruly aspects of themselves that refuse to stay in their pokeballs.  He also explained why Misty was such a beloved character.  I always felt that characters that displayed immaturity or explosiveness or thoughtlessness were not good role models because they "teach" children that it's okay to behave that way.  What I missed is that seeing characters struggling through life with their explosiveness etc. is exactly what children are thirsty for.  They are so relieved that their conflicts are being expressed.
3. How important play is, and how media gives children forms to play with.
I don't think that Gerard Jones said this explicitly, but based on what I read in Playful Parenting, play is vitally important to help children sort through their emotions.  Play is the best way and the most fun way and the easiest way.  Perhaps the most valuable thing that multimedia provides are paradigms that children seize upon and use in their own play.  He brings the example of his own five year old son fusing Power Rangers and Teletubbies to play through his desires for both power and nurturing.  I saw immediately how this related to Chana playing "Marth and Roy" when she was five with the neighbor's son for hours.  And how Elazar plays "Young Link" and his friend plays "Captain America."  I don't know what exactly they see in these characters, what themes of power and strength, but they take them and make them theirs and play with their conflicts and fears and desires.  In my opinion, although Gerard Jones doesn't say so, having children play using the characters they see is perhaps the most valuable aspect of watching media.
He does mention that comic books and movies and video games are really useful for preteens and teenagers, when it is no longer socially acceptable to play.  It gives them a forum where they can playfully and fictionally deal with these thoughts and conflicts.
He did talk about when teenagers get too entrenched in it and either I didn't understand it or he wasn't clear.  It does seem very important that adults be available to converse about it if the child wants, and to approach it from the standpoint of interest and not criticism.  We must understand that the media is speaking to the emotions and conflicts of the child in a profound way.  An example that he brought is how so many teenagers love Eminem.  They are so relieved that he is expressing their rage.  That they aren't alone in these overwhelming feelings.  That he isn't being hypocritical.  That he is real.
4. Parents are the ones who aren't distinguishing between reality and fantasy.
This was a really eye opening point.  Children use stories as a way to help them process their feelings.  They know the difference between hurting people in real life and hurting people on TV, and in case they don't, the first time they do so they are going to get a very quick lesson (Playful Parenting talks a lot about roughhousing and how it helps children learn appropriate force).  Children who have trouble with self control and aggression will do better if they can play appropriate games for these issues.  It is us parents who are concerned that because our child enjoys watching or playing killing that they might end up killing.  The child knows s/he is just engaging in fantasy.  Have some conversations with your child and you will see that s/he knows the difference.

Although I used to disapprove of many shows, movies, songs and other media that told stories with unhealthy or unrealistic messages, I have begun looking at them all with the question: What powerful feeling is this expressing, and what enjoyment is my child getting?  What fantasy is this child playing with, and how does it reflect a frustration, concern, or stress that s/he has in real life?  What does s/he LIKE about this?
Instead of threats to my children's optimal development, I now see expressions of struggles and conflicts.  I see paradigms for them to play with and explore.  I see meekness, power, sexuality, violence, fear, anger, love, and the full gamut of human emotion that our society tells children not to express and to control.  As long as civilization demands self control, there will be stories grappling with and expressing the lack of it.  And they will grip our thoughts and minds as we struggle.

one of the benefits of homeschool

Last night Elazar (age 6) and I got onto the subject of Rodef.  We were talking about hashavas aveida, the mitzva of returning a lost object.  I asked him what he thought about returning something his enemy lost.  He thought he wouldn't have to.  I said he actually does have to.  Elazar was surprised: "But if I return it, then my enemy will be able to kill me!"  Good point.  I explained I meant an enemy as someone he didn't like and didn't like him.  His idea of enemy is apparently somebody who is trying to kill you.  That got us onto rodef, and I explained that when someone is trying to kill you it's a mitzva to kill him first.  I knew he would love that and he did.  He sat there for a while, constructing various scenarios.  "Like if he is trying to kill me with a lightsaber, and I have a lightsaber, then I should go like this first" *SLASH*.  "Or if he has a sword"  "Or if he has a gun" "Or if he has a knife."  He was working them all out.  Then he asked what if the enemy doesn't have a weapon.  I said if he can't kill you, then you can't kill him first.  But then I throttled him to show that even bare handed people can kill.  He quite enjoyed that and then began scenarios of uneven weapons.

He really enjoyed this conversation and thinking about it and talking about it.  Afterwards I was thinking that if he were in school, he wouldn't really have the time to pursue those thoughts.  He'd be expected to follow along with the class.  At best he would be distracted and daydreaming.  At worst he would be criticized for it.  Part of the enjoyment of learning is really relating to it and imagining how it plays out.

With my girls, I always felt they would have been okay in school and homeschooling was just a personal choice.  In general I think that young children are not given enough play time or free time and have to sit too long.  But with Elazar it's more than a preference or lifestyle choice.  I'm so relieved that he's a happy little boy, pursuing his interests, being energetic, playing and learning, and not in a daily situation where there would be requirements and demands that would cause him intellectual and emotional anguish.  He has no idea what millions of six year old boys do every day, and what it would be like if he had to cope with it.

Every year he grows in maturity and self control.  If he ever decides to pursue mainstream education, I'm sure he will be capable of it.  And if not, he won't realize that it's something he's "supposed" to fit into.  He won't be frustrated and feel bad about himself because he finds sitting for hours and passively listening and being told what to think about and for how long incredibly boring.

Monday, December 23, 2013

bitul torah

I'll probably write more about this as the boys get older.  One thing that concerns me a little bit is the issue of "bitul zman."  I learned as a child that men basically have the obligation to be involved in Torah study all the time, every minute.  There are heterim to stop for a little so that you'll have the energy to keep learning, such as to eat, sleep, relax, etc.  Also you need to work to sustain yourself and your family.  (And work on relationships, and do chesed, and exercise, etc etc etc.)  But unless you particularly need to be doing something else at the moment, you have an obligation to learn Torah.

I kind of wondered a bit how unschooling fits into that ideal.  On one hand, young children are not emotionally capable of learning Torah for that amount of time.  Also, play is extremely important for their development.  Also, unschooling is a legitimate educational theory and therefore a child taking that route would be learning as is appropriate for his development.

I saw this quote today from the Zohar:

Zohar ( תיקוני זוהר תקונא עשרין וחד ועשרין דף ס עמוד א) says:

מצוה לאתעסקא באורייתא יומם ולילה הדא הוא דכתיב (יהושע א') והגית בו יומם ולילה וכי יכיל בר נש לאתעסקא באורייתא בכל יומי ולילי כל יומוי והא קודשא בריך הוא לית בא בטרוניא עם בריותיו אלא כל מאן דקרא קריאת שמע בכל יום ערב ובקר כאלו מקיים בו 
והגית בו יומם ולילה

Translation: "It is a mitzvah to be involved in Torah day and night, as it is stated, 'you shall contemplate it day and night' (Yehoshua 1:8). But is it possible for a human being to be involved in Torah all night and all day! אין הקב"ה בא בטרוניא עם בריותיו (Ha'Kadosh Baruch Hu doesn't conduct himself despotically with His creations!) - Rather, [this means] that anyone who reads krias shema every day, evening and morning, it is as if he fulfilled, 'you shall contemplate it day and night.'"

Growing up, I had learned that option (for some reason I thought it was part of halachic literature, like the Shulchan Aruch or something; if you know please leave a source in the comments.) It is interesting that there is both an ideal of being involved in Torah day and night, and also a minimal Halachic way to fulfill this obligation.

Friday, December 13, 2013

homeschooling is teaching me

Usually I don't prepare for chumash.  We just open the chumash and go.  Ever since the Mishkan, I've needed English.  6:23 completely stumped me and even the English didn't help me; I had to open R' Hirsch.

"All Chatas (korbanos) that are brought from its blood to the ohel moed to atone in the kodesh shall not be eaten; it shall be burnt in fire."

Wha???  Is it the korbanos that shouldn't be eaten?  Is the blood not allowed in?  (I admit I have not been paying attention to where each korban is shechted and where the blood is sprinkled or poured or what.)  Rashi (even English Artscroll Rashi) wasn't any help.

R' Hirsch explained that in 4:12 and 4:21, where the chatas of the leaders is described, the entire korban is burnt.  Usually with a chatas, a portion is burnt on the mizbeach and a portion is designated to the kohanim.  This signifies (according to R' Hirsch) that once the blood and fats are on the mizbeach, the spiritual nature and inner desires have found their right place before Hashem.  Then every self-seeking action, such as enjoying a good meal, is raised to a priestly degree.

However, when our leaders sin, the one who represents the Jew who has achieved this Ideal is lacking in the nation.  So there is nobody who can represent this lesson (of elevating our ordinary actions) to the kohen or sanhedrin.  So all of the meat of the Chatas that is not burnt on the mizbeach is NOT eaten by a kohen, but rather burnt outside the camp in a makom tahor.
Those are called Chataos Penimiyos, inner korbanos chatas.

What does this have to do with pasuk 23?

Apparently the other Chatas's, of regular people, have the blood spilled only on the outer (copper) mizbeach.  The Chatas of the leaders have the blood spilled in the outer mizbeach and sprinkled on the paroches (the curtain dividing the kodesh and the kodesh kodashim) and on the horns of the inner (gold) mizbeach.  (I missed this nuance when I was doing this with Chana.)

So.  Any blood of a regular Chatas that is brought inside (when it's supposed to only be outside on the outer, copper mizbeach) renders the Chatas korban not to be eaten (by the kohanim) and it should be burnt.

This is an odd detail to me.  It would seem like this is exactly the kind of thing that could be left to torah she-baal peh.

But at least I think I understand the basic meaning of the pasuk.

Friday, December 6, 2013

chazak vayikra

Instead of chazara, I insisted that Chana make some sort of document or table or graph.

We still have to do rashis.  We did about 37 rashis on this parsha.

Chana was rather opposed to the idea of doing any form of project, oaktag, pictures, graphs, tables or anything like that.

And I wanted her to have an overall sense of what was covered in the parsha.  So what I did was look at each paragraph in the Chumash and dictate the type of korban, who brings it, and what animal it is.  This is what she wrote (you can probably guess which parts I didn't dictate):

Olah: cattle male
Olah: sheep male (look at that! They are both male how interesting)
Olah: dove or baby dove

Mincha: fine flour, oil, Frankenstein (frankincense), fist full,
Mincha: baked in oven
Mincha: griddle
Mincha: deep dish

No chametz, no honey

Korban raishes (shavuos)
Rashi two breads and first fruits

Salt on every korban

Mincha becurim (rashi) mincha of the omar (barley)

Shlumim (peace offering) cattle male or female (:O?)
Shlumim sheep male or female

I think it’s time to stop

No eating fat or blood (ew who would?)

Chatas (sin offering)

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog haha im not looking at the keyboard nanananana

Chatas cohen is cow son cow (duck?)
Chatas senhendren (old people :3) cow son cow (equal to cohen?)

Yes break! (thank you aharon)

Chatas president (nasi) male goat
Chatas regular person female goat
Chatas sheep female sheep (no one?)
Chatas witness or tomai or swears falsely female sheep or goat OR if you cannot afford it two doves or two baby doves (one chatas or one olah) ORRRRRR can’t afford THAT 1/10 of an afah (300something eggs (eggs?) ) fine flour no oil no Frankenstein (frankincense)

ASHAM (guilt offering) betray god accidently with kodesh ram, worth 2 silver shekel pay back it + 1/5
Asham mitsvos you should not do and didn’t realize.. uhh.. ram 2 silver shekel
Asham betrayed god, denied his friend, in a pledge, or giving a loan, or stealing, or fraudery, or found something and lied, or swore falsely (this is why we don’t swear we PROMISE), return + 1/5 RAM 2 silver shekel

Monday, December 2, 2013

vayikra project

1/10 of an eipha.  How much is an eipha, Chana would like to know.

I google it in English.  No results.  I google it in Hebrew.  Vikidictionary tells me an eipha is 3 se'as (se'im).  At this point I'm thinking I might have seen this in the Stone Chumash.  It's not.

I also remember a rashi that had all of these amounts, somewhere in Shmos.  Chana didn't process it because she was disliking math at that time.  Back to google.co.il

Vikipedia has a list of measurements, volumes and weights in halacha.  A se'ah is 6 kavim.  A kav is 4 lugim and a lug is 6 eggs.  And I heard of an egg.  So very roughly an eipha is 300 eggs (unless my arithmetic is off, totally possible, just let me know and I'll edit) and 1/10 of that is 30 egg-ish.

Naturally, Chana is not interested in the answer anymore.

Maybe tomorrow.


Something I've been thinking about (we are in shishi of Vayikra) is that I don't think that Chana is really getting all these different korbanos.  She's getting ok at translating, but seeing it as a whole, and seeing the different types of korbanos--I'm not sure how much she's getting the bigger picture.  So I was thinking about some sort of project.  Maybe drawing pictures of each category.  Maybe making a table or chart.

I suggested it to Chana and she was extremely against it.  She said she understands it all, and if she doesn't, she asks me.  But I don't think her being able to technically translate it actually means she understands it.

All of my suggestions sounded not fun and annoying to her.

Finally I suggested some type of game, maybe a matching game.  She was fairly amenable to that but I don't think she wants to do it--maybe she would be willing to play it if I would do it.  I really want to think of some type of enjoyable activity that would help her process the information and categorize it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sfasenu Dalet

Chana is on pg 76 out of 94 of the 4th grade Sfasenu.  I am less and less satisfied.
There are 2 strengths in this series.

  • simple to understand stories that have nice Jewish themes
  • intuitive exercises that increase grammar understanding
Suddenly, though, I'm finding these stories have whole swathes of vocabulary that Chana doesn't understand.  

I think I may have mentioned this already.

I was planning to head over to עברית שיטתית after this.  I have one from my sister, though I remember there being a blue, red, and purple one and think the blue one is the most basic and I'm not sure if that's the one I have or not.  I'll have to dig around and see what I can find.  We have another month of this anyway.  Assuming we remember to keep doing it.  I forgot that we were working on her writing longer stories.  There are so many skills I want to work on with her!
  • reading comprehension
  • writing stories or essays
  • basic grammar like masculine/feminine, singular/plural
  • spelling...
My main focus is really reading comp and writing.  I'd love speaking, too.  But I'm not so worried about that, since when we were in Israel, at the end of 2 weeks, she was beginning to want to speak.  If she were ever to spend any length of time there, I think it would come easily enough.  

I used to worry a lot about when I would see children my kids' age who were reading and writing and doing all sorts of things that my kids couldn't or didn't do at that age.  Now that Elazar is in first grade, I'm beginning to see it again.  The children who write such beautiful lower case letters (I mostly see that in little girls).  The children who can read.  The children who know so much davening.  I am mostly beyond that nervousness and insecurity, though I do get a little jolt of "kids that age can do that?!" kind of the way I used to feel when I saw 2 and 3 year-olds identifying letters.  

But I just remind myself that in 7th grade, with some focus, they can easily learn the skills they need to know.


I don't know much about memes, but Chana suggested this one today: