I am going to be stern here at times. I am (mostly) kidding. Maybe I should have waited to the end to tell you that.

The brilliant Scott Siskind* has a new post at Astral Codex Ten, Kids Can Recover From Missing Even Quite A Lot of School about how much effect there will be from children missing school because of CoVid. The short answer is Academically, not much. Children have gone through much worse in many times and places and caught up in a year or so. Social/cultural/moral/character development? This is hard to measure, but there may be something to that. Being Dr. Siskind and a bit obsessive, he cites a good deal of research, mercifully by linking to it. He is as cynical about schools and teachers as I am, except he’s smarter and more diligent about research.

I once thought I would be pleased if schools figured out that they aren’t there to teach academics and aren’t very good at it. (Nor have they ever been, even in the Good Old Days. I wrote about those days a decade ago, Part One and Part Two, in which I say a lot of things people will disagree with, but are nonetheless true. Schools were different but not better then. The reason you want to tell me why I’m wrong is likely something I have already heard.) The primary value of schools may always have been in their teaching of conscientiousness, group norms for behavior, and other things we would file under “character.” However, if we were to free current teachers up to teach character it would be one more excuse to teach anti-racism and other forms of How to Be a Good Liberal. Still, I can dream, because no school is going to take my advice anyway, no matter how right I am.

I mentioned that people will not much attend to what I say here, which I know because I have been in a thousand discussions about education in my life, and the same things always happen. Everyone is sure they are an expert and will tell you anecdotes about their grandfather who grew up on a farm with no electricity but went to a good old-fashioned school where they taught real content and became a chemical engineer. Damn kids don’t even know how to shoe a horse these days. Or they will give you examples of how bad things are now, or insist that things used to be better because…anecdotes. I have opinions which I will get out of the way now, which are that phonics is somewhat better than whole word, especially for poor students, and that drill in math is better than concept, especially for poor students. But it’s largely genetic and the good students are going to do fine anyway unless you beat them for stupid reasons. Whatever isn’t genetics is mostly family and neighborhood.

But it’s just oddly reflexive, that people just have to tell you these things whenever you say “education.” They have stored packets that have to be discharged.

The Teaching of Math

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You Can’t Handle The Truth

The new sermon series at church is going to be “You Can’t Handle the Truth,” focusing on Daniel. That’s a nice convergence for me after just seeing the Max McLean production of The Great Divorce and just finishing Till We Have Faces. Of all Lewis’s works, those may be the two where that lesson is strongest.  It is in fact a common theme of Lewis’s throughout his works, that there are truths we do not wish to be true, but refusing to accept them keeps us from God.  If that seems unkind or condemning on his part, know that his works are often autobiographical, and the excuses he puts into the mouths of characters are ones he has used himself. 

James’s comment about the holy being both dark and light is like that for me.  I am not attracted to the earthy, hidden, primitive parts of Christianity like eating the god or imagining the witness of the dead watching us. Even singing as a necessity I think I might rebel against, as I would prefer that music just be an entertainment. I would stay with the idea portion of the faith if I could, of things to contemplate and discuss.  But Lewis taught me decades ago to beware of that as a thin, incomplete faith – we are not wired as cerebrally as we pretend, and mystery is a tunnel, not a swamp.

Ways of Knowing

I would like to start by thanking Mike Kennedy for his observations over the last months. We all bring some knowledge to the pandemic, but he brings a good deal more. I think he has been properly cautious in interpreting information as it has emerged and even more cautious in offering advice, even though he might be tempted. It has been a reminder to me throughout not to pretend I know more than I do and not leap to conclusions. If he can refrain from pronouncements, how much more should I refrain, eh? Saying this, I admit my memory might be inaccurate. Mike may have made all sorts of knuckleheaded predictions and offered cockamamie theories over the last ten months and I just forgot them. Yet I think my overall impression has been correct, and I am grateful.

When my oldest was a small boy, he took it into his head that not fastening our seat belts would cause us to get into an accident. He had clearly picked up associations we had made between the concepts of accident and seat-belt.  The distinction between “in case we get into an accident” and “because we’ll get into an accident” is not easy when you’re three or four. No real harm done at the time.  He fastened his seat belt willingly and we didn’t think he’d graduate from highschool with that misapprehension.

There are a lot of theories and descriptions of the various ways people come to think they know things and what they trust.  They are not mutually exclusive.  We all trust our own experience while attaching some importance to what we hear happens to others.  We all have authorities we trust, but also trust our own ideas and reasoning. We also have opinions about what other people trust in ways of knowing. We particularly dislike it when those benighted other folks trust the wrong authorities or exhibit poor reasoning.  We also mix categories. In the long sorry state of CoVid commentary, we have had lots of complaints about people trusting “experts,” always in sneer quotes, yet our solution is nearly always that they instead believe…different experts.  Ones that we like better.

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New Cousin

Finding new relatives that no one in the family talked about or perhaps even knew about is one of the risks/joys/adventures of having a DNA test done.  I have a new relative, just a little younger than me, positioned somewhere between first and second cousin. She was a closed adoption in Ellsworth, ME in 1958.  Only two other listed relatives on her paternal side, both quite remote. She messaged me on  People are quite tentative about this, with good reason.  Folks don’t want to hear about extra babies born who were hushed up at the time.  I think I have mentioned before that we have that situation with our adopted nephew/fifth son.  His mother was a closed adoption in 1967.  He has a very close DNA match that we have narrowed down to be his grandmother’s sister. We asked her for details and received the reply that no women in her family had a baby in Cambridge in that year.  They were all in California the whole time.  So we still don’t know, though another match on that line might tell us which girl went away to “summer camp” that year.

It is uncomfortable.  It became clear that this new cousin must be a child of one of my grandparents or one of their siblings. On that side, my grandfather had four brothers and my grandmother was an only child, so I assumed at first that that side was more likely.  But the centiMorgans of the common relatives did not come close to matching.  We concluded at first that my grandfather must also be her grandfather, with an unknown son born around 1920 or so.  As Ellsworth is across the bay from Nova Scotia, that made some sense.  So…Grampa…he is long gone, died in 1983.  I knew him a bit and it did bother me just a touch.  I worried it might bother some other people more.  What to do?  What to say? How do you ask such questions without giving away the suspicions?

The woman is working with Search Angels, which helps people locate birth parents.  I spoke with them trying to narrow the places and dates, but it still didn’t add up.  I don’t have a huge number of DNA matches on that side but I have some, but she was not showing up as connected to them at all.  Which is impossible. We cast about until the person (from San Diego) mentioned that it must still be him because he had lived in Westford and her distant connections were from Leominster (he mispronounced it) which was so nearby. Ah, that was the key.  It wasn’t my grandfather from Nova Scotia at all, it was his first wife, from Leominster, whose family had been in that area (Fitchburg, Shirley) for generations. She died youngish in 1952 and I never knew her. I actually had a hard time talking him into that, but it made sense to me. So she had a child before marrying Carl, who was a very silent person.  I never heard him mention her.  Or much of anything else, actually. I don’t know if he even knew about the boy.

That boy in turn was the father of my cousin, born two states and 300 miles away, so she has two mysteries to solve to place herself in the genetic world accurately. I hope to meet her after all this avoidance of contact is over. My father had a half-brother he never knew about, and I have a half-first-cousin I just learned about, and it is time to close the circle.

Undeceptions Series

C.S.Lewis wrote about self-deception throughout his career. It was his belief that the illusions we embraced did not only damage us spiritually, but impaired our ability to reason. Under the influence of personally convenient myths, we gradually can no longer even know simple things. Ideas which appear at first glance to be intellectual errors are revealed under examination to be something more emotional, more spiritual, more psychological. When I first began reading him I recognised not only the errors of others, but very quickly, favorite little theories of mine that were exploded in a minute under the force of his logic. His logic is a force, yes. Not always pleasant, but often profitable. In my twenties I considered it a challenge to my courage whether I would pick up another of his books.

Enjoyable, though. Fun, even, and quite quotable. You can use him to expose the ideas of others even if you have an ability to dart sideways yourself.

Not everyone here is a fan of Lewis, so I have no intention of cluttering up the front page here with a series of essays on him. However, I do link to the whole group for those who have interest.

1. Undeceptions 

2. Undeceptions II – Biographical Notes 

3. Self-Deception 

4. Undeceptions III 

5. Undeceptions IV – The Ransom Trilogy and The Great Divorce

6. Undeceptions V 

7. Undeceptions VI – Till We Have Faces 

8. That Hideous Strength.  Not actually part of the series but added in for convenience

9. Self-Deception Anecdote. A later addition.