What Do You Teach the Kids, Nones?

Hammonton Presbyterian VBS

From Reli­gion in the News, an inter­est­ing study on what “spir­i­tual but not reli­gious” par­ents (the “nones”) are look­ing for:

Many of [the nones] are nonethe­less reluc­tant to impose their skep­ti­cism on their chil­dren, and will often out­source reli­gious edu­ca­tion by send­ing their chil­dren to a Protes­tant Sun­day school or Catholic CCD or Jew­ish Hebrew School. But while, like other Amer­i­cans, Nones “agree that every­body should be able to choose,” Man­ning said, “Nones won’t allow chil­dren to choose just any­thing.”

What I find inter­est­ing is par­ents’ will­ing­ness to out­source reli­gious edu­ca­tion to local insti­tu­tions that have stronger beliefs that they them­selves do — as long as the school pro­gram is rel­a­tively non-judgemental.

This actu­ally rings true for me per­son­ally. Although I’m Quaker and my wife Catholic, the most reg­u­lar outside-the-home reli­gious ed my kids get is from the Pres­by­ter­ian Sun­day School in our town. We’ve picked it because it’s hyper-local, the teach­ers are nice and down to earth, and — well, they only focus on cross-denominational Bible sto­ries and crafts.

In the Philadel­phia area, Quaker schools are known as the go-to place for par­ents that want (and can afford) a pro­gres­sive, eth­i­cal edu­ca­tion that has a spir­i­tual com­po­nent but isn’t reli­gious. If “nones” are look­ing for safe reli­gious edu­ca­tion on Sun­day morn­ing, it seems like it would be the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble to extend that known “Quaker school” brand and rep­u­ta­tion over to our First-day schools. It would be a treme­nous out­reach tool.

Alas, this is just idle spec­u­la­tion. I don’t see many local meet­ings that are able (will­ing?) to take on a big project like this. Some meet­ings would get con­sumed over inter­nal dis­agree­ments on what to even teach. And then, well, I won­der if we have a deep enough bench of expe­ri­ence. A few years ago Philadel­phia Yearly Meeting’s ses­sions over­lapped with the week-long vaca­tion bible school pro­gram at my local Pres­by­ter­ian church. This is a small church in a small town (one of a dozen nearby churches that host a VBS pro­gram every sum­mer) and yet atten­dance was roughly equiv­a­lent to the elementary/middle-school youth pro­gram at Philadel­phia Yearly Meet­ing ses­sions. It was sober­ing to real­ize just how small we Friends some­times are.

The Priv­i­lege of Check­ing White Priv­i­lege by @JohnHMcWhorter

The Priv­i­lege of Check­ing White Priv­i­lege by @JohnHMcWhorter
I knew John when we were kids and even then he was always think­ing out­side the box. Fol­low­ing him on Twit­ter these days I don’t always agree with every­thing he says but it’s always smart and I know to take it seri­ously. He’s often good at see­ing through group­think. In this Daily Beast arti­cle he turns his atten­tion to the White Priv­i­lege move­ment, which a lot of my lib­eral Quaker com­pa­tri­ots are really into. John’s most inter­est­ing obser­va­tion is that it comes off as a kind of reli­gion.

White Priv­i­lege 101 lessons require end­less reit­er­a­tion of key prin­ci­ples to retain. In many ways, tak­ing them from words to action is such a log­i­cally frag­ile propo­si­tion that it must be billed as end­lessly “sub­tle” (or “messy”) — a strange kind of pitch for some­thing sup­pos­edly so urgent. And those ques­tion­ing the whole affair are heat­edly dis­missed as “not get­ting it.” It all sounds famil­iar — but less as pol­i­tics than as reli­gion.

Nostalgia comes early

One of the most famous scenes in the AMC show Mad Men comes near the end of sea­son one. Kodak has asked the adver­tis­ing firm to cre­ate a cam­paign around a new slide pro­jec­tor that has a cir­cu­lar tray. Don Draper presents the Carousel and gives a nostalgia-steeped pre­sen­ta­tion that use his per­sonal pho­tographs to move both the Kodak execs and the view­ers at home, who know that these semi-focused pic­tures will soon be all that left of his dis­in­te­grat­ing fam­ily.

No falling apart fam­ily for me, but I find myself already feel­ing nos­tal­gic for a fam­ily vaca­tion to Dis­ney World that doesn’t start for another six days. I’ve recently been look­ing through our Flickr archive of past trips (four for me) and real­ize that they are our Carousel. The start with my fiancée tak­ing a cyn­i­cal me on my first trip. Later vis­its bring kids to the pho­to­graphic lineup: newly-found legs to run, the joys of messy ice cream, the scare of not-very-scary rides and the big eyes of parades all run through the sets.

In less than a week we’ll start a new set. There will be two new chil­dren in this one. “The babies” are both walk­ing and tod­dling and are at their peak of baby pho­to­genic cute­ness. The older two are real kids now and the eldest is start­ing to show early glimpses of teenage-hood: eye-rolling, exha­la­tion of air (“uh!”) to show dis­ap­proval of incon­ve­nient parental instruc­tions.

Iconic fam­ily pic­tures will hap­pen. Since our last visit five years ago, my wife’s lost her father to can­cer and my mother’s been slip­ping into the for­get­ful­ness of Alzheimer’s. As the wheel of life turns it some­how becomes more pos­si­ble to see our­selves as part of the turn­ing Carousel. Some decades from now I can imag­ine myself going through these pic­tures sur­rounded by indulging chil­dren and antsy grand­chil­dren, exclaim­ing “look how young every­one looks!”

Theo and Francis, Dec 2008
Theo (then 5) and Fran­cis (3) zonked out after a long day in 2008. Hard to believe they were ever this cud­dly.


Update post-trip:
There are 104 pic­tures from this trip in our pub­lic Flickr set, with one of our four kids hold­ing hands as they walk to the pool a stand­out iconic shot of their child­hood together.

Bits and pieces, remembering blogging

I really should blog here more. I really should. I spend a lot of my time these days shar­ing other people\‘s ideas. \"\"Most recently, on Friends Jour­nal you can see my inter­view with Jon Watts (co-conducted with Megan Kietzman-Nicklin). The three of us talked on and on for quite some time; it was only an inflex­i­ble train sched­ule that ended my par­tic­i­pa­tion.

The favorite part of talk­ing with Jon is his enthu­si­asm and his tal­ent for keep­ing his sights set on the long pic­ture (my favorite ques­tion was ask­ing why he started with a Quaker fig­ure so obscure even I had to look him up). It\‘s easy to get caught up in the bus­tle of dead­lines and to-do lists and to start to for­get why we\‘re doing this work as pro­fes­sional Quak­ers. There is a real­ity behind the word counts. As Friends, we are shar­ing the good news of 350+ years of spir­i­tual adven­tur­ing: obser­va­tions, strug­gles, and imperfect-but-genuine attempts to fol­low Inward Light of the Gospels.

\"TheoMy nine year old son Theo is blog­ging as a class assign­ment. I think they\‘ve been sup­posed to be writ­ing there for awhile but he\‘s really only got­ten the bug in the last few weeks. It\‘s a full-on Word­Press site, but with cer­tain restric­tions (most notably, posts only become pub­lic after the class­room teacher has had a chance to review and vet them). It\‘s cer­tain ironic to see one of my kids blog­ging more than me!

Enough blog­ging for today. Time to put the rest of the awake kids to bed. I\‘m going to try to have more reg­u­lar small posts so as to get back into the blog­ging habit. In the mean­time, I\‘m always active on my Tum­blr site (which shows up as the side­bar to the right). It\‘s the bucket for my inter­net cura­tions – videos and links I find inter­est­ing, and my own pic­tures and mis­cel­lanea.

Cub scouts down 25% in last decade

Cub scouts down 25% in last decade:
One piece of con­text behind pos­si­ble changes is the freefall in mem­ber­ship over the last decade:

Since 2000, the num­ber of young peo­ple involved in scout­ing has fallen by close to 19 per­cent, accord­ing to the Boy Scouts of America’s most recent fig­ures, from 2011. The num­ber of boys in the youngest cohort of mem­ber­ship, the Cub Scouts, was down more than 25 per­cent, mark­ing an even more alarm­ing por­tent for the future.

Our kids are in cub scouts but it’s been really hard to find a sta­ble den in our area. Locally, I see any evi­dence that the insta­bil­ity has come about because of the LGBTQ ban. The decline seems more the result of dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion and inabil­ity to com­pete effec­tively against other avail­able youth pro­gram­ming like soc­cer and soft­ball leagues.