24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining myth-busting book
Phillip Pullman says this book "Should be read by every teacher, every parent and every politician". He's right. A liberal-bashing mythology has grown up over the past couple of decades, led by social and religious conservatives who blame everything wrong with modern society on the collapse of religious authority. This is an entertaining book designed to bust these...
Published on 5 July 2006 by BobbyBlog
5 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Aunt Sally would love it
I read this book in the bookshop so I only read it once, distracted by the fear my activity would be frowned upon by the staff. Ultimately my main problem with it is that it assumes that those of us who believe that there are authorities who can be trusted to make moral judgements for more than just themselves also want to prevent children from ever asking questions...
Published on 27 Sep 2008 by Miss Sophia A. Marsden
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining myth-busting book,
This review is from: The War for Children's Minds (Hardcover)Phillip Pullman says this book "Should be read by every teacher, every parent and every politician". He's right. A liberal-bashing mythology has grown up over the past couple of decades, led by social and religious conservatives who blame everything wrong with modern society on the collapse of religious authority. This is an entertaining book designed to bust these various anti-liberal myths. It argues for the importance of getting young people to think and question, even about religious matters. Law also completely demolishes the arguments of some well-known media figures in a very amusing way.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent,
This review is from: The War for Children's Minds (Hardcover)This is excellent. As a teacher I found this defence of the liberal approach refreshing and hard-edged. There really is no point in trying to force people to believe what you believe, but every point in helping them to work things out for themselves. The important thing is that children take the important questions of life seriously and that they reach conclusions that they genuinely believe in and would be prepared to stand up for. This is not relativism but an aproach that accepts that people are right and wrong about what they believe - but that they should be encouraged to hold well-thought out beliefs regardless of this. This book made me realise that we humans are not as bad as I thought we were, and that I really should have more faith in the capability of individuals to get to the truth.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative overview of the debate on education,morality and religion,
This review is from: The War for Children's Minds (Hardcover)This was a well argued rebuttal of some of claims against the Enlightenment idea that we should encourage people to be free to think for themselves and subject everything to critical scrutiny. My only qualm is that I would have liked to have seen more data from the projects on increasing emotional intelligence to bring the book up to date and make the defence of liberalism more empirical
Still it is worth reading in order to understand why the popular notion that morality requires religion or unquestioned authority is completely unsubstantiated.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a blow is struck for common sense,
This review is from: The War for Children's Minds (Hardcover)Although this book may well annoy some people, I would recommend it to any parent, teacher or youth worker who is keen to give children the best possible chance to develop their powers of reason.
The author's main emphasis is on the value of teaching children to think critically about serious issues, rather than merely to accept without question.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Roadmap out of our Politically Correct Education Nightmare,
This review is from: The War for Children's Minds (Paperback)Law's book promotes the idea that the best way to bring up children is such that they learn to think for themselves yet within a framework that eschews moral relativism, "the prevailing philosophy of the West". Relativism proclaims that there is no absolute moral truth, just differing opinions, all of which are equally valid. For example, Somalis cut off the women's clitoris before they reach puberty. They think it is right. In the west, we think it is wrong. A relativist will say that they are both right. Again, Law cites Robert Simon, a professor of philosophy, quoting despairingly of a student: 'Of course I dislike the Nazis', but who is to say they are morally wrong.'
Law goes on to say: "Relativism, it's often argued, has also poisoned our homes. Parents no longer feel they have the right to force their own values on their children. Adults no longer confident in their own moral authority or the objectivity of their moral judgments are standing back and allowing their children to run amok." In another passage he points out that in schools "...teachers reach for relativism to get them off the hook. That Jesus is true-for-Christians but false-for-muslims. Relativism saves educators from having to admit that any religion might actually mistaken, or even (heaven forbid) that they might be all mistaken.
Law trenchantly observes: `politically correct' arguments for relativism, while seductive, are muddle headed nonsense'.
Law points out that debates about child education focus, erroneously, on only two alternatives: what he calls "Liberal" and "Authoritarian". The Authoritarian approach simply tells children what to think. Many religions are authoritarian for example. The Liberal approach is to guide children to question critically and think for themselves. (Personally, I would prefer him to use a term instead of "Liberal" that is not so politically loaded: "Free-thinker" perhaps?).
Law says that there is a second dimension with two alternatives: "Relativist" and "Non-relativist". In many people's minds, Relativism is the automatic handmaiden to Liberalism. Law's insight is to point out that it ain't necessarily so: education can be BOTH Non-relativist AND Liberal. He arrives at this conclusion after meeting all possible objections and defusing them with a philosopher's clarity of logic. Stephen Law writes with admirable simplicity and his philosophical arguments are readily understood.
Law, naturally enough, approaches his topic as a philosophical argument. In passing he mentions that some moral stances are found universally in just about every culture. That opens a very interesting subject: many moral fundamentals are hard-wired in the human species. One common one is "Thou shalt not kill". Just about every culture has this kind of moral position but, just as with the Hebrews, it was only supposed to apply to one's own tribe. It was quite acceptable to kill people from other tribes. After all, Moses had hardly descended from the mountain with the Tablets when he gave orders to "save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites...". But the same attitude is a found in all cultures to the extent that anthropologists call it a Universal Human Value. It is found in the San Bushman, Aborigine and any western country at war with an enemy. In other words nature programmed us with certain behaviors in order to function healthily in our local society.
The idea that some moral values are hard-wired - and not the result of cultural conditioning - is a powerful one. In my book Deadly Harvest, I explain more on this fascinating subject and in particular how life on the savannas of east Africa programmed our instinctual behaviors for survival in a forager band of some 50 people. When we understand that, we understand much more about where we should be going with our children and society in general.
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be compulsary for every parent-to-be!,
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This review is from: The War for Children's Minds (Paperback)Stephen Law seems to repeat his points many times in this book, but they are points well worth repeating. To give our children the gift of learning critical thinking and healthy skepticism should be every parent's and every educator's goal. And Law's assertion that a liberal upbringing is not the same as teaching youngsters to shy away from responsibilities is well supported by his explanations and examples. Even grandparents will benefit from reading this book!
5 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Aunt Sally would love it,
This review is from: The War for Children's Minds (Hardcover)I read this book in the bookshop so I only read it once, distracted by the fear my activity would be frowned upon by the staff. Ultimately my main problem with it is that it assumes that those of us who believe that there are authorities who can be trusted to make moral judgements for more than just themselves also want to prevent children from ever asking questions.
I would happily encourage children to ask questions and answer them as best I can, I would even be convinced I had been wrong from time to time, this has nothing to do with the existence or not of authority.
Except for genuine relativists which the author is evidently not we all submit to at least one authority, that authority is reality. Of course we do not always succeed in working out what reality is telling us, but insofar as we attempt to adhere to the truth we are submitting to an authority of sorts. When a Catholic submits to the Pope (for example) on issues of faith and morals, it is not because the Pope is necessarily smarter or more versed in moral theology or textual criticism, but because the Catholic has been convinced that the faithful have a guarantee from God that the core principles of right faith are protected by the Holy Spirit through the office of the Magisterium. Beliefs they may well have come to via reason (or may well have just accepted the way the vast majority of people just accept most of the things people believe most of the time.)
He addresses this point by saying that you can't delegate moral responsibility because you have to work out who to trust. This is just as true in all other fields as in morality - we just feel more intuitively frightened about it because morality has a higher meaning for human beings than mere technical knowledge. People don't just trust the Bible because it is "an authority" but because they believe, for the vast range of reasons that people believe things, that it is a trustworthy guide to truth.
He also attempts to address the point that you can't "prove" rationally morality, nonetheless he seems to try to make a case that only utilitarian type ethics are correct. He assumes without considering (it appears) alternatives that beliefs against various sexual practices (teen experimentation a seeming exception) are just a throwback to some bigoted and unpalatable past and doesn't seem to have particularly questioned modern values at all. The fact is you can't prove morality rationally. You can't prove it empirically either. The only way you can prove it is by recourse to some authority - and unlike proving things that are you do not have recourse to the solidity of truth because as he points out you cannot get to a should from an is.
Questioning things is all well and good, but it can only go so far. Once you have broken everything down - challenged everything to the point of exhaustion and nihilism - a point far more easily reached than he supposes, then you start to see the value in authority. I would suggest that those most attracted to the liberalism he describes are the sort of people who naturally inside themselves are quite authoritarian, not in their dealings with others but with themselves. Because they are not so good at questioning their assumptions, because they do not take scepticism to the limits it can be taken, they can see the oppressive aspects of authority and fail to see the oppressive aspects of liberality. People like myself who tend to question everything with an almost manic fervour on finding authority, though we find no rest (because doubt never ceases) at least find landmarks of a sort which, with much struggle, we can rely upon.
Perhaps both types of people would do well to remember than the world is not made up of people exactly alike to themselves.
16 of 47 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing,
This review is from: The War for Children's Minds (Hardcover)This is the kind of book which is only going to appeal to those who agree with its thesis already; the thesis can be found in the writings of Richard Dawkins, and it is that man is a rational animal who can be trained to think ethically by being trained to think. Unfortunately the book is not good evidence for its own claims. It is more of a rant than an argument - what comes over is a hot sizzle of rage, not a clear cool process of thought. It is mainly enraged about organised religion, which it will only accept if it is presented to children as entirely optional; this rules out most of it, of course. What Law never sees is that structure and rules can sometimes be a comfort - you don't want to question everything every minute if you are a child. That said, it's certainly stimulating and it made me think. It just made me think the opposite. By the time I had finished it I was keen to send my children to bed an hour earlier than usual.
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The War for Children's Minds by Stephen Law (Hardcover - 30 May 2006)