Modernity meets the Amish

G. Murphy Donovan’s latest article at The American Thinker, “Arrested Development and the Internet” discusses a book, Mind Change, written by a British neuroscientist, Susan Greenfield, the Baroness Ot-Moor, who also sits in the House of Lords.  He writes:

“Susan Greenfield’s Mind Change is a courageous broadside at cyber culture, a dose of reality therapy for the Internet, social networks, video gaming, cyber gadgets, and the damage they might do to malleable, developing minds.

The key word is minds, not brains, mind you. You can think of your brain as a mind only if it has a personality. Clearly, cyber millennials have brains, but Susan’s lament suggests the jury might still be out on adult personalities. Greenfield is concerned for the most part about the growth of self, not cells.”

More than a decade ago, the internet seemed to me to be like the Wild West, vast open space to explore, few rules, and no defined culture.  We allowed our children to roam free in this new terrain with very little supervision, guidelines, or guidance.  Sure, commercial entities sprang up offering pricey services to serve as electronic internet babysitters for our children – parental controls.  The video gaming landscape ran red with blood and mayhem, where murder and violence fed every psychopathological and sociopathological trait, in the imaginary persona young people (mostly boys) took on in ever-increasingly violent  “role playing”.

The American cyber “culture” never developed as a “culture” in the sense of people connected together by traditional ethnic/religious/social values and therein lies the danger.  Political propagandists, big business entities , and many far left academics built a Potemkin village, where we and our children lead imaginary lives.

That criminal entities and terrorists should find safe haven operating on the internet should not come as a surprise.  Islamic fascists seized the internet technology as a cheap means to take their movement global, actually creating a unique internet culture, utilizing high-tech videography to sell their rebranding of a 7th century death cult.  Of course, back in the 90s, American left-wing pols warned of right-wing zealots forming militias using the internet to communicate, collude and conspire too.  And a plethora of criminals, deviants, and assorted organized criminal elements all found the internet an appealing new terrain to exploit too.

I have not read Greenfield’s book, so I followed GMD’s links in his article and then googled Greenfield to read a bit more about her and her book.  In this The Telegraph article, “Susan Greenfield: “I’m not scaremongering”, Tom Chivers writes:

“Susan Greenfield is keen to make it known that she is no technophobe. “I’m not a Luddite, I’m not Amish. No scientist could be a technophobe – I couldn’t do what I do if I were a technophobe.”

The issue has come up because for years, she has been warning about the dangers (and the possible benefits, she would be careful to add) of screen technologies. She is – fairly or unfairly – associated with newspaper headlines such as “Social websites harm children’s brains: chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist” and “How Facebook addiction is damaging your child’s brain”.”

Greenfield’s asserting that she isn’t Amish nor a technophobe led me to think about a book I’m currently reading, “Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World”, by Suzanne Woods Fisher,  which offers some interesting insight into this discussion of technology’s impact on children’s developing minds.  Growing up in PA and being PA Dutch (although not Amish), I thought of the Amish as being backward and  to borrow Greenfield’s description, “technophobes”.  Well, here’s what I’m learning – the Amish aren’t technophobes.  The Amish were some of the earliest embracers of  solar power. They have practical, debated positions on new technology within their churches:

“The acceptance of the scooter reflects an Amish-style “selective modernization.” When something new reaches into the Amish community, the church leaders might give it a period of probation, weighing out its long-term effects, and each church district comes to its own conclusions. And, always, the church leaders consider where a change could lead the younger generation. They try to see beyond the immediate benefits of change to the effects it could have down the road. How could this new technology or gadget tempt someone away from the church? Or to disobey God?”

Fisher, Suzanne Woods (2009-09-15). Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World (p. 39). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Fisher continues:

“The Amish consider the long-term consequences of something new and how it will affect the community’s welfare. They appreciate comfort and convenience but realize it’s not the ultimate reason for our being here. They make decisions with higher purposes in mind. Before accepting or buying a new technology, have you ever thought, what will this lead to? Consider making today’s purchase with your ultimate goals in mind. Look around your house. How many gadgets do you see that promise to save you time, effort, or money? Have they lived up to their promise? The Amish have a saying: Once drawn, lines are hard to erase. Where do you draw the line on what technology is acceptable for your family and what isn’t? How does recognizing that “line” (or priority) simplify decision making?”

Fisher, Suzanne Woods (2009-09-15). Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World (p. 40). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

From another chapter in Fisher’s book, the backward Amish offer up the time-tested child-rearing value of character development and providing good adult role models:

“The work ethic of the Amish had already been instilled in Elizabeth, even at her tender age. The Amish are known for their precise craftsmanship, be it quilting, carpentry, cooking, or blacksmithing. Doing something well is a virtue. Even in school, children learn a concept thoroughly before moving on to the next assignment. They value thoroughness over haste, completion over speed. To the Amish way of thinking, a task takes the time that it takes. They also value giving a task the time it requires to do a job well. Elizabeth didn’t feel frustrated or impatient with herself, as so many do— including adults— while on the steep learning curve. So how do the Amish instill such a work ethic in their children? It’s not as complicated as it sounds. In fact, it’s something we all do, whether we intend to or not. It’s called modeling. Elizabeth’s community is made up of living examples— good ones—of how to work, how to live, and how to love others. She is surrounded by a covey of females: mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and cousins who pass on their knowledge and expertise about how to cook , clean, quilt, and be keepers of the home —all of the components that make up an Amish woman’s life— as naturally as sharing the air they breathe.”

Fisher, Suzanne Woods (2009-09-15). Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World (pp. 84-85). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Many modern families behave like strangers living in the same house.  Look around you and it’s almost impossible to share a meal or carry on any conversation with other Americans that isn’t intruded upon by  technology – usually the cell phone, but I often see toddlers engrossed by tablets, totally oblivious to their surrounding too.  Of course, I’m not advocating we all go join the Amish, but perhaps their much maligned and ridiculed lifestyle centered on simplicity and their higher purpose of serving God offers some sage wisdom on child-rearing and technology.

Almost without exception, American parents insist education and showering their children with things are very important.  Our media bombard us with “studies” and “experts” regaling us  with catchphrases and psychobabble on how to rear our children.  In the 1980s feminists conjured up a sap to working mothers, “quality time”, to assuage their guilt over devoting more time to career than to their children.  Stay at home mothers continue to be maligned and the chattering “experts” continue to assault home-schooled children, despite consistent testing demonstrating that home-schooled children score higher on the standardized metrics used by the public education establishment.   A large percentage of home-schooling parents, just like the Amish, opt out of the public education system based on their religious beliefs, making them a prime target for the liberal academics and left-wing politicians.  They choose to actively, on a daily basis, guide their child’s character development.

The Greenfield cautionary view of  cyber-technology on the development of children’s minds  and the resulting backlash should come as no surprise.  Leftist politics pervades academia in Western civilization, where any evidence that runs counter to the politics falls prey to the knives of mainstream media and ends up buried in the obituaries as a “fringe theory”,  a notion discredited by real “experts” and if all else fails they destroy the messenger’s character.

From this stay at home mother, here are some personal observations on the development of children’s minds.  Children thrive in a structured environment, with a stable family, an established daily routine and where “rules” get daily reinforcement.  The carnage from shattered families proves lie to old 80s feminist trope that “quality of time” can make up for the lack of quantity of time spent rearing children.  Young children learn from repetition,  whether it be wanting you to read the same story over and over and over to repeating the same phrases for days on end.  Which stories and phrases you teach your child matter, because a child’s mind flows naturally to imitation.

The teen years, where children vacillate between childish tantrums and adult behavior, offer challenges to parenting, where vulnerable young minds often test new values, new beliefs and fall prey to peer pressure.  Without a firm family foundation, parental participation, and constant monitoring, the teen years are when kids minds strike out looking for an autonomous identity – who and where they receive their inspiration at this juncture matters a great deal.  If young people spend more time focused on their digital life than on real life, perhaps the common sense deduction that these “harmless” digital contacts might not be as innocuous as the cyber industry would have us believe rests as truth, not technophobia.  Sorry if your kid spends all his/her waking hours outside of school engaged in texting, using social media or playing video games, he/she isn’t reading or gaining inspiration from Dr. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf list of books commonly known as the Harvard Classics.

2 Comments

March 1, 2015 · 7:04 am

2 responses to “Modernity meets the Amish

  1. As I occasionally remind people on Facebook, “You are certainly entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to make up your own facts.”

    • Note that I don’t subscribe to any set of statements as facts, assigning everything I ‘know’ a probability of being correct, I wonder which ‘facts’ you’re referring to here? Not combative, just questioning.

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