Category Archives: Book reviews

Family is the site of expansion of self, an experience of solidarity between individuals

It’s very philosophical, but I really really love this idea:

“The disciplinary instance of education then becomes the decision of emancipation that renders the father or mother capable of taking the place of ‘ignorant schoolmaster’ for their child, a place that embodies the unconditional requirement of the will: the son will verify the equality of intelligence in his self-apprenticeship to the extent that the father or mother verify the thoroughness of his effort to learn. The family is thus the site of an awareness in the form of an expansion of self, an expansion of each person’s ‘own business’ to the point at which this becomes a full exercise of common reason.

“The family deployed in this way does not withdraw into itself; it becomes the point of departure for a different sociability from that of collective fictions and institutional monopolies, the site where an individual is formed for whom being emancipated and emancipating are one in the same thing, experiencing in themselves the powers of reason and life and feeling these as principles of solidarity between individuals.”

Ranciere, in his book Staging the People, pg 49-50)

Here’s my interpretation of what this means:

“The disciplinary instance of education

[Homeschooling is a sort of discipline in our home. We assign things and they are expected to do them. If they don’t, there are consequences. I used to say (when Emma was doing her Kindergarten year) that school became the “front lines” that took the major hits in behavior issues. When we worked out the behavior with regard to school assignments, Emma was a happier kid during play time and family time.]

then becomes the decision of emancipation that renders the father or mother capable of taking the place of ‘ignorant schoolmaster’ for their child,

[“Emancipation” for Ranciere means showing someone that they are as equally capable to think as anyone else is. When a mother or father believes that they are equal to their child, then that empowers them to be a schoolmaster, and it also allows them to push their child to learn and become aware of their ability to learn.]

a place that embodies the unconditional requirement of the will:

[A parent, hypothetically, has a strong enough place of authority that the child can’t get away. They can’t just get a D or say they aren’t smart enough or just can’t do math, etc. They can’t get away from school. 🙂 Their “will” – or “work” – is required of them without the possibility for excuses.]

the son will verify the equality of intelligence in his self-apprenticeship to the extent that the father or mother verify the thoroughness of his effort to learn.

[When the parent(s) verify that the child is seeking, working, thinking, then what the child verifies is that the book in front of her or him was actually trying to communicate something. They harder we work to pay attention to a book, the more we realize how hard the author was trying to communicate with us.]

The family is thus the site of an awareness in the form of an expansion of self, an expansion of each person’s ‘own business’ to the point at which this becomes a full exercise of common reason.

[We realize that others out there are working hard to communicate to me! And that I can communicate with others.]

“The family deployed in this way does not withdraw into itself; it becomes the point of departure

[This doesn’t lead the child to believe he or she is smarter than other children, or a parent, but that he or she is equal to them and to other human beings. Emancipation means that a sincere conversation could happen with any person, or book, or painting, or theatrical performance, etc.]

for a different sociability from that of collective fictions and institutional monopolies,

[There’s a lot more going on here than I care to figure out right now, or than you probably care to read. 🙂 The idea, though, is that in society in general, people are looking to judge people as better or worse, smarter or dumber, crafty or clueless, and so forth. These are to some degree fictions invented to take advantage of others.]

the site where an individual is formed for whom being emancipated and emancipating are one in the same thing,

[When someone recognizes their equality with others, they also treat others as equal to them]

experiencing in themselves the powers of reason and life and feeling these as principles of solidarity between individuals.”

[Solidarity between individuals hopefully means greater peace, patience, charity, creativity, and so forth.]


The promise I want to give Women In the Church

I’m still a bit overwhelmed at the lack of vision in Women At Church. Writing helps me, though. Whenever I read a review of it, I’m reminded of why I was looking forward to reading it. It is a peacemaking effort to combine the desires of women to add their work to the work of God with the current opportunities in our Church structure. Great! Perfect! But she spends so much time in the book affirming society’s models or the felt needs of women. Really, those are desires, not needs, and she leaves that unexamined. My need, or my desire, if I have one that stands out, is to know that what we are doing at Church is according to the Spirit and the eternal nature of the work of God. That is my need, my desire. I felt like, coming out of reading that book, that my need would be one of a thousand, a drop in a pond of many other drops. Are all needs and desires really equal? We are all equal individuals, but does that mean every desire is equal? I think that is one thing that our current culture does actually believe. And I think she believes it and presents is as self-evident. But don’t believe it. I think we are placed here on earth to be, like Joseph Smith called himself, a “rough stone rolling.” We are going to have our desires changed and chipped a way. We are going to sacrifice and be challenged. We are going to be weak, and put in weak positions. All of this is to force us to realize we rely on Christ, and that is isn’t about our work but about God’s work. That sounds negative but it’s actually a huge relief. Whenever I sense that this is God’s work and not mine, I finally relax. I’m not anxious or upset. Sometimes I can see the great thrill it is that God is in charge and actually wants me to come along for the ride. That sense of being His servant is incredible! I don’t know how to describe it beyond the fact that is relieves all stress yet gets me fully to work. It’s a joy to be involved in that kind of work.

And so I think her book is missing something grand. Something I cherish that I found only through prayer, scripture study, grace, consecration, and so forth. Looking at my desires and needs made me miserable, but seeing God’s work unfold before me in clearer ways all the time made me relieved and happy. That this is possible is the promise I want to give Women In the Church.

What’s wrong with this logic?

It is being suggested that we begin to counter gender inequality by increasing women’s visibility and representation. This sounds something like lessons on marriage:

Teacher: “Studies show that in successful marriages, where both spouses are happy and love each other, spouses say ‘I love you’ at least 5 times a day. So, to improve your marriage, it is important to say ‘I love you’ at least five times a day.”

I think the same flaw is in both suggestions. 

More thoughts on Women At Church

Just some notes from our reading last night:

  • Historical details are spotty, which creates a feeling about the past without either 1) justifying that feeling with details or 2) explaining why those feelings are there even though there are other ways to explain the history
  • Does a bishop need to give half of the weight to 3 women in his ward council? Do they represent half of the ward in that way? For one, this should be a united effort. Two, everyone should be seen as equal, not representing halves. Three, do the men see themselves as representing half of the ward? What about sharing details about whole families? Four, haven’t we heard lately that a ward council is not just a place to report about your organization but a place to counsel, where everyone can speak up according to the Spirit on any issue?
  • She likes to point out how in America, women have increased in visibility and equality from 1960’s to today. Is leadership the only way to be equal? What about valuing the work in the family? What about things like maternity leave or nursing breaks? Aren’t there other ways to affirm equal value besides visibility in leadership?
  • What about the family, though? I feel like my work as a homeschooling mom is actually very valued and is the sort of thing that ought to be considered as well.
  • “Not wrong, just hard” rhetoric works in a way, but not in others. I know she wants to distance herself from being a critic of the Church. But it’s hard to empathize in the way she wants us to. She builds up a big case using Church history details or secular practices and then says the Church is different “but not wrong!”. It either comes across as disingenuous (she really does think something is wrong) or that we should pity those who think it’s wrong (rather than empathize). Joe felt like she could scrap the whole first half, start with the little bit at the end of the first half, and maybe just include one person’s story as the way to empathize. Anyway…
  • She really plays up the representative need over and over again. Also she does that by pointing to the secular world, which will alienate many of her readers who don’t think we should build ourselves on what the world does.
  • “some people…” is another way she keeps herself safe. But what about “other people…?” When she leaves it unbalanced, it’s easy to assume she agrees with every one of those statements
  • If we just use numbers (in General Conference, and so on) to show that there are more men participating or visible than women, then isn’t she equating men with priesthood in a way that we are trying to get away from? They aren’t more visible because they are men, but because of their priesthood office. How many men speak in conference that aren’t in the First Presidency or Quorum of the 12 Apostles? Those might be interesting statistics to look at.
  • Again “It’s hard not to measure…” “It’s hard…” It’s overused.
  • What about unequal time with children as parents? The mother is way more visible in the home. Is that a gender inequality that we should fix? My children are way more influenced by me, if we just go by visibility. I think they are also strongly influenced by my husband too, though. But anyway, why aren’t we pointing to that visibility? Is it because we don’t value children?
  • By page 58, we’re wondering if she assumes everyone is in the business world. Not everyone works in a place where promotion is the only way to compliment or to provide equality. Joe’s academic world doesn’t work that way, he points out.
  • “No other secular option” she says. It’s a bit to authoritative. It seems to justify that we should change things in the Church because people can’t see any other options. Is that good justification? Is it true?
  • In general, I don’t like the “for many women” way of handling things. It isn’t defended, she doesn’t explain answers to their problems, etc. It’s not academic enough to really handle her frame. She assumes too much of society’s current values and they come across as self-evident. There may be reasons to take them seriously, but she never analyzes them and so doesn’t justify that.
  • Also, her discussion of sister missionaries has a line in it that suggests that the purpose (or one of purposes) of having younger and therefore more sister missionaries was visibility of women. That’s a bit strong, I think. Not saving souls, and so forth…
  • She also suggests that having more sister missionaries automatically fixes the problem of half our young population being held back. Weren’t there other ways for them to serve?
  • Will growth demand more use of women leaders? YES. (and that will be for the right reasons, I would think. Sorry if that sounds harsh)
  • Joe: “their own identities” whatever THAT means 🙂
  • “these are people issues” not women’s issues.  Can men on a ward council be seen in the same way??
  • But her final framing is the right one: We all have access to the priesthood, but are we living up to what Oaks/Ballard are teaching?

Am I missing the whole point of this book? (Women At Church)

Joe and I are reading this book together (this is a review):

We’re only a few chapters into it, but I want to jot down a few thoughts this morning.

I think in the end I will agree or will like a lot of the practical ideas she shares. I am one to agree that we can’t just keep doing something because it’s how it’s always been done. I liked Sis. Beck’s comment in a roundtable discussion that a bad reason to do a certain ward activity is because we did it last year. A good reason is because it will bless and change lives! I like that, and I get it. And I think a lot of McBaine’s suggestions are along those lines.

However, the framing of the entire book project is different from how I approach things. She starts with the problem of gender inequality, and then looks within teachings and policy books to find ways that this can be overcome. I appreciate her non-combative model, and I appreciate her respect for decisions made by Priesthood leaders. I like all of that.

I worry though that her motivations, while respectable, will in the end result in other problems she’s not forseeing. I am happy to see women more involved in councils, but I am happy because that is they way that revelation will come and not because it will increase gender equality. I think that she would say that those can’t be separated, and I’m sympathetic to that idea. (I myself, however, am more motivated by the idea of keeping faithful to the scriptures first and foremost, and then I assume somewhere in me that whatever problems we have with gender inequality and the associated pain end up fixing themselves naturally. I have a fear that if we head straight for fixing that one problem, we will overlook other issues that all interconnect and end up with other faith and community problems down the road.)

The idea of posting pictures of Stake or Ward Relief Society pictures is an interesting one. She compares this to how many men’s pictures are posted and she wants to see women also represented. She cites the example that Relief Society leaders are now pictured in the halls in Salt Lake City along with Priesthood leaders. The flaw I see here though is that those men weren’t being pictured because of their personal achievement or so that they can be a role model. (And so I think those women shouldn’t been seen as being pictured for those reasons either.) I think that they are being pictured because they are the leaders of a Priesthood organization, and we are celebrating the work that the Priesthood organization can do. If we then post pictures of the Relief Society organizational leaders, let it be to celebrate the work that the Relief Society is doing and the way that it glorifies God, and not to celebrate the achievement of women per se.

I understand her idea and while I do think it has merit in general and for other reasons, there seems to be a slight flaw in how she is discussing this idea. Or at least, I had never before thought that putting up a picture of President Monson in the hallway at Church was to communicate that he was a role model for my sons. Yes he is a good person, but I would have put that picture up so that all of my children know who to look to for spiritual guidance. He is pictured because of his calling and not because he is an example.

Likewise, I want my oldest daughter, who is old enough to be aware of things in the Church, to know of the work God gave to Relief Society and the potential she has to consecrate herself to that same work. Pointing out the local leaders could be one way of doing that, but it’s not the only way to do that. 

But here I am sure I’m missing something that makes this look like I’m missing the whole point of her book. I don’t know that I am but perhaps how I worry about this one example will make it evident that I am?


9/7/14 update

Maybe another way to explain this would be:

With my daughter and son now both doing weekday activities, it is painfully obvious how much attention, praise, and reward the boys get and the girls don’t. What bothers my daughter the most is that they get activities every week and she gets them twice a month (or less, if one is canceled!). During our conversations I’ve pointed out that her activities are often more fulfilling, fun, and light-hearted than his are. His are more often, but follow a cub scout program that may or may not actually fit the needs of the boys, and come with these odd expectations that this is “important” without really making much of the program. Also, I dislike the constant reward for very little work. 

I see what is going on for my son, and I don’t see that as really being the best use of his time, or the leaders’ time, or Church tithing money. The problem I see is not that the girls need more attention — rather, I think the girls’ program has it right, and the boys’ program is excessive.

The fact that we are ok with that excessiveness is, I think, a symptom of our gender inequality.

However, to focus on the gender inequality and try to fix that by equalizing the girls’ level of money and attention to that of the boys would, I think, be a huge mistake. Rather, I think we ought to be honest enough to recognize that the boys program is no longer the best way to handle things, and that we ought to be willing to change that tradition. The boys program ought to be scaled back simply because it would be more in line with the purposes of the Church first. Then there would be gender equality, but in this case, because the girls’ program was already more in line (I think) with the goals of the Church.

We ought to be equal in our devotion and consecration.

And feel like that step is missing (so far) in her book. I feel like she starts with gender equality, and then looks for ways to fix it and justifies those ways within our current policies and doctrines (and does a very good job in fact). But, the order of the steps bothers me and I think if we follow her advice we will end up making changes that are missing the right vision of the Church. And, I think that vision (of what the goals of the Church are, of consecration, and so on) is actually crucial in affecting gender balance in a way that will actually be lasting (because, it is more honest to the work of the Church). Does that make sense?

Likewise, I don’t know that I think the girls need more recognition in Sacrament Meeting. I think that honoring an eagle scout in a meeting dedicated to remembering Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection is what is off here.

So maybe I could say that wherever there is gender inequality in the Church, I’m inclined to first ask whether or not it is a symptom of a larger problem. And I’m afraid that if we treat the symptom rather than getting down to the deeper problem, that we are going to see ill effects of that treatment down the road and still not get us back to the healthy, faithful Zion body we’re aiming for. 🙂 Maybe?

Also, I say “first ask” because I would think that there are many examples where gender inequality could be fixed with simple measures, which seems to be Sis McBaine’s main message. But I think that those measures need to be counseled about only after we’ve first asked whether or not we, basically, need to repent and get our relationship to God right again. I think. Such is my natural inclination anyway — is that missing something crucial?

So I guess I could also sum it up as —

When it appears that one group is unfairly raised up above another, is the solution to elevate the latter to the status of the former? Is the solution to bring down lower the former group? And also, what is orienting our decisions — is there something else outside of these two questions that might be a better way to orient how we treat these two groups?


I am about to revisit my old friend, The Ignorant Schoolmaster. It is online for free, and while I was looking for the exact web address I came across this summary of it on wikipedia:

Rancière’s book, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, published in 1991, has earned its reputation as a must-read (according to Briankle Chang) for educators and educators-to-be. In the text, through the story of Joseph Jacotot, Rancière challenges his readers to consider equality as a starting point rather than a destination. In doing so, readers are asked to abandon all of the cultural deficiency and salvation themes so pervasive in educational rhetoric today. Rather than requiring informed schoolmasters to guide students towards prescribed and alienating ends, Ranciere argues that educators can channel the equal intelligence in all to facilitate their intellectual growth in virtually unlimited directions. The schoolmaster need not know anything (i.e., s/he may be ignorant). No longer should the oppressed feel bound to experts or reliant on others for their intellectual emancipation. Because all are of equal intelligence, and everything can be found in everything, the poor and disenfranchised should feel perfectly able to teach themselves whatever it is they want to know. Anyone can lead. One need not let one’s ignorance stand in the way of embarking on the journey towards personal and/or collective intellectual emancipation.

A good summary, similar to how I would summarize it. The link to the entire wiki entry is:

Our relationship to commentaries and manuals, from an Ignorant Schoolmaster point of view (Chapter 3)

At the Feast Upon the Word Blog, we finished up Chapter 3 of the Ignorant Schoolmaster this past week. During it, I made this comment on our relationship to scriptures and commentaries.  Since I’m the one who made this comment, I assume it’s ok to cut and paste it to my blog? I hope someone will inform me if this is improper blog etiquette!

RobF said, in his initial post,

“The first vice is laziness. It is easier to absent oneself, to half-see, to say what one hasn’t seen, to say what one believes one sees.” (55). What do you see here? For my part I wondered, how are we lazy in the gospel?

I’m just going to look at one aspect of our relationship to the gospel. It is much, much easier to just pass over difficult scripture passages than to work through them. I think when we do this, most of us assume, “I’m not smart enough” or “I’m not spiritual enough” to work through that. A person who says this either then passes over it, or they then go to a commentary or type it in to get a fast, “right” answer from someone they assume is smarter than they are.

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