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Agree or Disagree?

From Charlotte Mason’s Elementary Geography:

“Some countries are more civilized than others. That is, the people know
better what is right and wrong; they behave more properly; send their
children to school, and so are better educated; and know how to do their
work in a better way. They also care more about books and reading, and
are kinder in their ways to one another.”

My sister picked this up over Shabbos and thought it was hilarious – either that or horrifying. 

It’s amazing to me that my kids have no problem cuddling up with a book of geography like this, which is common-sense, fascinating and well-written.  This, in my opinion, is the way geography OUGHT to be taught. 

But should modern children be exposed to ideas like this?  Is this thesis (“some countries are more civilized than others”) actually harmful in some way?  Ridiculously antiquated, as my rather-educated sister seems to think?  (she also acted as if the book was bizarre for crediting God with creating the universe, so there you go)

A bold statement like this certainly defies many modern conventions of political correctness.  But is it WRONG?  Your thoughts???

You may also want to speak out about:


  1. Well, Terry has a whole diatribe about how some cultures are clearly better than others... and his proofs are pretty convincing. Intellectually I agree with him; emotionally I feel like there's something wrong with that.

  2. I think it isn't right to teach that idea. But I have no problem with using a text that contains a few bad ideas. As with any source of information, the most important piece of learning that homeschoolers have at our disposal is to discuss things that don't seem right with our children in the moment. So, while I would never put an idea like that into a book I wrote, I don't know that its worth rejecting a very good book over it.

  3. I agree with Shira that it isn't right to teach that idea (not to mention that it's a contravention of be-tzelem Hashem). The problem is that this statement is made about human beings and not just about their governments or their societies. Contrary to the dictates of political correctness/cultural relativism, I think it is patently absurd to consider all forms of social order ("civilization") equally legitimate. But that says nothing about the humanity of the individuals living in those societies that are less developed. That distinction is so vital at this point in history that I think it is worth emphasizing to kids.

  4. @inasmallgarden - this is the essence of the problem here, I think: the intertwining of a good idea with a bad one.
    I also believe certain societies ARE objectively less civilized (@decemberbaby: I'm with Mr. D. on that!); I'd suggest any culture which doesn't value and affirm life as a primary value may be less civilized. Not all cultures are alike, and not all cultural values are equally valid. That said, are the PEOPLE less kind, less nice, etc., within those countries? On the other hand "caring about books and reading," which is suggested here as a barometer of culture, would probably include such profoundly UNcivilized people as the German Nazis.
    How I wish it were true that all people who cared about books were wonderful and sensible - exactly like me!

  5. I think these thoughts are very subjective. They can be interpreted differently by different cultures. It is dangerous to put these ideas out there because it can lead to ethnocentricity and closemindedness. It is better not to judge others and hope that we will not be judged. If later in life, our children come to these conclusions on their own, we can hope that they have done their own research and soul-searching to make these determinations.

  6. I haven't read this book, so I can't really answer your question, but I feel that Geography as a subject is so vast, observable, detailed and concrete, that one shouldn't have to sift past emotive language.

    I would prefer to find books that arrested my child's curiousity and observations and cultivated their love to learn and explore without the use of subjective comments.

  7. I've lived in a couple of different cultures (U.S. and several in Asia) and don't have any trouble saying that some cultures are better than others. This statement in no way implies that I (nor CM) believe the people are better people or of more worth if they happen to have been born into one of the "better" cultures.

    Would YOU like to live in a culture where the norm is that the man can take several wives, discard those he is displeased with (or murder them), and sell off his children to temples because they are girls and he already has too many of them (knowing they'll be used as s-x slaves for the priests)?

    Or how about living in a culture where you worry that if you go too near the next village you might get killed because there is a long-running feud between those people and your people? Or where when your neighbor's child falls sick, and your neighbor accuses you of witchcraft on the child and the whole village turns against you? (and then murders you to get the "gods" back on their side)

    These are a few, TRUE examples of some cultures that don't respect life or others in any way that we deem appropriate. Do you (and I mean to the reader, not necessarily to the poster) really think these are cultures of "equal" worth to a culture that teaches kindness, honesty, uprightness, gentleness, as positive virtues?

    I think it is quite fine to make a judgment. It is not politically correct to say that, but then in 50 years, the "proper" thing to say will be something altogether different, now won't it?!

    Joy in Nepal

  8. @Joy - thank you for this great perspective! I'm wondering, though, if it isn't still true that PEOPLE may be very nice, even while living in a terrible society? I'm thinking of a movie I saw recently, "Precious Life" about a Palestinian woman whose baby was being treated in an Israeli hospital. All the people were very nice, hospitable, etc., but there was a fundamental disconnect between the Israeli and Palestinian society that simply could not be reconciled.

  9. @ Jennifer: (Wow, you published my comment!) Oh, certainly, there is kindness and meanness everywhere, regardless of culture. It is just that some cultures tend to bring out the worst in people more easily than others.

    I've got a ton of thoughts on this subject after living in a different-to-me culture for so long, but I won't fill up your blog with my opinions.

  10. I agree that not all countries or cultures are equal. No, it's not PC to say so, but it used to be understood as common sense. Interesting that your sister also didn't like the statement about God creating the universe. God sets standards, and if a society lives by them, it judges itself, and yes, even others, by those standards. And that's uncomfortable for a society that today is trying to do away with many of them. But there must be some standard. A world without standards is a world in chaos. Is that where we want to be?

  11. I believe that God really did choose America as a place to begin a new type of culture and mindset of all men being created equal. I don't think that makes us better people, but it makes our culture better, safer, freer, and more healthy than most other cultures. Of course, our government had some major failings in carrying out that mindset, including slavery and the treatment of Native Americans. And our country has not upheld the mindset of liberty and justice for all in many ways. But the standard is there, and, in general, the culture (our Constitution) provides a framework for individual freedom and respect for the rights of individuals.

    We always come back to the truth that there are good people and bad people in every country and culture. But, if you look at the general outlook and customs, you can see if a culture is healthy and taking good care of its people or if it's taking advantage of them and injuring them.

    I don't have a problem with letting my children know the truth that some governments and cultures are dangerous and oppressive to their own citizens. I'm not teaching them to feel superior to other countries. We discuss the problems we see with America. But I want my children to see the difference that a belief in God and living in His ways made in the way our nation was established. And the greater freedom and prosperity we experienced because of it.
    It saddens me to see our nation turning away from many of those ideals.

  12. @Penney - well said. Though, of course, Ms Mason was writing about England, and when I read it to my kids, we are speaking and talking about places like Canada, where we live, and Israel, where we hope to live. Both based around similar ideals of democracy and freedom, and both (in their own way, and in one case, to the best of their abilities while besieged from hostile, undemocratic dictatorships and kingdoms on all sides) trying to uphold that message within the world.


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