Wednesday, February 11, 2009

First Time Obedience and Multigenerational Faithfulness Part III: Poor Development of Analytical Thought and Problem-Solving Skills

Continuing the discussion of problems inherent in unquestioned obedience and "First Time Obedience" as a component of multigenerational faithfulness. Please refer to previous blog posts on the topic if you've not already read them.

From Page 110 - 111 of Voddie Baucham’s “Family Driven Faith”:
An even tougher lesson to learn is the principle of first-time obedience... [Baucham offers an example of counting to three for compliance, suspending punishment until the counting concludes at three as inappropriate permissiveness.]

This is a difficult principle to understand because we overlook the punishment our sins deserve and ultimately received in the cross of Christ (or will receive during an eternity separated from God in hell). However, whether God smites us immediately as He did Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) or appears to let it slide, we can rest assured that every sin receives just recompense (Romans 3:21-26). Thus, in the economy of God every act of disobedience is ultimately punished whether we see it immediately or not. That is why it is important to teach our children that every instruction is to be obeyed right away. As they get older, they may be allowed to enter into discussion about our instructions, but that discussion should follow an act of obedience, not determine whether or not they are convinced of our position...

We do not want our children to do what we say with conditions attached. We want them to obey, period. Learning not to repeat ourselves, not to yell, not to call the offending child by all three of his or her names, but to speak in clear, level tones and follow through... No, our children are not perfect, but they understand what obedience is and fully expect a consequence if they fall short of doing what they are told when they are told to do it.

Critical thinking describes the ability to think and make good choices with maturity and purpose. It requires anticipating outcomes based upon the information that is automatically absorbed or sought out from one's environment, coordinating that information with experience, wrote knowledge, and one’s own emotions. Critical thinking (analytical problem-solving) exceeds merely knowing information, the ability to perform certain tasks or regurgitating information. It culminates in the demonstration of wisdom that draws on the whole host of these factors to produce sound and reliable judgement.

I believe very strongly that when people are placed in environments that are highly authoritarian and they are not afforded any opportunity for trial and error because of high demands of perfection, the development of critical thinking suffers profoundly. One in such an environment must always be dependent on another to tell them what to do and how to do things. God created us as creatures who are quite capable of mimicking and repeating things, but this is not the pinnacle of what He desires from us. The Word tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, that which we should pursue and desire. The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and we are to walk in wisdom of the Word, therefore we should be expected to know it. We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds with the wisdom of the Word, being ever more transformed into the image of Jesus, the Mind of the Ages. We are instructed to have the mind of Christ. So the idea of being dependent upon another stands in stark contrast to the message of the “just do what you are told and do not ask any questions” mentality that is required of both children and of adults who find themselves on lower hierarchical levels as required by the concept of proper submission under multigenerational faithfulness.

Critical thinking is quite interesting. If you ever “got wise” about something , the expression usually references some process of failure. Critical thinking cannot be learned through observation only but must be practiced personally, just as watching a champion figure skater does not make one proficient at skating. Building the mind's muscle of wisdom comes about through exercise, not through observation. One must be engaged in critical thought to develop the skill of problem–solving. Skills do not improve without practice, and we all know that “practice makes perfect.” This is very true of critical thinking, as one must be engaged and deliberate about pursuing wisdom. It is not something easily found on one simple search like picking up a gallon of milk at the market. Practice to make perfect implies learning as a result of failures that build into a body of experience, a commodity that cannot be feigned or obtained in any other manner save by what many call “the school of hard knocks.” Perfection comes at a price, paid in hard knocks and “getting wise” through trial “by error” and, sometimes, “by fire.” All these terms suggest struggle and testing, bereft with suggestion of outcomes that are not sure to be positive.

Barbara at Mommy Life had this to say in her post entitled “Critical Thinking - Teaching Your Kids to Think for Themselves”:
During my homeschooling years, I found teaching critical thinking skills to be of utmost importance so that my kids could learn to question prevailing wisdom and think for themselves. I have no fear that thinking for themselves would cause them to leave their faith - and it's okay with me if they question it. What good is their faith if it's just my brainwashing? They must be able to take in other points of view and come to their own conclusions. If their faith is strong, it will survive.
Sage advice indeed.
In my professional training and especially teaching critical thinking and problem-solving to nurses in the clinical setting, some considerations are far more important than others. Some basic skills which seem insignificant in isolation can be critical because they become foundational to other learning and become components of other, more advanced skills. These skills build upon others, with building being the operative concept. And other aspects of care prove essential and absolutely critical because error can immediately put the life of a patient in jeopardy. Certain practices and all standards of care are non-negotiable, but other practices can be matters of preference when they increase efficiency of the nurse and do not affect outcomes of the patient. Some of the little things don't really matter, so long as care is safe and proficient. Happy employees perform better, and their patients have faster healing and better outcomes when the nurses who care for them do not operate under chronic stress and frustration, too. The real skill that the good instructor and preceptor imparts is not necessarily the review of basic skills or even by demonstrating correct technique but a demonstration of what rules to drop low on the list of priorities in favor of others that are more critical. Sometimes following the obvious cut and dry standards can result in a bad outcome for your patient. Critical care nursing is anything but a black and white world.

Also, when demands run high (as they always do in healthcare), and when resources become limited, one must sacrifice perfection. The system forces you to prioritize, because clinical situations are volatile and unpredictable. I was taught how to make a bed so that the seams never rub against a patient’s skin which can actually lead to a bedsore in a debilitated client. A bedsore, particularly an infected one, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention the harm to a patient, so this is not anything to ignore. I was also taught how to remove sheets from a bed with minimal agitation of the air so as to limit distribution of germs through the air. In an age of “superbugs” like MRSA, this is no trivial concern, either. However, when you have three patients, one is arresting, one has symptoms of decompensation and needs your attention, your highest priority cannot and definitely should not be the third patient's bed linen.

Mastery of proper priority setting does not come “first time,” even though the “stakes are high” in healthcare, often resulting in dramatic life or death consequences. But mastery comes only with experience and through actually working through complex clinical situations, and that takes time. To qualify as a good critical care nurse, that nurse really needs a bare minimum of at least 2 years of full-time experience in a challenging setting, and most hospitals require that nurses have a full year of experience in a non-critical setting before they will train them in critical care. You do not want an automaton nurse who cannot prioritize, knowing what important consideration to temporarily abandon in order to avert or attend to a more serious and volatile crisis. You need a nurse that can "seemingly disobey” one directive or delay following that directive when another more serious consideration threatens life and limb.

I could also offer many examples where delaying orders or failing to follow orders as written could have resulted in more harm to a patient, another consideration that give me cause to protest the "do it and do it now" mentality. Sometimes this can be the worst advice. Sometimes waiting on test results before following through on a medical order can result in avoiding harm or providing benefit to a patient (like holding a dose of Gentamycin for an hour or two, an antibiotic toxic to the kidneys to wait to check on kidney function results when this is a matter of concern). But I also have freedom to do things like this in a clinical setting, often because I've established a relationship of trust with the physicians who rely on my problem-solving to help them achieve the best outcome for the patient. This also makes me think of a scene in one of my favorite films, "It's a Wonderful Life." Young George Bailey notes that old Mr. Gower the druggist has accidentally put poison in capsules that he has been asked to deliver to a family of sick children. He delays delivery of the capsules, attempting to get some advice from his father first who he cannot get to talk with to help him with advice. George ends up returning to the drug store, but by then, he has the confidence to bring the error to old Mr. Gower's attention. George's delay saved a family full of children from accidental poisoning and we learn later in the film that it also saves Mr. Gower's career. Critical thinking thrives in an atmosphere of trust.

Both of these examples of critical thought within a relationship of trust bring attention to another important component of First Time Obedience (FTO): a pervasive assumption of pessimism and anticipation of failure. When there is no atmosphere of trust in those with whom you interact, or when there is no trust or confidence in your children, that outlook may very well necessitate an authoritarian approach. You do not trust the judgement of a "tool" that you use to fulfill a perfunctory purpose, and patriocentricity does objectify women and children who are viewed as tools who serve the patriarch's vision. If a husband lacks respect for his wife and does not view her as capable of making sound decisions and exercising sound judgement, can he really tolerate disobedience from her? For the sake of the family, if he has no trust in her, he will feel compelled to issue orders to be followed without question. Autonomy without trust would be highly inappropriate. There will also be no opportunity for the building of trust there if the wife is given no opportunity to demonstrate worthiness of that trust. The same is true of children.

A well-trained child with the ability to think analytically will not require a parent to micro-manage them, and a relationship that grows in trust will not even assume the need for FTO. The distinction here is quite subtle. FTO assumes and anticipates a focus and an expectation of failure, seeming to say “They better get this right,” implying that they will likely get it wrong. It comes from a place of pessimism, a place of viewing others as “one rung down on the ladder” in ability. Quite often, people will live up to your expectations of them, and this approach destroys trust and confidence on a deeper level. But when there is a high view of respect and trust of someone, seeking to encourage them and coaching them from a presumption of their success and an overarching confidence in their ability to grow and prosper, there is no need for FTO. There is no failure presumed beforehand. Failures become a part of learning and are handled with loving grace. That does not mean to imply that failures are desirable outcomes, but that kid who meets with FTO realized that expectations of them are low enough that they must be reminded of consequences if not threatened with them. For some kids that may be necessary, but for many, this fosters fear. Kids pick up on that, particularly the younger ones. How can a kid learn to problem-solve if there is no opportunity to solve anything themselves and if all the outcomes as well as the processes have been predetermined?

I also found another interesting quote about critical thinking and fostering this in children, though it is from a source that is secular. I think it’s well worth considering.

From “Critical Thinking in Children: Are we teaching our kids to be dumb?” by Gwen Dewar, Ph.D.:
What can we do?

I don’t know of any specific research on the subject. So what follows is just my best guess...

If we spot errors, we need to discuss them with our kids. We need to teach our kids that books and other media—even adult authorities—can make mistakes.

And most of all, our kids need positive reinforcement for thinking critically, for being logical, and for offering unconventional solutions to problems. Before we correct a child’s wrong answer, we should reflect on whether or not it really is wrong.
But as we can infer from this advice, the adult who hopes to foster critical thinking must have a degree of trust in the child, but they must also be willing to demonstrate a certain degree of transparency and some willingness to admit fault to the child. And I don't know that the patriocentrists find that to be acceptable behavior. The grid of hierarchy does not readily allow for such transparency.