Can I teach discernment?

I am busy putting together the curricula for the next term and trying to get ahead of myself and plan the whole Summer term. A girl can have her dreams.

One of the things I am wondering about is whether I can teach discernment. I have been planning that when the children are old enough that I would introduce Logic and Rhetoric to their learning which I am hoping with build on the Building Thinking Skills and other stuff they are already doing from the Critical Thinking Co but there is more to discernment than learning to spot a fallacy and doing mazes.

I want my children to be fully armed against the toxicity of the culture they have to live in; to be innocent as the dove and wise as the serpent-and I am not sure how much I can teach them and how much I need to leave to the work of Grace.

I was listening to Dr Ray yesterday. He was talking (7th April archive show) about that very famous experiment done by Milgram back in 1963. Now Milgram was trying to find out how coercive authority effects behaviour and whether the defence at Nuremberg “We were following orders” really could be considered some kind of defence. Dr Ray mentions some dreadful show in France where essentially the same thing is happening but in the context of a game where the contestants shock other people for wrong answers. Amazingly people went to the wire in this game! (They can’t have read Milgram I guess -or have a basic conscience).

Obviously there is something wrong when even after Nuremberg and Milgram’s experiment that so little has been learned about making choices-and choosing to do what is RIGHT even when it is considered wrong by others. Of course this means I wont be approaching their education from a values clarification model. I wrote about it before. The damage that has done is plain to see around us.

So, obviously part of my task, my obligation, in teaching the children discernment is to teach them morality. They need So we will go back to the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes which I reckon just about cover it all, with the Golden Rule for nutshelling.

Dr Ray believes (and I concur) that if Milgram’s experiment was repeated today the results might be even worse as so few people have formed their conscience.

The media’s attack on the Pope is interesting in the light of this lack of discernment. I am particularly fascinated by the New York Times trashing the Pope because in their online edition of the “story” they actually linked to the relevant Vatican documents-all of which proved the NYT article was a pack of lies! So, did they think no one would try and discover how true it was? Did they think readers were so stupid and crass that no one would try and see what was really happening? I can only assume they did. Jimmy Akin took them and the rest of MSM on the Pope apart and as he was careful to back up each thing he said with proper reference then it is easier to discern that he was speaking truthfully.

I want my children to be able to read something and know whether they are being lied to; tone, twisted words; sweeping statements with no back up and so on.

Obviously as Catholics I want them to also know the Black Legends and how to counteract them. I was listening to some Charlotte Mason lectures and one woman got up to talk about living books for history and just spewed Black Legend as though it had any historical merit at all! Fortunately there was someone in the audience who had actually read some history (and not all from one silly book!) who corrected her on a number of points. She got a bit shaky and said she wasn’t trying to offend anyone! Ye gods! She gets up and spouts a PUBLIC lecture full of anti-Catholic lies and says she wasn’t trying to offend. Now that is lack of discernment!

But I have also come across Catholics who try the other tack- slipping past the real history where Catholics got up to some serious evil.

History is a massive hunting ground for trying to discern the truth and I want the children to do that. No white washing, but no Black Legend either; find the truth.  Doing that is a transferable skill when looking at information for news, science, religion, anything. And as Christians we are obliged to seek the truth and tell it; so it is important.

I really think discernment is important- and I am a bit at a loss for a cohesive approach in teaching it, unless the spot a fallacy and Logic stuff will teach it and the rest is about common sense and Grace.


5 responses to “Can I teach discernment?

  1. I know I always recommend them, but have you had a lok at the work of Phillip Zimbardo, particularly “The Lucifer Effect” and his online essay “The mundanity of heroism”?

    Zimbardo was a classmate of Milgram, and much of “The Lucifer Effect” concerns the process and implications of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

    I think his work is vital in understanding, and combating, the effects of toxic psychological environments on “good” people.

    Links here:

  2. Thank you that is a fascinating link. I remember watching a documentary on the Stanford Prison Experiment and being completely stumped by it.
    I was a qualified Psych nurse and STILL I found it hard to truly understand. I have worked with people who have done terrible things; rape, murder, other kinds of violence-but there has always been a mental illness component so I was able to more or less understand how twisted thinking could lead to twisted action. But sane people doing really bad things-is hard for me to get my head around.
    Lots to think about. Thanks

  3. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, (that will work to our good in all segments of our lives) will help in this area. Of course we need also to have clear thinking and logic. And in this day and age, maybe a healthy dose of skepticism.

    I think we can teach methods to discernment, but most importantly, we must teach our children to pray, to think and to search for truth in all things. And maybe throw in an annual reading of The Screwtape Letters and the Abolition of Man.

  4. I don’t know if you can full teach discernment. God pretty much is in charge of that. I’d be interested to know what you’ve come up with. Discernment has been a big burden in my life, but I’m so thankful for it and my faith has always pulled me through.

    • I agree, discernment is in God’s perogative and it;s a tough thing to ask for because He has a habit of answering the prayer in ways I would rather He didn’t. I had a tough time when I had to admit how much I had wrong. Nice lesson in humility though 🙂
      I am trying to teach the children to think about behaviours, and the use of language.
      Obviously I’m teaching them the virtues, not as a theory but a way of life. Obviously free will and concupisense interfere with that but then they intefere with discernment too.

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