Sunday, December 10, 2017

Guest Post: Blocks are still the best present you can buy children for Christmas

Kym Simoncini, University of Canberra and Kevin Larkin, Griffith University

With Christmas looming, many people will be considering what present to buy for their children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and friends. Soon, if not already, we will be reading lists of the top trending presents for 2017. These lists will no doubt include, and may even be totally dominated by, all the latest gadgets and devices.

The purpose of these lists is to attempt to persuade parents of young children if they want to give their child the best start in life, and all the advantages for doing well later at school, they need to purchase the latest technology.

Read more: ‘Digital play’ is here to stay … but don’t let go of real Lego yet

Missing from these Christmas lists, but what should actually be at the very top in terms of learning, are blocks. Blocks have been part of children’s play for a long time. But there’s still no other toy that compares in promoting all areas of children’s development. Any early childhood teacher can easily identify all the areas block play develops including fine motor, social, language and cognitive skills.

Blocks develop spatial reasoning skills

As children experiment by stacking, balancing, or building with blocks, they need to share, respect other children’s constructions, ask for desired blocks and describe what they are creating. Perhaps more importantly, children develop problem solving skills, creativity and imagination in creating their masterpieces. Finally, let’s not forget persistence where children try again and again to build the tallest tower or most elaborate castle.

Kids learn to play and work together when using blocks.

Kids learn to play and work together when using blocks.

Less well known is that blocks also foster spatial reasoning. Spatial reasoning is the ability to mentally manipulate objects or to think in a way that relates to space and the position, area, and size of things within it. We use spatial reasoning skills in everyday life when we read maps, pack the car for holidays, assemble flat pack furniture or cut cake into equal slices.

Spatial reasoning skills are linked to mathematics skills. Children who have good spatial skills tend to have better maths skills. Many people are unaware of the research, but early mathematics skills are a better predictor of later school success than either early reading or social-emotional skills. Block play helps children understand many mathematical concepts in number, measurement and geometry. During block play children count, measure, estimate, pattern, transform, and learn about symmetry.

Perhaps most surprising to readers will be the research that shows spatial reasoning skills are the best predictor of whether children will end up in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related career. Spatial skills are especially important in STEM related jobs where people are required, for example, to create or read X-ray and ultrasound imaging, engineering and architectural designs, or cross sections of heating and plumbing systems.

blocks are still the best toy you can buy your child.

Christmas lists usually suggest the latest and greatest technology, but blocks are still the best toy you can buy your child.

Blocks also help develop spatial language

Block play also fosters spatial language. When children play with blocks they hear and produce more words related to spatial reasoning including things such as beneath, above, next to, behind, and so on.

One study showed block play elicited more spatial language than any other type of play. The other types of play included playing with puppets, playing house, shops, school, zoos, chefs and throwing a ball.

Other research that looked at spatial language showed the more spatial words children heard, the more spatial words they produced and the better they performed on spatial tasks. In this study, researchers looked at language relating to the spatial features and properties of objects such as the dimensions of objects (such as how big small, wide, tall), the forms of shapes (for example rectangle, circle, square) and other spatial properties (like bent, pointy, curved).

Different blocks for different ages and stages

kids playing with blocks

The best way to get your kids playing with blocks is to play along with them.

There are a wide variety of choices for blocks for children including MegaBloks for really young children, Duplo, wooden blocks or waffle blocks for preschoolers, and Eco bricks and Lego for older children.

These age guidelines are suggestions only. My ten and fourteen year old daughters will still play with the wooden blocks. Much of the reason blocks are such enduring toys is due to the fact they’re “loose parts”. That is, they can be moved, arranged, combined, taken apart, and put together in any number of ways. Frobel, the father of kindergarten, created ten gifts for children of which six were blocks.

The best way to engage children in block play is to play alongside them and show your interest and enthusiasm in block building. My friend has a ritual of playing half an hour every afternoon with Duplo with her three young boys aged five, three and one. She says it’s her favourite time of day.

Read more: Can toys really be ‘educational’? Well that depends on the parents

The ConversationSo, when those lists appear in your inbox or on social media, just remember the best toy of all is likely to be missing.

Kym Simoncini, Assistant Professor in Early Childhood and Primary Education, University of Canberra and Kevin Larkin, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics Education, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

From the Archives - Trans vs. bi: Michael Ostrolenk explains the difference between 'transpartisan' and 'bipartisan'

Trans vs. bi: Michael Ostrolenk explains the difference between 'transpartisan' and 'bipartisan'
July 15, 2010 12:16 AM MST

For the past several weeks, the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute has been hosting a summer speakers series featuring experts on a wide range of policy issues, mostly but not entirely related to the organization’s core mission of protecting basic civil liberties.

Michael Ostrolenk Transpartisan Center bipartisan politicsLast Friday, July 9, Rutherford's afternoon speaker was Michael Ostrolenk, chief executive officer of the Transpartisan Center. A psychotherapist with extensive experience in political organizing and policy analysis, Ostrolenk is also affiliated with the Medical Privacy Coalition, the Liberty Coalition, and the American Conservative Defense Alliance, among other organizations.

In his talk, and later in an interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, Ostrolenk explained the meaning of “transpartisan.”

“The transpartisan imperative in American life and the necessity of it,” he said, must be seen from “four different perspectives: that we need transpartisan policies; transpartisan activities based on principles; transpartisan processes (in order to take decisions on our behalf); [and] a transpartisan analysis of the social and economic system” in which “we’re now living.”

‘Trans’ vs. ‘Bi’
He offered a distinction between “transpartisan” and the more familiar term, “bipartisan.”

“Trans,” he said, “means to transcend through and beyond the partisan.”

What differentiates that from bipartisan, he went on, is that with bipartisan, “you think of a pie and you split it half/half.”

With bipartisan, “you have the so-called left, the so-called right, the Republicans and Democrats, and then they split the difference. In that, you only have two voices; that’s why you have the ‘bi.’”

Explaining further, Ostrolenk said that “the transpartisan is a recognition that there are multiple different voices, perspectives, and worldviews operating in the world that we live in, especially here in the United States.”

That means that, “if you really want to be transpartisan, you have to listen to and integrate into your discussion all the different voices to have a bigger picture and understanding of what’s actually happening in the world, in people’s lives and community lives in the United States and the world in general.”

In contrast with bipartisan, with transpartisan, Ostrolenk continued, “you’re not splitting the difference, you’re just listening to all of the other voices and you’re trying to figure out how to integrate the different voices together, to both create a larger map of social and political reality and a way of operating inside of that map to effect positive and sustainable change in the political system.”

That sounds like a mouthful, but it really comes down to bringing people together who disagree on some issues in order to find how they might have common ground on other issues.

Practical Initiatives
Ostrolenk gave two examples of practical initiatives that the Transpartisan Center has pursued.

One, he said, “is Audit the Fed, as a project of the Campaign for Liberty. I’ve helped create a coalition, left and right, conservatives, libertarians, progressives, and liberals in support of an audit” of the Federal Reserve, with 331 cosponsors of legislation in the House of Representatives.

Another example he gave is the Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran, "which was a left-right effort that emerged about three years ago, [which] had liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and progressives coming together, recognizing that war with Iran would be majorly problematic for the United States.”

When people ask about that, “Have you guys been successful?” Ostrolenk wryly replies, “Well, we haven’t attacked Iran yet.”

The Rutherford Institute has five more speakers scheduled between now and July 26. More information can be found on the Institute’s web site.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on July 15, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Guest Post: Did early Christians believe that Mary was a teenager?

Christopher A. Frilingos, Michigan State University

On Nov. 13, a fifth Alabama woman came forward to accuse Roy Moore, former judge and current GOP Senate candidate, of sexual assault when she was 16. Condemnation of Moore has been widespread, but Moore himself vehemently denies these allegations. He has backing from many in Alabama.

One of his most controversial statements of support came from Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler, who declared: “there’s nothing immoral or illegal here…Maybe just a little unusual.” Ziegler went on to appeal to the Christian story of Mary and Joseph:

“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

I find the allegations against Moore repulsive. But, in addition, as a scholar of early Christianity, Ziegler’s remarks took my breath away. As most Christians would know, an important tenet of Christian theology is that Jesus was born of a virgin mother.

File 20171114 26420 1txgrhj.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

The holy family.

However, there are many other little-known details in early Christian storytelling about the relationship between Mary and Joseph that I learned while researching my book, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: Family Trouble in the Infancy Gospels. Early Christians believed that Mary and Joseph did not have sex, but there was much more that was worth learning from that relationship.

Listen up, Jim Ziegler.

The gospel narratives

The Christian Bible includes four gospels, or narratives, of the life of Jesus. Two of them, the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, include accounts of Jesus’s birth. These two versions of the “Christmas story” supply almost all of the details about Mary and Joseph that can be found in the Christian Bible.

In Matthew 1-2, readers learn about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi or “wise men” to see the newborn and the flight of the holy family to Egypt in order to escape King Herod’s killing of infants. Luke 1-2 describes the birth of John (the cousin of Jesus), an imperial census under the Roman Emperor Augustus and the appearance of angels celebrating the birth of Jesus in the skies above Bethlehem.

Both the gospels seem to agree that Mary conceived by supernatural means, not through sexual intercourse. Meanwhile, whatever Zeigler claims, neither the Gospel of Matthew nor the Gospel of Luke specifies the ages of Mary and Joseph.

The Proto-gospel of James

The earliest source to mention ages is another ancient Christian gospel: the Proto-gospel of James. This gospel is a prequel to the more familiar stories of the first Christmas found in the Christian Bible. It was written in the second century A.D., a hundred years or so after the gospels of the Christian New Testament. Critically, it is mostly unknown to Christians because it is not found in their Bibles.

Even so, the Proto-gospel of James is an important witness to the things that mattered to early Christians. The relationship of Mary and Joseph is one of them.

The Proto-gospel of James tends to fill in gaps left by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. This, for example, is where readers can learn about the parents of Mary – Joachim and Anna – and about the divine intervention that leads to Anna’s conception of Mary.

This gospel also recounts the story of when Mary met Joseph, details absent from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In this telling, Joseph, an elderly widower, is chosen by lottery to take care of Mary, who is 12 years old at the time.

Like the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Proto-gospel of James reports that Mary does not conceive through sexual intercourse. She receives news from the angel Gabriel that she will become pregnant and bear a son, Jesus. But the Proto-gospel of James’s account adds a new wrinkle: Mary forgets about her encounter with the angel. When she realizes that she’s pregnant, she’s overcome with fear and confusion. Joseph is likewise confused by Mary’s pregnancy. He nevertheless remains loyal and protects the 12-year-old girl. He takes her to a cave outside of Bethlehem. Soon there is a blinding flash of light. As it recedes, a child appears.

Jesus has arrived.

Familiar and unfamiliar

Some of these details will be familiar to readers of the New Testament: the town of Bethlehem, for example, and the angelic announcement to Mary – the Annunciation – that she will become pregnant.

Other details, however, will come as a surprise: Wasn’t Jesus born in Bethlehem, and not, as the Proto-gospel of James reports, outside of Bethlehem in a cave? And what about the story of how Mary met Joseph? The Proto-gospel of James adds to and changes elements of the earlier accounts of Matthew and Luke.

And then there are details that some Christians know from their religion that other Christians do not. Most Orthodox and Roman Catholics, for example, know the names of Anna and Joachim, the parents of Mary, even though they do not include the Proto-gospel of James in their Bibles. Most Protestant Christians, by contrast, will be unfamiliar with these figures.

In fact, the Proto-gospel of James is just one example of a wide range of gospels and other early Christian writings that are not included in the Christian Bible. The storytelling about the holy family alone could fill a bookshelf: There is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the History of Joseph the Carpenter. Written at different times in different places, these accounts reflect the early Christian fascination with the household of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Love is not predatory

One final observation that is relevant to Jim Ziegler’s comments: The Proto-gospel of James goes a step further than the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in making the point that there was no sexual contact between Mary and Joseph.

Holy family with the lamb.
Raphael via Wikimedia Commons

In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph overcomes personal anxiety about Mary’s pregnancy. In the Proto-gospel of James, the pregnancy of Mary becomes a matter of public scrutiny: Both Mary and Joseph must drink the “water of refutation,” a life-and-death ordeal designed to test the truth of their claims of not having had sex with one another. Both pass the test.

But the Proto-gospel of James is not just a story about the virginity of Mary, nor is it just about Joseph’s lack of involvement in the conception of Jesus. Mostly, it is a story about two people being swept up in events that they do not understand.

Together, Mary and Joseph risk everything despite not knowing what it all means. Amid the chaos, they learn to lean on each other. While Mary and Joseph do not, according to the Proto-gospel of James, have a physical relationship, they do love one another.

The ConversationAnd love should not be compared to the predatory behavior alleged against Roy Moore.

Christopher A. Frilingos, Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, Michigan State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Guest Post: On December 7, Remember an English Libertarian Hero

by Gary M. Galles

December 7 has “lived in infamy” since Pearl Harbor. But that date was infamous before America was a country. On that date in 1683, Algernon Sydney, who opposed Charles II for overstepping his powers, was executed for treason after a trial so blatantly violating his rights that Parliament overturned his conviction in 1689. The key evidence was an unpublished manuscript arguing that kings were not above the law, which, 15 years later, became Discourses Concerning Government.

Sydney died for asserting citizens’ right of revolution against a king who exceeded his legal authority. That radical claim helped inspire the American Revolution, because, according to Thomas West, “His death as a martyr to liberty inspired [colonists] with a model in their own risky enterprise against the force of English arms.” On December 7, Sydney’s revolutionary words for liberty from government abuse merits reconsideration.

Our rights and liberties are innate, inherent....from God and nature, not from Kings…He who enjoys [liberty] cannot be deprived of it, unless by his own consent, or by force...In relation to my house, land, or estate; I may do what I please with them, if I bring no damage upon others.

Algernon Sydney death sentenceOur natural liberty…is of so great importance that from thence only can we know whether we are freemen of slaves.

The liberty of one man cannot be limited or diminished by…any number of men, and none can give away the right of another…ambition...cannot give a right to any over the liberties of a whole nation. Those who are so set up…are rather to be accounted robbers and pirates than magistrates.

Government[s]...degenerate into a most unjust and despicable tyranny, so soon as the supreme lord begins to prefer his own interest…before the good of his subjects...such an extreme deviation from the end of their institution annuls it; and the wound thereby given to the natural and original rights of those nations cannot be cured, unless they resume the liberties of which they have been deprived.

Prerogative is instituted only for the preservation of which every man’s liberty is least restrained...would be the most just, rational and natural...

The supreme law…[is] the preservation of liberties, goods, lands and lives…all laws must be subservient and subordinate to it…if there be no other law…than the will of [government], there is no such thing as liberty. Property is also an appendage to liberty; and ‘tis...impossible for a man to have a right to lands or goods, if he has no liberty...overthrown by those who…ought with the utmost industry and vigor to have defended it.

Magistracy is not instituted…but for the preservation of the whole people, and the defense of the liberty, life and estate of every private man.

Is it possible that any one man can make himself lord of a whom God had given the liberty of governing themselves, by any other means than violence or fraud...the most outrageous injury that can be done…We are man has a power over us, which is not given...the ends for which they are given…can be no other than to defend us from all manner of arbitrary power.

Shall it be lawful for [rulers] to usurp a power over the liberty of others, and shall it not be lawful for an injured people to resume their own?...The people…cannot but have a right to preserve their liberty…Those who defend, or endeavor to recover their violated liberties…act vigorously in a cause that God does evidently patronize.

Algernon Sydney defended “the natural, universal liberty of mankind.” He helped inspire the American Revolution, because “a people from all ages in love with liberty and desirous to maintain their own privileges could never be brought to resign them.” However, it is unclear that Americans retain such beliefs, judging from government’s massive overstepping on our rights. We should revisit his understanding and commitment if we are to reclaim our heritage of liberty.

Gary M. Galles Algernon Sydney libertarian hero

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. His recent books include Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Apostle of Peace (2013). He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Guest Post: Old Man Potter Lived a Wonderful Life

by Tom Mullen

December is upon us and that means plentiful opportunities to watch the enduring classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of viewers completely misinterpret Frank Capra’s dystopian nightmare as a heartwarming Christmas tale.

The emotional appeal of angels getting their wings is undeniable. Crying out for correction, however, are the vicious slanders regarding the film’s real hero, Henry Potter.

Lionel Barrymore It's a Wonderful Life We first hear of Potter from George Bailey’s father, Peter Bailey, who badmouths Potter with the usual falsehoods about businessmen. But during Bailey’s envious rant, we learn something important: Henry Potter is a board member of the building and loan. We later learn Potter is, in fact, a stockholder.

That puts a somewhat different light on his subsequent motion to liquidate the business upon Peter Bailey’s death. Yes, we hear George Bailey repeating the familiar socialist tropes his father did: that Potter only wants to close the building and loan because he “can’t get his hands on it” and considers the little people cattle, etc. 

But Potter responds with some rather inconvenient facts: the building and loan has been making bad business decisions, providing what we’d now call subprime loans to people who can’t pay them back.

Potter the Stockholder
The Baileys squander their investors’ money on a do-gooder, subprime loan scheme to make everyone a homeowner.

We don’t know how Potter became a stockholder, but the Bailey Building and Loan does not appear to be a publicly traded company. The most likely explanation is Peter Bailey asked Potter for capital, just as George Bailey does later in the film, in between rounds of disparaging Potter as a greedy capitalist. That would be perfectly consistent with today’s “progressives,” who rail against capitalists out of one side of their mouths while sucking up to them for money out of the other.

But regardless of how Potter became a stockholder, Peter Bailey has a fiduciary duty to him to run the business for maximum profit, providing Potter and the other stockholders a return on their investments, something George Bailey confirms they never intended to do. Instead, the Baileys squander their investors’ money on a do-gooder, subprime loan scheme to make everyone a homeowner. It worked out in fictional Bedford Falls about as well as it did in early 2000s America.

Meanwhile, the Baileys constantly slander Potter’s rental houses as “overpriced slums.” These are the same Baileys whose housing opportunities are more expensive than Potter’s.

But People Like Potter’s Houses
Their accusations constantly beg the question: If Potter’s houses are so bad, why do so many people choose to live in them? It’s constantly implied Potter’s customers have no other choice, but what exactly does that mean? Why has no one else, including any of the businessmen on the board of the Bailey Building and Loan, developed rental properties that are higher in quality, lower in price, or both?

The inescapable truth is Potter is wealthy because he provides a product that most satisfies his customers’ preferences for quality and price. If there were an opportunity to provide a higher quality product at a lower price than Potter was charging, a competitor would do so and take market share away from Potter, until Potter either raised his quality, lowered his price, or both.

The Baileys burn with resentment that so many residents of Bedford Falls prudently choose to live in Potter’s less expensive housing than buy a house they can’t afford, financed by the Baileys’ Ponzi scheme. Thus, even after shirking their fiduciary duty to run the business properly, the Baileys spend decades assaulting Potter’s character in a transparent attempt to lure away his customers.

Potter the Rescuer
When the Depression hits and the Bailey Building and Loan is exposed for the fractional reserve fraud it is, Potter offers to come to the rescue with a generous offer to buy out its customers. It is noteworthy there is a run on the Bailey Building and Loan and the local bank, but Potter is financially secure enough to save them both, proving once again he is the only honorable businessman in the film.

But we must give the devil his due. George Bailey, the ultimate huckster, saves the building and loan without Potter’s help, convincing the yokel mob making a run on his business to keep their money tied up in his fundamentally insolvent confidence game.

That brings us to the one regrettable act Potter is guilty of, which is concealing the $8,000.00 the incompetent Billy Bailey inadvertently handed him while attempting to make a deposit. It’s true this was an underhanded act, although not unprovoked.

We don’t know how much Potter had invested in the Building and Loan to become a stockholder, but suspect it was a lot more than $8,000. One could make the case he was merely getting back some of the money the Baileys had previously defrauded him of, but there are courts for such matters and Potter should have sought their help if he had a case.

Smearing Potter
Nevertheless, two generations of Baileys had led a decades-long assault on Potter’s good name, resulting in most townspeople disliking him, even though he has quite literally saved their lives on numerous occasions. Without him, a large portion of Bedford Falls would be unemployed, have nowhere to live, or both. It is not an exaggeration to say that without Henry Potter, Bedford Falls would cease to exist. Yet, thanks to the Baileys, he is the most hated man in town.

Jimmy Stewart It's a Wonderful Life Donna ReedCompare Potter’s vindictive reaction when George Bailey crawls to him for help after the $8,000.00 is lost to Potter’s reaction at the board meeting at the beginning of the movie. At the board meeting, Potter dismisses George’s unhinged attack upon him and redirects the discussion to the subject of the meeting: what is best for Bedford Falls. By the latter confrontation, Potter tries to have George arrested for embezzling.

Potter’s dastardly act is totally out of character with the Potter of the earlier scene or any other event we know of in Potter’s life. As far as we know, he has always been a hard-nosed, unsentimental businessman, but has never committed a crime or held a grudge, as he does now. Everything we know about Potter up to this point tells us his vindictive attempt to have George Bailey prosecuted is precisely the kind of emotional decision-making Potter has avoided for most of his life. That is why he is so wealthy at the beginning of the film.

Potter’s Breaking Point
Everyone has a breaking point. Potter had evidently reached his. Had he been prosecuted for keeping the $8,000.00, which may have been tricky from a legal standpoint, given that Billy Bailey had handed the money to him, he could easily have plead temporary insanity caused by years of psychological warfare waged against him by the Baileys.

We’ll never know, because before Potter has any opportunity to allow his passion to cool and clear up the misunderstanding, George Bailey sets off on his suicide melodrama, followed by a long, self-aggrandizing hallucination about angels and how Bedford Falls would be worse without him. By the time he concludes his childish escape from reality, the same yokels he previously conned during the Depression are now bailing him out once again, foreshadowing so many future bailouts of dishonest financiers whose assets should have been turned over to better management in bankruptcy court.

The Triumph of Evil
In one of the darkest moments of the film, George Bailey’s Christmas tree is jostled and one of the bells adorning it rings. George Bailey, now confident he and his fraudulent real estate scheme are safe, suggests the bell signifies an angel has earned his wings, as if his dishonest business dealings and ruthless defamation of legitimate competitors had divine sanction.

Nothing more is heard of Henry Potter, the man without whom Bedford Falls would not exist. He is left friendless and without the one thing he could cling to before George Bailey, the Devil incarnate, wrested it from his grasp: his honor. As the credits roll, evil has triumphed. The economic fallacies inherent in Baileyism become accepted truth, resulting in disaster after disaster, including the most recent in 2008.

Tom Mullen It's a Wonderful Life

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? and A Return to Common  Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. For more information and more of Tom's writing, visit

This article was originally published on Read the original article.