Marybeth Hicks. Teachable Moments: Using Everyday Encounters with Media and Culture to Instill Conscience, Character, and Faith. New York: Howard Books/Simon and Schuster, 2014. 274 pp. $24.00.
To be honest, I am conflicted in how to review Marybeth Hick’s most recent book Teachable Moments. When I accepted the review, I recognized the name although I was not completely sure why I recognized it. Hicks is a media columnist for various Fox News programs, generally commenting on topics such as media, parenting and culture. To this end, Hicks, in our media-statured culture, is therefore qualified to write a book on media, parenting and culture. As one who is a parent and spends a great deal of time engaging media and culture, I launched into the book with excitement. Unfortunately, for me, the excitement did not last long.
I still know almost nothing else about Hicks, such as why she is considered qualified to author a book on media, parenting and culture other than being a parent of four children. I do not run in social circles that watch Fox News. [I feel the need to qualify the rest of my remarks. Neither do I get my news from CNN. I get my news from the WSJ, the NYT and HP.] This, then, is why I find myself conflicted on how to offer this review. On one hand, I was less than impressed with the book. I found myself scratching my head, shaking my head and simply dropping my head at several points. On the other hand, I can see how the ultra-politically, religiously, educationally and culturally conservative segment of society would rave about this book.
In terms of criticism, I have three major points of concern with Hicks’ book. First, Hicks routinely confuses conservative Christian doctrine, classical Greek philosophy and traditional American values as equal instructional material. Bible verses are pulled from their context and massaged to fit Hicks’ goals. This stems from Hicks seeing the Bible as simply an educational compendium that serves to teach us how to live ethically. The ironic thing is that she does not use passages that actually deal with parenting, teaching or culture (i.e., Prov. 2-8; 1 Cor. 8; Eph. 6). Instead, she uses passages that deal with Jesus talking about economics to discern how parents can teach their children about buying video games.
Second, examples are too specific. Each chapter contains ten “teachable moments” scenarios that Hicks believes are relatable to parents. On a positive note, the scenarios are quite diverse in terms of the ages of the children involved, the scenarios that the children are involved in, and how parents can address the situations. On a critical note, however, I found the scenarios to be too specific. Readers may be led to think that their child may not run into certain situations, such as dealing with sexuality or handling finances, until they reach a certain age. However, only those who live in the cultural bubble that Hicks lives in will believe this. Our culture is constantly changing, and parents must always be ready to engage any and all situations.
Third, her approach to dealing with media is more reactive than proactive. I think this is what bothered me most of all. Hicks works under the assumption that parents have no idea how to be proactive in engaging culture (or, perhaps, that parents should be as culturally-naïve as she appears to be). As a result, parents who follow Hicks’ model will always be scrambling behind their kids in order to keep up with their Facebook posts and Xbox Live accounts. Instead, a more appropriate approach to parenting, in my opinion, would be to be in constant conversation with our kids about media and culture and allow them a bit of supervised freedom as they make decisions. It gives them a certain amount of responsibility while still keeping the parent(s) involved.
Again, I realize that there are those who will absolutely adore this book. For those who read this review, I apologize for not enjoying it as much as you will. For you, I would give this book a rating of 4/5. You will find her approach helpful (especially her curriculum at the end of each of chapter), and you will feel more involved in your child’s life (although you will constantly be frustrated and often find yourself on the losing side). For those of you who were curious about my opinion without investing in the book, I give it a 2/5 for the reasons I mentioned above.
Rob O’Lynn, ABD
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Ministry
Kentucky Christian University