A father of four explains the realist approach to parenting.
BY TONY WOODLIEF
Friday, September 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
Another school year has sprung itself upon us, which is always an occasion for my wife, a former Detroit public-school teacher, and me to remind ourselves why we home-school. Part of the reason, in addition to my wife's expertise in this area, can be found in Thomas Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions," published 20 years ago. Mr. Sowell contrasted the "unconstrained vision" of utopians, who want to radically improve humankind, with the "constrained vision" of realists, who begin with the proposition that man is inherently self-interested, and not moldable into whatever form the high-minded types have in store for us once they get their itchy fingers on the levers of power. Mr. Sowell's book has been influential among conservatives for its compelling explanation of the divide between people who want to reshape us--often via large intrusions on liberty--and those who believe that the purpose of government is to protect institutions (like markets and families) that channel our inherent selfishness into productive behavior. It is also a handy guide for parenting.
While some mothers and fathers stubbornly cling to the utopian beliefs of their childless years, the vision of humans as inherently sinful and selfish resonates with many of us who are parents. Nobody who's stood between a toddler and the last cookie should still harbor a belief in the inherent virtue of mankind. An afternoon at the playground is apt to make one toss out the idealist Rousseau ("man is a compassionate and sensible being") in favor of the more realistic Hobbes ("all mankind [is in] a perpetual and restless desire for power"). As a father of four sons, I've signed on to Mr. Sowell's summation of a parent's duty: "Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late."
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