Friday, October 05, 2007

Don't Suffer the Little Children (From the Opinion Journal)

Don't Suffer the Little Children
A father of four explains the realist approach to parenting.

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."

For the complete article.


WondrousPilgrim said...

I don't think I agree with this--at least, not exactly:

"Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late."

Kids are barbarians in a certain respect--in that they don't understand the ways of the world. But that's a good thing in many cases.

THIS is spot on--I'm so doing that:
My wife and I therefore forbid our children to use the word "fair." Parents still in the thrall of the unconstrained worldview are prone to manipulation by their kids, who like little human-rights lawyers insist on fairness as an imperative. And don't get me started on the damage that an exaggerated sense of fairness and entitlement has done to public schools. In our house things are much simpler: That last piece of cake had to be divided somehow, and in this imperfect world your brother got the extra frosting. Deal with it.

Now I am begining to see why my old prof told me to read Rousseau's second discourse before I do any more work on kids lit.

diana said...

Hi, I write from Rome, Italy and just came across your blog.

I don't think Mr Sowell would define himself as a conservative. As far as I know, he claims to be a libertarian, and is proud to be one. Which is mindboggling, considering his paedagogic approach.

His quote about little barbarians reminded of a funny anecdote told by Norm Lee, an American educator:

"In a recent lecture to a group of parents, I opened a book and read aloud: "Start discipline early; make clear rules, enforce them promptly and consistently. Reinforce obedience with, 'Good boy, that's a nice girl,' together with pats and hugs. After disciplining, tell them you love them, but it was for their own good." There were unanimous nods of agreement, some voicing approval quite heartily. But when I showed the book's cover, they gasped in shock: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DOBERMAN PINSCHER." (Norm Lee, 2002)

Well, one would think Sowell knew better than that, being the great economist and philosopher he is. But children are often a blind spot in even the brightest minds, I guess.

Diana Corsini