The survey showed that favouring coercion over any one issue is not a good predictor of favouring coercion over any other issue, even an issue that the majority considers more important. The fact that so many parents believe that so many others have got their priorities the wrong way round is very hard to explain in the conventional terms of ‘strict’ vs. ‘lenient’ enforcement of a larger or smaller core of objectively important things. Most of us can see quite easily the irrationality of many other people’s justifications for coercing children. But it is in the nature of irrationality that we cannot see our own.
Parents interpret unwanted behaviour of their young children as an ‘ill effect’. Not because the parent is stupid or malevolent, but because all observation is theory laden, and because causation cannot be observed.
One of the reasons terminology sometimes looms large in Taking Children Seriously discussions is that prevailing terminology systematically (and pathologically) glosses over the most important distinctions—not in concepts, but in reality!—that we want to make.
Anyone who is interested in learning those subjects learns what ‘expressed’ and ‘executed’ mean without conscious effort. No sweating over the nuances of a definition is ever involved. What one does is start with any commonsense, flawed conception of ‘expressed’ or ‘executed’, and then one refines that conception in parallel with learning the theory.
What a moral person would do, and want, depends, among other things, on what he believes the rights of the various people concerned are. And the consistency of this moral background, helps the parties to interact with each other non-coercively.
If a superficially generous act is done for the purpose of modelling, it is not being done out of generosity at all. There is no realistic chance of an onlooker becoming generous as a result of watching such a charade. If anything of it is passed on at all, it will be the parent’s actual motivation (to tell improving lies to children), not the purported one. What is the point of propagating the idea that generosity is a chore but in front of children one must grit one’s teeth and act out the semblance?
Whatever argument you apply to adults about refusing medical treatment should apply to children too.
Parents sometimes confuse reality with fantasy, and then coerce their children accordingly.
Practical suggestions about a child not wanting to wear a prescribed eyepatch.
You are under coercion if and only if you have two or more incompatible wants and are acting on one of them (e.g. currently eating health food and not junk food) while another is active (there is a wanting-junk-food process currently under way in your brain).
In a medical emergency do whatever you have to do to save the person’s life.
Can one be taking children seriously if one defines ‘a good relationship’ in a way that is independent of how the children feel about it at the time?
Sometimes it takes courage to risk confrontation with a coercionist adult to avoid risking coercing our beloved child. But seeing the wider perspective can help.
Coercion tends to cause a coerced state of mind, and can impair the child’s ability to reason about the thing in question.
None of the reasons why enforcing “clear borders” is good for coerced children carry over in any way to children who are in consensual relationships with their parents. On the contrary, enforcing fixed borders and bottom lines is irrational and coercive, and sabotages the very means by which such children remain happy.
Lots of things ‘suck’ for most people, but very few things suck for everyone. People are very, very different, and there is a danger in just assuming that a child is acting out of desperation when in fact they are quite healthily pursuing their own ends. The danger is that one will then, in effect, be refusing to help them pursue these ends, and, in effect, start to undermine them by constantly seeking alternatives and constantly acting on the assumption that there must be something wrong with them, or with the alternatives that you are providing for them, if they persist in wanting this.
How the future of a child not forced to study mathematics might look.
Innocence, properly conceived, is a positive attribute. It is the ignorance that comes from a voluntary decision not to engage (or not to engage yet) with a particular area of complex knowledge. Innocence in that sense is essential for all genuine learning. Compulsory teaching is the destruction of innocence, forcing the victims to waste the opportunity, which comes only once in each lifetime, to encounter that knowledge for the first time.
Enacting an anti-rational meme causes other people (typically one’s children) to lose the ability to think critically about the behaviour in question, and to become unable to refrain from enacting the meme themselves.
Parents do not “need to be advised to manipulate their children with guilt, implied threats, and bribes”—they do this anyway. But they do need to be reassured that it is OK, and therefore that it is OK for them progressively to expunge the opposite impulses from their minds.
Taking Children Seriously is neither utopian nor revolutionary. It is fallibilist and respects tradition as well as the growth of knowledge.
Why schools like Summerhill and Sudbury Valley can’t actually be non-coercive.
Can there be such a thing as a non-coercive school? The existing institution that comes closest to a non-coercive school is the entire town (or city, or society, or internet) that the children have access to, including their homes, and their friends’ homes, and excluding only the existing schools.
We parents often think we have a good reason not to take our child seriously, but when our actions are not consistent with our seemingly good reason, what is really going on?
We believe that it possible for human beings, through conjecture, reason and criticism, to come to know and understand truths about the world, including truths about the human condition and about specific people, and including truths about matters that are not experimentally testable. We do not believe that we possess the final truth about any of these matters, but we do believe that our successive theories can become objectively truer—with more true implications and fewer errors.
Parents often believe that their financial support and other services for their children morally obliges the children to provide certain services in return. But there is no justification for that belief. It is just a rationalisation of the traditional status quo between parent and child. The truth is that there is a moral asymmetry between parent and child: in the event of an intractable dispute between them, the parent chose to place the child in the situation that caused the dispute; the child did not choose to place the parent there.
Children’s behaviour is not random. It is meaningful. Therefore there was a reason for this incident.
In this heyday of scientism, all sorts of experiments are performed to back up every conceivable view of education, and people simply cite the ones that confirm their prior beliefs and ignore the rest. Hence they are asking other people to abandon their opinions in deference to a type of ‘evidence’ which they themselves would (quite rightly) not pay a moment’s attention to if it had gone the other way.
Parents call punishments ‘natural consequences’ when they are unwilling to accept responsibility for the unhappiness that is being caused, but accepting responsibility may be a necessary step to solving such problems.
If a child wants to go to school, we support that decision, and we ensure that our child can always leave or contact us without notice.
When a child wants us to buy something we find morally objectionable, we have to remember that it is our child buying it, not us. You have no jurisdiction over your children. What they do can’t be morally wrong for you.
When one is the victim of a great injustice, there is a tremendous temptation to define oneself, and one’s life, at least partly in terms of this injustice. The victim mentality is a terrible mistake because it sabotages the vital process of learning how to have a happy life, solving problems as you go along.
Blindspots are challenging to identify, by their very nature. You don’t see what you don’t see. But asking friends to help you identify them can be very liberating, because their effects are wide.
As Karl Popper said, “our own free world is by far the best society which has come into existence during the course of human history.”
How scientism allows one to escape from the merely human arena of morality with a single bound. Parents’ disputes with their children are over a moral issue—what they should do, or what should be done to them. While professionals may have some expertise over factual issues, that does not entitle them to pose as authorities on the moral issue. To assume that it does is anti-rational. It is scientism.
David Deutsch explains why he says that he could not be very productive without also being untidy.
Suppose you suddenly found yourself in the body of a twelve-year-old child. Suppose that despite this physical transformation, your personality, your knowledge and every other aspect of your mind remained unchanged. How might this affect your life? This was the theme of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (entitled Rascals).
Professor David Deutsch on why he himself values and plays video games, and why the arguments against them are mistaken.