How anti-rational memes sabotage culture, education and the Enlightenment.
Solutions many babies have loved!
Children learn the same way everyone does when they are completely free of others’ expectations and other interfering impediments to learning. They learn by wondering about something, thinking about it, finding out about it, perhaps reading about it or discussing it or looking it up on the internet, all driven by their own curiosity.
Having an agenda for a child implies having a want for the child that is independent of and impervious to their own wishes; steering them along a path you have decided is best for them, often without discussing it openly.
With pre-verbal children we have to be creative and come up with concrete ways of conveying information about dangers, rather than just giving explicit explanations. (I suggest both.)
A conversation between prospective parents, about taking children seriously.
It is not true that screen time implies an isolated child cut off from family life. Screens and non-screens can be intertwined worlds filled with connection, joy, fun, and learning.
Offering a child a small treat (whatever it may be) might seem unobjectionable, because parent/carer and child both ‘win’. But what’s really happening here is that you’re implicitly teaching them that if they want something that seems appealing, to get it they will have to do things they don’t want to do. You’re essentially supporting a pattern of exchanging one’s happiness/dignity/ethical standards/morals for some prize.
This question is in effect asking “How do I mould and shape my child into a person who believes that individuals should be free from unwanted moulding and shaping by others?”
Why subjecting your baby to the Cry it Out method is a mistake, and how bedtime anarchy can be delightful.
Enslaving our children by forcing them to do household chores is highly likely to impair their happiness rather than promote it, and it does nothing to inspire them to work hard at things that matter to them.
Dead Poets Society is not taking children seriously. Taking children seriously is not just being a bit kinder to the inmates, or being a tiny bit rebellious against an authoritarian system you nevertheless continue to work in, it is a different thing entirely. It is about children actually being free.
Our coercion of our children boils down to thinking for them, and expecting our children to follow our instructions. But children can think for themselves.
When there really is no time to ask the person if they want their life saved, we save their life, obviously!
People sometimes say explicitly that they are fallibilists, but inexplicably they are ‘saying’ that they are infallibilists. They say people are fallible and not omniscient, but they act as if they think people see the truth yet are wickedly choosing evil.
Non-coercive = embracing others exactly the way they are, and they can change if they want to and they don’t have to. Coercive = trying to control, fix or change others against their will.
If, when you were five, your parents had told you that you would thank them later for the coercive education to which they were subjecting you, would you have believed them or not? And what would have made you think that they were lying to you?
If the ‘research’ alleges that whether you behave morally or immorally, it makes no difference, does that make immoral behaviour unobjectionable?
If it were true that maths is boring at the beginning and only becomes interesting later, then no one would ever have discovered all the mathematics that has been discovered, because it could not have been being forced on children before it had been discovered. Each bit of maths was formed by somebody who had not been taught it but who did it purely because it was interesting.
Having a rule which overrides your reason is at best going to entrench bad habits. How do you know the thing you are forcing yourself (or your child) to do is actually right? If it is right, why can’t you (or your child) feel good about it?
If you were in the American slave-holding South in the days of slavery, and a supporter of slavery was demanding studies and ‘evidence’ to justify your argument for ending slavery, would that not strike you as a highly immoral stance?
Other people can behave badly, and we can view it as a problem to solve rather than being horribly distressed, wounded and irredeemably damaged.
How viewing other people as wilful perpetrators embodies the mistaken theory that problems are not soluble, and thus can interfere with problem-solving and result in our beloved children being distressed.
If you think there is a brunt to be borne that is intolerable, what makes you think that it is OK to have a defenceless child bear the brunt of it?!
Life does not have to involve either ruling or being ruled. Instead, we can stand side by side with no one ruling, all of us free to be in control of our own life, solving problems individually and jointly, and having fun doing so.
We may subscribe to the values of rationality and taking children seriously, but when it comes to detail, we may well be mistaken about particular aspects of it. So instilling anything, including those ideas we most value, is a mistake. We want our ideas to be corrected. We want our children to be able to correct our errors, not be saddled with them.
When you struggle against or take a coercive approach with another person, the natural response of that person is to defend their corner and fight back. The same happens inside our own minds. When you are fighting a part of your own mind, that causes the part you are trying to stamp out to dig in, to entrench itself, to defend its corner more vigorously.
Drop the second guessing and scrutinising and judging. It is as toxic for us as that kind of thing is for our children. If you are not feeling free—free to think, free to be and free to act in accordance with your own ideas, your thinking flying free as a bird—it might be that you are seizing up your thinking with scrutiny and judgement, objectifying yourself as a parent.
There is every reason for hope! And the fact that we have noticed that coercing our children is problematic is progress compared to how things were in the static society of the past. (And hey, maybe the fact that coercionists these days seem to feel more need to justify their advocacy of coercion is itself progress?)
Anti-rational memes are not only passed from parents to children, they exist more widely in our culture. This is why other people seem to feel so free to judge and criticise you if you are taking your child seriously, and it is why complete strangers in supermarkets tell you to keep your child under control. And it is why the corresponding anti-rational meme in your own mind has you feeling rebuked, ashamed, upset, and defensive.
If parents knew that they could reject the conventional approach and it would not ruin their precious child’s life, many more would do so. If you cannot see that rejecting the status quo is not only right, but also will not have any disastrous unintended consequences, it feels safer to stick with the tradition of paternalistic coercion.
Such questions are in effect asking how we and our children can solve the problem created by us in effect having a visceral aversion to our children innocently enjoying themselves learning. Why is that the case, and when we are in such a state, what can we do about it?
Focus on having fun playfully solving whatever problem you have in the present moment, and move forward from where you are now. Notice just how brilliant and amazing you are and how much you have achieved, alleged impairments notwithstanding!
Life can be messy for all of us. Sometimes when we try to make improvements, part of our mind panics, and that can hurt.
Babies are obviously nothing like pigs, because fast forward a year or two and one is talking to you whereas the other never will. And they are talking to you because of something that happened in that year or two, and it isn’t something that happens in pigs, ever. This is not a small difference, it is a radical difference.
The more (voluntary, wanted, enjoyable) engagement and influence in all directions, the better. And when people are voluntarily joining together and influencing one another, amazing things can happen. The whole may well be greater than the sum of the parts: they may create knowledge together that might not have happened were they each alone.
That parents have obligations to their children that their children do not have to them is not because children are lesser humans. It is because we parents have freely chosen to place our children in the positions they are in, living with us instead of having been adopted at birth, say. It is we parents who have the obligations to our children, not our children who have obligations to us.
Children should not only not have any medical procedures performed on them without consent, they should be in control throughout. That applies to vaccinations and everything else.
Children are no less creative and rational than adults, whether or not they yet have the explicit language in which to express themselves.
This question is like a coercively controlling husband asking: “If you are not coercing your wife, what do you do instead of coercion?” A paternalistic husband who controls his wife out of the best of intentions because he honestly believes that it is for her own good, could ask the same question.
Children being taken seriously are not subject to an authority from whom they need permission, so they no more ask permission than we do.
What does taking courteous manners seriously look like? How children taken seriously learn table manners.
How do you yourself determine what to eat? It is the same with children. What we eat is determined by a number of things, including what we feel like eating, which may be affected by our ideas about health and other things.
In a relationship characterised by consent, on those occasions when the other person is warning us that our proposed course of action may be unwise, and explaining why, we have every reason to trust that such warnings are not attempts to thwart us and ruin our fun, but are actually important—that it is actually in our best interests to heed the warnings.
That’s like saying: “The police force should respect human rights except on important issues”. I’d rather say “let’s have a police force whose ethos embodies respect for human rights”—and know that there will be some failures to respect human rights—than have an ethos which embodies systematic disregard for human rights in some areas. Similarly, with our children, having systematic exceptions to the ethos of taking them seriously instead of coercing them, makes the whole idea incoherent.
If you think your child needs you, maybe experiment, tentatively trying different ways of being there for her and making sure she knows you are there for her and want to do what she wants and not what she does not want.
Losing sight of others’ good intentions is a mistake. Reacting badly, as if truth is obvious and we ourselves are in possession of it, tends to be coercive.
What turns taking medicine from something neutral or mildly unpleasant that you are willing to do to help you get better, to something terrifying and traumatic that you would rather die than do, is not actually the horrible taste of the medicine, it is the lack of control, the fear of being forced, the violation of your bodily integrity—which is a violation of your mental integrity, your agency. Something can feel fine if it is voluntary, but extremely traumatic if it is involuntary.
It is far safer to show children potential dangers and how to handle them safely, than it is simply to rely on them never interacting with such dangers. Even if you yourself keep all the dangerous items and chemicals locked up, there will come a day when your child is somewhere else, where that is not the case, and then your child is potentially navigating dangerous things with no knowledge of how to do so safely. Taking our children seriously is so much safer than the alternative.
Often, we need to increase the bandwidth by communicating not just explicitly in words, but simultaneously also inexplicitly, through our facial expressions and body language, and we also need to find more concrete ways of expressing theories. Show them concrete effects. Help them understand.
We are attuned to babies’ signals, we take their preferences seriously and assist them in meeting them. We empower them rather than disempoweraging them. Even newborn babies are learning something absolutely vital for their future—something so important and valuable that I cannot stress it enough: they are learning that they can have an effect on the world.
There is “discipline” in the sense of intrinsically motivated, wholeheartedly pursuing and working at something that you live for. Then there is “discipline” in the sense of coercive control. These are two totally different things.
How do you distinguish between restrictions on our behaviour that are good for us and those that aren’t? The restrictions on our behaviour that are good for us are ones we agree with. And when we agree with them, they are not restrictions on our behaviour anyway.
The trouble with the idea of rights is that you can justify almost any postulate about children from the idea of ‘rights’ if you want to.
Subjecting anyone of any age to coercive education (unwanted criticism) is not taking them seriously. Nor is it even taking the valuableness of criticism seriously! Let alone taking the growth of knowledge seriously.
he idea that criticism of others is always good is a mistake, just like it is a mistake to think that education is always good. It may be good if it is wanted, but not if it is unwanted. Coercive education is not and never has been Taking Children Seriously.
If my child wanted to drive, I would find a way to teach her to drive safely and legally, such as on the private farmland of a friend.
Our children are not us. They may well have different ideas from ours. Our ideas might be mistaken. We are fallible. That our ideas feel right does not justify coercing our children. Our children are sovereign beings who do not belong to us but to themselves.
Meet the aggressor where she is, without resistance, as opposed to disapproving from above; see it from her PoV; what was this about?; what led up to this? How can we proceed positively from here?
The purpose of such what-if questions is to justify coercion, but when you ask the same question about an adult, it is shocking, because we all take adults seriously.
We parents sometimes imagine that we can teach our children to be sensitive to others’s wishes by being utterly insensitive to theirs, but actions speak louder than words, and our children are more likely to be kind and thoughtful if we have been kind and thoughtful to them.
Even if childhood coercion has virtually no effect, it would not change what it is right or wrong to do to people. And it is not right to do things to people that will impair the growth of knowledge.
In a compromise, each person gives up something such that everyone involved suffers ‘fairly’ and ‘equally’. A genuine solution, on the other hand, is one which everyone involved prefers, including preferring it to their own antecedent preference. No one is suffering, ‘fairly’, ‘equally’ or otherwise.
Does the proposed solution spark joy? Is everyone beaming? Are our eyes all shining? Do you see delight? Joy? Animation? Skipping? The odd cartwheel, perhaps? Is it a “YES!!!!” all round? That suggests you have created a real solution.
We look at our respective reasons for wanting what we initially want, and we create a way to proceed that we all prefer—a new idea that did not exist at the outset.
Assuming you are happily married, would you ever be thinking: “If I am not allowed to coerce my wife, surely I am being coerced myself?”?! No! Never! Not even in your worst moment ever! You take your wife seriously. You are not trying to train or change or improve your wife. You are not trying to win at her expense. You want both of you to win! You love her just as she is. You two solve problems together rather than coercing each other.
Being fallible implies that we can be mistaken including when we feel certain that we are right. And because we are fallible, there is no reliable way to know who is right and who is wrong. Disagreements can either be resolved through reason, or they can be dealt with coercively. So no, feeling that we are right does not justify coercion.
Coercion impedes progress by impairing error-correcting processes. “The right of the parent over his child lies either in his superior strength or his superior reason. If in his strength, we have only to apply this right universally, in order to drive all morality out of the world. If in his reason, in that reason let him confide.”
Children are not born knowing right and wrong arises out of the paternalist view of children, which mistakenly holds that children learn moral knowledge through coercion, and that no one would have any interest in improving their moral knowledge unless forced to do so. But actually, coercion impedes and impairs learning, including of moral knowledge, and the vast majority of people including children are trying to do the right thing and trying to improve, including morally, and no one has perfect moral knowledge.
It means children AND parents ‘getting their own way’—such a joy for all of us.
The feeling that ‘how it’s always been’ is right and natural does not mean it is. Many barbaric, highly immoral things felt ‘natural’ and right for centuries before progress was made.
The slight asymmetry is because the parent has chosen to put the child in the situation in which the child finds herself, whereas the child has not chosen to be in that situation or to put the parent in the situation.
Why is it that there is a word “parenting” but no word “childing”? Because in our culture, children are not taken seriously. Words like “parenting” embody the idea of hierarchical, top-down paternalistic/authoritarian parent-child relationships in which the parent is actively doing to the child and the child is passively done to. The parent is actively moulding and shaping the child from above.
Taking Children Seriously is not permissive, uninvolved, authoritarian or authoritative. Those approaches coerce children instead of taking them seriously as full people whose lives are their own.
Paternalism is the idea that certain people or groups need to be controlled (in a benevolent fatherly way) for their own good.
Children very much need our love and protection, our care and attention, fun and play, support and vast amounts of engagement with their ideas and interests. They are not born able to survive and thrive without us. Only in the case of children do people think that needing support, protection, assistance, information and other things implies not having the same freedom, rights, respect and control over their lives as others.
Taking Children Seriously is a new VIEW of children—a non-paternalistic view: like other groups of human beings, children are people, not pets, prisoners or property. Full people whose lives are their own, not a different kind of person – full, equal humans who should no more be coerced and manipulated and moulded and shaped by others than we adults should be.
Taking Children Seriously is a new VIEW of children—a non-paternalistic view: children do not actually need to be controlled for their own good. An Oxford Karl Popper Society talk.
Most home educators in Britain favour autonomous curiosity-driven learning, vs formal homeschooling.
Taking children seriously means taking a child’s wish/decision to go to school seriously too.
Overt coercion is less likely to corrupt children’s interpretation of what is happening to them. But given that part of our self respect as parents taking our children seriously comes from being non-coercive, it might well be that the coercion we inadvertently engage in is interpretation-corrupting double binds. So we need to be particularly aware of the subtle mind-messing forms of coercion.
Unfortunately it is not true that children taken seriously are good at identifying coercion (except perhaps overt coercion).
How do real-life parents gracefully navigate housework and chores in a home that seems endlessly messy or disorganised?
Encouraging children fully express their big emotions does not solve the problem and may well be intrusive. Children’s inner lives are private. The idea that merely getting the emotion out solves the problem is a mistake. Problems are soluble, and it is fun to do so. Part of why children have these big emotions is that they are not being taken seriously and problems are not actually getting solved.
Life is not black and white, but rules are. Punishments try to make the world fit into the categories of black and white but kids judge that there are greys anyway.So we help our children learn about those greys instead of just ignoring them they way many parents do. Iit leads to safer children.
When children know that if their parents deem them to be watching too much TV, their parents will ban TV-watching, they self-coercively limit their watching out of fear of losing it altogether.
When one child hurts another, forget about trying to establish the motivation. The truth is likely to be either that it was an accident, or that it was caused indirectly by coercion on our part, so any asking the child about his motives is likely to cause yet more coercion.
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.
Learning is different from looking at one’s learning. Objectifying education as a thing to look at and judge interferes with learning.
Videogame players are learning not just knowledge of the overt subject-matter of the game, but inexplicit knowledge that applies in all creativity in the world. In a way, they are (mainly inexplicitly) learning how the universe works.
Children’s behaviour is not random. It is meaningful. Therefore there was a reason for this incident.
It is a mistake to seek evidence of children’s learning, because that can have a significant destructive effect upon the learning that is going on. They are then highly likely to switch from addressing the problem they were addressing, to the new problem the teacher has introduced, of how to perform and provide evidence for the teacher.
Children have to do what they themselves think is right, with no pressure whatsoever—that’s what non-coercion amounts to—but they also have a right to be told morality as best we see it.
Getting children to ‘agree’ to TV limits is coercive, and pretending that it is non-coercive.
Children’s lives are their own, and they are far more competent than many parents think they are.
Imagine if your husband denied you dinner because you had not yet completed the chores he had decided you must do before dinner…
Popper’s work provides an epistemological critique of the teacher-directed learning model, although it appears that Popper himself never made this connection.
Herbert Spencer argued that children have equal rights with adults. In his Social Statics, written in 1850, Spencer boldly states that every child “has claims to freedom—rights, as we call them—coextensive with those of the adult.”
What children learn from soap operas is how to live in our culture. Parents naturally want their children to rise above the culture—to reject its false ideas, if you like—but to do that, one has to start from the culture one is in, and improve it. There is no way of jumping to a better set of ideas without first criticising the existing ideas. The growth of knowledge begins with existing theories.
American children should be prepared for the playmate who reaches into his parents’ drawer and comes out with a loaded gun
Reason keeps a child safe because the child has the correct theory (that the stuff is dangerous); coercion is risky because the child’s theory is not based on the reality of the substance, but upon the possible punishment for an infringement of the parental rule.
Any differences in reasoning you may think there are, are an artefact of the differences in knowledge, not any actual differences in reasoning.
The ‘Don’t children prefer strict rules so they know where they stand’ argument is based on an equivocation between two meanings of the word ‘strict’, namely (1) harsh, coercive, and (2) well-defined, precise. People do like to know the rules under which they are living, i.e. they want strict(2) rules. But they do not like getting hurt, so they do not want strict(1) rules.
Using love as leverage to double-bind children to obey—threatening to withdraw the relationship—is wrong. Children have a right to our love.
Traditional education can be looked at a massive, standardized operation aiming to stuff the allegedly passive bucket minds of children.
The Faber/Mazlish How To Talk So Kids Will Listen books are not taking children seriously: they advocate double-binding and lying to children to manipulate them into going along with the parent’s agenda that is independent of and impervious to the child’s own wishes.
Having pessimistic educational theories like ‘not everything that is useful is (in itself) interesting’ suggests there are things children need to learn that they will not willingly choose to learn, therefore educational coercion is necessary. That is a mistake. Educational coercion impedes and impairs learning. It does not help.
It is educational coercion that sabotages learning, not teaching per se. WANTED teaching is different from unwanted teaching.
The primary function of teachers is to hold innocent people against their will (in other contexts known as “imprisonment without trial”), to force them to do things they don’t want to do, to stop them doing things they do want to do, and to “train” (coerce) them to conform.
Parents and teachers do far more to oppress children than the laws do, and could perfectly legally desist from most of this oppression if they so chose. There is no legal requirement upon parents to punish their children for a wide range of perfectly legal activities, yet they choose to anyway. There is no legal requirement upon parents to insist that their children live with them, and yet parents whose children seek other guardians usually invoke their legal right to force the children to return. There is no legal requirement to deny children freedom of association, and yet many parents do deny their children that. There is no legal requirement to assault children, yet, in the name of discipline, many parents do so. There is no legal requirement to deny children access to information in the home, yet many parents go to extreme lengths to do so. There is no legal requirement upon parents to subject unwilling children to extra-curricular activities such as piano lessons and Girl Guides. Indeed, there is no legal requirement for parents to force their children to go to school, yet most do.
This 1989 workshop advocated taking children seriously, not just ‘autonomous learning’.