Why discussions take a philosophical turn

“[N]ot having a philosophy but relying on a million books to be told what to do in this or that situation is the source of great distress among my parenting friends…”
– Christine C.


From the archives: Posted on 8th July, 1995

I had written:

“I can pick up any child-rearing or child-development book and within seconds discover whether it contains ‘poisonous pedagogy’ (Alice Miller’s term)—the ones that appear largely free from this are the ones I take home to read and think about—and take issue with in many cases.”

Sarah wrote:

“I tend to pick up the poisonous ones, myself. ;-)”

Wish I had the time! But the poisonous pedagogues just make me angry—I’m trying to strengthen and deepen my understanding of a particular approach to childrearing, to do it better all the time; eradicating conventional parenting will have to be saved for the next life.

I had written:

“(a) that children are people every bit as much as adults are and deserve to be accorded the same respect and consideration (more so since they are particularly vulnerable vis-a-vis the imbalance of power inherent in adult/child relationships) as anyone else; that they react the same way inside to being scolded/bribed/retaliated against/bossed around/laughed at that any of us do—they just haven’t developed the ability to articulate their feelings and assert their rights to adults.”

Sarah wrote:

“The question is, why, given that children lack knowledge and begin rather less able to communicate than most adults, and don’t always behave like rational beings (it seems), should we accord them the same respect as adults?”

Good question. It goes to the fundamental question of what equality means in the context of childrearing, in comparison with other situations in which people are “differently abled” (we all are, aren’t we?)

Sarah wrote:

“Why is all this true? What is it about children that, despite their lack of knowledge, and so on, makes them worthy of full consideration? Why should we listen to them? What do they know? It is the answers to these sort of questions which are what Taking Children Seriously is all about.”

Thank you. This is what my impression was. I’m glad that it is not just for people who happen to share Glen’s particular philosophy.

[In reply to a request to post a list of what Taking Children Seriously is, and what it is not], Sarah wrote:

“Did you see my posting on this subject? Subjectline: Common misapprehensions about Taking Children Seriously; 6.05 pm, 27th May 1995”

Yes, I saved it.

I had written:

“(b) that any use of externally imposed sanctions which would not be applied if dealing rationally and civilly with a fellow adult interferes with the development of self-discipline, self-sufficiency, and self-respect and even the conscience so should therefore be avoided strenuously.”

Sarah wrote:

“Why does it? Could you (or someone else) give an argument for this contention?”

This is where I have gotten some help from my ‘experts’—this, in combination with my own intuition, experience, and observation, have provided support for these contentions for me. Once you see ‘the truth’, as I feel I have, it is fascinating to see confirmation again and again that the children who ‘misbehave’ are the ones whose parents are always bribing, blackmailing, and punishing them, that people whose ‘conscience’ tells them that killing is wrong when committed by individuals, but not when the government does it for some sacred symbol like ‘national security’ or ‘saving the taxpayers’ money’ are the ones convinced that their parents brought them up right and that they should raise their own children the same way without questioning it.”

Sarah wrote:

“I am all for talking about real life, but how one lives one’s life is dependent upon one’s underlying ideas, and that is why discussions do sometimes take a philosophical turn. Philosophy matters, whether one thinks it does or not. When someone asks a question about a child staying at a friend’s house with no parents, presumably, she wants to think about how that situation might be handled. Does she want to be told ‘Do this.’ or ‘You should have done that.’? No. She wants not only to know how she might have handled it, but why that way, and why not the conventional way. Those whys are philosophy—ideas.
           If it all seems a bit abstract and universal sometimes, that is because Popperian epistemology is very deep and broad, and has profound implications for every area of life. And once one understands that, one does not need all these ad hoc ideas and old wives’ tales and whatnot. So although it seems initially more difficult to understand the philosophy, once one has internalised that, one won’t need to ask so many questions about particular situations—in other words, everything becomes much easier in practice, at the sharp end. But yes, I think it would be helpful to make it more obvious how the philosophy stuff relates directly to the practical stuff.”

I agree that the philosophy is fundamental—not having a philosophy but relying on a million books to be told what to do in this or that situation is the source of great distress among my parenting friends—I always appreciate the freedom and ease and pleasure with which I am able to watch my child grow when I see what a struggle they are having. I was hoping that through concrete examples (which we have another one now) I could get “Taking Children Seriously” demystified if it is something different from what my impression was from reading your posts. Thanks for your challenging questions, Sarah—it’s not enough for me to be satisfied with the way I am doing things, which is why I am on this list—I know I can do still better. By questioning even what we are certain to be the truth, we can see alternative explanations, new angles, and consider new questions from which our children can only benefit.

See also:

Christine C., 1995, ‘Why discussions take a philosophical turn’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/why-discussions-take-a-philosophical-turn/

Leave a comment