Reason, freedom, and raising fine children
A guest post here by Brian Scurfield, who argued recently that the future of liberty depends on the idea taking root that it is possible to educate children in a coercion free environment. He lays out his argument in this post.
What I want to argue in this post is that the way we treat our children is intertwined with the future of liberty.
Most parents want to give their children a good education and to inculcate in their children good values and respect for reason. Yet, despite these intentions, our education system has failed our children. Why is this? Is it simply a case that the problem lies with State schools and that all will be well and good if schools were privatized? While privatization would be a step in the right direction, I don't think this in itself would solve the problem. For the problem is much deeper than just a question of who should run the schools. The problem in fact lies with some deeply entrenched ideas about how children should be raised.
In their starkest form, these ideas hark back to the old idea that "to spare the rod is to spoil the child". Of course, most parents today would find this idea abhorrent, and rightly so, yet many parents are willing in one form or another to practice coercion on their children. They would argue that coercion is necessary to get their children to learn, that it is OK to coerce children because children, after all, are not miniature adults and that parents have more knowledge and experience than children.
I would like to ask these parents how you can inculcate reason if you are willing to employ coercion?
A person that employs coercion to inculcate reason demonstrates by their very actions that reason - not to mention liberty - can be overridden in the pursuit of a goal. But these things can't be overridden: Not only will you probably not achieve your goal or getting a child to learn, you will end up with a whole lot of bad and unintended consequences. Many of these you may not even become aware of.
There is a link between the inculcation of reason and freedom from coercion.
The idea that coercion should play no part at all in child-rearing apparently is an idea that many people, including libertarians, have difficulty accepting. Libertarians often pull out the property-rights argument, that it's my house and my rules. Yet this is to confuse one's legal rights with one's moral obligations. Just because you think your child shouldn't be watching that soap opera doesn't mean it is a morally right for you to simply turn off the TV. Just because you think your child should be attending Auckland Grammar doesn't mean you should force your child to go there.
You can't just raise a child any way you please. That is to deny that children are people possessed of ideas, motivations, and a will of their own. It is also to deny how knowledge is created.
Children are not buckets that you pour ideas into. Children learn best when their learning is self-directed and governed by interest. It's how you learn best isn't it? Young children are naturally inquisitive, but it is only too easy to stamp out that inquisitiveness through coercion.
Parental authoritarianism and thinking "I know best" is just as corrosive as State authoritarianism.
Furthermore, if "knowing best" gives you the right to coerce your child, then that argument will be used against you by others who claim more knowledge and more experience than you. Which, of course, it is.
It is because the creation of knowledge and the inculcation of reason are strongly intertwined with freedom from coercion that the future of liberty depends on how we treat our children. A future libertarian society is going to require lots of new knowledge, including knowledge about freedom, but that knowledge will not be won, nor that society last, if children are not allowed the freedom to control the contents of their own minds.
I believe it is possible to educate a child in an environment free from coercion. This doesn't mean that you become a doormat for your child or that what your child says goes. But how is it possible? Well, it requires lots of things. It requires acknowledgement that both you and your child are fallible, that one or both of you may be wrong, that problems can be solved through reason, that by working with your child you can find a common preference where nobody need get hurt. Yes, these things may not always be easy, but that's no excuse for not trying. The whole approach is called Taking Children Seriously.