john_j_enright (john_j_enright) wrote,

Objectivism and kids

Shannon (who recently graduated from a very tough school indeed) asked me how we raised a couple of children so that they ended up Objectivist or at least Objectivist-friendly, particularly given young people's natural desire to rebel against all things parental. (That's a paraphrase. I think she actually said it better, in the comments, a couple of days ago.)

(She humorously wondered if we locked them in the basement until they recited the strikers' oath.)

On the one hand, at an early age, you do have to teach some basic moral lessons, like tell the truth, respect others' property, it's good to pursue happiness - but in child-appropriate language, which is very simple indeed at times.

On the other hand, as regards beliefs, and particularly Objectivism, we never pushed our beliefs hard. For example, as regards belief in God or heaven, if we were asked, we would say we didn't believe, but that some people did, and that you should decide for yourself what you think. We were willing to offer our reasons for nonbelief, when we were asked for them, again in very simple language. ("I've never seen God" is a worthwhile reason for very young kids.)

Of course, Marsha and I always did, in front of the children, talk about Objectivist ideas at times with each other. But the kids ignored these mostly until they were teens. At which point they began to ask what we were talking about.

My son at one point had a negative view of Objectivism, because he thought Objectivists spent ridiculous amounts of time trying to prove positions that were perfectly obvious. Obvious to him, anyway. Later, after more exposure to moral relativism, for instance, when he found he had trouble defending the "obvious" at times, he began to hold more respect for philosophical argument.

We never pushed Rand's novels as moral tonic, or anything like that.

So maybe we avoided the rebellion thing by not telling them what to think, by really leaning on the "you should make up your own mind" thing - and meaning it. If one of our children found comfort for a while in the idea of heaven, we wouldn't have pretended to agree, but neither would we have argued about it. And we were going to love them and accept them anyway.

(If this sounds like it was all sweetness and light, please don't think that. In the details were some strenuous disagreements at times!)

Now, in a sense we did tell them what to think, of course. You tell a child how and what to think by example, constantly. So you stress facts, and reasons, and admit what you don't know and what you just have hunches about.

I don't know if that's a clear answer, and a lot of childrearing occurs beneath the surface of conscious deliberation, but that was how we thought of it. Maybe we just got lucky, too, or maybe the kids just chose that way.

Rhyme of the day:

You rue the day
They fly away.

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