Monday, June 22, 2009

UnParenting v. Liberty

Notice: I do not intend to equate the entire concept of attachment parenting with unparenting, or critique every participant. I do want to offer some observations about ideas that are regaining popularity in some circles, and those ideas are generally lumped under the philosophies of attachment parenting.

Let’s start with Ryan W. McMaken’s recent post on The LRC Blog.

Mr. McMaken wrote:
“My wife, an expert in early childhood education, is some kind of libertarian genius. Although she has read very little in the way of libertarian theory, she has come to thoroughly libertarian conclusions simply by studying how the brains of small children work. It turns out that children are rational beings who should not be coerced and hounded every second of their waking lives. Indeed, children have an innate sense of the importance of learning and the importance of justice. Unfortunately, most adults beat these impulses out of children as soon as they can.”

For support of this, he references Naomi Aldort and Maria Montessori. Yikes.

Stephan Kinsella weighed in in support of the Montessori “pro-peace” training method.
Now since I’m all in favor of peace, and teaching children (especially preschoolers) to peacefully resolve disputes (without buckets of tears and hating and ‘writing bad notes’ to each other) I eagerly read the Montessori peace philosophy.

“Dr. Montessori noted that scientific advances had so linked world cultures that our universal social connections were made clear, and she set forth strategies for a "universal, collective effort to build the foundation for peace."”

That sounds good. Now how is she going to accomplish that?

“Dr. Montessori's method respected the intelligence and gifts of the small child, serving her with a prepared environment and materials that engaged the senses in the learning process. Self-confidence, control of environment, joy of learning, and an understanding of connectedness with society resulted, leading, Dr. Montessori believed, to a new social order capable of directing man's technological advances to constructive uses. This would replace accepted educational practices that rewarded competition, discouraged cooperation and independent thinking, and ignored the creativity and deeply moral qualities of the child, a status quo that she believed led to a warring society, one incapable of utilizing its own scientific and technological advances.”

Just a moment. Doesn’t Competition foster independent thinking? Doesn’t competition foster advances? And I have yet to see evidence that children have deeply moral qualities. My kids learned early how to say “it’s not fair”, but what they really meant was “my selfishness is not being fulfilled”.

I’m all for peace, but my eyebrows are starting to go up. Perhaps my problem was I didn’t teach the kids enough about Martin Luther King Jr’s life.

“The peace curriculum at the Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori School, developed and coordinated by Educational Director Scott Daigler, is enacted through a range of academic studies as well as the development of peacemaking skills, beginning with the youngest preschool group and culminating in the two-year adolescent program. It permits the student to study the history and science of the natural world, the beliefs and traditions of diverse world cultures, and to learn about and finally place herself within society as an active, contributing individual.“

Now that will make the eyebrows of my Christian readers go up. I’m sure many will tell you that faith in Jesus was all they needed to find their place in society.

“Conflicts are resolved verbally, using the peace pole outside the school, or the peace table in the classroom, where peace treaties are crafted by the children in conflict and kept in a binder as a record of disputes resolved and compromises reached. A ringing bell signals the agreement, bringing classroom work to a momentary standstill as students pause to applaud an act of peace. Community circle utilizes a "talking stick" to structure group discussion of conflicts or concerns involving the entire class.”

What happens when the pretty imagery, the peace pole, the peace table, the peace bell, the talking stick, all disappear? What if the “peace” behaviors become respondent to the props? In the real world, there isn’t a peace bell. We have a Liberty Bell, but no one is allowed to ring it.

Scrolling past the peace chants and the United Nation Advocacy days, we get to Martin Luther King Jr. week.

“A week of classroom focus on Dr. King's life and mission culminates in an all-school assembly with presentations by each class.“

“Acknowledged as a model for his commitment to peace and justice, Dr. King is also recognized as a person, and the assembly ends with a singing of "Happy Birthday to You, Dr. King."”

It takes a week to study Martin Luther King Jr., because the training of peaceful children requires not only an examination of his words, but his very life. If teaching peace to young girls means teaching them it’s ok for a husband to run out on his wife, frequently, then perhaps a little more training in competition is in order. Reality, of course, is that the lessons on Dr. King probably skip or at worst gloss over those night-chapters in his life.

I’m all for peace. Dr. King spoke wonderful words. But history is fast doing a “Lincoln” on him.

Purporting to study someone’s life, while looking only at specific aspects that complete the intended picture, may foster ideologies of peace, but it does little to foster independent or critical thinking.

You see, I hold the belief that what fosters libertarian philosophy, freedom and independence of the human spirit, is the ability to think independently and critically. And I question if these attachment parenting philosophies and ‘peace at any expense’ training, fulfill that.

I’m searching for the link between the tenant that “children are rational beings” and how this is a libertarian conclusion, as Mr. McMecken thinks. Maria Montessori didn’t get us to the development of individualism or rational thinking. I would settle for evidence that the innate “rational being” of children leads to rationale, critical thinking adults.

Let’s see if Naomi Aldort can do any better.

Naomi Aldort, a prolific attachment parenting proponent, writes:

“Representation of childhood in modern western culture is based on seeing children as flawed and needing to be shaped into adults. The child is seen as failing to be an adult and therefore represented as inferior and cannot be trusted to unfold correctly on her own.”

Déjà vu.

In 1983, Miss Manners Guide to Excrutiatingly Correct Behavior was published. Early in the book Miss Manners wrote: “There used to be parents who believed that a child should be allowed to develop naturally, with no artificial standards of behavior imposed on his or her innocent instincts, but we have all had a gander at the results of that.” Conclusion: they weren’t pretty, or mannerly, leading Miss Manners to publish the 711 page instruction set to restore respect for the individual.

Many practitioners of attachment parenting also decry formal schooling, even formal home schooling setups, for the same reason they decry formal parenting. They call themselves ‘unschoolers’. I call the practice of the naturally developing child ‘unparenting’.

Ms. Aldorts techniques have already born some fruit, in the form of her own children. Her longest running experiment was recounted thusly at the 22 year mark:

“Yonatan is deeply interested in social justice work and finds inspiration in writers like Richard Wright who used literature as a tool to raise awareness about injustice. Some of his recent activities towards social change include attending anti-war protests, raising money for disadvantaged youth like the Jena 6, and educating people by writing in his school’s student newspaper.”

So critical thinking of the natural, undisciplined child, leads to conclusions such as if the Jena 6 had gotten more freebies, they would have been more peaceful?

The experiment in free love has resulted in an admirer of the Communist Richard Wright, enrolled in a ‘Decolonizing the Mind’ program at a liberal university.

Not your typical libertarian success story. What went wrong? Perhaps nothing went wrong, except that somehow, all of the “hands off” parenting wasn’t as much of an educational vacuum as the parents perceived. Is it possible that some of their ideology influenced the kids despite their best efforts not to influence?
Or is it possible that children, left to their own devices, are communists (at best) at heart? Or maybe, just maybe, if we all experienced free love and unconditional living, we all would embrace the ideologies of egalitarian collectivism. Is it libertarianism that is wrong? Is our cold hearted individualism merely the symptom of our artificially constrained and forcibly respectful upbringings?

I almost think the un-parents might tell you experiments in communism are the normal, healthy result of an unfettered, “free” childhood. But will the baby commies eventually grow up?

Let’s consider another example. Many many years ago, in a case that doubtless sends shudders down the spine of every “un-parent”, a little girl of all of 4 or 5, slapped her bigger sister in the face in a fit of pique. This little girl’s father was an old school parent. He believed children should *learn* to respect their elders, be kind to their siblings etc. He did not believe in waiting around until the kid figured it out for herself. So this little girl was punished. Those expected adult behaviours were beat into her. With a belt. By her father.

What happens next is amazing. The little girl, surely now a complete train wreck of a child with no ability to think for herself, develop real compassion or act in a peaceful manner, spent the greater part of her adolescence earning money to help send that same older sister to college. Shudder.

Okay, by now you have surely guessed that this little girl was none other than Laura Ingalls Wilder, of the classic ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books.

But what about the adolescent foray into communism, that signifies the great job the ‘un-parent’ has done promoting empathy and love for your fellow man?
That, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.

This abused, suppressed little girl grew up to mother a child that did take the commie plunge during young adulthood. That child plunged in, swam through and emerged clear thinking and rational. Brilliant thinking in fact. Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, became America’s foremost female libertarian.

Years after the communist experiment, Ms. Lane wrote

“No one who dreams of the ideal social order, the economy planned to eliminate waste and injustice, considers how much energy, how much human life, is wasted in administering and in obeying the best of regulations. No one considers how rigid such regulations become, nor that they must become rigid and resist change because their underlying purpose is to preserve men from the risks of chance and change in flowing time. Americans have had in our country no experience of the discipline of a social order.“

I would propose that the minimal discipline of a formal parenting home just might provide enough ‘discipline of a social order’, on a miniscule scale, to enable resistance to its application by any but a proper authority. And that proper authority? Parents.

Keep your peace bell. I’ll ring the Liberty Bell, thanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment