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« Nearly 200 Californians Butchered This Month! | Main | When bad things happen to good examples »

September 21, 2007

Training up little barbarians

Chuck talks today about a Wall Street Journal column by Tony Woodlief, who believes many parents are inadvertently raising up little barbarians. In his own home--which includes four young sons--Woodlief says he and his wife have banished the word "fair," because children are prone to using it to manipulate their parents--children "who, like little human-rights lawyers, insist on fairness as an imperative." At his house, "parents are to be obeyed first, and politely questioned later. That seems oppressive to parents with the unconstrained worldview, who want to nurture Junior's sense of autonomy and broad-minded reasoning. It's awfully useful, however, when Junior is about to ride his bike into the path of an oncoming car. Obedience may be a dirty word in progessive schools and enlightened parenting circles, but it saves lives."

This assertion reminded me of something that took place many years ago, when my sons were about 2 and 4.

Our next-door neighbor had a 4-year old daughter, and we used to take the kids to the beach and to the park together. One afternoon when I was the one doing the driving, the sky darkened and rain began to pour down. I was at a busy intersection at rush hour, and could scarcely see ten feet ahead of the windshield. At the precise moment the light turned green, my neighbor's child--let's call her Lindsay--opened up her umbrella, blocking much of my view of traffic. I was afraid to move. "Lindsay," I said. "Close your umbrella." Lindsay--who was being raised by an "unrestrained vision" mother who, probably not coincidentally, had graduated from a teacher's college--immediately began to argue with me. As horns began to honk behind me, I cut her off: "Lindsay! Shut the umbrella RIGHT NOW!!" She was shocked into silence--and closed the umbrella.

I apologized to her annoyed mother, but I shouldn't have. Her daughter's disobedience--nurtured by her mother's desire to give Lindsay a strong "sense of autonomy"--had put us all in danger.

I haven't seen this family in some 15 years, but I hate to think of what kind of person Lindsay is today if her mother didn't change her approach to childrearing. If not--well, given what Lindsay was capable of at age 4, heaven help us.

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Have you ever met conservative parents who did a poor job of raising their children? Or have you ever met progressive parents who did a good job of raising them?

I'm confused as to why you would pass along the quotation "Obedience may be a dirty word in progessive schools and enlightened parenting circles, but it saves lives." Creating an "us vs. them" scenario that I imagine is not accurate in reality. Not only does it marginalize progressive parents with good parenting skills, it lets conservatives off the hook even if they aren't raising their kids well.

Dennis Babish

Great article and story. Kids today are being turned into self seeking individuals.
This past summer as we were on our way to a week long family vacation 2 of our grandchildren stayed in a hotel with my wife and I. One was going to sleep on a cot and the other on the sofa bed.
My 9 year old granddaughter jumped on my bed and said "why do we have to sleep on the cot and sofa bed while you 2 get to sleep in a bed? It isn't fair."
My response was "let me help you understand fairness? How much did you contribute towards paying for this hotel room?"
She looked at her grandmother hoping to be rescued and then said "you know that sofa bed isn't bad afterall."
This became the major question among all 3 grandchildren during the vacation.
But today you need to stay about 3 steps in front of the kids or else be manipulated.

Steve (SBK)

Brian, it's not "progressive vs conservative" (or whatever).
It's Rousseau vs Aristotle.
It's Barbarism vs Civilization.
It's innate goodness vs Fallen Man.

... et cetera.

quote from Chuck:
"Woodlief cites Thomas Sowell, who wrote in his book A Conflict of Visions: “Each new generation born is, in effect, an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.”"

Sy Hoekstra

Well, Anne, I was going to leave your little story about a four-year-old who somehow couldn't grasp the severity of a situation at a moment's notice alone, but then you said this... "Lindsay--who was being raised by an "unrestrained vision"
mother who, probably not coincidentally, had graduated from a teacher's college-" You just had to go after moms at teacher's colleges. Well, that includes my mom, so here I go.

What was that?! Why on earth does going to a teacher's college have anything to do with how you raise your kids? Aside from perpetuating the stereotype that anyone with a higher education is liberal, what's wrong with people wanting to be an actual educated authority on their profession? Or is there some conservative rule that the only way to educate is the way your pa told you people should be educated back when you grew up on the farm? And as for Linsey, SHE was 4! The girl could barely speak English. Yes, it's non-sensical to open an umbrella in a car, but again, SHE was 4! So you had to yell a bit...she got the point right? Or was there something else going on here? Were you really just mad because you knew you were dropping the kid off with her liberal mom at a big homo-abortion pull out the troops rally? Maybe it was the "I'm 4, and I already know Bush is a moron!" pin on her overalls, you know, next to the "Hello Kitty" one? Either way, the kid was certainly a threat to national security, and should have been immediately shipped off to Guantanamo.

Anyway, that was totally reactionary. Hope I didn't offend anyone, but I did have fun. How 'bout you?


PS: Don't ever go after my mom again.

anne morse

It's always amusing to be lectured about child-rearing by people who have no kids of their own, and who evidently haven't spent much time around them. If Sy had kids, he'd know that four-year-olds are perfectly capable of carrying on a conversation--as any parent who has ever heard the words "But why?" or "When are we going to get there?" 200 times on a car trip. For that matter, he'd know that the average TWO-year-old is fully able and willing to engage in lengthy Socratic dialogues on the subject of why it's not yet time to go to bed.

I agree that four-year-old Lindsay "couldn't grasp the severity of a [dangerous] situation at a moment's notice." Of course she couldn't. That's why children have parents--parents who should teach their children to obey them. As Tony Woodlief notes in his Wall Street Journal piece, "Don't Suffer the Little Children," children should be taught to obey first and politely ask questions later--a rule that, if consistently enforced, could save their lives.

If Sy had read Woodlief's article, he'd understand my comment about teachers' colleges. As Woodlief points out, the beginning of every school year is "an occasion for my wife, a former Detroit public-school teacher, and me to remind ourselves why we home-school." It's because most teachers' colleges have fallen prey to muddled utopian thinking and thus graduate hapless teachers who think they can "radically improve mindkind"--teachers who believe that "traditions and customs are to be distrusted as holdovers from benighted generations" and (quoting education "expert" Stephanie Marshall), that the fundamental purpose of schooling is "to liberate the goodness and genius of children."

Pah! Children are born sinful and selfish; it's up to their parents to lovingly womp it out of them as early as possible.

Finally--Sy, get over yourself! Every post is not about you, or your mother. (Of course, if your mother says something silly in print, I reserve the right to "go after her" in print.) As my kids would say, "Deal with it."

Gina Dalfonzo

No, Sy, that was not "fun" for anyone. Please watch your tone.


Steve, It was not I who set-up the "progressive vs. conservative" model but a Breakpoint article which was further commented on by a Point blogger.

As Sy points out (in much harsher words than I would care to use), The Point is yet again setting up a "progressive vs. conservative" and even in this case "educated = liberal = anti-values" chain of implication.

Which is why I asked the question, which I will repeat: Anne, have you ever meet progressive who are good parents or conservatives who are not?

Gina Dalfonzo

Brian, can you identify the specific part of Anne's post that identified education as being anti-values? Seeing as how she has two sons in college at the moment, it seems rather a stretch.

Steve (SBK)

I think the chain of implication being asserted is that children who disobey because their parents think discipline (or constraint) is intrinsically bad - are not being raised as well as they could be.

I HIGHLY doubt Anne was positing: "educated = liberal = anti-values". Unless, she was saying that all the Point Bloggers are anti-value... No?
More likely she was saying the 'wrong' education (and by that I don't mean a certain institution or degree) leads to "anti-values".

Your question misses the point. (As I'm sure it only has one answer). Better to ask another one answer question: Have you ever met perfect parents? No? What could have made them (and their children) better?

Sy: Molehill, meet Mountain.


Anne, I image you must be busy with other things since you still haven't responded, I would greatly appreciate it if you took some time aside to address my concern.

You pass along the following quotation without qualification: "Obedience may be a dirty word in progessive schools and enlightened parenting circles, but it saves lives."

My question is to you: do you know "progressive" and/or "enlightened" parents who teach their children obedience? Do you know any, by the implied inverse, "conservative" and/or "traditional" parents who have not?

As Steve points out, no parents are perfect. It seems to me the problem is not whether someone is progressive or conservative but rather how they are raising their children, does it not? And how they can do it better!

In this context, are the qualifiers "progressive" and "enlightened" and the remark that the individual "graduated from a teacher's college" integral parts of the story or are they inserted to subtly smear others?

I'd really like an answer. Thanks.

Sy Hoekstra

Well I'm sorry. The comment was an attempt to make a point or two in something humorous. I clearly have a sense of humor that should be kept to myself. Anyway, I really am sorry. I'll watch my tone..


Anne, hear hear! I'm a bit late reading this, but having three children age four and under (which may be why I get so behind reading The Point), I am very aware of how important it is to teach obedience before understanding. It can literally save their lives! Thank you for your insightful post.


As a teacher of first- sixth grade depending on what year you look at my life, it can be very, very good to teach a questioning attitude- something my students abounded in. What they did not abound in was obedience- and most of the time parents did not seem to understand what I would tell them when someone would act up in class.

On the other hand, I had a long, continuing conversation with a woman who had grown up in a Christian home that had believed in obedience- and no questions. She had left Christianity because she was told that every time she asked 'why?' she was sinning. She was shocked when I answered her questions and didn't attack her! Parents shouting at children and never returning to explain can have very negative consequences down the line... just something to remember.


Luke, I totally agree with you. The policy in our family is 1) respond with obedience; 2) ask questions after you obey.

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