Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

The Target of Ideological Outreach

Posted by Jerry on October 16, 2007

Someone at the Atlas Shrugged event I organized asked me why the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) is not doing enough to educate children in the pre-school and high school levels on the ideas of Objectivism. He made the case that since children are at a particularly impressionable age, we must protect them from the influences of religious and irrational ideas imbibed by their parents and teachers. His argument was that if we protect the minds of young children early enough, they will have a better chance of being immune to irrational ideas later on in life, thus creating a fertile ground for the spread of Objectivist ideas.

He argued that by focusing on intellectuals and philosophers at the academic university level, ARI was already losing the opportunity of fostering young minds to grow with the ideas of reason. This, he argued, created the difficult situation of having to “unblock” the minds of later adults when they encounter Objectivist ideas, having to re-train them to think rationally, and perhaps not having much success in penetrating the minds of young adults who have been fed with irrationalism all their lives by their parents and teachers.

I disagreed with his analysis.

Objectivism is (1) a philosophy in general, and (2) a philosophy of reason in particular

As such, Objectivism makes crucial demands on a person to apply his critical thinking skills to process ideas and premises before reaching any conclusions. This statement implies two important requirements that a non-Objectivist must meet, failing which, it is best to leave the person alone and not bother engaging him in a discussion on the philosophy: one, he must be mentally and intellectually capable of considering new ideas; two, he must be honestly open to considering new ideas.

Therefore, it is more than a pursuit of frustration to try and convey the ideas of Objectivism to a mentally immature or intellectually incapable person: for example, little children, the retarded, the really old and infirm.

Objectivism is not a body of principles that must be religiously memorized and fed to little children, who should then be able to regurgitate the right principles in the exact order. Objectivism is a philosophy: it needs to be processed by an intellectually capable mind, a mind that has reached a sufficient level of maturity to make sense of philosophical premises. Objectivism is a philosophy of reason: it needs to be processed by a mind consciously dedicated to the task of rational and honest thinking, a mind that refuses to memorize a principle until it has rationally convinced itself of the principle’s truth.

The questioner above was implicitly–and perhaps unknowingly–propounding the idea of psychological determinism: that a child’s mind and intellectual premises are formed irreversibly during his childhood and that the child is doomed to those premises for the rest of his life. Granted that there are cases of children who grow up to hold the exact premises in adulthood that they were taught when they were kids; however, such cases are not proofs of psychological determinism but indicators of human volition. The Objectivist movement is better off not having such docile adults who succumb without a fight to the mental blocks laid by their parents or teachers. Remember, Objectivism demands an active consciousness that is committed to understanding and demanding reasons for every premise; Objectivism would benefit not having those without such an active epistemological inclination or those who tend to claim the intellectual victimhood of their particular circumstances.

Young children should properly be engaged at the sense-of-life level, i.e., at the level of aspirations, imagination, emotions, art, movies, books, recreational activities, friends, family, etc.; not at the level of philosophical principles. Philosophical ideas can be much effectively transmitted to a child’s mind through emotionally appealing, artistic or recreational means. Of course, as a child progresses through school, he should be taught critical thinking skills explicitly in order to tackle philosophical ideas in a limited measure. However, a pre-mature introduction to philosophical premises–especially, those as radical as the Objectivist premises of individualism, egoism, and self-interest–without the requisite years of training in critical thinking will only lead to an undigested, unintegrated, contortion of dogmatic beliefs. Eventually, such a child may literally “grow out” of their memorized philosophy and regard it as his foolish and juvenile indulgence in youth.

In religious training, little children are commanded by their parents or “moral science” teachers to memorize a set of incantations: like Koranic verses, the Apostles Creed, the Act of Contrition, etc. Many children grow up learning these prayers without ever pausing to reflect on the philosophical meaning of the words being uttered. Objectivism cannot–and should not–be taught to a child in this manner. A child must be shown the principle of rationality in action, not lectured on the essential nature of man that makes rationality virtuous and important. However, teaching by action and example is the job of an adult who understands the meaning and value of such lessons–and therefore, an adult is the proper target of philosophical outreach.

In this respect, the Ayn Rand Institute is brilliantly following the right course of action: they freely distribute Ayn Rand’s Anthem, We The Living, and The Fountainhead to be taught in the pre-school and high school levels to introduce young children (in accordance with their general level of mental maturity in that grade) to a new emotional sense of life, not a set of explicitly philosophical principles. The target of full-fledged philosophical outreach is properly adults–the adults who are parents of these children, the adults who do the “imbibing” of ideas in their children, the adults who are teachers, professors, and mentors of these children, the adults who are capable of processing and disseminating ideas in a culture.

Objectivism seeks the rational and active mind who wrestles the hardest with an idea before accepting it; Objectivism does not seek to have a large following of docile minds who were nursed with its philosophy from infancy and never bothered to validate its truth for themselves. Each man has to discover the truth of the principles of reason for himself: this task can only be done by an adult who is both capable and willing to do it.

[Edited]

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32 Responses to “The Target of Ideological Outreach”

  1. […] The Target of Ideological Outreach […]

  2. Objectivist early childhood education… now that is a very interesting idea!

  3. Vijay Thakkar said

    Ergo,

    Whatever I have read from you till now is fantastic. I really appreciate the quality of ideas and thoughts that you propagate on your blog. I would like to clarify rightaway that I agree with what you say about difficulty of teaching Objectivism to young Children.

    But what I think is possible is that atleast ARI or some other person / institute who really have resources and who really believe in Objectivism as way of life, can device a model of education whereby the Negative influences are kept at bay and/or avoided entirely while teaching young children. By negative influence I mean that which glorifies altruist, socialist, egalitarian way of life. Children can be explained the importance of developing and relying on their cognitive ability to understand the Society in general and themselves in particular. They can be helped in Concept Formation, in understanding primacy of existance and enjoying themselves to capacity. Ayn Rand herself makes excellent argument about this in her book For the New Intellectual (I am not very sure about the title as I had read it a very long time ago.

    If I talk about myself and when I think what all bullshit I was tought when I was a child, I surely feel that there has to be a better way of formal coaching possible to children.

    History is nothing but a Nationalist propaganda. Mathematics is tought without explaining or showing any relation to the life in general. Science is at best dated and at worst utterly not understandable. Advances in technology are just ignored by the Education system. A child is encouraged to go ahead in life (like scoring more marks then his peers) irrespective of the fact whether he has understood what is being taught or whether he really enjoys the process. Cramming is the name of the game in primary education system. If someone comes with a better alternate I am sure it will be more then welcomed by people around the country.

    Imagine the hardship and the pain that all of us had to go through to UNLEARN the Crap that was fed to us when we were young to understand and value our lives and I shudder. I am sure it can be improved upon.

  4. Ergo said

    Vijay,

    I agree with all of your points. And there are some Objectivists involved in pre-college education. Check out the VanDamme Academy and their structure of the curriculum in that regard.

    But note, Vijay, that it takes *adults* to start such a school, draft a new curriculum, institute such a method of training, and advance such a rational mode of inquiry in education–both in school and at home.

    Thus, properly, as my article states, it is the adults who have to be the *primary* target of ideological outreach; our limited resources and energies need to be channeled in spreading a strong foundational understanding of Objectivism among adults–intellectuals, philosophers, teachers, politicians, parents, etc. These adults, in turn, will take up the task of raising the next generation of their children (or students) according to rational principles.

    The original question started out with asking why the ARI was not focusing on having its scholars and intellectuals working in pre-school, middle-school, and high-school levels, where children are at their most impressionable age and therefore easier to mold. My article is against such an approach. I haven’t said anything new; it’s essentially the classic approach of quality over quantity. We prefer to have adults who can actively engage their minds and eliminate the mental blocks from their childhood; and this is possible, since you and I are just two good exemplars of the fact of human volition.

  5. Vijay Thakkar said

    Ergo,

    Very well put!! Agree Completely.

  6. […] Recent Comments Ramesh Kaimal on The Terror of Increasing FreedomErgo on Philosophy TodaySinus on Thoughts This MorningL’Innommable on Philosophy TodayDeep Thought; Where Have All the Roarks and Reardons Gone? on Richard Dawkins is not an AtheistErgo on Thoughts This MorningSinus on Thoughts This MorningFrom Tehran, with love! on Thoughts This MorningRethinking John Galt « The Social Blog on The Terror of Increasing FreedomCharl on Thoughts This MorningL’Innommable on Thoughts This MorningErgo on The Terror of Increasing FreedomIndira Dammu on The Terror of Increasing FreedomNS on The Terror of Increasing FreedomVijay Thakkar on The Target of Ideological Outreach […]

  7. Ergo, I couldn’t be more impressed with your article! My husband and I focus on using Objectivist principles in our approach to parenting our children. The focus is on us, not the kids, so we strive to be virtuous in our own lives. Little kids want to be with their parents and do what they do–when we are focused on the proper virtues and sense of life, our kids are naturally exposed to our values and ideas without us having to indoctrinate them. We choose their books and movies and even toys so that our values are reinforced–we create an environment in which our kids can thrive. My kids are still very small so that is all that’s necessary just now. As they grow, we will help them learn to think critically (we are homeschooling) and develop their rational faculties.

    Great post. Thanks!

  8. Ergo said

    Thanks Jenn! Coming from you, it’s a nice validation of my thoughts, since you are both a parent and an Objectivist. 🙂

  9. Charl said

    I totally concurred with the bit about the how the Objectivist philosophy should be imbibed by rational and intellectually honest individuals out of their own free will rather than have it force fed to kids.

    Like, remember how we had to learn two ones are two and seven eights are sixty-four and how we didn’t enjoy it? Somehow you enjoy things a lot better you didnt have them imposed, esp. in a curriculum. In lit class, I found that I increasingly got sick of Oliver Twist and Steinbeck novels, but really enjoyed the co-curricular literary reading I did out of my own choice.

    And, Vijay is right: with the crap you’re taught in religion and economics and the like, the professor’s personal views and biases tend to get stuck in our impressionable minds; it’s been 2 years since I got out of college and I’m still unlearning. Remember, you once tried to convince me how utterly detrimental a mixed economy is?

    On a side note, while I was reading the post, this cute idea popped in my brain, and it made me LOL. I imagined you with a kid/kids and appreciated how they’d grow up in such a brilliant, stimulating enviromment and how lucky they’d be to have you as their papa! LOL. See why it’s funny? Cos it’s you. Are you sure you don’t want kids? Hehe. LOL, really. Gawwd.

    Oh well. Ten yrs from now, you can be godfather to my to-be adopted child who will grow up in a decent enviroment in the Montessori school that I will enroll her (note gender choice) into. Heh.

  10. PhysicistDave said

    Ergo,

    I think you may be creating a bit of a false dichotomy here.

    Of course, ARI reps should not be walking into kindergartens and declaring to the assembled kiddies that “Existence has ontological primacy over consciousness!” or that “The basic principles of Aristotelian logic are axiomatic but in a non-Kantian sense.” (And I know of no kindergarten teacher who would tolerate such an intrusion!)

    But that does not mean that kindergartners cannot or should not be taught philosophy.

    We do not, after all, try to teach kindergartners that “The real numbers form a complete ordered Archimedian field.” But we do try to teach kindergartners how to count.

    The level of instruction must take into account the age of the students.

    Concretely, the starting principle of Objectivism goes back to Aristotle: man is the rational animal.

    And that really can be taught to kindergartners.

    There are now numerous books aimed at early pre-school kids that discuss evolution (e.g., Jennifer Morgan’s wonderful “The Universe Tells Her Story” trilogy). Kids love this stuff – dinosaurs, flying reptiles, fossils, woolly mammoths, etc.

    It’s not hard to explain to kindergartners that, over a long time, different animals have developed, by hook or by crook, different ways of surviving.

    Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly.

    And humans gotta think.

    A kindergartner can easily understand that humans lack wings, sharp teeth or claws, etc. but that we do have the ability to talk, make plans, etc. Our ability to think is our tool of survival.

    Similarly, as Bill Bennett has shown with his (horrible!) “Book of Virtues,” grade-school kids can grasp the explicit idea of a virtue. They are going to pick up the idea of virtue implicitly from the mass media, children’s books, and normal personal relations anyway – humans really cannot do without the concept. We owe it to our kids to discuss the idea explicitly – is courage a virtue if not tied to justice and prudence? is faith really a virtue? etc.

    No one would think on holding back on the simple facts of arithmetic until kids can completely grasp the full picture (the Peano postulates, the real numbers as a complete Archimedian field, etc.).

    In the same way, it is a horrible mistake to hold back on the underlying principles of Objectivism until a child can read and understand “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.”

    I’m speaking from personal experience here – like Jenn, I am a homeschooling parent; my kids are older than hers. I’ve actually taught the kids, from kindergarten on, real science, real history, even real economics, and, yes, some basic philosophy, at a level they can grasp.

    It’s interesting that, despite Rand’s incessant emphasis on thinking at a conceptual level and integrating one’s knowledge to the fullest extent possible, so many Objectivists think this does not apply to kids.

    Perhaps this is due to the fact that few of us were exposed to Objectivist ideas before adolescence, and, since we had to work hard to unlearn the nonsense we were taught as kids, we think our kids must go through a similar experience. They needn’t.

    Or perhaps it’s just that no one will disapprove of us if we tell our five-year-olds that 2 + 2 =4 but that we will face social disapproval if our young kids are heard saying that humans are descended from reptiles and, ultimately, worms. (This has actually happened to me: I thought it was pretty funny, but I fear many Objectivist parents lack my sense of humor.)

    If we did not live in a Christian, post-Kantian, relativist, anti-realist society, it is inconceivable that parents would deny their young children basic knowledge about what is known about human beings and about the real world any more than parents now deny their children knowledge that the earth is round or that the moon is not made of green cheese. However, the basic principles of science and philosophy do unfortunately offend the majority in our society in a way that the basic facts about the earth and the moon do not.

    Let me make clear that I am not suggesting that kids should be told that they should be Objectivists. In fact, nobody should be told that. People should strive not to be Objectivists but to be rational, honest, productive, courageous, etc. If the end result is that they are Objectivists, so be it.

    I realize that you were addressing the narrow issue of whether ARI should target young kids and that I am addressing a somewhat broader issue.

    However, the broader issue is of vital importance.

    It is a tragedy that even many Objectivists buy into the fallacy that kids cannot and should not be encouraged to think at an abstract, conceptual level and that kids should be denied basic information at an early age about the essential nature of man and the universe, information that is just as easy to understand (and far, far more important!) than the fact that the earth is round.

    All the best,

    Dave

  11. Ergo said

    Dave,

    You’re confusing too many issues and in the end not saying anything substantially different from what I’ve already said.

    Before you have adults teaching children about the Earth, Moon, man or the origins thereof, you’ve got to get the adults to accept that the Earth was not created 6000 years ago by some bearded man in the sky. It’s just a simple matter of priority. Parents holding a certain set of explicit ideas will do the imparting of those same ideas in their children. This imparting of ideas can be in whatever form, like specific actions, art, recreation, bedtime stories, moral lessons, etc. When the ideas are explicitly fed to a child in the form of doctrines and principles, you get what resembles religious indoctrination: a memorization and recitation of beliefs and acceptance from authority.

    My argument rests on the Objectivist theory of ideas shaping historical and social trends. Ask yourself, at any given point, who are capable of holding and advocating a set of ideas to shape the trends of their society–adults in that society or the children in that society? Your answer to this is the point of my article: the answer you give should be target of ideological outreach.

  12. PhysicistDave said

    Ergo,

    As I said, I do not disagree with your point that, of course, ARI representatives should not (and in fact cannot) wander into kindergarten classes declaring “Existence has ontological primacy over consciousness!”

    On that, you and I do not disagree.

    But I think we do disagree very strongly on several other points.

    First, I think the most important form of “outreach” is to one’s own kids. The most important progress that can be made is not to “convert” adults to the truth and then hope that they will “convert” their kids. To put it diplomatically, that is a problematic strategy at best.

    The one definite positive step that can be taken by those of us who have kids is to see to it that our own kids are properly educated, that they are actually taught the truths that are currently taught in almost no schools that I know of anywhere in the US to kids at an early age. Even schools that might seem enticing to Objectivists seem to suffer from the infantilizing of children, the “progressivist” belief that kids can only be taught indirectly via example, stories, etc. rather than through conceptual, direct, and explicit instruction in the truth.

    You wrote:
    >Parents holding a certain set of explicit ideas will do the imparting of those same ideas in their children. This imparting of ideas can be in whatever form, like specific actions, art, recreation, bedtime stories, moral lessons, etc. When the ideas are explicitly fed to a child in the form of doctrines and principles, you get what resembles religious indoctrination: a memorization and recitation of beliefs and acceptance from authority.

    I flat out and completely disagree with you here.

    No one denies that art and moral lessons can help in teaching. But to claim that children cannot be “explicitly” taught “doctrines and principles” is to demean children, to accept the progressivist nonsense that has dominated American schools for nearly a century, and to force kids to somehow guess at the truth instead of being provided it explicitly.

    The core of education should indeed be the explicit feeding of children with true doctrines and principles.

    I think your position here is indeed widespread among Objectivists, and I find that bizarre among people who claim to respect Ayn Rand. After all, even when writing a novel that nicely illustrated her philosophical principles, Rand found it necessary to clearly and explicitly feed those principles to the readers directly in her famous fifty-page treatise inserted into the novel.

    I hope you have read Rand’s many condemnations of “progressive” methods of education and her insistence that kids deserved the clear explicit truth.

    You also wrote:
    >Ask yourself, at any given point, who are capable of holding and advocating a set of ideas to shape the trends of their society–adults in that society or the children in that society?

    The answer of course is the kids. I have never met a single person who radically changed his religious, philosophical, or political perspective when he was over the age of thirty. I have met very few who changed their views when they were over twenty. Children (especially adolescents) are the people open to new ideas.

    And that is a big problem for Objectivists. Most parents are not going to let Objectivists teach their kids.

    Which brings me back again to how important it is that at least those of us who know the truth and who have kids do teach our kids the full unvarnished truth. As I indicated in my previous post, I am not talking about telling a child (or anyone!) “You must be an Objectivist!” or forcing a five-year-old to read “Atlas Shrugged” or an eight-year-old to read “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” anymore than I would force a five-year-old to read a graduate-level book on biology or mathematics.

    But I am quite sincere in being horrified by your view that the appropriate form for teaching is “specific actions, art, recreation, bedtime stories, moral lessons, etc.” rather than a form in which knowledge is “explicitly fed to a child in the form of doctrines and principles.” Sadly, exactly the view you espouse is recently being tried in American schools in the area of mathematics – “fuzzy math,” constructivism,” etc. and it has proven to be catastrophic. (I strongly urge parents to avoid any math texts published by commercial textbook publishers in the US – we ourselves are using “Singapore Math.”)

    I see no reason why the progressivist approach will work any better in philosophy than in mathematics. The main tool of survival which human beings possess is our ability to think — to think explicitly, conceptually, and self-consciously. Children have that ability, as shown by the success with young children of explicit, conceptually-based math programs, and the failure of the non-explicit, non-conceptual alternatives.

    Let me emphasize again that I am the homeschooling parent in our family and that I have been doing this for a number of years. It works. The kids like it, they do extraordinarily well on standardized tests, and, most importantly, they learn at an early age to think conceptually about the real world.

    That even Objectivists will deny the insights of Ayn Rand and spout the “progressivist” nonsense that has destroyed the American schools shows how far the educational and philosophical rot has gone.

    All the best,

    Dave

  13. Ergo said

    Dave,

    In answer to my question “Ask yourself, at any given point, who are capable of holding and advocating a set of ideas to shape the trends of their society–adults in that society or the children in that society?”

    You said:
    “The answer of course is the kids. I have never met a single person who radically changed his religious, philosophical, or political perspective when he was over the age of thirty. I have met very few who changed their views when they were over twenty. Children (especially adolescents) are the people open to new ideas.”

    You haven’t answered *my* question, but have answered what you wish I had asked. I did not ask who are more impressionable and malleable to new ideas. If I had, then your answer would be appropriate. I urge you to read my comment carefully.

    Next, do not confuse simple facts and complex, consciously grasped truths. That the Earth is round is a fact. That 2 + 2 = 4 is a fact. That man thinks is a fact. That we exist is a fact. These are metaphysically given. Children should be taught simple facts–explicitly.

    Examples of complex truths are the grasping of the principles of Objectivism, like rationality is a virtue, all ethics is egoistic, self-interest is a value, etc.

    Children should be prodded to discover derivative truths from facts. By definition, a truth is that content of the mind which is held by a conscious being capable of discovering, understanding, and maintaining that content’s relationship to reality. It is much easier to memorize facts, and one should, because it provides the groundwork–the foundation–to grasping higher truths.

    For example, one should memorize the multiplication tables as a fundamental requirement, so that higher mathematics can be done logically and deductively with a process of thought, i.e., without the need to memorize all logical derivations and proofs. Children should be taught simple facts like 2 + 2 = 4, but not complex derivative truths like Godel’s incompleteness theorem (a truth which he discovered and which corresponds to a contextual reality).

    To feed children true principles is *not* the same as imbibing them with the truth. While a chld may be able to memorize a true principle, the content in the child’s consciousness is not properly *truth* because the child has–insofar as it is memorized–not discovered, understood, or maintained a relationship to reality.

    Since rationality is fundamentally a do-it-yourself endeavor, truths can never be imparted externally but can only be grasped by the person internally, because truth is one of the products of rational thinking. (To illustrate, I can only intellectually persuade you to think and critically consider a true principle till your own mind validates the principle for yourself; I cannot *make* a principle become *true* in your mind. If you think I did that, then you have been indoctrinated by me, you have been brainwashed. In which case, we are no longer talking about a rational philosophy.)

    Therefore, as my article states, teach kids how to *think* rationally; and those that will go on to grasp fundamental truths can be a great asset to the spread of a rational philosophy. Those who cannot get over a mental block from their childhood days, it’s best to leave them alone anyway.

    Principles that are imparted externally are indoctrinated principles–regardless of whether the principles are true or not, i.e., regardless of whether they correspond to a fact or not. A rational philosophy can never tolerate such indoctrination.

    You are advocating that children be taught to memorize truths, which of course as I have just argued, is impossible. This is because truth is not a matter of propositions and principles, which is the sense I’m getting you hold. Children can be taught to memorize and repeat true principles (principles that are true in fact), but memorization and regurgitation does not make a statement true. According to Objectivism, truth refers to the relationship of the content of a mind to reality: this requires applying reason to the principle and validating its truth status. This requires a critical mind that is honest, capable, and intellectually mature to do this internal task.

    P.S. Finally, don’t attribute any of my views to other Objectivists or to Objectivism itself. I am not aware of anyone else who has stated the ideas I presented in my article and comments above. These are solely mine.

  14. Vijay Thakkar said

    Ergo & Dave,

    Please state your defination of a Child and an Adult. I think while defining that you both will get what the other one is trying to tell.

    Cheers!!!

  15. Ergo said

    Vijay,

    Instead of defining these groups by age (because that is too flexible and inessential for our purposes), I’ll define a child as along the scale of intellectual (and conceptual) ability (not IQ):

    A child is one whose normal intellectual abilities range from the rudimentary or the preconceptual to the moderately autonomous and conceptual, thus subsuming infants and youth under this concept in most normal human cases. Of course, the latter boundary of youth is very fluid and yeilding as it merges into young adulthood.

    Also, I stress on *normal* intellectual abilities (barring exceptional genius-kids) because I don’t want to subsume mentally-challenged kids or adults and adults with a childish mental disposition under this definition of “child.”

  16. PhysicistDave said

    Vijay,

    I think Ergo and I have both been pretty explicit about this. I’ve made clear (and I think Ergo has also been clear on this) that I am talking about grade-school children. I think eight-year-olds of normal intelligence really can be taught the basic principles of philosophy. I think it is easier for them to learn such principles than to learn, say, long division. I think that eight-year-olds can really understand those principles of philosophy, better than most adults in fact do (including many, perhaps most, adult self-proclaimed “Objectivists”). (By “adult,” I mean people over the age of eighteen of normal intelligence.) I think eight-year-olds’ understanding of philosophy can and should involve real comprehension, not just blind parroting.

    I am making this claim based on my own personal experience teaching philosophy (and long division) to eight-year-olds. Long division is harder than philosophy.

    Ergo disagrees with me.

    He and I have a real, strong disagreement here. We’re not simply differing on the meaning of words such as “child” or “adult.”

    I hope this clarifies my (and I think Ergo’s) use of terms, so you can see where our real disagreement lies. If Ergo believed I was using “child” and “adult” in a significantly different way, he can let us know.

    All the best,

    Dave

  17. PhysicistDave said

    Ergo,

    I’m glad to see that you now recognize that you and I really do have a serious difference of judgment on this topic.

    Your most recent reply to me underscores nicely the magnitude of our disagreement.

    You wrote:
    >Finally, don’t attribute any of my views to other Objectivists or to Objectivism itself. I am not aware of anyone else who has stated the ideas I presented in my article and comments above. These are solely mine.

    I don’t believe I’ve attributed any of your views to “Objectivism.” Objectivism is not a human being. It does not have views. The word “Objectivism” is used by different people in different ways: some use it to mean Rand’s opinions on anything, some use it to mean Peikoff’s (or Kelley’s or whoever’s) opinions, some use it to mean what most self-proclaimed Objectivists think.

    However, there are indeed other Objectivists who do seem to share some of your views on education, and I see no reason why anyone should not point this out.

    You wrote to me:
    >You are advocating that children be taught to memorize truths…

    That’s untrue.

    I have not said that.

    You just made it up.

    I do think that children should be clearly, directly, and explicitly told the truth rather than simply being taught the truth indirectly. What’s that have to do with memorizing?

    For example, I have always told my kids the truth about Santa Claus. I have not forced them to memorize “Santa Claus is make-believe.” But I have not played the silly American game of letting the kids somehow intuit the truth when they get old enough. I’ve told them the truth, in much the same way I would tell another adult the truth.

    You wrote:
    >Principles that are imparted externally are indoctrinated principles–regardless of whether the principles are true or not, i.e., regardless of whether they correspond to a fact or not.

    Really? No one ever “imparted externally” to you any of the laws of physics or the facts of history or, to use your own example, Godel’s incompleteness theorem? You discovered that all for yourself without any external imparting at all? If you really worked out Godel’s incompleteness theorem completely on your own, I hail you as a true genius.

    This is pure 100 % “progressivist” education of the sort Rand so roundly condemned and which has been so devastating to the American schools.

    You also wrote:
    >This is because truth is not a matter of propositions and principles, which is the sense I’m getting you hold.

    Yes, I do hold this, as did Ayn Rand – she repeated the point ad nauseum.

    I think the core of our disagreement may center on your statement:
    >However, a pre-mature introduction to philosophical premises–especially, those as radical as the Objectivist premises of individualism, egoism, and self-interest–without the requisite years of training in critical thinking will only lead to an undigested, unintegrated, contortion of dogmatic beliefs.

    If I understand this correctly, you seem to think that grasping and understanding the principles of Objectivism is an enormous task requiring a huge amount of intellectual work and great intellectual maturity.

    I disagree.

    I hold a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Stanford. I know quantum field theory, Einstein’s theory of gravity (AKA “general relativity”), etc. Those subjects do require years of work to understand: I don’t think I can teach those subjects to eight-year-olds, and indeed I do not think I can teach them to you unless you happen to have at least a couple of years of solid college-level physics and math.

    Philosophy is easy compared to difficult intellectual fields such as math or physics.

    The only thing that makes philosophy seem difficult is all of the lies and falsehoods that most people imbibe as children that they have to painfully “unlearn.”

    But if they are taught the truth as kids, directly and explicitly, in a coherent manner which enables them to grasp the principles at issue, they will not be led astray by all of the philosophical nonsense floating around in our culture and they will not find learning philosophy a difficult experience as most adults do.

    Perhaps part of your and my difference in perspective here is from our different experiences as children ourselves. You have written of yourself that you were once a “deeply religious Christian.” I myself was forced, from birth till I left for college, to attend a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church. But I adamantly refused to ever be baptized, to ever join the Church, or to ever accept Jesus as “Lord and Savior” (much to my parents’ chagrin). From as early a time as I can remember, I found Christianity morally repellent.

    When I first read Rand, I had already reached conclusions similar to hers on my own.

    To be sure, it would have been easier if someone had clearly, explicitly, and patiently explained the truth about morality, etc. to me when I was in grade-school instead of forcing me to figure out for myself that adults were consistently lying to me. And that’s what I myself have done, successfully, with my own kids. Just as I would not lie to them about math and force them to work out mathematics for themselves, so also I have told them the truth about philosophy early in grade school.

    Children will acquire philosophical beliefs whether anyone likes it or not. The acquisition of those beliefs can be a chaotic, anti-conceptual, incoherent process in which they unthinkingly imbibe the philosophical nonsense floating around in our culture. Or adults can, in an explicit, coherent, organized fashion explain the basic principles of philosophy to children when they are in grade school, putting those principles in the appropriate context, giving examples, engaging in discussion about those principles and their applications, etc.

    I have done the latter with my kids. It has worked. It’s even been fun. Of course, the very fact that I am homeschooling my kids means that they have not been infected with the sort of progressivist teachings that you have been advocating and which predominates in the US schools.

    To let my kids grow up without being explicitly taught philosophy would be like letting them grow up without being explicitly taught to look carefully before crossing a street. It would be intellectual child abuse.

    I know you dislike being compared to other Objectivists. But let’s be honest here. There is a bit of a mystique among many Objectivists that learning Objectivism is an intellectually difficult and challenging endeavour, requiring years of study, the taking of multiple courses, etc.

    I’m sure that actually is many people’s experience. But surely it takes them so long because of the difficulty of unlearning the philosophical nonsense they absorbed as children because they were not then taught the clear unvarnished truth.

    I intend to end that cycle of abuse. Teach kindergartners that humans evolved from worms and that humans have evolved their ability to think as their primary tool for survival. Teach first graders that a rosebush is a machine made up of tiny little parts knocking into each other rather like a very complicated wristwatch. Teach second-graders that all the knowledge they have of the world outside their brain comes through their senses and that it is their mind which turns those messages from the senses into knowledge of the real world.

    Tell kids the truth.

    As Rand pointed out, nearly everyone buys the Deweyite nonsense that this just cannot be done.

    Well, Dewey was wrong and Rand was right. It can be done. I’ve done it with my own kids.

    Learning the important truths about philosophy need not be a difficult expereince taking many years for an adult.

    Those truths can be understood easily by a seven or eight year-old child.

    Ergo, I know I have an advantage over you here in that you are just speculating about kids and I have actually gone out and done the experiment and seen the result with my own kids.

    But for any parents reading this, do not under-rate your own kids. They are smarter than you think. They can think conceptually, grasp important truths, understand the nature of reality, at an early age. Don’t hobble them intellectually just because you were hobbled yourself as a child.

    Your kids deserve better.

    All the best,

    Dave

  18. Apple said

    Dave,

    There is one thing you cannot teach your children: experience. The moral meaning of sex cannot be taught by reading or by instruction. They need to live to get the experience. Philosophy is an inductive science.

  19. Ergo said

    Dave,

    You admitted to holding the view that truth is a matter of propositions and principles. But please do not ascribe this view to Ayn Rand. Your position is that of logical positivists: you believe that truth resides in particular propositions or principles. By this line of argument, you would have to concede that a toasted slice of bread that coincidentally happened to have the etching “2 + 2 = 4” has produced a true statement; in other words, the toasted slice of bread has conveyed a truth.

    This is in complete opposition to the very fundamentals of Objectivism–that truth is an *epistemic* concept and, as such, cannot exist without a consciousness of a certain kind; that truth is neither intrinsic nor mind-independent. Read Rand’s letter to John Hospers in “Letters of Ayn Rand” and Peikoff’s discussion of truth in OPAR for more. (Also read Don Watkin’s articles on “Defending Objectivism”)

    As for the rest of my argument, I have supported my article and my comments with:

    1) The Objectivist theory of ideas and how ideas influence society.
    2) Ayn Rand’s emphasis on the “New Intellectuals” (not children) as the agents of change in society.
    3) The principle that rationality is a do-it-yourself task that can never been done by anyone else for you.
    4) The logical derivation of (3) that true beliefs can only be formed internally after the application of reason, because anything else is not properly true beliefs but an indoctrinated acceptance of beliefs.

    Finally, I do believe that I have a better advantage over you in comprehending this matter well because I was indoctrinated not only with religious beliefs in childhood but also with revisionist history and science in Socialist government schools in India. My childhood education consisted of exactly the kind of methods you espouse: the memorization and regurgitation of historical events, dates, persons, scientific theories, geographical facts, etc., without first having been taught in school how to *think critically* and evaluate/validate the facts that were being shoved into our heads.

    All Indians from my generation and before will attest to this method in our childhood education of “indoctrinating” facts into our brains before showing us the right method of logic, the right method of critical thinking, the process of validation, the understanding of underlying reasons for the theories being taught, the freedom and liberty to question and analyze the material, etc.

    My whole emphasis in childhood education is: critical thinking trumps ideological indoctrination. I would teach my child to rely on critical thinking skills than teach my child that god does not exist. If my child does internalize the skills of critical thinking, over time he will arrive at the discover and eventual validation of the fact that god indeed does not exist.

    I notice that despite your PhD from Stanford, you have trouble extracting the right meaning of my very simple statements: earlier you had mis-read or misunderstood my question about who holds and advocates ideas in society and gave an unrelated answer. Now, you misread or misunderstand my statement about Godel’s theorem and say that my view is that one has to arrive at Godel’s proof independently in order to accept it as true.

    I’ll quote myself again this time to make it explicitly clear: “Children should be taught simple facts like 2 + 2 = 4, but not complex derivative truths like Godel’s incompleteness theorem. I can only intellectually persuade you to think and critically consider a true principle till your own mind validates the principle for yourself; I cannot *make* a principle become *true* in your mind.”

    I have clearly stated that complex truths like all ethics is egoistic or Godel’s theorems have to be validated by each person who sets about to study them. This does not mean that each has to wholly discover these truths from scratch: to validate a principle is not to *discover* them from scratch; it is to apply reason to grasping the principle, it is discover the reasons *why* something is true or not.

    Your argument that philosophy (or Objectivism) is not really difficult is itself a very naive view: just look at more than 2000 years of philosophy and see how wrong philosophers mostly were about practically everything. If the most fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, and ethics were so easy as you say it is, then I’m unable to comprehend the reason so many philosophers got so much wrong!

    Also, the fact that you and I are having a strong disagreement here is again proof that neither philosophy nor Objectivism in particular is easy in any common sense of the word. Indeed, you yourself have got some fundamental principles of Objectivism wrong, like the Objectivist theory of ideas and the concept of truth. Objectivists disagree–often vehemently–on many number of issues: does this mean the philosophy is really simple but all of us are just duds!? What about the most fundamental and high-profile difference between Peikoff and Kelley’s position on Objectivism? Is the philosophy just simple and Peikoff and Kelley just nuts? And are you going to enlighten all of us on the indoctrinated truth of Objectivism? 😉

    Finally, I have supported all my views on explicitly Objectivist premises. You have not stated any Objectivist premises to support your views, except for vague allusions to Rand. What are your premises?
    Specifically, answer these:
    1) What is your definition of truth?
    2) Does truth reside in a principle or in a mind’s grasp of the relationship of that principle to reality?
    3) What kind of a mind is capable of holding a truth?
    4) Can truth exist without reason or a process of rationality?
    5) How can philosophical truths be spread in a society–can one make truths exist in other people’s minds?
    6) Are cultural trends of a society lead by intellectuals or children?
    7) If children lead the cultural trends in a society, who teaches these children what to believe, and by what exact processes do children advocate certain beliefs and influence the trend in that society?

    P.S. Unless there’s anything new for me to say, I won’t spend any more time in replying to your comments, because I suspect I’ll be repeating myself unnecessarily. But I appreciate your thoughts here and while we disagree, reason and reality shall obviously be the ultimate arbiter.

  20. PhysicistDave said

    Apple wrote:
    > The moral meaning of sex cannot be taught by reading or by instruction. They need to live to get the experience.

    Hmmm… I’ve noticed that the people who often have the most experience at sex seem to have the least understanding of its moral meaning.

    I know that it is heresy in our enlightened country to suggest that sexual experience is anything but good. But is it possible that perhaps experience matters a little less than you think?

    Dave

  21. Ergo said

    Dave,

    Since you have been insisting that my position advocates a progressivist approach to education, I decided to look up the essence of that approach and the truth of your claims. I have discovered that you not only caricatured my own position but also tried to confound the issues by carelessly spouting ill-applied labels to my arguments.

    Here’s from the “horse’s mouth”, Professor G. Stanley Hall, a true advocate of the kind of education you accused me of advocating. Notice how the examples he states are in *stark* opposition to the methods I proposed in my article and comments above:

    “The guardians of the young should strive first of all to keep out of nature’s way, and to prevent harm, and should merit the proud title of defenders of the happiness and rights of children. They should feel profoundly that childhood, as it comes fresh from the hand of God, is not corrupt, but illustrates the survival of the most consummate thing in the world. . . . We must overcome the fetishism of the alphabet, of the multiplication table, of grammars, of scales, and of bibliolatry. . . . There are many who ought not to be educated, and who would be better in mind, body, and morals if they knew no school.”

    Now, read my comment:

    “As a child progresses through school, he should be taught critical thinking skills explicitly in order to tackle philosophical ideas in a limited measure. That man thinks is a fact. That we exist is a fact. These are metaphysically given. Children should be taught simple facts–explicitly. For example, one should memorize the multiplication tables as a fundamental requirement, so that higher mathematics can be done logically and deductively with a process of thought, i.e., without the need to memorize all logical derivations and proofs. Therefore, as my article states, teach kids how to *think* rationally; and those that will go on to grasp fundamental truths can be a great asset to the spread of a rational philosophy.”

    Now, notice how similar my own views are with that of Lisa VanDamme’s: Lisa VanDamme runs the VanDamme Academy in California that bases its instructional approach on classical and Objectivist theories of education:

    “An insistence on a core curriculum that focuses on a study of the three R’s, the natural sciences, literature, and history (with an emphasis on Western civilization); and a commitment to developing critical reasoning skills in students.”

    Notice how literature, i.e., Art, figures among the three topics of a core curriculum. I do not see Philosophy in that core.

    Lisa approvingly cites another educator: “There is no greater task for education than to teach students how to learn.”

    Compare that with my statement in my post “Lessons from Harry Potter”: “Children can be taught how to think well and the consequences of thoughts, but should not be taught what to think. Only adults can be converted to a philosophy–-insofar as the conversion is the result of intellectual persuasion and rational understanding.”

    Lisa VanDamme cites another quote approvingly as follows:
    “Classical education helps students draw original, creative, and accurate conclusions from facts and then formulate those conclusions into logical and persuasive arguments.”

    Compare that with mine:
    “I would teach my child to rely on critical thinking skills than teach my child that god does not exist. If my child does internalize the skills of critical thinking, over time he will arrive at the discover and eventual validation of the fact that god indeed does not exist.

    Children should be prodded to discover derivative truths from facts. By definition, a truth is that content of the mind which is held by a conscious being capable of discovering, understanding, and maintaining that content’s relationship to reality. It is much easier to memorize facts, and one should, because it provides the groundwork–the foundation–to grasping higher truths.”

    Finally, Lisa does not approve of E.D. Hirsch’s approach, which says “explicitly that a proper theory of education “deems it neither wrong nor unnatural to teach young children adult information before they fully understand it,”

    Lisa says: “The students at VanDamme Academy would never tolerate Hirsch’s approach.” Thus, she implies that it is indeed wrong and unnnatural to teach young children adult information before they fully understand it. Philosophy–a rational philosophy–is properly intended as explicit study only for adults.

    In sum, I have validated all my arguments thus far by showing that my views are consistent with Objectivist theory, the classical approach to education, and the empirical success in the educational approach adopted by VanDamme Academy. I have also in the process shown that your arguments are not only entirely flawed but also your repeated accusations against mine and the “progressivist” labeling is utterly baseless.

  22. PhysicistDave said

    Ergo,

    Unfortunately, you appear to have deleted some of my posts so that readers cannot see my actual arguments (my posts were double-submitted yesterday due to a glitch, but you seem to have deleted ALL copies).

    If that is your intention, I cannot hold a conversation with you. You appear not to be honest. If I am misreading you, by all means restore one copy of the deleted posts.

    Specifically, readers must wonder at your reference to Hirsch since you have deleted my post referring to him, and readers therefore now have no idea what I was saying and the context to which you are replying.

    This must strike intelligent readers as pretty weird.

    For example, in my deleted post I explicitly indicated that I *disagreed* with Hirsch in many ways — you make it sound as if I agreed with his educational approach, but the reader cannot see this since you have deleted my post.

    And Lisa is, it seems, just a homeschooling parent like me (but with less education than me) who chose to start a school. She is not an authority. And given my own field of expertise, science, I find her school’s approach to science very disturbing.

    Dave

  23. PhysicistDave said

    Ergo,

    I should have added that while poor old Stan Hall was indeed a progressivist (and an utter loon to boot!), if you had read the books I recommended in the post you chose to delete, you would know that there was and is a wide range of views among progressivists. Many do not share the views of Hall which you quoted.

    Indeed, as far as I can tell, the only theme which unites all of the progressivists is the belief that one should not or cannot teach intellectually demanding, conceptually oriented substantive academic material to grade-school children. Again, I refer you to my earlier post, which you deleted, for references.

    Since that is indeed also the center of the debate between you and me, yes, it is fair to label you a progressivist in terms of the historical meaning of that movement. I suspect that Lisa VanDamme may share your views and also be a progressivist, but maybe not – I have not seen enough of her views.

    Just as Trotsky and Stalin differed on serious matters but were still both Communists, so two writers on education can differ on serious matters but both be progressivists. This has in fact been the case – many progressivists differed from Hall’s views just as much as you do.

    It occurs to me that you’re deleting of my comments from last night may have been just a glitch on your part rather than open dishonesty, just as my inadvertent double posting was a glitch on my part. So, unless you tell me not to, I will try to re-post those comments in a way that will not cause your software to burp. If you choose to delete them, readers will then know that you do indeed wish to post your own criticisms of posts that you have yourself deleted, which is, at least, a wee bit peculiar.

    All the best,

    Dave

  24. PhysicistDave said

    (Ergo, I am attempting here to re-post my comments from last night – I have broken them into pieces since the length seems to be what caused your software to burp. Since you have already posted a detailed reply to these comments, I am making no alterations to them at all. It would seem unfair for me to weasel out of your criticisms by altering what I had written. – Dave)

    Ergo,

    Well… I think we have both made our positions clear enough that anyone reading this can make up his or her own mind.

    But, in fairness, I think I owe you a reply to some of the further points you raise.

    You wrote:
    >Your position is that of logical positivists: you believe that truth resides in particular propositions or principles. By this line of argument, you would have to concede that a toasted slice of bread that coincidentally happened to have the etching “2 + 2 = 4″ has produced a true statement; in other words, the toasted slice of bread has conveyed a truth.

    No, that is what philosophers call a category mistake. Principles and propositions are not simply random sounds in the air or random marks on paper – they have to hold meaning for human beings. And you are slandering the logical positivists, too: while I strongly disagree with their position, few of them were stupid enough to hold the position you ascribe to them.

    You also wrote:

    >Objectivists disagree–often vehemently–on many number of issues: does this mean the philosophy is really simple but all of us are just duds!?

    Not all Objectivists, but, yeah, quite a few are. There’s no law that forbids dimwits from being Objectivists, you know.

    I find it hilarious that you seem to think that I would be reluctant to point out that of course quite a few Objectivists are stupid. Isn’t that fact obvious to anyone?

    Of course, Objectivists have no monopoly on stupidity. There are quite a few stupid Marxists, post-modernists, accountants, sales clerks, and truck drivers. There is no intelligence test required for any of those groups, so of course you get your fair share of simpletons. In fact, even though there are intelligence tests required to get a Ph.D. in physics (GREs, qualifying exam, orals), I’ve known a few dimwits who had Ph.D.s in physics. Some of them slip through the sieve.

    You also wrote:
    > Your argument that philosophy (or Objectivism) is not really difficult is itself a very naive view: just look at more than 2000 years of philosophy and see how wrong philosophers mostly were about practically everything. If the most fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, and ethics were so easy as you say it is, then I’m unable to comprehend the reason so many philosophers got so much wrong!

    You should read some of the stuff by the late Aussie philosopher David Stove! He claimed that the vast majority of his fellow philosophers throughout history were simply insane. See, e.g., his book “The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies,” especially the final chapter in which he argues: “there is simply no avoiding the conclusion that the human race is mad.”

    I think Stove was too kind.

    I don’t think most philosophers throughout history were mad: I think they were evil.

    I agree with Rand that Kant, Hegel, et al. came up with their looniness in order to prop up systematic evils such as Christian morality (Kant of course was not an orthodox Christian, but his ethics are derivative from Christianity).

    Again, I find it awfully funny that anyone who admires Ayn Rand would be reluctant to point out that a lot of philosophers spread ridiculous, patently false ideas simply because they were evil people. Have you forgotten what she wrote about Kant?!!! I don’t hate Kant as she hated Kant, but, you know, it does seem that his desire to maintain a despicable system of morality, derivative from Christianity, explains much of his ridiculous ideas.

    I must confess that the sort of “Objectivism” that demands that we pretend that stupid or evil people are not really stupid or evil does not appeal to me. Perhaps I am more of a Randian than an Objectivist!

    (cont. below)

  25. PhysicistDave said

    (cont. from above)
    Ergo,

    You also wrote:
    > You have not stated any Objectivist premises to support your views, except for vague allusions to Rand.

    I don’t think my allusions to Rand’s comments on progressive education, John Dewey, etc. were vague at all. Anyone who has read her major works knows what I am referring to. If you want a particular source to start with, try reading her classic “The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution,” specifically the final essay, “The Comprachicos.” For example, she indicates that a child reaches the “conceptual level” “from the time he learns to speak,” which has been one of my central points in our little debate: even grade-school children are capable of a conceptual level of functioning (p. 173 in the Signet 1973 edition).

    But it is indeed true that I have not stated “Objectivist” premises. I never do. Never will. I have stated facts and arguments that I believe are based on reality (my experience with my own kids, for example). If those facts happen to agree with Objectivist premises, cool. If not, well… I am much more interested in reality than in Objectivism.

    What I find most bizarre in our exchange is that you keep claiming that I have supported positions that I have not mentioned at all – e.g., you said:
    > My childhood education consisted of exactly the kind of methods you espouse: the memorization and regurgitation of historical events, dates, persons, scientific theories, geographical facts, etc.

    No, I don’t espouse that. You’re just fantasizing again. But I also do not espouse your approach of teaching critical thinking before teaching material of substance. Critical thinking should be taught as one learns substantive knowledge – neither should be taught independent of the other.

    You earlier wrote:
    >You are advocating that children be taught to memorize truths…

    As I pointed out, you simply made this up, just as you made up the idea that I am advocating the sort of education you had as a child.

    Let me therefore assure you that I am quite certain that the education you had as a child was truly, abysmally bad and, in fact, I am sure that the poor education you had as a child (specifically but not only your failure to be educated in philosophy as a child) is the source of many of the ideas you espouse today.

    You concluded:
    >Unless there’s anything new for me to say, I won’t spend any more time in replying to your comments, because I suspect I’ll be repeating myself unnecessarily. But I appreciate your thoughts here and while we disagree, reason and reality shall obviously be the ultimate arbiter.

    For sure. And while both of us have no doubt sounded a bit testy with each other, I think this exchange has clarified my own views on the subject a bit. I hope you and anyone else reading this has had a similar experience.

    Neither you nor I have generally cited chapter and verse from Rand or anyone else, and, on this, I think we are both correct. These issues involve matters of common human experience, and everyone should be able to form his or her own judgment (although that may be very hard if he or she were educated as you recommend).

    However, I think I should conclude by recommending some books and authors I have found useful, for you or anyone else interested in exploring my perspective further. First, H. M. Kliebard’s “The Struggle for the American Curriculum” explains in great historical detail where the educational ideas you espouse actually come from. It is a dispassionate, academic book – I’m not even sure where Kliebard himself stands on progressive education (he seems to admire John Dewey, for example).

    However, for precisely that reason, the book is absolutely devastating. I strongly recommend it.

    Second, for a decent view of how philosophy can be taught to kids, see Jeremy Weate’s “A Young Person’s Guide to Philosophy: I Think, Therefore I Am.” Had I written the book, I would have given it a bit more of a Randian slant, but the book is reasonably fair (he’s too kind to John Dewey – but he portrays Wittgenstein as the suicidal basket case that he really was). I started going through this with my kids before they started third grade. It’s interesting and readable and does demonstrate that kids can learn philosophy (kids should read it along with a philosophically informed adult).

    (cont. below)

  26. PhysicistDave said

    (cont. from above)

    Ergo,

    Third, Dr. Liping Ma’s “Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics” is absolutely must reading for any American parent who cares about her children’s minds. Ma explains in great detail, using mathematics as an example, why the dichotomy you present between blind memorization vs. critical thinking is a false dichotomy.

    Fourth, the best way to really learn critical thinking is to learn the actual substance of science, and there are now a number of wonderful books that make that possible for grade-school kids: Mahlon Hoagland’s brilliant “The Way Life Works,” Jennifer Morgan’s wonderful trilogy that starts with “Born With a Bang,” Jack Challoner’s “The Visual Dictionary of Chemistry,” etc.

    Finally, there are various educational writers who can be useful though none of them should be swallowed whole: e.g., E. D. Hirsch, Kieran Egan (“Getting It Wrong From the Beginning: Our Progressivist Inheritance from Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget”), the late Richard Mitchell (author of “The Graves of Academe,” now available on-line).

    For example, Hirsch’s lecture “Romancing the Child” (also available on-line) gives a nicely brief description of the connection between the educational ideas you espouse and certain quasi-religious movements in post-Kantian philosophy in the early nineteenth century. He elaborates on these themes in his book “The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them.”

    On the other hand, I would not send my kids to the alternative schools that Hirsch has helped develop: no doubt they are better than most contemporary schools in the US, but they are, I think, too close to the schools you yourself attended in India.

    My closing point is that anyone who agrees with you on all these issues should definitely send their kids to the American public schools. The contemporary American public schools are a brilliant instantiation of the views you have presented. On the other hand, anyone who agrees with me really needs to consider homeschooling.

    I know, Ergo, that you don’t want to have kids yourself, and that really is all for the best – you really should never be a dad. But those of us who are parents have an obligation to arm our children with the surest weapon human beings can possess – knowledge: above all, knowledge of the nature of the real world and of human beings’ place in it. Concretely, that means, in grade school, exposing one’s kids not just to the “3 Rs” but also to real science, real history, real economics, and real philosophy.

    I know that everyone has been carefully taught that this is impossible. I have proven it is possible with my own kids.

    Human children have been designed to learn about reality. They can do it. All they need is supportive adults who help them learn rather than adults who, like those who control our educational system today, intentionally cripple children’s minds.

    To quote from an author in whom you claim to have some interest:

    >He thought of all the living species that train their young in the art of survival, the cats who teach their kittens to hunt, the birds who spend such strident effort on teaching their fledglings to fly–yet man, whose tool of survival is the mind, does not merely fail to teach a child to think, but devotes the child’s education to the purpose of destroying his brain, of convincing him that thought is futile and evil, before he has started to think…
    >Men would shudder, he thought, if they saw a mother bird plucking the feathers from the wings of her young, then pushing him out of the nest to struggle for survival — yet *that* was what they did to their children.

    All the best,

    Dave

  27. PhysicistDave said

    Ergo,

    Please delete the post from me which is pending your moderation: I finally realized that the wordpress software was burping when I included URLs in the text, so I deleted them.

    Thanks. — Dave

  28. Ergo said

    Jeez, Dave! You’re creating a huge backlog in my comment queue! Could you please decide what you wish to post and then combine it all in *one* comment? Your repeated and consecutive commenting has made my WordPress Akismet mark your comments as spam.

    Btw, Lisa VanDamme runs an entire academy for young children very successfully on the principles that I subscribe to as well. She has also been published in The Objective Standard, in which she made those comments. The credibility of The Objective Standard as an Objectivist journal is above reproach. I would be careful in casting aspersions to Lisa’s character and her approach. Right now, you have zero credibility given the style and logic of your comments here and your careless labeling of Lisa as a “progressivist”.

    There’s one thing you said which I agree with: even dimwits can get PhDs from Stanford.

  29. Ergo said

    I think this should end the debate and validate (not prove) my position:

    The only purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life—by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality. The training he needs is theoretical, i.e., conceptual. He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove. He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past—and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort.

    — Ayn Rand.

    Notice Rand says that children should be taught *how* to think; they should be given the skills for survival, which for a human being is the skill of thinking–critical thinking. Rand does not say teach your child a rational philosophy, but teach them *how* to think, *how* to understand, *how* to discover, and *how* to acquire further knowledge by his own efforts. In other words, Rand implies, if you teach your child how to think, he will grow up and discover the *validity* of a rational philosophy (and other higher truths) by himself from the given facts–without the need for a premature introduction to Objectivist philosophy (or any other philosophy).

    Dave says that “Philosophy is easy compared to difficult intellectual fields such as math or physics.” He says “adults can, in an explicit, coherent, organized fashion explain the basic principles of philosophy to children when they are in grade school, putting those principles in the appropriate context, giving examples, engaging in discussion about those principles and their applications, etc.”

    That sounds exactly like the indoctrination of a primitive form of philosophy–i.e., religion–that some parents do to their children. It stands as a logically irrefutable fact that a rational philosophy cannot be grasped by a mind that is not yet capable of performing the rational processes required to validate a philosophical principle (be it a retard’s mind or a 10-year-old’s mind). Therefore, the only way to “teach” a child a philosophical principle in “explicit, coherent, organized fashion” is to make him memorize it, commit the principle to memory, memorize the logical connections as opposed to discovering and validating the logical connections.

    Here is Ayn Rand’s view on the complexity of Philosophy: she discusses the complexity of Philosophy in comparison to playing chess:

    “Chess is nothing compared to philosophy, wherein you must organize a large number of concretes into categories, decide on your basic categories, and then prove all of it.” — Ayn Rand.

    And here is Ayn Rand on Philosophy as compared to the natural sciences; she views philosophy as fundamental to the sciences and that which makes the latter possible:

    “As against the special sciences, which deal only with particular aspects, philosophy deals with those aspects of the universe which pertain to everything that exists. In the realm of cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forest possible.” — Ayn Rand

    I don’t have anything more to say on this topic. It’s hard to believe that someone with a PhD from Stanford could actually hold such naive views. But indeed he does. And I pity his children. Dave, you’re not welcome to comment on my blog anymore. I’ve decided that you’ve said all you needed to say; I’m the boss on my blog, and now I think you need to disappear. Thanks for stopping by.

  30. sparkasynapse said

    Ergo,

    This whole exchange is so interesting. These posts by Dave are a lesson in themselves. What Dave might not realize that his posts show is that his approach toward morality is very intrinsicist — something many Objectivists struggle with. Because philosophy is so abstract, some adults can’t even get it. I certainly didn’t for the first year or so, and I was 29 at the time. This is precisely why philosophy can’t be taught to children. Even adults have problems with such high level abstractions.

    I’ve met teenagers who are explicitly being taught Objectivism. They’re very intelligent. One of them (around 15) does nothing but parrot Ayn Rand. He has a false sense of confidence, claiming the same sorts of things — that certain truths discovered by Rand are simply self-evident. That’s highly unlikely, since Ayn Rand was a genius herself and it took her so long to discover it. He hasn’t been taught any manners, and constantly interrupts others to show off his intelligence. He’s narcissistic and obnoxious, but I don’t blame him — I blame his parents.

    No, these folks are not encouraging active minds. And they’re setting their kids up for a potential crisis when they have emotional responses that aren’t necessarily what they’ve been taught as “moral.” Suppose a child is told his entire life that romantic realism is the ideal. Then one day, as a 21 year old, he realizes that he responds positively to an impressionist painting. Instead of wondering why he’s responding positively to such art, and identifying what he likes about it, he condemns himself morally for liking the painting. Or he decides to abandon Objectivism altogether.

    Such scenarios aren’t imaginary. They’re quite common amongst young, and even some older, Objectivists.

  31. Ergo said

    Sparkasynapse (Monica),

    You must have spent quite some time reading this entire exchange and arriving at your conclusion. Thanks for that!

  32. sparkasynapse said

    Your writing is great – I enjoy everything you write. I’m impressed by the deep level of thought that goes on here, and your responses to the commenters.

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