This superb brief introduction first appeared on Virtue Pure.
If you come to learn about Taking Children Seriously (TCS), one thing that may stand out is the strong emphasis on philosophy. This is not par for the course in parenting discourse. Some of our concerns are things like:
- We want TCS to be true
- We want TCS to include only good explanations, selected with a very high standard for what is considered to make sense
- We do not want accepting TCS to introduce unexplained complications into our worldview
- We want TCS to be rationally defensible and do not want to ignore any known criticism of TCS
- We want TCS to be consistent with our best theories in other fields, such as morality, epistemology, and physics
And so we come to the question of why philosophically oriented people might be highly interested in parenting, and create a parenting philosophy (make no mistake, TCS is about parenting). One quick answer goes as follows:
If a person parents in such a manner that his children have no choice but to enact the same parenting method, then barring outside interference, this family tree's parenting practices will never change (and thus never improve). (Yes, we are aware that people marry outside their family tree, but we do not consider the possibility that a spouse might step in and stop bad parenting a saving grace – the parenting is still wrong.) This may be an extreme case, but it still deserves some attention to see both how it could come about, and how it could be avoided, which is one issue TCS addresses.
You may object that no child will parent exactly the same way as he was parented, and thus things will change. While its true that there are fluctuations, we suggest that we should not rely on this sort of variance as our method for change. We cannot count on randomness to improve the world.
Now that I've mentioned the extreme case, I would like to share a more practical insight. It begins with this point: any suggested behaviour or system of behaviours that, if taken sufficiently seriously (enacted by enough people with enough precision), would lead to disaster, is wrong. Now, imagine a theory that it is good to force children to learn our best theories of math (put another way: teach them math, whether they like it or agree, or not, rather than suggesting to and advising children). If taken seriously (by future generations too), this suggestion will lead to the same math theories being passed on for eternity. On the simple premise that some of our current math theories are imperfect, this is an entirely disastrous course of events.
This insight applies to more than just math. It applies to teaching any theories at all (as opposed to suggesting). We cannot insist that any specific theory should be taught to children, because we should hope that our theory might, in time, be improved. So what TCS advocates is a parenting philosophy designed around error correction which recognises that no matter how sure we feel, we may be wrong, recognises that children are people and may be right, and recognises the grave dangers involved in propagating ideas through force instead of persuasion.