“The War for Children’s Minds” is a brilliantly clear and convincingly argued defense of liberalism in moral education. Stephen Law examines and demolishes all the arguments in favor of authoritarian ways of teaching, and shows that in spite of the insistence of popular commentators from the religious right, a liberal and rational examination and discussion of moral questions does not lead to moral relativism and the decay of moral behaviour, but can in fact be the best defense against them. This book won’t be read by popular journalists: they will attack it without reading it. But it should be read by every teacher, every parent, and every politician. What’s more, it should form the subject for discussion in every church, synagogue, mosque and religious youth group. It’s one of the most engaging as well as one of the most necessary books that I’ve ever read in the field of moral education. — Author Philip Pullman
Stephen Law’s point is that children must be given free reign to ask and discuss any and every question. Which is what I have emphasized over and over again in my posts. Children are naturally programmed to ask questions and they love why questions the most. Why is the sky blue? Why did my dog die? Why did we bury him in the garden? Instinctively it seems, children know that why questions are at the heart of understanding their world. Unfortunately for parents why questions do not lend themselves to quick and easy answers all the time. It is precisely the type of question that harried parents don’t want to answer because we are into philosophy now and there is no ending a discussion that turns philosophical. So typically, parents bow to the pressures of the day and downplay openings their children have given them to have meaningful conversations. This is what Stefan Molyneux explains in his book, On Truth: The Tyranny of Illusions.
I have argued that children are going to innocently wander into sensitive areas that are considered heretical or blasphemous, not to mention sexual. If they are met with frowns or exasperated eye rolling how better to vividly teach them they are not to think for themselves? How do you explain to a five year old that they are asking dangerous questions? You cannot explain, because young children do not have enough knowledge about the way the world works and religious concepts to process any kind of substantive answer. Which immediately points to a glaring problem with indoctrinating young children. Mostly all they can take away from religious indoctrination is confusion, fear and wishful thinking.
Stefan Molyneux writes about the moral obligations parents have towards their children and drills down to what he identifies as the second part of parent’s moral obligation to their children:
“The second part of your parents’ moral obligation towards you is much more subtle and corrosive. This is the realm of integrity, and it is a great challenge for societies throughout the world.
Integrity can be defined as consistency between reality, ideas and behaviour. Consistency with reality is not telling a child that daddy is “sick” when he is in fact drunk. Consistency with behaviour is not slapping a child for hitting another child. The value of this kind of integrity is also well understood by many, even if imperfectly practiced, and we will not deal with it much here either.
It is consistency with ideas that causes the most problems for families – and the most long-term suffering for children throughout their lives.
When you were a child, you were told over and over that certain actions were either good or bad. Telling the truth was good; stealing was bad. Hitting your brother was bad; helping your grandmother was good. Being on time was good; failing to complete chores was bad.
Implicit in all these instructions – moral instructions – was the premise that your parents knew what was right and what was wrong; what was good, and what was bad.
Do you think that was really true? Do you think that your parents knew what was right and wrong when you were a child?
When we tell a child that something is wrong – not just incorrect, but morally wrong – there are really only two possibilities. The first is that we actually know what is right and wrong in general, and we are applying our universal knowledge of right and wrong to a specific action committed by the child.
This is how it is always portrayed to the child. It is almost always the most dangerous lie in the world.
The second possibility is that we are telling our child that his actions are “wrong” for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with morality whatsoever.
For instance, we might tell a child that stealing is wrong because:
We are embarrassed at our child’s actions. We are afraid of being judged a poor parent. We are afraid that our child’s theft will be discovered. We are simply repeating what was told to us. We enjoy humiliating our child. Correcting our child on “ethics” makes us feel morally superior. We want our child to avoid behaviour that we were punished for as children. … and so on
Assuming they are not terrified, most children, on first receiving moral instructions, will generally respond by asking “why?” Why is stealing wrong? Why is lying wrong? Why is bullying wrong? Why is hitting wrong?
These are all perfectly valid questions, akin to asking why the sky is blue. The problem arises in the fact that parents have no rational answers, but endlessly pretend that they do.
When a child asks us why something is wrong, we are put in a terrible bind. If we say that we do not know why lying is universally wrong, we believe we will lose our moral authority in the eyes of our children. If we say that we do know why lying is wrong, then we retain our moral authority, but only by lying to our children.
Since the fall of religion, we have lost our way in terms of ethics. As an atheist, I do not mourn the loss of the illusions of gods and devils, but I am alarmed at the fact that we have not yet admitted that the fall of religion has not provided us an objective and rational moral compass. By failing to admit to the fact that we do not know what we are doing ethically, we are perpetrating a grave moral error on our children.
Basically, we are lying to them about being good.
But here, I want to switch back to Stephen Law. In chapter nine he explains that in spite of the fact moral laws cannot be arrived at strictly through reason (Hume is quoted here) that does not mean we should reject reason as a tool to help us make valid moral choices. Moral values come from law, culture, and religion. Using reason and subjecting every moral idea to questioning can reveal unacknowledged consequences and logical inconsistencies. He cites the fact that scientific reasoning helped resolve the issue of whether women should have the right to vote. The evidence they do have the intellectual skills to exercise the right to vote is a matter of empirically demonstrable fact.
Approaching moral lessons from the standpoint of authority leads to learning ossified values that have never been subjected to the winnowing that would occur if authorities were allowed to be questioned. Besides, from the standpoint of religious authority all avenues wind up with God as the ultimate law giver. Questioning God amounts to blasphemy so we see the horrendous labyrinth of imaginative reasoning religious apologists must go to in an attempt to “modernize” their theology. As if it could be modernized.
One crucial idea to grasp is that the world is constantly changing and that makes teaching children to question everything the most important thing parents can teach them.
http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/ Stephen Law, Philosopher, UK, The War for Children’s Minds