From The Wall Street Journal today
FEBRUARY 9, 2011
In Defense of Being a Kid
By JAMES BERNARD MURPHY
I read this article moments ago. It is an argument for viewing childhood as a unique experience that has inherent value independent of preparation for adulthood. The two values are related and intertwined, of course, but the failure to acknowledge the distinction can lead to subverting what could be treasured moments in life.
Here are some key sentences and paragraphs. I recommend reading the entire article.
Amy Chua, the “tiger mother,” is clearly hitting a nerve—especially among the anxious class (it used to be called the upper class), which understands how much skill and discipline are necessary for success in the new economy.
It took economist Larry Summers, in a debate with Ms. Chua at the World Economic Forum in Davos, to point out that part of the point of childhood is childhood itself. Childhood takes up a quarter of one’s life, Mr. Summers observed, and it would be nice if children enjoyed it.
Children are not merely adults in training. They are also people with distinctive powers and joys. A happy childhood is measured not only by the standards of adult success, but also by the enjoyment of the gifts given to children alone.
What are the unique blessings of childhood?
First is the gift of moral innocence: Young children are liberated from the burdens of the knowledge of the full extent of human evil—a knowledge that casts a pall over adult life.
Second is the gift of openness to the future. We adults are hamstrung by our own plans and expectations. Children alone are free to welcome the most improbable new adventures.
Third, children are liberated from the grim economy of time. Children become so absorbed in fantasy play and projects that they lose all sense of time.
Finally, we parents are so focused on adult superiority that we forget that most of us produced our best art, asked our deepest philosophical questions, and most readily mastered new gadgets when we were mere children.
Parents are deeply conflicted about how to balance these two basic demands: raising good little ladies and gentlemen, while also permitting children to escape into the irresponsible joys of Neverland.
Tom Sawyer enjoyed a childhood of nearly pure adventure with minimal preparation for adult life. The 19th-¬century philosopher John Stuart Mill, by contrast, barely survived a “tiger father” who enforced a regime of ruthless discipline and learning that would make Ms. Chua blanche.
As parents we are stuck with trying to balance the paradoxical demands of both preparing our children for adulthood and protecting them from it.
As the current dustup shows, many parents today would benefit hugely by taking a reflective time-out from teaching our children to discover how much we might learn from them.
Mr. Murphy is a professor of government at Dartmouth College.
The Good, The Bad and The Differences presents hundreds of examples of brilliance and poetryt of young children. The book offers examples of innocence, and, indeed, there is much innocence, in children ten years old and several years older. But the book also illustrates the profound awareness and sophisticated judgment and moral structure these little folks possess. My bias is to protect childhood and not drop on them like an anvil the weights and rigors and scheduling that we adults have allowed to metastasize for ourselves.
I hope my book shows parents how to protect children’s childhood but also raise moral honorable children who will become moral honorable adults.