extropian kids (opinions from a non-parent)

Eric Watt Forste (arkuat@pobox.com)
Wed, 13 Aug 1997 17:06:23 -0700

Darren Reynolds writes:
> As someone who will have to begin making these decisions in the
> very near future, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

I'm a pretty strong advocate of children's rights, of making it
easier for people younger than 18 years old (or whatever the local
taboos set the age of majority at) to present a legal case for
their own emancipation than current law in most countries currently
seems to allow.

I've known a lot of people who have, at some time in their childhoods,
been in foster care, including my grandmother and most of her
siblings. The reports I hear of state-supervised foster care are
universally infuriating, yet "runaway" kids are routinely treated
as juvenile delinquents regardless of whether or not any other
"criminal" behavior is presented, and returned to foster care
against their will. This may be a worse problem in the USA than
elsewhere... I don't know much about conditions elsewhere.

I liked all the stuff Carl Feynman had to say about encouraging
his daughter to ask why, the sorts of answer-question-chains that
develop, and the sorts of answers that bring up the ends of
those chains. That's in the list archives.

My own upbringing was much more permissive than the "community
standards" of the Midwestern US cities I grew up in, but I seem to
have turned out all right, and I noticed the other kids envying me
my parents much more than I was envying the other kids their parents.
My mom was a Grateful Dead fan, and followed some elements of the
"deadhead" lifestyle throughout much of my childhood, and I regret
none of that (although my older sister didn't like it very much).
I got to meet a lot of interesting conversationalists when I was
young, older people who took the time to point me toward interesting
books I might enjoy reading, like Peter Pan and the Chronicles of
Narnia and Dune and The Stars My Destination and Childhood's End
and Brave New World, all of which I was fortunate enough to read
as a prepubescent. I can think of a lot of librarians who would
not have allowed me to lay hands on Brave New World at that
age, and I actually found it very frightening, a bit sickening,
at that age, but I don't think it harmed me too much.

This uncensored reading thing is a tradition in my family. My aunt,
as a high school student, wanted to get a copy of de Sade's JUSTINE
from the school library, and the librarian wouldn't let her have
it. This was in the late 1950s. According to family legend, my
grandfather stormed in there and demanded, as a paying customer
(it was a private boarding school, not like the public schools I
attended), that the book be delivered into his daughter's hands.
The book was delivered.

The one thing I do regret about my upbringing is that my
parents didn't teach me much about the value of money. I signed
a contract saddling me with some heavy student loans when I was
18, and when I signed that contract, basically, I had no idea
what I was doing. It took me ten years to extricate myself from
that situation, and in the course of my self-extrication I
learned quite a bit about the value of a dollar. It might have
been easier for me if I'd been funding more of my own
adolescent expenses out of a fixed allowance... then again,
perhaps it might not have.

As Anders has pointed out, the most important skill is learning
how to learn, teaching oneself how to teach oneself. It seems
to me that many kids (not all, unfortunately) have a huge
natural endowment of curiosity that only needs to be encouraged
and allowed relatively free reign to start a self-sustaining
fire of continuous self-education. But the very schools that
seem most helpful to the kids who (for whatever reasons) lack
this strong drive of research curiosity seems to stunt it in
the kids who are forced to go to those schools even though they
probably have no need for them.

Given the condition of state-run schools in the United States,
I cheer everytime I hear of a friend who is homeschooling their
kids. I am filled with respect for these people... it's not an
easy proposition to have to pay all your taxes *and* school
your kids at home.

I've also never understood why people get so scandalized about the
notion of paying kids to teach themselves stuff. In terms of social
structure, going to school is a kid's job. I didn't bother learning
the multiplication table the way it used to be conventionally taught
until a couple of years ago, and I learned and forgot long division
three separate times during my schooling, the last time when I had
a younger student teach it to me when I was seventeen years old.
Since then I've gotten through calculus and a bit of linear algebra
without much trouble, but my elementary and junior high-school
mathematics education was a shambles from which I was lucky to
recover. Might things have gone easier for me if my parents had
just offered me a large (from a kid's perspective) cash bonus for
mastering the boring old multiplication table (it really is useful...
I'm very glad I finally bit the bullet and memorized the thing),
and later cash bonuses for passing evaluations of other
reading/writing/arithmetic type skills? I'm not sure. Plenty of
room for debate and experiment here.

Since I've gone over some personal history here, it might be
useful for the historians in the crowd to know that I was in
elementary and junior high school in the 1970s and in senior
high school and college in the early 1980s.

Honesty is probably more important than anything else.

I could go on and on about this, and I've probably already
offended more than one extropian parent with my smartmouth
know-nothing opinions, but there you have some of them.

Eric Watt Forste ++ arkuat@pobox.com ++ expectation foils perception -pcd