New Blog: Cultivating the Virtues

 Posted by on 8 April 2010 at 1:00 pm  Announcements, Parenting
Apr 082010

A delightful announcement from Jenn Casey and Kelly Elmore:

Jenn Casey of Rational Jenn and Kelly Elmore of Reepicheep’s Coracle are pleased to announce the launch of their new parenting podcast! The podcast, called Cultivating the Virtues, will address Objectivism and parenting, with a particular focus on positive discipline techniques. We want the podcast to be conversational, so that the listener can image being a part of one of our many parenting conversations. But please be patient with us; we are new to podcasting and are learning more with each one we record.

The podcast will live on a joint blog, also called Cultivating the Virtues, where both Jenn’s and Kelly’s old parenting posts are collected. We’ve set up the labels on the CTV blog to make it easier to find parenting topics by kinds of virtues and types of discipline tools. The blog is live, and the address is The first podcast will tentatively be available on Tuesday, April 14.

We are recording podcasts now, and we would love to have your questions to answer. Please send parenting questions to

Excellent! Ask, ask, ask away!

Children and Death

 Posted by on 27 October 2009 at 9:00 am  Parenting
Oct 272009

This morning, some of the good folks on OGrownups are discussing the best ways of helping children understand and deal with death. The discussion is quite excellent, and here’s my small contribution, in response to a question about how to help kids overcome worry about the death of their own parents:

It might be helpful to tell you children what would happen to them if you died. Your kids are utterly dependent on you — and they know that. Unless you tell them, they might suppose that they’d need to somehow fend for themselves — or do something equally unrealistic. They might be worried about what would happen to the family pets, or whether siblings might be split up. However, if they know that they (plus the cat) would all go live with nice Uncle Bob and Aunt Judy, that might help alleviate some of the worry.

In essence, some of the anxiety might be more about themselves than about you! That’s all well and good, of course. They should be thinking about their future.

If you’re interested in these kinds of discussions, come join OGrownups! You need to be an Objectivist to post, but not to lurk.

Reality, Not Authority

 Posted by on 28 September 2009 at 4:00 am  Education, Parenting
Sep 282009

In response to my story from my third podcast about a father teaching his child to evade by demanding obedience from her, Rational Jenn posted some fascinating comments on how parents often substitute their authority for that of reality. Here’s a bit from her post:

Please don’t misunderstand me–this is not to say that I don’t exercise my parental authority. I do have it–you sort of get it automatically when the kids are very small. As they are utterly dependent upon the adults in their lives, they of course learn to rely on them for the things they need, including guidance, and they do view parents as authority figures.

But what I try to do is to never ever make my authority the sole basis for discipline. I explain my reasons–sometimes those explanations need to be provided to the child after the fact (there’s that rushing out into the street example again). I try to show or tell them something about the reality of the situation and guide them through what needs to happen. And if they can’t or won’t do what they need to (like not biting a sibling), then I will exercise my authority and help them stop.

Parenting by Authority does encourage kids to evade. They can learn to squash their feelings, to pretend events didn’t happen, and to learn how to game the system. They learn that what Dad decides is more important than what actually occurred. And they lose the ability and the chance to use their minds independently.

She then discusses some the consequences of Parenting by Authority, but for that, you’ll have to read the post. (Later, Jenn posted a fascinating story on catching her son trying to evade.)

Then the discussion continued: Amy Mossoff posted on the dangers of authority-based education. In her view, “Montessori is the only widely available educational system that does not Educate by Authority.” Here’s an example:

The Montessori method recognizes that external reward systems such as grades are not necessary, and even harmful. Children naturally want to learn. Anyone who has observed small children can see this. The reward for good work is in the work itself, and in the accomplishment. Montessori materials are self-correcting – the children know whether they have done the work correctly without relying on a teacher’s stamp of approval. The blocks of diminishing size must be stacked up from biggest to smallest or the tower will not stand. The cylinders of diminishing size must be placed in the proper holes, or they will not all fit in the puzzle.

I love that!

I’m delighted that my podcast sparked this bit of discussion. Here’s my follow-up question: In dealing with other adults at work or elsewhere, do you always deal with them by reason to the greatest extent possible? Or do you sometimes lapse into mere authoritarian demands? It’s easy to say “I deal with people by reason, of course!” That’s the answer we want to give. However, I suspect that the intrinsicism pervasive in our culture has affected most of us to some degree or other.

Personally, I’m going to make a conscious effort to interact with other people scrupulously in “mind of reason mode” rather than “muscles of authority mode.” It’s not an error that I make often, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve slipped into it from time to time with people open to rational persuasion — particularly when tired, frustrated, or hurried. Clearly, that’s a mistake. So if I do that, I hope that someone will point that out to me — preferably without gloating!

Rational Jenn on Back Talk

 Posted by on 8 September 2009 at 4:00 am  Parenting
Sep 082009

As my regular readers know, I’m hugely interested in and appreciative of Rational Jenn’s blogging on parenting. Paul and I don’t have any children, and we plan not to make any. However, I find the general principles Jenn discusses both fascinating in themselves, as well as useful for my interactions with other people, as well as with my dog. (Seriously! Assume positive intent!) Plus, I simply like reading thoughtful people write about lives that are so very different from mine: it expands my acquaintance with the ways of the world.

I was particularly struck by a recent post on “back talk,” however. Now I was a bit ho-hum about the topic with her first post — PD Tool Card: Back Talk. It was all well and good, but that’s not a problem relevant to my life. And the same for most of the second post — More about Back Talk — until I read the story about how she explained the need for kindness in communication via the Trader Principle and the results thereof. Wowowow. Kids are really, really remarkable creatures.

Also, while I’m promoting Rational Jenn, I should mention that the new OGrownups e-mail list — managed by her and C. August — has 128 members. Hooray! I’ve found the discussions excellent so far.

Three Bits on OGrownups

 Posted by on 11 August 2009 at 1:01 pm  Objectivism, Parenting
Aug 112009

I’m pleased to report three bits of news about the new OGrownups e-mail list.

First, list manager Jenn Casey of Rational Jenn has a partner in crime: C. August of Titanic Deck Chairs. Thank you, C!

Second, non-Objectivists are now welcome to subscribe to the list, but as lurkers only. In other words, they can read posts to the list but not post themselves. Such people need only be interested in parenting and education based on the principles of Objectivism. If you’re one of those people, please indicate when you subscribe that you’re requesting to join as a non-Objectivist lurker. (Bosom buddies of David Kelley, Chris Sciabarra, Nathaniel Branden, and the like are still unwelcome.)

Third, the list has nearly 100 subscribers already, and good discussion is already underway. Hooray!


 Posted by on 4 August 2009 at 11:01 pm  Announcements, Education, OList, Parenting
Aug 042009

I’m delighted to report on the creation of a new mailing list on OGrownups. Here’s the basic list description:

OGrownups is an informal mailing list for Objectivists interested in raising and educating children well. Its basic purpose is to facilitate discussion amongst Objectivists about child development, discipline techniques, education methods, parenting resources, and more.

Any Objectivist interested in polite and practical discussion about raising and educating children rationally may join OGrownups — parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, caregivers, and friends. Anyone considering parenthood is also welcome.

OGrownups is managed by Jenn Casey, author of the blog Rational Jenn. She can be reached at

Here’s what Jenn says in her announcement of the list:

The original name of the list was “OParents” but we thought that name was a little too restrictive. We want to encourage any Objectivist who wants to participate in discussions about “raising and educating children rationally” to join. I know that I would have loved to participate in such a list back when we were contemplating parenthood.

The “Grownups” part refers to the end result of childraising–that they will become grownups, hopefully rational ones. The primary parenting question is, what’s the best way to get them there (without losing our minds)?

Actually, my thought was that the “Grownups” part refers to us — the list members — because we’re the grownups in relation to the kids we interact with. However, either meaning will do!

The criteria for membership are similar to that of the other OList e-mail lists:

To join the OGrownups mailing list, you must meet two criteria:
  • You must be an Objectivist, meaning that you agree with and live by the principles of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism as best you understand them. Newcomers to Objectivism are just as welcome as old-timers. Please do not subscribe if you consider yourself to be a libertarian (or associate with the Libertarian Party), advocate revising Objectivism (like David Kelley’s “open system”), or associate with the dishonest pseudo-advocates of Objectivism (most notably David Kelley, Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, and Chris Sciabarra).

  • You must be interested in parenting and education based on the principles of Objectivism.

If you do not clearly meet those criteria, you should not subscribe without first e-mailing the list administrator, Jenn Casey,

The OGrownups list is managed through Google Groups. You can request a subscription via this web interface. You will be asked to confirm that you meet the two criteria for membership. Subscription requires an account with Google. (It’s free and easy to create.)

After you subscribe, please feel free to post an introduction.

The rules are the same too, namely:

  • Please be friendly or at least civil in posts to the list. Subscribers who behave like asses, such as by insulting other list members or attacking Objectivist intellectuals, will be removed from the list.

  • Please respect the purpose of the list. Subscribers who prove disruptive to the basic purpose of the list — such as by attempting to arguing against Objectivist positions or posting on irrelevant topics — will be unsubscribed or subject to moderation.

I’ve been really pleased to see the serious and thoughtful discussions on parenting that Jenn’s blog posts have generated. In less than a day, this new list has acquired 44 members, with discussion already in progress. Wow! Thank you, Jenn, for taking charge!

Fatal Distraction

 Posted by on 12 March 2009 at 2:01 pm  Law, Parenting
Mar 122009

Via The Agitator, here’s a must-read: Fatal Distraction by Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten. It is one of the most heart-wrenching stories that I’ve ever read. It’s about the loving parents — 15 to 25 per year in America — who accidentally kill their own young children by unknowingly leaving them in the car on a hot day. The article makes perfectly clear that the attempted prosecution of such parents for any kind of crime is completely unjust. Memory is inherently fallible — as we all know — and even the most loving parent can forget his or her own child. When such happens as a result of a fluke, rather than as the product of habitual failure to take proper care, the result is an unimaginable tragedy, not a crime.

I wish that I had time to write more about the issues pertaining to memory and negligence that the story raises, as that’s right up the alley of my dissertation. Perhaps I can do that later.

Sadly, as the article observes, the laws regulating the way in which children are strapped into car seats contributes to the problem.

This is journalism at its finest. Prepare to have your mind engaged and your heart broken. Go read it.

Mar 202002

Cathy Young has an article entitled Sound Judgment on the opposition to cochlear implants and other cures for deafness by advocates for deafness. As wonderful as deaf culture may be, surely being unable to hear and unwilling to learn to speak seriously limits a person’s opportunities. For parents to force such a life on their children is barbaric.

I wonder whether the refusal of such defect-fixing medical treatment (presuming affordability) constitutes a violation of a child’s rights at any point. If a fifteen year old wants the cochlear implants and a rich aunt is willing to pay for them, are the parents violating the child’s right by refusing? I’m inclined to grant children a fair amount of authority in their own medical decisions because such decisions may greatly impact the child later in life as an adult. (Yes, I know there is lots of complexity here that I am ignoring. Another time…)

Mar 182002

As Paul has been away at a conference for the past few days, I have spent a few hours in those days in rather dubious pursuits. Perhaps the worst was a few night ago. After watching my beloved Batman Beyond, I stuck around the Cartoon Network to watch some bizarre Japanese cartoon. As it turns out, the cartoon contained an interesting moral lesson, although not the one intended.

In the cartoon, a young boy has died. But there is a possibility of his returning to life if he properly cares for a magic egg. If he behaves badly, the egg will hatch a terrible monster which will bite his head off. If he behaves well, the egg will hatch a powerful creature necessary to return his spirit to his body. But his house catches fire and threatens to destroy his body, without which he will not be able to return to life. A girl he cares for runs into the blazing house to rescue his body, but she gets trapped by the fire. The boy is thus faced with a stark moral choice. He can throw the egg into the fire to save the girl, but thereby ruin his chances of returning to life. Or he can save the egg for himself and allow his friend to die. (Of course, if the boy allows the girl to die, his body will also be destroyed, along with any hope of rebirth. But the cartoon doesn’t consider this fact.) The boy overcomes his “selfish” desire for life and throws down the egg. The gods are so impressed with this noble act that they return him to his body despite the destruction of the egg. In fact, the gods inform the boy that had the egg hatched, the creature would have surely eaten him for his bad behavior. (Sorry for the long summary, but the story line was too bizarre for a short synopsis.)

The moral of the story, of course, is that selfless behavior is rewarded. By acting to save the life of his friend, he ends up saving both of their lives. If he had acted to save his own life, both he and the girl would have died. Only by acting against his own apparent interests can the boy has all of his wishes realized.

This moral message is fairly common, particularly in children’s literature. Adults sell the ideal of altruism to children by giving it an egoistic veneer. They claim that rewards will be heaped upon those who act selflessly. Those rewards may come from God after death, from other people, or even from psychological satisfaction. Those rewards may be delayed, but they will come. In essence, this dressed-up altruism asserts that the best way to obtain happiness is to not pursue it. Or even more strongly: the best way to obtain happiness is to pursue the happiness of others at the expense of one’s own happiness.

Of course, when the issue is put so starkly it seems rather ridiculous. Imagine a person who has $50 in his wallet. He wants to buy a $75 gift for his beloved wife. Would the best way to acquire the extra $25 be to give away the $50 dollars he has? Should he then expect to magically receive $75 back? Or should he just directly pursue the needed $25 by going to the ATM and removing the funds from his account? Obviously, we get the stuff we want by pursuing it, not renouncing it. That’s how life works.

Two objections could be made to this simple observation when applied to happiness. First, we do occasionally receive good stuff unexpectedly, like an inheritance from an aunt we never knew existed. Such gains cannot be relied upon, precisely because they are unexpected and unusual. Most of the time, we must work to achieve what we want. Second, some people pursue their happiness in all the wrong ways, thereby making themselves miserable. But the irrationality of some people’s means of acquiring something says nothing about the actual value of that thing. Just because some people attempt to obtain a job by threatening lawsuits doesn’t mean that pursuing a job is bad.

Altruism, if presented honestly, would advocate the sacrifice of oneself to others as an end-in-itself. To motivate altruism with hope or expectation of reward, as the cartoon did, is to appeal to egoism. But egoism and altruism are not compatible, no matter how often people accept the silly contradiction. Kant understood this problem, which is why his moral theory seems so harsh and extreme. He, at least, was consistent on this issue. (Although not well-grounded, as Will Wilkinson argues in this essay.)

I’m not advocating any form of psychological egoism. People clearly can and do act against their interests, both in full knowledge and in ignorance. My point is rather that to make altruism a palatable moral theory for a wide audience, its advocates must sugar-coat it with a veneer of self-interest. They must promise people rewards for their sacrifices. They falsely promise a positive cost-benefit analysis in the long run. Why? Because naked altruism would be abhorrent to most even moderately self-respecting people.

But by dressing up the wolf in sheep’s clothing during childhood, the indignity of altruism remains hidden from the sight of most people.

Encouraging Honesty

 Posted by on 17 March 2002 at 10:13 pm  Children, Ethics, Favorites, Honesty, Parenting
Mar 172002

In Why Kids Lie, Eckman talks about reducing the temptation to lie. Speaking of his son, who he caught in a big lie two years earlier, Eckman writes:

Whenever something has come up that [my son] might be tempted to lie about, I have been very careful about questioning him in a way that would encourage him to be truthful. Not “Who broke the vase?” or “Did you break the vase?” But “We shouldn’t have kept that vase in such a vulnerable spot; it would be too easy to knock over. Was it you or your sister?”

In other words, Eckman is recommending asking leading questions that put the wrongdoing in the most favorable light so that truthfulness isn’t so scary for the child. The child feels safer in telling the truth, with fewer worries about harsh punishment to come.

However, the most charitable explanation for behavior isn’t always the most accurate. The son might have broken the vase playing baseball inside or smashed the vase in a fit of anger. In such cases, the leading question encourages the child to confess to the wrongdoing — but only superficially. The child might honestly admit to causing the damage, but then lie (either by omission or commission) about the reasons for that damage. In essence, the leading question provides a ready-made false excuse.

So using this method of leading, charitable questions in an attempt to promote honesty and responsibility may instead promote habits of dishonesty and irresponsibility.

In contrast, Linda and Richard Eyre’s book Teaching Your Children Values contains some excellent suggestions for teaching honesty to children of all ages. Perhaps the most interesting is implicit in the opening story of the chapter on honesty.

Pulling into the driveway one way, I noticed a broken milk bottle on the pavement. I asked nine-year-old Josh and his friend, Chip, if they knew how it happened. Chip quickly said no. Josh looked over at him, somewhat startled, then walked over and put his hand on Chip’s shoulder and said, “It’s okay, he’ll understand.” Then to me, “The basketball hit it, Dad. Sorry. We were going to clean it up, but we forgot. Come on, Chip, I’ll get the dustpan.”

Despite his father’s direct question, Josh isn’t afraid to answer honestly. But most importantly, he knows what to do to fix the situation: clean up the mess he made. Not all wrongdoings can be so easily fixed, but most can be fixed with a bit of thought and effort. By focusing the child’s attention on the constructive task of making amends rather than awaiting punishment, the admitting the truth becomes less scary.

In other words, children ought to be explicitly taught the skills of redemption as part of learning about the necessity of honesty. The former will make the latter easier.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha