This post is about Taking Children Seriously (TCS) and what it was like before my leadership. This is primarily interesting because of the value of TCS's bold conjectures about how to apply Critical Rationalism to parenting and education. I'm secondarily bringing it up because some people today are unfamiliar with TCS and other ideas from David Deutsch (DD) and make ignorant, incorrect assumptions about what it's like. E.g. Bruce Nielson posted to The Beginning of Infinity forum in 2018:
Thanks Elliot for the excellent and thoughtful feedback. I'll try to come up with a new version that improves the problems of the existing version.
I joined [FI]. I hope to be an active participant.
You can read my free DD/CR (David Deutsch and Critical Rationalist epistemology) help, which Bruce was so thankful for, at Critical Rationalism Epistemology Explanations.
Although it's been a year and a half, and Bruce said he would follow up, he hasn't. It appears to have been his first attempt at online DD/CR discussion and it went nowhere due to his own disinterest and inactivity. Fine, but then why is he now a manager at an online DD/CR discussion group that is attempting to splinter the community and sideline FI? He's a newcomer who hasn't yet succeeded at his first productive DD/CR discussion, but now he's taking on a leadership role?
Some people commenting on this problem (which Bruce won't engage in problem solving about, but I have) think I and other FI posters are too harsh. They seem to conclude (without specifically stating and arguing it, and without involving facts), that FI's posts are different than a non-coercive-and-problem-solving focused philosophy like DD's TCS. Therefore FI can't really be a continuation of DD's thought and community. So let's take a look at some posts from before I joined the community. What sort of community did I join, learn the culture of, and am now continuing? I think if people knew what the TCS forum was actually like, and what DD was actually like, they would agree that I and FI are milder successors.
1996, full post from a TCS leader (minus names):
I subscribed to this listserv several weeks ago and have been lurking for some time. The name of this listserv caught my attention because I am a public school educator who is interested in changing my teaching and classroom management methods to a more child - directed approach.
Then your only possible course of action is to
- resign at once,
- take up a morally justifiable profession,
- become good at it, and
- be prepared to welcome children into your working environment, answer their questions and pass on your knowledge and skills to them if they ask you to.
Save yourself if you still can, [name]. I'm not joking.
1998, part of a post from a TCS leader:
Or are all of you against public school? My daughter (13 years old) is a homeschooler, but I am studying elementary education. I want to use non-coercive techniques in my classroom--basically because I realize that the idea that a teacher can control any student's behavior is a myth. Behavior can only be controlled by the "behaver" (the person doing the behaving)!
I think you're mistaken. If this were really true, most of the children in your classroom would simply get up and walk out. The fact that none of them do -- until the instant that you give them permission to -- despite the fact that throughout the lesson many of them are painfully yearning to do so, is one token of the fact that you are controlling them.
2000, full post from a TCS leader:
Could someone help me? How do you discipline a child that has got in the habit of throwing temper tantrums, when she doesn't get her way? It's becoming a common practice for my daughter to fallout wherever she is(public, home or daycare), which is very embarrassing. HELP!
That's a tough one, but I think this may be one of those rare cases where a sound thrashing might actually help. You may think that that would be illegal, but not if you arrange things properly. This is what you do:
Visit a bar in the sleaziest part of town, and employ the largest, strongest man you can find. (With a little bit of luck, he may well be willing to do this job without payment.) Introduce him to your daughter and explain to her that this is being done for her own good, and that it will hurt you much more than it hurts her. Explain to her that this nice man's job is to follow you and her around wherever you go. He will be unobtrusive and helpful, unless and until your daughter throws one of her tantrums. At that point he will step politely forward and beat the shit out of you.
Then the tantrums will soon go away.
1996, full post from a TCS leader, italics in original, bold added for emphasis:
People often complain that I lack respect in my posts. They accuse me of not "practising what I preach". They suggest that I should "teach" non-coercive educational theory by "example", and only post "non-coercive" messages. In practice this means that if I post anything other than soothing, dishonest, posts that are "accepting" of tyranny and coercion, I am being "coercive" to those whose posts I criticise. Certain posters have criticised my "lack of tolerance" over and over again, and called me "hateful" and "vengeful" and any number of colourful epithets in their attempts to show me (respectfully, by example, presumably?) the error of my ways.
But whenever I ask them whose rights they think I am violating, they decline to comment.
Perhaps they feel uncomfortable about admitting that logically their criticism of me in such cases amounts to a defence of tyranny.
I respect people whom I consider worthy of respect. I do not respect tyranny; I do not respect organisations like the KKK; I do not respect harmful human institutions whose existence is inimical to the growth of knowledge and thus to human happiness. I think these things are objectively wrong. So when I read posts advocating coercion or proudly detailing vile schemes to manipulate children into states of mind that are bad for them, I wish to express my contempt, and I wish to argue against these proposals. Ridicule is, as [another TCS leader] pointed out recently, an effective weapon against tyranny, and I shall continue to use it. I do not apologise for being honest.
I am often told that in order to change minds, I need to adopt a soothing, respectful tone, and cut the contumely. The thing is, changing minds in that sense is not my aim. I am not interested in placing people into a state of mind pre-determined by me, if the only way I can no this is to mislead them. It is all too easy to lull people into the appearance of agreeing by deliberately equivocating about what the words they are mouthing mean. These are manipulative aims, and I have already said I abhor coercion. Indeed, the whole idea that it might be possible to coerce someone into non-coercion is incoherent.
If someone says something false, or wicked, against which I believe I have a good argument, I want to put that argument to them and to others who might be subject to similar errors. If someone reports horrible things they have done to their children, seeking (and invariably getting) praise, justification and encouragement to do more of the same, I want to say "no, this is wrong". If there is any changing of minds that I am hoping for in connection with my arguments, it is the person himself changing his own mind, through his own thinking.
My purpose in posting (including this little post) is to support those who already feel that coercion is bad. Sometimes one feels something to be wrong but does not know why it is wrong. Sometimes it helps to know explicitly why something is wrong. (Sometimes people think "A-ha! Of course!" when they read explicit arguments against things they already felt in their guts to be wrong.) And of course when I write these scathing, "unacceptable" posts, I nearly always get messages from people saying "thank you so much for saying that" -- so I get to "meet" new sympathetic others. Advocates of coercion can find support everywhere. Those who are struggling to make their relationships consensual can't.
Note that I am never disrespectful in response to posts from people saying that they consider coercion is bad, but they do not currently have the knowledge of how to find consent in such-and-such an area (but are trying to learn). We are all in that position. We are all fallible and we all make mistakes. If someone seems genuinely to want to find consent-based solutions, I am always deeply respectful. That is because I feel deeply respectful. But ask me to be deeply respectful to a tyrant and I'll metaphorically spit in your face. If I did less I might be betraying the child who is suffering behind the tyrant's sugar-coated self-justification, and certainly the readers out there who want to read the truth, for once, unalloyed.
As you can see, some of the recent complaints are nothing new. They are to be expected, as a TCS leader explained in 2001 shortly after I joined:
[A TCS leader] wrote:
Have you noticed it says ...
the socialists Sarah Lawrence, David Deutsch, and Kolya Wolf
It's not the first time I have been branded a "socialist". Makes you wonder if the person who wrote that was on something when he or she read up on us, doesn't it? You'd think he or she might be slightly embarrassed about being so mind-bogglingly ill-informed, wouldn't you? 8-)
People have described me as "a sad collectivist", "right-wing", "PC", "a fascist", "a Randroid", and "an anarchist" (and no, they didn't mean an anarcho-capitalist). (Also, "subjectivist", "relativist", "moralistic", "amoral", "irrational", "a cold rationalist", and so on...)
Still, never mind, I have also been branded "full of original sin," and "a libertine"... but also "a do-gooder" and according to some interent authorities, I am "on a different planet" and "a joke".
Many have said that I "have clearly no experience of children", "obviously don't have children", "have obviously never come within a hundred miles of any living kid"; others have branded me "a progressive parent".
And then there was the argument about whether I am "a cow", "a cow with udders for brains" or "a cow with BSE".
So if "socialist" is the worst they can come up with, well hey, I think that's a distinct improvement. 8-)
I was informed only last month that I'm "nutty", that I "don't make a lot of sense", that my "philosophy is neurotic", that I'm "hysterical", that my "reading comprehension could use some work", that I have a "hysterical point of view", that my "reading comprehension is really in the dirt", that I am "screwed up psychologically" and:
"pseudo intellectual b.s."
"This is all coming out of your bu*t."
"You just seem to have some kind of... problem."
"You just don't seem to understand anything at all."
"Actual real mature grown ups (unlike yourself)"
"You just seem to have a personal problem."
"You are clearly hysterical and a crack pot."
"You have some other personal problem that you, really, should get help
"your own hysterical interpretation"
"You're on medication, aren't you"
"This is clearly delusional"
"You are either sick or the concepts you are trying to critique are
too deep for you."
"From that place you go to when you run out of meds?"
"You are an idiot."
"You just have a chip on your shoulder."
"you don't seem to get anything."
"the keeper of this website is clearly floating around in their own warped
"You spout a bunch of words"
"you don't know what you're saying"
"you don't know what others are saying"
"you're not even aware of how obvious you are. Sad."
"just some nut with a personal problem."
What provokes this hatred and vilification -- and blind misunderstanding?
I think it's this: someone who is far in advance of most people about an important moral issue is likely not to be understood at first, and in the meantime, to be hated and vilified just as much as someone who is egregiously wrong. How could it be otherwise?
If you don't like DD's ideas like TCS, that is your right. For those who do want to learn about DD's ideas – the ideas of the person who wrote two great books, hundreds of blog posts, and thousands of discussion forum posts – join the FI forum.
> One day a mom posted a message saying that she was having trouble getting her toddler son to take his daily, life-saving medicine. The parents felt they had no choice but to hold him down and make him swallow it. She was looking for ways to make this less traumatic for her son. Most of the suggestions were what one might expect, like hiding the medicine in food or bribing the baby with candy. Then a woman named Sarah Lawrence posted something entirely different. She accused the mother of abusing her child by forcing him to do something he didn't want to do. “If you were my mother,” she finished, “I would kick you with a hobnailed boot!”
That's an example of what a TCS founder posted on a non-TCS forum. I think FI has successfully toned things down (curi wouldn't made the comment about physical violence against the mother) without betraying the core ideas.
A TCS leader posting about animals in 1996, long before curi's recent debates with vegans:
> Aren't they "a lower life form"? Maybe the reason they don't get the respect people do is because they are not people!
> But your cat *isn't* a person, and you can only interpret her wishes. I do not think animals have wishes in the usual sense of that word anyway, for reasons I'll give later.
> If your child thinks he has a good reason for killing the budgie, will you approve? What makes you think *your* view of the situation is better than your child's? What makes you think that your view justifies coercion of the child? Where there is a disagreement, the only way to avoid systematically getting the wrong answer is by remaining open to criticism and seeking truth.
> But what if the dog is howling and yelping? Can't we be sure it is expressing displeasure -- telling us that it does not want to do this, for example? No. Plenty of people howl and yelp doing things they want to do. Look at masochists. Look at various sportsmen. Look at me when I am trying to edit an article: I moan and groan and howl in a most alarming way (I'm told) -- but still I am doing something I *really want to do*.
> I don't think there is such a thing as what a dog wants (in the sense of having individual intentions arising out of its own free will), but if there *were*, I don't think there would be any justification for assuming that it wants, for instance, to have a minimum of pain, any more than human beings always do. Human beings choose painful options over non-painful options all the time, and I am not just talking about masochists. It depends on whether the painful option seems better.
TCS leader, 1996:
> [...] I find the idea of your standing by and watching a cat biting and scratching your son rather abhorrent. [...]
> I fear, [name], that what you are doing is nothing more than a rather cruel punishment. I think you see no marks on his skin, but you are hoping that the experience will mark his mind. It sounds as though you are hoping that the pain and distress you are inflicting (and it *is* you, not the cat, who are responsible) will change his behaviour in a direction more to your liking.
TCS leader, 1997:
> Subject: TCS Apostate Renounces The Word of Popper
> [Name] wrote:
> > There are aspects that I see here that are *very* close to religious. Some of them include several people saying the exact same things, in the exact same ways. It's almost as if it's practiced and recited from memory. Another aspect that strikes me as somewhat religious is the concept that "one can get to TCS *only* through the word of Popper."
> To those who may be misled by the quotation marks: no one has ever said that. If they have, they were mistaken. As [name] should be fully aware, given that he thinks TCS "is an *amazing* theory" (see his post "TCS as religion", Tue, 21 Jan 1997 13:26:12 PST), TCS is independently arguable. Indeed, I stressed this very fact explicitly in private email to him on June 26th last year, and no doubt many times before that.
> In future, please do not make allegations or suggestions that TCS folks (or others) have said something without providing the reference and preferably the quote itself too, as I have done above. Thank you.
> [TCS leader's name]
> "We are fallible, and prone to error; but we can learn from our mistakes."
> -- OK 7:265
Accusations against TCS without quotes are quite an old phenomenon. curi's common response of asking for references/sources/quotes to go with accusations (e.g. asking for a source and exact quote of him allegedly being rude and an explanation of what's bad about that quote), and asking people not to put inaccurate words in his mouth, is not an original policy. It's just a continuation of TCS community culture that predates curi.
A TCS leader, 1997, posting material which was previously posted in the paper TCS journal, "Television - Junk food for the mind?". It responds to an article of the same name, without the question mark, by Gareth Lewis. Lewis, although he attacks TV, is a *film director*.
> As for the alleged "poor level of stimulation" [from TV]: Is the child watching a documentary about the First World War getting a "poor level of stimulation" because he can't *smell* the gangrene? Of course he might be smelling the toast in the toaster, or the dog on his lap, or the honeysuckle outside the window - or does that not count as "stimulation", because it does not relate to what is on the screen? Or what? Presumably, Gareth Lewis would be even more scathing about people who stand for long periods, transfixed by the exquisite beauty of certain great paintings, as I did on a recent trip to the Tate Gallery? After all, not only are these images "only two-dimensional", they are *unmoving*, and devoid not only of smell and taste, but of sound too. But perhaps "sensory deprivation" "may do no harm" if it is only for "the odd hour here and there"? Why does Gareth Lewis make that little concession, which contradicts his whole thesis? Is it that he wants to reserve the right to make children stand in the corner?
This is how a TCS leader responds to a non-TCS article, in an official capacity, in the TCS journal. The response goes on to presume that Lewis hates books since they don't have sound (so fewer senses are stimulated) and to call one of his ideas "Nonsense!". But then it returns to a main point: accusing Lewis of being coercive towards his own child (I agree with the speculation and the argument, FWIW, but most people wouldn't think this is being "nice"):
> But again, what he is really concerned about is the content. He is not really worried that the child's abilities will be diminished. His concern is about the child's ideas being contaminated by ideas he thinks are false. As he himself puts it: "The nature of these programmes themselves also gives cause for concern." His reaction to these false ideas is forcibly to take his child away from them, however much the child values them.
> Nor is it true that children's television programmes are banal. They are just not what Gareth Lewis thinks they ought to be. He asserts that television-watching has shortened children's "attention spans". But "attention span" is a cultural phenomenon. It is the period for which, with the maximum amount of coercion available in a particular culture, one can make a child of a given age do what he does not want to do.
I think that's a good point about attention span, but it's harsher than the vast majority of FI posts.
> So the only way of learning about drug addiction is to have a real-life experience of it? [...] If so, it is Gareth Lewis who is not inhabiting real life.
> If one were to make a television programme "full of meaningless images", nobody would watch it. In fact, television images are meaning*ful*. It is precisely the meaning in them that Gareth Lewis objects to. He thinks they have the wrong meaning as far as he is concerned. Calling them "meaningless" is just his quaint way of saying that he does not like them.
> In using the word "over-stimulate", Gareth Lewis is appealing, as he does throughout, to the pseudo-science at the beginning of his article. "Waste of time" really means "Why won't this person act upon *my* ideas rather than his own?" By "precious time", Gareth Lewis means time precious to *him*. To the children who watch television because they enjoy it, what they are doing is *more* precious than that which he wants them to do; and it is *their* time he wants to occupy, not his.
> The interesting thing about Gareth Lewis's statement that "...no one should fall out with their children over an argument about television," is that the article is no more than one long justification for why one *should* fall out with one's children over television. Presumably he wants to be seen as liberal in regard to education, so he envisages children obeying without a fight. He'll only fall out with them if he 'has' to - i.e., if they *don't* obey without a fight. But the problem is, he wants to interfere with their learning and severely disrupt their lives according to a theory that simply does not make sense. If that is his vision for them, and if he is prepared to use force to make them enact it, he *will* fall out with them over it. That is completely inevitable.
Here's a TCS leader, in 1997, attacking one of the only mainstream authors (Alfie Kohn) who has opposed punishment, homework, and a variety of other things TCS also opposes. This is in response to multiple TCS forum members who posting about liking the book and author:
> Oh dear. I really didn't like it [*Punished by Rewards* by Alfie Kohn] at all! Yes okay, his conclusion is true. But he seems to me to be using the perceived authority of science to convince the reader, when in fact the "evidence" is more pseudo-science than science. The criticisms I have made in the past of the pseudo-scientific empirical studies that (for instance) "show" television to be harmful apply to this "evidence" too. It seems to me a really bad idea to back up our ideas with "evidence" that just isn't what it purports to be. It is dishonest.
What more typical movements would see as an allied author, this TCS leader decides to call out as a "dishonest" person. But today, ignorant newcomers, who have been misled by some people who ought to know better, think curi's comments on dishonesty disqualify him as TCS. (FYI, curi wrote a serious essay on lying and thinks lying is a common problem that merits criticism and problem solving effort. https://elliottemple.com/essays/lying )
The TCS leader ends the post by repeating the accusation of dishonesty and saying it's " not an innocent mistake", as well as trashing the quality of argument in the book:
> I am saddened to see those whose views I share adopting the same dishonest tactics as those whose purpose is to deceive the reader into thinking that there is scientific evidence for views *opposing* ours. This is not an innocent mistake. Appealing to the perceived authority of science is a way of avoiding criticism that could in fact address the issue. That is why he never bothers to explain his view or argue the case. Why should he? He has the backing of the Authority of Science. Who would question *that*?
I'm not objecting to what the TCS leader said. I'm just trying to clarify for people what TCS actually is.
A TCS leader, 1994:
> > Non-coercion requires the interplay of reason. I think that fairly young children (under six) do not find *reason* very persuasive.
> This shows that you are regarding "reason" wrongly (or to be less rude - that you and I mean different things by "reason"). If you have the assumption that a child is not rational, you don't need the anecdotal evidence. If you are using the fact that you and your child fail to reach agreement as evidence *for* the statement that a child does not have reason, then a sceptic such as I might point out that that is equally evidence that *you* are not behaving rationally.
> In case there is any remaining doubt about the difference in the way we are using the term, let me translate your sentence, using my definition of "reason": "I think that fairly young children (under six) do not find *my being willing to change my point of view, etc.* very helpful." I agree that a *dog* would not find that very helpful, but it is just silly to suggest that of a child. If it *were* true, *that* would be a sign that children don't have reason.
> If you are not open to criticism, as most parents are not, then if you ever *were* wrong, you'd *never know*. In the overwhelming majority of disputes between you and your child, I happen to think your child is right and you wrong. That does not prove that the child is right and you wrong, but it does prove that it is not *obvious* that you are right in any given disagreement.
#15268 In a followup post, the TCS leader wrote:
> You seem to be using obedience as a measure of rationality.
And it accuses the person of using reason as "just another weapon to suppress the childs will" in "your case".
And in another followup post titled "[Name] on coercion", the TCS leader said it was a "scary thought" that [name] meant the thought he posted. There's also another post from this leader with a different person's name in the subject line, and neither of those people are the same one who was criticized for using reason as a weapon.
So putting people's names in subject lines is not something unique to the FI group, it was done on the TCS list before any of them joined.
Someone wrote to TCS list:
>> On the subject of spanking...Good heavens, I have friends who do occasionally, and I don't think it's the worst thing that guarantees a child's downfall. We have not found it to be too effective--one of our children is not always cooperative, but spanking only makes things worse with him.
A TCS leader replied:
> So the difference between you and a violent thug who can't, for the moment, find a way of inflicting pain *successfully* is ... what?
#15271 That one is from 1998. Whoever posts these, please include the year.
A TCS post from 1995
Some time ago a friend recommended that I join the tcs list, knowing of my
interest in children, and in particular in taking children seriously. My
lifelong work at Sudbury Valley School has been devoted entirely to the
notion that children can be given responsibility for their lives in the same
way as adults can, an idea that has particular signficance in a free,
I thought that a list entitled "taking children seriously" would be about
the real problems in this idea, which seems so novel in our modern culture,
although quite accepted elsewhere and in other times. I was excited about
the prospects of hearing about others' experiences taking children seriously,
and in exchanging ideas about how this can better be done.
What I did not expect was an endless stream of communications about arcane
philosophical questions, many of which have been passed back and forth since
the dawn of time, few of which relate to the everyday reality of taking
children seriously. The few postings that used to appear about real life
have vanished almost entirely.
If there is anyone out there who joined for the same reasons I did, can we
start talking to each other again? There is no way to stop the philologists
and philosophy junkies from using the list, but at least we can re-establish
our lines of communication -- that is, if there is anyone left who feels like
talking about taking children seriously.
#15280 Part of a 1995 reply to that topic from a frequent poster:
> But since you two complainers seem incapable of coming up with your own topics, perhaps you might like the following provocative tidbit from the fast-breaking world of "simple" questions and simple answers (or at least simple-minded ones) to the needs of children and parents. Playboy reports, in the "Forum Newsfront" of their February 1995 issue:
> "FINDLAY, OHIO -- Hancock County prosecutors dropped a wiretapping charge against a mother accused of bugging her 16-year-old daughter's telephone. Illegal wiretapping is a third-degree felony punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5000 fine, but the local judge liked the idea of parents concerning themselves with their children."
> This bit of "justice" is a rather breathtaking display of simple-minded certainty about the correct form of the parent/child relationship, wouldn't you say? Mother knows best, after all.
*Winning Parent, Winning Child* by Jan Fortune-Wood, 2007:
> We all hold deeply rooted ideas, from states of mind to genetic dispositions to articulated ideas.
Jan reveals that, despite writing several TCS-related books, she was never much of an informed TCS intellectual, or else she'd know (the TCS view) that people don't have genetic dispositions.
> As you can see, some of the recent complaints are nothing new. They are to be expected, as a TCS leader explained in 2001 shortly after I joined:
i liked the list of complaints. i think it helps me deal with insults, and be less effected by them.
insults like the ones in the list work against me. they used to be a lot more effective against me.
when i try to take those kinds of insults more seriously and think about them more, they become less effective at effecting me emotionally.
#20179 insults are not arguments. looking for arguments is very important. it should be practiced until it's automatic, and you usually instantly know whether arguments are present (sometimes people will say complicated things that require conscious analysis, but in most cases you should be able to tell right away).