A reader asks how she can help her children to keep developing their rational minds, to be objective and to develop a correct hierarchy of knowledge, in spite of government-run schools that teach the exact opposite.

She says her kids are intelligent and can see through the irrational methods and ideas they are taught. She worries that this conflict can lead to unnecessary stress. She can’t afford private education, and is not in a position to home school.

If her children can see through the irrational methods and ideas they are being taught, they are already safe. This is proof that whatever she is doing is, in fact, working. The problem with most government-run schools is that, (1) they are mediocre because they are unaccountable to parents and students, and, (2) they teach stupid ideas such as ‘Barack is Great’ or the urban religion of environmentalism.

The good news (if there is any good news) is that the very fact that these schools are mediocre makes it doubtful that they can effectively advance the ridiculous ideas they’re teaching. Children are not stupid. If schools are not giving them anything of value, they’ll sense it. This will lower the school’s credibility in their eyes. Many kids hate or resent school because it’s obvious that schools aren’t doing their job. If kids are not being properly taught to read, add, multiply or (most of all) think, then they won’t respect the same school that tries to sell them on environmentalism or any other irrational idea such as religious fundamentalism, Obama-ism or whatever.

Many private schools, even ones that teach mistaken ideas such as religious fundamentalism, enjoy the edge over government-run schools. Why? Because at least, as (kind of) free-market entities, they answer to parents and students. This is incentive for many of them to do an excellent job of teaching reading, writing, and even thinking, even in spite of their attempts to advance erroneous beliefs. Also, not everything taught in the context of religion is wrong. Some religious ideas emphasize the notions of integrity, honesty and even rationality. Though they are, unfortunately, undercut by an emphasis on supernaturalism, there are at least some good ideas for children to learn.

Public schools offer none of this. They’re not accountable to parents or students. They’re only accountable to politicians and the bureaucrats who run the federal education establishment. And nearly all of them have stupid, wrong ideas about virtually everything. Public schools cannot begin to earn the respect of students, while private schools (even religious ones) at least have a fighting chance.

Government-run schools are really in a lose-lose position. The better job they do at teaching the skills of reading, writing and thinking, the harder time they will have imposing irrational (yet politically correct) dogma on these well-trained children. The worse job they do at teaching the skills of reading, writing and thinking, the harder it will be to persuade kids of anything, especially if they’re thoughtful and feel no respect for their mediocre teachers.

Back in the 1940s and 1950s, very religious Catholic schools attempted to indoctrinate school children with all kinds of wild ideas. I remember, for example, being taught in a Catholic school (as late as the 1960s) that if you removed the Holy Communion host from your mouth at Mass, you would literally see the blood of Jesus Christ. I didn’t believe this as a child, and I know of nobody (even committed Catholics) who actually believe this as adults. Although old fashioned Catholic schools often did a good job teaching children how to read and write, they failed miserably at producing adults who grew up all that committed to their religious dogma. How many products of Catholic schools in the 1950s go to Mass every Sunday today?

The same will probably prove true with public school children being told all kinds of falsehoods about the environment, government-run medicine and everything else. ‘Barack is Great’ will probably be an even tougher sell than the religious ideology of days long gone.

The most important thing for a parent to remember is to teach his or her child to think. The woman who wrote me this note elaborated on how she teaches her child to think in all kinds of ways. She discusses moral or other kinds of dilemmas in everyday life. She encourages conversation about books that her kids are reading. She engages them in discussion about what’s online or in the newspaper. She talks about events that happen locally and in the world at large, in terms her children can understand. Day by day, she raises her child to the level of a committed thinker. She doesn’t sit by and whine about the computers, television and even the lousy schools. She gets the job done herself. Home schooling is not necessary. If her child actually learns to think at school, all the better. If the school is mediocre or worse, she can provide the rational antidote simply by helping her children to think rationally and confidently, day in and day out.

***

The biggest mistake I see parents make is to assume that schools (public, private, whatever) can replace their own responsibility to ensure that their children learn to think. Parents just expect the process of thought to be developed ‘somehow.’ They place way more confidence in teachers than most of them deserve.

This is always a mistake. The mistake becomes a disaster when parents make this mistake within the context of government-run public schools.

Consider what Maria Montessori, arguably the greatest educator of all time, defined as education:

‘Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.’

Montessori was right. Education is not something done ‘to’ you. It’s something you attain on your own, over time and through a series of complex yet rational stages. Schooling can (i.e. should) facilitate education, but cannot impose it. Parents should not be intimidated by this. They need not be ‘experts’ in the ‘science’ of education. In fact, the self-proclaimed experts (at least today) know less about the theory and practice of education than even the below-average parent.

The name of the game for parents is to teach your child how to think. Whether you send your child to the most expensive or the most mediocre of public schools, there are no excuses. You can and must teach your child how to think. Here are some specific suggestions:

  • Have discussions. Block out time for doing so. Start when your child is young, so it becomes part of the culture of the family.
  • Talk about ideas, about people or anything worth thinking about in terms the child can understand. Young children crave attention from adults, so the best time to introduce this habit is in early childhood. And the earlier, the better. If you can successfully get your child excited about thinking, then the habit will most probably extend through the teenage years all the way into adulthood.
  • Don’t be dogmatic. Don’t try to impose opinions. Don’t make it about yourself or what you think. Make it about thought. The goal here is to encourage your child to become a thinker. Yes, some ideas are rational and true while others are irrational and false. The world is full of irrational and even insane ideas—the latest being the hilarious mythology of ‘Barack the Great’ and environmentalism. I’m sure you’ve all seen the TV clips of the classroom full of little glassy eyed kids reciting the Allegiance to Obama in an oddly frightening monotone. Rest assured, while this may be indoctrination, it’s in no way thought. Children who learn to think will learn to shed such government-fostered nonsense father than dropping a hot potato.

Sadly, there’s nothing new about irrational ideas. No matter the source, however, the antidote to irrationality is, and always will be, rational and objective thought. The antidote cures the disease every time, especially with young, impressionable minds.

Training kids to think is a challenge for any rational parent. Children are intellectually honest, and can ask tough questions. ‘Why is there no God if so many people seem to believe in one?’

Or, ‘It’s warm today. Doesn’t that mean there’s global warming?’ Or, ‘When someone wins a game, the loser’s feelings are hurt and they’re disappointed. Isn’t that wrong?’ In order to give rational answers to these honest questions, you must have a good grasp of why you hold the views you do. It’s good for your own mind, and the child’s.

The most precious gift you can give to children is the aptitude and appetite for thinking. Schools often don’t do this, and today’s government-run schools will never do it. That’s OK. Well, it’s not OK—but it’s eminently survivable. Mankind has somehow survived and produced great thinkers, scientists and entrepreneurs, generation after generation, despite the stupidity, authoritarianism and even despotism of governments. Parents stand alone between their innocent children and intellectual collapse.

Don’t worry about stress on your children from bad schools. If you have taught them to think, they’ll see the idiocy or mediocrity for what it is. As young people, they’ll want validation. In essence, they’ll want you to answer the question, ‘These people are pretty nutty in what they’re saying, right?’ And you can reply, with confidence, ‘I know.’ You can make their home an oasis of rationality that they can carry into adulthood in their minds and psyches.

Childhood isn’t all that different from adulthood. If you’re rational and sane, you’re still surrounded by people (even the majority) who tend towards the opposite. But somehow, you get through it by finding people of your own kind and by creating a benevolent, sane universe within yourself. If a parent can manage to create this universe, then your children can as well.

And who knows? One day the world might just become more sane than it is at present.

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Dr Michael Hurd

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

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