A possible motive for not teaching a child

For many of us, what we call the 'motives' for our actions are often nothing of the sort. Rather, we make a decision subconsciously, often based upon primitive and irrational impulses, and then afterwards justify our resulting actions by constructing an elaborate intellectual explanation which makes no reference at all to our initial gut feelings. We might for example find the taste and even the texture of meat is disgusting to us and makes us feel sick. This is the instinct. Later, after we have decided not to eat it, we construct an intellectual basis for this instinctive disgust based upon the ethics of the thing and call it an ideology such as vegetarianism. Many belief systems arise in this way, beginning as a simple desire or dislike and then becoming codified and provided with an apparently logical foundation.

When my daughter was seven, I used to enjoy her company enormously. I still do enjoy being with her, but when she was little it was an absolute delight. I cheerfully spent days with her, roaming the countryside, visiting London, playing games, simply revelling in her company. I disliked telling her what to do or imposing any discipline upon her, because then that tended to alter the simple, joyful relationship. I would much sooner have been her playmate than her teacher. This is what I mean by an instinctive, primitive feeling. This desire simply to take pleasure in her company and be damned to the consequences was very powerful. It was an essentially selfish craving though. I was gaining great pleasure from being with her and just doing the things that she liked. True, she was happy too and it sometimes seemed that the best thing for her was to allow her to enjoy this fleeting and ephemeral present happiness and not fret about what would happen when she was fifteen or twenty.

Of course, being a middle aged man, I knew perfectly well that an entire lifestyle for my child based upon nothing more than her childish wishes would not necessarily be an good for her when she was older. Days spent wandering round the countryside having picnics and making bows and arrows certainly have their place in a happy childhood, but if that is all there is too it then the adolescent who results from this way of life might be an ignorant one who is ill equipped for life in a modern, industrial society. True, I taught my daughter a skill passed down to me by my father on these expeditions; how to make a bow and arrow from young branches, but that's not likely to be much use in today's world!

Now there were plenty of ideological grounds upon which I could have continued this lifestyle every day. She was certainly learning about different kinds of tree and animal. I told her about farming and the water cycle, all kinds of useful things in fact. To continue living and raising my daughter like this every day would have been dishonest though. The real reason that I wanted to carry on all the time in that way had nothing to do with her education and everything to do with my own wishes, especially my wish to be her companion and not her adult teacher. Besides, we got on much better when I wasn't telling her what she should be doing and allowed her to set the pace.

Had I allowed my daughter's life to develop in that way, it would have been a purely selfish choice, because I wished to have a certain kind of relationship with her and follow a particular lifestyle. I don't doubt that I could have used sophistry to justify such a course, but it would have been intellectually dishonest.

Now that my daughter is seventeen, both she and I have very happy memories of the afternoons and entire days that we spent simply doing stuff for the sake of it. Because of the path which she is currently pursuing though, she is even more glad that I trained her to sit down quietly at a table for an hour at a time and study one subject rigorously. That skill will stand her in good stead, no matter what she chooses to do with her future life. The ability to distinguish different toadstools has not proved to be as useful in her life today; about as useful in fact as the ability to make a bow and arrow! The desire to be friends and companions to our children, rather than parents and teachers, is a very seductive one. It is a desire though which, for our children's sake, we must resist. The child of a paleolithic hunter gatherer might be able to acquire by means of casual conversation while roaming through the forest and fields, all that is necessary to equip her for her future life; a twenty first century child in modern Europe will almost certainly not.