John Holt and Richard Farson on the Rights of Children
Articles Blog

John Holt and Richard Farson on the Rights of Children

September 10, 2019

ANNOUNCER: All rights reserved. HAYWARD HALE BROUN: Hello. This is
the Literary Guild’s First Edition. I’m Hayward Hale Broun. And we have two books
and two writers today. The first book
is called “Birthrights,” and its subtitle and both
of these subtitles are important is “A Bill of Rights for Children.” This one is written
by Richard Farson. And the other book is called
“Escape From Childhood.” “The Needs and Rights of Children,”
is its subtitle. And it’s written by John Holt. And Mr. Holt and Mr. Farson are here. And I will let them
speak for themselves. But substantially, they are people
who believe that children are kept in separate pens, to a degree
I mean in psychological terms more than they ought to be. And just sort of going
from left to right: Mr. Farson, what made you
write “Birthrights?” RICHARD FARSON: The question is interesting,
because one would think that there would be an incident,
or, having had five children myself, you’d think
it would be maybe a result of experiences
with my own children, and so forth. I really don’t think
that’s the case. As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure
that having children isn’t a positive impediment to being able
to see the situation clearly. I just got interested, years ago, in the
whole issue of invisible populations in the civil rights movement,
and in women’s and men’s liberation. And then I began to see that
the most oppressed people are very often
the most invisible people and especially when you think
they’re visible like children. We think we know what children are,
because we are around them a lot. And then it began It came to me, I think, more as
a kind of a rational outgrowth and a logical outgrowth of other interests. HAYWARD: Mr. Holt, you don’t
have any children, and therefore JOHN: No I don’t. JOHN: And I’m very happy to hear
HAYWARD: [Laughs] JOHN: Mr. Farson say what he said about “possibly an impediment,”
because there are certainly a number HAYWARD: Somebody must have
irritably said to you from time to time HAYWARD: Because people
must say to you from time to time, “What do you know about children?” “You don’t have any.” JOHN: Well they don’t
quite say that. They say “Do you have any children?” And I say “no.” And they usually let
a pregnant silence sit there. But it conveys
the other remark. HAYWARD: Did you come around
to writing your book more or less out of a general feeling that while
this ferment is coming on, some bubbles should
rise for children? JOHN: That was part of it. I think that certainly
the things that I’m saying and that Dick Farson is saying
are very logical extensions of things that Blacks
and minority groups have said about their condition
and women about theirs. They also have grown out of
my work as a teacher, and a concern for children
and their dignity as people. And also grew out of a certain amount
of experience with the preschool movement, in which it seemed that
as fast as we took certain kinds of pressures off children
or to put it differently as soon as we met
certain needs that they had which ordinary schools
were not meeting other needs appeared
which we couldn’t meet. I was drawn more and more back on what
Paul Goodman wrote in Growing Up Absurd. What young people
really need is a sense of growing in and into
a society that makes some sense. And in the absence of this,
I came to feel, more and more, there isn’t anything that anybody
could do in school to meet this need. HAYWARD: The reason I ask
the question of each of you I was, in a sense,
making a measurement of zealotry. In other words, in most of
the other movements, in the women’s movement,
and the Black movement, and then the earlier
women’s movement at the time, where the struggle was for the vote,
there got to be a sort of tremendous and aggressive feeling
which brought about a crusading attitude. Now you are different, each of you,
in the sense that you are interested in children,
and you are an advocate, each of you,
for children’s rights. But it’s a long time since
either of you was a child. And do you find that you are
working parallel with them, or can you really talk to them
and find out what they want? Or are you,
like everyone else, one of those who are trying
to find what’s best for them? RICHARD: For myself, it’s
a question of not trying to mastermind what is best for children
but at the same time, not pretending that you can
simply go up and ask, because children are in our society
a tremendously incapacitated group. And what I’m trying to do,
at least, is point to certain things, make some sense
out of some things, see if I can reduce
the victimization that I feel now having looked at the thing
for several years that is obvious
painfully obvious to me. But I shy away from any idea
of movements and liberation, and the whole the zealotry that
you’re talking about, I abhor, myself. And what we really need is to think about
very complicated issues in our society. We need to, each of us,
become members of a multiple-issue constituency,
not a single-issue one. So I’m as
interested in parents and in other vulnerable populations
in our society as I am in children. It’s just that nobody
had articulated, in a comprehensive way,
the neglected rights of children. So John and I did that,
essentially. JOHN: The word liberation,
as a matter of fact, was suggested as a possible
title of my book, and I quite deliberately rejected it,
for, I guess, a couple of reasons, at least, because it had a lot of
associations that I didn’t much like. But beyond that, I wanted to
make the point that if the child likes the condition of being a child,
meaning helpless, meaning subservient meaning, as I say, some kind of
mixture of slave and super pet If he’s happy in that condition, fine. I wouldn’t disturb him for the world. All I say is that
if a child has had enough of living in this sequestered
and segregated and powerless condition, and wants to live
more actively and responsibly, move out into the world,
and live like a full human being, I think he ought
to be able to do it. HAYWARD: Well, now is there a
For example (This is a complicated topic,
which I’ll try to make brief.) Among the English upper
classes, it was accepted, at least in the nineteenth century,
that all children went to boarding school
at an early age. JOHN: Boys. HAYWARD: Boys. Yes. And therefore, the individual
child did not feel, “I am being torn away
from my family.” It is an accepted thing,
as, in certain islands, boys at the age of 12 have
their front teeth knocked out, or are tattooed or whatever,
and you don’t say, “Yeah, I am particularly
selected for this.” Therefore, what I’m getting at
is that the child who is given freedom, as in my time,
when I was a little boy In intellectual circles in New York,
there was a great move to give children their freedom,
and to permit us to be untrammeled adults very young, very small adults
but adults. But I suspect that
many of us were not ready, because the other children
seemed happier on the plantation. I didn’t really feel up to
the responsibilities that were given me. RICHARD: Mm-hmm. HAYWARD: Would I, do you think (I don’t want to use
myself as an example.) have felt better
if everybody else was in the same spot and had to eat
downstairs with the grown-ups, and think of jokes to tell to
Alexander Woolcot and all of that? [Laughs] JOHN: I don’t know. I want to pick at, if you’ll
let me, just a little bit at the expression “to give freedom,” because I don’t feel, for myself,
that I can give anybody freedom. What I’m saying is not so much
that I want to give children freedom as that I want to take away
certain constraints. HAYWARD: Yes. JOHN: I want to
open doors which have been locked. Now if the child
doesn’t want to go through that open door,
that’s perfectly okay. That’s for him to decide. The door is open if he wants HAYWARD: Now if he decides not
to go through the open door, he is aware [INDISTINCT], I think. He or she is responsible JOHN: Yes. HAYWARD: for his or her actions
thereafter, and is entering into a large world with
very little of experience. RICHARD: I think your point is valid,
that with freedom comes a burden HAYWARD: Mm-hmm. RICHARD: that all of us feel. That’s not just true for children. HAYWARD: No. RICHARD: That’s true for anybody. Freedom is a difficult burden for us all. And it falls, for me,
into sort of two categories. One is that there is
work we can do. For example, beginning to design
our cities more with children in mind, so they’re not such dangerous places
HAYWARD: Mm-hmm. RICHARD: which permit children,
quite unconsciously, to be able to move
with more safety. Now that’s one kind of freedom
which does not require the child to come to grips with
a new consciousness. It simply reduces
some victimization. And the other kind of freedom really
asks of the child whether or not he or she might want to enlarge
his life in some deliberate way by voting, by getting a job,
by taking responsibilities. Now that’s a kind of
a political consciousness raising that carries with it that
tremendous burden of responsibility, and then, subsequently,
very often guilt and other problems. JOHN: I speak of making these rights
available to young people. And I also try to make clear that they
don’t need to be taken as one package. Thus, this particular child
might choose to vote. HAYWARD: Mm-hmm. JOHN: But he might not
be interested in working. He might not be interested in traveling. He might not want to live away from home. He might not care about having
his own bank account. He might None of the other rights that
I’ve suggested might mean a thing to him. Another child might find it
very important to work, to have his own money,
to control his own money. Politics wouldn’t
interest him. Some other child might make
a different sort of a selection. The other point
that I think is important is that this choice
need not be irrevocable. That is, to say a child, having chosen
to use one or more of these rights, ought to have the option
to decide after a while “Well I’ve tried that. That’s okay. But I think I’ll go back
into the family and live as a child
for a few more years, and maybe try this
again later.” If he found that burden
heavier than he could carry, he would have the option
of going back into his earlier condition. HAYWARD: Well certainly one of
the terrible ironies for children and it’s something that I remember
with indignation, now many years later, is that probably our as human beings
our intellectual keenness is at its highest from
about 11 to 15 or 16. And we absorb vast amounts
of material easily. Our brains are
really going very well. And how often I or either of you,
at that age of 13 or 14, had an argument of
an intellectual nature with some adult who, driven from
one place to the other, finally, in complete
disarray, says, “Well, when you grow up,
you’ll know better.” And you just stand there
shaking with humiliation JOHN: Yes. HAYWARD: thinking
there is no answer to that. Both of you in each of
your books have said that one of the ways in which we
demean children, in addition to “When they grow up,
they will know better,” is that, there is that round
called “cuteness,” whereby a kind of well almost the same as
the Black actor who turns up his eyes
and is afraid of ghosts the child, by sticking
his thumb in his mouth, can become both less and more
have more power and be less of a person. What does one do
to discourage this? RICHARD: Well, you don’t
have to discourage it. All we have to do is make other avenues
available for them to have access to life. The problem is that we have forced them
into a position of all kinds of dissembling, all kinds of cute behavior,
just as we have forced women, quite literally, into using
indirect methods of power, because they’ve never had
the direct, formal access to it. JOHN: I found myself realizing
only a couple of weeks ago I wish I’d thought of it
when I was writing that the way in which
most of those adults who think they like children
think about children is very much like the ways
in which old Victorian men and some today
thought about women. I was particularly
reminded of Ibsen’s play, “A Doll’s House,”
and Torval and his wife Nora. Nora was a kind of plaything
almost point for point: innocence, purity
more spiritual beings. But on the opposite side of this
rather sentimental way of looking, then at women, now at children,
is a great deal of condescension and contempt,
which comes out when I start talking to people
about the political changes. You start talking about children
having their own money or voting, and people begin to put forward
the most absurd hypotheses. A man said,
“Give a kid his own money, he’d buy the whole lumberyard
full of yo-yos.” Somebody else said,
“If kids could vote, they’d all elect
Captain Kangaroo for president.” HAYWARD: It might not be a bad idea. JOHN: Well HAYWARD: But I don’t think they would. RICHARD: Considering the alternatives. [Laughter] JOHN: Yeah. I mean, could we do worse? But in fact,
they wouldn’t do that. HAYWARD: Again
JOHN: He’s as nice a man as Dr. Spock. And I really revere him admire him. I’m not in the camp of his enemies. But in a recent
interview in Cleveland about the time I was out there,
he said something about, “Now parents, you mustn’t feel that
just because the baby cries, you have to let him
stay awake all night, because that’s what he wants.” Well, that’s absurd. A baby doesn’t want
to stay awake all night. He doesn’t know what
“all night” is. The concept doesn’t
exist in his mind. This is a projection onto that baby
of some notion of an adult HAYWARD: Yeah. JOHN: whereas, in fact,
the baby is just saying, “I’m having a good time. I don’t want to leave the party. Why are you taking me out of the room
when here’s where all of the action is?” So, when people begin
to talk about concrete examples, they express the opposite side of
their sentimental notions of children, which are very contemptuous. And it’s at this level, this combined
mixture of sentiment and condescension, that I think we can begin
to work on changing our ways of thinking. HAYWARD: Do you think that
some of that contempt, which has built into it anger
JOHN: Oh yes. HAYWARD: arises from the fact that
many people wish their children to accomplish those things which
they themselves failed to accomplish, and the child becomes
an instrument? JOHN: Of course. RICHARD: I think that’s part of it. I suspect that the biggest reason
we resent children, though, is because we have set up a situation
in which we feel responsible for them, but are helpless to discharge
those responsibilities, and that makes us feel
abusive toward them. I think that happens
whenever you feel responsible for somebody,
even if you’re a professional you feel responsible for someone
that you can’t really help, which often happens, say,
in psychotherapy it makes you HAYWARD: Well, we pay that man enough
so that he better not be resentful. [John and Hayward laugh] RICHARD: I know. That’s essentially
what it’s all about. And I think that’s what happens
very often with respect to parents. We have created
just as we’ve invented children that is, it’s a fairly new idea
in the history of mankind that we think of children
as potential adults. But we’ve also invented parenthood,
which has become such a terrible kind of structure
for us all to try to live within. And every time a psychologist
like me opens his mouth on radio or television,
or writes a book, we make that job
more difficult no matter how helpful
our own little ideas may be we make the job
terrifically difficult. We make it seem as if
it’s possible to raise children, and to do it with some kind of class,
and dignity, and good sense, and minimum of frustration,
and love, and so on. And I think the fact is
that it is not possible to raise children. HAYWARD: Well it’s been said that
the people of approximately my generation, that we were the first generation
which were raised by parents who felt that what
we did was our fault. The parents would say, “It’s you!” RICHARD: That’s right. HAYWARD: And that we came along
in an age of “psychology,” to use the broadest
term for it, and discovered that what
our children did was our fault that somehow we never got
the best of either world. [Laughs] RICHARD: As if we had
a lot of control over it, when we had
very little control. One of the things that I think
needs to be liberated, really, is the parent who is working,
quite unconsciously, as the agent of institutions
which he doesn’t fully understand and doesn’t realize
his role in that. But those institutions
do not necessarily have the children’s best
interests at heart. They have the idea
of children’s place, that is politically keeping
children in their places, alright, but we spend all our time protecting,
controlling, disciplining, teaching as if that’s what parenting is. And usually we’re trying to do something
to the child to make him behave in such a way that is acceptable to the institutions
which are governing all of our lives. HAYWARD: Well, I want to get
to something which I think both of you would probably
like to say something about. In each of your books, you say that
perhaps the most controversial things that you advocate are letting
children vote when they feel like voting, and letting them drive a car
when they can pass a test, and letting them handle their own money,
so you can’t say, “Well, you sold this to the boy,
and he looks 21, but he isn’t. You have to give him back his money,”
which is, in a sense, humiliating. And you must give them sexual freedom,
or at least that same sexual freedom that we give
to the rest of society. Let me ask each of you (And you can answer
in whatever order you wish.) what do you get the
most resistance on? RICHARD: Economics. JOHN: Economics and the vote. Yes, those two. The money and the vote. RICHARD: Yeah. JOHN: They really freak them out. RICHARD: You would think
it would be the sexual, perhaps. JOHN: Yeah. Yeah. RICHARD: But I think, even JOHN: Sometimes leaving home gets
Make their own home. RICHARD: Make their own home JOHN: But the vote and the money
are Number 1. RICHARD: Mm-hmm. JOHN: It’s perfectly astonishing
how angry and frightened [CROSSTALK] HAYWARD: When I was
10 years old, I read actually read the platforms of all the political parties
presenting candidates which included the Prohibitionist
and Vegetarian parties. RICHARD: [Laughs] HAYWARD: I read
all of them. RICHARD: Mm-hmm. HAYWARD: I made up my mind. I haven’t read a platform since. I think I was politically
most aware then. I think an awful lot of kids take
a tremendous interest in politics. I believe both of you
argue that since, at any age, our voting is likely to be subjective,
why not start early? RICHARD: You know I was talking
just the other day to a 14-year-old boy who is
in a big urban high school. And he he was making
the point that, in a sense, he was in a much better position
to make judgments about voting on national issues,
because in his everyday life, he was mixing with so many
different kinds of people, he was deliberately (And part of their whole school curriculum
was studying some of the issues.) he, in fact, knew a lot more about
what was going on than his parents did. And we sometimes forget that,
as you said, very few people
read the platforms. HAYWARD: Well as magazines
for Black people used to, until very recently, always had
very light-colored people on the covers. RICHARD: Mm-hmm. JOHN: Yes. Yes. HAYWARD: You, I believe, questioned
a group of kids where a number of the kids said,
“I would vote if I could. But I don’t think
I should be allowed to.” Children, obviously,
given this diminuendo treatment of which you both speak,
begin to question their own ability. RICHARD: Sure. JOHN: Yes. This is
one of the things that troubles me most about
this institution of childhood. People say to me,
as they sometimes do, “But why do you feel it makes
so much of a difference?” Well, I’m a very old-fashioned person,
and I believe in human liberty, in the sense that I don’t think
very many people do. And what I object to
about the condition of slavery (And being a slave has nothing to do with
whether you are well treated or not. Some slaves were
exceedingly well treated.) But what I hate and fear about
the idea of people growing up in a condition of slavery
is that it gives them most of them the minds and
the hearts of slaves. You don’t learn to love
freedom by being a slave. You learn to believe that
that’s all you’re capable of. And I’m terribly afraid of where
this process may lead us. HAYWARD: There is
a complication, I think. And you may or may not
agree with me that And I think, from what I read
in both your books (I’m more oriented to the views
of Sigmund Freud than either of you.) that there is a point of
at least in early childhood of emotional immaturity, in which,
were you to exercise liberty, you might also begin to exercise
repression of yourself at an early age. And it isn’t all that
easy for children from 7 to 11 or 12
to control their emotions. And maybe they should
not be asked to. And if they are a part of
a total community, they will be asked
too early, won’t they? JOHN: They’re asked to now. They live in This rather peculiar little
social world of childhood which they live in
is highly competitive, full of all of
the anxieties and pressures and rivalries and
jealousies of adult life. You can see it in the nursery schools,
classes, groups of four-year-olds. When the birthday parties come along,
the whole question of who gets invited and who doesn’t is of immense importance. HAYWARD: Mm-hmm. JOHN: So it isn’t really
as if they were living in the kind of a pastoral
Christopher Robin life, away from it all
with his bear and his woods. HAYWARD: [Laughs]
JOHN: And I’m not laying that on you. HAYWARD: No. JOHN: But, the plain fact is
the little world we have constructed for children to live in, presumably
to protect them from the bad world, turns out to be a rather simplified,
and, in many ways, much uglier and harsher, more competitive world than the world
we’re supposedly protecting them from. HAYWARD: Let’s all meditate
on that for a moment. And you who are listening
can prepare your answers to shower at the speaker. [Laughter] And we’ll be back in just a moment
with John Holt and Richard Farson. I better mention these books again. Mr. Holt is the author of “Escape from Childhood
the Needs and Rights of Children.” And Mr. Farson’s book, “Birthrights,”
is subtitled “A Bill of Rights for Children.” I’m Hayward Hale Broun
not a child for a long time. We’ll be back in just a moment
with John Holt and Richard Farson and our discussion
of the rights of children. [SHOW RESUMES] HAYWARD: What I meant
when I spoke about repression (And again, I generalize
from the particular.) � I was early expected
to be grown up in my household. And I was once told
that I was going to be a guest at a dinner party
at our house. And I said “Well gee, it’s a Tarzan picture Elmo Lincoln and Tarzan. That shows you
how old I am. And my mother said
“Well you’re expected. You’re one of the guests
at the party.” I said, “But Elmo Lincoln! Tarzan! And it’s two pictures. And if I get in in
the middle of the love picture, Tarzan will run right into
the dinner party.” And she said,
“I’m putting you on your honor.” And I was seven years old. And I accepted that. And I think
that’s grotesque. I don’t think somebody seven years old
should be put on his honor. It was was expecting me full of unbridled desires,
and the vigor and violence of youth to expect that it was
important that I be home. As a matter of fact, being me,
I walked out of the picture while Elmo Lincoln
was wrestling with a lion. I don’t even know if Elmo Lincoln
lived to the end of the picture. And I felt all
my adult life a resentment that I had been forced out of
the simple world of the child. Well, actually, I was going to
come home late and be punished, and that would
take care of that. But I couldn’t. Now I’m not against you. But what you do you say
to children like that? JOHN: I get a number of different
thoughts about your example. It’s hard for me to talk about
your experience because it was yours HAYWARD: I know. I know. I shouldn’t
have made it my experience, except it is JOHN: No, no, no, no. These things are important. HAYWARD: It is a problem,
I think. JOHN: I think these
things are important. There are probably things
about that scene that I might not have liked
had I been there. I don’t know why you shouldn’t
have had some kind of choice about whether you went
to that dinner party, since presumably everybody else
who went to it had that kind of choice. HAYWARD: Yes,
that’s fair enough. [Laughs] JOHN: But on the other hand,
I don’t know that watching a movie about Tarzan is exactly what I would call
the simple world of childhood. In fact, you were consuming a rather
sophisticated piece of adult entertainment. I mean it isn’t as if
So I get different kinds of messages. By and large, my feeling
about that seven-year-old is that he ought to have
had the option of going to the dinner party as a welcome guest,
or not, as he saw fit. I know when I was, oh, eight,
nine, ten, nothing was more really exciting and fun for me than
having dinner with my grandparents my father’s parents 87
really old people. Very My grandfather dressed for dinner,
with a black tie. And it was very
elegant and formal. But it was magic this
marvelous world of the adults. No concessions were made
to me as a kid. This conversation went on. I only understood little fragments of it. But it was wonderful to be part of
that world and not condescended to or treated in some peculiar way
as sort of an honored guest. So there I’m mixed
HAYWARD: Oh, alright. I admit it was
a very personal example. I brought it up in the hope that
I would get a more general feeling as to whether or not,
at seven or eight (And I don’t know where
you make the cut off.) but admittedly Freud
and those who followed him believe that we are not
leaving puberty aside we are not emotionally complete
until a rather later age than I think
either of you suspect. RICHARD: Well, your question is perfect
in the sense that it does raise for John, and
for me too, I think just one after another
of the fundamental issues in it. For example, one is the issue
of our remembering our own childhood. And that, for most of us,
is totally gone. We might just as well not have been
children for all we can remember about it. Our memories are so fragmentary,
and so distorted by adult values. That’s one problem with it. But there are many other problems. One of the points
that John makes is that we have then carried with us
a lot of myths about childhood about it being a gentle and a free
and delightful and creative time. And if you spend your time
as John does and I do very often quite systematically
watching children, it turns out that’s not
the way children live. Children’s lives are boring,
and worrisome, and not gentle, and quite very often different
tremendously different and very complicated. As a matter of fact,
there’s not very much difference between adults and children, just as there’s not very much difference
between men and women, really. And I think that we’ve
got to understand JOHN: Could I modify that
by saying that the difference between adults as a group
and children as a group is much less than the difference
between one adult and some other adult or one child and some other child,
if I could put it that way? RICHARD: That’s right. That’s exactly the point. But then you also raise
the other question of whether or not we should protect
people by doing what’s good for them. It seems to me that I have
abandoned now completely the idea that that is the way
you protect people. You protect people best,
I think, by protecting their rights to do what they perceive
as best for themselves JOHN: to protect themselves. RICHARD: to protect themselves. That’s something that when you are trying
to produce something for someone’s good you almost always undermine
the other kind of protection the protection of
a person’s rights. And so, in a sense,
it’s really quite beside the point of whether or not
it’s good for them, because that’s not your judgment,
necessarily, to make. And it almost always leads
to the most incapacitating And we only have to look at
what we have done for Blacks, for women, in terms of
protective legislation, in both instances, to see how corrupting and how
incapacitating that protection has been. That protectionism
has left women, for example, without any chance to have access
to leadership roles, to have money. It’s put them in poverty situations. It’s made them totally dependent. It’s made it impossible for them
to become managers and to work overtime, and things like that. So we call that “protection.” It turns out not to be protection,
because it has limited them terrifically. We do even worse things with children,
because they are totally unable to have access to
the adult world. And that, I think, is not
really protecting. HAYWARD: You’re simmering in
some thought, Mr. Holt. JOHN: Well, I was thinking about
emotional maturity. HAYWARD: It’d be pretty hard
to which I look forward. [Laughs] JOHN: Pretty hard, yes … [Video silence] JOHN: I’m not sure
what’s meant by that. But I can conceive of some
kind of strength of spirit. I mean, the concept
isn’t meaningless to me. The question is,
“Who attains it?” I don’t know that Freud could be
said to have attained it. I don’t know that he would have
claimed that he did. He was full of hang ups,
most of which I guess he knew about. It was very interesting to me to read
that fragment of correspondence between Freud and Jung
in Psychology Today. I mean, I wrote a letter
which read in full “Re: The Freud and Jung
correspondence – These guys are psychologists?” Hayward: [Laughs] I mean a more
stiffnecked, unbending HAYWARD: Well, they’re 19th century men. JOHN: Sure. But So I would say,
in the first place, I don’t know who has
this emotional maturity. I don’t think very many
supposedly mature people do. But in any case, I doubt very much
whether people can be put through some sort of a process which
will have this as its result. To the extent that
it’s possible to attain it, I think one attains it by making
real choices in one’s life, and having an opportunity
to live with the consequences and change them
if they’re not working out. That is, I don’t think one can learn
responsibility through irresponsibility, or competence in making decisions by not
being allowed to make any, and so forth. HAYWARD: Well, of course, if we go into
human history, not so long ago, things were simpler in that
children were necessary economic units as part of a farm or a hunting family. RICHARD: Right. HAYWARD: As soon as you were big enough
to shoot a little bow, or dig a hole, or plant seeds, or whatever, you became
part of the working community. And the work was not so complicated
that you weren’t able to do it as soon as you
could walk around. Obviously, that obviated most of
the problems that you discuss in your book, and that, now, we extend
childhood artificially to keep them out
of the labor market. JOHN: If I think of the three aspects
of childhood that I don’t like, one is old and two are new. But children were always powerless. They were always technically slaves. What’s new is that they are isolated,
they are segregated, cut off from the world,
and they’re useless. And these two now I don’t like
all three of them, but those two, as you quite rightly point out
HAYWARD: It’s very new. JOHN: they’re new and
psychologically enormously destructive. HAYWARD: The one way in which I think
you would get agreement from most of the people
who disagree with you about the vote
or the economic thing is that, oddly, children are
worse treated under the law than adults. And I think both of you have examples
of people who would get penalties of 15 days or $100
if they were grown-ups, who often spend a long time
in a correctional institution because they can neither
represent themselves nor be represented
by anyone they chose. I think you can get most people
even if we don’t change things most people would philosophically
agree with you that children are particularly deprived
under the law. RICHARD: Yes they are. And there again,
because we are “protecting” them. That came about as a result of
what we call “juvenile justice,” in an effort to make
a separate code of punishment. HAYWARD: Well, oddly,
when a boy of 14 commits a crime, we piously do not give his name,
because he is a child. Then we send him to some
terrible Hell where he becomes an anonymous prisoner
for a long time. RICHARD: Indefinitely. He’s kept there
indefinitely. That’s right. HAYWARD: Now, when you come to
the question of the vote, or giving them money, you get these
arguments of somebody who would buy a lot of yo-yos or somebody
who would vote for Captain Kangaroo. Neither of you, I gather from your books,
thinks that change will happen soon. But I do remember reading in
the work of Harold Nicholson who (I guess he was 80-some-odd
a few years ago when he died.) said nobody could imagine
how much drearier childhood was in his childhood
than it is now. He said all that endless
turning over of books and engravings, and sitting quiet for
the middle-class child. Have children not
made much progress? RICHARD: Well, I think that that’s
a double-barreled kind of question. They have and they haven’t. That is, I don’t think
there’s any question that we couldn’t even be
facing this issue if we hadn’t progressed
a great deal as a society. Our ability to
even talk about it, I think reflects well on
our advanced condition, where we can worry about
such things as human rights. So in that sense,
the child, and all the rest of us,
are in much better shape. In other respects, that is,
in the alienation from adult society, the child is in much worse straits
than ever before. HAYWARD: Mr. Holt, what do you think about
what was called a double-barreled question? Have children made progress? Or made progress in some areas
and gone back in others? JOHN: The answer to that question
varies from child to child. But a child who may have gained
in some areas has lost in some others. As slaves, probably, more children
are indulgently treated and even kindly treated
than was once the case. On the other hand,
I think it was Alexander Herzen who once remarked
somewhere that people (He wasn’t thinking
of children. He was thinking of other kinds
of classes of people.) could live for centuries with the most
outrageous absurdities and injustices, as long as it never occurred to them
to think that this might not be necessary, or that there might be some
better way of doing things. Once that seed of doubt and questioning
has been put in somebody’s head, what had once been a tolerable
if not a very pleasant condition becomes almost unbearable. That is, I think,
I wasn’t particularly happy at 14, but I never questioned the basic
framework within which I was living. It simply never
occurred to me. If I had known then what
most 14-year-olds know now, it would have been
exceedingly painful. HAYWARD: But one of the things that was
brought up earlier was that this group, this minority children
have the peculiar quality that all of us once were
not everybody JOHN: Yes. (But women are half the population,
Blacks a differing proportion, Jewish people,
a different proportion.) But we all were children. The Opies that indefatigable
collector group JOHN: Yes. (I think they’re brother and sister,
or husband and wife. I don’t know.) collected children’s rhymes,
children’s sayings. They thought there was
a kind of a mysterious line. You were a child
for a while. And then, suddenly,
you were on the other side of it. And you immediately begin
to cease to understand what it had been
to be a child. And therefore,
all these people I do remember and perhaps you do
saying, when I was a child, “When I grow up, I will not do this, that,
or the other which is being done to me.” I’m sure I have done it
since I grew up. JOHN: Yes. HAYWARD: When all these people
go past that line of childhood and immediately
cease to understand. Why do you
suppose that is? JOHN: I think this is partly because of
this modern invention as Vandenberg in “The Changing Nature of Man” said,
we have created events have created a kind of a gap between children
and adults which simply didn’t exist. And it’s worth noting that
[historian Philippe] Aries pointed out and I guess other
people have too that an awful lot of what we now
think of as children’s games, dances the sorts of stuff
the Opies collect were once games that were played
by adults and children together. They were party games. They were what folks did, young and old. RICHARD: There’s a
psychological phenomenon, that is that when you’ve crossed over,
that is, when you get a new power, you have what’s called
“need/influence perception.” And then all of a sudden,
the memories that you have are filtered through
a new needs structure, which, when you’re an adult, and you
join that power group in our society, it is very necessary for you,
then, to see childhood differently than
you experienced it, in order to do
the work of adults, which is to keep
children in their place. JOHN: Mm-hmm. RICHARD: And that’s
the real problem. We have to actively distort
our memories of childhood in order to
accomplish the task. If you could accurately remember
the frustration and the boredom (And sometimes, people like John Holt
have been good at helping us to relive some of those
moments in the classroom, for example. They are horrifying and
very difficult for any of us. They put is in the situation
where we have such dissonance, we can hardly force our children
to go to school, remembering watching
that clock click around Do you remember that? Sitting in the classroom, waiting for it to be
ten minutes before the hour? Now most adults
don’t remember those times unless they are positively
reconstructed for them. And then they remember,
and then they feel awful, and then they can’t do
that job of getting their children up to go to school
in the morning. HAYWARD: You may remember that
Russell Baker, in a recent column, was picking out terrible things
to sentence to people to. And he said, “What would
political criminals do if a judge said, ‘I sentence you to ten years
in high school.’?” [Laughter] There would be this terrible scream! [Laughter] JOHN: Yes. HAYWARD: Ten years of chalk and boredom
watching that clock. [Laughter] JOHN: I wrote, I guess,
in my first book something about nightmares
being about school. And I got a lot of
rather personal comments from people saying,
“Yes, yes, yes.” Since then, psychologists
have made a lot of studies of this and in other countries. And apparently, the school nightmare is
an extraordinarily common phenomenon. But I remember the thing
I was going to say earlier. Three words I try to keep
up in the front of my mind now in dealing with children (And I mean two-year-old children. I mean one-year-old children.) are “dignity,” “courtesy,” and “respect.” I think it’s enormously important
to try to be polite. I think it’s important and
very difficult to talk to children in the same tone of voice
that we use talking to somebody else. Here, I suggest something that any adult
who wants to can do beginning right now. A kind of a little rule of thumb is:
if something would be painful or shameful or humiliating to us,
then we ought to try, as far as we can, not to say
or do that thing to children. If we could do that much, I think a lot of
other stuff would begin to flow from it. And that little bit of
dignity, courtesy, respect is something that anybody
can begin to work on, right? HAYWARD: Let me give a specific example
to those who are listening. I’ve heard this from
a great many people that there is nothing
a child likes less than being asked
“What happened in school today?” by someone who obviously
doesn’t care about the answer. JOHN: Yes. HAYWARD: It’s
an insulting question. (CHUCKLES) JOHN: Or: “My you’ve grown.” “Well, yeah!” “Duh,” as the kids
used to say in my class. [Richard laughs]
HAYWARD: But it is true. They say, “What happened
in school today?” And you may even
wish to answer, and you realize that they have
turned the other way, and they say, “Can I have the mashed potatoes, please?” JOHN: Yes. HAYWARD: They don’t really care
about your answer. JOHN: Yes. HAYWARD: In fact,
probably nothing happened. RICHARD: One thing that We can’t stay away from it
because it is so much a part of us. We keep wanting to say, “Well look,
if we would only treat children this way, wouldn’t it be just
an awful lot better?” And I agree that it would
and I try to do it in my own life. But I realized that
there is another problem. Every time you do that, you make the burden
of parenting even worse than it now is. Because as long as
the parent feels, now: he not only has to do all the other stuff
he’s been told by everybody else, but he’s now got to deal with
this new concept of childhood a new respect,
a new dignity. That makes parenting
even worse. And then that, I think,
eventually builds a greater, deeper resentment
against one’s very own children who one loves
and wants to love. The thing we’ve got do
is to demystify parenthood, to reduce its burdens
of responsibilities. And we can only do that by taking
some of the responsibilities away that parents that
they just shouldn’t have to have. For example, if you have to
get your children up and go to school every morning
as the law requires us to do now because both the child and I
can go to jail if I don’t do that then that forces
a kind of relationship on us that does not coincide too well
with the idea of dignity and respect. HAYWARD: Hmm. RICHARD: And so I personally
do not want to get across the idea that I think
it’s possible for a parent to liberate his or her child. HAYWARD: Hmm. RICHARD: I don’t really
think that’s possible. In the larger sense, we are all
captives of a situation of a system in which,
unless we make systemic change, we really can’t do the kinds of
freeing that we’d like. JOHN: Yeah but I’m talking about
(You’re right.) But I’m talking about
things much more trivial. I mean, to say “please”
and “thank you” exactly the way I would say them
to somebody my own age just a little,
a very small thing like that. I think of a young couple I knew
many, many years ago, before I even got into teaching,
who had a then four-year-old boy. I remember them saying to me,
“In explaining to this child the rules and regulations of our house,
and the neighborhood, and all of these things to which
we think he has to conform, we try to treat him as if
he were a very distinguished visitor from a completely
alien civilization utterly ignorant of our rules
and of our ways of doing things, but eager to learn, wanting to fit in,
wanting to do the right thing. This is part of what I mean by respect. RICHARD: Mm-hmm. JOHN: And it can be applied even in
the difficult situation of discipline, which people are constantly
raising to me. I think there are
a great many cases where we may feel we have to say,
or may be socially obliged to say, “Well now this has to happen
or this has to happen.” But it makes all the difference
in the world, I think, whether we say this assuming that
the child’s instinct is to resist, to do the wrong thing,
to go the wrong way, or whether we assume that
this child is a social creature, and he wants to go along with
the action, whatever it is, and wants to do right,
as right is socially defined. I’ve been saying
and I think it’s terribly important children, at least when they start out,
are not radicals they’re conservatives. They have no quarrel with
the world out there. They just want to find out,
“How does it work?” “How do I get into it?” “How do I take part in it?” Now later on
and it’s fine by me they may get all kinds of ideas
about how to change it. But in the start, they really want
to be a part of the action. People say, “rules.” Children don’t object to rules. What they object to, I think,
are rules that are made only for children. They’re perfectly
willing to obey all the rules and regulations
that you and I obey. They hate the feeling that we
all had when we were little that people are pushing us around
just to show they could do it. RICHARD: Mm-hmm. JOHN: I find, even at this sort of level of
discipline at the point of saying, “You have to do this,”
or “You can’t do that,” this can make
quite a difference. I have an eight-year-old friend
now I see quite a lot of. Now, two years ago,
I used to indulge in a lot of kind of
affectionate teasing. And I don’t do that now,
unless she has signaled to me in ways we both understand,
that she’s ready for a frolic, that she wants to play,
that she’s in that kind of a mood. But otherwise, I would
treat her, speak to her, with the same reserve, gravity,
respect, tact that I would to you. I don’t push your red button
if I know how to avoid it, so to speak. And this way of dealing with
this young person is rather subtle. And yet I think
it’s immensely important. And I think it’s had
a great effect on us. HAYWARD: The system makes things difficult JOHN: Very difficult. HAYWARD: and what
you’re saying is, within it, “Try to make a friend instead of a pet
of a child.” [Laughs] JOHN: Yes. HAYWARD: Now if we had more time,
we could give a great many more ways which I think we have
or you two gentlemen have given a sufficient
philosophical sort of push. “Don’t,” you’re both saying,
I think, “worry anymore about what kind of
a parent am I?” If you can get on with
your children the way you get on with your friends at a club or a party,
it would be a marvelous thing.” And hoping that we can all manage that,
let me now thank John Holt, author of “Escape from Childhood,
The Needs and Rights of Children,” and Richard Farson, author of
“Birthrights, a Bill of Rights for Children.” This is Hayward Hale Broun
saying, “Goodbye.”

Only registered users can comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *