Friday, September 14, 2007

Greetings From Prison!

I still have super lots to say, but I have lots of non-computer things to work on this morning. My work today: rearranging Morgan's bedroom and emptying bookshelves downstairs so we can get our new projector working in the family room. (Our television is beginning to die--one day I'll tell you the story of how it got Windexed beyond all belief and has been dying a slow death ever since.) Ryan's work: Cat Catcher, complete with Zookeeper Peopleguy uniform. Morgan's work: puzzles and being cute, her specialties.

But: I am still completely irritated by the lies and damn lies printed in the OpinionJournal about Ayn Rand and her views on "the family," so I will present some actual evidence against that horrible idea. And yes, I'm all worked up about this particular topic because right now, my family is my chosen career.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand depicted several dysfunctional families, particularly the Taggarts and the Reardens. It is very clear to the reader that these families are awful. When the protagonist Dagny Taggart visits Galt's Gulch--if you haven't read the book, GG is a man-made utopia--she meets a much different family:

The recaptured sense of her [Dagny's] own childhood kept coming back to her whenever she met the two sons of the young woman who owned the bakery shop. . . . They did not have the look she had seen in the children of the outer world--a look of fear, half- secretive, half-sneering, the look of a child's defense against an adult, the look of a being in the process of discovering that he is hearing lies and of learning to feel hatred. The two boys had the open, joyous, friendly confidence of kittens who do not expect to get hurt, they had an innocently natural, non-boastful sense of their own value and as innocent a trust in any stranger's ability to recognize it, they had the eager curiosity that would venture anywhere with the certainty that life held nothing unworthy of or closed to discovery, and they looked as if, should they encounter malevolence, they would reject it contemptuously, not as dangerous, but as stupid, they would not accept it in bruised resignation as the law of existence. p. 730 (Paperback 35th Anniversary edition)

And more:

"They represent my particular career, Miss Taggart," said the young mother in answer to her comment. . . . "They're the profession I've chosen to practice, which, in spite of all the guff about motherhood, one can't practice successfully in the outer world. . . . I came here, not merely for the sake of my husband's profession, but for the sake of my own. I came here in order to bring up my sons as human beings."
p. 730

Yep. Soul-killing prison alright. I think about these characters often, because it's a beautiful description of my goals for my kids and Brendan's and my goals as their parents. For our family, the best way to achieve that goal has been for me to raise them at home. We've worked very hard to arrange our finances and businesses (want to rent a cabin, anyone?) such that this goal can be achieved. I am happy that we have been able to swing it so far and when I look at our kids, I'm proud that they exhibit that "open, joyous, friendly confidence" which is, I believe, the natural state for children.

My job is more fun and more challenging that I had imagined at the outset. Raising human beings is soul-fulfulling; I'm happy that I get to do it!

Speaking to work!


Marnee said...

Yay Rational Jenn. You are the best. Knock it out of the park.

Rational Jenn said...

Thanks! I should point out for the record that there were ever so many other horrible things in that article and I'm irritated about all of them, too! The "soul-killing prison" thing was just too much for me though. Particularly since I've gotten grief from some Objectivists in the past over what I'm currently choosing to do with my time.

It's really a lot of work! But awesome, too, and really, I didn't go to all this trouble just to leave them with sitters all the time. Not when I don't have to.

Also, they're funny! I do likes me some funny!

Marnee said...

"Particularly since I've gotten grief from some Objectivists in the past over what I'm currently choosing to do with my time."

You have got to be kidding? Grr argh! Vision-less people. I guess my having had pretty fun and rational parents gives me a better perspective, but I think child rearing is simply marvelous and not totally unlike many other careers!! Even though I have no intentions of doing it myself. This is mostly because I recognize that I do not have the temperament for it, and therefore the desire. I do think kids are great and I love chatting with all of our employees kids. And I love kid's movies and kid's shows. And I might still be 10 years old, pretty sure.

Rachel said...

It is amazing to me that anyone who has read the chapters of Dagny's visit to the Valley could even consider chiding a mother, even a highly intelligent one, for the career choice of family-building.

People need to take a hint from Roark and butt out of the career-advice gig.

Rational Jenn said...

It always did perplex me when on the receiving end of disparaging remarks about motherhood from Objectivists. The remarks generally fell along the lines of my being secondhanded in being financially dependent on my husband, secondhanded in terms of identifying my occupation in terms of others (I'm Ryan's mom, etc.), or else I'm not truly pursuing the virtues of independence and productiveness.

I don't need to explain to either of you why those ideas are wrong. I'm glad to have been able to "meet" other Objectivists online, both with and without kids who "get" me and what I'm choosing to do with my time just now!

We chose to have kids after many years of choosing NOT to have kids. Once we got into the parenting thing, we made the decision that I would be at home for a while. I'm just not the kind of person who would be very good at juggling an outside career and parenthood. I admire those who can do that well. I would just feel torn between both and unhappy not to be able to give 100% to both. Plus, there's just nothing I have a passion about right now more than my kids.

So I may be a mite touchy on the subject, but not nearly as much as I was a few years ago, let me tell you! It just came as such a shock to be told those things. It's almost funny now in a way. Amusing.

Thanks for your comments!

PhysicistDave said...


I am a Ph.D. physicist/engineer turned stay-at-home homeschooling Dad.

I don’t know what most Objectivists think of my choice, although I myself think that anyone sending his or her kids to the current public schools is being irresponsible as a parent (although I of course recognize that this is his or her choice and I recognize that homeschooling is difficult for many families).

Young mammals need a great deal of parenting.

And to everyone who chooses not to accept the “burden” of children at all… well, my and Jenn’s genes will be floating around after we die and yours won’t. Evolution in action.

Seriously, the overwhelming response I have gotten from women when I mention that I am a stay-at-home homeschooling Dad is “Good for you!” Guys have been more ambivalent, not critical but generally non-committal.

Maybe what you experienced was just a residual form of knee-jerk, unthinking Objectivist feminism (not all feminism is unthinking, but obviously feminists, or Objectivists, can be dumb just like anyone else).

All the best,

Dave Miller in Sacramento

Rational Jenn said...

Hi Dave! Thanks for your comments! I'm always thrilled to meet other parents, especially Objectivist homeschooling ones! (You are an Objectivist, aren't you? My apologies if I misunderstood.)

I think you said it best: Young mammals need a great deal of parenting. I will be borrowing that if it's okay (with all due credit of course!). Young human beings need so much more time and attention than your average brand new puppy. These creatures have large brains that they need to figure out how to work, their brains need information and nurturing and time. Our young take the longest to mature compared to any other animal on earth. Is it any wonder that it then takes more parenting?

How old are your children, may I ask?

I know now that some Objectivists have misunderstood either some of the virtues or the applications thereof. In one specific case, about 2.5 years ago, I was involved in a discussion on an online bulletin board that was very surprising. There were a couple of posters who even went as far as to say that it was immoral of me to be financially dependent on my husband, that ours could not be a marriage of true minds, as if finances are the only measure of the give and take of a long term relationship. There was no convincing them otherwise--even from a financial perspective (daycare costs, schooling, etc). It bothered me at the time, but then again, I was just about to have a baby, so many things bothered me then that do not now! I realized that 8-months-pregnant-me and "debates" with ill-informed people, even Objectivists, do not mix!

Good Times.

Thanks for stopping by. Nice to meet you!

PhysicistDave said...


I don’t want to go into details here about my kids’ ages, genders etc.: I don’t mind your or the other regulars’ here knowing, but since anyone on earth with Internet access can read this, and there are some (thankfully a tiny proportion) of really weird people on this planet… Anyway, I’m happy to go into details via e-mail if you’d like.

I will mention though that my kids are a few years older than your son, so we’ve been homeschooling for several years. To oversimplify, I’d say our approach is about 2/3 classical and about 1/3 unschooling: we take academics very seriously, but, with some exceptions (e.g., math), we’re not using a boxed curriculum or fixed textbook sequence. Even in math, I’m more interested in what the kids are learning than in how many problems or hours of work they’ve completed.

Being a physicist, I’m of course quite confident in math. By the way, be extremely wary of math textbooks by big US publishers: standards have simply collapsed in this country. We’re using “Singapore Math,” with a lot of personal supplements and discussions on my part.

I’m also unhappy with most of the history and science texts from US textbook publishers: we’ve often used books from British publishers (notably Usborne and Dorling-Kindersley – if you haven’t discovered DK yet, you will!).

I think you will be surprised at how much (and how sophisticated) knowledge kids can pick up fairly early. You’re not going to get an eight-year-old to write a critique of Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason,” of course, unless your kid is a one-in-a-billion prodigy (mine aren’t). But, early in grade school, kids can grasp some solid ideas in science, especially biology (almost all kids love dinosaurs, so evolution comes naturally). Similarly, since almost all kids love knights and castles, Egyptian mummies, etc., history comes faster and more easily than most people think. There are age-appropriate books, that do not dumb down or oversimplify, that can help kids in early grade school learn some of this. It does require a parent willing to sit down and read and discuss with the child, rather than just handing out daily assignments, but I take it you actually enjoy interacting with your kids. (Believe it or not, some parents don’t.)

Even basic ideas in economics, at a simple level, can be grasped by kids. One of my kids, in kindergarten, somehow became fascinated by the idea of insurance, and seemed to understand basically how it works (perhaps it was the idea of sharing the risk that appealed to her).

A friend of mine, also a Ph.D. in physics, suggested some years ago, that if you cannot explain an idea at all to early grade-schoolers, you probably do not fully understand the idea yourself (he put the matter a bit more pungently!).

I’m happy to post more (or exchange e-mails) on all this if you’d like.

You asked if I was an Objectivist. Well… people who really hate Objectivism would probably accuse me of being a fanatical Objectivist. People who consider themselves “gatekeepers” of who the “real” Objectivists are would surely conclude that I deviate on too many issues to be a “real” Objectivist.

I’m not too concerned one way or the other: I don’t deny anyone’s right to decide whether or not I am a “real” Objectivist – I just do not much care what conclusion they reach about me.

I do think too many Objectivists are focused on exactly what Rand (or Peikoff or Kelley or…) said (or really meant or whatever) instead of simply on what is actually true, regardless of who said it. I do think that there is an objective reality, that reason is the only means for understanding it, that all human beings are endowed with certain inalienable rights, that freedom leads to capitalism and that capitalism works, etc. On the other hand, I knew and liked Murray Rothbard (although I did not always agree with him): Rothbard is of course on the official hate list for some Objectivists (by the way, Rothbard is often misrepresented – there is a story circulating around that he became a Christian, for example, which is not true).

I hope that does not seem an evasion: I’m just more interested in external reality than in what label should be pasted on me.

You wrote:

> There were a couple of posters who even went as far as to say that it was immoral of me to be financially dependent on my husband, that ours could not be a marriage of true minds, as if finances are the only measure of the give and take of a long term relationship.

Those people were jerks (I’m using a euphemism here). While I think it is a horrible mistake to send your kids to the government schools, I of course have many friends who are doing just that. I try to politely explain to them what I see as the benefits of homeschooling, but I would never dream of telling them that they are “immoral,” even though I do disagree with their decision on this particular issue. While I am a pretty opinionated guy, I have enough sense to know that other people do not need to hear my judgment on every topic under the sun, especially matters that touch them personally and that are none of my business. The posters you mention need to grow up.

You wrote:

>I think you said it best: Young mammals need a great deal of parenting. I will be borrowing that if it's okay (with all due credit of course!).

No need to give me credit: the idea must go back at least to the first person who noticed that mammals were defined by infants’ being nursed by their mothers (surely Aristotle noticed this!). Humans are simply the most extreme case of a pattern that goes back hundreds of millions of years.

One of the sadly hilarious things about our culture is people who seem to think that parenting is optional. Not for our species! These people need to learn some evolutionary biology.

Anyway, I look forward to continuing to read your blog. I should start a blog of my own someday – however, as you will find, being a homeschooling parent is a fairly time-consuming job.

All the best,


Rational Jenn said...

Hi Dave! A couple of quick things and then we can take this to email!

First--yes, email me at rationaljennATgmailDOTcom if you'd like. I'm very interested to speak with someone already doing the homeschooling thing. Would be nice to share ideas.

Also--LOVE DK & Usborne books. In fact, I signed up to be an Usborne consultant mostly so I could get a good discount. LOVE. IT.

I've heard good things about Singapore Math. I have Miquon Math that I got on the cheap and while we aren't doing anything formal with it, we pull it out from time to time to help me answer Ryan's questions. Science will be my weak area in terms of homeschooling. I'm planning to use Scott Powell's history curriculum, beginning in 2-3 years when Ryan is old enough. I kind of want to take it for myself!

Like your 2/3 classical 1/3 unschooling approach. I identify quite a bit with unschooling, probably because my kids are so small still. More on that later, as I'm still thinking over education theory in general.

You should get a blog! They are fun. Everyone should get one. Cleaner than pets.

Talk to you soon, I hope.