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January 1, 2005 8:27 PM   Subscribe

Educating Wesley: a photo essay.
posted by exlotuseater (65 comments total)

 
Although I don't necessarily agree with the imposition of specific political beliefs in children, I do like the non-traditional methods that Leo et al use in "educating Wesley", especially the normalcy of behavior they retain even while around him, and their willingness to forgo conventional schooling. He's kind of a lucky kid.
posted by krysalist at 8:35 PM on January 1, 2005


I was doing OK right up to the home schooling part. Not that I have anything against teaching your kid peace and freedom. But, you know, the quadratic formula is pretty good too. Can you teach him the quadratic formula? Do you even remember the quadratic formula? Come on, solve for X, Hippie McPeaceington. Solve for X.
posted by Simon! at 8:35 PM on January 1, 2005


Hippie Havens
posted by ericb at 8:39 PM on January 1, 2005


Welcome to Hippyland!
posted by ericb at 8:41 PM on January 1, 2005


Wonderful, compelling photos and text. Thanks for the link, exlotuseater.

(I too got uneasy at the home schooling part, and not just for the sake of Wesley's future math skills. With what seems like a pretty amazing/unique home life, doesn't it seem possible that school would give a smart kid like Wesley what he needs to know about power, social structures, and how "the rest of the world" works? Couldn't he then take that knowledge and subvert it to his own ends? AND solve for X?)
posted by flaneur at 8:42 PM on January 1, 2005


Reminds me of Grant Colfax - "The Goat Boy"

Grant was raised in a cabin in the woods of Northern California in the early 1970s. Home schooled, he was admitted to Harvard in 1983. He was called the "Goat Boy" in the national media at the time. He's now a doctor and director of HIV prevention studies for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Two of his three brothers subsequently went to Harvard. His parents (David and Micki Colfax) wrote an book about their experiences called "Hard Times in Paradise".
posted by ericb at 8:55 PM on January 1, 2005


*wrote a book*
posted by ericb at 8:56 PM on January 1, 2005


Boy, you know, I really, really do believe that smart, cool parents can raise their kids, and even school them, outside the system. I've been a teacher, and I've got two kids either entering or about to enter to school system, and I've got no illusions about the benefits and challenges of structured education (public or private). I think there are actually lots of parents who do understand the quadratic formula (or could at least study up on it), so I don't think that's automatically an issue. Plus, I thought the photos were quite good.

That being said, that situation really gave me the creeps. I'm sure they love their kid, but in that photo essay, at least, he really came across as a means to an end--as a vehicle for the parents to prove their agenda. Of course he still "hates to wash up"--but evidence that he's still a four-year-old isn't automatically proof that you're doing a good job, or proof that you're not being self-indulgent in how you're treating your kid. He can't help but be a four-year-old, but you can definitely help but be an orthodox anarchist. ("Smash the state!", from a kid who's still learning to spell "t-r-a-v-e-l". Uh-huh. You really had nothing to do with him spouting that phrase...he just sussed out the unfairness of the current political power structure by himself, and decided to take an anarchist position on the issue.)

Plus--and I think this is where all this childhood brainwashing gets its comeuppance--what do you think he's going to rebel against when he's fifteen? Not that he's gonna be a conservative with a crew-cut, but I've got a very good friend who grew up in _very_ similar circumstances...he's still a progressive, pretty liberal guy, but he's very pragmatic now. He's got _no_ patience any more for this kind of hippy-dippy idealism. Efforts to pour kids into molds--even when you agree with the underlying principles--are always self-defeating. Thank God.
posted by LairBob at 9:10 PM on January 1, 2005


An important part of school (possibly even more than the quadratic formula) is teaching kids to get along with people their own age (solving conflicts etc.) Home schooling can do that if there are a lot of siblings or play groups with other kids, but I don't see any other kids in the photos, and the article hints that most of Wesley's interaction is with adults.

Also, kids shouldn't be fed a vegetarian diet. When I started reading the site, I expected it to be about some child prodigy, you know, like "Weslely is a vegetarian by choice" as opposed to "Wesley is a vegetarian because his parents have certain political convictions."

But the site is well done, considering.
posted by sour cream at 9:15 PM on January 1, 2005


flaneur: Well, he can decide to go to high school (much more important to learning social structure than grade school) if he wants to.

Most people claim that it's worth 8 hours a day for 12 years to get accustomed to it, but, say, as a nurse I don't think I'll need the devastating social skills afforded y such rigor.

Plus, the amount of social skills you learn in school is overplayed. I mean, are we really just talking about in the halls between classes, and at lunch? What about someone who does go to school but hates everyone there and doesn't really get into the social scene, is it still worth it then?

(I hate these people for being anarchist punks, but still ;))
posted by abcde at 9:31 PM on January 1, 2005


Plus, the amount of social skills you learn in school is overplayed.

That's for damned sure. It's one of those things that sounds nice in theory but doesn't hold up much in practice.
posted by rushmc at 9:41 PM on January 1, 2005


Right now he is just parroting the views of his parents. Family members should treat each other with respect and care, regardless of ideologies. Wesley is surrounded by people who think, talk, and act the same. What is he learning from that?

I have a feeling he'll eventually be very curious about his peers. If he someday says he wants to go to school, I hope his parents will support him with open minds.

sour cream, I know plenty of vegetarian kids who are perfectly healthy.
posted by whatnot at 9:56 PM on January 1, 2005


I am not fond of home schooling, myself. I think it can do a disservice to a child, as people need to at least develop some skills on how to behave in a community of their peers. I have two nieces and one nephew who were home schooled. Absolutely none of them know how to relate to people their own age. After high school, I had so much fun with my friends & those are some of the best memories of my life. But they don't have friends. I wish they were having fun and enjoying being young, but they simply don't know how to. My observation is that at times some home schooled kids appear lonely & lost out in the real world.

My 16 year old nephew has even fewer friends, and when he leaves the environment he was raised in (Fundamentalist christian, small farm -- 'nuff said), he has ABSOLUTELY no real social skills. Frankly, he stands out and is uncomfortable in even the most benign of situations. What he's been allowed to consider normal behavior & conversation in his home environment (lots of stuff about Jesus, an eerie fondness for knives, etc.), well it creeps other kids his age out (heck, it creeps me out too). The things that other kids like (video games, music, movies, etc.), he has been taught are evil or sinful. He tried taking a class or two with other kids a few years ago, but I hear he was quickly sent home for his own protection. I worry about my nephew. He'll be 18 in 2 years and yet I do not see how he is going to leave his mother's side and find his place in the real world. He simply doesn't appear prepared for a smooth transition. He comes across as not developed enough socially or emotionally.

I don't always want to abide by the "norm," but it IS important as a human being to at least know HOW to blend smoothly into society once in a while. Even if you choose not to, at least you have the ability to pick and choose your battles. I hope they let Wesley learn how to do that for himself, instead of choosing his battles for him & then leaving him to fight them alone. Being a good parent is all about preparing your child to confidently soar with their own wings, not with yours.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:59 PM on January 1, 2005


sour cream: There are no known nutrients that can't be obtained vegetarian (you don't even need supplements if you're careful, though it doesn't hurt). Most people have this vague folk wisdom that meat has some intrinsics that vegetables don't, but so far that's not thought to be true.
posted by abcde at 10:12 PM on January 1, 2005


A good many people have tried to raise kids in idealistic ways like this. Being old enough to remember hippie communes, art collectives, and groups of recovering addicts, I've known a number of them. Generally, the kids turn out to be kids. Some of them go to Harvard, some of them become drug addicts, some of them even become anarchists. One I knew got neurological problems because his mom was raising him in her sculpture studio where she did fiberglass casting with weird solvents. Generally, the parents only manage to keep it going until the kids really start exerting pressure on them, and then they either get their act together vis-a-vis good home-schooling, or they send their kids to school. That said, the web site reminds me mostly of one of those baby-album displays people put together about how wonderful their kids are, which are mostly delusion.

MY kid, now . . . never mind.
posted by Peach at 10:15 PM on January 1, 2005


I teach college art history and at the start of every semester I ask how many students in the class have been home schooled at some point. It is usually 2 or 3 students. Those same 2 or 3 are my best students: bright, hard working, engaged, and good thinkers.

My best classes have included a few home schooled conservative christian kids with a few anarchistic hardcore kids/punks. Turns out what should be opposites in reality is folks who are engaged and passionate, even if on different sides of the cultural divide.

Most of the home schoolers start out timid and ill at ease in their freshman year, but by their junior year are fully present and particpating in college.
posted by msjen at 10:17 PM on January 1, 2005


OK OK, it is possible to raise a healthy kid on a vegetarian diet only.
I just hope for little Wesley that his parents are not of the hard-core variety with no eggs and dairy products. And that they yield to the occasional authority of a dietician.
posted by sour cream at 10:50 PM on January 1, 2005


abcde - to be fair, vegans are at risk for B12 deficiency, which isn't absorbed via oral supplements...still not a viable rationale for animal consumption, necessarily. That said, there's a hell of a lot to recommend raising a kid on an essentially meatless diet.
posted by docpops at 10:54 PM on January 1, 2005


Christ! With all the things going on in the world today I read the FFP as 'Executing Wesley: a photo essay'. Then I see a four-year old.

Time to chill out.
posted by codeofconduct at 11:25 PM on January 1, 2005


From my personal experience I've found most adolescents who have been home schooled tend to be more outspoken and well socialized than a lot of their public school counterparts. I think its because a lot of the social skills kids learn in public schools, particularly in the pre-high school years, are basically just pressure to conform to a specific social group. Based on my limited knowledge, a child who grows up in a school environment where he knows every teacher and every other student (i.e. their family) loves and cares about him seems more likely to develop the self-esteem and confidence to express themselves constructively. And I really think the idea of a child sequestered at home is a misconception. Most homeschoolers I know are part of a network of homeschooling families that function like a very small private school system, and it's not like these kids won't be playing community sports, or going to summer camp, or church, or any of the other activities that would expose them to their peers.
posted by TheSpook at 11:33 PM on January 1, 2005


This creeped me right the fuck out. I appreciate that Wesley is loved and cared for but he's also being used as a tool to demonstrate how right his parents and their friends are.

And the pics are kind of creepy too.
posted by fenriq at 11:42 PM on January 1, 2005


Most homeschoolers I know are part of a network of homeschooling families that function like a very small private school system, and it's not like these kids won't be playing community sports, or going to summer camp, or church, or any of the other activities that would expose them to their peers.

I think that entirely depends on the parents & what's available to them locally, as well as on the kid's comfort levels. In the situation I was describing above, the parents live in a rural area where there aren't many other children around that are home schooling so the children mostly only have their parents to study with and communicate with. The parents are the children's best & sometimes only friends, and their main source of information. They do go to church, but the kids mostly hang out with the parents because they don't have much to say to other children. IMO, it's just a shame to see kids who don't know how to play with other kids.

I agree with what fenriq said. It's wonderful to see parents love and care for their children, but raising them with such a strong personal agenda can backfire in one way or another... in worst case scenarios either by giving them no understanding of the world outside of the microcosm of their home life or by inspiring them to frantically rebel against everything they've been told.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:20 AM on January 2, 2005


Wesley's situation isn't so unique. I've never met a child who didn't suffer the parent's "agenda." It seems his parents are passing along their values to their child--how is this creepy? Or even strange? Wesley's "Smash the state!" is no different from the "one nation under God" that so many children recite day in and day out. Perhaps all of you who insist Wesley is being used as a "tool" by his parents should consider exactly what the net effect of school and television really is upon young children.

As for Wesley, he's a very lucky kid. Whether he can solve the quadratic formula or has playtime friends or is getting just enough protein--these things are irrelevant. His parents are pressuring him to think, to examine, (to read), and to make choices and live through those choices. He may not understand most of what's said to him now but someday soon he will. All children should be so lucky.
posted by nixerman at 1:14 AM on January 2, 2005


Did they start calling quadratic equations "the quadratic formula" since I left public high school? Or do I just still suck at math?
I agree with TheSpook in that the social skills one picks up in school are vastly overrated, and don't require anywhere near 12 years to learn.
posted by obloquy at 2:59 AM on January 2, 2005


I was interested and reading intently until I read his quote about smashing the state. At that point, I more or less turned off to the website.
posted by Dean Keaton at 3:21 AM on January 2, 2005


Kids need friends their own age, not just to learn how to live with others, but because, to kids, other kids are much more fun and interesting than adults are. If this Wesley spends all his mornings being schooled at home by adults, I hope the poor kid gets afternoons to run wild with other kids.
posted by pracowity at 3:37 AM on January 2, 2005


Whether he can solve the quadratic formula or has playtime friends or is getting just enough protein--these things are irrelevant.

I'm speechless. I really just don't know how to respond to that.

Plus, the amount of social skills you learn in school is overplayed. I mean, are we really just talking about in the halls between classes, and at lunch?

Not if you're in a half-way decent school. Anyone who did get all the way through high school and feels this way has missed a lot. And I'm no rah-rah cheerleader for schools--I basically felt this way about my own school all the way through eighth grade, until my parents had the insight to pull me out and get me into a better local private school.

I mean, what's supposed to be happening during classes? No interaction with the other kids? Just sitting there and listening? In a good school environment, your class time is _filled_ with social peer interaction, and then you go and add another 2 or 3 hours afterwards with sports, or drama, or debate club, or any number of other things. God, it's sad to think how many kids get through high school (legitimately) hating it.

What about someone who does go to school but hates everyone there and doesn't really get into the social scene, is it still worth it then?

This is one of several situations that could make a very good case for home schooling, in my opinion, but you'd really have to look at the specific circumstances. A child who really doesn't thrive in their current school and doesn't have a lot of other options, probably should look at home-schooling. But there are also kids who "hate everyone at their high school" who probably _should_ go to some kind of larger school environment, for exactly that reason. Learning to get along with other kids is a skill--and a critical one--that some people need to learn. Taking a kid out of school just because they're having a hard time getting along can be like saying "Well, if math is hard for you, then you just don't have to study it any more." But, again, though, the specifics would matter more than anything else, to me.
posted by LairBob at 4:52 AM on January 2, 2005


Man, when he's older he's gonna kick these girls' asses.
posted by fullerine at 5:16 AM on January 2, 2005


>Plus--and I think this is where all this childhood brainwashing gets its comeuppance...

So what "brainswashing" is acceptable to you? At 4 religion is already part of one's life for most americans. Parents routinely pump their children full of their own prejudices. The only thing different about this home-schooler is that his parents are into something non-mainstream. If they were fundamentalist Christians then this would be another boring bible-belt home school story.
posted by skallas at 5:32 AM on January 2, 2005


I like the 'community' schooling concept.

It's more than just homeschooling that Wesley's getting, he has a whole group of people who are there for him. He isn't 'sequestered' in any way from what I could see. His social skills will be above anything that the children his own age will display, simply because he's being treated and interacted with as a thinking person rather than a mindless mini.

I always thought that conversing with children should be done on a level that doesn't demean the child. Babytalk is okay for the first few days after birth, then please, speak to them like they understand you. They do.

While I wasn't able to homeschool my children, I did have full conversations with them. [other than 'go watch tv'] At the age of two my younger son could ask me to 'please stop being facetious, Marsha' and he knew what it meant. [I'm given to sarcasm, as are both my sons, don't know how THAT happened]

At the age of eleven, my older son went back to get reacquainted with his father. When he came back his first question was "What the fuck were you thinking?" Rather than being 'shocked' at his choice of words [they fully conveyed his feeling about his father] I had to laugh because he felt comfortable with asking me the question that way.

Had I raised a child rather than a person, he probably wouldn't have even asked why the other half of his parentage was so undereducated.

I don't care for the public school system, but it is [for most] a necessity born of the need to 'do better, be better'. Be educated and make more money [yeah right].

Personally I think that Wesley is going to be a well-adjusted person throughout life simply because of the attention he's getting from his parents as well as the other adults in their little community.

I could mention a few incidents where the kids were in public schools, both parents worked and left the school to raise them and the world wondered why the kids snapped and took guns to school...
posted by kamylyon at 6:47 AM on January 2, 2005


Anyone else click far enough into it to read this little gem?:

"Beyond basic school skills, Leo hopes to teach Wesley respect, unity, peace, egalitarianism, creativity, and freedom....Here, Leo folds political information pamphlets to hand out, while Lesley builds a cache of Lego guns."

Not suprised.
posted by availablelight at 7:20 AM on January 2, 2005


I wasn't homeschooled personally, my parents chose to accelerate me through school instead, but being involved with ABC (Association for Bright Children) in Canada I knew a lot of homeschooled kids growing up.

There are really two philosophical branches -- people who don't feel that traditional schooling is "enough", or that it's "too restrictive", like the family in this post. My experience is that these kids turn out just fine.

On the other hand, there are people (generally doomsday cult Christians and so on) who take their kids out of school because they feel school is not restrictive enough or exposes their kids to freedoms they don't feel are appropriate. Those kids come out of the process screwed up in my experience, and unable to cope with anything but those little insular evangelical worlds.
posted by glider at 7:24 AM on January 2, 2005


let's just rename the site "Using Wesley", shall we.....

Wonder if Wesley has learned the word "exploitation" yet?
posted by HuronBob at 7:33 AM on January 2, 2005


While it's certainly possible for kids raised in this kind of environment to turn out well-adjusted, there's lots of anecdotal evidence out there suggesting they can also turn out pompous, didactic, ill-groomed, and kind of annoying.

Wesley's parents aren't raising him to THINK, ie, to weigh various options for how to live, and pick one -- they're raising him as an anarchist. Says so right on the site.

Not so different from the cult Christians - kids raised in a little insular world are going to have some hurdles to jump when dealing with life outside of little insularville.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:54 AM on January 2, 2005


First of all, just to be clear, none of us here really know Wesley, and we're not really debating _his_ upbringing. We're debating an depiction of an upbringing that's been conveyed through about a dozen photos and text excerpts--for all we know, "Wesley" doesn't even really exist, and the site could even be a parody (although I don't think so).

More to the point, assuming it's not fictional, then no matter how earnest the site actually is, the reality of Wesley's life and upbringing is obviously much more complicated than can be conveyed here, for better and for worse, and none of us is really in a position to judge the actual, real-life family.

Nonetheless, they did play a role in smugly packaging their kid as a depiction of their ideal educational environment, and I think that the _premise_ they've put out there--that they clearly feel they're taking a superior approach to parenting--very much _is_ up for debate. If they didn't want people to think about and discuss their approach, then they shouldn't have created a site to promote it. (I definitely would have felt different if this were a much more personal and intimate site, but it really does seem packaged to promote a self-approving agenda.)

That, in and of itself, I think speaks volumes, and is the basic reason why I find it so creepy. The idea of raising a kid along anarchist principles is fine by me, and I have no problem with home-schooling. But I still get the very strong impression that this kid, or the idealized image of this kid, is being used to promote, or more precisely _validate_, the parents' agenda, and I think that's self-serving and smug.

To your point, skallas, I would never argue that parents don't influence their kids. As a matter of fact, I think they should--it's their job, and for the most part, I think any set of parents should be pretty much left to their own devices how. (But those little White Power girls that fullerine linked to are terrifying.)

But in this kid's environment--at least as it's portrayed on the site--he's being raised with a presumption that he embraces a _very_ specific set of political and philosophical beliefs. The premise that, at four, he's already investigated the various political options through history, and just _happens_ to enthusiastically embrace the very same beliefs his parents do is disingenuous, and absurd. To raise a kid that way, and to celebrate it, is brainwashing, to me--whether or not I might actually like the basic principles he's been led to. It's also very different, I think, from the normal level of interaction and influence every parent should have with their children, _especially_ when it's used to promote or validate an agenda.
posted by LairBob at 8:01 AM on January 2, 2005


[On re-reading...that first caveat of mine was more to qualify what I went on to say, and not to lecture everyone here. I presume most people in this discussion do understand that distinction.]
posted by LairBob at 8:03 AM on January 2, 2005


This creeped me right the fuck out. I appreciate that Wesley is loved and cared for but he's also being used as a tool to demonstrate how right his parents and their friends are.

I know a few kids about wesley's age, being raised by anarchist punks, and they're the most enjoyable, well adjusted kids I've ever met. Their parents are the most loving parents I've ever met, and they certainly don't raise their kids the way they do to make a political point, they raise them that way because it's the right thing to do.

Pumping a child with toxic food and indoctrinating them with toxic beliefs like religion, sexism, class conformity and exploitation just perpetuates a broken, fucked up world.


(I hate these people for being anarchist punks, but still ;))


You don't actually know any anarchist punks, do you?
posted by cmonkey at 9:07 AM on January 2, 2005


LairBob, again it almost seems you're intentionally missing the point. Do you think other children have investigated other political systems before they're taught to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and heap praise among America? You're aware that the very purpose of public school, the reason why it is provided "free" by the state to all, is to produce citizens who can properly fulfill their duty to the state? You throw around this brainwashing term but, again, how is this different from the raising of any other kid in "normal" America? Or do you seriously think it's just a coincidence that almost every child initially develops political beliefs identical to their parent's beliefs?

At least Wesley is being "brainwashed" with principles that encourage him to resist conformity, to question everything, and to value his own independence above all else. Potentially he may end up a little bratty (as is common to for kids treated like adults) but he will already be a step far ahead of millions of other children whose parents don't take such care with this child's intellectual development.
posted by nixerman at 9:58 AM on January 2, 2005


LairBob and fenriq, I couldn't agree with you more: this kid is bright, thoughtful no doubt, creative and free, mature, etc. etc. etc. but boy does he seem like a prop. The whole situation makes me just as uncomfortable as did all those children I saw in my neighborhood Halloween parade last year prancing around with anti-Bush slogans.

I know a 4-year-old who was wearing a "Bush sucks" pin and when questioned about it, he elaborated that "I hate Bush!" much to the delight of his parents. That's an embarrassment as far as I'm concerned. Why should a 4-year-old who says "I hate Bush" or "Smash the state" be revered any more than a 4-year-old who says "Jesus is your savior"? They have no clue what the fuck they're saying. My 4-year-old will say anything in the world if it ensures that she gets some admiration for it, or cooing, or a big laugh. Surely Wesley's political "views" are amusing to his smug adult "friends" but really, it's just about gaining acceptance at this age, whether it takes memorization of political cant or running around with underwear on your head.
posted by margarita at 10:07 AM on January 2, 2005


Poor kid.
posted by semmi at 10:14 AM on January 2, 2005


Wow, bizarre. I actually went to college with the two parents in this photo essay.

I can't really comment on their parenting skills, seeing as that I have no kids, and thus no real frame of reference.

All I know is that, as a moderate liberal, I have a very low threshold for self-righteous vegan anarchist types. I didn't spend a whole lot of time hanging out with these guys (although we had several friends in common), as I generally thought they were kind of annoying.

Oh yeah, and they were always trying to get their friends to watch their kid for free, since they couldn't ever afford a babysitter.
posted by afroblanca at 10:17 AM on January 2, 2005


Lairbob
But there are also kids who "hate everyone at their high school" who probably _should_ go to some kind of larger school environment, for exactly that reason. Learning to get along with other kids is a skill--and a critical one--that some people need to learn.
It's possible to legitimately not relate to anyone, not just to have poor social skills. Some "loners" eventually warm up, but I suspect it's sometimes that they just alter their standards in order to survive rather than legitimately finding people more agreeable than they assumed.

I went to North Star for a while (coincidentally I'm in the one area that has an organized non-schooling support system - it's quite unique) and though I found the people a bit hippie for me, that sort of thing (50- or 60-student chartered voluntary learning centers) seems to work a bit better than schools IMO.
posted by abcde at 10:24 AM on January 2, 2005


cmonkey: I do! (well, I think they're anarchists, at least ;) ). In any case, I disagree with them politically and dislike the music so that's almost enough right there, though my wording was a bit strong.
posted by abcde at 10:29 AM on January 2, 2005


Fascinating story. An excellent find for the photographer, however, I think it's mediocre at best as a photo essay. I think it is excellent that it has been able to provoke this much discussion. In that regard, it has succeeded immensely, but the pictures themselves fail to really tell the story. Most of them are not immediately readable without the aid of the captions. Just my 2 bits.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 10:33 AM on January 2, 2005


Nixerman, the difference between Wesley's "brainwashing" and the "brainwashing" of regular kids is that Wesley is being raised in a very small intellectual terrarium.

He's being taught (it appears) that the culture as a whole is a monolithic, tainted, evil and stupid entity, while he is a member of a tiny cadre of the enlightened and superior. This is not exactly an attitude likely to foster real critical thinking.

Whereas regular kids actually get exposed to other people whose views differ from their parents'.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:33 AM on January 2, 2005


x equals (negative b plus or minus the square root of (b squared minus 4ac)) all over 2a.

I hated school, but I'm not wildly fond of self-congratulatory photo essays by sanctimonious anarchists, either.
posted by rdc at 11:04 AM on January 2, 2005



He's being taught (it appears) that the culture as a whole is a monolithic, tainted, evil and stupid entity, while he is a member of a tiny cadre of the enlightened and superior. This is not exactly an attitude likely to foster real critical thinking.


It doesn't say that anywhere in the essay.

Also, even if he were being raised that way, I fail to see how it's any worse from raising a good little zombie that's brainwashed to believe that America is the greatest thing on earth, and that Jesus and the Bright Shiny Guiding Hand of the Free Market are the true saviours of mankind.
posted by cmonkey at 11:30 AM on January 2, 2005


abcde
It's possible to legitimately not relate to anyone, not just to have poor social skills.
Absolutely--that's why I tried to be careful and qualify my assertion. I do totally agree that some kids, for whatever reason, _should_ be taken out of a given school environment--maybe it's them, maybe it's the school, but it's definitely a possibility.

That doesn't change the fact that everyone does, or at least should, learn how to deal with other people. For some kids, the best bet might be to put them in _some_ kind of school environment--even if it's a change from the current one--to force them to learn to deal. For others, yes, removing the whole social thing might be the best idea.

nixerman, again, I'm really not sure how to respond. Like I said, I really hated my public school experience, for a whole bunch of reasons, and I would absolutely agree that the whole "Pledge of Allegiance" thing borders on jingoism. Nevertheless, stating that the whole public school infrastructure exists just "to produce citizens who can properly fulfill their duty to the state" simply confounds me. That assertion is either self-obviously true, in that "Yes, as a collective entity, our society needs to teach people how to teach people to cooperate as part of a larger whole", or it's just off the deep end, like "The public schools are conformity factories to create Manchurian Candidate citizens."

If the public schools in our country were even _moderately_ effective, I could maybe entertain that latter point as a hypothetical argument. Given the dismal failure that most of our public schools have become, it's hard to concede that at the same time, they're churning out Stepford Citizens.

More to the point, though, I have a hard time accepting the premise that "Wesley is being 'brainwashed' with principles that encourage him to resist conformity, to question everything, and to value his own independence above all else". If this photo essay were about parents, with their same basic philosophy, celebrating how their child was _questioning_ their beliefs, and _challenging_ their principles, I'd totally agree with you. But it's not. It's just not. It's an essay that celebrates how much their little boy agrees with them. That's just creepy and wrong, to me.
posted by LairBob at 12:38 PM on January 2, 2005


To elaborate a bit on that point about the public schools, nixerman, I also think that the assertion that they just exist to enforce conformity is an insult to a lot of teachers who are putting in an enormous effort to help kids think for themselves, and at a pauper's salary.

If _every_ single public school teacher you ever had--_every_ single one--was really a martinet of the state, then I'm sorry for you. But that's just not true of many, many teachers in the public school system, and to assert that anyone who decides to make that sacrifice (and it is a sacrifice) is just an instrument of the state is not only mean-spirited, it rejects the goodwill and efforts of a lot of people who really care about children more than they care about their own well-being. It's like saying that the aide in a nursing home, working for minimum wage, is just a tool of the HMOs--it's not fair.
posted by LairBob at 12:47 PM on January 2, 2005


Given that we have so little to work with, could we suspend further speculation about Wesley's upbringing until we get the second installment of his life, Raising Wesley 2: Anarchist Boogaloo, in which Wesley, now 15, rebels by converting to catholicism and takes up an all meat diet?
posted by TheSpook at 1:07 PM on January 2, 2005


LairBob, I'm a big defender of public schools and the brave souls who work in them but, at the same time, I recognize what's what. I won't go off on a wild tangent and start speculating willy nilly but I will say this: American schools, (and it's a particularly American phenomenom since school and children have become so idealized in this country), exert massive pressure to conform on their inhabitants. When you combine this with the effect of television and media on young minds and you come awfully close to the efficiency and precision of a factory... The reality is that the brainwashing you lament so much is the common case--we just call it "social values."

And I think you're expecting a bit much from a kid who just turned four. Provided that Wesley's parents are as open-minded and willing to experiment as the photo essay demonstrates I bet that there'll come a time when they encourage him to examine, question and challenge the very anarchist principles they've worked to instill in him. The very fact that they treat him as an adult strongly suggests that they're not interested in raising an automaton.

I'm not sure how you came to interpret the essay as a celebration of the brainwashing of a kid. What I primarily got from it was, "This is another way, it's our way, and it works."

I suspect the real problem so many people have with this is just its reflective qualities. We love to serenade our kids with "America, the land of the free" but when it becomes "nobody can be free in a state" or even "America is the Great Devil" we begin to complain loudly about the "exploitation" and "indoctrination" of kids. This is dishonest.

I meant what I said earlier about being able to solve the quadratic formula ultimately being irrelevant. If a child can think critically, use the Dewey Decimal system, and understands why lying/dishonesty is wrong, then I'd say her education is complete. (Then again, I've been told several times by teacher-friends that I have very radical ideas concerning education. I don't think they're so radical--most of 'em come from Aristotle.)
posted by nixerman at 1:43 PM on January 2, 2005


Lairbob: If the public schools in our country were even _moderately_ effective, I could maybe entertain that latter point as a hypothetical argument. Given the dismal failure that most of our public schools have become, it's hard to concede that at the same time, they're churning out Stepford Citizens.

They're just as effective as they need to be to produce legions of people who can think just well enough to make their car payments and mortgages, but lack any sort of critical thinking skills. That way the drones will never be a threat to the system.
posted by bunnytricks at 2:17 PM on January 2, 2005


So how did you escape the "system," bunnytricks?
posted by sour cream at 3:16 PM on January 2, 2005


Well, bunnytricks, all I can really do is to respond to your point of view is to reiterate that follow-up post I made--if you really think that the public school system is _intended_ to create "drones who will never be a threat", then I think you're making an unfair accusation against thousands of well-meaning teachers who deserve better. _Not_ that the public school system is anywhere near perfect--like I've said, I think it's a failure in many important ways--but to imply that it designed to serve a conformist agenda is far beyond the pale, for me.

nixerman, again, I'm not sure how to reconcile two statements like "I'm a big defender of public schools and the people who work in them" and "American schools...exert massive pressure to conform on their inhabitants". Which is it?

Regarding your point that "the brainwashing [I] lament so much is the common case--we just call it 'social values'"...well, yes, we do call it "social values", and that's not automatically for the best. But we don't call it "good parenting", or "parenting that's so exemplary we should build a website to trumpet it". I've already said that I though parents can and should influence their kids, and if all these folks were doing were raising a kid with liberal/progressive/libertarian/anarchist values, I wouldn't have a problem with it. My concern is with the apparent fact that they're very, very proud of themselves for doing so, and they apparently mistake the fact that "Wesley thinks just like we do!!!" as proof that they're doing a good job.

I think our whole disagreement comes down to your presumption that "Provided that Wesley's parents are as open-minded and willing to experiment as the photo essay demonstrates, I bet that there'll come a time when they encourage him to examine, question and challenge the very anarchist principles they've worked to instill in him." If I felt that the photo-essay actually demonstrated that, we wouldn't have any disagreement at all. My whole issue is that I don't think that this specific photo-essay "demonstrates" that at all...as a matter of fact, from the specific details of the photo-essay, I think it really "demonstrates "quite the opposite.

Personally, I feel it portrays parents who like to think they're behaving in exactly the way you're giving them credit for, but who--in fact--are being totally self-congratulatory in how "free-thinking" they are, while at the same time taking a bright young child and judging him by their own values while he's still just four years old. To me, it really just feels like you're caught up in the potential of what _could_ be, without holding these parents responsible for the ethical responsibilities of what they're actually _doing_.

And finally, you didn't just say that "being able to solve the quadratic formula" is irrelevant. You said that "Whether he can solve the quadratic formula or has playtime friends or is getting just enough protein [is] irrelevant". That's what made me speechless, and it's still an incomprehensible assertion to me. Whether or not a 30-year-old non-engineer can remember the quadratic equation is, indeed, irrelevant. To this debate, as well as his life. Whether or not a four-year-old? "has playtime friends" or "is getting enough protein" is _not_. Not only is it blatantly relevant to his actual well-being, I just can't fathom how it's a useful assertion to make while trying to prove your point here.
posted by LairBob at 3:30 PM on January 2, 2005


[OK...I'll take the formatting and mis-spellings in my last comments as evidence that having a three-year-old--with absolutely no well-formed political viewpoints--compete for my attention has obviously distracted me from writing carefully. I'll try and come back to this discussion later.]
posted by LairBob at 3:37 PM on January 2, 2005


yikes... i know these people
posted by mdpc98 at 5:17 PM on January 2, 2005


Just to clear one particular issue up:

The photo essay itself was not done by the parents; it was done by someone who happened to know them and live with them for a period of time.

Obviously, it's framed a certain way, but that's not the parents' doing- it's the author/photographer.
posted by exlotuseater at 7:15 PM on January 2, 2005


Understood, exlotuseater--it's pretty clear that the larger site is kind of a portfolio site for the photographer. Nevertheless, whether or not they took the photos or coded the HTML themselves, they did pretty clearly participate in the creation of a site that celebrates their parenting--it's hard to say that it's "not their doing".
posted by LairBob at 8:34 PM on January 2, 2005


LairBob, your argument that these parents are displaying excessive pride in their parenting ability is baseless. There's no evidence tof this overly self-congratulatory tone you've picked up on. They don't go on about how other parenting systems are terrible nor do they make wild claims about the benefits of their own system. They just describe the uniqueness of their system and detail its perceived benefits. The primary message I get is: "This is another way, it's our way, and it works." How you make the leap from that to "self-congratulatory" is beyond me.

There's no reason to disbelieve the parents when they say that they nd value "respect, unity, peace, egalitarinism, creativity and freedom." Why you would take this not to be the case? Perhaps there's something about anarchists in particular that you believe produces a hypocrisy? To me, by addressing their child as an adult and encouraging him to see multiple sides (the mainstream and anarchist pov) of sociopolitical issues (when he reaches an age that this is possible) they'll be doing the kid a great service.

And yes, a child's diet and the number of friends they have are ultimately irrelevant in my opinion. Children are a lot tougher than you think. I suspect there's quite a few children in America who aren't getting enough protein and it's really just not a matter of import. If Wesley's diet isn't the 100%, optimal diet for a four year old kid--well I have a funny feeling he'll end up just fine anyways. He certainly looks pretty healthy in those pictures.

The value of sufficient playtime friends is similarly overrated. Indeed, the value of a happy childhood in itself is overrated. I'll reiterate: if, at the end of the day, Wesley can think critically, can use the Dewey Decimal system, and understands that dishonesty is wrong then his education is complete. Concerns that he won't have the best foundation in mathematics or that he'll learn the "wrong" vew of American history are valid but ultimately of little concern. If Wesley, or any other child, can think for himself and appreciates the moral value of the truth then most everything else will sort itself out. (You might call me an optimist in this respect--though you'd be wrong). To be blunt: the quadratic formula, the optimal diet, and sufficient playtime in the sandbox with Jonny and Mary-Sue are ultimately have little effect towards producing upstanding human beings.

I don't have much respects for anarchists on the whole, I think it's a cowardly ideology, but I do think Wesley's parents are doing a brave and good thing. Wesley is a lucky kid.

Though I have a feeling one day he'll tell his own kids wacky tales about his cuckoo revolutionary parents. This is how most hippy children I've known end up.
posted by nixerman at 9:30 PM on January 2, 2005


LairBob: If by "participate in the creation" you mean "allowed someone to take pictures of them and their child", then I agree that they participated. But my sense of it is not that any of it was staged; it appears to me that the photographer had a vision of what they wanted to portray, and took the photos, then put it all together with text. I don't think that this was a "collaborative" effort where the parents and the author decided to do this piece.

While I didn't have a specific agenda when I posted this (other than to share something I thought was thought-provoking and interesting) I do agree that: A) it's silly to think that the kid actually says "Smash the State" in any meaningful way other than simple parroting, but B) I also think that he's probably being exposed to a lot of stimuli that will, in the long run, allow him to be a more dynamic and freethinking adult. The fact that some people get distressed at the thought of bringing up a child with a non-conventional set of values is interesting in itself.

As far as raising a child on a meatless diet, most arguments against doing so are based on poor information. There's nothing missing in a well-balanced vegetarian diet. I will avoid getting on the soapbox, as this is not the place for it. (At least not in this thread.)
posted by exlotuseater at 10:13 PM on January 2, 2005


There's nothing missing in a well-balanced vegetarian diet.

What about the joy of chewing on a delicious piece of meat?
posted by sour cream at 11:19 PM on January 2, 2005


lairbob: The original intent behind public education was to create workers who met the needs of factory owners. The ideal output was a person who was accustomed to spending five days a week on a rigid schedule, sought the approval of their superiors, did as they were told, and didn't create waves. While I don't think many people believe that the teachers of today are knowing participants in a Victorian conspiracy to turn human beings into cogs, the system perpetuates itself nonetheless.
posted by bunnytricks at 1:37 AM on January 3, 2005


sour cream: I amend my statement to "There's nothing missing in terms of nutrition in a well-balanced vegetarian diet." The value of the taste is negligible.
posted by exlotuseater at 8:16 AM on January 3, 2005


The value of the taste is negligible.

Ahhhhhhh. Much about vegetarians is hereby explained.
posted by kindall at 9:14 AM on January 3, 2005


The value of the taste is negligible.

....when put into a larger philisophical context that addresses the cost-to-benefit ratio of producing consumable meat, while wasting water and other resources that potentially could be better used elsewhere. Like, feeding people, or something.

Okay, done taking the bait.
posted by exlotuseater at 9:26 AM on January 3, 2005


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