My new book, Misbehavior is Growth: An Observant Parent’s Guide to Three Year Olds, is set to release January 8, 2021. I challenge Rand in this book. Here are the two relevant sections.
Why Traditional Education Won’t Just Go Away
A thinker like Ayn Rand, who formalized a philosophy that she called “Objectivism,” i.e. “objective truth,” also advocated that a person is born “tabula rasa”—blank. She did not have the conclusions Skinner had, who said that society should push a person to be more giving, social, etc. Instead, she advocated you set your own values, and she steered those values towards being a “rational” person who shapes reality to fit your human needs, as is in “objective” alignment with your survival as a human. But she still adopted the view that a person is born blank. Leonard Peikoff, her student, writes almost shockingly about what the idea of a child being born as a blank canvas leads to in education:
The idea of education is to take a tabula rasa (someone born blank) and transform him, through a systematic process across years, into a being with the skills and aptitudes necessary to fit him for adult life. (2)
Take someone born blank and transform him. It could not be written more plainly. In this book, Teaching Johnny to Think, he blatantly says children should be seen and not heard (21). He also says that any child who isn’t capable of sitting in a class, listening to a lecture, should be sent away for therapy. It seems benevolent and wise, but in reality it’s quite painfully humiliating. When students are struggling, fix the approach, not the kid.
This view of a blank child engenders this approach of traditional education. In this, a child’s blank brain has knowledge poured down it, based on an adult’s sense of what is the proper content and hierarchy. No attention is given to actively monitoring the child to see how the approach is working. Those monitors, when applied correctly, would be emotional in nature. Is what we are doing with children a joy for them or is it frustrating? This is what should guide us as we parent and educate. We assume the responsibility.
In the old view, it’s built right into the philosophy that the child is blank anyway, and none of these emotional responses even matter. The emotions are seen, at best, as whim and, at worst, as manipulation. We do not let children’s emotions guide us. We steer, control, and program those emotions.
The Role of the Mind
Us humans have a reasoning mind, and that’s a wonderful thing. We use it to build things and create things. We can build houses, go to the moon, and make plans for Saturday night. We can mold and shape the outer world. The main problem comes when we think we can mold and shape the inner world. It means we think we can alter ourselves or others—that we can alter human nature itself.
Ayn Rand is again illustrative of the old view of the mind. From Rand, “The mind leads, the emotions follow” (The Romantic Manifesto 30). In this philosophy, thinking controls your emotions. Not just that you are conscious of your emotions and make reasonable decisions. The mind tells the emotions what to do: what makes you happy or sad. She writes:
Man has no choice to feel that something is good for him or evil, but what he will consider good or evil, what will give him joy or pain, what he will love or hate, desire or fear, depends on his standard of value. (The Virtue of Selfishness 31, emphasis original)
What will give you “joy or pain,” what you will “love or hate,” “desire or fear,” is dependent on your “standard of value.” You can control it. This is highly indicative of most modern, Western thought. Who needs the authentic, prewired, uncontrollable emotions that bubble up in a person—or a child? What good are these unreliable things?