The Thinking 


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The Sesamization of America

October 9, 2012


DANIEL S. writes:

I never much thought much about the negative social impact of the PBS children’s program Sesame Street, but Mark Steyn, in writing about Romney’s recent debate performance, states:

Unlike Mitt, I loathe Sesame Street. It bears primary responsibility for what the Canadian blogger Binky calls the de-monsterization of childhood – the idea that there are no evil monsters out there at the edges of the map, just shaggy creatures who look a little funny and can sometimes be a bit grouchy about it because people prejudge them until they learn to celebrate diversity and help Cranky the Friendly Monster go recycling. Read More »


The Things Children Know

March 4, 2011


STEWART W. writes:

You quote Neil Postman, “Through the miracle of symbols and electricity our own children know everything anyone else knows – the good with the bad. Nothing is mysterious, nothing awesome, nothing is held back from public view.” 

Eve tempted Adam with a single Apple. Today we cultivate vast orchards of the Tree of Knowledge, harvest, juice, and pasteurize the fruit, and feed it to our children in their lunchboxes. 

The fecklessness of most parents today makes me weep. Read More »


Waifs of Yesterday, Waifs of Today

March 2, 2011


Hidden Lives Revealed Case files 

THIS IS a photo of a young girl who was taken in by a charitable organization in 1890 in Bristol, England. She had been either living on the streets or in a state of extreme poverty and was taken into a home run by the Waifs and Strays’ Society, which cared for more than 22,000 children across England between its founding in 1881 and the close of World War I. Due to rapid urbanization, industrialization and population growth, there were a significant number of children living in grinding poverty in England of that day. Children worked in coal mines, factories and poorhouses. They toiled at jobs that would be unthinkable and illegal for children today. Others were pressed into domestic service or hired as chimney sweeps. Homeless children roamed the streets of cities and lived as beggars.

All of these things are unimaginable today.

Without dismissing the terrible hardship and duress these waifs and child laborers suffered, I would like to suggest to you that childhood as an institution was actually healthier then than it is today. That’s right. In general, the culture of childhood was much better. That does not mean every single child living in that time was better off than any single child alive today. It means that childhood as it was understood by Western society at that time was better at keeping children from premature adulthood and safeguarding their development.

I will elaborate on this theme in future posts. Before I do, I will simply leave you with this image below. It is a recent album cover for the pop star Taylor Swift, who is adored by millions of very young girls today, many of whom are the age of the waif above. This image is not meant to be a complete argument for the thesis I have stated, only one small bit of evidence. There are many factors that go into the degradation of childhood.


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When Children Played

February 28, 2011



NOTICE this picture of a London alley in 1899. The children are playing outside and are dressed as children. The girl in the foreground is wearing a pinafore. The most startling thing is that they are playing outside with only one adult in the background. Remember when children used to play unsupervised games, with adults nearby but not coaching them and telling them the rules? 

These children may have been poor, but at least they were children, not tiny adults without the freedom to play.


The Sickening Pace of Early Childhood Education

February 25, 2011


KATHLENE M. writes:

This article explores how kindergarten has become worse in recent years. This excerpt interested me for the reason I explain below:

How and why has kindergarten changed?

In a word: testing.

According to a 2009 report from the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Childhood, kindergartners are being taught to comply with state and national standards, which takes away from creative play-time known to be important to early childhood development. Read More »


A Little Girl is Publicly Cheapened

February 24, 2011


AMR writes:

I was looking through the headlines tonight and saw on MSN a video advertised as “You want to marry this kid when she grows up? Your heart might be broken until she gets one thing first.” I thought it was going to be a video on some goofy thing that a kid said, but after reading your site for awhile, I found it disturbing. Now five-year-old girls don’t care about men and want “a job.” It’s as though jobs are the be-all and end-all for women, not a man who might want to commit his life to her or a family or God. So sad. I’d bet she lives in a single-mother household.

After reading a book called Dressing with Dignity by Colleen Hammond in high school, I didn’t really like feminism. Your site helps put into words and expand on the idea that feminism hurts. Thank you for your eye-opening site. It is too bad it’s not mainstream. Read More »


Lugging Children Through the Shallows of Banal Love

February 23, 2011


TODAY’S journalists are so quick to provide every mind-numbingly boring detail about their chaotic personal lives and so upfront about how indifferent they are to their children. This writer, in his description of his recent “courtship” in The New York Times, talks about his two children from two different women as if they are luggage stowed in the backseat, which presumably is what they are. He focuses instead on the extremely banal details of  divorce and remarriage. He writes:

We took an apartment together as our relationship deepened. She grew close to my boy, became pregnant with our child, and we considered our options for the future. Discussions regarding marriage occurred, predicated, of course, on the completion of my divorce. (It was a source of much joking at Harper’s — another thing I’ll truly miss — that my second child came before my first divorce.) But neither of us wanted to rush things. It felt unseemly to dive immediately into a new marriage so soon after the formal dissolution of an earlier one. We’d make our wedding when we wanted, we agreed, not merely when permitted by the state or demanded by a sense of social propriety.

Read More »


Welcome to Barack Obama Elementary, Comrades

August 25, 2010


DALE F. writes: 

The other day, a friend sent me a link to a piece by Will Hutton, a writer for the UK Guardian, contemplating mostly with satisfaction the civilizational accomplishments of his (and my) “baby boom” generation. 

This morning I saw this article:

The first school in the D.C. area named after the current president opens Monday morning as the school year begins in Prince George’s County. Read More »


Is TV all Bad for Kids?

November 3, 2009


ANNIE writes in response to the post The Cheapest Babysitter in Town:

Do you think that any TV at all is bad for a two-year-old? I am really wondering what your personal opinion is. I was in agony when my little boy started watching TV around the time he turned one! I wanted to fight my husband on this to the bitter end. He was raised watching LOTS of  TV which I believe is what caused his habitual drug use as a teenager. He thought I was crazy until we did a little experiment; no TV for the baby for a whole week. And what results! He went from being an aggressive, mean, crying baby to a happy, sweet, easily contented baby, like the one I knew before the TV watching began.

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The Cheapest Babysitter in Town

November 2, 2009


Children between the ages of 2 and 5 spend more than four hours a day watching TV and playing video games, according to a New York Times article on the latest surveys by Nielsen. This is the highest figure ever.

Electronic entertainment is the cheapest and easiest way to entertain young children. As neighborhod life declines, families grow smaller, and adults grow busier, the electronic babysitter seems a virtual necessity. What’s wrong with that? The mind of the child is the father of the future. Visual entertainment stunts the imagination. It weakens the will and creates hostility to word and thought.


Disorder Claims the Nation’s Children

October 26, 2009


You’ve heard of ADD, ADHD, OCD and the like, and you’ve perhaps seen the children lined up at school infirmaries for their chemical supplements. Now, word is just in from The Onion of a new psycho-neurological condition afflicting the nation’s youth. This should have been discovered ages ago. Millions have gone untreated.


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The Egalitarian Family and Spoiled Children

October 24, 2009


Paul Velde writes:

In your piece on men and housework, you remark apropos of another subject altogether, “The average woman wants control over her domestic realm and she doesn’t like the way men… manage the children.” Perhaps the operative word here is “average,” but nonetheless could you find time to expand on this point? In my experience the male-female conflict over children is the cause of much tension in marriages, and, when the results become manifest in terms of spoiled, ill-behaved, ungrateful offspring, profound grief.

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Therapists Abandon Children’s Interests

October 13, 2009


The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) devoted a special issue of its bimonthly journal The Therapist to same-sex marriage last spring. It included articles both for and against homosexual unions. After receiving a barrage of complaints from homosexual activists and their supporters, the organization, which represents 30,000 therapists, removed the opposing pieces last month. It then apologized to its members and, in a convoluted statement that appears to mollify both supporters and critics, came out squarely against Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment supporting traditional marriage.

In one of the expunged articles, Dawn Stefanowicz, an author and accountant, discusses life with her gay father.

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Playing House

October 12, 2009


Children forge their dreams in play. All children, except those who have been deadened in some way, have powerful imaginations. What’s so interesting is that they often dream of things, such as war, mundane domestic tasks or rudimentary construction, that adults come to view with disdain or boredom.

Despite feminist orthodoxy, girls still continue to play with dolls and dollhouses and miniature kitchens. I’m not sure whether these things are viewed with the same contempt as during the heyday of feminist self-discovery in the 1970s, but it seems they continue to be a source of embarrassment for some mothers.  This hyper-domesticity in their young daughters represents vestigial fantasies, evolutionary relics of a former era.  At best, they are infantile forms of escape, not the stuff of essential preparation.

But, playing house is the enactment of dreams and rarely does one hear, amid all this stifling orthodoxy, of how thrilling these dreams are or how infused with adventure. A play house, with its miniature stove and tiny tea cups, is a field of action comparable to war zones populated by action figures, dinosaurs or plastic solders and horses.

A doll’s face suggests high peril. The whole is immoveable and frozen in place. The smile is sweet, but slightly pained. A doll is not only fragile and vulnerable, she is locked-in, a prisoner of plastic who begs to be brought to life and then sustained. A young girl stands at one side of a locked door. On the other side are those who wish to get in. The doll is the beautiful and lifeless surrogate for those who wish to enter.

Of course, a doll’s needs are never-ending. She must sleep, eat, bathe and dress. She also needs a little entertainment. Over time, many girls neglect the hair of dolls and it becomes so wildly disheveled it suggests mental derangement. This is not necessarily a sign of insufficient love so much as that there is just too much to do. If one only tended to dolls’ physical needs, their souls would languish.

Dolls do best when they have houses. A play house, whether life-sized or miniature, may be the scene of a young girl’s most intense and busy play. When I was six, I was invited to play at the home of an only child. Back then, there were hardly any only children and they were generally considered to be spoiled. My experience was that they all were spoiled. This girl owned an entire large room converted into a play house. The house actually had a façade with a door, as well as a real kitchen, eating area and bedroom. If she had owned a castle with water in a moat or a real limousine, I would have been no more overwhelmed or speechless. It over-stimulated the imagination, but I dreamed about it for years.

Hours pass by in a blur with several dolls perched in chairs around a metal table, small cakes in the oven and a husband about to walk through the door. Those little cardboard boxes and paper cans labeled with real brands are cherished possessions, as are plastic chickens and sausages. There is so much to manage. I realize little girls like to do other things than play house and some aren’t domestic at all. I liked playing war in the dark with twenty other kids and taking prisoners who had to stand behind trees until they were freed. But that was just a kid’s game. Playing house was always part of the mystery and beauty of real life. 

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A March Against Children

October 12, 2009


The demonstration by homosexual activists and their supporters this weekend in Washington was one more visible and angry protest against the interests and rights of children.
The protesters are seeking legalization of  same-sex marriage throughout America. They romanticize their cause. We are at war agaimst hatred of homosexuals, they claim. Widespread hatred of homosexuals does not exist in America. They are at war with children. They are at war with the future.

A Walk in a Patriarchal Neighborhood

September 3, 2009

There were children everywhere, as if this was a reservation for a vanishing tribe. They were running and playing. They were talking and laughing. The girls wore dresses of pink or blue. The boys were dressed in shirts and slacks, not T-shirts with commercial logos. They crowded the sidewalks, some in strollers and others on their feet. Some walked along holding hands with a mother or an older sibling. A boy and a girl of about ten years were running an errand for their parents with plastic bags in their hands. A boy tore down the sidewalk on his bicycle, his head close to the handlebars. A group of teenage girls in dresses stood on a corner in long skirts, with a conspiratorial look in their eyes.

It would be hard to kidnap a child here. There were mothers everywhere. They were pushing strollers, putting children into cars, standing in small groups chatting. Many of them were young and they all wore dresses or skirts with stockings. It was strange. They were smiling and relaxed.  Mothers with many young children are supposed to be angry and depressed. They were smiling and laughing. Two old women sat outside one townhouse and watched children play.

There were some men, walking in pairs, strolling with their wives pushing strollers or visible through the front windows talking on the phone. There were people of every age, interacting and proceeding through the day together. But, most of all there were children. Was this a museum? Perhaps it was called, “The Neighborhood Museum,” a place where people come to see what a real neighborhood looks like.

Such was the scene earlier this week in Outremont, a neighborhood of Montreal I happened to be visiting. This part of Outremont is home to Hasidic Jews. The community has grown in recent years and now numbers more than 15,000. It subsists peacefully with the urban professionals who share the neighborhood in spite of occasional tension. Not long ago there was a controversy. The Orthodox Jews paid for new tinted windows in the local YMCA. Apparently, their teenaged boys were gathering outside a nearby school to watch the women in the Y work out in scanty clothing. Some non-Jewish residents said the new windows were an offense to religious freedom and made yoga exercises more difficult. 

This neighborhood is emphatically patriarchal. I will never be an Orthodox Jew and yet this is my tradition, more familiar to me than the sterile, childless no-man’s land that passes for a neighborhood in most parts of America. This sort of patriarchy doesn’t mean imprisonment for women. It means freedom from Sex and the City. It doesn’t mean women never work or never make money. It means a peaceable order, and a new and abundant generation. It means men confidently strolling down the street.  It brings people out of their homes and into the neighborhood, laughing and talking, running and playing.

Interestingly, these Orthodox Jews survive in the modern economy. How is it they can afford all these children and all these wives at home? Haven’t they heard that all this is no longer possible?


DSCF9465 by christopher dewolf |


DSCF9567 by christopher dewolf |



The Parental Serf

August 19, 2009


The feudal slave who produced grain for his lord, the Communist proletariat beholden to Uncle Joe, and the medieval peasant who paid cash for the forgiveness of sins were no less free than today’s parental serf.

The parental serf does not work for his family and his independence. He works for a higher master: his children’s educations. He starts paying college tuition when his children are young, putting them in expensive programs that will boost their “preparedness.” The goal is clear and predetermined: Admission to a good college. Expensive elementary schools, more expensive extracurricular programs, private lessons – no expense is too great if it creates an edge. The serf works so hard he barely sees his children. He does not know what they are learning or why. He becomes fully indentured with the whopping bills of late adolescence, the yeomen equivalent of a thousand bushels of grain. He pulls his wagon up to the fancy financial offices and empties it out. Anything this expensive must be worth paying for, he tells himself as his mule clip-clops back home. If he can’t afford it, his children can take out loans and become indentured too.

The parental serf speaks with misty-eyed fervor of M.I.T. and Duke. He’s not sure what his children get from these schools and it has never occurred to him to question what they might get. Their massive athletic facilities and glass-enclosed science buildings convey such an air of magical permanence, he wants to be a part of it. The Egyptians must have felt the same way about their pyramids.

It must be something important. There are millions of working adults who could teach a young person what he needs to know. Communications are advanced and inexpensive. Learning is everywhere. But, people say an expensive school makes all the difference in life. In his dark hours, when he thinks of his son or daughter sitting in a crowded lecture hall with a graduate student at the front of the room, the parental serf reassures himself. He must be working so hard for more than a few slips of paper and four years of mere school.

Read More »


Excellence in Parenthood

July 16, 2009


Here is a partial list of the virtues children need to learn in order to flourish as adults. Once acquired, these virtues tend to last, or at least to make a lasting impression. But, they may take many years to acquire:

  •     Truthfulness
  •     Neatness
  •     Obedience
  •     Self-control
  •     Courtesy
  •     Respect for elders
  •     Loyalty
  •     Thrift 
  •     Modesty
  •     Trustworthiness
  •     Courage
  •     Friendliness
  •     A sense of civic duty

 There are also intellectual virtues:

  •     Concentration
  •     Dispassion
  •     Simplicity
  •     Perseverance
  •     Moderation
  •     Judgment
  •     Piety
  •     Studiousness
  •     Curiosity
  •     Respect for the past
  •     Cultural literacy
  •     Exactitude in written and spoken expression
  •     Clarity in thought and idea

Here is a list of the practical things children require on a regular basis:

  •     Clean clothes
  •     Healthy meals at set intervals
  •     A neat, uncluttered environment
  •     Instruction in daily cleanliness
  •     Medicine and rest during illness
  •     Routine social interaction with the same people
  •     Conversation with adults
  •     Physical affection
  •     Words of love and encouragement
  •     Disapproval and punishment for wrong actions and unruly behavior
  •     Fun
  •     Quiet and peace at night 
  •     Adequate sleep

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