It takes a village

Apr 302009

Because of what happened today, I meant to include more in that last post about Free-Range kids. I’ll put it here instead.

Today just before I was about to tell my wife about Free-Range Kids and some of the recent discussions there, she told me some bad news. There had been a murder yesterday at Galesburg, on Miller Drive near the Shell station. It seems that a 67-year-old man (she said 70 when she told me about it) shot and killed a teen-age girl who had been doing some work at his house. Another girl with her, her sister, was shot, too, but ran to the Subway at the Shell Station, where there happened to be a police officer. There may have been a sexual assault, and the man shot himself in the end.

I don’t know these girls but am afraid I’ll find out that they are friends of friends. I know that street and some people who live there. We once used the services of the doctor who owns the house. I’ve ridden my bike there a few times. I sometimes stop at that Shell station on my way back home from a long bike ride. It’s a place to cross the Kalamazoo River. But more often I cross the river near the other end of Miller Drive. Either way, it’s all too close to home in more ways than one.

So how, then, can I defend that mother who kicked the kids out of the car a few miles from home? And how can I defend Lenore Skenazy when she argues back against a law-enforcement officer who wrote the following:

“I work in law enforcement in the child predator unit in a mid-size city. Kids meeting people on the Internet is the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t sound like anyone here has any idea of the extent that perpetrators use new technologies to victimize. I won’t “bore” you with details since you don’t think this stuff can happen to you anyway. No one does.

“But it is kind of sad to me to see how proud people are to wave off their responsibilities to keep their kids in check.”

First, I’m not exactly defending the mother’s decision, though I am defending her against a government that would arrest her for making it. And it’s not a matter of thinking this stuff can’t happen to you.

Even back in the 1950s, in rural North Dakota, parents knew there were bad people. In fall of 1956, when I was 8, my younger brother and I attended a one-room school a half a mile or so from home, along one of the few paved highways in that part of the world. I don’t think there were any other homes between ours and the school. It was a sparsely settled area. We walked to school and back. I was envious of an older boy who sometimes rode his horse to school and kept it in a little stable out back during the day. But even in that world, my mother told us not to accept rides or anything else from strangers.

One day on the way home after school, we were offered a ride in a horse-drawn wagon or sleigh, I disremember which, that was hauling some of the other kids we knew. It looked like they were having fun, but Mom had told us not to accept any rides from strangers, and I didn’t recognize the man driving the team, even though I thought I recognized some of the other people. I don’t remember what words I said for refusal — maybe I just shook my head — but I grabbed my brother’s arm and walked further away in the ditch. (The ditches are really wide in North Dakota.)

I didn’t say anything about it when I got home — there are lots of things I never told my parents even at that age — but they later heard about it. They asked me about the incident and after I confirmed what they had heard, they laughed, saying it would have been OK to take a ride with them. Well, just because they knew the man didn’t mean I did.

That was a somewhat different world than Galesburg, Michigan in 2009. But it’s not that people then and now don’t think there are bad people who might do bad things to children. That law-enforcement officer is mistaken when he says people don’t think this stuff can happen. They know all too well. It’s just that parents are making decisions about how best to bring up children to live in this world, and are not letting the dangers be the only determining factor. And even when the dangers factor largely in their decisions, the solution is not always to hide the kids away from the world.

Apr 302009

I’m trying to play matchmaker between The Front Porch Republic (mostly guys, as far as I can tell) and Free-Range Kids (mostly mothers). On the political spectrum it seems that the Front Porchers are a little more conservative, and the Free-Rangers are more liberal. This, btw, is one of the rare places where it’s not completely ridiculous to say liberal rather than leftish. But the important thing is that both of these groups are bridging across these political divides over topics that are far from superficial. And both are subversive of the established order.

I just posted the following in a Front Porch article by Russell Arben Fox titled, “Walking to school, slackerdom, and other revolutionary acts.”

If you folks aren’t reading Lenore Skenazy’s “Free Range Kids” blog, you should be.

Badger makes a point that reminds me of the discussion about a Skenazy post from last week, “Mom Orders Bickering Kids Out of Car–Ruining them for Life?

You can read the comments for yourself, but here is my take on it. It’s one thing (a bad thing) for the govt to arrest the mother and issue a protection order against her. It’s another thing for her neighbor to say (and I don’t know if this is how it happened), “Here’s your daughter. I found her crying, two miles from home. She says you kicked her and her sister out of your car. I don’t know the whole story, but I’m concerned that something bad could have happened to her.”

Some people conflate the two issues of the government stepping in and the neighbors being critical. But those are two different things. If we want the government to butt out, we need to let the neighbors butt in. That’s what it means when people say, “it takes a village.” Most of us don’t like the neighbors watching our every move and judging how we live. That’s a major reason people have moved away from small towns to the city, where they can be more anonymous. But if we do away with the social controls via neighbors watching each others’ business, then we’ll end up with an increasingly totalitarian welfare-police state to control our relationships.

I can resent living in the neighborhood fish-bowl as much as anyone else, but I like that a lot better than having Big Brother watch out for me.

Back when Hillary wrote, “It takes a village,” a lot of my fellow libertarian-tending conservatives criticized the concept. I tried to get those I know to think of it as a good idea, but without much success. The problem with Hillary is not that she said “village,” but that what she really meant was, “It takes a totalitarian police state to raise a child.”

I cleaned it up slightly to say it the way I should have said it.

And since we’re talking about things like neighborhoods and community, that gives me an excuse to pass on this link that I learned about from someone on the Phred bicycle touring list. There is more than one way to form communities.

The Gizmodo blog introduces it saying: “If this video doesn’t bring a tear to your eyes and make you smile for the rest of the day, you are a cold hearted bastard. Watch it from beginning to end—you won’t regret it.”

I’ve watched it twice so far and have also gone to the “Playing for Change” site to hear more.

Apr 092009

The article that inspired the name for the new blog, Front Porch Republic, tells of a 1975 essay titled “From Porch to Patio”. It explains how homes used to be built with front porches where people could interact with their neighbors. Now we more often have patios in back. They are more secluded and private–places to avoid interactions with neighbors.


I wasn’t looking at front porches in particular when I stopped to take a photo of this house. It was on a bike ride I did in April 2006, between Auburn and Tuskegee, Alabama. It looks like it has both a front porch facing the road and a back porch.


This Greek Revival house is in the northeast corner of Kalamazoo County of Michigan. I came across it on a bike ride last month. There is still a front porch that faces the road. But with the front door boarded up, the public space is not as connected to the private space, and is probably not so much used anymore. My impression of Front Porch Republic is that it is trying to re-open those connections, so to speak.

About the same day when I first encountered Front Porch Republic I also encountered yet another type of Front Porch. It’s one for which I don’t have a photo, unfortunately. It’s in Sergei Nikitich Khrushchev’s book about his father, “Nikita Khrushchev : and the creation of a superpower (2000)”. Early in the book he quotes from notes his mother had written about their move to Moscow in the mid 1930s. Nikita Sergeyevich’s parents came to live with them:

Grandmother Kseniya Ivanovna spent most of her time in her room or sitting on a stool on the street near our entrance. There were always people standing around her, and she would talk with them. N.S. didn’t approve of her sitting there, but his mother wouldn’t listen to him.

Sergei Nikitich explains:

Grandmother Kseniya Ivanovna was totally unable to adapt to city life and didn’t want to change her habits. In the village she was used to sitting onside on a zavalinka [mound of earth around peasant homes–Trans.] and spending hours chatting with neighbors, and she continued this in Moscow. But Moscow was not Kalinovka, and in the 1930s a heart-to-heart talk could cost you your life. That was why Father worried.

I get the impression that Front Porch Republic would approve of Kseniya Ivanovna’s behavior, and would like to keep our country from becoming a place where heart-to-heart talks on the front porch could cost you your life. But maybe there is a cost that will have to be borne anyway when we leave our private patios to enter public forums; otherwise we wouldn’t have secluded ourselves in back patios or under anonymous pseudonyms on the internet.

[I’ve posted this under both pseudonyms: The Reticulator and The Spokesrider]

Dec 052007

I often speak of intelligence as something malleable. I do it on purpose, realizing it will annoy those who buy into some of the orthodoxies of the education establishment.

I will talk about how watching television will make you dumber. Not that it will waste your time, or that you won’t learn anything from it, but that it will make you dumber.

Or how studying some difficult subject will make you smarter. I don’t just say you will know more. I say it will make you smarter.

Another example: I say a lot of our leftwing friends destroyed their intelligence by defending the Clintons and all their scandals, and that this explains some of their increasing irrationality and incoherence these days. The Clintons asked them to believe things that were not true (e.g. when they were wagging the dog to avoid impeachment) and asked them to defend things that are indefensible, e.g. a lot of the attacks on civil liberties they are now criticizing Bush for doing. They went to the mat and did these things for the Clintons, with the result that there are a lot of people out there who aren’t as intelligent as they used to be.

There is a dangerous amount of that among the Bushophilliacs out there, too, but to a lesser degree. A lot of Bush’s former supporters are turning on him now. That isn’t a pretty sight either, but at least people aren’t making the full measure of sacrifice of their integrity and intelligence for him.

I don’t have hard data to support any of this, of course. I use it as a working hypothesis. But who knows? Maybe none of it is true. It’s a topic worthy of research.

I am glad to see that there is ongoing research on the subject of the malleability of intelligence, even if it doesn’t address such factors as pretending to believe things you don’t believe.

Here’s an article from Scientific American: The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Subtitle: “Hint: Don’t tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life”

Here are a couple of sample paragraphs:

Several years later I developed a broader theory of what separates the two general classes of learners—helpless versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different “theories” of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. I call this a “fixed mind-set.” Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so. Like Jonathan, such children shun effort in the belief that having to work hard means they are dumb.

The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. They want to learn above all else. After all, if you believe that you can expand your intellectual skills, you want to do just that. Because slipups stem from a lack of effort, not ability, they can be remedied by more effort. Challenges are energizing rather than intimidating; they offer opportunities to learn. Students with such a growth mind-set, we predicted, were destined for greater academic success and were quite likely to outperform their counterparts.

Oct 092007

The moonbats are up in arms over the wingnuts’ investigation into the actual circumstances of the exploitation of Graeme Frost for partisan political purposes.

But this is what happens in village society, as in “It takes a village.” That’s what it means to have a village raise a child. What s/he does is everyone’s business.