Thursday, December 18, 2014

What should we teach our children?

Another contribution from Bethel and UW-Milwaukee graduate John Grandits.

The last post, about lying to your children by telling them about Santa Claus and the Elf on the Shelf, raises the question of child education in general: what should we teach our children? Take a common topic that has some parallels with Santa: what should we teach our children about God? David Johnson thinks Santa and God share some characteristics, although he doesn't mention which ones. Some atheists argue that we shouldn't believe that God exists for the same reasons we don't believe that Santa exists. That seems false to me, but you don't have to think it's false to think that it's an open question whether one should teach his children to believe/not believe that God exists. What are the criteria?

David Johnson mentions some. For instance, don't lie to your children unless there is some overriding/noble reason to. Certainly those who believe/don't believe that God exists wouldn't be lying to their children if they told them that God exists/doesn't exist.

But might there be a related criterion that says something like, "Don't tell your children that P unless you have good reasons that P"? And what if you believe you have good reasons for believing that P, but there is still reasonable disagreement about P – as in the case of belief in God? Does your child have a legitimate complaint against you if she, upon growing up, comes to disagree with you about P when you always told her that P? She might say something like, "You had no (epistemic) right to tell me that P because there isn't much evidence in support of P. And even if you believed that there was such support, you should have realized that this was a matter about which one could reasonably disagree."

All of this leaves me wondering: shouldn't we teach our children as if they were, say, students in a college classroom? Views about college teaching certainly differ, but whatever our view is, shouldn't that just be our view about teaching our own children? Or is there something about them (e.g. our relation to them as parents) that makes this not the case?

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