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The War for Children's Minds


Steven Law


ISBN-13: 978-0415427685

Review on Amazon:

A Roadmap out of our Politically Correct Education Nightmare

Law’s book promotes the idea that the best way to bring up children is such that they learn to think for themselves yet within a framework that eschews moral relativism, “the prevailing  philosophy of the West”. Relativism proclaims that there is no absolute moral truth, just differing opinions, all of which are equally valid. For example, Somalis cut off the women’s clitoris before they reach puberty. They think it is right. In the west, we think it is wrong. A relativist will say that they are both right. Again, Law cites Robert Simon, a professor of philosophy, quoting despairingly of a student: ’Of course I dislike the Nazis’, but who is to say they are morally wrong.’

Law goes on to say: “Relativism, it’s often argued, has also poisoned our homes. Parents no longer feel they have the right to force their own values on their children. Adults no longer confident in their own moral authority or the objectivity of their moral judgments are standing back and allowing their children to run amok.” As Law says: ‘politically correct’ arguments for relativism, while seductive, are muddle headed nonsense’.

Law points out that debates about child education focus, erroneously, on only two alternatives: what he calls “Liberal” and “Authoritarian”. The Authoritarian approach simply tells children what to think. Many religions are authoritarian for example. The Liberal approach is to guide children to question critically and think for themselves. (Personally, I would prefer him to use a term instead of “Liberal” that is not so politically loaded: “Free-thinker” perhaps?).

Law says that there is a second dimension with two alternatives: “Relativist” and “Non-relativist”. In many people’s minds, Relativism is the automatic handmaiden to Liberalism. Law’s insight is to point out that it ain’t necessarily so: education can be BOTH Non-relativist AND Liberal.  He arrives at this conclusion after meeting all possible objections and defusing them with a philosopher’s clarity of logic. Stephen Law writes with admirable simplicity and his philosophical arguments are readily understood.

Law, naturally enough, approaches his topic as a philosophical argument. In passing he mentions that some moral stances are found universally in just about every culture. That opens a very interesting subject: many moral fundamentals are hard-wired in the human species. One common one is “Thou shalt not kill”. Just about every culture has this kind of moral position but, just as with the Hebrews, it was only supposed to apply to one’s own tribe. It was quite acceptable to kill people from other tribes. After all, Moses had hardly descended from the mountain with the Tablets when he gave orders to “save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites…”. But the same attitude is a found in all cultures to the extent that anthropologists call it a Universal Human Value. It is found in the San Bushman, Aborigine and any western country at war with an enemy. In other words nature programmed us with certain behaviors in order to function healthily in our local society.

The idea that some moral values are hard-wired – and not the result of cultural conditioning – is a powerful one. In my book Deadly Harvest, I explain more on this fascinating subject and in particular how life on the savannas of east Africa programmed our instinctual behaviors for survival in a forager band of some 50 people. When we understand that, we understand much more about where we should be going with our children and society in general.