7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2009
How is education related to the good life?
Education starts at birth, say Bertrand Russell. Since infants are potential adults, they ought to be treated as such from the start, and where good character is of concern to an adult, good character formation begins in infancy beginning with the proper nurturance but training as well of the infant. Bertrand Russell advocates, for instance, letting the baby cry alone if, after its feeding, safety, and general comfort are well attended to, the baby still cries, since picking up the crying infant initiates a desire for power in the baby over the parent and therefore the development of a tyrant if this action becomes repetitive or habitual. "A human ego, like a gas, will always expand unless restrained by external pressure," says Bertrand Russell. But by external pressure, the author never means punishment, whether physical nor mental. No form of cruelty, coercion or sense of duty is every suggested in this book.
Right from the first few weeks after birth, the child will need to develop four characteristics in order to live the good life as an adult: vitality, courage, sensitiveness, and intelligence. Bertrand Russell devotes many pages and chapters discussing just how these virtues can be drawn out of the infant and made into skills that will last a lifetime. If the infant and child is taught lovingly how to express all these characteristics (and some of these lessons by Bertrand Russell have actually been taught by "Super Nanny" on television), he or she will turn out to be a great and free individual.
Along the way, however, the author blurts out a number of eccentric views. Bertrand Russell encourages the parents to allow the child to see themselves and their siblings naked so as to make nudity seem ordinary, like peering into an empty cupboard, for instance -- while also teaching the child about sex without reference to "reverence," but explaining it as if sex were simply "the construction of a steam-engine." The child "should not know that people have feelings about nudity." (Not know?) Russell also doesn't make much of monogamy, particularly when a marriage persists without love. But, most weirdly, the author advocates parents' teaching their children against private property ownership, and, instead, instilling in the child a sense of "limited tenant-right" when it comes to toys, bikes, and other possessions. Why this absent sense of private property ownership is necessary for a child to become a great and free individual is not explained nor made clear -- unless it happens to be one of Bertrand Russell's own unstated Socialistic propositions that he, as a rich man, wishes to brainwash his prospective audience with.
What is likeable about this book is his sheer respect for and advocacy of the child, the child's mind and the child's imagination (particularly in respect to the role of play in the individual's development) through a scientific pedagogy that is empowered by a genuine and palpable love. Still, the author's matter-of-fact but contradictory references to eugenics as well as his assumption of contradictory communistic values for the child mar this well-written and often thought-filled examination of child rearing.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2004
It's sad how Russell's primary work in philosophy has become so badly outdated. Russell spent a decade on Principa Mathematica and it could be thought of as his major work, but how often is it bought or read? Logic and mathematics has gone beyond him since then. In the same way, so have education and social philosophy, but Russell takes on a number of prejudices that still exist to this day.
There are a few errors in Education and the Good Life and there are a few things I disagree with. Russell's idea of marriage surviving "brief episodes of infidelity" may never become the norm, for instance. But his complaints about Christianity are still apt if only we exchange "AIDS" for "syphilis" and "Catholicism" for "Christianity."
Surprisingly, many of the topics Russell covers were first touched upon by Rousseau, 165 years earlier. Comparing Education and the Good Life with Emile is rather interesting for a joyous little pendant like myself. The superstitions Russell covers have survived millenia and probably will survive the death even of the mighty Amazon.com; and Russell's advice will always be apt in some way or another.
I would recommend this book to anyone raising a child. In fact, when my sister gave birth for the first time, I ran out and found her a copy of Education and the Good Life. It is a perfect gift for any new mother or father.