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Education and the Good Life
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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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon January 26, 2015
Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872-1970) was an influential British philosopher, logician, mathematician, and political activist. In 1950, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, in recognition of his many books such as A History of Western Philosophy,The Problems of Philosophy,The Philosophy of Logical Atomism,The Analysis of Mind,Our Knowledge of the External World,Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits,Mysticism and Logic, etc.

He wrote in the Introduction to this 1926 book, “The education we desire for our children must depend upon our ideals of human character, and our hopes as to the part they are to play in the community… My aim and purpose, wherever possible, will be to avoid controversial issues… What I have to say is the outcome of perplexities in regard to my own children; it is therefore not remote or theoretical, and may, I hope, help to clarity the thoughts of other parents faced with a like perplexity… I propose… to consider first the aims of education: the kind of individuals, and the kind of community, that we may reasonably hope to see produced by education… I attach great weight to modern psychological discoveries which tend to show that character is determined by early education.. Finally I shall discuss intellectual education, its aims, its curriculum, and its possibilities… to make men and women capable of learning from experience should be one of the aims which early education should keep most prominently in view.”

He praises recent “pedagogical discoveries”: “The fundamental idea is simple: that the right discipline consists, not in external compulsion, but in habits of mind which lead spontaneously to desirable rather than undesirable activities. What is astonishing is the great success in finding technical methods of embodying this idea in education. For this, Madame Montessori deserves the highest praise.” (Pg. 36-37) He adds, “The substation of the driving-force for the rod is one of the great advances of our time.” (Pg. 42)

He states, “I make no distinction whatever between male and female excellence.” (Pg. 60) Later, he adds, “Women in whom love is cramped encourage brutality and hypocrisy in their husbands, and distort the instincts of their children. One generation of fearless women could transform the world, by bringing into it a generation of fearless children… It is education that gives us these bad qualities, and education that must give us the opposite virtues. Education is the key to the new world.” (Pg. 83)

He notes, “It is useless to obtrude moral ideas at an age when they can evoke no response, and at which they are not yet required for the control of behavior. The only effect is boredom, and imperviousness to those same ideas at the later age when they might have become potent. That is one reason… why the study of child-psychology is of such vital importance to education.” (Pg. 131) Later, he argues, “It is a bad thing for intelligence, and ultimately for character, to let instruction be influenced by moral considerations. It should not be thought that some knowledge is harmful and some ignorance is good.” (Pg. 240)

He observes, “the real education in justice can only come where there are other children. This is one of many reasons why no child should long be solitary. Parents who have the misfortune to have an only child should do all that they can to secure companionship for it, even at the cost of a good deal of separation from home, if no other way is possible.” (Pg. 149-150)

He says, “Parents who wish to be loved must behave so as to elicit love, and must try to give to their children those physical and mental characteristics which produce expansive affections.” (Pg. 188) Later, he adds, ”Affection cannot be created; it can only be liberated.” (Pg. 206)

He also asserts, “One other thing is essential in teaching about sex-love. Jealousy must not be regarded as a justifiable insistence upon rights, but as a misfortune to the one who feels it and a wrong toward its object. Where possessive elements intrude upon love, it loses its vivifying power and eats up personality; where they are absent, it fulfills personality and brings a greater intensity to life.” (Pg. 220)

He points out, “I think the arguments in favour of the nursery-school are quite overwhelming---not only for children whose parents are poor, ignorant, and overworked, but for all children.” (Pg. 224) He adds, “The nursery-school, if it became universal, could, in one generation, remove the profound differences in education which at present divide the classes, could produce a population all enjoying the mental and physical development which is now confined to the most fortunate, and could remove the terrible dead-weight of disease and stupidity and malevolence which now makes progress so difficult.” (Pg. 230)

He explains, “I should encourage a habit of intelligent controversy among the older boys and girls, and I should place no obstacles in their way even if they questioned what I regarded as important truths. I should make it my object to teach thinking, not orthodoxy, or even heterodoxy. And I should absolutely never sacrifice intellect to the fancied interest of morals.” (Pg. 287)

Russell’s advice does indeed come from his own experience in running a progressive school [Beacon Hill School] with his second wife Dora Black from 1927-1932. This book amply illustrates a different “side” to Russell’s philosophy, and is still of interest to parents, and those interested in progressive educational methods.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon January 26, 2015
Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872-1970) was an influential British philosopher, logician, mathematician, and political activist. In 1950, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, in recognition of his many books such as A History of Western Philosophy,The Problems of Philosophy,The Philosophy of Logical Atomism,The Analysis of Mind,Our Knowledge of the External World,Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits,Mysticism and Logic, etc.

[NOTE; page numbers below refer to the 319-page paperback edition.]

He wrote in the Introduction to this 1926 book, “The education we desire for our children must depend upon our ideals of human character, and our hopes as to the part they are to play in the community… My aim and purpose, wherever possible, will be to avoid controversial issues… What I have to say is the outcome of perplexities in regard to my own children; it is therefore not remote or theoretical, and may, I hope, help to clarity the thoughts of other parents faced with a like perplexity… I propose… to consider first the aims of education: the kind of individuals, and the kind of community, that we may reasonably hope to see produced by education… I attach great weight to modern psychological discoveries which tend to show that character is determined by early education.. Finally I shall discuss intellectual education, its aims, its curriculum, and its possibilities… to make men and women capable of learning from experience should be one of the aims which early education should keep most prominently in view.”

He praises recent “pedagogical discoveries”: “The fundamental idea is simple: that the right discipline consists, not in external compulsion, but in habits of mind which lead spontaneously to desirable rather than undesirable activities. What is astonishing is the great success in finding technical methods of embodying this idea in education. For this, Madame Montessori deserves the highest praise.” (Pg. 36-37) He adds, “The substation of the driving-force for the rod is one of the great advances of our time.” (Pg. 42)

He states, “I make no distinction whatever between male and female excellence.” (Pg. 60) Later, he adds, “Women in whom love is cramped encourage brutality and hypocrisy in their husbands, and distort the instincts of their children. One generation of fearless women could transform the world, by bringing into it a generation of fearless children… It is education that gives us these bad qualities, and education that must give us the opposite virtues. Education is the key to the new world.” (Pg. 83)

He notes, “It is useless to obtrude moral ideas at an age when they can evoke no response, and at which they are not yet required for the control of behavior. The only effect is boredom, and imperviousness to those same ideas at the later age when they might have become potent. That is one reason… why the study of child-psychology is of such vital importance to education.” (Pg. 131) Later, he argues, “It is a bad thing for intelligence, and ultimately for character, to let instruction be influenced by moral considerations. It should not be thought that some knowledge is harmful and some ignorance is good.” (Pg. 240)

He observes, “the real education in justice can only come where there are other children. This is one of many reasons why no child should long be solitary. Parents who have the misfortune to have an only child should do all that they can to secure companionship for it, even at the cost of a good deal of separation from home, if no other way is possible.” (Pg. 149-150)

He says, “Parents who wish to be loved must behave so as to elicit love, and must try to give to their children those physical and mental characteristics which produce expansive affections.” (Pg. 188) Later, he adds, ”Affection cannot be created; it can only be liberated.” (Pg. 206)

He also asserts, “One other thing is essential in teaching about sex-love. Jealousy must not be regarded as a justifiable insistence upon rights, but as a misfortune to the one who feels it and a wrong toward its object. Where possessive elements intrude upon love, it loses its vivifying power and eats up personality; where they are absent, it fulfills personality and brings a greater intensity to life.” (Pg. 220)

He points out, “I think the arguments in favour of the nursery-school are quite overwhelming---not only for children whose parents are poor, ignorant, and overworked, but for all children.” (Pg. 224) He adds, “The nursery-school, if it became universal, could, in one generation, remove the profound differences in education which at present divide the classes, could produce a population all enjoying the mental and physical development which is now confined to the most fortunate, and could remove the terrible dead-weight of disease and stupidity and malevolence which now makes progress so difficult.” (Pg. 230)

He explains, “I should encourage a habit of intelligent controversy among the older boys and girls, and I should place no obstacles in their way even if they questioned what I regarded as important truths. I should make it my object to teach thinking, not orthodoxy, or even heterodoxy. And I should absolutely never sacrifice intellect to the fancied interest of morals.” (Pg. 287)

Russell’s advice does indeed come from his own experience in running a progressive school [Beacon Hill School] with his second wife Dora Black from 1927-1932. This book amply illustrates a different “side” to Russell’s philosophy, and is still of interest to parents, and those interested in progressive educational methods.
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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.
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