Preparing your child for the coming anarchy

Cover of Last autumn I read the scifi classic Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Well, I listened to the audiobook which features an amazing ensemble cast of narrators. Highly recommended.

Ender’s Game is a story about taking extremely young, extremely intelligent children and training them to be military geniuses. The training takes place in a highly controlled, highly sterile environment called “Battle School”, a military academy/space station which floats in the orbit of the Earth. Card based the book on his brother’s experience training for the Viet Nam war. The book has some interesting things to say about strategy, and even ruminates on the “strategic corporal” a full 12 years before Krulak’s famous speech. The book is even on the “Marine Corps Reading List”:

While listening to the book I began to think about my own experience growing up, and my child’s future education. I “discovered” international politics at the relatively late age of 21. While growing up in small town Canada, politics was never a dinner table discussion topic. Only one of my parents graduated highschool. In my own children I hope to instill an awareness of international politics and economics, and a wonder of science. Is this wishful thinking? Children grow up with their own personalities and interests. In fact, finding out who your child will be is one of the joys of parenthood. The last thing I want to do is force my own thoughts and opinions on my impressionable children. On the other hand, I think all parents look forward to having some common interests with their children.

My child is too young to be reading The Economist just yet, but I am already thinking about how I can introduce her to these various topics and spark her curiosity. My questions for you all are: What kind of activities influenced your interest in international politics growing up? And, for those with children, how have you dealt with these topics with your own kids? I look forward to reading your replies.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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42 Responses to Preparing your child for the coming anarchy

  1. Better you should find out what talents your child has and find ways to develop them. If they are interested in what you are, consider yourself lucky. Anyway, that’s the perspective of a 71 year old father of 3.

  2. Joe Jones says:

    This is a great discussion starter.

    Looking back, I think what started my wheels turning was maps. Lots and lots of maps. I had a big world map jigsaw puzzle which was one of my favorites when I was in kindergarten or so, and I basically stole my dad’s world atlas as my own.

    Then I amassed a collection of children’s books from the height of the Cold War, which my mother bought for me for next to nothing at library discard sales. Among them, my favorite was a mid-50′s book on the Strategic Air Command, full of photos of B-37s, ballistic missiles and analog command centers with giant whiteboard maps and shrimp boats. When I was six or seven, that seemed like the coolest thing in the world.

    I also had a well-illustrated book on the UN from 1960 or so, back when it included three Soviet republics but not Germany or Italy. Frighteningly enough, I visited the UN headquarters last month, and the inside still looks exactly like it did in that book, i.e. like the set of “Mad Men.”

    Throughout my youth, I released a lot of energy on reading about world history, and went through spells of fascination with strategy gaming, military fiction, military flight sims, Deep Space Nine and all sorts of tangentially IR-related geekery. Later in high school, I was able to start taking international relations classes, and that segued into my university degree. I was initially shooting to become a military intelligence officer, like the beret-wearing Dr. Strangelove control room guys in my SAC book, but after some bureaucratic snafus and soul-searching I ended up becoming an international finance specialist instead.

  3. Thomas says:

    I’m a dual citizen that was raised on two continents. My interest in international issues emerged because it was relevant to my family. I doubt most American children have such perspective, though.

  4. PurpleSlog says:

    I pretty much read all of the youth-oriented history and biography books in my grade school library. My dad also had a great book – a historical atlas.

    So, the first influence was reading history and seeing change over time.

    The second thing was reading science fiction at a young age (and watching classic Star Trek in re-runs) thus getting a future orientation. The grade school librarian had the all of Heinlein juvenile novels which were a future oriented science fiction with political themes as well.

  5. M-Bone says:

    I went from Greek myths to history.

    I was also really obsessed with a few fantasy worlds when I was 7-10. I think that this kind of thing can help a lot later – if you memorize everything there is to know about the geography and politics of Middle Earth and get so involved that you start to wonder about the way the economy works, etc. it is pretty easy to switch from that or Star Wars or whatever to the real world later….

    I didn’t get a foundation in politics until I was maybe 17 or 18 (I’m not sure that you need to think very much about politics when you are 10, you can start late and do fine) but I read a lot of “cultures of the world” types of books which gave me a great foundation.

    Like Joe I also learned a lot from gaming – or at least learned which points to read up on later.

    I also think that simply having a lot of books around and the mystery of “Daddy’s Books” will promote curiosity.

  6. SEEROV says:

    Make sure to expose your children to lots of maps. In fact, there should be a world map in every child’s bedroom.

  7. M-Bone says:

    I haven’t thought about this in ages but the wallpaper in my bedroom was a giant world map. It works.

    Also – Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego was great for flags, money, etc. (I’m talking the old CGA version).

  8. Adrian says:

    I loved maps as a kid. I also loved reading, including Ender’s Game and the rest of the books in that series. Also reading the Asterix & Obelix series may have gotten me interested in history, who knows! But I enjoyed them.

  9. will says:

    Just yesterday I was talking with a friend about this. My interest started with maps, ancient history, and a father in the USAF MAC who was going and coming from far off places. He also watched a fair amount of the Mcneil Lehrer News Hour which I absorbed some as well.
    I think to be prepared for the future you have to provide some guidance to your kids. Let them be their own person and go in their own direction. But some thoughtful guidance can’t hurt either. The world is changing and if you want to be ready…you need to keep some perspective and fill up on some basics.

  10. will says:

    …we also played Risk, Chess, and Stratego.

  11. ElamBend says:

    When I was really young (under 7) my mom had a set of world book encylopedia from the late 50s early 60s. They were hers when she was younger and she never saw fit to throw them out. I looked through every one of those several times. Although some of the stuff was dated, much was not.

    Like Curzon I came from a small town. I believe these were the introduction to the wider world. What made them great was, unlike say google you never knew what you were going to discover as you paged through. They allowed for undirected discovery, limited only by the particular volume picked up.

  12. ElamBend says:

    Sorry, like YH.

  13. Eddie says:

    My parents were both in the active duty Army and after the Cold War ended the Army Reserve, so I grew curious because of where they were being deployed to for training or where they could possibly be sent to (Panama, Desert Storm, Somalia, Bosnia). My mom would quiz me on “Geography Bee” type questions whenever we would be on a long drive, out of boredom and joy at watching me almost keep up with my dad at dinner later on.

    Watching the news with them also was an opportunity/motivator for me to learn more. I tried to understand why they were frustrated with the war in Bosnia.. what caused it and who was fighting? Why did the world let the Hutus replicate Hitler’s actions and exterminate the Tutsis? Where the heck is Rwanda anyway and what exactly was colonialism?

    My father was not a very personable figure when I was a child. He did not usually talk much to me about school, sports or anything else I was interested in. However, he was always willing to talk to me about my “why” questions: what causes the weather patterns to change, why do Somali tribes not want American interference, how does a helicopter function?

  14. I agree about having a world map up. Tell the kids where things are happening.

    My oldest is 14, and I have four others. I have found that each child gets interested in things for reasons that are not obvious and may be genetic and individual to each one. I also think that pushing things on a kid because they interest you is counterproductive. So, the ideas here seem to be (1) talk about the stuff that interests you, and if the kid responds, great, if not, so be it, and (2) be alert to what the kid is interested in, and support that and direct it in ways that you think will be good, to the extent you can, and (3) don’t push your own stuff too hard.

  15. M-Bone says:

    These points about how much you want to “force” your kids are important, I think.

    I’d say a certain amount of going with the flow is necessary as you can’t predict what will be important later. My parents tried to get me out of “fantasy” in the wake of the D&D satanism scare in the 80s but it turned out to have more connection with my eventual job than, say, calculus.

    However, I think that you should consider “nudging” your kids toward the broad learning direction. Want a video game? Wait until Christmas. Want a book? Here’s $20.

    Also, bribes – want a video game? Pass my map test.

  16. She’s already got a leg up given her parents multi-ethnic/cultural origins. I suspect she’ll spend her youth traveling at least to and from Canada and will likely be bilingual. That, in and of itself, will instill a sense of “worldliness” most of her peers won’t have privilege to and by the time she reaches the intellectual maturity where she can comprehend geo-politics, philosophy, etc. she’ll have a rich background to draw from.

    That aside, one of the few things I’d “push” unto a child is the ability to read. The sooner the better. The ability to comprehend the written word is, I believe, the first and paramount window through which we view our world. Most people I know who “aren’t really into books” have a very challenged understanding of most everything that goes on around them.

  17. geographylady says:

    maps everywhere.
    family dinnertime nightly with lots of talk. talk between parents will be over the head of very young kids, but as they get older, they will be able to follow and join in the more complex discussions. they will at least learn where places are and why they matter, even if that’s not their particular interest (which they can also discuss at the table).

  18. “That aside, one of the few things I’d “push” unto a child is the ability to read. The sooner the better.”


    I sat down with my kids early with flash cards I made and taught them phonics.

    My oldest three read well, and #4 is still young and will get it soon enough. The youngest kid is about ready for the cards.

    Also, there are a ton of books in the house and both parents read all the time. So the kids do pick up on that.

    Children do what they see the parents doing, and not what the parents tell them to do.

  19. Younghusband says:

    Thanks for the great input everyone. I would like to comment on each and every one, but I’ll just stick to the consensus: reading, maps, and Carmen Sandiego.

    As MF noted, my kids will be half Japanese, so will have a leg-up on multicultural issues. However, this does not mean they will be engaged citizens.

    When I grew up I always had an interest in foreign cultures. My grandfather gave me a subscription to National Geographic every year. My dream was to work for them as a photographer (still kinda my dream job now, come to think of it). I had a big world map hanging in my room, and in 6th grade became obsessed with Australia (musta been all the Crocodile Dundee movies). When I was 16 I travelled to (pre-handover) Hong Kong and Thailand. I applied for international exchange when I was 17 (and was offered a spot in Croatia, which was in the middle of a war, so I ended up not going).

    However, it wasn’t until the past few years when guys like Aristotle, Hobbes, Voltaire, Hume et al. rocked my world and really challenged my worldview. I had lots of cultural knowledge, but no political knowledge.

    Like I said in my post, I don’t want to “force” anything. Supporting your kid’s talents, whatever they are, is a parental obligation. However, I think parents do have a duty to teach their children to become engaged in their world politically. Even if they do not grow up to be Mackinder, they should at least be able to participate in the political system in an informed way. Lord only knows they won’t learn that in school.

    Challenging kids to ask “why” and asking them how they would change things is a good way to prepare them to think seriously about political problems they will encounter in the future. Showing them relationships between the food on our table and the shipping lanes on a map, or the gas in the car and the pipelines criss-crossing the Middle East might get them curious to know more about how our society works. Let them use their imagination to build hypotheses, and then investigate problems together. Great bonding and I am sure I would learn a thing or two following the curiosity of a child.

    I don’t know if this is realistic, but I hope in some little way I can look forward to experiences like this.

  20. I’d recommend keeping your child far away from Orson Scott Card. The man’s a raving homophobe who advocates armed rebellion against the US government due to them allowing gay marriage in a few states. No, I’m not making this up. The guy’s a total wackaloon.

  21. Younghusband says:

    @Chris, I know! I couldn’t believe it. After reading Ender I was like “This book is great! Who is the authour?” and turns out he is a hardcore Mormon religious nutbar. I almost regret looking it up because now I find it hard to enjoy his other writing.

  22. Yeah, one of my gay friends really loved Endger’s Game when he was a kid. Said it was one of the best books he ever read. Then he read an article on my website (kindly titled “Orson Scott Card is a Motherf*cking Bigot”… no * on my blog, but I want to be clean over here), and now is very disapointed that he can no longer properly enjoy the book.

  23. Oh, sorry for logging another comment, but if you want to get your kid interested in geography and the shape of the world in a literal sense, you might want to do what I did when I was a kid.

    I loved collecting coins from other nations. When I got a new one, I’d open up our National Geographic Atlas of the World and essentially play “pin-the-coin-on-the-country”. Sometimes when I felt really bored, I’d place each coin on the correct country and sit back and look at my handiwork. I was a sad, lonely child, but to this day I can find almost any country on a globe in 30 seconds or less (hint: if I don’t know instantly where it is, I start with Africa).

  24. M-Bone says:

    I used to be a big fan of Lovecraft’s stories. Creeped me out. Now, I think that the creepiest thing is Lovecraft himself -

    “The mass of contemporary Jews are hopeless as far as America is concerned. They are the product of alien blood, & inherit alien ideals, impulses, & emotions which forever preclude the possibility of wholesale assimilation… On our side there is a shuddering physical repugnance to most Semitic types…so that wherever the Wandering Jew wanders, he will have to content himself with his own society till he disappears or is killed off in some sudden outburst of mad physical loathing on our part. I’ve easily felt able to slaughter a score or two when jammed in a N.Y. subway train.”

    Sometimes, there is just no going back to the books that you used to love.

  25. “I almost regret looking it up because now I find it hard to enjoy his other writing.”

    “Sometimes, there is just no going back to the books that you used to love.”

    An artist’s work, his art, is what matters. All the other stuff that he does is irrelevant. Judging Card or Lovecraft for their political views is like saying that a brilliant brain surgeon’s work is diminished because he cannot make a good ham sandwich. Futher, artists are often weird, out of step people.

    The artist’s biography is way over-rated. Ignore it if you want.

    Pretend the books fell out of the sky.

  26. feeblemind says:

    If the Coming Anarchy comes to pass, perhaps what your daughter will need is a strong husband more than an understanding of the progression of events?

  27. Younghusband says:

    @Lex Art for art’s sake is one thing, but any critical assessment of literature must take account of an artist’s background and worldview. Obviously, some background is more relevant. To take your example, I would have no problem with a ham-sandwich challenged surgeon, but would have a BIG problem if he thought there was an afterlife and any final responsibility or “judgement” of his scalpel-hand laid with his imaginary friend in the sky.

    @feeblemind: I don’t understand where you are coming from.

  28. Younghusband says:

    Let me qualify my previous statement about the brain surgeon, I think it came off a little too broad. Whether or not the surgeon’s background is religious or not doesn’t matter. What would cause me concern is if his previous record wasn’t sterling, and he tried to console me before an operation by telling me that everything will be all right because Jeebus loves me. That, in my opinion, would make his background relevant.

    I think some of Card’s later works, those dealing with Ender’s guilt, reflect this point of view.

  29. M-Bone says:

    “Lovecraft for their political views is like saying that a brilliant brain surgeon’s work is diminished because he cannot make a good ham sandwich.”

    Different with Lovecraft. Many of his works have clearly racist descriptions of Africans, anti-interracial marriage themes, etc. Also, when you know that he is paranoid about “ghastly” foreigners polluting pure American blood, you have little choice but to read his stories about creeping demons from across the sea, the stars, or dark conclaves of “alien (foreign in this case) filth” kidnapping American children, much differently. It might be different with Card, but with Lovecraft, it is in the work and the biography just makes it more obvious.

  30. Younghusband says:

    I would just like to add: I don’t expect my kids to do this type of critical analysis on the books they read as children. They can enjoy the stories simply as stories. As long as their imaginations are being fired up I am happy. However, I do look forward to the first time my kid asks: “Why did the authour write this?”

  31. “… any critical assessment of literature must take account of an artist’s background and worldview.”

    I don’t agree. The work can be assessed as it is, without any reference to the author, who he is, where he came from, or what he claimed to be doing. Often I see elaborate works of biography of authors, which is not bad, but most of us would be better off reading their books.

    Do you really thing a surgeon who was, say, a practicing Catholic would do a worse job, or be less likely to try to keep you alive, than an atheist?

  32. Younghusband says:

    Do you really think a surgeon who was, say, a practicing Catholic would do a worse job, or be less likely to try to keep you alive, than an atheist?

    That is not at all what I am saying. I am talking about when it is appropriate to examine the background of the “artist” doing the work. In the case of the surgeon, if he is doing a good job, no problems. If he has a string of bad cases we are bound to ask “Why?” If I find out that he is a recently converted Buddhist and believes whole-heartedly in reincarnation, I might surmise that he doesn’t take his job in this life seriously enough. I know that sounds like a stretch. I am just trying to use the metaphor that we established earlier. There are millions of Catholic medical practitioners doing a great job in the US today. That I would not, and could not, deny. That said, there are many cases of religious worldview interfering with medical practice. The recent case of the Oregon couple who relied on prayer instead of medical care comes to mind. This is why the case of Francis Collins is so worrisome. I think many scientists thought that the “Gog and Magog” years of Bush were behind them, then this guy comes around.

    Anyways, back to your comment “The work can be assessed as it is, without any reference to the author.” On this sparse level, you are absolutely right. A work should stand on its own, and work on its own internal logic. But not all novels are “Lord of the Rings”. To analyse shortcomings we must go beyond the text. I think that is the point where we look to background, intellectual and political environment, etc: when there seems to be a leap of logic that does not make sense based on the text alone.

  33. Not sure what your reference to the Lord of the Rings means. If any book needed the biography of the author and a study of its influences, it is LOTR.

    The idea that the focus should be on the text is not some knuckle-dragging view. Cleanth Brooks and the new critics took this view, as did, in a different way, Leo Strauss and his followers, and in yet a different way, certain postmodernists (whom I only know indirectly) who treated the text almost as a found object and claimed (I think rightly) that the author’s statement of what he was doing or trying to do in a particular writing is entitled to know special privilege. What he wrote is what is on the page and either successfully speaks for itself or it does not — at least in the case of artistic literature that has no ulterior object beyond artistic gratification.

    The value of this approach is that the reader does put himself in a false, presumptuous stance of thinking that he knows better than the author what the author wanted to say. Take the book seriously as it is. The personal psychology of the author is a distraction and in any case can never really be known, whereas every word and comma and space and paragraph indentation of the book is fixed and known and shared.

    An over-focus on the author’s political views, sexual orientation, favorite kind of ice cream, etc. Is less useful to understanding the book than reading the book, and if it is good, reading it again carefully.

    Lovecraft could have been a fascist, a communist, a drag queen, a successful insurance executive, or a war hero, and we may learn the odd new, stray fact about him personally — but “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” is immutably the same, whoever and whatever the author was.

    I would say “to analyze shortcomings” we look at the text and say, based on aesthetic judgment, that it is or is not well executed; or based on moral criteria, that it does or does not depict something in an offensive way, or make an argument whose ethical thrust we disagree with. Possessing these criteria is in a sense “going beyond the text”, I suppose. Again, the milieu of the writer may be of interest, much less so his specific biographical details.

    All that said, a “fannish” devotion to a writer’s works usually leads to a fascination with his personality and biography, though it is usually a let-down, since most fiction writers spend their time writing, which is boring to read about.

    But, this question of how to approach a book is all a matter of personal style, I suppose.

  34. M-Bone says:

    “Lovecraft could have been a fascist, a communist, a drag queen, a successful insurance executive, or a war hero, and we may learn the odd new, stray fact about him personally — but “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” is immutably the same, whoever and whatever the author was. ”

    I don’t agree. If Hitler had gone on to become a famous stand up comic and advocate for harmonious race relations, we would read Mein Kampf as parody, no? On a similar level, if Anne Frank had survived the war, would her diary really mean as much to readers? Could it possibly? Some works gain their aesthetic interest because of how they fit with an author’s biography.

    While the “nothing outside the text” readings are valid as literary criticism, I’m a historian and tend to approach works of literature as both aesthetic and historical documents and according to the mainstream of humanities empiricism/pragmatism/positivism, text and context have to be considered together. I think that this is the way that most readers approach literature – assuming that we get something of what critic Umberto Eco called “the empirical author” meant when writing.

    “word and comma and space and paragraph indentation of the book is fixed and known and shared. ”

    But the meanings of metaphors and themes are by no means shared or fixed. In addition, the “nothing beyond the text” style of criticism also denies the idea of words possessing authentic shared meanings, negating, in effect, the idea that the words of the text have verifiable meanings (or signifier / signified relations) outside of the text either. Is the “intent” of a work / author knowable? No, on a philosophical level it is not something that is objectively empirically verifiable. Can we get some insight into meanings at the time that the work was written? I believe that we can and that this can be an important experience.

  35. Dan Patrick says:

    Check out “The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible: A Free-market Odyssey”.

    I have a 4 year old son that is a bundle of fun. I agree with those that say to pay attention to your child’s interests and help foster them. Take them to museums. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Show them things. Teach them to be aware of their environment. Travel with them. Speak to them like an adult. Answer their questions thoroughly even when they’ve asked “why?” for the 10th time. Teach them to think critically and logically. I believe that logical consistency leads to these views.

  36. Younghusband says:

    @Lex: The LOTR reference was a joke.

    @M-BONE: I am cut from the same historical cloth as you.

    This is a really interesting discussion, but I would like to thank Dan Patrick for reminding us what this particular thread is about. I think I should give this discussion some more prominence so others may participate. Look for a post soon.

  37. M-Bone, Lovecraft, unlike Hitler, never killed anybody. Mein Kampf is a political tract meant to have a political impact. Mein Kampf, unlike “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, makes no sense divorced from purpose and context.

    That is a totally different question from “understanding” a work of fiction.

    I do not say “do not read biography of authors and pay no attention to context.” I disagree with the comment that it is necessary to do these things with regard to literature. I go further and say that a lot of time and energy is expended on matters that are ancillary to the literature and do not do much to illuminate the value and impact of the literature.

    So, I still say that if we knew nothing about Lovecraft’s biography and private views, his stories would have the same merit they do on their own terms. Further, the fact that the man had bigoted views, not uncommon in his day either, does nothing to diminish the value of his writing now. The same is true of Dostoevsky and Joseph Conrad and Isak Dinesen and Flannery O’Connor and any other fiction writer whose work has artistic merit but whose moral or religious or political views are at odds with current, poliically correct orthodoxy.

    So, to bring this back to the point of the post, when your child is old enough to like H.P. Lovecraft — age 12 or so — go ahead and let him read it if he wants to.

    Looking forward to Younghusband’s post.

  38. Bill Starr says:

    I wish that someone had exposed me to Austrian economics earlier, so I could have started pursuing my current passion sooner.

    Bill Starr
    Columbus, Indiana, USA
    Sat, 29 Aug 2009, 9:28 am EDT

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  40. Younghusband says:

    For Lex and M-BONE and any others interested, I have moved the discussion of artists and background to the following post:

    Does ideology matter in art?

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