This article was published in the Spring 1996 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Introducing Children to Liberty:
 A Golden Opportunity for a Free Nation's Survival
by Danielle M. Woodrich
Copyright © 1996 by Danielle M. Woodrich

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Pertinence of Parenting in a Free Society
Three Keys to the Only Door
A Plea to Parents:  Limit Your Expectations, Not Your Affections

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In this article I will attempt to provide a strong incentive to raise free children based on libertarian aspirations and principles. Raising free children creates an opportunity for a culture based on liberty to survive and prosper.

I was one of the lucky children raised in the height of the Summerhill era of the early Seventies. Alexander Sutherland Neill was a child psychologist, teacher and founder of the first international school for free-children, Summerhill. He published several books outlining his teaching and childrearing objectives. Each of his books, Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Childrearing, Freedom Not License, The Problem Child, and The Problem Family gained notoriety in the United States by the early 1970s. These books were the parenting guides my mother and father consulted. I consider myself one of the first generation of partially-free-children to reach adulthood. I chuckle as I write this because my childhood is still near. That's one thing about free-children: we have such full, exciting childhoods that we bear no urge to grow up too soon. Now in my mid-twenties, I feel a responsibility to those who were not raised in freedom. I can imagine their frustrations, and hope that they might embrace at least a few of the principles I will discuss; it is for these libertarians and our collective future that I write this article.


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Pertinence of Parenting in a Free Society

Protecting the freedoms belonging to children will naturally perpetuate libertarianism. If we raise them in a liberated way, they will create and procreate with ease. Drafting constitutions, questioning manifestations of authority, defining philosophical and legal absolutes, all worthy endeavors, do not have the longevity and relevance of the singular way in which a free nation might perpetuate itself: raise free-children.

Parenting, more so than economics or politics, creates and maintains the current cultural climate in which people live. The most successful economic or political policies may be lost in a single generation. If we refuse to set ourselves up to fail in one generation, we might consider parenting a necessary topic of discussion. As the nation of armed citizens is nearly impossible to overthrow, so would the nation advance the reverence and successful application of liberty, if it maintains strong and authentic consideration of children.

In an unfettered financial community all policies are enforced only by willful cooperation and still remain subject to trends and markets; this does not seem a stable situation insuring success. Even a perfect economic picture fails to satisfy the developmental needs of our nation's children.

What would libertarians do? Will our charity compensate for archaic parenting across an entire nation? What safeguards do we libertarians willingly accept to prevent the disastrous repercussions the inevitable disintegrated family units produce?

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Three Keys to the Only Door

There are several principles that must be agreed upon in setting strong child rearing foundations as early as possible in a child's life. These principles take the form of simple negotiations between parent and child. The child contributes nothing initially; the contract that benefits the child, the family and the society requires that the parent make the primary investments. Altruism and sacrifice are not new ideas to parents; the trick is to be selfless without causing the child the anguish of suffering a martyr.

The three keys to libertarian parenting are:

A. Children are born inherently good;

B. Children's play is children's purpose;

C. Children should be empowered to set their own agenda for learning.

A. Children Are Born Inherently Good

The practice of religion seems to demand children's presence and participation, but children do not need religion. Original Sin and similar guilt myths start parents and children off on the wrong foot with one another. I do not claim to know how the sickness of a mother's fear and guilt affects her child in utero, nor do I intend to criticize all organized religion. A healthy family can enjoy the tradition and beauty of religion, but we dare not stop with this assertion. We should tell children which components of religion are metaphorical and which are historical. Until the child is psychologically mature enough to recognize the difference, and evaluate whether he or she wants to participate, there is no value in religion's introduction to a child. As parents, we can prevent a great deal of psychological harm by giving the child what he asks for (intellectually and especially, spiritually) and nothing more. Learning is an intensely personal process; we should try to trust the child's appetite when feeding his mind and spirit.

The guilt myths nearly always stem from misinformation about sex and the body. I must clearly state that religion does not have a monopoly on this tragedy. In the 1950s this was true, but in the 1990s it has evolved to a secularized phenomenon. Our family elders, and therefore we ourselves have not sufficiently recovered from the incorrect assumption that anything and everything is not okay about our bodies and minds. In the reverse of this, when we allow children to know no shame, we finally stop punishing them for being born.


B. Children's Play Is Children's Purpose

Children must be left to play until they are finished playing; adults should not interrupt play for casual reasons. Harmful interruptions happen in several ways: (1) physically removing a child from play, (2) verbally devaluing expressions of imagination and (3) mandatory school attendance. To stop a child from playing with unharmful toys or objects before he is through with them interferes with the natural development of the child. Let me explain why I believe this to be true. Adults try to hush and still children when they threaten to overstep boundaries of consideration. This practice is partially acceptable as the child desires some limits to his behavior, so he may feel confident and never fearful to speak or otherwise express himself. Parents sometimes fall short by not extending this consideration to include the children, not merely apply to the children. The adult must first honor the child's need for uninterrupted play; then the child will naturally learn by the parent's sensitive example that he will have to occasionally honor the adults' need for periods of quiet. In a balanced home, no one person's rights are any more important than another's. We have the power and the responsibility to teach by example this valuable lesson.

Parents can err either accidentally or intentionally. Merely the presence of a parent (at times) can bring a child jarringly back from his imaginary games. An example of accidental interference could be a child playing a game with a friend where they are both superheroes. Tearing around the yard, leaping from a tree or a fence, bath towels billowing out behind; these children might well be defending their homes from all that is evil in the world! Then a mother or father interrupts them to return the towels. There is nothing malevolent about the parent wanting the towels to remain intact, but forcing the child to comply with such a wish is to value the towel (for the moment) above the child. Some examples of intentional interference could involve a sibling revealing Santa Claus' identity prematurely, squashing a couch cushion fort while important diplomatic negotiations take place within or even undressing the family pet of its costume as the Lion King.


C. Children Should Be Empowered To Set Their Own Agenda For Learning

Children will learn with voracious appetite about subjects that intrigue them. To impose twelve years of mandatory school suggests that children would not learn of their own volition. Though parents have a responsibility to create an environment where many choices are offered, children will need little prodding and testing. Only guidance, once the interest has been expressed, must be present in abundance. We cannot expect children to emerge from school happy, independent and knowledgeable, if we fail to offer opportunities that do not adequately meet their interests.

This validity is the point of the Ministry of Education's Report of British Government Inspectors in 1949. The subject of the evaluation was A.S. Neill's school, Summerhill. The report glowed with praise about the social aspects of Summerhill, but the low academic evaluation was attributed to the teachers' lack of expertise in the subjects offered and the concurrent limitations of ignorance in the field of child psychology. None of the individual students evaluated were labeled lazy, disruptive or intellectually inadequate, yet the inspectors said,

"To have created a situation in which academic education of the most intelligent kind could flourish is an achievement, but in fact it is not flourishing and a great opportunity is thus being lost. With better teaching at all stages, it might be made to flourish, and an experiment of profound interest be given its full chance to prove itself." To which A.S. Neill replied, referencing the above quoted paragraph verbatim, "That is the only paragraph in which the two inspectors did not rise above their academic preoccupations. Our system flourishes when a child wants an academic education, as our exam results show. Is it not time that we put academic education in its place? Academic education too often tries to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. I wonder what an academic education would have done for some of our Summerhill pupils a dress designer, a hairdresser, a male ballet dancer, some musicians, nurses, mechanics, engineers, artists." There is an inconspicuous yet important facet to this statement. When adults collectively require students' attendance in school, they absolve the individual parents of an important responsibility: the consequences of the lives their children choose to lead once independent of the family. Many parents fear that without formal education the children will never become independent.

When parents set expectations too high, the child responds with feelings of inadequacy. The child learns to seek out the parent's approval rather than reflect on his own satisfaction. It is a tragedy for children that they face adult-size obstacles, insurmountable without completing the cycle of practiced co-dependence. I believe that there exists an illogical fear motivating some parents to behave this way. It is the fear that their children might not respect them. Most encroachments on a child's freedom can be traced to the dynamics mechanized around this fear. Common sense, reason and much discussion may alleviate this problem for parents, and stop the hereditary nature of these handicaps from reappearing in their offspring.

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A Plea to Parents: Limit Your Expectations, Not Your Affections

The abilities to work joyfully and live positively should constitute success in the eyes of parents for their children. A parent attempting to rear free children might remind him or herself daily, "My child is not a tiny adult." Forced obedience serves a child no practical purpose, except flattering an adult ego or providing convenience, again, for an adult. The child's compliance with certain aspects of family life will occur naturally and without snarling temper tantrums if the child is first not a piece of property, second not an indentured servant, and third respected for his own thoughts and opinions.

Humans enjoy investigating many interests throughout their lives. To demand of a child that they master or perfect what currently interests them is to teach the child apathy, frustration and contempt. This is of no value to the child; I see this practice as a punishment for which no child has ever committed a fitting crime. Children flit from one subject to another, or even to no specific subject. Their attention spans are limited to the momentary experience of wonder, the puerile assessment of the unknown, and the possible inquiry for more information. This could take less than a minute with a young child, and may last for years with a much older child.

Childhood is not adulthood. Childhood is a time of play and no child of restricting parents ever gets enough play. Children reared in freedom can tackle any unpleasant duties and do not obsess or resent work; but first it is important that a child be allowed to live through a stage of juvenile flightiness. If this stage is repressed, flightiness may continue into adulthood. For a child, a large amount of fickleness is natural and temporary and in an adult it is not.

Unrealistic expectations and demands serve only to inhibit the child in his natural pursuit of what causes him happiness and satisfaction. Some parents begin their relationship with their children teeming with faith a faith that the child is good and will turn out fine as long as the child is neither spoiled by unreasonable permissiveness, nor squashed by the psychological hang-ups of Mom and Dad. Child rearing requires a somewhat untroubled conscience; this conserves valuable stamina to continue this faith through to the end of adolescence. It is a difficult challenge for parents and all libertarians to not exercise our freedoms without displacing another's, or to allow another's freedoms to displace ours. If we meet the challenge, the reward is we will have raised children in an environment true to this libertarian principle: All family members and all citizens will have equal rights to explore life. D


Danielle Woodrich, from a home base in Buffalo, NY, writes commentary about libertarianism, rock-n-roll culture, and independent films and video. She operates a small film company called Dog Breath Pictures, whose next work will be "Rock-n-Roll Childhood: A Defense from Imaginacide."


Danielle Woodrich can be reached by e-mail at or by regular mail at 64 Kail Street, Buffalo, NY 14207.

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