L. Neil Smith 
Date: 0000-00-00
Subject: Raising Generation Next

I was 43 years old when I became a father. My wife Cathy was in
her 30s. After trying for almost a decade, we had more or less given
up on becoming parents. But one thing we had discussed frequently was
that, if it should somehow, someday happen, we didn't want to raise a
That was our private code-word for the unfortunate children (as we
saw them) of parents who carried them around under one arm, as if they
were nothing more than a big, heavy, insensate burden they were stuck
with, parents who seldom, if ever, interacted with their infant as if
he or she were another human being, children who, until they were
finally able to assert themselves in some -- possibly unpleasant and
destructive -- manner, were condemned, at best, to perpetual third
Or to non-personhood.
I recalled somebody telling me once -- it may have been the great
philosopher and lecturer Robert LeFevre -- that the two hardest
lessons to absorb in life, lessons many people, possibly a majority,
never manage to absorb, are, first, to learn from the mistakes of
others (it's difficult, as it is, to do that with one's own mistakes),
and second, that those others are not simply images on your internal
TV screen, but are every bit, in every way, thoroughly as real as you
Teach the first lesson successfully, and you can create a decent
civilization. Just as a single example, our military would not be in
Afghanistan right now, if America's leaders had been able to learn
from the mistakes of the British Empire and the Soviet Union. Teach
the second lesson successfully, and you can create a decent human
Having striven all of our adult lives -- with damn few signs of
success -- to achieve the first goal, it made sense to us, once we
knew we would be parents, to start over and attempt to achieve the
Other people are real.
We began, as I'm told prospective parents still do today, before
our daughter was even born (we knew fairly early that she was female,
thanks some medically-necessary ultrasound) by talking to her through
a length of heavy cardboard mailing tube. "Rylla Cathryn Smith," I
would intone, "this is your daddy speaking, and I love you." (We had
named her after an H. Beam Piper character with whom we hoped she'd share some qualities; we have not been disappointed.) I went on saying it (without the tube) as she grew older, and still say it now and again today. There's no way of telling if it had any genuine effect, but it kept the grownups amused.
Before she was born, it was sometimes visible when she poked at her confines from the inside. We poked back, gently. She seemed to reply, and this could go on for several minutes. As I recall, we played music to her with a pair of pillow speakers originally invented to be worn around the neck.
To avoid the watermelon syndrome, almost from the instant Rylla was
born, we began following a practice we had agreed on, never to speak
to our daughter, or look at her closely, or touch her, without doing
it long enough, and intently enough, to elicit a response, i.e., to
get her to return attention for attention. If I were to point to one
thing that I believe made her what she is today, 23 years later, it is
I have never believed that there are any great differences in the
"native" intelligence -- whatever capacity we are born with -- of
healthy human beings, but that the differences we observe in children
and adults are the result of patterns of greater or lesser suppression
of that intelligence by parents, other family members, schools, media,
religion, and the government. We wanted to eliminate as much of that
suppression as we could, so our daughter could operate at her full
On only the third day of her life, we took our newborn baby to a
favorite restaurant to show her off to the hostess we were friends
with. From then on, we took her everywhere with us. We hadn't had her
to fob off on somebody else. (When she was a little bit older, Grandma
took her a couple of days a week so I could write books, which gave
her other fields to explore, and, I believe, prolonged my mother's
life after my father died.) We both felt extremely fortunate that she
had come into the world at all, with the correct number of fingers and
toes and everything, and we were determined to enjoy every minute of
We enjoy eating out, and the staff at several of our favorite
places were always happy to see us coming, because of Rylla's even
temperament and the manners she seemed to be learning painlessly. Not
very long afterward, she was expressing disdain of her own for kids
who spilled things, threw food around, or wailed and screamed in
For a while, we simply didn't go anyplace where babies didn't fit
or weren't welcome. At the same time, we never censored anything she
saw or heard. If she was with us, she saw and heard whatever we saw
and heard. Later on, she read and watched whatever she wished to read
and watch. By the time she was 13, her favorite author was Oscar
We had agreed that there would be no baby talk in her life -- how
could she be expected to learn to express herself adequately if she
were brought up on anti-language? -- and that we would never lie to
her. She knew from the earliest possible moment that there is no Santa
Claus: not only is Santa Claus a cruel lie, not only does the lie
obscure an all-important fact, that people work for what they have and
for what they give others, we were determined to bring our child up
religion-free, and Santa Claus is little more than God with training
Your mileage, of course, may vary. We also taught her never to
spoil Santa Claus for other kids her age, and be as tolerant as she
In my teens, I'd seen an animal act on the Ed Sullivan Show (look
it up) in which dogs had been trained to perform tricks you wouldn't
expect chimpanzees or young children to be capable of. In a magazine
article about the trainer, he revealed his "secret": he always spoke
to his dogs in complete sentences, rather than in the single-word
commands other trainers and the American Kennel Club insist on. He
didn't know why it worked (neither do I), but following his advice, I
found that it works on some other animals as well, which is why my
wife calls me the "Cat Whisperer". I've been "outstubborning" them for
years. They do what I ask them to, and "herding" them is no problem at
I figured young humans deserve the same courtesy, not so much with
the idea of obedience in mind, as with their being able to communicate
adequately. Our daughter could speak -- and write -- articulately at
an age that many individuals found startling, and we took to calling
her our little "abomination" because (like Saint Alia of the Knife in
Frank Herbert's novel  _Dune_) she possessed a shockingly adult way of
looking at and appreciating the world. Given the character of history
and human nature, it probably hasn't made her happier than she might
otherwise have been, but it is usually better to know, than not to
What else? Well, once punishment was over, it was over. No grudges
or recriminations on either side, just hugs and plenty of positive
attention. She didn't require more than one or two formal, sit-down
spankings (following Heinlein's advice on communicating non-verbally
when verbal communication fails) and that was probably too many. When
you're a new parent, you find yourself unconsciously following the
model your own parents established, so she got the occasional swat
until, one day, at age four or five, she said to me, "Don't hit me any
And I didn't.
I had often reminded her that I was new at this daddy business,
I'd never done anything like it before, and she hadn't come with an
instruction manual. It's difficult to deliberately teach your adoring
child that you are fallible, but she's going to learn it on her own,
anyway, sooner or later, so it might as well come from you, the first
One reason it was necessary: we didn't want her to believe in, or
be impressed with, any form of authority. (We wanted her to respect
achievement, but that's a very different proposition.) Just as early
as we could, we had taught her about self-ownership, that she was the
sole proprietor of her life and of all the products of that life, for
good or ill: gold coins and chimney smoke, knitted socks and sewage, freedom and responsibility both established in a single concept.
That was something the public schools were never going to teach
her. Given the chance, in fact, they, the government, and the media,
would have had her believing just the opposite. Because of that, and
because we wanted her to be able to read and write and think -- every
bit of it critically, and without regard to the source -- with only
trivial exceptions, she never set foot in the public schools. Nor did
we any solicit any bureaucrat's permission to educate her at home, by
I first took Rylla shooting at the age of two and a half.  She sat
on my lap at the bench with her hands wrapped around the grip of her little Ruger BearCat, loaded with .22 Short, with my left index finger in the trigger guard until she had the sights lined up. (I had taught her to do this at home, using sight-shaped scraps on a felt-board.) When I withdrew my finger, she would squeeze the trigger and fire the weapon. Today, by self-description, she isn't really a "gun person", but she can handle a .38 and a .45 to good effect, and has fired a .44 Magnum.
As soon as she had learned to read (which she was doing at the
college level by the time she was about eight) she was pretty much
self-educating. The only thing she needed some help with, to pass the G.E.D. when it came time, was mathematics, not her mother's or my long suit.
To our enormous delight, Rylla wanted to work as soon as possible,
and somehow managed to survive two long years before she was allowed
to serve in the snack bar at the local ice rink. That job taught her a
great many important things: that government is theft, that customers
can often be idiots, and that bosses can be arbitrary and hopelessly
stupid. Today, her work-ethic has given her close to a 4-point in
school (she graduated _magna cum laude_ from community college and
continues at the state university), and a quality of perfectionism --
she's a singer, writer, actor, and stand-out musical comedy performer
-- when it comes to her craft. When she was little, she said she hated
history; now she understands it's the key to everything -- and her
In the end, of course, it's comple­­­­­tely impossible to say what
caused what in our daughter's upbringing and personality. People are
vastly too complicated for that kind of analysis. Suffice it to say
some things that we did do, some things that we didn't do, and some
things that we had nothing whatever to do with, produced a kindly,
generous, loving spirit who can take care of herself physically and
intellectually. None of the three of us failed to make mistakes, but
we tried to make new mistakes, rather than same old ones, over and
I enjoyed my daughter's childhood more than I've enjoyed any other
period of my life, and I often and deeply regret that it's over. But,
if you accept, from the very outset of a new human being's life, the
proposition that the proper goal of raising and educating a child is
to produce an autonomous adult, and if you take that task seriously --
or even if you don't -- there is no rational alternative. They grow
For a parent, childhood is all too short. But we can see the
consequences all around us of attempting to lock human beings into
perpetual childhood. One article after another complains about an
"entitlement mentality" common among young people (although they have
no monopoly on it). Popular forms of entertainment seem to demand
less and less intellectual contribution from the minds that are being
Grade and high schools are no more than daycare centers dedicated
to producing unquestioning zombies -- completely ignorant of history
or economics, incapable of independent analysis and reflection -- for
an increasingly fascistic government. Universities have devolved into
an extension of high school by other means, boot-camps for a barbarous
Political leftovers from a time when unions had higher membership,
greater power, and a credibility and respectability they don't possess
today -- items like child labor and minimum wage -- make it difficult
and complicated to get entry-level jobs anywhere but with enormous,
dictatorial corporations that further distort the human maturation
But as individuals, we have done what we could to equip the new
human being we brought into the world to make it through the "Crazy
Years" as well as we can, ourselves. And, I say hopefully, maybe even
L. Neil Smith is the award-winning author of 33 freedom-oriented books, including The Probability Broach, Ceres, Sweeter Than Wine, and  DOWN WITH POWER: Libertarian Policy In A Time Of Crisis.Visit his webpage at LNeilSmith.Org