The attempts of parents to make their children virtuous are generally little else than attempts to keep them in ignorance of vice. They are little else than attempts to teach their children to know and prefer truth by keeping them in ignorance of falsehood. They are little else than attempts to make them seek and appreciate health by keeping them in ignorance of disease and of everything that will cause disease. They are little else than attempts to make their children love the light by keeping them in ignorance of darkness. In short, they are little else than attempts to make their children happy by keeping them in ignorance of everything that causes them unhappiness.
In so far as parents can really aid their children in the latter’s search after happiness, by simply giving them the results of their (the parents’) own reason and experience, it is all very well, and is a natural and appropriate duty. But to practice coercion in matters of which the children are reasonably competent to judge for themselves is only an attempt to keep them in ignorance.
And this is as much a tyranny, and as much a violation of the children’s right to acquire knowledge for themselves, and such knowledge as they desire, as is the same coercion when practiced upon older persons. Such coercion, practiced upon children, is a denial of their right to develop the faculties that Nature has given them, and to be what Nature designs them to be. It is a denial of their right to themselves, and to the use of their own powers. It is a denial of their right to acquire the most valuable of all knowledge, to wit, the knowledge that Nature, the great teacher, stands ready to impart to them.
The results of such coercion are not to make the children wise or virtuous, but to make them ignorant, and consequently weak and vicious — and to perpetuate through them, from age to age, the ignorance, the superstitions, the vices, and the crimes of the parents. This is proved by every page of the world’s history.
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