Everyone has an opinion about what children should be taught, but we don’t give proper thought to what civilizational keys they should not be handed too soon. Our inability to teach children things in their proper order is arguably one reason we’re watching our cities burn.
You can’t really understand a city, or even a house, if you don’t understand doorstops. My own house, I’m embarrassed to admit, came without them. This is a problem, because I have three-year-old twins who can’t be troubled with the niceties of civilized door-opening. They launch their whole bodies into the endeavor, like Tolkien’s dwarves forcing the entrance to the treasure room.
The resulting damage isn’t just to my nerves, but to our walls. Ours is an old house that we gutted and remodeled. My wife selected doorknobs that could have served as battering-ram caps during the Bronze Age. After several walls acquired divots aspiring to craterdom, I found myself in the market for doorstops.
Have you ever installed a doorstop? I hadn’t. I thought houses came with them. Like, that it was part of the building code. This was like buying a car and discovering you have to install the bumpers yourself. Thankfully, our nearest big-box hardware store has an entire doorstop section, full of variegated designs and colors. My free-market friends call this a feature of capitalism, and my leftie friends call it a bug. Something in my gut tells me it’s both.
I settled on a model that appeared like it, too, could have been integral to a Viking siege engine, and took a dozen home. The installation was surprisingly easy; you just screw a metallic circle to the baseboard and attach the doorstop. The most challenging part was my twins, who think anything involving my toolbox is a communal activity. After the first doorstop was in, I demonstrated its purpose by slowly opening the door. I pointed to the divot where the doorknob had been assaulting the wall. I pointed again to the doorstop. “See? It keeps us from breaking the wall.” They nodded.
Knowledge, like food, is good — but not all at once, and only with an admixture of judgment and duty.
Inspired by their teachability, I deputized them for my work crew. We traversed the house, installing doorstops and thereby extending little bits of civilization. When the last doorstop was in, they looked up at me in what I took for awe. Papa has saved the walls.
The thing about showing a child how to assemble something is that you’re also showing him how to disassemble it. This is, I believe, where our universities went dreadfully wrong. Willmoore Kendall defined the modern American barbarian as someone who desires “to live off our Civilization and benefit from the commitments it imposes upon others, but not live within them.” The thing about this barbarian is that if you want to usher him through your gates and give him a shot at citizenship, you don’t show him how the locks work until he salutes your flag, plants a garden, and learns your catechism. Likewise do you not give college students Zinn before Tocqueville, Derrida before Aristotle.
And you certainly don’t show a three-year-old how to dismantle a doorstop. Later that day, I heard the crash of doorknob against wall. I stormed down the hallway to discover the doorstop had gone missing. But not just the one, you see. All of them.
Readers raised on one of those dour strains of religion in which man is incurably twisted from the moment he leaves the womb already know what happened. I gave the little beasts a tour of my kingdom, and they repaid me by opening the gates for the Huns.
And do you want to know the worst part? They hid them.
Anyone in favor of beating children — and, believe me, I know there’s much to recommend your position — has an immediate solution: tie them to their toddler chairs and slap them with a wet sock until they give up the stash. But the thing is, they don’t know where the doorstops are, either. They hid them so well even they can’t find them. I know this because we embarked on an exhaustive search of the house, walking through every doorway, past every caving stretch of wall, searching in drawers and behind furniture, under beds, under pillows, in toy bins, even the toilets.
Sweet God, the toilets. Do you think they could have? Would have? My wife says I should check the septic tank to find out for sure. I pride myself on a willingness to choose facts over ideology and self-delusion, but I suppose I’ve plumbed my depth. There are some truths too painful to confront.
Thanks to my children, I finally understand why God warned Adam and Eve away from the tree. Knowledge, like food, is good — but not all at once, and only with an admixture of judgment and duty. So now, watching people tear down their own cities while many more nod approval, I think we are reaping the whirlwind of a backwards civilizational education. Somewhere along the line, we started favoring knowledge over wisdom. We equipped men to kneel on a neck but not to feel compassion. We taught young people they have a right to grievances but no corresponding obligations to their communities. No wonder our country is burning.
Tony Woodlief is a writer who lives with his family outside a small town in North Carolina. When he’s not gardening or fixing something his children have broken, he can be found on Twitter, at his blog, and at his project devoted to helping strengthen fathers, Intentional Fathering.