March 1, 2013

"You read about these Tiger Moms — that’s the opposite of the way we viewed things."

Said Aaron Swartz's father. "Our perspective was — and remains so — that our kids should follow their interests."
Swartz’s parents were quick to recognize their son’s enormous intellect and gave him space to cultivate it.... They often deferred to his judgment and ignored his quirks. If they noted his moodiness, they would do so cryptically, as if afraid to offend....

The Swartzes allowed Aaron to take control of his own education at a young age, and he officially withdrew from high school after ninth grade. Between the Web and a grueling diet of books (Swartz would consume more than 100 per year), there wasn’t much he couldn’t master on his own.
Footnote: "When he was 15, Swartz stumbled across his platonic ideal for a high school education: A Boston Globe story 'about a boy who learned while traveling the country with his father, and is now an assistant professor at MIT,' as Swartz summarized it. 'Amen to that!' he wrote."
His father recalls him holding forth passionately on abstract legal concepts as a child. As an adolescent, he became devoted to the fiction of George Saunders, a writer with strong moral commitments whose idiosyncratic style (Saunders routinely makes up words) appealed to the autodidact in him.
Footnote: "Swartz later became a die-hard David Foster Wallace fan, too. Wallace once remarked that the unwritten 'end' of his masterpiece, Infinite Jest, could be 'projected by the reader somewhere beyond the right frame,' and Swartz spent months mining the text for clues. He eventually knitted them into a plausible conclusion, which he laid out on his blog under a 'gigantic spoiler' alert."

From a TNR article by Noam Scheiber about Aaron Swartz, the computer genius who killed himself last month. Since he killed himself, it's hard to know how to take this information about how he educated himself and how his parents accommodated him, but let's look at this and the contrast to what the opposite, the notorious Tiger Mother everybody was talking about 2 years ago.

33 comments:

Paddy O said...

Knowledge is not discernment.

Creativity is not insight.

The government is not like our parents.

Moving quickly down a road does not necessarily lead you to a welcomed destination.

Shanna said...

100 books a year is 'grueling'?? I think the author hates to read.

edutcher said...

Translation:

They always gave the kid his way.

And then he collided with the real world.

And the law.

And the government.

Nini said...

Moderation is the key.

Yes, the tiger mommy phenomenon is common with Asians in the west.

I think kids need some nudge from parents from time to time. But I think all work and top grades are not guarantees to being creative.

BaltoHvar said...

I kind'a feel edutcher is on to something.

We gain insight in many ways, and growing up, especially the adolescent years, we learn normative behaviors through social interaction, such as the brutality of suicide on those left behind.

I d not know the details of the case, yet I find it difficult to be believe that taken in proper context, these charges were so severe that the better alternative was death.

ricpic said...

A lot of super bright people are without sense. The addiction to that sick freak David Foster Wallace is the tell.

KLDAVIS said...

The shortest possible biography of Aaron Swartz:

Aaron thought he was special.

edutcher said...

Balt, I don't think they were, and a good lawyer could have worked something out, I'd guess.

I think the issue came down to his way or the highway.

YMMV

rcommal said...

...

m stone said...

So what makes DFW a "sick freak, ricpic?

BaltoHvar said...

Ed. - agree - the Highway to Hell...

sydney said...

Wasn't the childhood of the Unabomber kind of like this, too?

vza said...

Wise words:

"We want people doing this work, of course—in many cases, we need them doing it. It’s just far from clear that we want them doing it before they can drive a car or buy a beer. In Aaron Swartz’s case, too many adults refused to see that a child isn’t a messiah or even a leader of men, however brilliant he may be. A child is just a child."

ricpic said...

Read him and find out, m stone, yaknow, do a little work.

Emil Blatz said...

Remind me not to read any of that David Foster Wallace shid, itz killah!

William said...

Chris Rock said that when your daughter's a stripper, you're a failure as a parent. There are other examples you can use.

pj (lowercase) said...
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pj (lowercase) said...
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Freeman Hunt said...

Maybe just another form of tiger parenting. The facilitator form. A tiger of a different stripe but still a tiger.

However, if anything can be inferred from these bits, though I'm skeptical that anything can, perhaps a lack of behavioral expectations which would make it a pretty far out variant.

Chuck Currie said...

Obviously miss the section of the library on ethics.

Cheers to us all

bagoh20 said...

Imagine you have the ability to restructure your own childhood. Would you choose to have had more tiger, or more butterfly?

Having had a lot of freedom, and having enjoyed it immensely, I wish I had been forced to learn more when it was easy, but I would not want to have sacrificed much of my butterfly for it. Not for simple knowledge of facts, and I don't think insight or discernment is really a function of concentrated learning, but rather experience.

I would make the sacrifice for music. I wish I had been forced to learn music and to play as a child. It is 10X as hard as an adult, though I do enjoy it, I could be playing now rather than merely trying to. Everyone should try to learn to how create some beauty though art in some form. Most kids are not capable of appreciating the value of that until it's too late. You force them, and later they thank you. At least that's how I imagine it.

bagoh20 said...

Most kids, if given free reign do not accomplish great things. That's a genetic anomaly, plain and simple. Sure that's what you hear about and imagine it could work, which it usually does with those anomalies. But, most free range kids probably end up criminals or accident victims. If you have a gifted child, you have options most don't if they want successful kids.

Jim in St Louis said...

Most of the kids in the local schools have parents who honestly don't give a shit about them. Charter schools as a solution or vouchers etc appeals to my libertarian ideals, but does not translate to results when the parental units are simply too damm interested in themselves. Same with divorce.

Every child of divorce comes to the same conclusion- 'My folks loved themselves more than me.'

Makes it easy for statists to move in and get cozy emotionally with damaged youth.

Darrell said...

Wasn't the childhood of the Unabomber kind of like this, too?

Just the opposite. Ted Kaczynski grew up in a working-class suburb on the South Side of Chicago and would be considered any teacher's dream child--they skipped him ahead two grades. He was a math prodigy that would have been voted most likely to make a major contribution in his field. He was in the Grman and Chess clubs and others. He got a scholarship to Harvard at 16. Graduating Harvard, he needed to work to finish his education so he went to U of Michigan and taught classes while completing his studies leading up to his doctorate. Afterwards, he got a position at Berkeley.

Jim in St Louis said...

Darell said: "Afterwards, he got a position at Berkeley."

I would love to punch this phrase into a Lexus-nexus search. How many hits? 50? 150?

Jim in St Louis said...
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Joe Schmoe said...

Kids come prepackaged with their own stuff. There are a lot of studies that show that kids are going to turn out a certain way based on genetics much moreso than parenting.

Not that I don't take parenting seriously, as I do, very much. It's the most important thing for my wife and I, and pretty much everything we do is with an eye towards our children's health and well-being.

I'm just not ready to lay 100% of the blame on the parents. Swartz may have been predisposed to suicide even if he grew up in a strict religious household. Maybe moreso.

John said...

Joe Schmoe is exactly right. Science tells us over and over again that kids come pretty much prewired. The Tiger Mom was only successful because her kids were the type to put up with her. Had she adopted or her kids been a bit different, they would have rebelled and the whole thing would have been a disaster.

Zach said...

Giving smart people too much freedom too early in life can be as restrictive as it is liberating. From reading reports of Swartz's life -- even those that portray him very favorably -- there's a persistent theme of dissatisfaction, lack of commitment, lack of follow through.

He was at Stanford for less than a week before concluding that most of the students and professors weren't really first class minds. To which there are two responses: 1) Duh. 2) You might possibly be expecting too much from the world around you.

He pulled out of computer science, where he apparently had some talent, focusing instead on political activism, where he had very little. It's not hard to see an ego protecting move there. He had some success as an entrepeneur, but of the most random and emasculating kind -- he fought with his cofounder and the company was bought out.

My take on Swartz is that he would have benefited greatly if no one had ever told him he was a genius. As it was, he had a very large mismatch between the (very high) external validation he received and the actual results he could take pride in.

ByondPolitics said...

"Since he killed himself, it's hard to know how to take this information about how he educated himself and how his parents accommodated him...."

You can't possibly be serious. And yet I realize you are. I noticed your ignorance in a post about Elizabeth Wurtzel. I was shocked by it in a post about David Foster Wallace ("David's dead, baby"), immediately after his death (which resembled Swartz's).

Mr. Swartz's intimates have told the public that he had a very serious medical condition that can be fatal if not treated effectively. It is not uncommon for it to be difficult to find effective treatment even if one is is actively seeking medical care. It may be a primary problem with one of several different neurotransmitter systems or it may be secondary to another condition (e.g. Parkinson's, cardiovascular disorders, lupus, diabetes, menopause) that impacts those systems.

Like many other medical conditions, it is exacerbated by psychological stress (situations that cause one to perceive threat). Such situations cause measurable changes to neurotransmitter systems.

The United States has a relatively low suicide rate and yet it is still the 7th leading cause of death amongst males and is the second most common form of death among men between 25 and 34. Poisonings are first. Because illicit drug use is sometimes associated with "self-medication" to deal with the symptoms of mental illness, some of those accidental overdoses are also a result of these kinds of medical conditions.

Your statement was bigoted and uncompassionate. Psychiatric maladies are one of the few remaining medical conditions where many sufferers struggle in isolation because of those who propagate stereotypes of the illnesses' etiology. Of course, shame and isolation exacerbate the condition.

The tens of thousands of people who commit suicide each year were raised in all sorts of ways. It is ignorant to think that their deaths were a result of their parents' actions. It is terribly cruel towards those whom will forever grieve their passing. In this case, Mr. Swartz's parents were clearly loving and attuned to his needs.

Simply speaking, depression is "caused" by one's parents as much as breast cancer, heart disease, or car accidents are. If he had died differently, would you have blamed his unconventional education? Wise up. If you don't care to learn about the mind and how it works, at least learn to show compassion. Your communications will be more effective that way.

Paddy O said...

"I'm just not ready to lay 100% of the blame on the parents"

Whatever degree nature and nurture are involved (and science shows it is both to a varying degree), it's still 100% the blame of the parents.

They are the ones who provided the genetics too, after all.

Adopted kids are an exception, of course.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think there's generally a very large component of impulsivity in suicide. People make themselves permanently dead by a moment's impulse. I wouldn't be looking for a place to rest the blame.

Perhaps a takeaway could be the importance of teaching children to take the long view. Miseries do not go on forever. Time tends to change things in ways we'd never have foreseen.

pj (lowercase) said...
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