It matters where you live, physically and intellectually

It is a tremendous consolation these days that our family is madly in love with our physical environment.

I can’t stand to read the news anymore, national or local. I even get annoyed listening to people I tend to agree with who invest the effort in debunking all of the fake nonsense that is getting reported. It’s like being neck-deep in a landfill and properly identifying all the trash that surrounds you. Yes, you are an excellent curator of manias, delusions, and outright lies, but at the end of the day, you are still neck-deep in other people’s garbage. Your willingness to sort through the garbage means that people will keep dumping garbage at your feet all day every day. That’s not a life well-lived. Just turn it off already. Walk out of the landfill. Find something worthwhile to wade into instead.

We found a new swimming hole in recent weeks, a small inlet along the coastline. We’ll probably be taking our kayak out there a lot in the future too. The inlet is generally more crowded than most of the beaches we have frequented – even in the middle of the week – but it seems to be full of locals, as opposed to tourists.

The beach has the atmosphere of being a communal party. Every time we have gone out there, someone has brought a radio to blast Latin music, which is a nice reminder of how close to the equator we are now.

The inlet has several immense sandbars, such that you can wade out almost to the channel without the water, which is as warm as a bathtub now, getting very deep. Kids are allowed to play on their own in the shallows. They quickly make each other’s acquaintances and go exploring the tide pools and dunes. Armadas of kayaks and paddle boards pass by constantly. Dogs are welcome and the life of the party. They have their own flotation devices.

You see a ton of wildlife at the inlet. Most of the animals are curious about people and come right up to you. We had a sea turtle floating along with us the other day, which was amazing. I am getting accustomed to having schools of fish dart by, as the children try to catch them in their sand buckets.

I saw a man walking by pulling a wagon loaded with his saltwater fishing gear. Several fishing poles were sticking out, along with tackle and buckets. In the middle of the mess was a napping toddler, passed out from the heat, but with a grin from ear-to-ear on his face and his tan arms outstretched toward the sky like some tropical televangelist. You know a child has had a great day when he’s smiling in his sleep.

Small boats come to the sandbars to party as well, but the crowing jewel of Florida weirdness was when someone landed a tiny sea plane, maybe the size of a go-cart, on the water, then lifted off again and did circles around the area to impress all of their spectators.

Like many homeschoolers, I am a huge fan of the Victorian educator Charlotte Mason. Lately, I’ve been reading Karen Andreola’s book, A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning. Andreola and her husband were the ones largely responsible for getting Mason’s magnificent series of books on home education published in the United States, doing generations of homeschooling parents a big favor.

In one of the chapters, Andreola summarizes some of Mason’s advice on parenting. Every day, she says, a child needs to have three things: (1) someone or something to love, (2) something to do, and (3) something to think about. The corollary to this is you also need to eliminate negative influences where you can. It’s a form of education in itself the things parents choose to interact with in front of their children.

I agree with this entirely, especially since I have had the chance to observe some of the children in our neighborhood who, despite being quite affluent, do not have parents who invest any time or effort into their upbringing whatsoever. Even in kindergarten, they have started manufacturing drama among their relations like their bored mothers do on social media each day. They have been given no guidance on what is worthwhile in this world, and so they are neck-deep in the landfill just like the adults around them. It shows, and it corrupts kids much earlier than you’d assume.

I’ve told people over the years that I do not care much about the “culture wars.” Culture will swing back – HARD – in the opposite direction eventually. It always does. But I have developed a resentment that this junk is the backdrop of our kid’s childhood. I hate that she has to watch people get into petty, unintelligent fights, and watch people try to make each other’s lives miserable for no reason. I hate how culture warriors try to make their grievances ubiquitous. Culture warriors don’t have hobbies, but they do control the publishing industry, so now the magazine about your hobby is going to let you know your hobby is racist, exist, homophobic, whatever. I hate how people bring this pettiness to family events year after year, and even seemingly relish spoiling everyone’s supper – that someone spent days shopping for and preparing – by picking an argument that literally no one wants to be a captive audience for. “Trump’s a Nazi rapist who demands two scoops of ice cream.” Yeah, I don’t know why people find your political views unpersuasive. Thanksgiving has been lovely.

Your environment matters, and children deserve a better environment than that. Their personalities are path-dependent enterprises. You force them to wallow in all that garbage and you are cheating them out of a happy and productive life over the long run. Don’t put your children in a landscape they have to work to overcome. You don’t have a single social connection that is worth such a sacrifice.

I think a lot about the conservative Roman statesman Cicero, and I have brought him up on this blog before. During his early years, Rome was in the throes of a violent civil war. Cicero’s parents had him removed to their estate in the countryside, where they could control his intellectual environment and devote their efforts to giving him a quality education. By the time the conflict was over, Cicero was a mature adult and one of the most skillful orators the world has ever known. His education made him immortal in western civilization. All because his family was willing to opt-out and focus on what is worthwhile when their society had lost its way temporarily.

Cicero had a very Charlotte Mason family. It’s something that translates well these days too.

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