The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Ayn Rand and Children

Lenore Skenazy, the author of Free Range Kids defined a Free-Range kid this way: “A Free-Range Kid is a kid who gets treated as a smart, young, capable individual, not an invalid who needs constant attention and help.”

Many don’t realize Ayn Rand depicted “free-range kids” in her novel Atlas Shrugged. They don’t realize it because they haven’t read it and often believe the claim that she never depicted children. Yet, in Atlas there is depiction of two boys that always struck me as quite benevolent and understanding of the innate curiosity of children — the need to learn and explore this new world they entered. Of course, Atlas Shrugged is a novel about the great philosophical conflict of the age and thus deals almost exclusively with adults — as most novels of this kind do. But, Rand also wanted to show a rational approach to children.

Galt’s Gulch is where the Strikers in the novel go to escape the chaos of the nation as the economy collapses. In the “outer world” there is not just chaos but fear and surrender. “Who is John Galt?” has become a lament used to express a feeling of helplessness held by everyone — adults included. In contrast Rand depicted two boys in the Gulch living with their mother and father. The heroine of the novel, Dagny Taggart is watching them and is reminded of her own childhood.

“The recaptured sense of her own childhood kept coming back to her whenever she met the two sons of the young woman who owned the bakery shop. She often saw them wandering down the trails of the valley — two fearless beings, aged seven and four. They seemed to face life as she had faced it. They did not have the look she had seen in the children of the outer world — a look of fear, half-secretive, half-sneering, the look of a child’s defense against an adult, the look of a being in the process of discovering that he is hearing lies and of learning to feel hatred. The two boys had the open, joyous, friendly confidence of kittens who do not expect to get hurt, they had an innocently natural, non-boastful sense of their own value and as innocent a trust in any stranger’s ability to recognize it, they had the eager curiosity that would venture anywhere with the certainty that life held nothing unworthy of or closed to discovery, and they looked as if, should they encounter malevolence, they would reject it contemptuously, not as dangerous, but as stupid, they would not accept it in bruised resignation as the law of existence.

‘They represent my particular career, Miss Taggart,’ said the young mother in answer to her comment, wrapping a loaf of fresh bread and smiling at her across the counter. ‘They’re the profession I’ve chosen to practice, which, In spite of all the guff about motherhood, one can’t practice successfully in the outer world. I believe you’ve met my husband, he’s the teacher of economics who works as linesman for Dick McNamara. You know, of course, that there can be no collective commitments in this valley and that families or relatives are not allowed to come here, unless each person takes the striker’s oath by his own independent conviction. I came here, not merely for the sake of my husband’s profession, but for the sake of my own. I came here in order to bring up my sons as human beings. I would not surrender them to the educational systems devised to stunt a child’s brain, to convince him that reason is impotent, that existence is an irrational chaos with which he’s unable to deal, and thus reduce him to a state of chronic terror. You marvel at the difference between my children and those outside, Miss Taggart? Yet the cause is so simple. The cause is that here, in Galt’s Gulch, there’s no person who would not consider it monstrous ever to confront a child with the slightest suggestion of the irrational.’”

Rand thought too many people didn’t take child rearing seriously. She explained her position in the interview she did with Playboy. She first said that a woman is being impractical if she chooses to devote herself to family only, “because a home cannot be a full-time occupation, except when her children are young.”

But, “if she wants a family and wants to make that her career, at least for a while, it would be proper — if she approaches it as a career, that is, if she studies the subject, if she defines the rules and principles by which she wants to bring up her children, if she approaches her task in an intellectual manner.”

She then emphasized the center of her argument — having children is a very serious task and not one to be taken lightly. “It is a very responsible task and a very important one, but only when treated as a science, not as a mere emotional indulgence.”

Ayn’s own childhood had to play a part in her answer. She often heard her mother complain about how she was held down by children — something that had to be painful to her.

For Ayn, child rearing was serious business. The whole purpose is to teach the child to understand the world around them, to explore and learn. This is how it was before the modern age of fear shackled children like convicts to “play dates” and supervised activity — as if childhood itself were a crime and the villains had to be under constant observation. Instead of teaching children to embrace the world, they were taught to fear it. It wasn’t even rational fears, but fears grossly exaggerated far beyond realistic expectations.

Ayn wrote about the way childhood should be. In her essay Requiem for Man she said, “I will ask you to project the look on a child’s face when he grasps the answer to some problem he has been striving to understand. It is a radiant look of joy, of liberation, almost of triumph, which is unself-conscious, yet self-assertive, and its radiance seems to spread in two directions: outward, as an illumination of the world — inward, as the first spark of what is to become the fire of an earned pride. If you have seen this look, or experienced it, you know that if there is such a concept as “sacred” — meaning: the best, the highest possible to man — this look is the sacred, the not-to-be-betrayed, the not-to-be-sacrificed for anything or anyone.”

To think some buffoons have claimed Ayn Rand hated children; I just hope every child has the chance to experience the kind of childhood Rand thought they should have. If there was one thing Ayn felt about children, it was that they deserve respect. In 1969 Ayn and her husband, Frank O’Connor, traveled to Cape Kennedy to see the launch of Apollo 11. The local chamber of commerce helped visitors find homes where they could stay and Ayn and Frank stayed with the Vaught family, which included two children, Tammy (12) and Tommy (9).

Tammy was told by her parents to leave the guests alone but she didn’t. She immediately started chatting with Ayn and they discovered a mutual passion for stamp collecting. Tammy recounted, “I knew her as a friend through the stamps, and things like that. It was more of a grandmother, or an older person, that just took an interest in you, and just kept in touch. I don’t think as a child I had any idea of how famous she was. She didn’t act like a famous person.” Ayn regularly wrote Tammy and would periodically call her. She also clipped the stamps from letters she received from around the world and would mail them to her young friend.

Tammy’s father, Earl Vaught, said he was surprised when he learned Ayn didn’t have children, “because she was so good with them.” Jane Vaught, Tammy’s mother, remembered that Ayn “seemed to enjoy the children so much. They were swimming in our pool, and she just enjoyed listening to them laughing.”

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