Nicholas Humphrey

Geoff Bagley (
Sun, 2 Mar 1997 20:58:02 GMT

In the current edition of the 'Times Higher Education Supplement'
(28/2/97, p.20) there is an article by Nicholas Humphrey, Professor of
Psychology at the New School for Social Research, New York. It does not
appear to have a title but is based on the Amnesty Lecture he delivered in
Oxford (21/2/97)

The article is about parents who have weird views and who impose them on
children.For him indoctrination of anything other than science is wrong. A
few quotes might give the flavour of the article.

"We live in a society where most adults - not just a few crazies, but most
adults - subscribe to a variety of weird and nonsensical beliefs that in
one way or anothr they shamelessly imposse on their children. At home,
parents are allowed, even expected, to determine for their children what
counts aas truth and falsehood, right and wrong.
Parents have no God-given licence to encultrate their children in whatever
ways they choose; children have a human right not to have thier minds
addled by nonsense. And we as a scoiety have a duty to protect them from
exposure to bad ideas."

"My suggestion is science - universal scientific education. That is to say,
education in learning from observation, experiment, hypothesis testing,
constructive doubt, critical thinking - and the truths that flow from it.
But what is so special about science? Why these truths? Why should it be
morally right to teach this to everybody, when it is apparently so morally
wrong to teach all those other things? Science stands apart from and is
superior to all other systems for the reason that it alone of all systems
in contention meet the criterion I laid above: namely that uit represents a
set of beliefs that any reasonable person would, if given the chance,
choose for him or herself."

"It matters what we tell children. They can be hurt by worrds. They may go
onto hurt themselves still further, and in turn become the kind of people
that hurt others.. But they can be given life by words as well . In the
words of Deuteronomy: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and
cursing. Therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."
There should be no limit to our suty to help the world's children to
choose life."

It is highly likely from the tone of the article that Nicholas HUmphrey
would think that all members of this group hold 'weird beliefs' yet we
would also that we are included in his 'reasonable people.'

How do we respond?

Geoff Bagley