Innocently feral

OK, now that my feelings are out of the way (at least under control for the time being), I can get back to the business of the post at hand. Or would that be the business at hand of the post?

I had been meaning to write about feral children, because earlier this week Dr. Helen linked one of Kim du Toit's masterpieces on the subject. The whole thing is a must-read (and I also can't wait to see the book) but I'll stick with this excerpt:

When we talk to people about homeschooling our kids, and are asked what we did about "socialization", our answer is dismissive. Here's the gist of it.

1. We were never interested in having our kids learning to socialize from a group of peers who were as clueless about the process as they themselves were. High school kids, unsupervised, are the most feral little beasts on the planet, and we saw no reason why we should subject our kids to that ordeal. The most common response to that statement was usually, "It makes them tougher" or "They learn how to cope with a hostile environment, like they may encounter in the adult world".

Specious nonsense. In the outside world, when you are immersed in a "hostile environment" (work, university, whatever), you have the means to leave it. That's not the case in high school, where you are coerced into staying together with no options to separate yourself from your tormentors.

Another response is that the kids "miss out on so much". Yeah, Daughter really misses that experience of perpetual teasing about her weight, and the physical bullying that went along with it, coupled with sadistic gym teachers who forced her to run a mile during PE class, in the hot sun.

Not only is the topic of feral children not a new one for me, it's one of my pet peeves. I was attacked by a pack of brats when I was two years old, and ever since that day, I have harbored no illusions about the true, monstrous, animal nature of untrained, unsupervised brats. One of the few things which triggers genuine feeling of sickness in me is to hear some lamebrain prattling about the "innocence" of children. Innocent hell! They're as "innocent" as cheetahs.

And therein lies the paradox. A mentality quite similar to that which calls children innocent also tends to worship the "innocence" of animals. This ties in quite nicely with Rousseau's condescending "Noble Savage" pap. Nature is said to be "innocent," and civilization is said to be "guilty." That this is highly judgmental, even religious, thinking does not seem to occur to its proponents. Indeed, they often deride religion, which makes absolutely no sense because they are substituting their own bad logic for the "superstition" they claim to abhor.

Yet, as I condemn this mentality, I am willing to concede that the inability to distinguish right from wrong can be called a form of innocence. The children who attacked me were, in the legal sense, incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, although they did run away when an adult finally appeared wielding a broom -- in much the same way a vicious dog might. Why a vicious dog is seen as more worthy of euthanasia than a vicious child is another Rousseauvian paradox, I guess.

I suppose it's worth asking whether this sort of innocence matters, and why it should. If a feral dog attacks me, even though I love dogs, I might have to shoot it. Not so fast in the case of attacking feral children.

But what are feral children?

Do they look like this?


Like this?


Or maybe like this?

Via Jonah Goldberg, who "thought the appropriate response would be to slap the kid."

What is the appropriate response? (The thing is, by today's standards, an angry, fulminating kid like that would not be considered particularly feral, but worthy of receiving an "A" -- if not admission to a top Ivy League school.)

While a stern lecture, a slap in the face, or a better education might be all that's needed for the angry kid in the video, what is the appropriate response in dealing with a dangerously innocent feral kid?

I don't know, but when local I saw a Philadelphia news item linked at Drudge, and realized that the same item touched on Dr. Helen's and Kim du Toit's posts, I realized that the issue was before me, whether I felt like blogging or not.

There's nothing new about feral children in the Philadelphia public school system (daytime holding facilities, really) and I've posted about them before, but here's today's item:

Two Germantown High School students nearly killed a beloved math teacher during a trivial argument yesterday morning over an iPod, police said.

Frank Burd, 60, suffered three spinal fractures in the attack, a police source said, and was taken to Albert Einstein Medical Center, where he underwent surgery last night. A hospital spokeswoman said that following surgery, a stabilizing device called a "halo" was placed on his shoulders to support his neck. She said Burd was in critical but stable condition condition in intensive care.

The students - one in 11th grade, the other in 9th - last night were charged with aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment of another person, police said. They sat inside a holding cell last night in the 35th District, headquartered at Broad and Champlost streets, cops said.

The "trivial argument" consisted of the teacher taking an iPod from the student who had brought it to class. My reaction is that the teacher should have been armed with something other than his bare hands, and allowed to defend himself.

The reaction of others is that the feral children are innocent, and should be loved and nurtured, that nothing be done which might harm their "self-esteem," and that maybe it's the iPod that's at fault.

I love cheetahs, but find it hard to love feral innocence in children.

It's even tougher to love feral children who remain children -- and feral -- into adulthood.

posted by Eric on 02.24.07 at 11:00 AM


Well, frankly, I think that children are innocent in the truest sense of the word. Innocent of the responsibilities they have, or the real consequences of their actions, or the knowledge of right and wrong. Innocent has never meant good, or kind, or sweet, or warm, or caring, or any other thing of a similar vein, to me. Innocence is just another word for ignorance, and ignorance is at the root of most of the nastiest things people do to each other.

Jon Thompson   ·  February 24, 2007 8:45 PM

Also, on the point of children worrying about the environment, I can tell you that that is at least as old as I am. As students, my classmates and I were drilled with the coming environmental holocaust. We were berated when voters decided to keep the nuclear power plant open (ironically, we were berated on the grounds that our parents voted that way, while my mother was actually the administrative law judge at the public utilities commission in Oregon who decided to close the nuclear plant). My teachers regularly talked about global warming (this was in the late eighties and early nineties). Greenpeace was allowed in, and it was taken as gospel that the Earth was being destroyed. And we swallowed it all. We would have discussions after class saying that man was the worst of the Earth's beasts, and if we had to choose between saving various animals and a human, we'd always choose the animal, etc.

Looking back, it really pisses me off now that my parents paid taxes for that. It also pisses me off that I pay taxes for the same thing today.

Jon Thompson   ·  February 24, 2007 8:52 PM

My biological education was steeped in the Paul Ehrlich "Population Bomb" stuff. Having children was selfish, and evil. In college I was taught that we were still in the Ice Age, and on the verge of another cooling period.

I tend not to believe anything anymore unless I can verify it.

Eric Scheie   ·  February 25, 2007 12:53 AM

One wonders if there is not a antigreen mole in the Greenpeace PR dept.

I can't imagine a better way to ensure that those who do not support you at this point never will.

Anonymous   ·  February 25, 2007 10:33 PM

One wonders if there is not an antigreen mole in the Greenpeace PR dept.

I can't imagine a better way to ensure that those who do not support you at this point never will.

Randall   ·  February 25, 2007 10:34 PM

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