A Message Too Far?


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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87 Responses

  1. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Question: Can children cognitively separate the person from the act? If so, at what age?Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      Heh… can adults?

      This is actually a really good question. I skew more towards Vygotsky than Piaget. What this means is that I don’t think development is strictly bound by stage theory (which more-or-less says that children are incapable of certain cognitive processes until certain ages are reached) and believe that there is a social piece to it, that children might be more likely to come to a cognitive process earlier if it is modeled and taught OR that they might find a cognitive process easier if it is modeled and taught. There are limits… an infant isn’t going to suddenly demonstrate higher level thinking because you sit him in a graduate school lecture. But some things can be taught.

      Conversely, things can be delayed. If we continually tell students that smoking isn’t just unhealthy, it is stupid, they are less likely to separate act from actor. I remember getting this message in high school (high school!!!) and being confused since my dad was a smoker and while he wasn’t the smartest guy in the world, he always had a good head on his shoulders, ran his own business, etc.

      For my students (4 and 5), separating act from actor is difficult. They inhabit a world that is very black-and-white. I actively teach and model for them that this is not the case with an aim towards helping accelerate their attainment of cognitive process capable of understanding nuance. I can’t say for sure where 3rd graders are on the developmental scale; it is not my area of expertise. But if they are generally incapable of making such a distinction, perhaps we should limit our conversations about smoking with them. Most 3rd graders aren’t at risk of picking up the habit, though attitudes around it can be set early. Perhaps that is the idea behind the whole “Smoking is evil” thing: poison young people’s attitudes about it and they won’t do it. Which I guess isn’t the worst thing in the world. But there is collateral damage, as discussed above. Perhaps the blanket response to kids incapable of act/actor distinction should be along the lines of, “Smoking is very unhealthy and we don’t think you should do it.” No more, no less. And frame it around other conversations about healthy and unhealthy life choices.

      Maybe I’m being too relativist about this. Maybe we shouldn’t worry about stigmatizing smokers. If telling kids that smoking is bad and stupid and wrong prevents them from picking up the habit, maybe that is a win we should celebrate. I am not a smoker (besides the occasional cigar) nor are any of my close friends (my dad quit a few years back), so this doesn’t come from a particularly emotional or personal interest. I just struggle with the idea of teaching kids, intentionally or not, that someone’s personal lifestyle choices should completely color our perception of them, to the point that they cannot focus on a lesson during which no fewer than 10 of their teachers are in the room and watching makes me think we’re doing it wrong.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

        In retrospect, I notice that attitude in the drug and alcohol “education” I received in high school and earlier.

        As a tangent, I’ll add that in that “education,” I encountered the persistent assumption (sometimes stated, sometimes implied) that the only reason anyone ever tries drugs or alcohol was solely because of peer pressure, or possibly, the desire to escape the responsibilities of young adulthood, and not, say, sincere curiosity about, or appreciation for, the experiences they might provide.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        I should also add that the conflation many children fall victim to is often not because of their own developmental place, but because the messages they are being sent conflate act and actor. I was told in school that smoking is dumb and wrong. That seems a poor way to educate children on the topic.

        Especially knowing how tempting dumb and wrong things are to young people.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

        Missing from this seems to be any discussion of what actually would make it a moral issue. Without answering that for ourselves, how do we even know that we’re right and the kids are wrong about whether smoking is morally wrong?

        It seems to me that moral wrongs require choice, and part of what makes smoking nefarious is that it is addictive. Someone can want to stop smoking but find it difficult to. Yes, people can quit smoking with sufficient willpower, but the choice is not as free as would be the case with giving up chocolate.

        I don’t think it would be asking too much for young children to understand that there are people who started smoking, formed a habit, and now it is really hard for them to stop even if they would like to. This makes it clear that these are not bad people, and frankly it also reinforces the point that they ought not to smoke in the first place.Report

      • Reformed Republican in reply to Kazzy says:

        I encountered the persistent assumption (sometimes stated, sometimes implied) that the only reason anyone ever tries drugs or alcohol was solely because of peer pressure, or possibly, the desire to escape the responsibilities of young adulthood, and not, say, sincere curiosity about, or appreciation for, the experiences they might provide.

        The anti-substance education really fails in the regard, IMO. They act like there is no good reason that anyone would do any drugs. Then, a young person tries pot or drinks, and they enjoy it, and their world does not fall apart. The teachers lose what little credibility they had on the subject, and the young people ignore what they have to say about all the substances.

        If you want to be taken seriously, honesty is important.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        Missing from this seems to be any discussion of what actually would make it a moral issue.

        When it was merely a matter of taste, it was “cool”.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        “I’m not a chicken… you’re a turkey!”

        Maybe he’s just a guy who knows a good buzz when he feels one.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        I watched Ken Burn’s Prohibition on netflex last night and one think that was clear is that the Drys simply could not understand that one reason people drank was that alcohol was delicious. They also could not comprehend the pleasures of communal drinking. I think that the anti-substance education crowd sincerely believes that people only smoke, drink, and do drugs because of social and peer pressure rather than the pleasures dervied from the substance.

        We see a similar failing in sex education where the fact that sex can be great fun rarely comes up. The anti-substance and anti-sex crowd believes that if you tell kids, especially the elementary school crowd, that alcohol, drugs, sex, and tobacco can bring pleasure that they believe they lost the battle.

        A better approach would be to mention the pleasure factor but also teach about the negative consequences; lung cancer, addiction, liver failure, STDs, and unplanned pregnancies. Its a balancing test.

        We should also take a tougher stance against tobacco and hard drugs than we do against alcohol, marijuana, and sex because its really very hard to avoid the negative consequences of the former. Most people can manage alcohol, marijuana, and sex fine though.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

        Shh. Don’t say such things, Lee. If you tell yer kids that sex is fun and how to have such fun, it will horrify some people. Even around here, though you may not believe it. Not Safe For Work — or Home, either one. Kids should just lurch into gear, unassisted and untutored, into every sort of dangerous fun imaginable. Builds character, you see.

        Be sure not to tell them booze and sex and weed are fun, or how to enjoy them. The sorts of things they might want to be careful about — like smoking f’rinstance, or zooming around in fast cars, or other such fun things — are risky on a statistical basis.

        But then, most kids don’t learn much about statistics. They don’t learn much math, period. Or much about life. And there are parents, loving parents, who think talking explicitly about such things is not good manners. We are not entirely done with prudery and the Blue Nose Teetotalers of yore have their counterparts in today’s society.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kazzy says:

        Thanks Kazzy. 🙂Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:


        I agree with your comment at 9:55 am above completely.Report

  2. Damon says:

    Ofc it’s a moral issue–no a crusade. To those who are against these practices; smoking, guns, alcohol, etc., it is moral. Those in society who do the wrong things must be punished! They are evil, stupid, and dangerous. They must be controlled, corralled, and forced to do the correct thing…for their own good.

    Why? Because those people KNOW what is good for you, me and everyone else. We all must live according to their ever changing rules on correct behavior. The consequences for not doing so are societal ostracism, fines, jail, or death.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Damon says:

      I’m not stepping into the gun debate but we do have some rather good scientific evidence that smoking is bad for you and people around you. Excessive alcohol consumption isn’t that peachy either. Not all drugs are marijuana, some have serious consequences. And yes, I believe a measure of paternalism is necessary for a well-functioning society.

      Damon, the type of society you want is where everybody is an independent mountain man or woman who only meet to have children. Most people live in a more social society and have to deal with the negative consequences of other people’s bad choices and sometimes these bad choices can have devastating consequences on other strangers. A person hit by a car driven by a drunk could end up dead or handicapped for life. This gives people a stake in the behavior of others to an extent and I really can’t understand why you can’t see this. You take a position on the matter that is beyond libertarianism. The other libertarians on this job might not favor intervention to the extent I do but they show understanding that externalities exist.Report

      • Damon in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I understand that externalities exist. The majority of people in American are concerned about this type of behavior as it effects them, ie an uninsured biker with no helmet is brain damanged and society pays the bill. Laws to make such things illegal are always sold as “since we’re paying, we should have some say in your behavior”. My position has always been quite different: you should have no say in my behavior until and unless I use force upon you. Ergo, to counter the “we pay” folks, I support changing society so we don’t pay for the guy who is rushed to the hospital and didn’t wear a helmet. I see no reason why the negative consecquences for peoples actions should be paid by society. If people CHOOSE via charity to do pay for these kinds of things, that’s another matter.

        CS Lewis (alledgely) said it best: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

        Simply stated. These people will never be satisfied. It’s always a moving target. It’s time to drawn the line and say no more.Report

      • LWA in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Can you give us an example of a society that doesn’t contain moral boundaries to some degree?
        I’m not aware of one at any point in human history. So we are left to conjecture about a hypothetical society which is to your liking, where everyone is free to do what they wish except for externalities yadda yadda.

        Isn’t it possible that the things we like about our society- peaceful cooperation, highly complex social and economic structures, the safety and security to go about our business undistrubed- were created by those same paternalistic moral structures that say, for example, ” the guy who is rushed to the hospital and didn’t wear a helmet” is treated with compassion regardless of his ability to pay, rather than being dumped in the street?Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        What LWA said.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        “Can you give us an example of a society that doesn’t contain moral boundaries to some degree?”

        Is that supposed to be a rebuttal to what he said?Report

  3. david says:

    Children do incredibly risky things if they feel a tribal affiliation toward it – also known as “peer pressure” – so insofar as one might desire that they refrain from risky things, it will have to be discouraged via a tribal taboo.

    As you said: Which makes smoking roughly equivalent to reckless driving. Yes, yes it is! And yet a great very many teenagers will go on to drive recklessly. Insofar as the aspirational middle classes deter their children from the vices of the dissolute at all, it is via demonization and tapping into the fundamental human need to affiliate via signals and cultural identifiers. You don’t don’t smoke because it’s risky, rather you don’t smoke because you’re not the kind of person who smokes – and we all know who that kind of person is, don’t we?Report

  4. This might be more a pedantic quibble than anything, but I think it’s possible something can be moral (or not) regardless of how it affects others. I’m not convinced that how it affects others should be ours sole determinant of what counts as moral.

    I tend not to think of smoking as intrinsically immoral. That is, I don’t think people who do it are necessarily doing something wrong, provided they don’t harm others in some ways. However, I can imagine someone taking a position that health is good in itself and that practices that deteriorate health are, or can be, bad in themselves, and that therefore smoking is immoral. I don’t tend think of morality in this way (I have my own vices and I hesitate to take that beam out of my eye, and I think some good things, such as enjoyment of life, compete with others, such as pristine health), but I find it a plausible position.

    Having said that, I’m inclined to think our schools (and our laws) should focus primarily on actions that affect others and not on other, less impactful (I hate that word, but it seems to me to work here) actions.

    Again, this is more of a quibble than anything. But my question is how does this translate to teaching children values such as honesty? Is dishonesty bad primarily because it hurts others (which it does or can do)? Or is it bad in itself? Should a teacher raise the latter possibility or focus on the effects on others? I don’t really know the answer about what teachers should do, nor do I have a ready answer about how I should live my life (should I be honest just because it’s usually going to work to my and others’ advantage (“easiest thing to remember”), or should I be honest because there’s something intrinsically right about honesty?).Report

  5. Will Truman says:

    On the face of it, I don’t mind kids taking a really, really hostile attitude towards smoking so that they do not smoke themselves.

    However, there are two concerns:

    I fear our ability to differentiate between (a) Don’t ever smoke and people who smoke are dumb and (b) Obesity should be avoided but be kind to the obese. Smoke-shaming and fat-shaming come from the same place, internally, even if we can articulate the differences on an intellectual level.

    The second is that we have a bit of a problem in this country involving unrealistic and in some areas excessive anti-smoking laws. It’s increasingly taken to heart that smoker considerations should not actually be considered and that any inconvenience they cause on the part of non-smokers is excessive. This leads to thinks like entire college campuses becoming smoke free and the taking out of the last smoking lounge in the Denver airport. Not only does this approach spite, but it reaches a point of counterproductivity (rules that cannot be followed won’t be, lengthened security lines at airports, etc). I think some of this excess actually comes from the notion of what kind of people we consider cigarette smokers to be. (When we establish ordinances for cigar lounges and hookah lounges, and ban cigarette smoking within them, that should tell us something.)Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

      The analogy between smoke-shaming and fat-shaming is a good one. Both issues are more complex than often thought and require a more nuanced approach to discussing with children.

      I suppose this leads to a possible broader conversation: How should we teach students to respond to teachers who behave in shameful behavior? Imagine it was learned that a teacher was an out-and-out racist in his private life, but more or less kept this out of his teaching (e.g., he might take a more sympathetic tone towards the Confederacy during a history class, but he doesn’t treat black students different than white). Students learn this about him. Should we expect or demand that they behave as they did before learning this fact when in his class? Would we accept them tuning out a lesson, too distracted or uncomfortable with his private choices? How should we teach them to respond in such a case?Report

    • j r in reply to Will Truman says:

      That raises the question: why is smoke shaming wrong, but fat shaming not?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        I think Will and I would agree that fat shaming IS wrong.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        Right, my point was more that I would be horrified if my kid made a comment about someone’s weight as was made about the smoker. Which gives me pause for any sort of endorsement of being so tacky to smokers that a kid thinks such a comment is okay. (Insert disclosure about my habit here.)Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        I was uncomfortable with the students’ reaction. When I spoke with their teacher about it, who is a good friend, she thought it acceptable. “What did she expect to happen?”

        I dunno… to be treated like every other teacher?

        I mean, it’s not like she lit up in front of them or taught a math lesson on how their cool quotient goes up when they smoke.Report

    • Murali in reply to Will Truman says:

      Why is fat shaming wrong?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Murali says:

        For starters, because some people are fat for reasons almost entirely out of their control.Report

      • Murali in reply to Murali says:

        Okay, what about everyone else? Two out of three americans are overweight. While I don’t doubt that there is some genetic predisposition, why should those of us (and I include myself since I am overweight too) who could have been otherwise not be ashamed for the actions that lead to our current state?

        After all, because I am fat, not only will I cost my family and/or society more by increasing the chance I will develop diabetes and heart disease, I am also more likely to die early leaving my as yet non-existent children and unmet-yet wife in the lurch. Not to mention being aesthetically displeasing to most people if they see me without my shirt. Why again should I and many others like me who could be thin but aren’t not feel ashamed of ourselves?Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Murali says:

        Murali, we’re not saying that you should be ashamed of yourself. We’re saying that you shouldn’t make others feel ashamed of themselves.

        Also, while it’s not common that excess weight is purely the product of a thyroid condition or something completely out of the hands of the individual, it often is a matter of their body reacting differently to what we’re all doing. Which is to say that sometimes the thin person is thin because he or she has gone to great lengths to exercise and not to over-eat. However, it’s often the case that the thin person is thin despite doing many of the same things that the fat people are doing. They just think that they’re doing better.

        Some people, if they eat until they’re not hungry anymore, will stay thin because they have a lower appetite. Others, on the other hand, will get fat because the point at which they are not hungry anymore involves the consumption of a much larger number of calories.

        Some people, the foods they enjoy eating mostly include healthy food. Others, it doesn’t. Both eat what they want, one group gets fat and the other doesn’t.

        And (again, even excluding extreme thyroid conditions) some people’s bodies process food better than others more generally. Which means that two people eat the same number of calories, and the results will be different.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Murali says:

        And perhaps for more than any other reason, we shouldn’t fat-shame because fat-shaming doesn’t work. It doesn’t inspire people to lose weight. To the extent that it’s effective in making them feel worse about themselves, they are as likely to eat more as a coping mechanism than to eat less to address the problem.Report

      • j r in reply to Murali says:

        What if it turns out that there is a genetic link to one’s propensity to smoke?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

        Is it okay to shame people who obviously can’t cook?Report

      • Reformed Republican in reply to Murali says:

        As Will said, some people are skinny through no effort of their own.

        I am a guy who was 6 ft, ~125 lb from high school until~30 years old. I never had a huge appetite, but I ate a lot of junk food and drank a lot of soda. When I finally gained weight, it took a concerted effort. I was drinking weight gain shakes that were ~900 calories twice a day and started exercising. I put on about 20 lb.

        The problem with fat shaming is that there is no way for an outsider to know who is fat because of controllable factors and who is fat because of uncontrollable factors. Also, as has been mentioned, it is not effective.

        We live in a wealthy nation. Calories are easy to come by. I do not think that we are lazier than before or anything like that, I think we just simply have more food available. We live the same lifestyles that we have been living, but our calorie intake has increased.Report

      • Reformed Republican in reply to Murali says:

        @jaybird Of course. They are horrible people only worthy of our scorn and derision.Report

      • Murali in reply to Murali says:

        I’m not saying its not harder for many people. I’m saying that even if it is harder people who have to try harder, ceteris paribus ought to try harder. I don’t see why we have the expectation that nobody ought to try harder than anyone else in order to achieve the same result.Report

      • NoPublic in reply to Murali says:

        I’m not saying its not harder for many people. I’m saying that even if it is harder people who have to try harder, ceteris paribus ought to try harder. I don’t see why we have the expectation that nobody ought to try harder than anyone else in order to achieve the same result.

        You’re right. And quadriplegics should just suck it up and learn to walk. Schizophrenics should just be normal. et al.

        Obesity is a syndrome with many causes. “Working Harder” doesn’t solve all of them (and in fact can make some of them worse). It’s just easier to dismiss fat people as lazy slobs though.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Murali says:

        And because we have unreasonable definitions of “fat”, which lead people (especially women, and especially young women) to become less healthy in the pursuit of the “ideal” shape.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Murali says:

        What if it turns out that there is a genetic link to one’s propensity to smoke?

        I am almost certain such a genetic propensity exists. There are two significant factors involved, however:

        (1) Picking up that first cigarette is a choice. Eating is required.

        (2) Rates of smoking cessation over the long term are an order of magnitude higher than permanent weight loss.

        (3) As someone who smokes (until 20.5 days ago anyway) and someone who has struggled with his weight, I feel confident in saying that social stigma on weight is counterproductive. I think for smoking it’s not really productive, but it doesn’t do the same damage.

        Now, in the case of #1, we can argue that people that people picked up the cigarette without knowing what they were doing. The same is even more true of eating. Many of the habits that make us obese started when we were small children. The former owns a higher degree of agency, the vast majority of the time, because even if they started when they were minors, a 14 year old is not a 7 year old.

        In the case of #2, both permanent weight loss and smoking cessation have genetic components that make quitting more difficult. But the fact that the upward limit of those that are capable of losing weight is so, so much lower than quitting smokes, is significant.

        That said, there are a lot of similarities. Which is why I am not comfortable with out-and-out smoke-shaming.Report

  6. Michael Drew says:

    Do we know this is a function of moral teaching? Have kids really been this unviersally reached by anti-smoking messages that their reaction to smokers is driven by the cognitive associations they’ve made as a result? I quetion that.

    I’m not saying p.r. campaigns haven’t had their effect as far as it’s gone, but fifty years ago, lots more kids grew up in homes with cigarette smoke with parents who smelled like cigarette smoke. Now, a lot fewer do (and perhaps the kids in your school have an even lower rate of that than the general population of kids in America do). And they encounter fewer people who smoke out in the world as well. It may be that the smell of smoke is simply a lot more foreign, therefore a lot more jarring for them than it ever was before. When you combine that with having come to associate the act with people who have to breathe/eat/drink through holes in their throats and use an aspirator to talk, there may just be a visceral response that wasn’t there before.

    I question whether we’ve really inculcated moral beliefs smoking in kids as young as this strong enough to drive reactions like those described here (with the caveat that I didn’t hear exactly what they all had to say about this poor teacher). I think what we’ve done is closer to having just changed social practice and expectations around smoking, and kids just are reacting to it based on the expectations and experiences they’ve had.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew says:

      A very plausible alternative interpretation.

      Which means we need to focus attention on what we teach kids about how they ought to respond to people who might engage in a foreign practice from them. Not the easiest things to do, but something we can certainly do better.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

        Indeed, it’s pretty fundamental to teaching kids about diversity. But that just brings us back to the question of what we want to teach them about certain foreign behaviors and the people who engage in them. And it’s not totally easy to decide that about smoking, whereas it’s a lot easier to decide to teach them not to judge an entirely foreign culture’s practices (for the most part), or to judge things that we hope remain foreign within our society like, say, racist attitudes, etc.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

        …I guess that’s not different at all from what you said. I read you as saying we had to focus on that as a general matter, rather than in figuring out how to do it across a range of particular instances, but there wasn’t any reason to do that.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        And this means determining that which we think should remain foreign and that which we should welcome. Schools, in my experience, are not particularly good at doing this in any sort of principled way.

        Schools are bad at principles… despite (or perhaps because of?) all the principals… (R^3)/3Report

  7. J_A says:

    For what is worth, this is what happened to me, in my school in the early 70s (I was in 3rd or 4th grade, can’t remember – I am going on 51 now)

    I do not know from where, the school got hold of the lung of a smoker that had died of lung cancer. It was in a sealed plastic bag filled with some of those preserving liquids

    There was no discussion about the morality of smoking

    There was a very -pun intended- black and white discussion about the tar black lung, and the huge half-dollar sized white tumor creeping in the middle. About what colour a lung is supposed to be, and how it just looked like a charred piece of meat, with the ominous white spot creeping inside

    After it was shown to all the students, it was kept in a shelf in the principals office, where you would not fail to see it

    I wonder how would that play now, 40 years later?Report

    • Kazzy in reply to J_A says:

      I think provided the students were old enough (I don’t think that 3rd/4th grade qualifies, but I’d defer to someone more knowledgeable with older kids), I would be okay with this method. Yes, it is a bit of a scare tactic and perhaps a bit emotionally manipulative and, yes, generally I favor learning through experience and natural consequences. But you can’t simulate for people the effects of smoking, not in a way that is meaningful.

      I learn not to touch the hot stove because one day I touch it and get a slight burn. “Yikes! Probably shouldn’t do that again!” Smoking does not lend itself to that sort of learning. So another method of demonstrating the effects must be utilized. The method described here is a bit dramatic, but provided it was honest and factually accurate, it seems better than talking about how dumb anyone who smokes is.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to J_A says:

      “I wonder how would that play now, 40 years later?”

      Why don’t you have a stick of Chewlie’s Gum, instead?Report

  8. j r says:

    I don’t know if it is specifically that people have gone too far in teaching kids not to smoke. Rather, people have gone too far in teaching kids to be good little corporatist automatons who are very good at following rules and repeating learned processes, but who absolutely short circuit when something unapproved or beyond the pale of their programming.

    A normal human being, and children are still normal human beings, ought to be able to deal with the slight bit of tension that comes with knowing that some things are not good for you, but that some people choose to do those things anyway and shouldn’t be shunned for it.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

      I tend to think we spend too much time telling kids what (we think) is right and wrong and not enough time teaching them the critical thinking skills and other components of making informed decisions for themselves. This might involve discussing moral components of things (e.g., “Your decision to smoke is not wholly a personal one. Here are other factors to consider.”).

      Which also isn’t to say we should never tell them something is wrong. Some things are wrong.Report

      • j r in reply to Kazzy says:

        I love right and wrong and believe firmly in teaching it to children. At the same time, I recognize that notions of right and wrong are often in error. Here’s the thing, though. Once you authoritatively state something, it’s out there. If you are right, you’ll eventually be proven right. Likewise if you are wrong.

        Maybe I’m wrong about this, but it seems that pedagogical methods have switched from “because I said so” to something much more sneaky and insidious where you refrain from defaulting to authority but subtly reward kids for doing the “right thing.” The end results of this new method seem much more authoritarian as it forces kids to internalize not only the judgment but the means of making those judgments. What you get is a bunch of kids running around enforcing judgments on themselves and everyone else.

        I believe this is why millennials are so obnoxious, but that could just be my prejudice.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        I work really hard with my children on the why of our rules. I never use “Because I said so.” I would never accept that answer so I feel shitty giving it.

        Why don’t we hit? Because hitting hurts people. People do not like to be hurt.
        Why don’t we throw toys? Because they can get lost or broken or hurt someone. If our toys are lost or broken, we don’t have them to play with. We don’t like that.

        Yes, you can ask “why” enough that eventually you have an existential crisis with a 4-year-old (see Louis CK’s bit on this… “Some things just are! Things can’t be and not be!”).

        The “rewards” I give are typically just positive reinforcement given verbally or perhaps with a small note. Similarly, the “why” is acknowledged. “I noticed you help Johnny when he fell. That made him feel better.” It is not my approval that makes it right, but the fact that it contributed to a positive outcome.

        The other rewards I might offer are natural consequences. “You cleaned up quickly today. That means we have more time outside.” Should there be a day where they clean up slowly, they might have less time outside. Not out of punishment, but out of a simple fact that I can’t change the space time continuum. And I frame it as a choice: You can clean quickly and have more time outside or clean slowly and have less time outside. Which outcome do you prefer? Okay… here is the path to achieving it.”

        What you describe definitely happens and I’m sure I fall victim to doing it myself. But I try not to take an overly-authoritative approach (while still reminding them that there are and will be times where someone is in authority over them and they will need to be able to adapt to that).Report

      • Reformed Republican in reply to Kazzy says:

        When my son was young, I used “because I said so,” because I wanted him to learn to listen to me without questioning me. Sometimes an order needs to be followed without time for discussion. As he got older, I would explain things as appropriate, but by then, he had learned to obey me, and it was time for him to learn why some things are wrong and some are right.

        I am also a big fan of natural consequences. If they learn young that actions lead to reactions, they are better able to navigate decisions as they get older. I am also not one for too much repetition. I might say once or twice “if you keep doing that to your toy, it will probably break.” When the toy gets broken, because my direction was not followed, it does not get replaced. A lot of bad actions tend to punish themselves.Report

  9. Miss Mary says:

    No time to read all the comments. My apologies if I’m repetitive.

    I live in a very health conscious community. To add to that, I align myself with uber health conscious people, usually. Even adults treat my smoking friend like she’s an idiot for doing so instead of just recognizing and appreciating that she’s a smart woman making an unhealthy choice because she’s addicted.

    Also, junk food. I’m struggling to teach my three year old that junk food I’d unhealthy but kits of people do it. Daddy’s not bad, he’s just making different decisions than you and I. That’s ok. You make the decisions that are right for you.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Miss Mary says:

      I think there is also a tendency to be too black and white on this issue.

      I have kids who come in and say, “I don’t eat cheese. Mommy said people who eat cheese die.”


      Yes, most cheeses are high fat foods and too much cheese can lead to health issues which can cause premature death. Adults should watch their cheese intake. Children’s dietary needs are different. But even if they weren’t, a slice of cheese with a sandwich a few times a week doesn’t make people die. And we risk nurturing an unhealthy relationship with food for our children with such proclamations.

      I tend to emphasize moderation. The occasional cookie shouldn’t be a source of shame, anxiety, or derision for anybody.

      (I’m not saying YOU do this Miss Mary. I’m responding to a broader trend I sometimes see with people who have good intentions and want to instill healthy eating habits in their children.)Report

  10. roger says:

    Let me offer an alternative hypothesis.

    Moral sanctity and social pressure are essential tools to get semi-rational primates to adopt useful social skills. Like any tool they can be abused.

    However, the fact that kids are shocked or disgusted by smokers may be a sign that our efforts worked. Shame, guilt and sanctity play an essential role in social learning and cultural evolution.

    I still vaguely remember reading a story of how difficult it was for social workers to get a particular third world community of mothers to use toilets even though their activities led to frequent illness and death of their kids. Rational arguments never worked. They ended up getting them to use toilets by shame and social pressure. (I am having trouble recalling the exact details though).

    Smoking is “irrational” may not be as effective as smoking is “bad.” And that may very well imply to young ones that smokers are bad. “Smoking causes lung cancer” may not be as effective as “smokers are low status.”

    I understand that this can all go too far. I understand shaming hurts. So does lung cancer. So does unwed motherhood.

    Shame and guilt and status loss serve roles similar to corporal punishment, yet different in that enforcement comes more from one’s peers and family. What they do though in game theory terms is change the payoffs of various activities and thus discourage behaviors which are destructive or counterproductive.

    The other day I read an article comparing shame to pain. Neither is a good thing, but both serve essential purposes. The world would be a worse place without either.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to roger says:

      I think this is a fair analysis. I guess I missed the memo, though, that said we ought to think of smoking as shame-worthy.

      I think this also implies a level of thoughtfulness to such education plans that is rarely actually present. I wish we were so effective.

      The result I saw seems likely more the result of people just doing what felt right to them at various times and culminating as it did.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Put better, teaching tends to lack the big picture intentionality I think it requires.

        I had a colleague ask me one day if she should organize her lesson plans in file folders or binders.

        “Um, what?”
        “Well, which is better?”
        “I dunno, whichever works for you. It is just how you organize. That isn’t your curriculum.”
        “It’s… it’s not? It seemed like a big decision.”
        “Well, what are your program goals for the children you teach. You teach PreK3 through 1st grade, yes? So, what do you want children who’ve been with you that entire time to walk away knowing, being able to do, thinking, etc.?”
        “Just tell me whether I should use folders or binders.”
        [head on desk]

        The number of teachers who think cobbling together interesting/fun activities somehow results in a cohesive and purposeful educational experience is staggering.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        To toot my own horn… I think about the types of adults I want my kids to become and attempt to reverse engineer from there. And they’re 4!

        I have colleagues who can’t determine what they want week 2 to look like and are rudderless in week 1. Sigh.Report

      • roger in reply to Kazzy says:

        That is the thing about decentralized peer pressure. No memos. No rule propagation. It just emerges out of the actions of millions of people over time. It evolves. It arises from human action more so than human design.

        And as such it is not necessarily thoughtful at all. However, it may be smarter than anything which is centrally designed. It may also be totally ineffective.

        This whole rational planning thing vs the decentralized institutional knowledge thing is too some extent a mini replay of the two dominant wings of the Enlightenment. The French wing greatly lined up around rational design and planning. The English around spontaneous order, decentralization, “invisible hands” and later evolutionary processes.

        IMHO the last two hundred and fifty years pretty much showed the inadequacy of the French wing. One side got the Industrial Revolution, the other got guillotines. One side got modern science, the other side bailed their sinking boat and climbed back onto the Baconian ship. One got parliamentary democracy and the other got an emperor. I oversimplify, but….Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

        That is the thing about decentralized peer pressure. No memos. No rule propagation. It just emerges out of the actions of millions of people over time. It evolves. It arises from human action more so than human design.

        My hypothesis – based on exactly the same amount of evidence you supply – is pretty much the exact opposite: there is no such thing as “decentralized” peer pressure ever having occurred in the history of the known universe. Inevitably and invariably, peer pressure is created, fostered, shaped, encouraged, rejected, leveraged, etc., by individuals who hold political power within various groups from schoolyard posses to international political and religious organizations.Report

      • roger in reply to Kazzy says:

        I just finished two books on anthropology which convincingly argued the opposite. The empirical data base was based on a survey of every known anthropological study of hunter gatherers bands and simple tribes known to science.

        But you know, whatever.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        That’s surely a suspect sample.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Kazzy says:

        Roger, I’m inherently suspicious of surveys of hunter gatherers.

        “Um, sir, may I have a momentum of your time?”
        “Sorry, but I’m kind of busy tracking an aardvark right now.”
        “You are?”
        “Yes, that’s why I’m carrying a blow gun.”
        “I would just like to ask you a few questions.
        “I’m really thinking about lunch right now.”
        “Okay. Would you say that you are more or less likely to engage in behaviors you’d describe as…”
        “F***. There went a monkey. I could’ve bagged him.”
        “… cooperative in terms of…”
        “Have you seen any berries around here?”
        “Not that I’ve noticed, no. Anyway, would you say that you’re…”
        “Really, I need to keep moving. I’m on the clock.”
        “On the clock doing what?”
        “Hunting and gathering. The tribal elders get pissed when I just hang out with anthropologists.”Report

      • roger in reply to Kazzy says:

        Surveys of anthropological studies. Not surveys or opinion polls of nomadic tribesmen. Sheesh.Report

    • George Turner in reply to roger says:

      I think it goes too far when it triggers the disgust reaction (“Ack! dead thing! Run away!”) A lot of the current hard-core anti-smoking people experience visceral and extremely unpleasant reaction not just to smoke, but even to the sight of smokers. Their parents probably over-emphasized the word “bad!”, similar to the way parents do regarding small children and drinking household cleaning products, or how they used to convince children that black people were bad, which eventually led to children growing up with freaky concepts conflating hygiene and disease with an underclass, to the extent of separate water fountains, restaurants, and all that. For some people, “No Smoking” is the new “Whites Only”, and for much the same historical reasons.Report

      • roger in reply to George Turner says:

        Negative externalities abound. Not just of passive smoke but also the negative externalities of inculcated social reprobation…Report

      • George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

        One of those externalities is the dividing of society into good hygienic people and bad dirty people who spread diseases, who we don’t like and want to stay away from. Children pick up on that. By the time the second or third generation grows up under a massive public-health campaign aimed at a behavior, the most overly-sensitized end up in charge of the program with a diminished capacity to distinguish “what” from who” because their negative reactions are so visceral. They become hyper-conscious of a filth that must be eradicated or segregated away, and the campaign’s advocates creep further into the territory of hygienic racism to defend their own fragile feelings of purity and sanctity.

        Thus, many kids in Kazzy’s class reacted to a smoker the same way a white classroom in the 1960’s probably responded the first time they were introduced to their new black teacher, with wonder and surprise, followed by shock, revulsion, and dismay. The adult signaling they pick up on does things like this. Disturbingly, some of the parents inculcate such a strong revulsion reaction in their children that it will inflict them with a possibly lifelong nauseous reaction to even the sight of a smoker, such that many of them can’t even be comfortable in public bars. And of course, like the racists of old, they claim the problem is not their reactions but a society that permits “others” into public spaces.

        Interestingly, restaurants offered to conveniently separate the air in smoking and non-smoking areas, but such suggestions are almost always rejected because air isn’t really the issue – or we’d go ahead and ban cars (which produce all sorts of toxins), lawn mowing, plants (which produce pollen and ozone), pets, and just about everything else. In restaurants, we’d ban cooking at high heat because such cooking produces far more carcinogens than smoking.Report

      • roger in reply to George Turner says:


        Well said. Tools can be abused. A shovel can be used to plant food or bash a head in. Ostracism can be used to control anti social behavior or to punish people for being different. The latter is not good. Agreed.

        What are you suggesting in terms of smoking? Are you suggesting we design a careful centralized public service campaign that smoking is bad but smokers are good? Or that shame and social stigma not be used for anything? Or that we add a part of the mandatory school curriculum that actions don’t reflect on the character of the actor? Or perhaps that we never should have lobbied against smoking at all?Report

      • George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

        I’m suggesting we point out how we’ve forced all the smokers to hide out back, shielded from public view, shunned and ostracized.

        So the smokers end up hanging out together, chatting, drinking, and bumming smokes off each other when we pass on the street.

        And who does this? Kate Moss, Kate Winslet, Charlie Sheen, Kiera Knightley, Ashton Kutcher, Eva Mendes, Charlize Theron, Robert Pattison, Sienna Miller, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Colin Farrell, Daniel Radcliff, Cheryl Cole, Lindsay Lohan, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Kirsten Dunst, Kate Hudson, Simon Cowell, Sarah Jessica Parker, Taylor Momsen, Mickey Rourke, Nicole Ritchey, Mel Gibson, Pink, Snoop Dog, Courtney Love,
        Jack Nicholson, Naomi Campbell, Paris Hilton, Joaquin Phoenix, Chris Evans, Heather Locklear, Danny Dyer, Diana Agron, Christina Aguilera, Christina Applegate, Patricia Arquette, Michelle Tractenberg, Uma Thurman, Liv Tyler, Carrie Fischer and countless others.

        But too many kids today don’t realize that their idols are sucking down Marlboro reds or Camel non-filters in between takes, and that’s just sad, because smoking is cool, and cool people smoke – because they’re cool.

        *disclaimer: I’ve worked on the Marlboro production lines, but that in no way biases my opinion. My opinion was already biased – because I’m cool.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to George Turner says:

        Interestingly, restaurants offered to conveniently separate the air in smoking and non-smoking areas

        And put masking tape on the floor to show where the walls that the smoke wasn’t allowed to cross would go.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to George Turner says:

        And the really pathetic thing is all the non-smokers trying desperately to start smoking. They can keep it up for a day or too, sometimes as much as a few weeks, but eventually the habit of non-smoking catches up with them. Maybe it’s that’s first cup of coffee in the morning that they want to be able to taste. Maybe it’s when they hang out with their non-smoking friends and they’re tempted into not lighting up. Or they go to a bar, and they want to look cool by not coughing in the hot girl’s face. Anyway, it’s almost always something, and they’re back to not smoking again.Report

  11. Kazzy says:

    I’m curious…

    Would anyone think it appropriate if adults responded the same way to an adult smoker?

    If not, why should we be encouraging this behavior in children? It might manifest itself against our wishes and we might recognize it as understandable given their developmental stage. But that is a far cry from teaching it. So if we don’t think this acceptable for adults, why should we actively teach it to children?Report

    • roger in reply to Kazzy says:

      Adults do react in similar ways to smokers. Smoking is now viewed as a low status, loser habit in most circles of polite society. It has a stigma, and oddly enough, the stigma may carry more weight on behaviors than rational arguments.

      I am fine with us teaching kids that smoking is bad. I am not sure we should teach them that smokers are losers. However, if it saved a few million lives I might be willing to look the other way.

      Would you teach kids that smokers should be ashamed of themselves if there was conclusive incontrovertible proof that doing so would save one life per class? Why not?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to roger says:

        “Would you teach kids that smokers should be ashamed of themselves if there was conclusive incontrovertible proof that doing so would save one life per class? Why not?”

        Abandoning the car would probably save more than one life. I don’t advocate for that.

        So, no, I probably wouldn’t do that.Report

      • roger in reply to roger says:

        No, on net rapid transportation enriches us and leads to prosperity, less crowding and longer happier lives. I don’t accept your analogy as I do not believe you could build a convincing case that on net, cars are bad. I think you could build such a case for smoking.

        Frankly I am surprised you would let a child die too avoid social stigma of shame. Flabbergasted actually. It is like the time Shaz argued for a lottery to force rich people to give their organs to charity. Not that the situations are similar, just that it seems so strange to hear someone argue this.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to roger says:


        I’m not letting a child die. First off, I presumed you meant that that child would grow into an adult who would chose, of his own volition, to smoke. That is a bit different than letting a child die. Secondly, we can tumble really far down this rabbit hole. What if the teacher-in-question took her own life because of yet another failed demo lesson after 20 years of successfully reaching kids, who couldn’t for the life of her figure out how she lost her touch? I mean, yea, that is ridiculous, but I guess the entire premise of your hypothetical is a bit ridiculous to me.

        I just don’t think the ends justify the means. I don’t think we should indoctrinate children to shame people who make life choices we don’t like. I don’t think that should be how we respond to people making life choices we don’t like.Report

  12. greginak says:

    I don’t know if its been mentioned above, and i’m to lazy at this moment to scroll up to read all the comments…go me, but part of the reaction against smoking comes a reaction against from the intense lying and subterfuge by cig companies for decades. Also for decades smokers thought nothing of the air around non-smokers. Once the cig company BS was washed away there was a lot of anger, most of completely on-target, at them which led to a crack down. While i don’t like some of the harshest anti-smoker stuff i can also clearly recall when going to pretty much any public space meant having to breath every bodies else smoke and FSM help you if smokers didn’t like it.Report

  13. KatherineMW says:

    On the one hand, the public-shaming nature of discouraging smoking does seem to have been effective in moving it decisively from “cool” to “very, very uncool”. If kids see smoking as something shameful, then they’re less likely to take it up as teens or adults.

    On another hand, this seems to have had some disturbing effects on social attitudes with implications for health. The second- and third-most lethal types of cancer are breast and prostate, and there are massive campaigns underway to promote both cures and regular examinations to enable early detections (the latter is a more recent one than the breast-cancer campaign). The most lethal form of cancer – by a very large margin – is lung cancer, which gets far, far, less attention and no similar campaigns to “Run for the Cure”. I can’t help but think this is significantly due to public attitudes of “Well, smokers brought it on themselves”; there’s more of an it-can’t-happen-to-me attitude about it, and hence less public attention to its victims, because it’s associated with bad actions rather than bad luck.Report

  14. Jim Heffman says:

    (psst: he’s actually talking about racism.)Report

  15. krogerfoot says:

    So, the candidate didn’t get the job? Because other candidates were more qualified, or because the students’ reactions to her smoking were so negative? If it’s the latter, it seems like a terrible missed opportunity for kids to learn that they can look up to and learn from someone without emulating or approving of everything that person does.

    Some of my teachers were enormously obese, which of course set us all atwitter on the first day of classes, but soon enough our evaluations of these people were based on how they handled their roles as teachers and leaders, and how knowledgeable, fair, and good-humored they were. Being fat, being a smoker, wearing orange polyester suits – these are bad, but even little kids are able to look past superficial characteristics and focus on what’s more important in relationships with the rest of humanity. But they need a chance to do so. I’m sure you didn’t pass on this candidate purely because the kids were miffed about her smoking, but do you think you’d prefer not to hire a qualified teacher who smokes, in order to avoid an uproar from parents?Report

    • Kazzy in reply to krogerfoot says:

      It is hard to say why we didn’t hire her, as I wasn’t involved in the final stages of the process. It was clear that she lost control of the class, despite demonstrating fairly good classroom management. If you weren’t close enough to hear the kids’ comments (as I was), it might have just seemed as if she had no control over the proceedings.

      In an off-the-record conversation with someone involved in the later stages, when we were discussing her pros and cons, she half-heartedly mused that, “And the kids couldn’t get over her being a smoker,” as a con, which I found concerning.

      It’s possible we wouldn’t have hired her regardless. Even with the lesson going as it did, I still had her among the top three candidates, of which we were choosing two. So there isn’t really a clean answer to your question, but I agree that it is troubling if her being a smoker (or the children’s reactions to her being a smoker) were held against her.Report

      • krogerfoot in reply to Kazzy says:

        Thanks for responding. It sounds like it came down to the fact that the lesson didn’t go well, which should be all that matters. I can’t imagine that smelling like cigarettes is all it takes to derail a lesson – if a candidate’s teaching chops can’t overcome that, you’re better off not hiring her.Report