At the Krishnamurti school they eat good vegetarian food. There is plenty of it and the parents are all satisfied. I have spent long periods of my life as a vegetarian, have two daughters who have been vegetarians and have a lot of sympathy with the ecological and health merits of vegetarianism but Krishnamurti rubs me up the wrong way. There is nothing that makes me want to rejoice more in my sinning than a saint, nothing that makes me seek out the dirty grit of life more than a purist. Krishnamurti makes me sigh for hamburgers. And I have a gut-level rejection of the smug parent syndrome.
Smug parents are the ones who know they have the right answer. They have found a better way to be parents and they really want you to know about it. I remember when I was a child meeting a girl who never watched TV. She was a strange freak of a girl in my eyes: it seemed like she spent her evenings doing worthy and uplifting things with her parents. She had a gaze of cold pity when she looked at the rest of us mere mortals who laughed at the jokes in comics, thought Basil Brush was hilarious and ate meat. She was a vegetarian too. And she went to ballet class. Her parents in their chunky-knit sweaters beamed at her and were totally supportive and were plainly trying to turn her into a prodigy if she wasn’t that already. It was nauseating.
Have you read Krishnamurti? To me it is incomprehensible babble, a load of guff floating around in seas of goodness, truth and purity. But perhaps I don’t get it because I am not good and pure enough to understand it. I can’t claim to be an expert on the chap because I have nodded off to sleep reading his prose a couple of times but have never been able to do successful battle past the second chapter. However, I have met people who have read Krishnamurti and quoted him to me: those experiences have not encouraged me to go back to the books.
Krishnamurti is strictly for the crackpots: people who are on a nonsensical quest for the spiritually pure.
I am offended when people lump Neill in with crackpots like Steiner and Krishnmurti.
“No,” I want to say. “There is a big difference between an egotistical guru mouthing pieties and someone who spends his life working with kids. Neill had a school. He told stories to the kids and let them have their own adventures. He didn’t tell them what they should like even when he did not agree with their preference for Charlie Parker over Strauss.”
Neill had his own recipe for bread and had a local baker make batches of it that the kids avoided. They favoured the white stuff that came in packets. What was he going to do? Since he gave people the freedom to choose he had to accept that they are not always going to choose the same things he did. If they did then there would probably have been some hidden tyrannical hook in their heads, a heavy guilt trip that they are only partly aware of. It is something I have seen with kids at Summerhill who have crank parents.
A six-year-old kid takes the crust of the white bread and puts it in the toaster. “I really like the crust,” he says. “Do you like crusty bread?” It seems to me I am hearing something his parents have said as I look at the soggy packet toast he has in front of him. Then he carries on:
“What’s your favourite Kurosawa film?” My tea nearly comes out of my nose.
You can’t really blame the kid, even though that kind of prissy intellectual purism is genuinely annoying. The parents did not want to fill their kids’ lives with tacky, mass-produced cack, they swept the house clean of plastic toys marketing the latest blockbuster movies and God forbid the kid wanted to go see a Disney film! It was not the kid’s fault the parents only ever dressed him in natural fibres, went to the best shop for the hand-made leather shoes on his feet and went all gooey over handcrafted wood.
It’s Thursday. I call these articles thought-pieces because I want to raise questions rather than give answers. So, this is the question for today: where do you draw the line? Do you do nothing to educate your child because you value their freedom so much? Or do you insist on a healthy diet because, hell, they aren’t free to ruin their health?