As long as my daughter could talk, I’ve spent the evenings with her, first reading stories and singing lullabies, later reading with her and doing home-schooling lessons. Full-time home-schoolers teach a full range of subjects, but as she goes to Catholic school during the day and I must work in the city, I focused on the subjects I wish all children were taught but that few schools teach.
“Daddy, why are you still teaching me philosophy?” she asked.
It’s important to me that you learn certain things, I said, even if the reasons don’t appear obvious when you’re twelve. You’ll be an adult during a difficult time, I expect, and you’ll have to make touch choices. I wanted to teach you the Good Book and Plato, the Epicurians and the Stoics while you were still a child, before you became a teenager and knew everything.
She gave me the Oh, Please look that comes so naturally to teenaged girls. “I don’t claim to know everything,” she said. “But I think I’ve got the morals part down. I think my morals are really good.”
That’s easy to say, I said, and easy to believe – until they’re tested. Remember what Thomas Paine said about summer soldiers?
“So test me,” she said with adolescent confidence. “Use the Socratic Method.”
I smiled. I bet you can give me a good argument with the Socratic Method, and that’s great – I’m proud of that. But I meant tested by life.
You never know what life will throw at you, and I think the decades ahead will throw more things at us than usual. I want you to be ready – not just to survive, not just to make the best choices, but to empathise with the people who make different ones.
“Okay, but I can’t promise you everything I’ll do in life,” she said.
I don’t expect you to make that kind of promise, I said – especially not at this age.
“Can you test me with the Socratic method, though?” she said. “I want to show you how well I can do.”
I laughed – sure, I said. Let’s go.
She smiled. “I can see you putting on your game face,” she said.