Raising the Standard.

Moderns, Without Mirrors

A reflection. (Photo courtesy Marsyas.)

On Tuesday, 15 year-old Jaden Smith, son of actor Will Smith, made news when he tweeted the following messages to the approximately 4.57 million followers of his account, @officialjaden:

If Everybody In The World Dropped Out Of School We Would Have A Much More Intelligent Society.

— Jaden Smith (@officialjaden) September 13, 2013

Education Is Rebellion.

— Jaden Smith (@officialjaden) September 12, 2013

School Is The Tool To Brainwash The Youth.

— Jaden Smith (@officialjaden) September 12, 2013

Apparently, young Jaden’s rebellion runs so deep he has smashed bourgeois standards of capitalization.

News accounts of Jaden Smith’s Twitter manifesto were the standard tut-tutting bits, with concerned parents and child development experts bemoaning the poor example Jaden sets for America’s youth. And before him, Miley; and before them both, Brittany.

As I read the news accounts, a stray paragraph alluding to Jaden’s “bohemian” upbringing caught my eye. The article referenced an interview Will Smith gave to Haute Living, in which he described the very haute parenting style he and his wife employ with Jaden and his siblings, Willow and Trey: “My style of parenting is very similar to that of my parents, minus the concept of ownership … We respect our children the way we would respect any other person. Things like cleaning up their room. You would never tell a full-grown adult to clean their room, so we don’t tell our kids to clean their rooms.”

That’s the real rebellion.

For centuries, it has been all but universally acknowledged that young people are idiots — idiots to be guided with firmness and love to the uplands of responsible adulthood, but idiots nonetheless. Certainly not “full-grown adults.”

This mentality explains the titles of countless works throughout the ages: Plutarch’s “On Bringing up a Boy,” Basil the Great’s “To Young Men, on How They Might Profit from Pagan Literature” and Vergerio’s “The Character and Studies Befitting a Free-Born Youth,” to name just three of a genre known broadly as specula principum, or “mirrors for princes.”

Of course, those were different times: in the Middle Ages, back when a young Jaden had to take the plow (or scepter) from his father’s hand at age 15, parents had to be more imperious with their children, to make them into adults. The cottage (the kingdom!) was at stake.

Today, by contrast, we can afford to indulge young people in fun and formative experiences; in the kind of liberty that Michael Oakeshott described as “a delightful insanity … where everything is a possibility, and we live happily on credit.” And that’s pretty neat.

But that does not mean adults, following the fashion of the day, should let young people loose in the world as though they are capable of making accurate judgements about right and wrong. The unfortunate result of such parenting is evident in one of Jaden Smith’s less reported tweets.

All The Rules In This World Were Made By Someone No Smarter Than You. So Make Your Own.

— Jaden Smith (@officialjaden) September 9, 2013

Those are the words of a child, not an adult, who has grown up completely without ballast. And, conspicuously, without mirrors.

—M. Blake Seitz is Editor-in-Chief of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE