Parenting Advice From The Ancients – The Procrustean Bed


Good ole Procrustes (pronounced pro-crust-eez)… well, at least ole Procrustes – he wasn’t really what one would call “good.” Actually, he’s a total jerk, but, we can still learn more about our society (and, in some cases, about ourselves) from him, than we are comfortable with learning despite the passage of a few thousand years since he showed up on the scene.  Procrustes was an inn keeper/Greek God, in Ancient Greek lore. He would invite every passerby to spend the night. Sounds nice so far, right? Well, the thing is that Procrustes’ guest bed was oddly sized and made of iron. It seems that no one was ever a perfect fit for the bed. However, Procrustes had a solution. Anyone that was too short for the bed, he would physically stretch (like, not in a good way) and anyone too tall, he would amputate their limbs. That way, everyone fit the bed. Aside from now knowing why Procrustes was never a “fan favorite,” among the Ancient Greeks, you might think that reading this has been a bit of a waste of time. After all, we don’t engage in Procrustean behavior, do we?

I have some bad news. Our education system does to our children exactly what Procrustes did to his unwitting guests. In traditional education, we see a mirror image of Procrustes. Public schools have deliberately dumbed down the educational standards, in an effort to “level the field,” thereby punishing academically gifted kids, cutting off their ability to rise to their full potential, while still stretching those that do not thrive in the classroom environment to the point of absurdity. We have so destroyed the drive to “discover,” by commingling the idea of learning with the poison of what we call “school,” that kids – and even adults, openly express a disinterest in learning, even outside of school! The perception is that learning is something to suffer through so that we can get on with life.

To further compound the problem, parents have jumped on the Procrustean bandwagon, having decided that our ten year olds must participate in scheduled activities, around the clock. How else would they fill up their resumes and get into the best school, so that they can be “successful?!” We struggle to define what this success is, though, often failing to see that we are pushing them in the same direction that we took – into lives which the majority deem to be unfulfilling. To make matters worse, we are harming our kids in the process, as these actions have a net negative effect, as opposed to a neutral effect. Depression rates amongst I-gen (or Generation Z, whichever you prefer), are higher than any other generation on record. Suicide rates are up, too. But, here’s the real kicker – a study recently conducted by researchers at Harvard University concluded that Graduate students, across the spectrum of studies are suffering from mental health issues at a significantly greater percentage than the general public, and, other recent research suggests that there is a mental health crisis amongst graduate students – these studies included students at the nations top schools. If this is all the case, then we can only conclude that, in addition to engaging in parenting styles that are damaging our kids, even if they reach the pinnacle of academia, they will suffer further harm; meeting an even more grim existence than they are presently enduring. So much for that success that justified ruining youth.

To the homeschooling parents, I would encourage you to be very careful not to substitute your own Procrustean education for the one that your kids would have endured in a traditional setting. I’m not saying that anyone needs to toss their curricula and go full unschooling. I’m also not saying that unschooling is a bad idea. I am saying, you owe it to your kid to work to figure out what the best combination of educational approaches helps them learn (after all, that is what education is about right?) and sets them up for fulfilling life (which is, itself, something that will vary from person to person).

Become a teacher, they said. There are going to be SO MANY JOB OPENINGS, they said…

When I was in school (up until I started homeschooling, in eighth grade), every teacher I had told me (and everyone in my class, for that matter) that we should consider becoming teachers because there was going to be a “shortage of teachers,” when we graduated. Guess what: if you tell everyone that they should become a teacher because there are going to be a lot of job openings for teachers, the result will be that wayyyyyyy too many kids decide to become teachers and they flood the market and end up (mostly) jobless. In keeping with our Procrustean theme, be wary of pushing your kids into any given direction because everyone keeps saying that there are going to be so many jobs in that field. If your kid has a passion for that field, then awesome! By all means encourage them and equip them to succeed in that field; their passion will fuel their efforts and even if there are very few jobs, they will likely stand out from those that only followed a similar path in the hopes of finding job security. Otherwise, figure out which way everyone else is going/telling kids to go, and go the opposite direction.

By the way, Procrustes met a pretty nasty end. He was done in by another Greek God who (no joke) decided to punish him in the same manner that he harmed his victims. We all have to live in a world with these kids that we are currently doing a solid job of screwing up, and, for the sake of all involved, we might want to rethink our approach.

(Ed. Note: If you’d like to learn more about the currently demonstrable consequences of the approach we have been employing for the past few decades, see: “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by Haidt and Lukianoff. See also, although less explicitly on point, “Antifragile,” by Nicholas Nassim Taleb.)

Author: thereluctantcommentator

Where to start? Husband; Father; Son; Brother; Friend; Small Business Owner; Attorney; Bassist and Lead Singer for Don't Tell Lucy; Ice Hockey Coach for the NJ Stars; Ice Hockey Player; Adventure Seeker; Reluctantly... a Social Commentator.