International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 182 18th January 2014

Edited by Sharon Kaye


I. 'What's Wrong with Childhood Today?' by Leigh Duffy

II. 'Naughty Children and Angry Parents: Punishment, Consequences and Moral Psychology' by Dennis Arjo

III. 'Discipline and Punish: A Foucaultian Analysis of the Modern Crib' by Sharon Kaye

From the List Manager

IV. Avaya Sharma 'Letter from Nepal'



It sucks to be a kid these days, or so my own kids tell me. I suppose it has always has. Or has it? And does it have to? What might we be doing wrong?

Psychologists barrage us every day with new theories about how we should be raising our children -- as though they have human happiness all figured out. But wait a minute! Happiness is the purview of philosophers, not psychologists, and statistics don't tell us a thing about it. How to live the good life is perhaps the greatest philosophical question ever posed. The answer may be elusive, but one thing is sure: it starts young, really young. What do kids need in order to maximize their chance of living well, now and into the future?

Each of the three philosophers gathered together in this volume proposes an answer to this question.

Leigh Duffy, of Buffalo State College (SUNY), argues that there might be nothing wrong with young people today that wasn't 'wrong' with young people growing up at any different time period. Although many have blamed the internet for current problems with children, Duffy argues that if the internet is harming them at all, it is doing so indirectly - by their parents' fascination with being constantly plugged in. Duffy goes to the source and asks her students about their experiences with being on social media in order to support this view.

Dennis Arjo, Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Johnson County Community College, argues that children need to be taken seriously as moral agents, which includes looking at their misbehavior through a moral lens. Drawing on Jean Hampton's Moral Education Theory of Punishment, Arjo laments an excessive reliance on behaviorist psychology that has encouraged an amoral interpretation of what parents do when their children act badly. In response he argues we need to rehabilitate the idea that parental punishment can play a positive role in the moral education of children.

Finally, I take a close look at the crib. Is it a coincidence that this essential component of today's nursery so strongly resembles a cage? Why do we feel we need to put our children behind bars? Is it for their safety or is it for our convenience--and at what cost?A Foucaultian analysis of the history of childhood sleeping arrangements raises a serious challenge to our unthinking acceptance of the crib.

Sharon Kaye





It's Not You, It's Me!

Teaching a class called 'Meaning of Life' I've been surprised at the struggle I've encountered in getting students to understand the issues, not even the theories. I expected the usual problems with students not easily understanding the philosophical arguments put forth, but I assumed that any human being would relate to Camus' feelings of absurdity, Tolstoy's existential crisis, or Schopenhauer's pessimism. Yet frequently students dismiss these philosophers as depressed or troubled and so not to be taken seriously.

Looking at their lives, the biggest difference between my students and the authors they study is that my students have the ability to connect to the world at their fingertips constantly. The internet has often been thought to be the problem; it is often said that this is what's wrong with kids today -- they are emotionally detached because they don't actually interact with people; they are too easily distracted; they don't see the real problems in the world today.

Rather than ask my students to unplug for the semester, I decided to give them a project that would bring these issues up in a relevant way. By paying attention to their digital lives, I hoped they would be able to connect to these concerns in a way that could be extended into their real lives. The results of this project were surprising and my conclusion is that, while living in a highly digital world might be harming young people today, it is not doing so directly, but rather it is harming them because of their parents' involvement in their own digital lives.

In the course of the semester in this 'Meaning of Life' class, we explore a variety of approaches to these sorts of questions, tackling everything from Aristotle's idea of eudaimonia to contemporary views that emphasize goals to Eastern views that encourage living more presently and getting rid of attachments. Regardless of the correct answer to the question of the meaning of life, considering the question and possible answers -- especially as they apply to one's own life -- requires reflection on one's life, one's values, and the activities one already takes to be meaningful. It requires a consciousness of one's choices and a mindfulness of one's actions.

All of this is very hard in the world we are living in: a world full of distractions, a world in which we never have to wait, a world full of information (but not necessarily truth) at our fingertips, a world where we are in constant contact with each other. How can one be more mindful of one's place in the world if one is not in the world but lost in the internet? How can a person pay attention to the activities that are reflections of his or her values if that person is distracted by the vibrating phone? How can one reflect on what it is that he or she values if there is never a quiet moment to do so? How can I even raise these questions with all their complexities when we can get answers to all our other questions in an instant?

For better or for worse, these are the lives we are living and this is our future. My students, and the rest of us, will only become more connected as time goes on and I have to find a way to make these questions relevant and important to them. My project this semester was to see how a person can come to live more meaningfully in this digital world by reflecting on the values he or she holds in his or her virtual life. I asked my students this past semester to be consciously aware of their virtual lives for a week, to pay particular attention to the texts they sent and to think about which ones were absolutely necessary to send or receive, which ones 'meant something' and what they meant, and which ones were frivolous and forgettable.

Next, I asked them to be more consciously aware of their virtual persona, to look at their profiles on social media. They considered what they listed as interests, as favorite books, movies, or TV shows and thought about which of those interests they have pursued lately, which of those books and movies they have read or watched more than once, and which bands they listen to regularly. I wanted them to then reflect on what they've chosen to list and why. To continue, they were asked to pay attention to what they 'pin', what they post, what they 'like' on Facebook, etc. What values do these activities signify? Given the values they list, there should be a way to live life so that those values are prevalent.

Any one of us can ask these sorts of questions in order to make the most of life. The idea was that this project would make these young people reflect on their values and how they spend their time online in order to then extend those insights into their actual lives and to connect to the ideas they were reading. This is especially important because rather than asking the question, 'what did it all mean' these young people are in the position to ask, 'how can I live in order to make the most of my life?' or 'what can I do to fill my life with more meaning?'

However, what I found with this experiment was quite the opposite of what I expected. I thought they'd admit to being online constantly and to the very trivial things they read, post, or comment on daily. I expected them to have to weed through all of their online activities in order to focus on the ones that meant something to them. Instead, they admitted to being online far less often then even they thought they would be. When they were forced to pay attention, they realized that they are bored with social media, that they haven't updated their profiles in years or that they've deleted their accounts, and that they hadn't used any of the sites that are thought to be popular among this age group.

Specifically, in the discussion, they referred to Facebook as 'nosy book' and voiced concerns that they don't want to share every detail of their life with their family, with people they don't consider friends, or with potential future employers. They were also bothered by the fact that others share more than my students care to know about them through Facebook status updates. When talking and writing about Facebook, they used the words 'unsettled', 'annoyed', and 'bored.'

If the problem doesn't arise from this immediate ability to feel connected, these constant distractions, or a disconnect from reality, what is holding students back from understanding the philosophical issues in a class on the Meaning of Life? Perhaps these issues are so hard for them to relate to or understand because they are young and not because of the digital life they are thought to live. (Haven't philosophy professors always had these issues?) They might not worry about feeling like a cog in the machine because they aren't in that position yet since they haven't had to work for a living yet. Or, it might even be that the majority of the public -- young and old -- doesn't understand these issues either, but those who feel their gravity are those of us who take the time to reflect on the human condition.

Still, there is a problem here for young people today, growing up in this digital world. Even if they are bored with it, it's harming them. But, it's not them. It's us. Or rather, it's those of us raising young people in a highly technological world. Reading my students comments, it's clear that there is a group that's constantly connected, always plugged in, and still fascinated by the online world. It is not the Millenials, however; it's Generation X. In fact, a recent article on[1] cites a study that shows that young people are leaving Facebook because people their parents' age are becoming the key demographic. The examples of people disconnected from reality because of their obsession with their digital lives apply to Generation X more than they do to this new generation.

We are all too familiar with those examples: the person texting through dinner, ignoring the family around him in order to connect with someone not present; the parent who lives behind the camera-phone and doesn't actually witness the events she is obsessed with documenting; the person who spends more time tweeting her every thought than she does actually talking to the people around her; the person who wastes half the day pinning ideas of things to create, places to travel, or meals to cook, but never actually starts the project, leaves her home town, or cooks something new because she's too busy catching up on all the work she's neglected.

The Millenials have been brought up in this world. Many of them only know cell phones, not land-lines and certainly not rotary phones. They've never known a world without the Internet. On the other hand, many Generation X-ers were only first exposed to the Internet in college. The Millenials don't have this fascination with what's going on online because it's always been there. For Generation X, this is a development and one that they cannot get enough of. Facebook is inundated with pictures of babies being raised by Generation X-ers. Pinterest is where new mothers go to find activities for their toddlers and projects to do at home while the baby naps. Many apps seems especially designed for the parent who has ten minutes to waste while waiting for her child to come out of pre-school. Teenage babysitters often get more texts from the parents who are out on 'date night' than they get from their own boyfriends or girlfriends.

My students might be distracted by their cell phones, but ten years ago, they were distracted by a friend passing a note in class. This is what it's like to be a young adult. They look for distractions. Furthermore, they're often very selfish. (That text (or note) is more interesting than this lecture because it's about me.) One hopes that as they mature, they become more focused, especially on the things that matter, and more concerned with others and the world around them. This is nothing new and so if there is something wrong with kids today, we can't blame it on this distraction that is the Internet.

Social media, cell phones, and the rest are encouraging more adults to regress into this immature, selfish mentality. The smart phone is still such a novel invention that they cannot put it down. The pictures of one's own children and what they show the world about the person himself or herself are far more interesting than whatever else is going on right now. This older generation of Facebook users do update their profiles and pictures, they do post and comment on others' post and these activities are often very self-centered. They are carefully crafted ways of drawing attention to oneself and of putting forth a person who has been constructed out of select pictures, interests, comments, posts, etc.

This obsession with the digital world might be harming young people today, but it is doing so indirectly. This older generation has projected their own problem with being distracted by the internet onto this younger generation. Young people are bored with social media and games on their phones and they may not feel the need to document every moment of their lives, but their parents -- and even more so parents of young children -- seem to still be fascinated with this world. The novelty of having a camera at all times has not worn off. The parent who stays at home with the children doesn't have to wait all day for his or her spouse to come home to share all the cute, interesting, or even obnoxious things the kids did that day. He or she can share them with the world in those very instances.

Ignoring one's family in order to share one's family online has become so prevalent that it's almost comical. Indeed, comedians, late night talk show hosts, and commercials mock the stereotype of these young parents. One commercial shows them fighting to get the best seat at the dance recital in order to get the best video, of course at the expense of actually watching the children dance. One comedian takes the point of view of a toddler and jokes at the mother's obsession with being online: When will she stop pinning ideas of crafts for them to make and take the kid outside? The jokes are funny because they are all too true. You can picture the children parked in front of the television while the parent uploads all the pictures of the family doing things that they only ever do for photographs.

While these young parents have gained a way to showcase their families, to connect with other parents, and to save memories of their young children, the children are losing their parents. To create the perfect child, perfect family, or perfect profile of oneself as a parent online, that parent must sacrifice time with those children. The importance of parental involvement from a young age to the well-being of the child is well documented. The amount of parental involvement directly affects a child's emotional health, a child's behavior issues, and a child's success in school. Yet, for a parent to be involved, a parent must be present, not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well.

Aside from the fact that this obsession with the Internet can cause a parent to be absent in parenting, there is also a worry about the perfectionism that comes along with designing an online personality or family. By showcasing only the best of what a family does, by highlighting only their achievements, and by constantly comparing oneself, one's children, and one's family to others online (others who are also carefully crafting their profiles by picking through hundreds of pictures and activities), one runs the risk of expecting too much from himself or herself and, more importantly, from his or her children. Yet, at the same time, those children are not being nurtured and encouraged in the same way as children raised by involved, focused, and present-minded parents.

What's wrong with kids today? Looking back at the specific problem I began with as a teacher, I wonder if there's really anything wrong with this generation I'm currently teaching that wasn't wrong with kids that age in any generation. They are distracted, self-centered, and bored, but that's what it is to be a college-aged person, no matter what time period one is growing up in. Still, what might be wrong with the future generation of college students coming up in 10-15 years is yet to be seen. This is a generation being raised by parents who are often more focused on the idea of a family and how they present that family than the actual family. The consequences of this kind of parenting are yet to be seen, but knowing what we know about parental involvement and the development and success of children, there is reason to worry and reason to encourage parents to do just what I asked my students to do this past semester: simply pay attention and notice what really matters.


Kiss, Jemima. 'Teenagers Migrate From Facebook as Parents Send Them Friend Requests.' The Guardian. 27 December 2013. Web.


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Leigh Duffy, PhD Buffalo State College New York State USA

(c) Leigh Duffy 2014




Introducing what she calls the Moral Education Theory of Punishment, Jean Hampton remarks that only philosophers find the idea of punishing wrongdoing troublesome, something 'impossible to justify and even difficult to understand.' Philosophers have company, though. Prevalent attitudes in the enormous literature produced by child rearing expert range from doubts about punishment's effectiveness to outright condemnation. According to one popular manual, for example, punishment is 'rarely advisable' while psychologist Bruno Bettleheim writes that 'punishing one's child is always undesirable.' [1] These concerns echo those voiced in more academic venues. A typical child development textbook warns that punishment can turn parents into 'averse stimuli for the child' and 'provide the child with a model of aggressive behavior.' Another textbook warns that punishment is a poor teaching tool because it 'only tells children what they did wrong, not what they should be doing instead.'[2]

The discomfort many have come to feel over the idea of parents punishing their children reflects in part, I will argue, an underlying discomfort with the very idea of parental authority. Briefly put, it has become a quandary for liberal thinkers to see how the ideals of freedom and individual autonomy can be reconciled with parental control of children. Though glossed in the language of psychology, the current disfavor that punishment has fallen into has as much to do with this liberal anxiety as the findings of serious psychology. Ironically, a better understanding of parental punishment -- of its possible intent and justification -- can resolve some of this anxiety. Hampton's Moral Education Theory of Punishment, I will argue, points to a way to reconcile the liberal emphasis on autonomy and the exercise of parental authority.

1. Trends in Childrearing

Broadly put, the last two centuries have seen a move away from authoritarian attitudes towards childrearing towards more egalitarian approaches. To a large degree these changes were driven by two trends: the extension of liberal ideals into contexts of intimate relations, such as the family, and the rise of psychology as a science with something to say on the manner of raising and educating children. Reflecting notably optimistic thinking about the natural tendencies of humans, the newer ways have stressed the importance of allowing children to enjoy their childhood, with less overt control and domination on the part of adults. During this time, thinking about parenting has moved away from seeing children as willful creatures whose character needed deliberate shaping, and towards a view of them as mostly autonomous beings needing only to be protected and guided through natural and self-correcting processes of development.

As the autonomy of children began to loom large in parenting, the utility of punishment began to look increasingly dubious. Construed as the exercise of brute force, innately coercive, and sharply at odds with appeals to the child's reason and good will, the use of punishment to control behavior began to strike many as contrary to enlightened thinking. This trend led to the hopeful conclusion that there was no need for, and so no place for, punishment in enlightened childrearing.

With the ascendancy of a behaviorist psychology and its emphasis on the centrality of experience in shaping the mind and the psychoanalytic stress on the particular importance of early experiences in determining mental health, many began to suspect that a bulk of the problems we can face as adults begin in how we are raised. As controlling, punitive parents began to be judged particularly harshly, finding scientifically informed alternatives to traditional childrearing methods took on an added urgency. By the middle of the 20th century, the consensus was that traditional methods and ideas about childrearing were dated, overly authoritarian, and potentially dangerous, and that methods more in line with modern values were to be found in the annals of psychology.

2. From Punishment to Consequences

The problem remained, however, of what to do with children when they don't behave and most developmentalists have not gone so far as encouraging parents to simply tolerate bad behavior. Recent years have in fact seen something of a backlash against excessive permissiveness. Ever attentive to its public's needs, the childrearing establishment has offered ways to impose limits and affirm parental authority without lapsing into the discredited ways of the past. Enter the idea of 'consequences', the modern, enlightened replacement for the now largely discredited idea of punishment.

As it is usually explained, the difference between punishments and consequences turns on the difference between things that happen as a 'natural' or 'logical' result of an act, and results that are imposed by another person in a position of authority. If young Sally pulls on the cat's ears and ends up with scratches on her arm, she has suffered the natural consequences of her actions. If instead Sally avoids the cat's claws but not the spanking her angry mother promptly delivers, she has been punished. While both outcomes give Sally reason to think twice about pulling the cat's ears again, there is said to be an important difference between what she learns by being scratched by the cat rather than spanked by her mother. In the first case, we are told, Sally has learned for herself why pulling a cat's ears is not a good idea -- she has learned a bit about how the world works and how it can be better navigated. The spanking, however, has taught Sally only that her mother disapproves of pulling the cat's ears, but not why her mother disapproves, or why Sally herself should not want to treat the cat in that way.

Armed with this distinction, child developmentalists typically cite a barrage of dangers associated with punishment, the most importance of which for our purposes has to do with how it motivates a change in behavior. Yes, you might get Sally to avoid pulling the cat's ears by punishing her when she does, but only so long as she remembers the punishment, or only so long as the threat of future punishment is kept firmly in view by her mother's presence or threats. One major reason for such limited effectiveness is that such means of control are external -- they fail to give the child a reason of her own to behave, and the act itself remains as tempting as ever. So once the threat of punishment is removed the child no longer has any reason to comply. As an external motivator, the argument goes, punishment does little to encourage the kind of autonomy that we should be wanting children to develop. The child behaves only because she has no choice.

Given this worry, parents are told to look to the deliberate use of natural or logical consequences of actions as an alternative. Like punishments, consequences are unwelcomed responses to bad behavior and the hope is that they will reduce the likelihood that the offending act will be repeated. But, though they too are imposed, or at least deliberately allowed, by the parent, consequences are tied as explicitly to the particulars of the misbehavior as possible, in the way that Sally's scratched arm is a more natural or 'logical' result of pulling a cat's ears than a stinging rear end. Because they are presented as the results of her own actions Sally comes to have a reason of her own to avoid repeating the behavior. Unlike an arbitrary bit of unpleasantness imposed by an angry external authority, a consequence is best imposed without emotion and is ideally seen by the child as just another feature of how the world works -- the objectionable act is something to be avoided for the same sorts of reasons as hot stoves. Consequences, in short, are designed to foster 'internalization', the development of inner controls on one's behavior that should be the ultimate goal of moral training, something that comes about only when the person accepts the norms in question as her own. This is best accomplished by making sure the child has a reason of her own to avoid the behavior.

3. Consequences Evaluated

A fair amount can, I think, be said in favor of commending the approach just outlined to parents trying to secure more desirable behavior from their children. External motivators -- rewards and punishments -- can certainly backfire for the reasons suggested, and much unnecessary suffering has been inflicted in the name of punishment. Still, it is evident that this distinction is badly muddled. Even those who favor them as an alternative to punishment will acknowledge that truly natural consequences can often be unacceptably harsh or dangerous. They should also acknowledge that natural consequences might sometimes be unacceptably rewarding, as in the case of the natural consequences of successful theft. This means that more often than not it takes a deliberate act by the parent to make sure the act delivers suitable consequences, consequences that will teach the right lessons. But at this point we have to wonder whether we've lost everything important in the supposed distinction, as surely the fact that it is the parent who is providing a consequence because she is angry or disapproving will not escape the child's notice. We can, I think, expect children to learn to want to avoid getting caught in order to avoid logical consequences as readily as they do punishment. In practice, then, it's quite arguable that consequences will work much like punishments.

A deeper worry about the distinction between punishment and consequences is that it looks to be little more than a semantic one in the first place. When they turn to understanding just what the point of punishing children is supposed to be, psychologists invariably turn to the language of behaviorism. But this appeal to behaviorist learning theory quite directly undermines any substantive distinction between punishment and consequences.

Within the behaviorist model, reinforcers are any environmental response that makes the target behavior more likely to be repeated, while punishments are responses that tend to discourage it.[3] What is rarely noted about this way of understanding learning is that it is not necessary that the conditioning responses that drive the process be deliberate, or provided in response to wrongdoing, or even that they come from a person at all to count as a reinforcer or punishment. In behaviorism, any sort of environmental response that encourages a particular behavior is a reinforcer of that behavior, and any response that discourages it is a punishment. No distinction is made between environmental responses imposed by disapproving agents and those imposed by impersonal forces of nature -- a nasty hangover that discourages someone from heavy drinking is a punishment just as much as an effective lecture from an angry spouse. Nor is there any need for the targeted behavior to be of any moral significance. A snarky comment from a colleague about a new shirt counts as a punishment if it discourages me from wearing it again. It is easy to see, then, that so long as the consequences encouraged by child rearing experts work to decrease bad behavior by associating it with something the child does not like, they are punishments in the psychologists' sense of the word, whether they are called that or not. Though giving it a new name may avoid some of the negative connotations 'punishment' has come to have, the underlying psychological mechanism parents are thought to be relying on would remain the same. If I'm right that children are unlikely to always see a difference between suffering a logical consequence and being punished, there's good reason.

The simple fact is that punishment, understood in this way, is an unavoidable feature of life, and parents could not avoid punishing their children even if they followed the most idealistic childrearing advice to the finest detail. And even if parental punishment could be eliminated, the world would continue to create enough ways of its own to condition children to avoid foolish, reckless or antisocial behavior that punishment would remain a common fact of childhood (and indeed adult) life. While we should applaud many of the trends modern thinking about parents and children has inaugurated, the current disrepute into which punishment has fallen is at best unrealistic even on the terms favored by that very thinking. But as this very conclusion suggests, relying on such an understanding of punishment is itself an invitation to confusion, as there does seem to be something importantly different about allowing children to learn for themselves the unpleasant results of ill-chosen actions, and what we usually imagine when we think of parental punishment. And indeed there is. What has been lost is the distinctively moral sense of the word punishment that informs the more usual use of the word, in contrast to the distinctly amoral sense being employed in most discussions informed by the child development literature. In particular, I will argue, we need to rehabilitate the notion of punishment in childrearing so that we can properly evaluate its place in moral education. This will allow us to see what seems right about the idea of consequences, and more importantly point towards a more nuanced and realistic moral psychology of punishment, one that embraces the liberal values of autonomy and freedom so often thought to be threatened by it.

4. The Moral Education Theory of Punishment

We can start by noting that parents in fact have different sorts of reasons for trying to influence their children's behavior. Getting a child to eat properly or to go to bed at 8:30 without a fuss is arguably different from teaching her not to steal candy from the store or not to cheat on her homework. In the latter kinds of cases there is a moral imperative that is not there in the former. Since children are not always going to agree with the choices their parents make when it comes to meals or bedtimes, securing compliance in such matters is an important if perennially vexed question. But parents are also commonly, and presumably rightfully, charged with the duty of instilling basic moral values in their children as well, something that adds an additional dimension to the question of how to respond to misbehavior of the second sort. Here the desire to secure certain kinds of behavior coincides with the additional desire to teach that stealing is wrong. That there may be a difference in how and why parents should go about controlling behavior in these two kinds of cases bears directly on just what parents might be trying to accomplish in punishing their children.

As we've seen, in the hand of behavioral psychologists punishment is tied explicitly to the control of behavior, but not in any way that would render it a moral notion. As used in this context, a punishment just is an averse stimulus that diminishes episodes of a given behavior. Why the behavior was changed, or even whether it was changed deliberately is irrelevant. For most of us, by contrast, punishment is an explicitly moral notion -- people are punished because they have done something wrong, not just because someone has decided that they need to behave differently. The recent emphasis on consequences, particularly the idea that they should be as much as possible understood as a result of the act itself, seems to run roughshod over this aspect of punishment. To see what might be missing, we need at least an outline of a theory of punishment that is sensitive to this dimension.

Jean Hampton, it seems to me, offers a particularly promising theory of punishment that in important respects cuts across the two traditional rivals of deterrence and retribution.[4] According to Hampton, the purpose of punishment ought to be to contribute to the moral education of a person by helping to establish moral boundaries. What she means is that while one purpose of punishment is to influence how a person will act, we should aim to develop a particular kind of constraint on behavior, namely the recognition of moral limits. Hampton's idea is that punishment aims to teach the person being punished that they should not do what they did precisely because it is morally wrong. As Hampton puts it: 'the theory maintains that punishment is intended as a way of teaching the wrongdoer that the action she did... is forbidden because it is morally wrong, and should not be done for that reason.'[5]

Hampton provides some useful illustrations. Consider the use of an electric collar to prevent a dog from wandering the neighborhood. The painful shocks the dog will come to associate with trying to leave the yard are punishments in the psychologists' sense, designed entirely to curb certain kinds of behavior by providing an unwanted response to the targeted behavior. The behavior of persons, however, differs from that of dogs in two respects that make punishment a more complicated issue. For one, humans seem capable of more reflective kinds of learning, and as a result can come to act for reasons, as opposed to mere reflex or conditioning. Consequently, they can learn to respect boundaries even when there are no fences by way of conscious or deliberate choice to do so. Secondly, among the reasons that can come to constrain our actions are moral reasons -- we can come to choose to act or refrain from acting in a certain way because it is the right thing to do. Hampton suggests that punishment has a place in teaching these moral boundaries. Moreover, coming to see ourselves as subject to punishment -- as bound by moral rules and accountable for our actions when we violate them -- is a part of learning to see ourselves as moral agents. This too we learn in part by being punished on occasion.

How is punishment supposed to help teach such lessons? According to Hampton, the very fact that it might lead to punishment marks the transgression of a moral boundary. There seems to be a fundamental difference between acts that are merely inadvisable or contrary to the actor's own interests and those that are in some sense morally wrong. Consider the difference between the sense in which it is wrong to cheat at solitaire (Hampton's example), and the sense in which it is wrong to steal or to cheat on a test. That it is not merely inadvisable to cheat on a test, but something you shouldn't do even if it does benefit you is what we want to teach the child. That you can be punished for cheating on a test but not for cheating at solitaire is one way of marking that distinction, and in the process dramatically underlining the greater seriousness of the second kind of transgression. The humbling that comes with suffering the moral consequences of cheating emphasizes the fact that the transgressor too is bound by such limits, like it or not. As Hampton says, a crucial difference between saying 'you mustn't cheat at solitaire' and 'you mustn't cheat on tests' is that there is a threat of punishment in the latter case. So on this view, the punishment provides a reason not to commit the forbidden act, but just as importantly the reason it provides is a moral reason.

Finally, that we are subject to punishment is a fundamental way of marking our inclusion in a social world that assumes certain things about us: that we are autonomous, that we can be held responsible for our actions, that we have been trusted with a degree of freedom. Accordingly, being subject to punishment, far from being a threat to the child's autonomy, in fact assumes and reinforces it. As moral agents, capable of freely choosing to respect or violate moral boundaries, we are subject to the punishment that outlines those boundaries in such tangible ways. One thing we should want to teach children is that they are on their way to becoming such agents. In the context of childrearing, this idea would go a long way toward cashing out the old fashioned but murky idea that punishing children plays a role in 'teaching them right from wrong.' More precisely and clearly, it has a role in both teaching children that they are (or are becoming) moral agents, and in teaching them the moral limits of the world they are living in as such agents.

5. Consequences reconsidered

I argued earlier that the distinction between punishments and consequences threatens to collapse into a largely semantic one so long as we rely on the behaviorist understanding of punishment. However, in light the further distinction I've made between punishment in the psychologists' sense and punishment as understood from the perspective of Hampton's theory, perhaps we can rehabilitate that distinction to some extent. A child who refuses to wear a coat on a cold day is being stubborn or foolish, but he is not being particularly wicked. For this reason, punishing him in the traditional sense is probably less reasonable than simply allowing him to suffer the predictable consequences of his actions, since there is no clear moral wrong at issue. Avoiding the word 'punishment' in such contexts is warranted. But sometimes wickedness is the issue, and if what I have argued is right, it remains as plausible to think this should be punished in the more traditional sense of the word, in a manner that acknowledges the wrong that was committed.[6] So long as parents take it upon themselves to contribute to their children's moral education, retaining this use of the word remains important.


1. In order, the quotes are from Kevin Leman, Raising Children Without Tearing Them Down 1993, (Delacorte: New York), pg 140; Bruno Bettelheim, 1987, A Good Enough Parent (Knopf: New York), pg 124. The popular literature on child rearing is, to say the least, voluminous, and not all of it adopts the attitudes reflected here, though it is certainly prevalent.

2. The first quote here is from J. Schickedanz, 1990, Understanding Children (Mayfield: Mountain View), pgs. 378-379; the second from R. Vasta, M. M. Haith and S. A. Miller, 1995, Child Psychology: The Modern Science (Wiley: New York), pg. 46. These works are both entirely typical of the genre.

3. More precisely, punishments are negative reinforcers that reinforce alternate behaviors, i.e. behaviors that don't lead to punishment. A lecture works as a punishment if it leads the child to clean her room by reinforcing room cleaning as a way of avoiding future lectures.

4. See Jean Hampton, 'The Moral Education of Punishment', Philosophy and Public Affairs, 13.3, 1984, pp 208-236. Though I will be applying Hampton's theory solely to the question of punishment in childrearing, Hampton takes it to apply to punishment in all contexts, including criminal justice. I think it actually runs into big problems when taken into that arena, but I won't pursue such concerns here.

5. Hampton, op cit. pg 212.

6. This leaves open just what kinds of punishments are appropriate, a question I won't go into here. It may very well be the case that the comparatively mild and context specific responses that are recommended as 'consequences' would also work very well as punishments in the relevant sense (as suggested earlier, I think probably do.) Though I am in a sense defending a more traditional interpretation of punishment, I don't mean this to translate into a defense of any particular traditional childhood punishments. It is also worth noting that the analysis on offer her would tend towards favoring mild punishments -- anything too harsh would likely produce feelings of anger, resentment or defensiveness that would drown out any moral lesson. The idea is to communicate and appeal to understanding, not to rely on fear and instincts for self-preservation.

Dennis Arjo, Chair Department of Philosophy and Religion Johnson County Community College Kansas

(c) Dennis Arjo 2014




1. Thought Experiment

You are alone. It is dark. You've been here before, and you've always hated it.

You are afraid. You don't know why you are afraid; you know only that where you are now is so different from where you were a moment ago.

You cry out. Your cries are heard, you know, but not answered. You grow angry.

You get up and ram you body against the railing that surrounds you. You throw yourself down on the mattress. You scream in frustration.

A moment ago, you were in your mother's arms, with warm, buzzing activity all around you. Your family. Talking, reading, and singing. The heartbeats. And most importantly breathing. All that wonderful breathing! The rhythmic rise and fall.

The rising and the falling.

The rising and the falling.

The fresh body odors. The smiles and laughter. Then hugs and kisses from everyone -- the very best moment of the day!

And then nothing. Now there is nothing. No one else is breathing here. Everything is as still as death. Time itself seems to stop. How did this happen? And why? What did you do to cause this misery? You don't understand. You cry until you are unable to cry any more.


This thought experiment is meant to paint you a vivid picture of an experience many American infants go through on a daily basis. It is meant to remind you of what you yourself probably experienced, if you -- like me -- were raised in a crib. If only I could hypnotize us and take us back to a living memory of those moments, then the stage would be well set for the following discussion.

My purpose in this paper is to call into question the practice of putting infants to sleep in cribs. A typical analytic methodology would be to argue for utilitarian, deontological, virtue ethic, or care ethic principles and then apply them to the case at hand. My methodology, in contrast, will be genealogical, drawn from the well-known continental philosopher, Michel Foucault (1926-1984). Interpreting Foucault in analytical way, I wish to argue that tracing the historical origins of crib use reveals that it is not the 'necessary evil' it is commonly assumed to be.

2. Foucault and the Method of Genealogy

Michel Foucault made a profound impact on the twentieth-century with his critique of modern science.[1] Casting a skeptical eye on psychology, medicine, and other empirical disciplines, Foucault argued that supposedly necessary truths about human nature are actually contingent products of historical circumstances.

Foucault took his cue from Friedrich Nietzsche who shocked the world with his Genealogy of Morals. Nietzsche argued that Christians invented the supposedly necessary truths of morality in revolt against their oppressors. For example, they applied the category 'evil' to things their oppressors deemed good, such as wealth. Likewise, Foucault asserts, scientists invent the supposedly necessary truths of science to advance their ideal of a scientific society. For example, they apply the category 'abnormal' to things that defy their theories, such as homosexuality.

Foucault calls his methodology 'genealogical' because it traces the emergence of norms throughout history. Just as the genealogy of a family tree shows how our ancestors married and produced children who then went on to produce children of their own, and so on, down the line, Foucault's genealogy shows how historical circumstances produce new norms, which then multiply accordingly over time.

Foucault went beyond Nietzsche in insisting that the emergence of cultural norms is largely an unconscious process. This means that there may not be any obvious agenda like that which Nietzsche saw in Christianity. It's not that homophobic scientists deliberately set out to change the world. Rather, many ordinary people over many years unknowingly contributed to the concept of abnormal sexuality as they struggled to control their own latent fears and anxieties.

For example, a boy who wants to marry and have children but nevertheless finds himself aroused by other boys may 'study the matter' (read about it, ask experts, etc.) and acquire 'knowledge' of homosexuality as an abnormality. This 'knowledge' constitutes control. He now has a means of regulating his own thoughts and feelings and is likely to seek reinforcement by imposing that control on others.

Foucault famously asserted that 'knowledge is power.' By this phrase he does not mean what our universities mean -- that learning is a great thing. On the contrary, his point is much more disturbing. He means that whatever gives us the ability to control ourselves and others is what we call 'knowledge.' In Foucault's view, there is no such thing as knowledge as traditionally conceived -- an abstract, politically-neutral repository of truth.

Hence it is not surprising that Foucault became centrally interested in the ultimate expression of power in our society -- namely the criminal justice system.[2] Undertaking an in-depth study of the modern prison, he discovered that it is the epitome of Western Civilization. By replacing the vengeance of pre-modern days with reform, it forces prisoners to conform to society's ideals and norms.

Aristotle wrote that 'All men by nature desire to know.' For Foucault, the desire to know translates into a desire to control, and it is not by some natural necessity but by choice. Western history is the story of our ever increasing determination to control ourselves, each other, and our environment. So the prison is not just a function of the criminal justice system -- it has become a model for every institution in our society. Foucault reveals the disturbing prison-like features of the modern school (with its bells, schedules, hall monitors, etc.) and the modern hospital (with its visiting hours, restraining devices, and compulsory medications). The prison-like features of the school and the hospital are justified by appeal to safety. Foucault's genius, however, is to show what a fine line there is between safety and tyranny.

Needless to say, Foucault's analysis could be applied to other features of our society, such as airports, grocery stores, and private homes. I am interested in applying it to one small aspect of the latter, namely the crib.

3. History of the Crib

The crib is an essential feature of the modern nursery. When a baby is first born, it typically sleeps in some kind of cradle -- a small, box-like enclosure (which is sometimes literally a box, a laundry basket, a car seat, stroller, or bassinette) that mom can keep by her side any time of day or night. Cradles have been used all over the world since the dawn of recorded history (witness the Christian nativity manger) and they are not very interesting.

Once babies stop sleeping all day and learn to roll over, however, they must graduate to a new sleeping arrangement. And here the parents face a very interesting and important choice. Almost every parent in this country today will put a crib in a separate room -- the 'nursery' -- without even realizing they have a choice. History shows, however, that they are wrong.

Just two hundred and fifty years ago, neither the crib nor the nursery existed.[3] From ancient times into the Middle Ages and beyond, babies graduated from the cradle to a communal bed of one sort or another. Many homes had just one room with just one bed where everyone -- perhaps including some farm animals -- slept together for warmth and protection. Practices no doubt varied at different times and in different places, of course, but a documentable societal norm emerges by the 19th-century in America.

Studying ladies magazines and other popular literature of the day, Stearns et al. report that throughout this period, same-sex children commonly slept together, usually sharing beds, in the middle- and even in the upper-middle classes. They write:

     For children themselves, bed-sharing provided a
     companionable quality to sleep. Memoirs suggest that
     settling down to sleep would often be delayed by
     boisterousness, including fights over the soft bolster used
     to divide the bed. But given a more relaxed attitude toward
     sleep and its regularity, even caring parents did not
     object. And the ease and quality of sleep overall may well
     have benefitted -- one reason for the rareness of expressed
     concern about children's sleep disturbances.[4]

A number of factors, however, including bigger houses with more rooms, better heating, and fewer children led to a 'genuine revolution in traditional sleeping arrangements for children.'[5] This revolution was catalyzed by the crib.

The earliest cribs bear little resemblance to their modern counterparts. First appearing around the turn of the nineteenth century, they are basically trundle beds made for convenient storage under another bed. See Figure 1:


FIGURE 1 Measures 29.5 inches high x 26.875 inches wide x 42.375 inches deep.[6]

The railing around this infant bed was barely tall enough to keep the pillow and blanket from falling off. It gained popularity in the interest of raising the child off the relatively cold, dirty floor.[7]

The original, low-railing crib appeared before the advent of the nursery. Only once you have a nursery, where infant/ toddlers spend their sleep-time (which is more than half the day) all alone do you need the modern crib with a high railing forming bars to trap the child inside.

4. The Modern Crib

Behold, the modern crib. See figure 2:


FIGURE 2: Measures 53.37 inches high x 30 inches wide x 34.62 inches deep.

It is, of course presented as a safety necessity. How else will children be prevented from wandering off and harming themselves? Yet this safety necessity appears more of a tyranny when we realize that the human species evolved entirely without it.

     In a cross-cultural study by Herbert Barry and L.M. Paxson,
     of the University of Pittsburgh, 173 societies in the
     anthropological record were found to have ethnographic
     information about their sleeping arrangements. Forty-four
     percent of them -- 76 societies -- typically had mother and
     infant sharing a bed; in 42 societies they shared a room but
     not a bed; and in the remaining 55 societies they shared a
     room with the bed unspecified. There were no societies in
     which infants routinely slept in a separate room.[8] ... In
     all higher primates and human hunter-gatherers, mother and
     infant slept in immediate proximity if not direct physical

The nursery crib would have seemed very bizarre to human hunter-gatherers, and yet it has become the norm in our society.

Someone who learned that the nursery crib is actually a very recent invention may welcome it, along with the automobile and the cell phone as mark of the great progress of Western civilization. Those poor children in days of old who had to lie in a heap on the floor together!

Like the automobile and the cell phone, the modern crib is also a matter of convenience for parents. After a long hard day chasing children around, nap-time and bedtime come as a much anticipated break. With the crib, there is no need for endless singing, rocking, storytelling, or lying down with the child; you simply deposit them in their cage and let them cry themselves to sleep. Children's experts assure us that this crying is harmless, a necessary part of growing up, and will abate over time.

Foucault has taught us, however, to be deeply skeptical of anything science presents to us as a necessity. Being trapped in a crib is both solitary confinement and incarceration -- from the Latin word meaning 'to shut in.' Is it a necessary evil, or is it a choice on the part of many individuals in a society increasingly obsessed with control?

Someone might object that crib use is neither confinement nor incarceration because it is not practiced for the purpose of punishment.

But Foucault points out that in the modern disciplinary society, individuals are punished not just for bad behavior but, perhaps even more often, for lack of good behavior. And lack of good behavior is exactly what the crib is designed to cure. After all, if children could be trusted to lie down and sleep according to expectation each day, then they would not need cribs. So the crib stands as an accusation of deviance, failure, and need for correction.

Nor does it matter whether or not children can learn to love their cribs. Punishing oneself is a very effective way of gaining control. Navajo infants who are routinely tied to cradleboards get so attached to them that they cry to be tied to it.[10] Choosing to punish oneself doesn't make it any less punishment.

According to Foucault, our society regularly employs three primary techniques of control, each of which we observe in the use of the crib.

The first is 'hierarchical observation.'[11] In prisons, inmates either are watched or watchable at all times so that their behavior can be recorded. The nursery's video monitor serves the same function for parents today, giving them complete knowledge (i.e. control) over the cribbed child. They can turn the sound down and note just how long the child cries before finally exhausting itself. They can choose whether to respond or not, and if so, when. Today one can even observe the infant and the nanny through one's phone from a remote location.

The second technique of control is 'normalizing judgment,' whereby one compares observed behavior to expected behavior.[12] Prison-keepers monitor how the inmate's reform progressing. When will he be eligible for visitors, work privileges, parole, etc.? Judging by the booming business of baby books, today's parents are deeply interested in how their child measures up to the norm in every respect, not just sleeping. But sleeping triggers special anxiety because getting kids to sleep alone is so difficult and so directly affects the parents sleep. If a child doesn't eat what he is supposed to, the parents can still eat what they like. But if the child doesn't sleep as he is supposed to, then the parents will not either. And here we clearly see a battle for control. Will the child control the parents' sleep or will the parents control the child's? Most parents refuse to surrender this battle and hence engage in some form of sleep training whereby they normalize their child.

Foucault's third technique of control is 'the examination,' which combines the first two.[13] Prison inmates are required to pass various tests to prove their worthiness. When they pass the test, they advance to the next level; when they fail, they are treated and subjected to further reforms. For baby, the examination sometimes comes through the 'well visit' in which the pediatrician grills the parents on the child's sleeping habits, sometimes prescribing strategies, sometimes prescribing medications to achieve the holy grail of sleeping in a crib through the night. Even more importantly, however, the examination comes through other parents, from close relatives, to playground acquaintances, to complete strangers. 'Your baby is so beautiful. Is he sleeping through the night yet? No? What a shame! Here's what I did...' The baby must pass the 'sleep-through-the-night-in-the-crib' exam as soon as possible because its failure is ultimately the failure of the parents, and by extension, the failure of the society as a whole.

I submit, therefore, that the modern crib is a paradigm example of what Foucault calls a 'technology of power.' Presented as a necessity, it is actually a cultural expectation which individuals choose to accept or reject at their own peril. Rejecting the crib means becoming a deviant in a society with small tolerance for deviance. But accepting it means subjecting one's child to a covert kind of tyranny.

5. Conclusions

The best alternative to the crib is co-sleeping on a mattress on the floor with baby until it is ready to join its siblings or go it alone. This is likely to be years. It would seem an unfair sentence for a woman who has sacrificed her entire body for nine months if it weren't for the fact that co-sleeping with infants is actually a very rewarding activity -- much more rewarding than returning to the bed of the infant's father -- though he may see things quite differently.

Many of the many baby books on the market warn against co-sleeping for a variety of reasons.[14] William and Martha Sears, however, famously promote co-sleeping as part of the 'attachment parenting' approach.[15] Doctors on the one side claim co-sleeping is psychologically damaging and physically dangerous; doctors on the other side claim the exact opposite. It is not my purpose to assess this debate, which, after all, takes place on the very same empirical level Foucault calls into question. Science may accurately measure cause and effect, but as soon as it tells us what we should do about that measurement, we should be skeptical.

Foucault's argument is not empirical but philosophical -- and not strictly ethical. In fact, his position on ethics is notoriously elusive. Because he rejects all universal moral claims, he would seem to be some sort of subjectivist.[16] The only problem is that he also rejects the notion of the subject itself on the grounds that it is a construct of dominant power discourses that limit the possibility for change.[17] I leave it to continental philosophers to sort out the paradox of subjectless subjectivism!

From my analytic perspective, the significant point is that Foucault was an activist, deeply committed to various social issues, especially gay rights, for personal reasons. His genealogy inspires activism by presenting the big picture -- showing how our choice to control over time adds up to a 'carceral' system. He writes,

     But perhaps the most important effect of the carceral
     system and of its extension well beyond legal imprisonment
     is that it succeeds in making the power to punish natural
     and legitimate, in lowering at least the threshold of
     tolerance to penality.[18]

My concluding question in Foucault's language is -- to what extent does the crib help to lower the threshold of our tolerance to penality? And is this a good thing?

Foucault scrupulously documents the effects of the carceral system without telling us what to do about it. He writes:

     my role -- and that is much too emphatic a word -- is to
     show people that they are much freer than they feel, that
     people accept as truth, as evidence, some themes which have
     been built up at a certain moment during history, and that
     this so-called evidence can be criticized and

He leaves it as a personal choice: this is what Western civilization has become and this is where it seems to be headed -- is it what we want?


1. Foucault's three principal works on this topic are: History of Madness, edited by Jean Khalfa, translated by Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa (New York: Routledge, 2006); The Birth of the Clinic, translated by Allan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1973); and, The Order of Things, translated by Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1973).

2. Foucault's principal work on this topic is: Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, translated by Alan Sheridan (Second Vintage Books, 1995).

3. As the following historians attest:

'The concept of the nursery as a room set aside for children is an essentially modern one, dating from the late eighteenth century. Before that, children and grown-ups were segregated in only the most affluent households.' Sally Kevill-Davies, Yesterday's Children: The Antiques and History of Childcare (The antique Collectors' Club Ltd., 1991), p. 125).

'In its need to sequester children from the evils of the world, the Victorian middle class adopted specialized rooms and furniture forms... Parents abandoned cradles, trundle beds, and shared adult beds for a new form of children's furniture which developed around the turn of the nineteenth century, the crib. In theory at least, even a toddler could be confidently left within the confines of a metal crib. The new furniture for children protected them and the domestic environment by confining them to a safe spot, away from the bustle of adult activities. (Karin Calvert 'Children in the House, 1890-1930,' in American Home Life, 1880-1930: A Social History of Spaces and Services. ed. By Jessica H. Foy and Thomas J. Schlereth, (University of Tennessee Press, 1992), p. 79.

4. Peter N. Stearns et al., 'Children's Sleep: Sketching Historical Change,' Journal of Social History, vol. 30, no.2 (1996), p. 357-8.

5. Ibid., p. 359.

6. Historic New England, http:---

7. 'It was considered vital that the child's bed should be raised off the ground and Enquire Within, 1886, clearly explains the reasons. 'The most mephitic and pernicious stratum of all in an apartment is that within one or two feet from the floor, while the most wholesome, or atmospheric air, is in the middle of the room, and the inflammable gas ascends to the top,' Sally Kevill-Davies, op. cit., p. 121.

8. Melvin Konner, Childhood (Little Brown & Company, 1991), p. 113.

9. Konner, The Evolution of Childhood (Harvard University Press, 2010), 408.

10. Melvin Konner, Childhood, p. 69.

11. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 170-176.

12. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 177-183.

13. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 184-194.

14. Consider the following examples:

'So if you want to enjoy a family bed, fine. But understand that your cuddling in bed together may make any future changes in sleep arrangements difficult to execute. Remember, while it sounds like an easy solution to baby's sleep problems, you may wind up with a twenty-four-hour child even when he gets older,' Marc Weissbluth, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child: A Step-By-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep (New York: Ballantine, 2005), p. 79.

'Mothers working outside the home need to consider whether they want the extra closeness at night because they feel guilty or are afraid they are hurting the baby by being away from her during the day. I don't mean to imply that all parents who co-sleep do so out of guilt. But understanding your motives can often clarify your decision.' Kim West with Joanne Kenen, Good Night, Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady's Gentle Guid to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep, and Wake Up Happy (Vanguard Press, 2006), p. 241.

'In addition, sleeping in your bed can make your child feel confused and anxious rather than relaxed and reassured. Even a young toddler may find this repeated experience overly stimulating. If you allow him to crawl in between you and your spouse, in a sense separating the two of you, he may feel too powerful and become worried. He wants the reassurance of knowing you are in control and that you will do what is best for him regardless of his demands. If you show you cannot do this and let him act out his impulses, he may become frightened... If you find that you actually prefer to have your child in your bed, you should examine your own feelings very carefully... If there is tension between parents, then taking a child into their bed may help them avoid confrontation and sexual intimacy,' Richard Ferber, M.D., Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems (Simon & Schuster, 1985), p. 39.

15. See William Sears, and Martha Sears, The Baby Book (Little, Brown, and Company, 2003), pp. 329-338.

16. Foucault writes: 'All my analyses are against the idea of universal necessities in human existence. They show the arbitrariness of institutions and show which space of freedom we can still enjoy and how many changes can still be made.' Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, ed. Luther H, Martin et al., (University of Massachusetts Press, 1988) p. 11.

17. See The Order of Things, pp. 186-9.

18. Discipline and Punish, p. 301.

19. Technologies of the Self, p. 10.

Sharon Kaye Department of Philosophy John Carroll University Ohio




From: Avaya Sharma To: Geoffrey Klempner Subject: Some words about our Programme and our Philosophical Journal 'Darshan Dristhi' Date: 8 January 2014 08:21

Dear Geoffrey Sir,


Thank you sir for your kind words and best wishes 2014. Our philosophical Journal  is continuing. Mainly our focus is general people. Our magazine articles are in simple language as general people have no special interest in philosophy. Now we are getting good response from philosophy interested readers.

Our Monthly philosophical interaction programme has also continued for 2 years. Last Friday was our joint programme: Nepal Academy Philosophy Department and Nepal Darshan Adhyayan Kendra, technical support by J. Krishnamurti Study center. The programme was successful. This programme was in Nepal Academy Library Hall. Our programme Facebook link and photos:


Thank you,

Yours Sincerely Avaya Sharma


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020