Thursday, September 10, 2009

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

I don’t discuss politics on this blog. There are two main reasons for that. One, I tend to be too liberal for my conservative friends and too conservative for my liberal friends, and I’d like to keep all of them as my friends. More importantly though, I’m a fiction author. Presumably you come to this blog expecting me to post something about writing, reading, or other authorly (is that a word?) type stuff. There are plenty of sites either promoting or criticizing whatever your political views are.

So I want to point out in advance, that while you may disagree with what I am about to say, don’t disagree based on your political views. This is not about whether you are right or left, democrat or republican, Greenpeace or NRA. This is about teaching our kids to use their brains.

Tuesday the President of the United States gave a speech to school children all across the nation. If you are a parent of school-age children, you don’t need me to tell you this. You don’t need me to tell you because, all across the nation, parents and schools chose whether or not to air the speech to their children. Of course the views for and against tended to tie to whether or not they were for or against this president. The exact same way people were for or against speeches made to school children by previous presidents.

My children’s school—in fact the whole school district—chose not to air the broadcast. I was incredibly disappointed by that. Not that I don’t believe children and parents should have a choice in what they watch. And not because I thought Obama’s speech was so vital, my children would be hurt by missing it. But by the fact that the school district decided for me that my children should not watch something they might disagree with.

Let me repeat that. I fully support the right of any parents to say, “My children aren’t going to watch that so-and-so.” Totally your right. But a school—a place that is supposed to promote free speech, free thought, decision making, and open-minded analysis—decided my children weren’t intelligent enough to watch the President of the United States talk about working hard at school, without becoming brain-washed. They told my children in essence, “Don’t listen to points of view that might differ from your point of view.”

Excuse me? Does that make sense to you? Are we so closed minded that we don’t want our children to ever listen to—or read—the thoughts of people who disagree with them? I get asked a lot by parents what I think about children reading certain books. Harry Potter supposedly promoted witchcraft. Twilight teaches girls to let guys spend the night in their beds. The best response I ever heard to that was from a man I respect a great deal, Orson Scott Card. At a conference where this was brought up, he said, “Read the books with your children so you can discuss the parts you agree and disagree with.”

What an idea! Teaching our children that it’s okay to read or listen to things that might go against their views or beliefs and then deciding for themselves what to make of it. Please don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying all movies or books, or speeches for that matter, are appropriate for all ages. Personally I don’t think Twilight was ever written for ten year old girls. I think some of the later Harry Potter books were very dark for younger children. You as a parent have the absolute right and responsibility to decide because of language, violence, themes or whatever, that a book is not appropriate for you or your children. But do we have so little trust in our children that we think the first time they come across a girl with a wand they are all going to run out and become wiccans? Do we believe that because our children listen to a fifteen minute speech by the president that they will all begin worshipping at the Obama shrine? And if we really do somehow believe all that, wouldn’t it be better to watch it with them and explain why we disagree with it?

As I said at the beginning of the post, I am not here to discuss politics. And if you really believe strongly that JK Rowling wants your kids to start performing pagan rituals, that is your right. But we are raising the next generation of leaders. There are hard decisions that are going to be made—decisions that will require study, thought, compromise, change. Your kids are going to grow up. They are going to go to college or join the work force or enlist in the military or travel to other countries. They WILL be exposed to beliefs different than their own. You can’t control that. What you can control is whether you have taught them to think. Whether you have taught them to respectfully listen to the views of others and not only consider those views but intelligently explain and defend their own views as well.

I love my kids’ school. I love the teachers and the staff. I wouldn’t want them anywhere else. But I will be watching Obama’s education speech on-line with my children. I will be discussing the speech, the man, his views, my views, and what I think our country is doing right and wrong. When I found out my school wouldn’t be airing the speech, I asked my sons what they thought about that. My eleven-year-old said, “That’s stupid!” When I asked him why, he explained with a very earnest expression on his face, “Because he is the President of the United States.” I hope that in the future, my children’s school will not bow to parent pressure. I hope they will remember that I send my children there not to be indoctrinated, but to learn how to think.


Kate said...

I had the same reaction as your son, "It's the President of the United States." I would have liked to have heard more respect for the office and less politics since the majority of the country voted him into office. I, too, agree that this was a capital moment to teach our children to think and analyze what our leaders say.

RobisonWells said...

Jeff, I absolutely agree.

(I've been sitting here trying to come up with something insightful to add, but I think you've got it covered. Very well said.)

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

fantastic post. Very well said. I would also like for people to have more respect for those in office and be a more united nation, rather than harboring a chip on their shoulder because their presidential delegate didn't win.

Annette Lyon said...

Well put. I hope my kids learn to think. They need that. This is so much more (and bigger) than a stupid speech and politics. Or it should be. I wish people would rise above it.

Rasco from RIF said...

Thank you, well said, very well said.

cj said...

I agree that politics don't belong in a writer's blog. I've read things on some blogs that have totally changed my impression of an author, which in turn diminished my enjoyment of their works.

That said - I think if you check back at the initial uproar, it wasn't so much the speech that was being objected to; it was the lesson plan being 'suggested' by the administration to go along with the speech.

Speaking is one thing and using it to teach critical thinking skills is always a good thing. When the lesson plan being pushed includes such 'critical thinking' as telling a child to answer the question "What can I do to help the president?" without any actual critical questions then it becomes more of a step toward indoctrination than critical thinking.

Once the lesson plan was altered, I had no problem with the speech. There's nothing wrong with a president telling children to stay in school and be the best they can be.


Karlene said...

Totally agree with you.

Allyson Condie said...

Loved this post, Jeff. Like you, I'm considered too liberal by my conservative friends and too conservative by my liberal friends. Everyone hates a moderate. ;) Anyway, thank you for taking the time to write this.

Diva Donna said...

Hated the post. Frankly I think schools need to bring back corporal punishment and dictatorial teaching methods and bag the socratic method all together. (NOT!!!!!!)
Just kidding, Savage. My only comment on this post is that if the school isn't teaching them to think then its a good thing you are. I remember taking critical thinking classes in 7th grade where we were taught to question, analyze, argue and philosophize on issues from the best method of survival on a tropic island to where to bury the survivors of a plane crash that happens on state lines.

That last line is a test...if you didn't catch the logic flaw then you need to go back to school for critical thinking review.

Marcia Mickelson said...

Thank you for this post. I completely agree with you. I was very surprised to see how controversial this became.

Kimberly said...

I appreciate this post and even wrote a post similar to this one just a few days ago on my own blog.
As a school teacher, I was very shocked, infuriated, and then disappointed when I found out how opposed so many people were to the President's speech. As a teacher, I believe it is part of a school's responsibility to teach students how to think, how to interact in the world, and how to learn. Those things can't be done if they are constantly sheltered from things that might "brainwash" them into a perspective different from their own.
What ARE we teaching our children when we ignore the things we don't like? Shouldn't we be working and teaching our children to know how to function in our government and its system in order to CHANGE the things that we feel are not right?
Ok, I will get off my soapbox now, but this was a great post!

Heather B. Moore said...

I agree! My kids brought home a letter from their elementary school that said the kids wouldn't be listening because it would mess up their school schedule. Yes, like the assemblies they take time out for are so important! (with a big exception to the J.Scott Savage assembly) Isn't it anti-patriotism or something not to listen to the President of the United States? I'm trying to think of a time in the past when a President of the US reached out to children in this manner. Nope. Can't think of a time.

The other night on KSL, the newscasters played the President's speech backwards, and you guessed it--subliminal messages in the form of pop music! Very funny.

Zirsta said...

I completely agree! Just because we hear something doesn't mean we will agree with it. Seriously, give us kids a bit more credit than that!

Oh yeah, the Twilight analogy is great. Edward is such a weirdo.

I like Seth said...

i was so mad too! They didn't play it in my district :(

The Scarlet Tart said...

I believe that, as a parent, teaching begins in the home and not the school house. No matter what policies come down through the bureaucracy, I still have the obligation to teach my children to think. In fact, I believe that's the biggest problem with inner city "children that get left behind". The schools didn't do it. Their parents did.....Too political? Oh, well.

L.T. Elliot said...

Well said. A friend of mine put it perfectly to me: "If you are afraid that one speech will change your child's entire core beliefs, you are not spending enough time with your child."

My husband and I believe in letting our children learn and discover their world and make their own choices about it. We educate them as best we can, try to teach them good values and believes, and then trust them to make their own choices (within reason for specific ages).

Lainey said...

I have to say that is amazingly right. I went to the speech, and everything youuuuuuuuu (sorry my stuuupid UU key is broke, it is like typing on a typewriter with it) said really everything. People are are not letting their kids see because of our president! But being in sixth grade we are responsible enough to know what we should believe in!

Scott, maybe you should be in charge of school politic stuff! (Jk)

River said...

Thats very true. To understand what you believe and how to argue for it, you must also understand what you don't believe.