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.