Dear President Obama: Please indoctrinate my child.
** POST IS UPDATED BELOW **
When my son was eight my wife and I starting getting emails and phone calls from other parents, warning us that the public school system was succumbing to the forces of darkness.
My son then went to a magnet school that had an accelerated math and science curriculum, which at the time was fighting the school board for its budgetary survival. A local armed services science center had offered itself as an all day field trip destination. They’d get to learn about aerodynamics, and look at cool jet engines and plane cockpits and stuff. But this was smack dab in the middle of the Bush administration, when the war in Iraq was at its most unpopular. The parental alarm went off, and the message itself was indeed chilling: Our public school system was working with the Army to indoctrinate our children into a kill-first mind set; without swift action, our children risked forgoing college in order to serve a corrupt and immoral government abroad.
This sounds silly. (Or at least I hope it does.) But the outcry was enormous, and almost universal. At the end, after publicly held meetings with school officials, it was decided that the field trip would take place but parents could opt to have their kids stay at the school site that day and work on a project related to peace. Most kids either took part in the “day of peace” project (I don’t remember what it was) or were kept home altogether in protest.
I was thinking about that parental primal scream yesterday while reading threads in Christopher Carr’s cool Nickel and Dimed Ten Years Later post. Elias reminisced about it having been required reading in high school (which made me feel unbelievably old) which led to subsequent discussions about whether having kids in high school read Barbara Eisenreich falls under the Good or Evil category. Tom summed up the anti-Ehrenreich with this:
Teaching the amateur sociology and political cant of Barbara Eisenreich in high school is unprofessional and unacceptable. It is political inculcation designed not to create productive citizens, but left-leaning voters.
The most troubling aspect of this thought is that it has become so universal, assuming that you replace “Barbara Ehrenreich” with “X.”
Seven years ago the reaction of parents at my son’s school was refreshingly shocking; that kind of outcry seemed like an outlier. Today, all of our major presidential candidates (save the incumbent) warns that our children are in serious danger of being indoctrinated. And it’s not just them. Turn on any radio, watch any cable news show, or read the threads of almost any popular blog and you’ll see this is a frequently cited issue. (The recent Bert & Ernie indoctrination scare would be my all time favorite if the Teletubbies stealth turn-your-kid-gay campaign had never been caught out.) It might seem like a good question to ask would be what do we need to ban in schools to protect our progeny, but a better question is what shouldn’t we ban?
We’re probably OK on math. (Probably.) But any teaching of history is right out. Teaching kids about the existence of slavery – especially how many of our revered founding fathers owned them – is right out, because it indoctrinates them into a blame-America-first radicalism. On the other hand, we can’t really teach the founders’ accomplishments either, because to do so is to indoctrinate them into a pro-white male hegemony point of view. We all know that teaching any kind of science indoctrinates our kids into the secular conspiracy. And literature? Well, I suppose we can find some novel, play or poem that has no social viewpoint of any kind. And what an awesome read that would be. (Though perhaps I should curb my snark. Do we really want to indoctrinate our children into a lifestyle of reading books? Seems a bit like something the gays would indoctrinate them into.) And really, why even bother teaching sociology or political science at all?
The truth is when you hear the phrase “I don’t want my children indoctrinated,” what it invariably means is actually “I totally want my children indoctrinated.” The parents at my son’s school didn’t want differing points to be taught about the war in Iraq; they wanted to make sure only their point of view was. Similarly, I don’t really think Tom wants anything with a political point of view to be banned from high schools – rather, I suspect he just wants the selection limited to tomes that reflect his politics. A message that we need to stop teaching any new point of view at a public school isn’t a call to open our children’s minds, it’s an attempt to close them.
Look, I don’t know your kids and I’m not going to presume to tell you how to raise them. But I might suggest that they are less fragile than you give them credit for. Kids are surprising in their ability to form their own opinions about things without express direction from adults. In fact, the very desire for them at some point to rebel against those that have come before and try their own path is pretty hardwired into their developing brains. They’ll consume your Nickel and Dimeds and your Tea Party Coloring Books, and they’ll eventually end up with their very own adult opinions and world view – just like you did.
So I say bring on the Ehrenreichs, and the Marxs, and the Smiths*, the Hamiltons, the Rowlings, and feel free to invite Langston Hughes, Ayn Rand, George Orwell, Jerry Falwell, Carl Sagan, Andrew Sullivan, and I’ll even say Mein Kampf can come too. If we want our kids to be able to solve the problems we create – and the problems they’re sure to create for themselves all on their own – they’re going to need to have thought through as many different viewpoints as possible, lest they be blindsided by the first sheep shearer who rolls into town.
My response now to those that say my kids are being indoctrinated?
*Adam Smith I mean. I will not tolerate my kids being indoctrinated into that crappy Morrisey blather.
UPDATE: Tom objected to my characterization of his quotes, and insists that all he seeks is right and left balance. Which is to say, if he learned that someone had read Booker T Washington in high school he would have been equally upset, and would insist on Ehrenreich being taught side by side. I want to therefore correct this on the main post, since I did indeed quote him while misunderstanding him.
That being said, I don’t like the idea of forced “balance” either. Partly for all of the same reasons I mentioned above in the OP, partially because of the reasons Rufus talks about below in the threads, but mostly because I don’t buy this common assumption that all thought, art and creativity in this world exists along a bi-chromatic spectrum. You teach critical thought; you do not strive for equal time from the GOP and DNC. Or at least so say I.