The Indoctrination of our Children

by Karen

I watched the Sunday Morning news program Face the Nation this Labor Day weekend and learned that there is a certain level of controversy and turmoil over the planned message of President Obama to be played for students at school with the expected message that education is important. There is apparently some concern that this represents indoctrination. I will totally set aside the fact that indoctrination and assimilation along with keeping children out of the workforce were among reasons stated for establishing a national public school system in the first place. This is not a historic commentary.

First, I am familiar with those ubiquitous television sets in the nation’s school systems that would allow such a a message to be played for the students. Many, were provided “gratis” by corporations, but they didn’t actually provide them for free, they provided them in exchange for access to your children. They require that an advertising message be played and this is commercial indoctrination in the form of advertising. I could spend an entire post on the belief that the benefit of providing televisions to schools is worth the cost to the corporation, but the benefit of receiving televisions on that basis is not worth the cost of the mind space to our children.

Second, there were altruistic attempts to indoctrinate my children while they were in school. Altruism, is not usually as well funded as commercials and not nearly so sophisticated in levels of persuasion or the ability to push psychic buttons. It starts pretty well, but it does not always stick. My children came home saying that smoking cigarettes was terrible and they repeated the indoctrination they received with the fervor of a religion. The one of my children that seemed most sincere and devout is also the same one that began to smoke in high school and has been addicted to cigarettes ever since, something that damages her health, strains her limited budget and makes me sad for the burden it puts on her.

Third, the school systems I have been involved with have always handled controversial messages as well as possible (not that I see where there should be controversy in an acting President taking the time to encourage children to excel in school and take ownership of their education). Sex education, for example, was something that the school system my children attended handled well. The films (one for boys and a separate on for girls) were available for parents to see ahead of time and each child had to have a signed permission slip in order to see the film. I did not personally go in to view the films, but a trusted friend did. She said, to abbreviate things, that the two different films reinforced male/female stereotypes and that made her angry, but that they were technically accurate and she wanted her daughters to see the see the film that was produced for them. Reinforcing stereotypes does not please me, but when special interest groups weigh in on a topic like this, the resulting product is rarely the best possible message, but the best possible compromise, not at all the same thing.

When one of my children showed up with the permission slip I asked “Do you know what this is about?” Answer: “yes”. I then asked ” Do you want to see the film?” Answer: “Not particularly, but I won’t know what all the jokes are about if I don’t”. The response was unexpected, but the point was important and I signed the paper. At first glance, knowing what the jokes are about may seem less than the important point, but jokes actually show a sophisticated understanding of a subject. Understanding them is part of being aware of what happens in the social environment you share. More importantly, you should be able to tell two things about those jokes. 1. Are they funny? and 2. Are they fair? Yes, these two things are different. I can appreciate the humour and irony in jokes that do not seem fair to me and are not based on the way I see the world. It is part of being able to appreciate points of view that I do not share, something that I think that we as a nation are loosing a grip on. I can also tell when a joke goes too far.

The ability to discern fairness is really the big issue here, whether you are actually talking about jokes or about comments and opinions. If a person never sees the original act, idea or information that is being criticized, how could that person possibly know if it is fair or have any way to access what is being said? One person makes a criticism to another and it travels like the famous Normal Rockwell painting “Gossip” so that the original comment is not even recognized by the time it gets back to it’s originator. The vast majority of media also exaggerates in the same way in an attempt to gain market share. And the special interest groups? Pound the drums, rally the cry, encourage donations and the gulf widens.

However, if the criticism is anchored to an original source with which everyone has familiarity, there is some basis for keeping the logarithmic exaggeration, at least in part, under control. Everyone benefits when there is some basis to approach the world from something similar to a realistic point of view. Real conversations minus the huffing and puffing can occur. If your positions hold water they will stand up and if they do not…

So what exactly am I saying? Indoctrination is pervasive, most dangerous in the forms that we don’t think about or recognize, and as often as not unsuccessful, regardless of the level of altruism behind the message. Children and school systems are smarter than we give them credit for, and our children should not just be given the opportunity to think for themselves, it should be encouraged. And the best part? When you teach your children to think for themselves they are a lot more interesting. They even come back after growing up and teach you things, good things, important things, from time to time.

So if you would like some original source material with which to base your opinion on this particular issue, it will be available today at http://www.whitehouse.gov/

Morning Bombs in Marietta and the Economy

When I was in high school, my grandmother took me to Israel for Christmas. It was the experience of a lifetime in so many ways. One way is that it was the first time that I ever heard bombs. We were taking a tour near Gaza and I said, with no idea that I was right, “Hey, what do you think that is, bombs?”. The bombs were in the distance and there was never any danger to us, but I was visiting in a country where safety was never taken for granted, and, on a different level, I was never able to take that for granted again, either. Bombs that I could hear were a a very real risk to somebody out there along the horizon. Later when I lived on a military base, there were bombing ranges and the windows rattled fairly frequently. I do know what real bombs actually sound like. So, when I say that Saturday morning I was awakened by the thought that I heard bombs, the idea wasn’t pulled from thin air, I had experience to lend validity to my interpretation of the noise. I ran downstairs to turn on the television and see if the news had anything to report. The most threatening report I could find was one on the Weather Channel about severe thunderstorms.

In those few minutes while I was satisfying myself that the risk was natural as opposed to man made, I was thinking through my immediate emergency plan. I have had cause to create several such plans over the years. For hurricanes when I lived on the gulf coast the plan was to leave as soon I was confident that the risk was headed my way, preferably before the evacuation order crowds the evacuation routes. I would take an overnight bag and as many sentimental irreplaceables as can reasonably be taken. If there is an unstoppable fire in my house, the plan is to toss as many valuables out the window as I can before there is a risk to my health, with a preference toward the sentimental irreplaceables and to GET OUT before I am personally in danger. If there were bombs going off here in Marietta, sentimental irreplaceables were not on the list. The list was more survivalist. Weapons, tools, money and camping gear. Not everything that would fit in the car, but everything that I could reasonably gather in the 15 or so minutes I would allow myself to pack.

Since 9-11 there are many more civilians in the US who understand what I felt the day I experienced war within earshot, some on a much more personal, life threatening or life changing level than I. Empathy for those people or for people who have never known anything but war sometimes helps us to cope with our own trials. This is where I see the link to the economy because widespread fear related to our economic times is such an example. We may say that we feel shell shocked, but at the end of the day we know that the metaphor we use is, in fact, a reality for some. There have always been stories of people who live with war and have an unstoppable will to thrive as well as stories of people who seem to have everything to live for and no will to live. Today we are much more likely to know that person rather than simply to have heard about them.

Like my emergency plans for natural and political disaster, I have plans for financial disaster. The the natural and political disaster plans have had no big changes or revelations over the years. The plan that was good for a given situation 20 years ago is still pretty good now. For my financial plans there have been fundamental changes. I feel a bit betrayed because the rules we live by have been broken. All my hard work to make responsible financial decisions only means that I don’t qualify for assistance, only for a piece of the tax burden that will remain after all is said and done. We say that financial institutions are too large to be allowed to fail while encouraging them to buy each other, creating still larger institutions. Each party blames the other and seems to think the situation can be understood in the context of a zero sum game. The people who behaved responsibly while others were caught up in the demise of our economy are seeing a retirement that looks markedly different than the one they prepared for responsibly over a lifetime. All of the hyperbole, blame game and partisanship aside, we are truly rewarding bad behaviour and preserving the institutions that foster the pursuit a quick buck at the cost of tomorrow, at the cost of our children’s future.

What is my financial plan now? Well, until I figure that out, hugs help, and I try very hard to remember that if I smile it is harder for people to see the circles underneath my eyes…and I am thankful that the thunder on the horizon was nothing more.