I hope the lesson we are learning here is not about sheltering our kids further, but about teaching them how to experience life.
If I’d never send my children to political rallies, it’s partly because I expect something like the Covington boys pile-on to be the outcome. I protect my kids from political ephemera and encourage them to read the great works of fiction.
In the minds of deep blue America, if some children can headline the anti-gun rallies in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, surely other children can be held responsible for smirks and MAGA hats. If David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez can organize (well, allegedly) nationwide grade school protests last year, then how come Nick Sandmann is attending March for Life? He has to face an adult consequence.
Part of the problem is that kids today are on very short leashes. Their days are filled with structured activities, and what are they learning under our watch, exactly? Instead of proper pencil grip, public school students end up with Carpal Tunnel. They never get to stand up to bullies because lunchtime monitors see to it not happening.
There is the clumsily culturally appropriated second generation mathematics known as multiple methods. The science is heavy on the kind of hands-on glue mixing projects that previous generations managed to experience without adult supervision.
Kids are not learning poetry, though, or reading the great books. Their understanding of music is dwindling. When I was doing art docent, I took it upon myself to rewrite each lesson completely, to actually structure presentations around the canonical works of art. The only reason our children, when in elementary school, were able to name three Founding Fathers, is because I and my husband decided that they need to know something (something!) about history. If other kids could name three Founding Fathers, it’s probably because of that awful “musical.”
I had now belatedly learned how to trick California public schools into teaching students English grammar: declare them English learners and place them in ESL classes. Come Middle School, they’d be out of that program, and, no worries, they will not miss out on any great works of literature because these are not taught in elementary school.
Public school students do get a formidable doze of intersectionality and other forms of politicking. They get it from their teachers, from the administrative stuff, from what passes for literature in their curriculum, and, of course, from the media on which public schools get them hooked early on.
In elementary school, my kids were assigned to write an essay a week based on the news items from the political kid website Newsella. I loved it! Newsella is so incredibly heavy-handed, it’s practically designed to foster a family discussion of propaganda. Although they inadvertently get to hear me and my husband, I rarely talk politics to my children. It’s not a huge ambition of mine to raise kids who vote the way I do. I just don’t want them to be tools, and to that end, I want them to be able to understand when they are being manipulated. Newsella came handy.
Too many students around here get the school district brand of politicking at home, and their parents are even more aggressively evangelical about their ideologies. Those are the families that put In this house we believe signs in their front yard. It’s always the families with young children that display them. I’m convinced these placards are a modern pagan practice created to ward off conservatives: can’t have that around the future generation.
Some children respond to this kind of parenting very well. Woke Twitter kids mirror opinions of their parents so perfectly that parents fail to distinguish it from their own. My local paper printed letters about a pre-schooler crying after hearing that Hillary’s lost, and a fourth-grader shedding tears after seeing the cover photo of the weeping illegal alien toddler whose mom had to put her down when she was apprehended. I suspect that the little ones are responding to political parenting because they are unable to physically get away from it.
Free-range children roll their eyes at adult hang-ups, focusing instead on the meaningful tangible stuff. Such as: toy llamas with batty eyelashes, getting a purple cast, or figuring out why in the world Hermione would marry Ron. (Incidentally, my daughter has the most ingenious answer to that question.) Try shoving politics down a kid’s throat if he can just hop on a bike and go!
There’s been a whole lot of awareness raised lately about commercialization of childhood. As the argument goes, a child exposed to advertising on Nickelodeon app will be overcome with the irrational desire to buy an M&M. I don’t want to dismiss these type of warnings altogether because parents need to understand just how pervasive high tech marketing can be, limit media exposure, and teach children to be picky consumers.
Because it can be tackled with these lifestyle adjustments, commercialization of childhood is not that insidious. Politicization of childhood is a far greater problem because ideology is everywhere these days, and because we are failing to distinguish between personal and political. Try telling a child that maybe going to a rally and listening to a boring speech by a known anti-Semite is not good for her, and you’d hear from her mom. And the mom would then respond by doubling her efforts to saturate her kid in politics.
Of course, parents have the liberty to teach their little ones whatever the hell they want, but when children are aggressively evangelized in certain political ideology, especially if they are told that their fellow citizens who may have a different take on current events are the personification of evil, it’s not good for the country or the kids.
The Quintessential Act of Adolescent Soviet Rebellion
I grew up with the heavily politicized late Soviet educational system. Yet many of us heard very different conversations at home, so there was some kind of diversity of opinion. To be sure, the grown-up talk was too abstract to matter most of the time. More significantly, we spent less time on school campuses. When we weren’t at school, we’d be outside, even on rainy days, or if a cold Arctic front rolled in. And when we weren’t outside, we were reading and writing stories, or just watching TV. Few of us had more than one structured activity a week.
In what roughly corresponds to American middle school years, up until the age of fourteen, Soviet schoolchildren were automatically enrolled in Young Pioneers. When in school, Young Pioneers wore Lenin pins, and red satin scarves around our necks. At fourteen, we had to enroll in Komsomol, at which point we’d trade the scarves and the Lenin pins for different Lenin pins.
To look older, socially precocious Pioneers took off their scarves as soon as they walked out of the school doors. Entering adulthood meant the removal of the markings of the regime, and that wasn’t even any kind of political statement. Autonomy was a personal matter, and young people found ways to assert it even within the confines of the totalitarian regime.
Not all of us removed the red scarves, in fact most of us didn’t, but to assert a private, personal self was the ultimate act of rebellion for my generation. It’s worth noting, although it’s the subject for a whole other discussion, that the Russian speakers who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s remain the most liberty-minded cohort.
I roll my eyes at the dress code shenanigans in the U.S. For instance, in a local middle school, a seventh grade teacher sent a girl dressed up in a way that violated the perfectly sensible rules governing personal appearance of students to the office, to get suspended. Following a series of incidents of this kind, the School Board voted to abolish the dress code. Now the students are free to wear pj’s, and they have.
This was not an adolescent student in search for her authentic self; she is being used by adults with agendas. Gen Z (Z? I’ve lost track) children are not given the physical space in which to rebel. If any one of them would dare to defy authority under the current conditions, the child would likely be put in a chemical straight jacket.
How Soviet Education Was Better. No Really.
A few years back, The New York Times published an op-ed commemorating the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution. It was the most important piece I’ve read in the Grey Lady in a while, possibly ever. In it, UC Berkeley historian Yuri Slezkine explained that the Bolsheviks didn’t care much for cultural revolution:
[T]he Bolsheviks never worried much about the family, never policed the home, and never connected the domestic rites of passage — childbirth, marriage and death — to their sociology and political economy.
He went on to discuss how it happened that the children of Communist revolutionaries grew up to be the humanists who worked tirelessly to upend the regime:
The Bolsheviks, secure in their economic determinism, assumed that the outside world would join them as a matter of course, and embraced non-Communist art and literature as both prologue and accompaniment to their own. Even at the height of fear and suspicion, when anyone connected to the outside world might be subject to sacrificial murder, Soviet readers were expected to learn from Dante, Shakespeare and Cervantes.
The children of the Bolshevik millenarians never read Marx, Engels or Lenin at home, and, after the educational system was rebuilt around Pushkin, Soviet children stopped reading them in school, too. At home, the children of the Bolsheviks read what they called the “treasures of world literature,” with an emphasis on the Golden Ages analogous to their own (the Renaissance, Romanticism and the realist novel, especially Balzac, Dickens and Tolstoy).
Revolutions do not devour their children; revolutions, like all millenarian experiments, are devoured by the children of the revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks, who did not fear the past and who employed God-fearing peasant nannies to bring up their children, were particularly proficient in creating their own gravediggers.
Every conservative, every parent, needs to read that op-ed. Bookmark it for the empirical proof that liberal arts matter.
Our cultural trends are the exact opposite of the Bolshevik-style parenting. In the late capitalist cultural revolution, American family, along with the notions of femininity and masculinity, are being constantly, fetishistically disassembled and reassembled. And where we, the Soviet children, had the classics, which we had, even if they were presented to us through a hopelessly reductionist Marxist angle, American children, in the words of my old Russian Lit professor Irina Paperno, have “something contemporary.” Increasingly often American kids are being shoved ideology down their throats.
We are now, thankfully, beginning to talk about what it means to parent boys in a culture that’s becoming chronically obsessed with demeaning men. But the biggest victims of politicized childhood are our girls. Boys are not easily malleable: if they don’t get something, they go play in the dirt. Boys boast of being on track to be sent to the principal’s office twenty five times a year.
Girls oblige. Moms can put them in FUTURE LEADER t-shirts, leadership being the current parenting buzzword, and have them “organize” political events because this is how the parents understand leadership. Girls themselves will say that protesting is fun (wait, what?).
Agenda-driven young adult novels are marketed to girls. The next generation of the fairer sex is being groomed to break the glass ceilings in various bureaucratic institutions. The femininity we have in mind for them is suffocated by ideological toxins.
Back To Covington
Like I said, I wouldn’t take my kids to a political rally. But, a dear friend of mine went to the March For Life San Francisco with her family, and I respect it. The way she sees it, March For Life is about values, not politics.
Values are eternal, politics are ephemeral. The pro-life movement today is the same movement, grounded in the same principles, it was when Roe was passed. It will be the same movement ten years from now . . . or twenty, or one hundred, or however long it needs to be around.
Contrast it to the Women’s March, a political current of a merchandise marketing branch: they have had a good two-year run, but I wonder how the mothers, who took their daughters to this oh, so extremely important if obscenity-laden event, are now explaining to their woke offspring why they are no longer going.
Covington kids are probably the subjects of the same routine as all other American kids. But at least they are exposed to some kind of ideological diversity, and, what’s more important, have a decent reading list which likely includes the Bible. That reading list makes them luckier, or more privileged, if that’s how we talk now, than the public school kids.
Some people were voicing concern that the chaperones weren’t around when the boys got in trouble. I guess I’m pretty old-fashioned, but in my view the chaperones are mainly there to make sure the kind are not shacking up or smoking weed. They can’t, and they shouldn’t, monitor every single move of the teens under their supervision.
What the kids need to know to be independent at a political event is to not engage the crazy. Nathan Phillips, the man who banged his tribal drum into the high school students’s faces, is obviously unwell. He might be a lot of other things, but all these other things come from that one. When the Covington boys started with their school cheer to drown out the “Israelites,” they’ve reacted to something they didn’t quite understand, unleashing more craziness. It ended with an out of context photograph splattered all over Twitter and assorted hot takes.
I hope the lesson we are learning here is not about sheltering our kids further, but about teaching them how to experience life. To experience life they need more great literature and less politics.
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