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22 November 2006 @ 01:17 pm
Just harmless lies? I beg to differ  
A teacher makes a point about the reality behind Thanksgiving

Good on the teacher. He made a point about reality in a way the kids would understand and remember. No preaching, no guilt-mongering, just the "straight dope," you might say. What bugs the hell out of me is this quote from a teacher who objected to the lesson:

"If you are going to teach, you need to keep it positive," [Chuck Narcho] said. "They can learn about the truths when they grow up."

I'm sorry. I thought that you went to school to learn things, not be lied to.

And that's not the least of what's wrong with that statement. When kids "grow up"- when is that, exactly? When you say so? When you think they can handle the truth? Who are you to decide? When, exactly, will children learn to handle the truth if you coddle them their whole lives by throwing soft fuzzy blankets over cold hard facts? Why lie in the first place?

Children rely on their elders, people in positions of authority, to give them the lowdown on how the world works. No one tells children that if they try to jump from the roof of their house, a cloud will come along to gently lower them to the ground, or that if they put their hand on a hot stove, the heat will magically recede. We see the danger behind lying about things like gravity and heat. Even though there are a lot of ugly things about falls from heights and severe burns, we don't hide the fact that it's possible and something to avoid. Why isn't lying about history, and about how the world works, viewed the same way?

Some historical truths aren't pretty. Some are. Children should be exposed to all the good and bad, as many sides of each issue as possible. Now, it's certain that none of us can get the full truth of an historical issue; there are definite holes in knowledge, as well as biases- history written by the victors, and such. But what we know, they should know. What favors are you granting when you lie? If anything, you're doing a severe disservice to those kids: painting a false picture of reality, potentially dooming them to repeat past follies- and if they're ever fortunate enough to learn the truth, do you think they'll appreciate being lied to, especially by those who counsel that lying is wrong?

I don't just have a beef with dumbing down history. I also dislike teaching kids to believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Boogey Man, and similar mythical creatures. Why? Am I a cynical bitch who delights in taking the magic out of childhood? No. I just have more respect for children, and their intelligence, than the average adult seems to.

People talk of "magic" and "fun," but when you get down to it, the main reason these characters are taught to children is disciplinary in nature. Be good, and Santa will bring you something nice. Be bad, and the Boogey Man will come and get you (or, for the religious, God will send you to Hell forever). These creatures are supernatural in nature. No scientific evidence has been found to support their existence, and in some cases, the logistics are so preposterous that a child is able to see right through them ("But how can Santa visit every house in one night?"). But, even so, belief in these beings is pushed- to the point that children are sometimes shunned for not believing in them. To throw out an anecdotal example, my second-grade teacher denied me Easter candy because I'd said I didn't believe in the Easter Bunny.

Convincing anyone, especially a vulnerable child, to accept belief of something in the absence of good evidence is a terrible precedent to establish. It teaches that faith ("I know Santa's coming, I just know it!") is preferable to critical thinking and reasoning ("How did the Tooth Fairy know that I'd lost a tooth? Does she check under every child's pillow every night? How does she have time? If I stay up all night, would I catch her?"). When you're indoctrinated to the point where you don't demand good hard proof to be convinced of something, you're vulnerable to being exploited for the rest of your life: by deceptive advertising, by politicians, by religious institutions, by anyone wanting to take advantage of your naiveté. It also teaches that lying is okay, so long as you're an adult. Again anecdotal, but I've heard many people express that some of their respect for authority was lost when they were told the truth behind their childhood fairy tales.

As mentioned, I have too much respect for children to ever force-feed them myths. What's wrong with knowing that "Santa" is your family/friends? Do you really think it would make childhood less enjoyable? As was argued by Carl Sagan, why must people invent fantastical myths and supernatural belief systems at all? The natural world, and the universe we live in, is fantastic and amazing as-is. There are awe-inspiring and wonderful things all around us that are real: brilliant sunsets, cells under a microscope, baking soda and vinegar volcanoes. You don't need candy-coated lies or mythological bullshit to have a fun childhood and good life.
Purrsia Kat: drinktothatpurrsia on November 22nd, 2006 06:57 pm (UTC)
Big slice of word pie - just in time for Thanksgiving! While I don't think I was particularly harmed in believing in that stuff when I was a kid, I didn't push it on J (philosophical? lazy? something else? you decide). We don't even decorate for Christmas or have a tree - just a little gift exchange - and he's happy enough with that. We've done easter egg hunts but there's not Easter bunny or talk of religion either. Most of these holy holidays are pagan in origin, and probably were better off staying that way. To me it just is what it is...go look for colorful eggs, celebrate spring. Whoo-hoo. I guess you could say we do our own bastardized version of the other bastardized version.
The only part I worried about was ruining it for other kids, but he was good about letting those who want to indulge the fantasy have their dream world ;)

Miusherimiusheri on November 22nd, 2006 07:24 pm (UTC)
Re: word
I had a problem with being overly sensitive and with chronic worrying when I was younger, to the point that it occasionally made me ill. Aside from schoolwork, one of the things I worried about endlessly was whether I was being "good enough" to avoid Hell. Granted, not every kid goes through that, but it's a possible pitfall.

Most of these holy holidays are pagan in origin

Indeed! And there ain't nothin' wrong with celebrating on the equinoxes (Easter) and solstices (Xmas)! Just focus on the fun (and the chocolate- can't forget the chocolate). I tip my hat to you!
Purrsia Kat: whoapurrsia on November 22nd, 2006 07:40 pm (UTC)
Re: word
Oh yeah, that's horrible about the hell thing. I wasn't raised in a particularly religious family (dad read the bible, but mostly as a point of interest/historical interest than other reasons) and we never went to church. So I didn't get the whole going to hell guilt trip.
I worried about that later when I became more conscious of religion on my own, but I can't imagine grappling with that as a child. Yikes.

Miusherimiusheri on November 23rd, 2006 05:06 am (UTC)
Re: word
My parents weren't the type to threaten with Hell, at least, but having gone to church/Sunday school/Confirmation classes, the message gets hammered in often enough. I think of all the time I wasted worrying about it, and wish I could have it back for more constructive things. Partly my fault for not getting a handle on my worrying sooner, but yeah... suffice to say, no child of mine will go through that ^_^
Ellieellie on November 22nd, 2006 07:29 pm (UTC)
My parents pushed that Santa was most definately real so hard when I started to question it, that I became once again a firm believer in Santa. When they told me the truth, I was absolutely devestated. It wasn't that I was good for Santa or the Easter Bunny or that God was going to send me to Hell forever (which was heavily taught in religious education and promptly discarded that belief upon reading Augustine and Aquinas), but because it was the right thing to do. I didn't want to let me friends and family down by doing the wrong thing.

I was a strange child. After my parents told me there was no Santa, I had to justify why there would be the concept of Santa and the best thing I could come up with was that he was a symbol for people to trust in, a symbol that represented generousity and kindness.

It's why I donate to groups that have "Santa" go to the houses of the poor. It's why I make sure I give give thoughtful Christmas presents to my family. It's why when I have a child/adopt a child, I'll let her believe in Santa if she wants to, but I will impress upon her the goodness of kindness and generousity.

Likewise when I teach my child about religion, I'll make sure she knows all the good and the bad that's been done. I have no problem with teaching to a kid's level. I wouldn't expect a normal five year old to understand 1984 in detail, but there's no reason to hide the truth.
Applesapples491 on November 23rd, 2006 01:07 am (UTC)
hat he was a symbol for people to trust in, a symbol that represented generousity and kindness.

You got it right. Thats the whole point. Too many parents use him as a disciplinary tool.

I absolutely support the concept of Santa, but the idea of trying to keep a 7, 8, 9 year old believing in him is a stretch. At that point, the focus should change too a conceptual situation.
Miusherimiusheri on November 23rd, 2006 05:03 am (UTC)
Why can't one's family/friends embody generosity and kindness? Does a fictitious symbol really have to serve as a proxy? That's a horrible thing to believe and perpetuate: that we have to invent a symbol to represent goodwill, because we mere humans don't have the capacity for it. Moreover, why do generosity and kindness so often get shut into one day of the year? That's been one of my perennial complaints about Xmas: can't we all be nice to each other all year long? ;)

Second wonderment: if a child younger than 7-9 refuted the idea of Santa Claus being plausible, would you fess up, or would you tell them that no, Santa is most definitely real? Just curious.
Ellieellie on November 23rd, 2006 03:46 pm (UTC)
Of course friends and family can embody generosity and kindness. At my grandmother's house, I recieved gifts not from Santa but from my relatives. It's sad that kindness is commercially shut into one day of 365. But I find it hard to believe you're kind to your family just on Christmas, that you only donate to food banks during the holidays and that you only shower Remy with trinkets on special occasions. I have no problem with using Santa as a symbol for kindness and generousity in the same way I have no problem using the US flag as a symbol for the things this county is supposed to stand for. Humans use symbols; I think it's just a part of what and who we are as a species.

As for my child, if she were younger I would fess up and explain to her, what I had figured out. Then let her make her own judgements. I would however ask her to be nice to those who haven't figured out he's not a real person but instead a symbol.
Jolie-Laidewakinguptous on November 22nd, 2006 07:52 pm (UTC)
speaking of sugarcoating......
The federal government has decided to eradicate hunger; that is, the word hunger, not the actual concept.

In a move that cannot be described as anything but purely assinine, the Agriculture Department released its annual hunger report this year with a slightly altered vocabulary.

The department has avowed that the term hunger is "not a scientifically accurate term for the specific phenomenon being measured," (you know, people who cannot afford enough food to fully sustain themselves.) Instead, the nourishment-deprived of America will be put into one of two new categories. "Low food security" will replace the now-defunct "food insecurity without hunger." "Very low food security" will replace "food insecurity with hunger." All of these people will exhibit a "reduced food intake."
How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policyt3knomanser on November 22nd, 2006 08:16 pm (UTC)
To be fair, if I were writing a study on food distribution, I'd hesitate to use the word "hunger". Imprecise and loaded, unless the report included a quantifiable definition for "hunger", I'd veer around it too.

Because, well, it isn't a scientifically accurate term. I think, however, I'd start looking at incorporating "malnutrition", which is clearly defined, into those definitions. "Nutritional health", for example. That becomes a useful metric because many people aren't hungry but are malnourished anyway, because the quality of consumed food is poor.
Paul Cosgroveaniki21 on November 22nd, 2006 10:20 pm (UTC)
You see, I don't argue with the idea of teaching kids reality, but walking into the classroom and just nicking off with their stuff is not a responsible way for a teacher to behave, in my opinion.

Teachers are educators primarily so they have an obligation to accuracy in their teaching, but that's no excuse to be mean to a bunch of kids. He could have illustrated the point without needing to be a jerk about it.

Then again, one of my favourite pieces of teaching was Jane Elliot in the 70's who used some VERY weird stuff to get her point across about racism.
Miusherimiusheri on November 22nd, 2006 11:27 pm (UTC)
The article doesn't say if he actually kept the stuff, or gave it back at the end of the lesson. I would assume the latter- though you know what they say about assumptions ;)

I watched the first part of that- that was really interesting. I'll be sure to watch all of it over Thanksgiving weekend. =)
Aikidoka, dreamer, seeker, general purpose geekmanycolored on November 22nd, 2006 11:34 pm (UTC)
Thankfully the church I went to didn't talk about Hell at all. There were some fundie whackjobs that taught the older Sunday School classes, but we were already contaminated with rational ideas by then, and the Confirmation teachers were not fundie. They arranged to get the whackjob Sunday School teachers removed when we told them that we were being prayed over because of our liberal beliefs. :-D We learned a hell of a lot of advanced theology almost as an academic exercise, and all the Bible stories were read so they pointed to a sort of happy social gospel kind of thing. It was pretty neat, if you ask me. I just didn't find that set of myths quite big enough for my imagination. Beautiful and powerful, but the exclusivity palled on me.

As for Santa, I felt enormous guilt for not believing, even though my parents never really pushed the idea. As a toddler I demanded to know how Santa could be in the mall when he was supposed to be at the North Pole making toys. My parents explained that the Santa at the mall was a human being who was helping the real Santa, who was a spirit. (I was convinced he was Jesus's twin brother for a little while.) Later they explained that when humans give gifts to each other, they are also helping the real Santa. Santa turned out to be a spirit of generosity and love expressed through giving gifts and helping those who need it, and he is represented differently in different cultures, etc. People can choose to give gifts directly, or under Santa's persona, in honor of that ideal. I can get behind that.

In Pueblo culture, the Kachinas are very much like that. They are simultaneously gods and men in costumes. The children go through a process of thinking they are gods, discovering they are men in costumes, and then coming to terms with the idea that it is both. Then they wear the costumes/embody the gods. As adults, they ideally are able to feel awe and reverence for the gods among them even as they know it's their neighbors wearing big wooden masks. Of course, this is also the culture where certain sacred people are obligated to behave offensively, break ritual taboos, blaspheme, and attempt to reveal the gods as silly men in masks. It doesn't do to get the potent myths too confused with everyday reality.
Applesapples491 on November 23rd, 2006 01:48 am (UTC)
Yes, Children must be taught both sides of the story when it comes to history but in the context of Thanksgiving, that teacher was being inaccurate. The whole point of Thanksgiving story is to show a cooperative side of the settler/Indian relationship. The Wampanoag Indians came to the aid of starving and freezing Pilgrims. Hostilities didn't breakout in that region until years later over settler expansion. Two very different situations.

"When they grow up" is a bad way of putting it. It's more an issue of .. How do you explain the complexities of the situation to third graders? Try fielding the Question "Why were they so mean to them?" from a third grader. "Well Jimmy, They were religious zealots who felt that they not only had a right to use the savages for their own ends but a responsibility to do so. After all, to them, Indians weren't enlightened beings .. no better then animals."

American History gets beaten to death in our schools. Once in Elementary, again in 7th grade, again in 11th. Each level builds on the other and by High School you've heard plenty about how horrible we were to the Indians.

Personally, I don't think history should be taught in elementary school at all. Let them focus on being able to read, write and spell. Hell, throw a second language in there too. Leave History for an age where their reasoning skills have improved a bit.
Miusherimiusheri on November 23rd, 2006 04:56 am (UTC)
Leave History for an age where their reasoning skills have improved a bit.

My concern would be structuring a curriculum for young children such that reasoning skills aren't left out along with complexities- so that when they get to a certain age, employing reason isn't entirely alien. I don't know the best way about this, as I know very little about developmental psychology.

However, you'd be surprised what third-graders- young children in general- are capable of learning. Check out the link aniki21 left me above- pretty powerful stuff.

I don't like the tendency for society to condescend to children, and the general underestimation of childrens' capacity for learning. My parents treated me as a little adult, essentially, and even as a third grader, it drove me nuts when other adults spoke slowly to me, or used small words, as though I were retarded or something. A lot of adults would be very surprised, I think, if they started talking to children about various things as opposed to down at them.
Ellieellie on November 23rd, 2006 03:49 pm (UTC)
It wasn't until my paster told me why Thanksgiving was an observed holiday. It had nothing to do with Pilgrims and Indians and everything to do with the Civil War.
amedio3kamedio3k on November 23rd, 2006 06:35 am (UTC)
"I think that is very sad," said Janice Shaw Crouse, a former college dean and public high school teacher and now a spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, a conservative organization. "He is teaching his students to hate their country. That is a very distorted view of history, a distorted view of Thanksgiving."

sad? It sure as hell is...that's the point.

I think part of my brain just exploded trying to wrap itself around that woman's logic.
Who am I?canissum on November 27th, 2006 06:47 pm (UTC)
Wow. That's inspiring. It makes me think of this BoingBoing post on The Ghost Map. Heck. It makes me want to teach people not just how to think rationally, but why they should. Thanks.
Miusheri: Laramiusheri on November 27th, 2006 08:20 pm (UTC)
And thank you- for the thumb's up, and for that link. That looks like an interesting read!