November 22nd, 2006

Felicia

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.