In the recent protest at the Bren Events Center in response to Arnold Schwarzenegger there was one thing that stood out in my mind: One of the protesters brought her daughter, who was probably about 10 years old, to the protest. I don’t really know what the child knew about the governor’s policies, but I rather doubt that she had a complete comprehension of the issues, assuming that she even wanted to be there.
What was perhaps more disturbing was that since it was a Tuesday, unless the girl attends a year-round school that happens to be off track, she was missing class to be at the protest. What type of parent would allow their child to a miss school to attend a protest? Clearly not any parent who placed their child’s education as a high priority, as the mother claimed. If this girl was really skipping class to attend this protest the mother was completely hypocritical, especially if the student attended a public school. Every single day that a student at a public school misses class is a loss in funding to the school district. Hence, absences guarantee lost revenue for the school district. Not to insult the protesters, but I have to imagine that whatever the schools were teaching that Tuesday was far more educational than the approximately half-a-dozen bromidic chants that one would learn at the protest.
If that wasn’t bad enough, this mother is part of large class of parents whom I believe have distorted their civic duty to educate their children about civic issues into outright indoctrination of their children. When I see a small child with a peace sign on the front page of the LA Times or pro-life protesters bringing their small children to anti-abortion protests, it is clear that these children aren’t receiving anything close to balanced exposure to controversial issues. Clearly, indoctrinating our youth isn’t something engaged by purely the right-wing or left-wing ideologues, although one of the more recent high-profile cases was from left-wing ideologues.
In January 2003 Oakland Unified’s decision to cancel regular classes and instead have a teach-in against the Iraq war was such blatant indoctrination that even the left-leaning LA Times headline questioned the district of indoctrination. While teaching students about current events is noble, students were only exposed to viewpoints opposing the war and furthermore this “special” instruction completely replaced rather than supplemented regular instruction.
As some critics retorted, Oakland should have done a teach-in on reading or math instead because it would have done the academically underachieving school district’s students far more good. The school district claimed that it couldn’t find opposing opinions, but even in Oakland people have opposing opinions. It seems ironic that teachers and social activists who claim to help minorities are discouraging academics.
Another good example of indoctrination was the Coalition for Educational Justice doing a bus tour against the California High School Exit Exam. Parents and teachers actually encouraged kids to skip class for this anti-testing exercise! What the LA Times failed to mention in its story was that the protest happened to overlap a test date for the exam. Several of the students protesting the exam hadn’t passed the exam and hence were skipping the exam. If you don’t bother taking the exam, of course you will fail!
Ideally I think that teachers and parents would do well to let students generate their own opinions as opposed to simply giving them opinions that we expect them to simply parrot. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t encourage children to attend political events to develop their knowledge of different positions regarding civic issues, but we should avoid having children skip their regular class lessons to attend the events. In addition, we need to give children the context of the issues that are being considered, particularly younger children who frequently have little background knowledge of political issues. We fail both our children and our society when we put politics over education and, worse yet, indoctrinate our youth with one-sided ideologies.
Shawn Augsburger is a fifth-year history major.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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