Thursday, November 04, 2004

Middle School Politics

My daughter came home from middle school today and informed me that President Bush had lost to John Kerry in the school vote and that Kerry had carried every single state and electoral vote 531 - 0 (She says no one mentioned the popular vote, but I assume that kids who voted for Bush were likely to be in the minority).

I tried not to show my annoyance (this is Ann Arbor, after all--capitol of the Liberal Left, and such things happen relatively frequently around here). I commented mildly (I think), "Doesn't that seem rather slanted to you?" She replied, "Well in real life, didn't Bush win?". I assured her he had and that he won by over 50 % of the vote. I even explained to her the difference between a "plurality" and a "majority".

She went on to tell me how students had angrily commented that they expected that the planet would be a smouldering ruin because of Bush in the next four years. There were other comments similar to that, all prophesying doom and gloom for the world, as well as the U.S.

Gee. I wonder where they all got ideas like that? This is Ann Arbor! Home of the University of Michigan, champions of diversity and tolerance (except, of course, for diversity of thought which is actively discouraged through peer pressure, litigation and protest marches).

I worry a lot about my daughter's eduction in schools like this. While I understand that issues of conformity and being with the "in crowd" are being dealt with at her age level (early teens), it disturbs me to no end that they are continually being exposed to only one "politically correct" perspective in many subject areas. Too many times I get the sense that she is being told WHAT to think, instead of being asked to think for herself.

It was at about this same age that I began to learn to think for myself. I had a wonderful teacher who went out of his way not to answer questions and to force his students to look things up themselves. He would challenge us to think about what we read; take nothing for granted and to critically analyze ideas. No idea was so holy that it couldn't be examined and discussed; analyzed and dissected; criticized and corrected. Looking back, I realize that I really loved that man ( his name was William Bell, III). He opened up many worlds to me and forever changed my relationship to the world. I went from being a passive observer, somewhat shy and quiet (well, maybe not so quiet!) to an active participant who believed my own thoughts and opinions were worthwhile and that my own critical faculties were fairly accurate and dependable. I was humbled by the fact that I could easily make mistakes; but what was nice was the notion that there is no mistaken idea that can't be corrected; or abandoned if it is not possible to correct it. I learned that reason and logic were the crucial tools for analyzing the events in the world, and they also complemented imagination and creativity.

That is the kind of education I would like my daughter to get. It is not, I fear, the education she is being exposed to. Sigh. One of Mr. Bell's favorite songs comes to mind:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.

There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All go to the university,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.

And there's doctors and there's lawyers
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

That song was written in the late 40's and decried a culture of conformity. The culture depicted still exists today, although perhaps not in the form described in the song. The currently mandated and politically correct conformity in our schools and colleges is not disguised by the ubiquitous talk of "multiculturalism" and "diversity". The only diversity that truly matters in the real world is a diversity of thinking and ideas that facilitate true intellectual curiosity, investigation, and creativity; and is the foundation of human progress.

My daughter will never live in one of those "little boxes on the hillside" if I have anything to say about it. She'll build her own house and decorate it any way she wants....

"Mama," the Boo said, interrupting my train of thought, "I was scared everyone would make fun of me, but I voted for Bush. I don't want 9/11 to happen again."

Maybe she did it because she loves me. I don't know and can't know for sure. But I'm glad she was able to stand up to the peer pressure and do what she thought was right--whatever her reasons. I'm proud of her.

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