How to Raise an Unenlightened Apathetic Kid

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By toksook
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Our daughter's 5th grade teacher (who we'll call Ms. Z) is an energetic and enthusiastic twenty-something just out of college.  She typically comes up with novel approaches to conveying knowledge and understanding of a given subject matter, and she is therefore able to keep her public school students attentive and interested.  Much like my own wife, who teaches in another local school district, Ms. Z epitomizes the ideal teacher of our children - the kind we so very desperately need in order to keep our nation's youth from sinking further still into the "Y-Generation" pit of self-absorption and unenlightened apathy.

It was therefore quite unfortunate that earlier this week Ms. Z was reprimanded and forced to issue a letter of apology to the parents of her pupils.  Why?  Because in the class unit on the Revolutionary War, in order to convey a sense of the brutality of war, she had the audacity to incorporate a video presentation of selected clips from the Mel Gibson blockbuster, "The Patriot".  While the movie as a whole sported an "R" rating, the clips shown to the class were not atypical of what could be viewed on network television on any given evening.  Nevertheless, when word of this viewing made it home, the result was the feather ruffling of several parents.  These parents proceeded to issue complaints to the school claiming their children were wrongfully subjected to inappropriate material by their teacher.  Ms. Z was thusly compelled to make an act of contrition and bow down, in the form of a written apology, to these overbearing and misguided parents.  To aptly quote a somewhat distinguished author of the historical period at issue:

"Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing."

-Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791

In response to Ms. Z's letter of regret, my wife and I promptly contacted her to state our adamant view that absolutely no apology was necessary.  While the images presented to our daughter's class may not have been pleasant, neither can the history of war be properly taught without an understanding of its true human price.  In the context of the study of war, it cannot be said that violent imagery is gratuitous.  To the contraty, the "Walt Disney" adaptation of warfare to which many elementary and secondary institutions subscribe is both naïve and ineffectual.  We should hope that our sons and daughters, as they approach middle school, have a truer grasp of history and reality.  If our children are old enough to learn of war, then certainly their schools should be wise enough to instill that warfare is not a sanitary endeavor.

Our blood boiled over when we received Ms. Z's letter.  This is because we knew that she was compelled to write it in response to the complaining parents.  These same parents, it seems, would rather their children be sheltered in a Neverland of ignorance than to get an occasional dose of reality.  How do these same parents react when their children hear about a bomb blast in Bagdad; or an earthquake in China; or a cyclone in Burma; or when that ubiquitous clip of the 767s crashing into the Twin Towers makes a primetime appearance during family TV time?  Or do their children live in some sensory deprivation chamber where they are not let out but for an occasional dose of Nick, Jr., or for a Miley Cyrus concert?

Ten and eleven-year-olds around the world (and in neighboring communities) survive (and thrive) after being daily subjected to real-world violence and misery – whether through war, poverty, or natural disaster.  We are therefore not worried that our child's system will crash as the result of viewing an unpleasant clip from a Hollywood blockbuster.  To the contrary, we feel that an occasional reality check will better equip her for the real world, and might in fact make her an improved, more informed, and more compassionate citizen of that real world.  We regret that there are those parents here who do not trust that their children are resilient enough to "get over it".  In their apparent desire to protect their children, they miss the point entirely.

We are reminded of the Administration's recent attempt (the one in Washington, not on School House Lane) to enjoin the press from photographing the flag-draped coffins of our brave solders who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.  When authority conceals the true human cost of war (whether that authority is our federal government or the local school board), the public becomes less susceptible to questioning the reasonableness of that war's pursuit.  We, rather, would have our daughter learn to question, for it is only through questioning that truth (and justice) can be realized.

We thank Ms. Z for being brave in her attempt to enlighten our child.  As a new teacher subjected to all difficulties the most honorable profession involves, she did not deserve the barrage of complaints from these zealot parents, and she most certainly ought not to have had to apologize.  Next time you have a concern with your child's teacher, consider picking up the phone and having a friendly chat with him or her on the matter, (or better yet, discuss the issue with your child to see if they were really harmed – or perhaps enlightened – by the experience).  And to all parents: when was the last time you sent a note of praise to your child's teacher for all the good he or she has contributed towards transforming your kid into a wonderful little person?  It's time to pick up a pen.

- Eric Ascalon
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