Public School Perils - Part 1
Children are free moral agents and have a right to be exposed to a range of beliefs well beyond the rigid doctrinal confines of their parent’s faith, and we have an obligation to insist that they be so exposed, at least in public schools, if not elsewhere. — Tim Wise
This was a hard lesson for me to learn. As parents, we try to teach our children what we believe is best. We teach them to be kind to others. We teach them to share. We teach them to stand up for themselves, and when possible to stand up for other as well. We teach them our own beliefs and traditions. We teach them as best we can.
But we are not the sole influences in our children’s lives. Nor should we be. My parents instilled some foundational beliefs in me that laid the groundwork for who I am today. But my beliefs and subsequently my actions, were only honed when I was exposed to my friends in public school. People with different beliefs and different world views.
I was first exposed the ideas of animal welfare when I was in elementary school. I knew 3 other children who were “vegetarian”. They opened my mind to the possibility that people could be healthy and not eat meat. If that was the case, than it only made sense that that is what I ethically had to do. These days, there are animal rights books in my son’s school’s library, and his teacher is a vegetarian. Had I not had that early exposure, had I not become vegetarian when I was in grade 6, would I have become vegan when I first learned what it was about? I like to think yes; after all, my parents had raised me to be kind to other animals, to not be a bully, and to not cause harm when it was avoidable. But maybe it wouldn’t have come as easily as it did.
On the flip side, however, there is always the real chance that ideas that our children are exposed to may fly in the face of our teachings as parents. Our children may fall in with the “wrong” crowed and start to smoke, or do drugs, go to church or stop going to church. The truth is, we don’t own our children. We can’t control every facet of their lives, nor should we try. At best, when they come home playing card games about dog-fighting, we can hope that they know that it is just imaginary play and that as they mature, they will understand the more problematic ethics of a kids game based around kidnapping and forced fighting of wild animals (if the game doesn’t sounds familiar to you, I am talking about Pokémon).
The best that we can do is to hope that we have equipped our kids to navigate these issues for themselves, and hopefully, they know that we will always be there to help guide them when they need it.