When I started homeschooling my kids, there were lots of things I wanted to teach them. Among the most important is learning to think for themselves. I encourage them to recognize bias in everything they read, and to filter it through reality (as well as their own beliefs and convictions) and formulate their own opinions about it. I encourage them not to agree or disagree with anything they read or hear without first taking it all in…carefully considering the speaker or author’s point of view and perspective as well as how it lines up with their own personal thoughts, feelings, & convictions.
After 4 years of intentionally doing this, I just may have succeeded. At least with one of them.
Jimmy brought me his American History book today–MANY sections marked and highlighted–and proudly declared, “Mom. I can tell you one thing for sure. The lady who wrote this book is totally a democrat.”
After I stopped laughing, I asked him to prove it.
So he backed up his declaration by comparing and contrasting her comments about presidents like FDR, JFK, Clinton, & Obama with how she wrote about Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, and both Bush presidencies. He told me that he didn’t think it was fair that someone who was supposed to be writing objectively about history portrayed those she liked as heroes and those she wasn’t fond of as villains. He didn’t approve of the way she highlighted all the successes of the ones she seemed to favor, and spent paragraphs pointing out the failures of those she seemed to dislike.
A proud smile bust from my heart and spread across my face. Not because he had labeled her a democrat (although the fact that he said it and the way that he said it were deliriously funny), but because he had done exactly what I spent the last 4 years teaching him to do–all on his own. With ZERO prompting or spoon-feeding from me. He found the bias, pointed out inconsistencies, and judged the “fairness” of her writing all on his own.
Since I’ve been teaching my own kids I’ve noticed that I have to deliberately stop myself from doing all the thinking for them. A large part of me wants to lead them to a conclusion (preferably my conclusion) so we can all just agree and move on. I admit it’s a constant struggle to put down my pencil and stop connecting the dots for them. I could probably lie to myself and say I’m simply helping guide them to a certain conclusion so that it’s easier for them to see. But if I’m being perfectly honest what I’m actually doing is teaching them to blindly accept what I say because I say so or what they read because the book says so. This method conveniently leaves no room for doubt, criticism, or confrontation; thus making life easier for me because I don’t have to deal with them having ideas that may challenge me or make me uncomfortable and defensive.
The problem with this method is that it raises clones, not kids. It teaches them to blindly accept what they hear and read as truth no matter what bias, prejudice, or outright lies may be lurking beneath the surface. When we give them the freedom to read, listen, question, infer, criticize, and then draw their own conclusions, we are actually empowering them to get out a shovel and do the hard work of digging for the truth, no matter how deep it may be buried. In fact, we are actually challenging them to seek out the whys, consider the options, and measure it against what they believe to be true.
Socrates once said, “To find yourself, think for yourself.” As a parent, this can be scary because kids (especially those teenager-types) tend to think they are many “versions” of themselves before they land on who we may have seen them as all along. Or maybe they end up thinking straight into a version of themselves we never saw because we were too busy looking at who we thought they were or dreaming about who we wanted them to be. I haven’t raised any to adulthood yet, and I would hardly call myself an expert. I admit this “letting my kids think for themselves” thing doesn’t come naturally to a self-proclaimed bossy-pants, control-freak like me. But judging from my very small taste of success today I would say that whatever version of himself Jimmy finally lands on, I’ll be one proud momma if I know I handed him the shovel rather than doing all the digging for him.