Friday, December 08, 2006

Raising Free Thinkers

The Brian from Story of the Turtle, poses this morning what I sometimes think of as the fundamental issue for liberal parents. Just to make it dramatic I like to put it like this:

How do I teach them to question authority when I am the authority?

I had a colleague years ago who talked a lot about the importance of questioning authority. It seemed to me that he was very invested in his students rejecting the establishment in the exact same way that he had. He always reminded of a Dr. Pepper commercial: don't be like everyone else, be unique, exactly like me.

Like Brian's child, my Brian and Andrew have been to Pride Celebrations -- six of them to be exact. The past two years Brian and Andrew have taken over the job of staying at the PFLAG booth at the park where the march ends. They have skipped the rally with all the boring speeches, and the tedious march through town. Instead they sit guard over the brochures and play with their hand-held gaming systems.

They are happy to wear their "I'm a PFLAG brother" buttons. They wanted t-shirts that say, "My brother came out of the closet and all I got was this stupid t-shirt" but I did not buy them when they were available and now we can't find them.

But I digress.

The point is that I feel strongly about various issues. I also want my kids to think through things on their own. The truth is I want them to be caring and committed to justice and equality and I want them to do that because they figured out that it was the right thing to do.

So how do we do that?

I think it is both more and less difficult that we think it is.

Kids are sponges at some ages and determined rebels at others. In other words, we can tell them what we believe, expressed as what we believe, and when they are small they will simply accept it. Even if we want them to think for themselves, when they are small, they won't. They will just believe us. It makes the part of us that wants them to be free thinkers uncomfortable, but I say to you, "Fear Not. Adolescence Shall Come." No matter how uncomfortable you are with the fact that your little child adores you uncritically and believes everything you say, you will be rescued from that discomfort when he or she turns into a teenager and decides you are an idiot.

It takes a lot of effort to prevent older children and teenagers from thinking for themselves. It can be done, but it requires round-the-clock supervision and control.

If you teach your children analytical skills, even if you only focus on OTHER people's views, they will eventually use those skills on everything you say.

I promise.


  1. "How do I teach them to question authority when I am the authority?"

    You got to my point much quicker than I did. heh.

    Well done.

  2. rossecorp4:36 PM

    I'm a gay mother. I have a 17 y/o who is very liberal, questions everything I say, is adamantly anti-system, and completely accepts me being gay. I also have a 19 y/o who is socially conservative, listens to much of what I say, loves anything traditional and enjoys the comfort and security that can be found in the structure and heirarchy of systems, and believes it is "wrong" to be gay. I raised them both, and they have both, each in his/her own way, learned to question authority--mine and others'!


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