What is appropriate to teach our kids?

Obviously, the knowledge and skills taught to kids should be appropriate to their age. At whatever age kids can meaningfully absorb the history and message of religions, for example (don’t ask me what age that is), the real question is what they should be taught about them. Given our constitutional separation of Church and State and our commitment to individual choice and the enriching benefits of a multiethnic population, public schools can not “teach Christianity”. But it is highly desirable to teach students about Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the other major religions—their histories and beliefs. Parents have a right to be satisfied that what is taught fairly represents their religion.

At an appropriate age kids need to learn about races—about why some kids in the room are black, white, brown, and yellow. At an appropriate, presumably older age, they need to learn the history of these races and especially slavery as it is particularly relevant in America, as are Chinese rail road workers and the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.

At appropriate ages kids also need to learn about how their bodies function and how to keep them healthy. As they approach puberty, they will want to know all about what is going on in their bodies. If they are not given this information in the classroom, they will seek it elsewhere. Current controversies over teaching information about sexuality and sexual functions to kids at the age needing and wanting such information and over the availability of affinity clubs for young teenagers to discusses these pressing questions, reflects, in my view, two serious mistakes in confronting this issue. The first is to overlook or deny that kids will seek out what ever information they can about every aspect of sex whether presented in the classroom or not. The second serious mistake is the claim that teaching about homosexuality and providing clubs in which kids can discuss their questions about it with their piers will recruit heterosexual students to join up with the gays as if being gay is so desirable. We cannot chose our sexual orientation.

I want to focus on the second of these. We are born with our sexual attractions. We are not and cannot be recruited from it to its opposite. The survival of the species requires that most people are heterosexual and happy to procreate and so overwhelmingly most people are heterosexual. Those who are not are acutely aware that their attractions are not the norm. As they attempt to establish their goals for their lives, most homosexuals try to hide from, or deny to, themselves that they are different. Most would rather not be. But they cannot change the facts. Their goal should be to accept the facts and carry on building the most fulfilling lives possible. This is much easier today than earlier because of honest and factual classroom information and public role models of successful gay men and lesbian women.

Sixty-five years ago as I struggled to sort out my own attractions (yes I know that that was a rather long time ago and a different world) I did not know any, or of any, gay people as models or better still to talk to. There was no Will and Grace, or Peter Buttigieg, or Peter Thiel, or Lily Tomlin. I had only heard of child molesters—bad people who were run out of town. I hated what I felt. It threatened to destroy the life I hoped to have. So I buried it away for many year at the cost of considerable internal pain. What a relief it would have been to have learn in class that some people are just that way and can have otherwise normal lives.

Thus, it is quite distressing to me that some poorly informed parents are rising up against such instruction. While I assume that they mean well, I see their actions as child abuse. They mistakenly believe that homosexuality is a choice. They understandably don’t want their child to make that choice. But it is not a choice. We often say that God made us homosexual, and we chose to be gay.

All children need the facts about the various urges god gave us and help with their struggle to accept their own sexual orientation and to fit in with the rest of society. Clubs at which they can socialize and feel comfortable and discuss the fact of their homosexuality can be a helpful part of their development. Despite the enormous progress in public understanding, ignorance persists in some quarters on which the Washington Post gives an interesting report:

Flyers at school advertising Safe Place club meetings, “set off a wave of parent anger and rumors that Safe Place club advisers including Melissa Panico, a teacher who has LGBTQ children, would “indoctrinate” students.

“Spurred by these concerns, legislatures in at least 19 states have passed or are considering laws that bar discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for younger children while limiting teaching on those topics for older students….

 “’Safe Space’ signs had to come down. The posters were ‘political in nature,’ he wrote, and might cause ‘disruption to the learning environment.’ The signs could run afoul of two legal considerations, he added: ‘One, will what is posted or worn be seen as indoctrinating our students to believe or think in a certain way. Two, would we allow anything that represents the opposite viewpoint?’” It is hard to believe that these were the words of an adult educator.  “Gay-straight alliance-indoctrination-school club”

Progress has been made but we still have a ways to go:

“When Sen. Barry Goldwater, dubbed “Mr. Conservative,” learned that his grandson and grandniece were gay, he worked for new laws that would protect their civil rights. When Newt Gingrich became speaker of the House, and his lesbian half-sister, Candace, became a gay activist, he took a more neutral stance. “It’s a free country,” he told the press. State Sen. William “Pete” Knight has been estranged from his son since learning four years ago he is gay.

“And now, Dick and Lynne Cheney are faced with their decision, how to handle in public what is essentially a private matter: the sexual orientation of their daughter, Mary.”  “The Cheney’s”

Where does the desire to explore come from?

Long ago I had the pleasure of introducing a young friend to types of food he hadn’t tasted before.  He was quite comfortable with his American style hot dog and hamburger meals and wasn’t certain he wanted to try new and strange dishes.  People differ in this regard.  Some are eager to try new cuisine, see new places, and encounter new people and cultures. Some are not.  And some are even rather intimidated and reluctant to leave their familiar comfort zone. There is a lot to be said for the predictability of the familiar, perhaps similar to well-worn shoes.

After some gentle persuasion, my friend agreed to sample a few dishes.  I reassured him that nothing would be forced on him and that he might even discover some exciting new tastes.  If he found that he didn’t like a dish he would not have to finish it.  But he would never know what he might be missing if he didn’t explore a bit.  Once he started, however, it was hard to stop him.  He was pleasantly surprised at how interesting and tasty some dishes were.  He was particularly reluctant to try foie gras knowing it was goose liver, though he fell in love with it by the second bite.

As I noted earlier, people differ in their tastes for adventure.  We might just leave it at that but for two reasons.  The first is that being rich is more interesting and exciting than being poor.  I am speaking here of experience rather than money.  Seeing and engaging new and different places, meeting new and different people of different cultures, listening to new and different music can make life richer.  The core of a liberal arts education (as opposed to acquiring professional skills) is the introduction to and broadening of our understanding and appreciation of ours and other cultures. It makes our lives richer.

The second is that openness to change is a necessary aspect of economic progress.  Technical progress disrupts the established order but increases our productivity and standards of living.  Global trade not only significantly increases our material standard of living but confronts us with other people and cultures as well.  Both–technical progress and global trade often impose changes on us (such as the job skills demanded in the market) that we might otherwise not choose or want.  If people can choose to live where their opportunities are greatest and if firms are able to employ people with the skills that best fit the firms needs, economies will be more efficient and will raise the standard of living for everyone.  By allowing the disruption of innovation and trade we will have the opportunity to, or be forced to, confront and deal with strangers more often.

This can have a negative side for those who do not easily embrace adventure—those who prefer the familiar (hot dogs and hamburgers). If new neighbors come from different backgrounds and cultures, adventure lovers can enjoy the excitement of learning more about other places and people.  But those uncomfortable with strangers can be – well – uncomfortable.  Economic advances can also have negative impacts on those whose skills are no longer needed and we would be wise to develop and support government measures to soften and facilitate the needed adjustments.

A predisposition to seek and embrace adventures or to shun them is given to us by nature. However, civilization and its advance builds on nurturing more social skills and openness. Failure to teach/convince our fellow citizens of the rewards of adventure (or merely accepting and adjusting to change) can lead to disastrous results.  In extreme cases unease can turn to fear/hate as in the recent white nationalist terrorist attack in El Paso by Patrick Crusius.  As-his-environment-changed-suspect-in-el-paso-shooting-learned-to-hate.  The nature of public debate on race relations, religious freedom, globalization, etc., and the words of role models can have a profound impact on how those confronting change formulate their views on these subjects.

The world is a better, richer place when all of its people respect one another and live peaceably together. We and our education systems (school, churches, clubs, jobs) should do our best to encourage those reluctant to welcome strangers of the positive experiences it can open to them.  By learning to understand different ways of thinking and doing, we not only enrich our lives but can strengthen our own ways of doing things (our own cultures). Such interactions can show us what we like and value about our own ways and what we might adjust in light of the interesting practices of others. This is what the American melting pot is all about. It has produced a vibrant, dynamic and economically flourishing country. However, it is more friendly to the adventuresome types than to those resistant to change. We would do ourselves and our country a favor to kindly encourage those “left behind” to open up more to the wonders of our changing world.  With regard to a difference subject of misinformation Anne Applebaum explores multiple approaches to this task: Italians-decided-to-fight-a-conspiracy-theory-heres-what-happened-next?