Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Accidental Controversy

I really don't know where to start in addressing some of the recent criticism that has recently sprung up concerning us bringing our kids to the Atlanta Tea Party. My husband, friend Kelly (mother of one of the kids who came along), Flibbert, and numerous others have already stated my case for me in the two discussions that have been ongoing. (Thanks, by the way!)

I really don't have anything to add to what they've said, so I will, instead, reiterate what they said and focus on one of the criticisms that bugged me the most: the notion that children have no business ever attending such rallies.

Brendan and I and our friends wanted to attend the rally last week because it was a way for us to act, to show our government that we are unhappy with the stimulus package. We wanted to encourage our governor to decline the stimulus money and to meet like-minded people. It never occurred to us for an instant not to bring the kids, because we bring them everywhere.

We live with our children in the world. That means we don't wrap them up in cotton wool (is that the phrase?), keeping them away from experiences just because they might not understand all of the implications. 'Cause, guess what? They don't understand most things the same way we do--they have young, immature brains and are not fully rational yet!

No, they don't understand the stimulus or exactly why we went to the protest. I don't think it matters though, because they learned lots of things by going with us. They learned:

  • That Mom and Dad and their friends thought that telling the Governor we didn't like the stimulus was important enough to stand in the rain for.
  • That when you don't like something that the government does, then you can go tell them that you don't like it.
  • That LOTS of people agreed with Mom and Dad, and that some people talked into big microphones about it.
  • That riding the train into Atlanta can be fun, but also kinda weird because strange people talk to you.
  • That pigeons fly inside the train terminal.
  • That we brought tea bags to this protest as a way to remember the real Boston Tea Party. (Ryan got this right away and in fact, it was his idea to wear his minuteman peopleguy hat.)
  • That kids can do important grownup things like hold signs at protest rallies.
  • That LOTS of people can gather together to disagree with something the government is doing and do it peaceably.
  • That policeman peopleguys wear plastic on their hats in the rain.
  • That Mom and Dad don't think it's fair for the government to take their money and give it to people we don't know.

Good lessons, don't you think?

We bring the kids all kinds of places where they don't understand the happenings fully: the bank, the food allergy walk, the doctor's office, the DMV. We took them with us to the lawyers when we created the cabin company and when we signed the papers when we bought the cabin. They have attended meetings with our financial planner peopleguy. They even participated in the wedding of our friends and I know for a fact that Ryan is still very unclear about what a wedding is for: he still wants to "marry" all of his army soldiers when he grows up! (Not that there's anything wrong with that . . . !)

No, they don't understand everything they hear--or even necessarily pay attention! But they learn something new everywhere we go--even if the level of their knowledge isn't at the same level as mine.

If I shouldn't bring the kids places until they can fully understand the all of the reasons for going, then I should probably just keep them home until they're 18 years old. In fact, why do I bring the baby anywhere? Because he for sure doesn't have a clue what's going on!

I do not want to keep my kids away from the world until they are grown. I want them to see things--and they want to see things, too--and learn from different experiences. Each of the older kids got a little something different out of going to the protest on Friday, but they each learned something. Incomplete knowledge is okay, as long as the knowledge they do get is grounded in reality. I have much incomplete knowledge--biology, for example--and that's okay, too,

And we didn't discuss this aspect of it too much, not to worry them (Ryan), but--they have a right and an interest in the stimulus rallies because their futures are being shackled by today's idiot politicians. Brendan and I want to stop that and one way in which we can do that is by attending such rallies. (We are fighting the fight in other ways, too.)

There are so many other aspects of the criticisms I could have addressed in this post, but as I mentioned before, I think Brendan, Kelly, and Flibbert and many others have done a great job of addressing those other issues, so go read what they have to say. I'm in agreement with all of it.

Oh, and Ryan asked me about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged and this is what I told him: "There are some things going on in our country right now that I'm unhappy about, and a woman named Ayn Rand once wrote a story about something similar. I think that if more people read that book then it would help them think of good ideas to fix what's happening in our country."

I also explained our other signs--that we wanted our Governor, Sonny Perdue, to say NO to the money; that we wanted our government to take away those stimulus laws and let people be freer. I have to wonder if we'd have gotten so much flak from people if the kids had been carrying one of the other signs. Except for the one Morgan was holding, the kids chose their own signs to hold. Since we had plenty to share, we let them pick--it didn't matter who held which sign--it mattered that we were getting our ideas out there. Nobody would think that the children produced those signs or even agreed with the sentiments; they were there to help us do what WE thought was right.

There is an enormous difference between letting kids hold up an Ayn Rand sign and filling their heads with Objectivist words and making them repeat them like trained animals. The first action is letting kids help Mom & Dad with real live, important grownup work. Which they love to do because they are practicing being grownups. The second action is indoctrinating children and putting them on display. One action shows respect for children and their work (learning to be adults); one action treats them like trained seals.

I've been working on this post for a while now, so I'll stop here. I certainly didn't anticipate all of the controversy and find that I really am very tired of the whole thing. My purpose in posting this was to provide a little more context for those who may be interested; to thank those who have supported our actions in the past few days; and to let people know that I did stop and reexamine my premises very carefully. And to make it clear that we'll ALL be in attendance at the next rally.

Kids should be allowed in the world because they live in the world.


Such Lovely Freckles said...

Jenn, I missed the criticism completely and have no plan to read any of it. I say, do what you need to do and stand by it. You're a cool mom and your kids learn so much from you. Way to go. :)

Deb said...

I guess I wouldn't bring my own kids to a rally at this point because of the potential for it to turn ugly. It's the same reason I realized it was a mistake to bring the girls to a Buffalo Bills game at their ages.

People are so stupid sometimes. My kids know this theoretically, and are coming to understand that it has implications for everyone's lives. But I don't think my kids are ready to handle in-your-face or in-their-parents'-face stupidity yet.

So, my choice would depend on my evaluation of the risk that they'd be in the presence of violence, angry shouting/insults, or even just plain ugliness. It didn't seem that any of that happened at your rally.

There is another concern I have: That of imputing views to my children that they haven't declared themselves -- especially concepts that they aren't yet capable of having. So, I wouldn't want them to carry a sign, unless THEY had their own reasons for making it or carrying it, and intended for it to be their OWN message to the public.

Kelly said...

Jenn, you've certainly given me a lot to think about. I'm not sure exactly where I stand on this yet, but I do agree that children are part of your life and you have a right to bring them when you do adult peopleguy things. I appreciate that you explained, on their level, what was going on. I can't imagine your children ever behaving like "trained seals" with the thoughtful, attentive parenting that you and Brendan give them. Thank you for your thoughtful treatment of the issue!

Kelly said...

Also, I want to say that I have the same concerns as Deb voiced in her final paragraph. I'd be concerned with a child carrying a sign unless it's one that they came up with or want to carry. That said, it seems like many people have made a fuss over a marginal issue.

Rational Jenn said...

I do understand Deb's and Kelly's concerns, but I can't imagine telling them, "No--you can't carry one of our signs." There is no sign they could make on their own, precisely because they don't understand really what's happening. But they CAN help carry Mom's sign, which is all they were doing--helping out.

They would have felt we were just being mean, dragging them all the way down there to watch us do all of the fun sign-holding! :o)

Deb said...

I guess if my kids wanted to carry my sign badly I'd let them. But they probably wouldn't, because I think they'd sense that if their parents have gone to all of this uncommon effort, the issue is pretty important. I suspect that even at the age of 7 and 9, they wouldn't really want to carry a sign unless they were thoroughly behind what it means, and they're wise enough to know that it's just not possible right now.

I think it would make me almost as uncomfortable for my girls to be carrying signs that they didn't understand as it is for me to watch the little kids standing on the corner with their parents, all of them carrying "End of the World" signs.

I think I'm made more uncomfortable by this than most people are, though.

I suppose that's another reason why I might not bring them to a rally--I think it's important to stand up for what one believes, but equally important that you come to understand how important it is to believe it *for oneself* rather than going along with the motions of the crowd, even a crowd of very rational people.

Kelly Elmore said...

Deb and Kelly and all the people of the world,

I think that the fact that they sensed the signs and the protest were very important is exactly the reason they wanted to help hold signs. Our children have never been told or taught in any implicit or explicit way that important work is for grownups. Their motivation for wanting to participate is their desire to do important things with their parents and contribute to our family's work.

I am actually one of the few people I have talked to about this issue who believes that it is fine for children to participate in whatever activism their parents do. If our family believed that the end of the world was coming, I would take my child with me to promote it. I think what is horrifying about that (rightfully so) is that it is so wrong a belief, and good and decent people don't want to see children being taught such wrong ideas. It isn't the public nature or the protesting of the fundamentalist family that is bad; it's the fundamentalism they are teaching the child every minute, not just at the protest.

It is in the nature of a child to believe that their parents know everything there is to know when they are little, challenge their parents views when they are older, and unless they are taught to worship authority, to form their own views as teens and adults. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a little child who parrots his parents opinions, as long as his parents encourage his own rational thinking.

I don't believe in this void of opinions until the child has every piece of info and every bit of his maturity. Children try on opinions and ideas, testing what it is like to be an adult in different ways. This is healthy and natural. It takes more than hearing a parent's ideas, hearing their conversations with other adults, and holding signs at a rally to make a child into a second-hander. It takes a willful effort to subordinate that child's mind to the minds of authority figures. It takes "Because I said so" and "The Bible says" and "Ayn Rand said it, so we know it's true."

I think it is a very difficult thing to turn children away from their own judgment. Exposure to ideas and people espousing them in groups can't do it. Children with rational parents take in what they can from the ideas and let the rest go. They do not stick in their heads as some kind of ungrounded commandment. They collect what they can, integrate what they can, and move on.

I also think that it is a misplaced sense of protecting children's innocence that causes people to have such strong reactions to our kids holding these signs (of course, this may not apply to you guys, but it seems like it might account for some of the horror). Children are supposed to be all clean and pure, and politics is supposed to be all dirty and ugly. But I think both children and politics are just things in the world, neither sacred nor profane.

As for protecting our kids from ugliness, I think that can go too far. Certainly I would never take Livy to a rally I thought might be violent. But I did take her to the Atlanta Gay Pride festival with me. As we walked along the street from the Marta station, there were a few religious folks yelling about how we were going to go to hell and how God hates gay people. She asks what they were saying, I explained, and I told her that 1) There are no gods or hell or anything like that and 2) No one is the boss of us. We decide who we want to love and who we want to kiss. Was that experience kind of ugly? Yeah. Would I have missed it? Not for the world. We faced irrationality together, I helped her put it into perspective, and Livy learned something important. And then we had our faces painted with butterflies, so the day was a hit! :)

I don't purposely expose Livy to those kinds of hard moments, but I don't avoid situations where we might encounter them either. If there had been any kind of shouting or insults at the rally, I would have helped her to understand it to the best of her ability.

So there is my really really long post.


Kendall J said...


Great post, and you prove yourself to be as thoughtful as ever about your parenting practices.

I am always stunned when people manage to pass judgments without actually analyzing the context. I am especially stunned at those who decry doing so as giving the "appearance" of indoctrination. This is a really fundamental epistemological mistake in my estimation. It is the same thing as attempting to write for an audience with flawed epistemological premises. It can't be done. The minute you put yourself in the position of worrying about what the appearance of someone who is biased to think only of indoctrination is the moment you sacrifice to their whims. The correct question is not does it give the *appearance*, but is it or isn't it *actually* indoctrination. For someone to know that, they have to understand the complete context of your parenting life. It is possible it is, and it is equally possible that it is not, but the answer is not to be found in a picture.

Most of the criticism is not worth listening to in my opinion. You were all too gracious to spend the time to explain yourself.

There may be valid reasons to consider refrain, such as security, etc. But what "appearance" you give is irrelevant.

Jen said...

I think people should concern themselves more with what goes on in their own home then the homes of others. It sounds like this particular rally was low risk as far as potential violence (for myself, something I would consider) and, like most things that you seem to do, it turned into a wonderful learning opportunity. But, the bottom line for me on this and so many issues, is that the people who point fingers at others should take a long look at themselves. Jen

Zak said...

As one of the first people to comment (somewhat) negatively, I just thought it would be appropriate to apologize. I already apologized once in the thread, but I'd like to do it again. I did not know the context and judged too hastily.

As for it seeming like everyone is making a huge deal about this, I'd like to add that often times online, a large argument gets started over a very small detail. It's non-essential to the topic, but everybody wants to voice an opinion.

Kendall J, I really like your argument. Great insight.

Arnold said...

I think it delightful to see a family outing like you had. I have no criticism regarding the children being involved. However, I do have a comment regarding the presentation.

My feeling is that when one holds up a serious message for the world to see, the presenter(s) should at least look as if they have the capability of defending the message.

As I said, it is delightful to see such cute kids involved, but perhaps a sign specially made up for them, such as "I love to help Mom and Dad" would be more appropriate. It avoids making light of a serious message.

This is only a comment, not a criticism.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Kendall J > " The minute you put yourself in the position of worrying about what the appearance of someone who is biased to think only of indoctrination is the moment you sacrifice to their whims. The correct question is not does it give the *appearance*, but is it or isn't it *actually* indoctrination."

John Lewis uses this motto on his website:

Esse quam videri -- "to be, rather than to seem."


Flash said...

As a general proposition, there is a chasm of difference between the background presence of a child versus the active (or staged) participation of a child - particularly as an intellectual stand-in for an adult. We saw the latter on display at the Democrat National Convention two iterations ago (I believe) in a pathetic attempt to engender a sympathetic response to the message. Such is, in my humble view, intellectual cowardice and totally inappropriate.

The basis for this view is, just as in the proper education of a child, one ought not introduce or force abstractions prior to the concretes necessary for understanding the abstractions being fully covered and understood.

On the other hand, simply bringing a child along to be with their parents in an otherwise adult setting (assuming there is nothing going on that violates my rule above), with actively engaged minds interchanging ideas, is a profoundly good thing for kids. It is what socialization ought to be, rather than the bizarre notion of sequestering kids into borderline Lord of The Flies holding cells, aka government schools, and calling it socialization... It's not, it's more akin to child abuse.

Yet, I suspect, the very people who would criticize someone for taking a child to a "Tea Party," would also be the ones advocating that home schooled children, in general, lack socialization opportunities...

The lessons learned by these "adventures" will pay off down the road, but the important thing is to explain any questions they have directly and in a way that a child can grasp, given their limited knowledge and development - after all, you are the parent and you know your kid better than anyone on the planet.

Bottom line, in my view, take your kids with you whenever you can so they can see first hand what and where your intellectual passions lie. These are great opportunities for learning and building real, lifelong, social skills. But don't ever use them as an active prop, or an intellectual stand-in /defense shield in the hope that the presence of a child might inoculate either you or your message from criticism. Or, engender a response that the core argument would not get were it to stand on its own.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Wow! I never thought attending a peaceful rally on the capital steps would be bad for kids. But then I grew up in more dangerous times, and I remember being fascinated by a policeman's boot on a sign that said "freedom" at a rally my dad took me to during the turbulent 60's. And in the 70's we not only put the extra matzah on the plate for the "Refusniks" (Soviet Jews not allowed to leave), but we also marched on their behalf.

But then we didn't have seatbelts and bike helmets either. I wonder how we ever survived?

Rational Jenn said...

I took a break from this thread for a little bit, because I really just needed to.

I do want to thank everyone for your support and comments. I've read each comment several times. I have thought much about what you've written here, especially the disagreements.

Thanks again for taking the time to comment.