Choices are important.
Learning how to made them is even more so.
Like many Americans, I was shocked and dismayed at the outcome of our recent election. I’ve been further saddened by the events which have followed in the days since: expressions of hate and intolerance, protests which turned violent, the President-Elect’s selection of outspoken white supremacists to his senior staff— and now, news that many of the hate and fake news group sites and social media accounts are being banned or deleted.
Wait. I should be happy about that last entry, right? No. And neither should you.
This is Helicopter Parenting 101. I see something I believe will be a bad influence, or dangerous, to my children so I try to erase it from their lives. Eliminate it from existence. Yet, all this does is serve to ease my own mind, like eating comfort foods when I’m upset. The problem doesn’t go away. It only hides in the shadows, growing larger and more powerful the longer I pretend it doesn’t exist.
Censuring these people and their caustic, hateful ideology, won’t eradicate them. In fact, it may serve to garner sympathy and cause them to become more resolute in their mission. This doesn’t help to solve the problem, it only exacerbates it.
Education— showing people why these viewpoints are divisive, destructive, and unhealthy for humanity as a whole is what is needed.
Let’s look at some numbers from this past election to illustrate my point.
These percentages come from Pew Research and, from the article…
This is by far the widest gap in support among college graduates and non-college graduates in exit polls dating back to 1980.
The sites and social media accounts which are being targeted are notorious for posing as news organizations while posting erroneous or completely false information. That practice is unquestionably bad and needs to be exposed for the damage it causes. I do not believe, however, that censure is the way to go about tackling this problem.
People can’t make good decisions if they aren’t presented with facts, but even further, they can’t make good decisions if they don’t have the ability to discern fact from fiction. If we don’t nurture and encourage active, informed decision-making in our children by not hiding what we perceive as bad in the world, how can we expect them to make good decisions when we’re not there to guide them anymore?
This problem is not just about hate speech, lies, and bigotry. It is about getting people to think for themselves and not being satisfied with having information spoon-fed to them. If we don’t educate why these ideologies are harmful or teach and encourage critical thinking, the hole we’re currently in will only get deeper.
I saw this morning that NPR had interviewed the creative force behind the Schoolhouse Rock series of shorts that graced my Saturday mornings when I was a kid. The series, to my shock and dismay, just had its fortieth birthday! Time, you’re such a cruel, cruel mistress. For you young pups out there unfamiliar with these educational cartoons, they addressed particular aspects of grammar or math, and even how our government works. They had silly, catchy tunes that helped kids learn and remember the subject of the piece. (For all my writer friends, I’ve inserted the adverb song at the end of this post ;-))
This got me to thinking about all the great educational shows I used to watch, simply for their entertainment value. Sesame Street, when I was little, then later, The Electric Company. You see, back then kids, shortly after the dinosaurs all died out, we only had three channels of television to choose from: ABC, CBS, and NBC. Those that were lucky enough to live close to a translator broadcasting PBS (Public Broadcasting System) had a fourth choice. PBS, I’m happy to say, is still going strong today, and has branched out to the Internet with its educational messages for kids.
Having choices is a good thing. Sometimes, having too many choices can be confusing. Kids today are spoiled for choice and PBS has been drowned out by a plethora of shows and entire networks aimed at young audiences. Some of them also provide solid educational programming. My little ones enjoyed shows like Blue’s Clues a few years ago. But, when left to their own devices and given a choice between ice cream, chocolate, suckers, cookies, or vegetables, I think we understand that vegetables are going to lose out in the vast majority of cases.
Recently, I’ve begun tutoring some youngsters who are behind their classmates in reading at my local Boys & Girls Club. These kids all share a common problem: difficulty focusing. I think this stems in large part from overstimulation. Too many choices.
We most certainly live in a different age — technology doesn’t stand still and we find ourselves continually adapting to new gadgets and ways of doing things. My generation was the first to grow up with color television. My kids were the first to grow up with cable and the Internet. Who knows what their kids will grow up with? Yet, as parents, we still must find a way to guide our children through the maze of choices they have in front of them. When your little ones sit down to watch TV, or surf the web, take the opportunity to suggest something fun, yet with a message. They might just discover, like I did, that learning can be just as entertaining as empty slapstick or potty humor.
Below: Rita Moreno and Bill Cosby from The Electric Company, and Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here!