The following is part of a series of articles on the rights and responsibilities of children and of families. On our site, we’ve published a Children’s Bill Of Rights, with all of the sections in the bill. You can take a look at Children’s Bill of Rights.
(To read more about the Children’s Bill of Rights, look at articles at this site, and at Homeschool Under Siege.)
Not to be exposed or trained into prejudice
Every child has the right to refuse to be exposed to forms of bigotry, prejudice, or hate of others by family, through education, or by any other means.
“Truth” is very often a matter of opinion. One can be quite certain of a “truth”, yet to another man, that truth appears to be opinion. This is nowhere clearer than in areas of frequent human contention such as politics, religions, religion vs. science, and war. These are areas of human activity where all sides almost invariably are certain that they represent “truth”, even when their truths clearly contradict each other.
Both sides of a political argument will state clearly that theirs is the “correct” side, and that it best serves the people. They will back their contention with facts and figures. Both arguments may contain some truth and some error. Their arguments will unquestionably contain opinion. But though they contradict, each will each be certain they are correct.
There is almost no religion that does not believe it has a corner on salvation and truth…even though one religion’s salvation will not look anything like another’s. And science today is often treated in the same way as any religion – seen to be an “ultimate truth” that may contrast or conflict with other “ultimate truths” and occasionally setting scientists and religionists at each other’s throats. Each side has the corner on “truth”. Yet they do not agree.
In a war both sides pray to God. They each assume His support rests with their nation. Is that likely? Was the loser protected and supported by God? How about the winner, who lost perhaps millions of people to that war? Did God protect them? Can everyone be right on both sides?
“Truth” is unfortunately almost never a definitive thing in human experience. It is almost never “truth” for all people. One man’s “red” may be another man’s “green”, depending on perception.
Almost no one admits to bias on either side of an argument – they each will generally only admit to “being right”. I think that in education the best one can do is present all sides of an argument, pros and cons and with as little bias as possible, and then ask the student “what do you think”. I try to do that as best I can and without negating or “putting down” someone else’s “truth” – whatever I think of it.
I’m sure that on some level, I fail to keep my own biases from the discussion. America’s greatest historian, Will Durant, stated that all histories are always biased by both the people writing them and the time that they live in. That was a bold statement for a historian to make, wasn’t it! I think he was right (I usually do), and that the best we can do is work to keep our bias out of the process of education.
By the way, “truth” changes.
The “truth” of 5th century science was that the Earth was the center of the solar system, and that the sun and planets revolved around it. This was undeniable and undebated “truth” – even though the attic Greeks had correctly proposed a heliocentric solar system many centuries earlier. The Greek “truth” had been forgotten and replaced by the 5th Century – just as today, the 5th century “truth”, taught to any European “lucky” enough to receive an education at that time – is today scoffed at. Truth is often a matter of current perception.
Almost everyone believes they have some corner of the truth, and in aggregate our truths often disagree with each other. Yet both sides of an argument cannot contain equal truths, generally.
Bigotry and hatred are based on one’s perception of “truth”. This is one reason that they are so hard to debate, so hard to eradicate. This is one reason why bigotry and hatred persist as a part of the human experience despite the best efforts of many intelligent and concerned people. This is a reason we do not discuss politics or religion in polite society.
A person acquires most forms of prejudice, we are not born bigoted. This acquiring is often done at a young age. We generally accept the prejudices of our parents, and of those adults held in esteem who are around us. A prejudice is almost always instilled or enforced by a person in “authority” or held in high regard and even loved. That helps make a prejudice stick, and it makes it hard to get rid of.
Biases, bigotries and prejudices do not easily yield to reason. One can “debate” the obvious fallacy of another’s biases (temporarily forgetting that we have biases of our own), but it generally will do little or no good. The bias we see is entrenched, as are our own. It is backed by the sure and certain teaching of a parent, peers, a teacher, a school, a religious leader, even a culture or civilization.
And please do not make the mistake of thinking that just because a lot of people agree on something that it must be true. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Fifty million Frenchmen CAN be wrong. The sun does not circle Earth, regardless of what millions of Europeans believed in the 5th century.
It should be one of the first and most important jobs of a parent or educator to protect young, impressionable people from biases – even their own adult biases. This would especially be true of forms of bigotry or prejudice that will influence the young person’s behavior toward other people. Such biases can completely sour a life. Such bigotries are also highly destructive of a civilization. They can severely limit one’s interactions with the rest of humanity and in so doing, limit experience and even success.
Here’s a simple formula to consider. One’s options diminish in direct proportion to WHAT one is unwilling to experience, and in direct proportion to WHO one is unwilling to experience. If one will not work with a “certain kind” of “other people”, then one cannot benefit from having worked with them.
In instilling prejudices into a child, adults are drastically lowering the quality of his life and his potential in the world. I personally believe that this is a criminal thing to do to a child. It is the job of every educator, parent or otherwise, to EXPAND the possibilities of a child’s life. Almost any approach that opens the door to opportunity, experience and understanding of the world is a form of true education. Almost any approach that limits opportunity, experience and potential is destructive.
Yet, prejudices will be instilled into sons and daughters today. Hatred of “ancient enemies” and of “inferior kinds of people” or “those who are not like us” will be drummed into the minds and hearts of children whose futures are being damaged in the process. I believe that a child has every right to walk away from such “training.” They have the right to intensely question any belief system that makes the world smaller for them, or which fills it with some form of hate. And a good parent or teacher would back up such a child all the way!
There are people who live and breathe hatred. They seem to thrive on hate, to derive life and energy from it. But really, we all know that such people are destructive and somewhat insane, don’t we? Do we want to raise children like them? That is where the effective, successful instilling of hatred inevitably leads – to a form of madness where one is no longer willing to even LOOK at aspects of the world, or at other people – because one must be right at all costs. If your bigotry is wrong, after all, then your parents were wrong, too. You get the idea.
And that is a sad and lonely life indeed. We can and must do better for our children. We must defend their right to look, to investigate, to think, to form and hold their own ideas and opinions. They will, after all, have to live with them for the rest of their lives. Their lives will largely be a consequence of their beliefs and their limits, naturally occurring or imposed.