Monday, March 30, 2009

The miseducation of youth

I should be studying right now, but there's something on my mind, and it won't go away. I feel like I have a growling, angry dog pulling on the leg of my pants. He won't let go until I address him, but I have no idea what to say. "Go away, you rotten doggie!" just won't do.

Lately, I've been taking care of two girls, ages 9 and 11, once a week. I've known these girls for about four years, and love them dearly. So, when I was asked to care for them on a regular basis, I was happy to do it. Now, I've got a dilemma.

This morning, while sitting in my kitchen, the younger girl suddenly noticed that I had an Obama sign on the wall. It's been there since November, but it finally caught her attention. Perhaps it caught her attention because she's been learning new things from Mom's new boyfriend. She scrunched up her face and said, "Why do you like Obama?!" Unfortunately, I was bleary with sleep and unprepared to deal with this question, so I said, "It's too early in the morning to give you a good answer." She didn't like that, and said, "Well, I hate him." I bet if I had looked under the table, she might have been stamping her feet.

"Why do you hate the President?" I asked. "Oh, I don't. know", she said. "Well, you should know why you hate someone" was my response. She got very serious and announced, "He's giving free health care to little kids who don't deserve it and. . ." I cut her off. I then said that sometimes people decide not to talk about politics and religion because they have very different ideas and that it leads to problems. How about we try that? And so, the discussion was over.

I drove them to school, all the while thinking I had copped out. Her words about little kids echoed in my mind, making me upset and angry. Someone's been feeding this kid Rush Limbaugh-ian ideas, and it pisses me off. But to make matters worse, I know that these children are on all sorts of government aid. WIC, AFDC, Section 8 housing, and who knows what else. And here she is, spouting off nonsense about "little kids who don't deserve it." She should know that her family is exactly the type of family that Limbaugh-loving folks despise. Shouldn't she?

But, if I say something, it's highly likely that I'll never take care of these kids again. So, I said that talking about religion and politics are off limits, and I do not feel good about it.

I need to figure out what to say. I don't want to refute or shame her. The latter, sadly, would be quite easy to do. I need to say positive things that might open up their quickly closing minds. But, the thing of it is, I don't know what to say. I haven't a clue. I know how to speak to adults about these things, but kids? My mind is an unhappy blank.

The youngest girl has already pronounced me a "weirdo." However, I know they both like me, but I'm some sort of alien amongst the adults they know. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment. I need help, and so do two little girls.

Image note: I didn't know what image to use. Did you know Dr. Seuss was also a political cartoonist?


BitterGrace said...

Dr. Seuss did erotica, too, I think Gotta love Dr. Seuss.

I think you're absolutely right to want to keep it positive. If I were dealing with these kids, I wouldn't link the discussion to their lives at all. It's too easy to shame them, as you say--even if you are very careful with your words. They probably have some inkling of their social status already. My niece's son, whose dad is black, was getting wise to the race issue when he was 3. It starts early.

I think the best strategy might be to play Socrates. Just keep asking questions, and let the girls think for themselves. For instance, if one says she hates Obama for giving health care to little kids who don't deserve it, ask her why she thinks a kid wouldn't deserve it. If she says it's because their parents are lazy, ask if it seems fair for children to be punished for what their parents do.

You could put it in simple emotional terms. Explain that it makes you feel good to help somebody, and ask her if she feels good when she helps. Once the two of you agree that it's good to help people, then you can say that you like Obama because he seems to like helping people, too.

Or, you could just plunk them down in front of the TV and force them to watch Mr. Rogers, who was the Presbyterian equivalent of a Zen master when it came to teaching the principles of caring and generosity.

jmcleod76 said...

Hey Julie,
That's a tough one ... I think a good tactic might be to ask them questions, when they say those kinds of things, about why they think the way they do.

"Why don't those kids deserve healthcare? How would you feel if you were sick and couldn't go to the doctor? Do you think it would make your mom sad if you were sick and she wasn't able to get you medicine to get better? What makes someone deserving?"

Don't be mean about it, just ask them questions about the things they say, until they can't answer you anymore. I think it's OK, once they run out of answers, to say something simple like "I think that all kids deserve healthcare. We all share this world, and it's not fair that some people have to stay sick just because they have less money."

Kids are notorious sticklers for fairness. It's not until we begin to internalize the inherent unfairness of the world that we stop expecting everything to be fair, in my experience.

I'm not saying you should push your views on them, but if they ask you questions, I think it's only fair to tell them what you think and why, in a very simple, non-emotional way.

I suspect the kids' mom, or whoever, already has some inkling of your political leanings, no? If that hasn't disqualified you from caring for them so far, I don't see why sharing your thoughts about issues, when asked, should. Given the difficulties of finding decent childcare, I wouldn't expect you to be let off the hook that easily.

And, especially if you frame in in a way that makes clear that the girls are welcome to think whatever they want, but here are the reasons you think the way you do, I don't see how anyone can complain.

Kids should be exposed to a multitude of opinions.

Good luck!

Julie H. Rose said...

Thanks for your thoughtful responses. They both sounded so obvious when I read them, I felt like an idiot. Truth be told, at 7:30am, I'm not that sharp.

I was in the middle of reading your response, Jaime, when the girls came home. I sat them down and told them I was wrong to tell them that any subjects were off-limits. I told them that for adults, at work, religion and politics were often not discussed because people got angry. Then, we had a discussion about that, 'cause they both had witnessed these types of fights. "One guy voted for Obama and the other guy voted for, um, um. . .Cain? What was his name?! One guy tried to hit my cousin!" So, now they know that we can talk about anything and I even told them that I'm not a good thinker in the morning.

I hope we DO get to talk about politics and religion now! And yes, their mother knows darn well how liberal I am. Maybe she secretly wants them to be exposed to some of that. Who knows? She has two other people who could have taken care of the kids, so it's possible.

And, it was very funny that I was just reading "kids are notorious sticklers for fairness" when they came in. One girl had a play date, while the other didn't: "It's not fair!" I asked the mother if both girls could come and she said, "Why not?" So, now, I just get to sit around, being paid for writing this.

Thanks again!

Websafe said...

Can just see the logline now for your reality-TV series pilot: "Ex-tattooist from the Big City teaches critical thinking to back-country tweens; chem-free mind expansion ensues." Such a show would beat Survivor, Amazing Race, Big Brother all hollow.