Thursday, September 3, 2009


Intolerance: (n) intolerance (unwillingness to recognize and respect differences in opinions or beliefs)

Wednesday was Diva's first day at school. (Cue Staples commercial "Most Wonderful Day of the Year") As part of first day activities, interested parents sit down to a Q&A session with the school administration. There are 400 students in grades 5-6, and about 25 or 30 parents showed up, myself included.

After the routine questions about H1N1 and cell phone use, one parent expressed concern about "President Obama's speech to schoolchildren." I had not heard anything about this, but I have to confess I was not overly concerned. I'm thinking that it is hard not to have some admiration for someone who rose from relative poverty and a racially mixed background to become president, even though I don't agree 100% with his political views. Isn't that supposed to be what the American dream is all about?

I guess I was wrong. Today I caught the headline over at Yahoo "Parents Angry About Obama Speech." So I decided maybe I should see what these lesson plans that are going to be used to brainwash Diva include. Wow - they want her to listen to a speech and take notes about it. They want kids to develop educational goals for themselves. Really radical stuff. And (gasp) they dare to ask "What does the president want me to do?" and "What would I speak about if I were president?"

Okay, I'll cut the sarcasm now. Will I be likely to agree with everything that is said in this speech? No. I'm sure I won't. Our educational system has lots of problems. I won't pretend to have the answers on how to fix them. I also won't pretend to agree with all the suggestions on how to fix these problems coming from the current president or from the past president, or from the people who would like to have some say in who is the next president.

But I do know that refusing to listen to anyone else's opinion on the issues, looking only for evidence that supports one point of view, and discouraging healthy debate isn't good. And that's what I'm striving to teach Diva. Listen, analyze, and make your own decisions. And part of that decision making process is the ability to understand what it is the person speaking to you wants you to do. You then have to consider what you are told, and decide if it is accurate. This may often involve talking to others with divergent beliefs to see the pros and cons of any point of view. And yes, your peers may often outnumber you in their opinion, and you may sometimes have to be different than your peers with a quiet and calm confidence (aren't we trying to teach our kids this when we want them to abstain from se#, drugs and alcohol?)

EVERY person making a speech is trying to 'sell' you on his or her ideas. We've been teaching Diva to evaluate what people are 'selling' since she was old enough to start asking for things she sees on TV commercials. So I'm not worried about her being brainwashed by this speech. If our school opts to show the speech, we'll talk about it at home. If they opt not to, we'll find it on YouTube, watch it, and talk about it at home. "Stay in school' and 'do your best' and 'aim high' are frequent discussion themes around our house anyway. The speech will provide a teachable moment and as parents we need to take advantage of every one of those moments that presents itself.

I see all this hoopla as a symptom of what is wrong overall with our current direction. Look at most polls about any policy topic in this country (I'm not including opinions about individuals or political parties or elected officials overall) and you'll often see no better than a 60/40 split rather than a hugely dominant majority. We are nearly evenly divided on many important issues. Somewhere there has to be a win/win compromise. Something that satisfies not just what is important to both sides, but also the overall goal to fix the underlying problem without creating new ones. We are a great country with many creative, hard-working people - we can find these solutions - but not if we are all unwilling to let go of our preconceived ideas and idealistic, politically motivated solutions.

Teaching our children NOT to listen to someone just because their political views differ from yours is not the right thing to do. I have no scientific evidence of this, but it seems those same children are more likely grow into adults who get thrown out of town hall meetings because they won't allow anyone else to talk.

I could go on and on, as this politicization and polarization of our country by its so-called leaders really annoys me. I'm not a political person, but I do consider it my civic duty to vote. I rarely speak up about my political views because politics and religion are two topics that are guaranteed to be controversial. But for some reason this situation pushed me over the edge and I just had to comment.

I saw a great bumper sticker the other day, it went something like this:
"when the power of love is greater than the love of power......"

Hmmmmmm.....maybe I'm more idealistic than I realize.