Every time I drive past a sign saying, “Trump/Pence 2016: Make America Great Again!” my little sister asks me, “Why do you go for a murderer?”
She’s eight years old.
My sister loves Donald Trump. When asked why she’ll say because he wants to Make America Great Again. She can’t tell you how he wants to do that or what a future with him as president will look like.
But she can tell you what will happen if Hillary Clinton becomes president: “She’ll come into everyone’s house and kill ‘em.”
And if Trump becomes president? “We’ll get off school for a week!”
My mother politely informed my sister that Clinton wouldn’t be killing us and she wouldn’t get off school for Trump, but I’m not sure what other results she was expecting when she told an eight year old that Clinton was a murderer.
Indoctrination is an ugly thing
Religious indoctrination is the bread and butter of the South—and, if truth be told, the world. Movies like Jesus Camp show the toxic nature of such indoctrination. But it is tolerated because parents are believed to have a moral imperative to spread their beliefs to their children, regardless of how emotionally damaging it may be.
When it comes to political beliefs, parents also indoctrinate their children. Some of this is unavoidable, we teach our children morals and often our morals influence our political beliefs. But where do we draw the line on indoctrination?
How do we tell our children what we believe without turning them into tiny political yes men?
A tiny “Liberal Democrat”
My whole life I have been called a “liberal democrat” as a cute condescending nickname. Growing up in a politically conservative environment, I didn’t quite understand why they said it in such a joking manner, or what it meant. But the memory stayed with me.
In 2004, President George W. Bush was running for reelection against Secretary John Kerry (then Senator Kerry). Our history class was having a mock election. One girl in my friend-group intended to vote for Kerry. My compelling argument at the age of 10 was, “I’m a liberal, and even I am voting for Bush.”
I couldn’t have told you a single thing he stood for, why I wanted to vote for him, or what being liberal meant. I just knew who I was and that they called me liberal for it. This was fairly universal: my mother’s family and my father’s family (who live 1,000 miles away) knew me as the little liberal.
For a long time, I tried to shake that label. I was certain that I was a Republican and, later, a moderate. I wasn’t a liberal—they were stupid and naïve. I wanted to be the wisest child I could be, so I wouldn’t buy into that kind of nonsense.
When I grew up, I moved farther and farther left, slowly abandoning any conservative positions I had. Although, I still maintain that if conservatives actually believed in limited government intervention in our lives (i.e. not anti-lgbt, pro-choice, etc.) I would be able to entertain conservative fiscal policy.
Valuing critical thinking
I’ve asked a few of my liberal and progressive friends how they avoided indoctrination and the answers were remarkably similar: “It’s difficult not to.” Children are tiny sponges who take after their parents. More than that, they want to make their parents proud. However, there was another consistent answer for my friends is that they value critical thinking. When they’re children repeat a belief that they have, they ask their children why they think that.
This isn’t universal, of course. Some liberal parents certainly teach their children to follow their beliefs without questioning. Likewise, many conservative parents do teach their children critical thinking.
I think a parent’s primary goal should be to raise good adults, but I think part of being a good adult requires being willing to evaluate your beliefs.
Luckily, my sister wants to know why I support Clinton, but I am not allowed to tell her why. This ban comes from an incident last year. My sister asked me why I supported Bernie Sanders, and I told her that I didn’t think Trump was very nice. When she asked why, I said that he makes fun of people. She didn’t believe me and asked me to show her a video. Because of this and other reasons, I’m not allowed to explain why I support Clinton. Plus, my explaining that Clinton isn’t a murderer directly contradicts what my mother has told her.
Instead of closing our minds, we should encourage dialogue and explanations. I’ve made a point to be respectful and polite in my disagreements with others. But without talking about our beliefs and questioning them, there’s no way to grow.