Monday, December 21, 2015

parenting achievement of the week

The boy gets ranty, which is not that unusual for kids, but his father has a serious conspiracy-theory bent, and then we have worked to channel his obsession with justice and fairness with an education in history and systematic oppression. (Things read to him at bedtime have included Critical White Studies and Howard Zinn's A Young People's History of the United States. Anna carefully edits as she reads, since he's not emotionally ready to handle the graphic horrors of history. He knows they're bad, and he's going to be extra angry when he learns the details.)

He was extra ranty and non-listening yesterday, so I looked up from my book mid-rant.
"...and then they're lying to kids in school! It's evil, they're brainwashing them by telling them that anybody can make it in America if they just work hard!"
You'll have enough problems trying to promote justice in the world, even if you don't talk like a socialist version of Rush Limbaugh.
"'Brainwashing' isn't really the right word there."
"But they're lying!"
"Right, but...well, the American school system is designed to produce obedient's really 'indoctrination' rather than 'brainwashing.'"
(See John Taylor Gatto's glorious and epic essay, "Against School.")
"Right, to make them do what the government says. So that's brainwashing."
"So, the context behind 'brainwashing' mostly goes back to the Cold War, and the fear that people were being captured and turned into secret agents. There was this movie The Manchurian Candidate...anyway, 'brainwashing' is where an enemy captures you, and tortures you until you believe what they want you to believe."
(I wanted to use Orwell's 1984 as a better example, but if he reads that book he'll go catatonic.)
"Some of my classmates say school is torture... joking, I guess."
"Yeah. Real torture. And being held captive."
"Captive, like a place where you try to leave and they bring you back?"
(Touché! Time to stop quibbling.)
"More like you try to leave, and they shoot you."
"Oh. Okay. Indoctrination."
We'll see if it sticks. If he stops saying "brainwashing," then when he rants at other people, I can stop (mentally) holding my head in my hands and explaining that my kid who wants to make a genuinely better world just happens to sound like he's about to sell you a tin-foil hat.

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