The moral education of children revolves mainly around timeless concepts. But in certain situations (like now), they must be taught contemporary lessons. Recently I’ve found it necessary to tell 8-10 year-olds that the things they see around them are not normal.
Consider an average nine year-old: Her active memories go back only about four years. And so, the mayhem of 2020 and 2021 comprises half of her mental life. We cannot allow our children and grandchildren to accept the past two years as normal, but if we don’t make the point very clearly, they will.
Here are things to tell children of an appropriate age, though probably only a few at a time:
- It is not normal for politicians to tell people who is allowed to work and who isn’t; who is allowed to go to school and who isn’t; who can visit their family and who shouldn’t… to tell people when they can or can’t go to church or synagogue. That type of tyranny is something that was left behind centuries ago: it is precisely what democracy was supposed to prevent. What’s happening now is primitive and dangerous.
- It is not normal for people to judge and condemn others because of their skin color. Yes, there have been cases of that in history, but by the late 1960s it was pretty well decided that people should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Anyone judging you by your skin color is someone to stay away from.
- It is not normal for people to be judged as a group. We decided two thousand years ago that we must each stand as individuals. You are never, ever guilty because of bad things done by someone who merely looks or sounds like you.
- It is not normal to consider people guilty without a trial. Bad actions have to be proved, carefully, with direct facts. We decided long ago that punishments can only be applied to a person whose guilt has been proved by a rigorous and fair process. Anyone claiming otherwise is a barbarian, no matter how expensive their suit may be.
- It is not normal for people to burn and rob stores when they are angry; we’ve known that since before recorded history. It’s not excusable. These are things that destroy human life and human civilizations. Anyone doing that is a sad and dangerous case; someone to stay away from.
- It is not normal for people to hate each other for taking or not taking a certain kind of medicine. We’ve always made our own choices; it’s only since 2020 that people have hated each other for it.
- It is not normal for everyone to be so deeply in debt that they’re afraid all the time. There have always been people in debt, but now it’s almost everyone; it degrades their confidence. More than that, it has damaged their ability to take a moral stand, and without that our society is doomed.
- It is not normal for speech to be censored. Human progress requires that we’re left alone to say what we wish. No one has any obligation to listen, but we cannot forcibly silence others. People who do so are barbarians, no matter how rich and famous.
- It is not normal for the voice of authority to be taken as truth. That kind of thinking enslaved human minds for thousands of years, and was finally defeated a few centuries ago. Authority has no special standing in relation to truth, and even a negative standing. Facts – openly verified and carefully used facts – point to the truth. Power, authority, consensus and other substitutes do not. Claims of “this is settled science” are pompous, dangerous and wrong. Science is never settled.
Do Not Close With The Negative
When dealing with these subjects, be sure to close positively: Tell them that we are magnificent beings, fit for a world far better than the present one. As I’ve noted before, I like to use this with children:
We are a beautiful species, living in a beautiful world, ruled by abusive systems.
If you can, close with that and let it sink into the young minds under your care.
Furthermore, I think a positive close is crucial for all of us. We should be as Chesterton once wrote: “Indignant, not about the badness of existence, but about the slowness of men in realizing its goodness.”
We are a magnificent species, with far more potential than we’ve recognized. Our error has been to allow the worst among us to ride upon our vulnerabilities. We need to stop going along with it.