Since Jonas was an infant, Amy and I have taken him along to protests, occupations, and actions. He’s seen FBI raids, cop-watched, and trespassed as an act of foreclosure resistance. He’s even started getting into protest sign making.
Some folks commend us for this; others have criticized us for it. One of the most common criticisms I’ve heard has been that we’re “indoctrinating” Jonas.
Well, yes, I am indoctrinating my son. When I take Jonas to protests and tell him that fracking is “poisoning the land”, or when I limit his access to toy police cars and tell him that “the police are mostly naughty and sometimes nice” (unlike the firefighters who are mostly nice), or when I teach Jonas that “Jesus lives in the struggle of the poor.” I’m clearly trying to impart upon Jonas a set of beliefs and principles that are at odds with the mainstream. In large and small ways, I’m indoctrinating my kid.
I know some parents who shy away from such indoctrination. They simply let their children come to their own conclusions without too much influence. They may teach them how to read and write and tie their shoes and how to cross the street without dying, but they leave religion and politics up to the kid. And so, the kid is left to form their own opinions about things as they sit watching the Little Mermaid for the tenth time.
But, despite our best efforts, our children are being indoctrinated whether we like it or not. The dominant convictions and values of our society are embedded in billboards and cartoons and juice boxes and Happy Meal bags. Kids learn from Nickelodeon and Disney and McDonald’s how to think of themselves as consumers. They learn from public education how to accept authority uncritically. They quickly learn from their parents that those homeless people on the street are simply “the way things are.” They learn that their lives are normal–with their grass lawns and multiple cars and their plastic stuff.
Eventually, usually in school, they’ll learn that there are other little kids like them in the world who don’t have all of this grass and cars and plastic and they’ll be told that it is sad. They’ll learn that we should recycle and that they should vote when they grow up to make the world a better place. They’ll learn they should go to college, get a good job and do their best to help others (but not so much that they have to give up their grass lawns, multiple cars, and plastic stuff).
Our children are being indoctrinated whether we like it or not.
At least we can be intentional about it. Of course, I try not to be overbearing about it. I can’t force my kid to be what I want him to be; I can only show him the world and hope he navigates it well.
Folks often joke that, when Jonas hits his teen years, his rebellion will be to embrace republicanism. I hate when people make that joke (which I usually hear a few times a month). I suppose that it is possible that when Jonas grows up he’ll be a wealthy jerk with an SUV. I can’t force him to grow up into an anarcho-Christian. But I can teach him to see the world. I can show him the nature of injustice by taking him with me on protests and actions. I can show him what hospitality looks like by practicing it in our home. I can teach him how to share by sharing with those who come into our home. I can help him understand how the world used to be by reading him history that doesn’t white-wash the sins of the past. I can teach him what wild plants are edible. I can teach him how to mill grain and can food and make yogurt.
In other words, I can show him that another way is possible. That he doesn’t have to have a grass lawn, multiple cars, and plastic stuff. I can show him that some people challenge injustice, share with strangers, and build community. I can show him the good and the bad in the world without justifying the bad to maintain the good. Most people live feeling stuck on the path that they’re on. Even if they wanted to life differently, they wouldn’t know how. I can’t control how Jonas chooses to live his life, but I can show him how to live the sort of life I think is most just, loving, and beautiful. Whatever path he takes in life, he’ll always be able to find his way to the radical path.