Friday, September 04, 2009

He That Hath the Spirit of Contention Is Not of Me

My first title for this was, "Because, yeah, encouraging kids to work hard and stay in school is REALLY subversive." Then I realized that the whole point of writing this is that after the past few weeks I feel like I've had enough negativity to last a lifetime. So I've tried to eliminate all sarcasm and cutting from the following. If this makes me less entertaining, well, perhaps it makes me less offensive too. And, whatever else you may think, I have no wish to offend.

So let me start with a disclaimer: If you are going to pull your children from school on Tuesday so that they cannot be "brainwashed" by our president, that is your right, of course. I wanted to make that statement right off the bat as I was told on Facebook yesterday by a mother I didn't know that it was her God-given right to control everything her child learned. While I wish her luck with that, I bring up her comment to illustrate just how strongly people feel about this.

Now, if you are keeping your kids home Tuesday because you have studied what is available about the speech, or because you are disturbed by the lesson plan your child's teacher is planning on presenting with the speech, then I commend you for your research and the obvious concern you have for your child. I don't know if it is a God-given right to control each thing that enters your child's head or not (I'm not sure about the scriptural backing for this statement), but it certainly is your right to parent how you wish.

However, if you are pulling your child on Tuesday because of something you heard a television or news radio host say, or because you disagree with Mr. Obama's policies, or because you have been reading opinion columns, I would ask that you reconsider. Here is my reasoning:

1--There is a shocking lack of respect from children in this country for adults in general and particularly for people in positions of power. To teach your children that all respect must be "earned" by some arbitrary set of principles that involves others agreeing with all of your dearly held ideals is to deny the fact that each person is a child of God. Whether you agree with Mr. Obama or not, even in every particular, I am guessing that he has done nothing to offend you personally. I'm guessing that if he were invited to your house for dinner you would find him affable and friendly, optimistic, and eager to talk with great affection about his kids. Naturally, you would avoid politics and religion, but dignified acquaintance demands that these topics not be discussed anyway.

Using negative and incendiary language around your young children about local or national political leaders confuses and hurts them. After all, they are reprimanded severely if they use such language about children they know and interact with. You might think that you are merely passing on political ideaology to your children, but it is important to be very aware of what else you might be teaching them.

2--I believe that running negative talk radio shows or television in your home that involves hosts who shout, berate, belittle and constantly criticize drives the Spirit away. Even if the host of such programs is LDS. If you disagree with this, please find the titled reference in 3rd Nephi in the Savior's initial sermon to the Nephites. He is very plain about the source of the spirit of contention. Children are especially sensitive to the spirit of contention; indeed, it is the opposite of the Holy Ghost. There is nothing wrong with you listening in your car, or after bedtime with your spouse, particularly if such programs lead to mature discussion of ideals and principles that you either agree or disagree with. You wouldn't allow violent or rude cartoons into your home, how much more confusing and even scary is it for children who see and hear talk show hosts using almost violent terms as they urge people to "reclaim their country."

The thoughts expressed concerning Laura Schlessinger last week have really prompted me to think about these talking-head types who feel duty bound to tell the whole world what is wrong with everybody but them. These people, whomever they are, get paid, and well-paid, to set themselves up above others, to mix enough truth with lies that they sound credible, to shock, to divide, and to gain popularity and influence. If you have copy of Mormon Doctrine hanging around your house, look up the definition of "Priestcraft" and see if that doesn't match pretty closely. For how many generations have men been warned about the danger of following the "philosophy of men mingled with scripture." How many more times must we hear it to truly be on our guard?

Again, don't misunderstand, I'm certainly not against people profiting from their labors, intelligence, talents or ingenuity. I am against the preservation of people's right to profit above all other moral responsibility. I am against people using these same skills to incite normally sensible people to extreme anger and divisiveness without offering clear and positive alternatives. I am against people using their God-given gifts (and all good gifts are from God) to wreck and create enmity between people. Just so we are clear--I am not against their agency to do so. I just think they are selling their souls.

3--If your family disagrees with Mr. Obama that doesn't mean something cannot be learned from him. Last month, Bill O'Reilly wrote an article for a weekend circular magazine, Parade. Perhaps you saw it in your paper? Mr. O'Reilly is a Fox News journalist who has routinely been critical of Democrat-sponsored policies and Democrats in general. He is also a shrewd and talented newsman who holds people accountable for what they claim to know and be. His article details some very positive things that American children can learn from our commander-in-chief. Isn't it possible to help our children see, in a calm and rational manner, that there are positive things to learn from all kinds of people, even when we don't agree entirely with them?

I hope that no readers here take offense from what I've said. I have no idea exactly what you believe politically or where your information is coming from. My assumptions here are not aimed at anyone in general, but more at the mood prevailing in our country right now. And I'm deeply disturbed that the heart of such controversies is often in Utah. Gay marriage, which our prophet spoke plainly against is one thing, but to treat a classroom visit by the president as a very affront to all you hold dear, is to create a climate in which Mormons look not only foolish, but as a group that is only allowed to think a certain way by our leaders. Nothing could be further from the truth. I often think of Kennedy and Hatch, life-long friends, when I think of people whose opinions are generally diametrically opposed but managed to form a bond of brotherhood that is built on mutual respect and admiration, and not merely on shared opinion.

Yesterday a friend in Utah sent an e-mail with the following, "I have a friend in Arizona who is being almost bullied by her Mormon mom friends there who are telling her she can't send her kids to school that day, that she needs to send a clear message that she will not be brainwashed by 'that man.' " Of course you should keep your kids home from school if you ever worry for their safety or the appropriateness of what they are learning, but don't assume that because your friends are LDS that they feel the same way about it. And above all, don't judge their commitment to the gospel based on your own perception of politics.

In our "fight to save men's souls" (though I'm quite certain Mr. Obama's speech is not what our leaders have in mind when they use such terminology), let us no lose our own to anger, frustration, discord and ignorance.


FoxyJ said...

Amen! For what it's worth, the Tuesday Obama speech thing actually started in other places like Texas, but it's getting plenty of mileage in Utah too.

The main thing that worries me is that during the last few election cycles we've started a dangerous cultural precedent of being sore losers. Democracy only works because those who are in the party that is not elected agree to compromise and keep working together as best they can. Instead, we have started habits of basically throwing tantrums if our presdential choice does not make it into office and spending several years in vicious personal attacks and paranoia. We can't have a civil society that way, and like you point out, it's not the way to teach our children about the democratic process and how to respect our leaders.

When I was a kid I adored president Reagan. He was handsome! He liked jellybeans! Much later did I learn that my liberal parents really didn't like him very much. I'm grateful that they set a good example of respect for our leaders and for thoughtful participation in the democratic process.

Janssen said...

Everything you write is just so well thought out. I am in awe.

Frankly, I wish I went to that school so I could go, just to hear the President speak in person! My mom, who is ardently ARDENTLY devoted to her political party of choice, took us to see both Clinton and Bush when they came to Vegas while we were growing up, just so we could see them in person and hear what they had to say, which I admired a great deal, especially as I got older.

CaLM RAPIDS said...

Thanks for your posting. Here at our Texas schools, there is a note sent home. If we sign it, our kids go to an alternate activity instead of watching Pres. Obama. The choice is the parents. No one is getting pulled out of school, no protests, no yelling.

I am encouraging my kids to go and see their President and to try to remember things that he says so that we can discuss it when they get home.

I think it's important to learn to respect the President, whoever it happens to be, even if they don't agree with policies, party affiliation, etc. Hopefully, they will learn participation and discussion are more important and accomplish more than running away and complaining.

tamathy said...

Well said! I think about all the stories I've read over the years of people who were children during the depression gathering with their families around the radio to listen to the president. Their parents didn't always agree with the policies of the time, but that gathering and listening and knowing that other American families were doing the same thing was powerful. They were united as a people all wanting the same thing- to pull through that hard time- to hold together.

I want my kids to feel like those kids did- that the adults in their lives are working together to try and fix things. The adults might disagree on how to solve the problems, but the problems can be solved and we as the adults are going to move forward and solve them.
Like the others here have said, my parents taught me to respect the president no matter what they thought of his policies. We were never allowed to make jokes or be disrespectful. Just as we were being taught to respect our church leaders and the positions of authority they held.
Have we lost sight of how blessed we are to even have a president and peaceful lives where our children can go to school and hear him speak. I think we should look at the end of the Book of Mormon and remember how quickly things can change.

Princess Consuela Bananahammock said...

I forwarded the link to this blog to my best friend. She wrote back to me confessing her love for you and I wouldn't be surprised if she stalks your blogs now. Just FYI.

You are, as always, an excellent writer. I'm glad you are able to express your beliefs and understandings in a way that is logical enough for even the most dull witted to understand (*ahem* pointing the finger at myself). I may not agree with certain policies and so forth associated with our current President, but I can definitely respect your views and opinions. And I still support the President, as I have all the others. After all, I love my country.

Z. Marie said...

Very well said.

Scully said...

Amen. When did it stop being a privilege to hear the President speak? How are children ever to know how to assess and examine ideas if they are never allowed to hear ideas that differ from theirs or from those of their parents? My parents made it a point to listen to speeches by the President, especially those addressed to the whole nation, regardless of how they felt about him. To refuse to listen means you opt out of participating in the civic discussion and your civic duty. What a horrible example to set for children. What if they don't agree with something their teacher has said? Will parents let them boycott the teacher? What kind of precedent is being set?

Dickey said...

Thanks you so much Nan for a well written post. I am making a copy for my two oldest children to read. Sadly they hear alot of negativity and sense of paranoia from friends and their parents.

Brooke said...

Nan, you've done it. Again. I thank you for writing the things I have been thinking, but unable to express adequately. I knew you would.

Doreen said...

Yes, yes, and yes! You have such an excellent way of expressing yourself. And I so totally agree with you! At least one school district in the area is choosing not to air the speech. And people are actually excited about that! It makes me sick to my stomach. I don't know whether my kids' school is going to show it or not. There haven't been any notes sent home, indicating one way or the other. I hope they will get a chance to see it. If not, we'll definitely watch it online together.

chris w said...

First of all, I want to say I agree with pretty much every point you made, especially the point about contention (the only disagreement being that this is coming from Utah - this issue is nationwide). I would like to offer a bit of a different perspective - surprise.

I think much of the strong reaction about this speech has to do with it coming on the heels of the “I Pledge” presentation that went through many of the schools recently. I don’t think his speech will be about that – I haven’t found a transcript or outline to be able to see what it is for sure but I think it will be mostly about doing well in school.

I would be very happy to let my child watch a speech about doing well in school from Pres Obama. I would not like them to watch one where he asked them to pledge to support (as though it is the only correct option) any number of things with which I disagree. This does NOT mean that I don’t want my children to hear other viewpoints. It means I don’t want someone asking them to pledge to do it. I do want them to hear other viewpoints and talk about ALL viewpoints so they can CHOOSE which ones they would pledge to support.

For example, many people who disagree with Pres Bush would be fine if he gave a speech about doing well in school. They would not be ok if he had every child say, “I pledge to support the war in Iraq”. Many of those parents who disagree with him would be fine with the doing well in school speech (although they would make fun of how he said "nucular", or any number of insults about his intelligence - and do it in front of their kids). They would appropriately be very upset if he had them pledge to do something they felt very strongly against.

Further, just like those parents that disagree with the war do not disagree with it because they were brainwashed by a radio talk show host/news channel, the people who disagree with the way this administration wants to solve the health-care problem, the economy,or any other issue, have not been brainwashed by a radio host/news channel either. They actually feel that way all by themselves. (I know your point was more about listening to it in front of your kids - this is just something I'm sick of being accused of - I don't really listen to any of those shows.)

The Republicans called anyone who disagreed with the war unpatriotic. The Democrats call anyone who disagrees with Pres Obama a nutcase. Both of those are THE EXACT SAME THING and they are both wrong.

This contention that exists between both sides is very dangerous for a number of reasons, one of them being that we will never solve anything while we are busy attacking each other. Another is that we are creating a divide that is growing wider and wider and getting harder and harder to bridge.

I have been taught to respect the office of the President no matter how much I disagree with the person who currently holds that office. I will teach this to my children. I will also teach them to stand up for what they believe in while allowing others to do the same. I also hope I can teach them to look at all sides of an issue and try to understand all opinions (and the people who hold those opinions different from their own) while holding strong to what they believe is right.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

CaLM--Thanks for your point. I read an editorial yesterday from a newspaper man criticizing the media for focusing so much on the negativity (both concerning this and concerning and the recent health care town halls) that they failed to report that 90% of the time the process was working just as it should. I don't mean that in the majority of the meetings people just rolled over and agreed, but that the discussion was held with dignity and civility even while serious grievances and problems were aired.

I think it is a great idea to ask your kids to bring home ideas to discuss. A further level of involvement would be to actually GO to the school and sit in on a class listening to the speech. After all, it is a PUBLIC school. You should be allowed, and welcome, to sit in on any class you choose.

chrisw--this is almost precisely why I didn't publish this post. I read and reread for a long time to make sure that I didn't imply that anyone who thinks this speech thing is a bad idea is automatically a nutcase who is brainwashed by Glenn Beck. My plea is for greater civility in our public discourse and for caution in the mixed messages we send our children. My plea is to listen to what Mr Obama has to say before assumptions are made about him brainwashing our children.

As for my Utah comment: I know that this disagreement is nationwide. In fact, the most inflammatory op-ed against the speech that I read came out of the NY Times. However, people watch the Mormons in a way that few other groups are scrutinized. When such an outcry comes from Utah (and I'm not talking about the celebrity-pledge video, which showed shockingly poor judgment on the part of the school), there are many who will automatically associate such ugliness and contention with the Mormon faith, making broad assumptions about how all LDS people are and what they think. But perhaps even worse about what our leaders do or don't tell us. We can't afford that kind of contention with our neighbors; but we especially cannot afford it with each other.

Nor am I trying to justify vitriol that goes the other way. (Though the liberals rarely go to gun rallies, ;) so you might say they are less dangerous.) I think FoxyJ said it best about becoming a nation of "sore losers." We too often forget that this nation was BUILT on imperfect compromise. If we ever think otherwise, just ask our current President, the professor of Constitutional law who can no doubt point out exactly where in the Constitution a black man is counted as 3/5 of a person.

Nemesis said...

Word. Thank you so much for writing this all out so thoughtfully. And yes, one of the things that bothers me the most (from either side, and I have probably been guilty of it at times) is the "we have to respect the Presidency and respect the office of the President . . . EXCEPT if he's not the President I voted for." I like how people here have pointed out that we can disagree with someone's politics while still being respectful.

chris w said...

STM - don't worry, your post was great. Much of my perspective was not meant to be a direct response to each of your points, but rather to the lack of discussion in general going on right now as this is happening. You are either a raving, brainwashed nutcase or a fascist, commie child-indoctrinator. There's no sane middle ground (which I would imagine is where the majority of people would fit).

I am still laughing about your ex-pet comment on my blog. :)

1tiredmama said...

Thanks for this post. I think it is important for our kids to hear from and know who the leaders of our country are. We can then discuss at home what THEY think and feel about what was said and let them know what WE think and feel. There is now way we can control everything they hear and are taught. We can only help guide them in the directione we feel is right.

chris w said...

update: I just finished reading the speech posted here:

It's a great speech.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Thanks for the link, Chrisw. I think it is brilliant. If they don't show it at our school tomorrow; we'll find the youtube rebroadcast.

emandtrev said...

I'm late with this, but I agree too. It just makes me really sad when I'm (unfortunately) privy to conversations where people are so openly disrespectful about the President and/or think that just because I'm "this" I have to be "that." You know? It bothers me on both sides of the party lines, but it's really gotten to me lately.

Slyck and Slim said...

I sent mine to school. :) Bet that surprised you, huh? The President of the United States (whomever that is) will always be bashed by someone -- that's what makes America a democracy. Obama should have expected that. Education is important, but hopefully in the future, the government will try to reach the parents of the school kids on the importance of education, rather than skirting parental rights and delivering this speech directly to the children. The way it was implemented was what alarmed so many!

Anonymous said...

Where was your concern for the “mood prevailing our country” during the previous President’s term? Are things that much different now? I never noticed your objection to this kind of behavior towards President Bush, his daughters, Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld.

All of this from the same person who herself once described the Bush administration as "pure evil", accused President Bush of starting an unjust war for oil and profits, mocked President Bush as being a non thinker, and mocked Sarah Palin? You are clear that it is not your intent to offend, so we know you're not being holier-than-thou and hypocritical. You must have had a sincere change of heart. Kudos to President Obama for bringing about the promised change. Now that he’s our president, all the people who once had no problem hating and spewing vile and vilifying President Bush (a good, decent, God fearing man who served our country honorably), suddenly have a principled aversion to disrespecting our leaders.

I can only agree with the values you are preaching. But you have not treated President Bush with the spirit you are claiming to espouse in this sermon. It’s very nice to know you will be more civil and fair towards Mrs. Palin in the future.

Your boys are sooooo cute and kool! Hopefully we’ll have the basement finished by the next time ya’ll come to Colorado. We would love to have you stay at our house and party with us. The kids could have a massive Star Wars party and I could put them through some Jedi training.


Kimberly Bluestocking said...

During the election I sometimes felt like an Obama cheerleader, not because I agreed with everything he said, but because I got tired of listening to people who had nothing good to say about him. I felt like somebody ought to stand up for his strengths while everyone else was slamming his weaknesses, real or imagined.

That said, Sterling's comment cuts me to the quick. I found McCain and Palin's campaign philosophy very frustrating, and I wasn't shy about saying so to anyone who'd listen. While I think it's important to analyze things and speak your mind, in retrospect I wonder whether I was as respectful as I should have been.

My children were too young to really follow what was happening, and I didn't discuss politics around them last year anyway, but sooner or later they'll start to pick up on what I believe, and I want to teach them to be open and respectful to both sides.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Slim--Not really too surprised.

As I looked more at the original lesson plans released in conjunction with the speech, I can see why people were upset. The lesson plans were a useless exercise in venerating the president. The department of education threw them together in a very hasty way, and it seemed obvious that they didn't have the text of the speech either. The best teachers, however, will always look at supplemental materials as a framework or even an option. The best teachers will know their class and their community well enough to present their lessons in a way that doesn't offend half the city. All of the suggestion about teachers being complicit in some scheme to brainwash the children made me sick. It is true that a lot of teachers are Democrats, nationwide, but in any given school, the teacher population likely resembles the community population.

Obama speaks to parents all the time; his dignified and careful speech with its emphasis on student responsibility shows young people that they are valued members of the country as well. "When you quit on yourself, you are quitting on your country too." That is a message directly for young people; not for their parents. As for it being "back door," well, it isn't as if nobody was told in advance. It was like the kids showed up to school and surprise! there was a speech. Advance notice was given, public discussion was held, and the text was (eventually) released.

Your argument about "skirting parental rights" is a hard one for me. It implies that ANYONE who speaks to a child needs to give a script in advance to meet with parent approval. Teachers, church, etc. As much as my classrooms were always open for any member of the community to enter and be a part of, I would have had major issues with ANY parent who insisted on seeing advance copies of everything I taught or said in class. For one thing, it would have been nearly impossible as the best classroom interaction is spontaneous, and for another, it is, frankly, insulting both to my education and to my professionalism.

I think the whole thing could have been avoided entirely if the text of the speech had been made available the same time the announcement about the event was given. I also think that such a speech should be a regular presidential thing. After all, kids make up a huge portion of the citizenry in this country. I can't imagine the positive effect that such concern and regular admonition would have had on my students at Klein MS.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Sterling--Your words hit home to me. So much, in fact, that I delayed the housework this morning in favor of reading back through (at least skimming) all of my posts labeled "politics" to determine just how guilty I was of hypocrisy. I found three posts where my language went beyond a criticism of policy (NOT what I am talking about here--criticize policy all you want) and was personal instead. One of those was an attempt to be funny which totally fell flat. (This might be where the 'pure evil' came from? You left comments on that day too; I course-corrected in my next post). There were several posts where I talked about the how the divisiveness in our country concerned me. Both in the current and the former admin. I couldn't find any place where I did more than mention Ms. Palin by name and my belief that her political stance was very different when she ran for national office than when she was governor. Nor do I remember ever saying anything to you personally about Sarah Palin, as I made a pact with myself a couple of years ago that I would avoid talking politics with you; as I very seldom see you, it hasn't been too hard. (Yes, this is talking politics, but you are choosing to read here.) There was more than one point where I readily conceded, and still do, that Bush is a good, decent and God-fearing man.

As for other public figures. I don't remember having ever said anything to you about Mr. Rumsfield; I certainly never wrote about him, nor is he any kind of elected official. My comments about Mr. Cheney have been very rare indeed, though I think Bush became a better president when he tried to distance himself from his choice; the former veep's most recent media blitz makes me almost think that he is hoping for some kind of national disaster so that he can say "I told you so." It is no different than the commentators who spent the first Bush Administration complaining that Gore wasn't the president. As for people's daughters, well I wasn't even blogging when Bush's daughter was going through her turbulent freshman year at college, and I can't even think of EVER talking to anybody about them or Palin's daughters other than to think that it must be very hard growing up in public.

Yet, I feel like all of this is rather beside the point. My emphasis in this post was more about kids. Nor did I fault anyone who had studied the issues and chose to keep their kids home. My caution was more about the civility (or lack thereof) we have to be careful about teaching our children. But you are right, my caution wasn't just to the language we use in front of our kids; it was also about the tone we take with one another. I will be more careful in the future; I would ask that you are more careful not to put words in my mouth. I also apologize if I sound defensive; but in the face of such strong accusation, I feel it is necessary to defend myself.

Anonymous said...

I never accused you of being disrespectful to Bush’s daughters, Palin’s daughters, Cheney, or Rumsfeld. I only commented that I hadn’t noticed your objections to other people doing it. If you did write your objections to this behavior then I must have missed it.

You did mockingly insinuate that “Dubya” as you referred to him wasn’t a thinking person on 11/26/07. You did accuse Bush of invading Iraq for oil in a comment you made to your 8/12/08 post. You did refer to the Bush administration as “ridiculous” and “PURE EVIL” on 8/11/08. I don’t see how saying some nice things about him negates the unfair accusations and disrespect you have leveled at him. I have put no words in your mouth and my only ‘accusation’ was that you haven’t treated Bush with the same spirit that you are espousing in this sermon. I didn’t really mean for this to be an accusation; I really thought it was an observation that would be obvious to you and your regular readers.

You express some very strong opinions on controversial topics on your blog. My perception has been that you invite your readers to comment with their opinions. If I have misinterpreted I am sorry. Or maybe you don’t want me to be a reader. I guess I am sort of a troll as you never officially invited me here. Anyway, I don’t want to be guilty of hurting your feelings or embarrassing you and if I am, I sincerely apologize.

Love and respect,


simple easy and quick said...

Obama Hitler? Scared Obama will indoctrinate your kids via a 15 minute speech? Obama a racist? What's going on back in the states!?

There's plenty I don't agree with him on his domestic agenda, but give me a break... You can't believe how much the US reputation has improved in the Middle East since he was elected.

Over here the leaders are on TV, in the Newspaper all the time and even on the Money. You can go to jail for speaking ill against them. Trust me, having your kids listen to a 15 minute speach is not the worst that could happen to them. Holding kids out of school because their minds will be brainwashed??

Nan, what type of country will I be returning home to next year anyway?