First off, I didn’t want to. Let’s get that out of the way right now.
If you haven’t heard of it—and I’d be a little jealous if you haven’t—the skid mark on the underwear that is talk radio wrote a book series of children’s historical fiction.
The main character is called…wait for it…Rush Revere.
My son was 10 or 11, and my Republican Catholic father gave the first book to him as a Christmas gift.
I have never been one to discourage kids from reading, especially my own. My husband and I have been reading to our son since they let us take him home from the hospital. But considering that this particular series was written by someone who spewed anger and hate disguised as news, I had some reservations. I was worried that his version of history would be spun really hard to the right.
I voiced my skepticism about letting him read it, and was told that I was being closed-minded and unfairly biased. It was a children’s book after all.
I know. Me closed-minded. As if.
And my son loves history and books, so I conceded.
I decided that I would pay close attention to his thoughts on the book and be ready to discuss it. But he didn’t mention it, and wasn’t sporting any Nazi paraphernalia, so I didn’t either.
The next time we saw my father, my son thanked him and said it was great. I smiled politely. When my father handed him the next book in the series, my smile faltered and I nearly bit a hole through my tongue.
Two or three years later, as my son and I went through our collection of books to choose which ones to donate, old Rush reappeared. Cautiously, I asked him what he had thought about the book. Now that he had some history classes under his belt and a little more life experience I was curious about his opinion.
The miracle that is my child said, “Mom, it was so bad. I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. I’m sorry I lied to Grandpa, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”
I guess angry ranting about the evils of taxing rich people, and brown people taking over our country, doesn’t make one a great writer.
Or at least not a great writer of children’s books.
I think that all art has value of some sort. Even bad art. Books, music, and art of all kinds, however objectionable or offensive, contribute to the human experience.
I don’t censor the media he consumes as he matures, though the caveat is explicit content. But let’s not pretend that kids don’t have access to that kind of stuff anyway.
I think back to when I watched a tattooed, frizzy-haired man in a cut-off t-shirt testify in front of Congress. And how after that, I refused to purchase any music that didn’t have the parental warning label on it. Telling kids not to watch, read or listen to something only makes them want to do it more. Maybe I was just a jerk, but it worked that way for me.
I’m not naïve enough to think that I can shelter my son forever. Like a Band-Aid on a bullet wound, covering it up only works for so long. If you pretend it doesn’t exist, it will only fester in the dark. Where it can grow and metastasize into something much harder to deal with.
Instead, I hoped to inoculate him from harmful material by allowing exposure to it, but was also ready to talk about it openly, with no subject off-limits.
He is free to ask questions without judgment.
I’ve taught him to be kind and thoughtful. We’ve discussed sourcing facts that go beyond emotion. We’ve talked about confirmation bias, namely how it is exploited in the media and how to identify it in ourselves. And it seems my plan has worked.
His comment to me represented a thoughtful analysis of the situation, and an openness to evaluate upsetting information in a humanistic manner.
But what does work is teaching kids how to evaluate what they are seeing, and consider the feelings and experiences of others. Show them that you’re open to discussing anything that comes up with humility and honesty.
I may be of the overly optimistic opinion that the attempt to ban this kind of material in schools rips the Band-Aid off the bullet wound. We’ve now uncovered the nefarious motivation behind it, and are in a better position to heal it.
Unfortunately, Rush Limbaugh was the gateway drug to harder right infotainment for my father, which frankly just sucks. But I do have the entire hardcover collection of Beatrix Potter he gifted me when I was child, that I have now passed down to my own. So my son does have an awesome collection of books from his grandpa.
But nice try Rush Revere. It’s the recycle bin for you.