This past Monday, my son, a 2nd grader here in Queens, NY, came home and told me that his library teacher had read aloud to them from a children's book about Barack Obama's life. He proceeded to tell me several details from Obama's story and it got me wondering: did the teacher also read a book to the class about John McCain?
It sounds silly to be stumping for equal time in a 2nd grade class, but in the interest of fairness, I thought if they're teaching this as a current event, why wouldn't they read from a McCain book as well, right? When I asked my son if he knew who else was running for President, he knew that McCain was, but said that the teacher didn't have a book about McCain's life to read to them.
Naturally, I was curious to find out if the librarian indeed didn't have a bio of McCain, or if she wouldn't be reading about McCain to the class out of some personal choice, bias, time limitation or whatever. I spoke to an administrator at the school, and the moment I started to tell her of my concern about the situation, I knew I had turned into my own father. It was a little embarrassing and I think she regarded me as somewhat of a nutcase, but I felt like I needed to say something. I love teachers, they're heroes of mine, but I wouldn't put it past some of the more liberal-minded teachers in the NYC school system (read: 98% of them) to take it upon themselves to do these kids the "service" of pushing them in the right direction politically.
I continued to push ahead with my queries anyway, asking the Assistant Principal if the political lesson was part of the curriculum by School Board mandate or by this specific teacher's choice, and I also volunteered that if the school library didn't in fact own a children's bio on McCain, I would be glad to donate one. This prompted a quizzical look, as if to say, "Is this guy serious?!?"
The AP told me that the teachers had been warned against electioneering at the school, and that no buttons or posters were to be worn or displayed anywhere in classrooms or on school property. She told me she would relay my concerns to the Principal, and get back to me on the situation as soon as possible. Not waiting for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn, I went right to the source. I asked my son on Tuesday morning how Library class went, and he said they'd finished up the Barack Obama book, and did I know this or that detail about his life, etc... Still no McCain bio to be had, though, and my son told me that the teacher said they would be moving on to a new book during the next class, and it was not about John McCain.
Listen, I'm not saying this is Watergate or anything, or that I'm going to be taking this to the Supreme Court or any of the other hysterical avenues where issues at schools have ended up in the recent past due to parents with little else to do with their time. Yes, I can already hear people shrieking that I am one of those parents, but I think this episode bears watching because these are the kind of subtle things that occur at a very formative time in a child's life that can help tip a kid in a certain direction later on. This I know from my own experience.
I heard my own father, an Archie Bunker type, arguing about Vietnam with my rich white-guilted liberal neighbors when I was a kid, and Nixon was the first politician whose name my father screamed in defense of, and I vividly remembered that later on when we had a mock Presidential vote at my own school in 1976 (Ford v. Carter). Imagine my classmates' horror at seeing me stand up in defense of Nixon's record (and by extension, Ford), practically frothing at the mouth like my Dad used to do... nice political debut, eh? But many people get their first exposure to politics from their parents; getting political views from a teacher at elementary school is another story altogether. God forbid somebody tries to pray in a public school, the whole country goes into a tizzy at the mere thought of it, but somehow, this is supposed to be benign. I'm not buying it, or going gentle into the night on this. I'm beginning to feel a little less sheepish, though I'm sure that playground whispers may follow from other parents if they find out.
Indoctrination is a fact of life, especially at institutions of higher education across the country, and I want to make sure that my son's school treats the coming election in an even-handed way and shows the kids both sides of the story, instead of just the side of the story they think should be told.