“Skepticism is the first step toward truth.” — Denis Diderot.
The other day when I was looking through my collection of columns from the Millbrae Sun between 1983 and 1994, I came across one that I wrote about a particular letter to the editor that complained about Amy Carter’s “stupid radical leanings.”
In case you’ve forgotten, Amy Carter is the daughter of Jimmy Carter who was president from 1977 to 1981. She was about 20 or so at the time and was taking part in a protest against something she felt that the government was doing that was damaging the environment — nuclear testing.
The letter writer complained about parenting that, according to him, doesn’t instill in children “the virtues they should possess to make them ‘good Americans.’” Apparently he believed that, in order to be a “good American,” you don’t protest. You sit back and allow government leaders do whatever they want or you’re not a patriot. In other words, America is the greatest country in the world, so shut up!
Then, as I was writing this, I came across a report in this newspaper that an obviously conservative school board in suburban Denver wishes to “promote patriotism and downplay civil disobedience” in their American history classes. Many parents, students and teachers are opposed to the proposal and are rallying against it.
This got me to thinking about one of my favorite subjects, independent thinking and “virtues.” So I offer my two bits worth, listing some of the things that I would hope all children learn as they grow up so that they will be happy, thoughtful, responsible, productive adults — good Americans. I would want them to learn that when it comes to controversial ideas, questionable practices, persuasive con men (whether politician, minister, sales person or star-gazer) to ask themselves a few questions before they consider going along with someone else’s beliefs, discard them or leave them on hold. I would encourage them to ask themselves the following:
1). Do those people who are out to persuade me to think the way they do and/or do what they want, really care about me, or are they out to serve their own interests, whether self-aggrandizement, political advantage or monetary gain?
2). Am I developing my own personal, ethical and moral guidelines so I don’t automatically adopt other people’s views?
3). Do I need to remind myself that absolutely no one has all the answers?
4). Do I do research on the pros and cons of an issue before I decide whether to support it or not?
5). In relation to controversial issues, is there something I can do to bring about change when I feel strongly that change is needed?
As Erich Fromm wrote in “Escape from Freedom”: A great many of our decisions are really not our own but are suggested to us from the outside; we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who has made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed with expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and more direct threats to our life, freedom and comfort.”
Now back to the girl with “stupid radical leanings.” I’d rather my progeny become involved in protesting injustice than in falling into the millennial trap. I’d rather they become a member of The Wilderness Society than the 49ers booster club. I’d rather they become an educator than the president of a corporation that pollutes the environment. I’d much rather have them be skeptical, thinking and mindful people than one who kneels at the feet of any celebrity that comes along.
Where I feel the letter writer and many others of our generation erred was swallowing everything they were told — all the myths our society foisted upon us such as, we should never question authority, success is what we display on the outside instead of how we think on the inside, winning is everything, we can arrogantly try to conquer nature without damaging results, power and influence are in physical force and military strength, America is infallible.
As our nation continues to lose its grip in so many ways, we need more thinking and feeling people who are willing to work toward changes needed to stem the tide. In 2012, Henry A. Giroux wrote in his book, “American Education Deficits and the War on Youth”: “Pedagogy that enables students to think critically and hold power accountable, is dangerous to those who favor the status quo and it is precisely because of these so-called dangerous tendencies that it must be embraced as essential to any viable democratic political project.”
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 1,000 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is email@example.com.