We have spent our whole lives shaping our beliefs and making decisions to guide ourselves to what we hope is a good life. Our children are infused with our beliefs and guided by the types of decisions we’ve made and the reasons why we made them. And, why not? We’ve spent our lives assessing the world and these are our best answers to achieving happiness. So why not pass this great information along to our children?
While I see no harm in passing along this hard-earned information to our children, it is important to note that if we teach them nothing else, if we don’t encourage them to learn about (at least) a few of the innumerable world-views that exist, then we are indoctrinating them, not guiding them. Some people may not see this as necessarily bad because if it is good for them, it must be good for their kids. I would suggest, however, that by indoctrinating our children we rob them of vital information that will allow them to find the good life.
1. Critical thinking.
Indoctrination is based on the idea that there is only one way to live “correctly.” No decision-making is required. There is no comparing, contrasting, or weighing of difficult information. Yet, critical thinking is essential, from building relationships to success at work. Critical thinking allows us to assess difficult situations and to make best choices.
2. Ownership of ideas.
One of the ideas promoted by our Founding Fathers is that people will value that which they earn more than something that is simply given to them [Reference Ben Franklin]. The same applies to personal philosophy. If our children’s idea of good living is only what we taught them, they haven’t put thought into it themselves. Thus, they have no ownership in the ideas. The donated ideas that they hold will not mean nearly as much to them as those ideas that they’ve forged themselves.
3. Broader understanding of the world.
If our children are raised within the context of just one world-view, they will be behind the curve as they enter adulthood. Whether at home, work, or even across the globe (thanks to the internet), they are going to run into an almost limitless number of perspectives. Forget about culture shock, let’s talk about philosophy-shock! Not everybody thinks that democracy is great? Some people don’t think we are born in sin? If our children already have an understanding of varying world-views, they will be more confident in their own views, more accepting of other people’s right to have differing views, and less likely to doubt everything you ever taught them because you hid these perspectives from them.
Like it or not, our children are not miniature versions of ourselves. They are individuals with their own likes, dislikes, interests, and capacities. Thus, their path to the good life is not likely going to be the same as ours. If we force our children to accept our way, we inherently block some, if not most, of their individuality. By blocking their individuality, we simultaneously refuse to them the best means to a good life for themselves.
Dare them to be different from us
Even with all of this said, it doesn’t mean that we can’t talk to our children about what we believe or the decisions we make and why–that is a natural part of parenting. However, instead of viewing ourselves as dictators of truth, we should view ourselves as guides. We should guide them with our principles, but encourage them to find the other side and to examine it themselves. If we are Catholic, encourage them to read the Bhagavad Gita. If we are atheist, encourage them to attend church or read the Bible. Whether we are Republican or Democrat, encourage them to compare and contrast the two political systems. As a matter of fact, why not broaden their horizons even more and encourage them to read the platforms of third parties.
We shouldn’t be afraid of what our children will learn. By allowing them to venture into the world of ideas, we are giving them a great opportunity to develop themselves and their own world-views separately from us; we are allowing them to take ownership of how they live and what they believe; we are gifting them with the essential function of critical thinking and a broader understanding of not only themselves, but their co-inhabitants on this earth.
And–fear of all fears–what if they decide to take a different path? So what! We should appreciate our children’s differences from us just as much, if not more, than their similarities to us. For what is more valuable–a pair of brown eyes that look like ours or a well-thought-out set of ideas and ideals that will help them achieve a good life?