I want to begin a conversation about what we teach our children, or, better yet, about what we chose to not teach our children.
I began to think about the topic in speaking with a co-worker the other day.
She started that conversation in mentioning a very religiously conservative relative of hers who refuses to allow her seven year-old daughter to spend time with her homosexual uncle, because she doesn’t want her (the daughter) to know that “homosexuals exist.”
“Is it working?” I said.
“What?” asked my co-worker.
“Well, the mom’s plan to prevent her daughter from knowing about the existence of homosexuals by not allowing her to spend time with the uncle. Is that working?”I said.
“I don’t know. Maybe,” she said.
There was silence for a bit, then I said, “But, she will eventually learn about homosexuals. And, what then?” I said.
“I guess all she can do then is deny, deny their existence or attribute the truth of their own believed existence to something else like “the devil,” she said.
We nervously laughed then, while recognizing the very seriousness of our conversation and the very truth of uses of denial as a form of foreclosing knowledge-seeking.
From the story of her relative, I began to talk about my own trespasses in “forbidden knowledge” as a child.
I was fifteen at the time, and the “trespass” occurred in Sunday School. I had just returned from an all girl, pre-college program in Psychology from a liberal arts program at a somewhat local college. In the program, I took some college level classes on the subject of evolution.
My Christian parents, I should say, never taught me anything about evolution. I had heard about it on the National Geographic channel once or twice, and could mentally recall the series of drawings of the evolved ape who stood up, but that was about it.
At that particular Sunday school class, the teacher began to talk about Adam and Eve, and I, seeing it as the opportune moment, asked about evolution. “Where does that fit in?”
In all honesty, and attribute this largely to my ignorance of the possible controversy that would and could ensue, I had assumed that my teacher would answer my question, make everything make sense for my fifteen year mind, and that would be the “end of that.”
Instead, in “hearing” my question, she looked at me stunned. Her eyes bulged a bit and her mouth hung open so long that I worried the annoying fly that she had, throughout the class, been swatting away, would make his home inside.
When she finally spoke, she repeated, “Evolution?”
“Yeah….(and I went on to regurgitate all that I had learned at my pre-college program).” “What about that?”
By then, the focus of the classroom went from the teacher in the front of the room to the fifteen year old “teacher”in the back. “That makes sense,” some students said. “Yeah. What about that?” they said, looking, along with me with eyes of innocent curiousity at the still stunned teacher.
“The– there’s no such thing as evolution,” she said nervously. And, that was that.
I assumed that her conclusive declaration that “there’s no such thing as evolution” had ended the conversation on the topic. I didn’t receive the answer I was looking for, but the whole experience was uncomfortable, so I didn’t want it to continue any longer.
Next week, in spite of my teacher’s declaration, the conversation on evolution continued, however. This time, not by me, but by my teacher. With the “help” of a “higher up” church official, she reiterated the story of Adam and Eve and concluded with the proclamation that “Evolution is the devil’s work.”
I continued to attend that Sunday School class, never daring, however, to bring up evolution in fear that I would be accused of “meddling” in the “devil’s work.”
My point in bringing up my conversation with my co-worker and my experience in Sunday school is not to begin a debate about homosexuality or evolution.
My point is to open a conversation on what we chose and do not chose to teach our children.
I should say that I am not arguing that all knowledge is appropriate for every age group. I get, for instance, that teaching a three-year old about sex may not entirely be productive. But, when, for instance, your child learns (or wants to learn about) something that you may not (either morally, ethically, or religiously) agree with, how do you handle this?