Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Teaching Your Children to Check Their Privilege

Don't worry -- I haven't suddenly become a cultural Marxist. The "privilege" I'm going to discuss has nothing to do with the trendy (and foolish) leftist idea that supposes a white, heterosexual man automatically lives life on an "easier" setting than does a black, lesbian female -- even if the former is a jobless welfare recipient in Appalachia and the latter is a tenured academic. No -- the privilege I want to discuss is the privilege of being an American.

There are billions of people in the world today who live on less than $10 per day. There are billions who still lack convenient access to potable water, live in unsanitary conditions, suffer from easily avoidable infectious diseases, or are growth-stunted and malnourished. In Haiti, four years after a major earthquake, people are still living in tents and makeshift shacks. Would this happen in America? We may bitch about FEMA's incompetence, but major natural disasters do not leave our populations completely helpless. We do have our homeless, but not on that scale -- and clean water, safe food, good sanitation, and (at least partial) literacy are everyday facts of life that many take completely for granted. Even poor Americans are better off than huge swaths of the earth's population; the majority have televisions, refrigerators, and air conditioning -- consumer items that are unheard of in other parts of the world. Moreover, we enjoy a certain liberty that is often denied to our contemporaries overseas. Despite the best efforts of certain illiberal radicals, we still have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to demonstrate against laws we perceive to be unfair, and other fundamental rights. Can you say the same for dissidents in the Middle East?

Overall, if you live in America - or in the developed world in general - you are unbelievably fortunate no matter who you are.

But you wouldn't know it if you peeked at what Victor Davis Hanson terms our "psychodramatic campuses." The students at UC-Santa Barbara believe themselves to be so emotionally fragile that they are now insisting on officially enforced "trigger warnings" before their professors tackle potentially disturbing subjects. Meanwhile, at Dartmouth, students recently staged an overnight sit-in in the president's office. Why? The protesters demanded gender-neutral bathrooms, outright racial quotas, and censorship of the library catalog (among other things) on the grounds that their bodies "are already on the line, in danger, and under attack." Really? At a private and highly selective Ivy League university? Somehow, I doubt it. Let's get real: if you're going to a school like Dartmouth, the chances are very good that you grew up in the upper-middle or upper class and lived a very easy life indeed. You had professional, highly-educated parents who made sure you went to the best schools, were assisted by tutors so you could pump up your GPA, and were shuttled to a plethora of (expensive) extra-curricular activities to burnish your college resumes. Trust me -- one of the many hats I wear at my day job is part-time college admissions counselor. The kids who get into the Ivy League are, quite frankly, the kids whose parents can pay for my services over the long term. But you're not talking about addressing that systemic inequality; instead, you're complaining because the school won't give you free gender-reassignment surgery. What entitled nonsense!

Apparently, many of our young people are now so well-off in absolute terms that they no longer understand what it means to be truly underprivileged and "oppressed." They've lived in bubbles so cushy and comfortable that they can no longer withstand the slightest offense or the merest whiff that someone disapproves of their ideology or their lifestyles. Because they've been told all their lives that they're ever-so-clever, every insult, no matter how inconsequential, is cause for disproportional anger and heavy-handed shaming or censorship. The free marketplace of ideas? Ha! Free speech is considered a threat, not a boon. When President Hanlon (at Dartmouth) offered to discuss the student protesters' complaints, they refused because mere conversation, in their mind, would leave them vulnerable to "micro-aggressions" that would severely wound them in body and mind. Honestly, I can't help but imagine how a Christian from the Sudan might respond to this twaddle; I expect he or she would laugh in these kids' faces.

I don't want to raise kids who behave this way - like coddled, pampered prince-lings who are convinced of their innate superiority and who insist their every demand be immediately satisfied - and I'm sure you, the reader, don't either. So what should we do as parents to turn out young adults who aren't professional victims and spoiled brats?
  1. I think, first of all, that we need to instill a mentality of service. As soon as possible, we should involve our children when we cook meals for the homeless shelter or collect old clothes, toys, and books for Goodwill. Helping the poor should be a weekly event and something that is frequently discussed. And when our children hit adolescence, we should encourage them to go on mission trips -- or to summer work camps like those held in Arlington Diocese for local families who can't afford necessary repairs for their homes. Exposure to these opportunities will not only teach our children compassion, but it will also teach them to appreciate what they have. 
  2. Secondly, we should only compliment our children's genuine accomplishments. What counts as "genuine," will, of course, vary with the age of the child, but children should never be taught that every little thing they do is lovely and special. Excessive and false praise produces children with over-inflated egos who feel justified bossing people around. 
  3. Third, after a certain age, children should work to earn certain luxuries. They shouldn't be handed a new car when they're sixteen, for example; they should be asked to get a job to save for it. 
  4. Fourth, you should give your children regular opportunities to live without certain modern conveniences. After a long weekend roughing it in the woods with no showers, flush toilets, or electricity, they might better understand how good they actually have it. 
  5. And lastly, we need to make sure our children are educated when it comes to world history and current events. They need to understand that the level of material prosperity we enjoy is absolutely astounding when seen in its full context. And they need to understand how lucky we all are to live here, where the accomplishments of modernity protect us from a whole host of physical, emotional, and spiritual dangers.
The political theater at our colleges and universities disgusts me, as you've no doubt perceived. But we can combat it so long as we consciously avoid indulging our children's every desire and teach them that they are manifestly not the center of the universe.

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