As our politics become more polarized, both sides seek to immunize themselves from any exposure to the opinions of the other. I've spoken before about the self-reinforcing bubbles that many of us have created - echo chambers that ensure that we will only hear those things that agree with our philosophy. We want to be surrounded by folks who share our perspective. Unfortunately, this phenomenon has also influenced our attitudes about what constitutes a proper education for the generations who will succeed us.
As more and more parents are opting for homeschooling or religious-based private schools, it is incumbent upon all of us to reflect on what we are teaching our children. Do we want to "protect" our children from being infected with, or influenced by, the other sides' ideas? Are we concerned with instilling and perpetuating our values? OR Are we trying to ensure that we are turning out mindless automatons - people who are only capable of programmed responses to different circumstances? Are we teaching children HOW to think? OR Are we teaching them WHAT to think?
In the United States, folks on the right want you to know about what great and Christian men Washington, Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson were. Folks on the left want you to know that Washington and Jefferson owned slaves and that Jefferson wrote his own version of the gospel story of Jesus Christ. Both sides want you to know about the Constitution, but they only want you to hear about their method for interpreting what it means! Folks on the right want to concentrate on the movers and shakers of history, while folks on the left want you to know about the downtrodden and the oppressed. It often never occurs to folks on either side that both perspectives might have value - that both perspectives might be important in truly understanding the forces/people that/who shaped our society/nation.
In the realm of science, the divide is even more starkly defined. Folks on the right want the biblical version of creation taught to their children or something that allows that a literal understanding of their scriptures is at least plausible. Folks on the left point out that evolution is now accepted science and that any other perspective should be excluded from the classroom. Folks on the right want you to know about the dramatic swings in climate down through the different epochs of life on this planet, while folks on the left want you to know about all of the evidence that the human introduction of carbon into our atmosphere is rapidly warming our planet. Neither side seems willing to consider the possibility that both perspectives might have merit and should be actively considered by anyone who really wants to get to the truth of the matter!
Finally, there is the question of what we want our children reading. The right wants them to read the Bible, and the left wants them to read On the Origin of Species. Here's a novel idea: Let's have them read both! I'm not afraid of letting adolescents read Ayn Rand or George Will. Are you afraid of allowing them to read Marx, Hemingway or Faulkner?
There is a difference between education and indoctrination. They are not the same thing, and pretending that they are is dangerous. Children should be exposed to both the world as it is and the way that we would like it to be. The two are not mutually exclusive! It's natural for us to want to pass on our values and views to our progeny, but it is very unnatural to keep them from seeing what's on the other side of the fence.