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On Lying to Children - Peep

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.



Things people often lie to kids about include, as most people will have observed themselves at some point: death, birth, sex, relationships and imminent danger. All the things one would expect to be dealt with in a decent education, if an education is considered to be the information required for a decent chance at living your life effectively. Perhaps ideologically this is why we originally outsourced education to specialist institutions, so we didn't have to decide which awkward truth to tell. It ceased to be the responsibility of ‘us’ and became that of the professionals.

Working in a minor educational capacity with some of the most privileged children of the western world I see kids who, in having everything, are better protected than perhaps any other group of people on the planet. Like animals in captivity they are conditioned to stay that way. This conditioning occurs through the system of controlling information transmission known as Very Expensive Education. The lives of such privileged young people are of interest in this case because they represent the pinnacle of aspiration in the society they come from. This is the ideal childhood inscribed at the heart of capitalism.

Often the reason given for lying to those younger than us is that it isn't the right stage in their development for them to know something. Knowledge of something important might disrupt the process of indoctrination we accept as a proper education provided by somebody else, so we cover up, waiting for teacher to clarify it later.

But we don’t trust these others either. Pity the unfortunate schoolteacher who attempts to teach using materials deemed ‘inappropriate for children’! Unable to trust ‘the professionals’ to censor reliably, we invented the curriculum. The very idea that there is information that is appropriate or inappropriate for them betrays the fact that it is considered in our culture morally reprehensible not to obscure the truth from kids.

The result is that the people of the future are by turns shielded from important truths and exposed to others of a most horrid kind usually taken as necessary and unavoidable evils. Kids I work with cite the biography of a spectacularly rich and famous glamour model as a favourite book, run a close second by the biography of a survivor of horrible rape and abuse. These are books their parents are happy to provide them with and yet discussion with these parents of another recent bestseller, the biography of a less famous, self-professed feminist, proves quickly that it is considered rather risqué. They are unsure of its suitability. No reason is given for this, it is merely an unusual suggestion, and as such, immediately suspect.

How much more terrifying, to be exposed to everything that is unpleasant but unavoidable and none of the subtle, brilliant complexities which might offer solutions to such horror, on the basis that they are unsuitable for one's age. Time and time again I see the pattern assumed that that which is popular and pervasive is unavoidable and is therefore shruggingly allowed and that that which is niche or complex or obscure is confusing, potentially upsetting and therefore a risk.

The decision as to which truths are suitable may be too great for one generation to make for another. The dangers a new generation face may not even be comprehended by those teaching them. In a world in which the landscape these bairns inhabit is increasingly different from that of their elders, as change accelerates and confusion proliferates, we must learn not lie to, or come between, children and the truth they need.