Are you afraid of free speech?
Right after the election, their statements were incredulous, but upbeat.
“Bailey said Hillary has been in jail three times,” one piped up on a ride home from school.
“And my teacher said Trump is a good man, and he got the most votes, so everyone needs to get over it!” the other one chimed in.
At first, I told them to avoid talking about it in school. I didn’t want them to go to their Trump-leaning elementary school with targets on their backs for talking about all the reasons Trump should not have been elected. I was suddenly afraid of free speech. But I faced these by explaining the truth and showing them the context of the political world as we now know it, bit by bit. As time has gone by, their voices have lost that childish pep when talking about their schoolyard political disagreements.
How Do I Explain This to My Kids? “Arm Them With Facts: Raising My Girls In Gainesville, Florida, Darlena Cunba, p.46, The New Press.
Children need more than facts, they need love, they need examples, they need role models. During the reign of Donald Trump and the Trumpists, it has been stressful for Unitarian Universalists whose principles have become significantly countercultural. Americans have elected a president and ushered in an administration that is very divergent from UU values and principles. Given this situation how is a parent, grandparent, caring adult to help the children? What do we say to them, teach them, model for them?
Darlena Cunba states in her short essay, “I was suddenly afraid of free speech.” Should children be encouraged to be silent, take a low profile, and not engage in political discussions, or should they be encouraged to speak up and share their values and principles even if this sharing causes conflict and sets them up to be targets for attack? Our instinct is to want to protect our children and keep them safe and yet there are virtues of courage, bravery, and assertiveness that can be exemplified and taught.
German Lutheran Pastor Martin Neimoller said, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”
In our current times of Trumpism we could change the words to say “They came for the Mexicans, the Muslims, the transgendered, the immigrant, the African Americans, the poor, and I did not speak out.”
To speak or not to speak that is the question. The answer could be “It depends.” It depends on the age of the child, the time, the place, who is present, the reactions provoked, etc. Helping children be assertive and take a principled stand can feel overwhelming for a parent. It is important to have a faith community or other groups who can and will stand in solidarity with our UU principles and values and actions.
Children love stories with heroes and villains. These stories teach them morals and life lessons. Instead of merely providing children with facts perhaps we could tell them stories and model the willingness to take principled stands on the important issues of the day and manage the consequences in loving and compassionate ways.