Hello, and welcome to Parent Like You Mean It, the podcast where we talk about raising our kids to know the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, and fact versus opinion. I’m Jefferson Drexler and I admit that I’m a superhero geek. I mean, anyone who can say, “I write a blog” or “I host a podcast” innately has some level of nerd/geek/dweeb in them, right?
That being said, I recently introduced my kids to last summer’s comic book blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. Toward the end of the flick, there was this quippy bit of dialogue between the Galaxy’s newest rogue heroes and the local “policeman” Corpsman Dey…
Corpsman Dey: I have to warn you against breaking any laws in the future
Rocket: Question – what if I see something that I want to take, and it belongs to someone else?
Corpsman Dey: Then you will be arrested.
Rocket: But what if I want it more than the person who has it?
Corpsman Dey: Still illegal.
Rocket: That doesn’t follow. No. I want it more, sir. Do you understand?
Drax: What if someone does something irksome, and I decide to remove his spine?
Corpsman Dey: That’s actually murder… one of the worst crimes of all… so, also illegal.
All my kids giggled at the absurdity of Drax and Rocket’s questions… and as their father, I sighed in relief.
You see, my boys got the irony that Drax and Rocket were questioning some of the universal, moral and ethical truths that we all should abide by. They got the humor founded on the fact that stealing and murdering are not valued as wrong… they are truthfully wrong.
What’s the big deal about this? Who wouldn’t (with the exception of a fictional weapon-wielding raccoon and muscle-bound intergalactic destroyer) instinctively know the difference between such things as values, opinions, and truths?
Well, according to some recent readings, many of today’s children are on a trajectory of confusion between these ever-blurring lines.
You see, in my mind, it all goes back to Little League Baseball (as so many things do). As I was learning and falling in love with America’s pastime, it was clearly evident that there were three different types of rules that all baseball players, from eight-year-olds to professionals, have to abide by: The written rules of the game, the unwritten rules that may or may not be negotiable in certain circles, and the basic moral, ethical and universal truths that everyone – players, coaches, fans, parents, umpires, and snack bar vendors – must adhere to.
First, the written rules of the game. These are the basics, including: each batter gets three strikes or they’re out; each team gets three outs before the inning is over; runs are scored by crossing home plate, but each runner has to cross first, second and third bases before running home (we had to make this clear before excitedly yelling at the youngest players “GO HOME! RUN HOME!!”).
Then there are the “unwritten rules”. In Little League, fielders are encouraged to “make some chatter” and chant something like, “Hey batter, batter… SWING!”. As we get older, this practice, as well as yelling “BOO!” in the face of a fielder about to catch a fly ball are considered bush league and frowned on. Other unwritten rules include: Don’t steal a base when up by ten runs or more; Don’t stand at home plate and admire your home run ball as it clears the wall – get running as soon as you make contact; and don’t ever step on the pitcher’s mound unless you are that inning’s pitcher – it’s disrespectful and bad luck.
Finally, there are the basic moral, ethical and universal rules that we all must follow: don’t punch a second baseman when they tag you out; don’t throw your bat, helmet or glove – especially out of frustration; you can voice your disagreement with an umpire, but you don’t ever insult the umpire; and while stealing bases are permitted, stealing someone else’s glove, bat, bag or other property isn’t.
Again, just like the comic book movie, who wouldn’t instinctively know the necessity of following these basic values, ethics and truths?
Well, firstly, let me point you to a recent column by Justin McBrayer of the New York Times titled, “Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts”. Justin (we’re on a first-name basis, since I’m more that happy to have him call me Jefferson… wait, does that violate an unwritten rule amongst writers?) starts off by asking:
“What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children that it is not true that it’s wrong to kill people for fun or cheat on tests?”
He goes on to describe a “troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board” in his son’s second grade class. The two signs said:
Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.
Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.
At first glance, these signs seem rather benign. Simple delineations to help young minds separate between objective truths and subjective beliefs.
But the problem runs deeper than that.
Justin continued in his article:
“Hoping that this set of definitions was a one-off mistake, I went home and Googled ‘fact vs. opinion.’ The definitions I found online were substantially the same as the one in my son’s classroom. As it turns out, the Common Core standards used by a majority of K-12 programs in the country require that students be able to ‘distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.’ And the Common Core institute provides a helpful page full of links to definitions, lesson plans and quizzes to ensure that students can tell the difference between facts and opinions.”
But, the problem is that they are teaching our kids that in order for something to be factual, it must be both true AND able to be tested or proven. But, what about the instances where something is true, but cannot be proven? (i.e., the potential for life on other planets); or, conversely, something that was previously proven but untrue (the world is flat).
But, as Justin points out the worst part about the fact vs. opinion lesson is that:
“…students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions. They are given quizzes in which they must sort claims into one camp or the other but not both. But if a fact is something that is true and an opinion is something that is believed, then many claims will obviously be both. For example, I asked my son about this distinction after his open house. He confidently explained that facts were things that were true whereas opinions are things that are believed. We then had this conversation:
Me: ‘I believe that George Washington was the first president. Is that a fact or an opinion?’
Him: ‘It’s a fact.’
Me: ‘But I believe it, and you said that what someone believes is an opinion.’
Him: ‘Yeah, but it’s true.’
Me: ‘So it’s both a fact and an opinion?’
The blank stare on his face said it all.”
Here’s the best part of Justin’s deep dive into fact, opinion, and how they impact our kids:
“How does the dichotomy between fact and opinion relate to morality? I learned the answer to this question only after I investigated my son’s homework (and other examples of assignments online). Kids are asked to sort facts from opinions and, without fail, every value claim is labeled as an opinion. Here’s a little test devised from questions available on fact vs. opinion worksheets online: are the following facts or opinions?
- Copying homework assignments is wrong.
- Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior.
- All men are created equal.
- It is worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our country from terrorism.
- It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.
- Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat.
- Drug dealers belong in prison.
The answer? In each case, the worksheets categorize these claims as opinions. The explanation on offer is that each of these claims is a value claim and value claims are not facts. This is repeated ad nauseum: any claim with good, right, wrong, etc. is not a fact.”
All this to say, that according to the delineation that Common Core is presenting, there are no moral truths. Just moral opinions. What’s right for you may be wrong for someone else and what is wrong for me could be okay by your standards… regarding EVERYTHING.
Now, certainly, if you ask any teacher across our country if it’s okay with them if one of their students should cheat on their next test, they will reply, “Absolutely NOT”. However, if they were to remain consistent with the fact/opinion lesson, the response should be something to the effect of, “Well, if they don’t mind actually learning the material and can cheat their way through the test without getting caught and thus being robbed of actually internalizing the content on the exam, then I guess their opinion on the matter is just as valid as anyone elses.”
Justin sums up his thoughts on the matter like this:
“We can do better. Our children deserve a consistent intellectual foundation. Facts are things that are true. Opinions are things we believe. Some of our beliefs are true. Others are not. Some of our beliefs are backed by evidence. Others are not. Value claims are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not. The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct. That’s a hard thing to do. But we can’t sidestep the responsibilities that come with being human just because it’s hard.
That would be wrong.”
As I read, and re-read, and re-re-read Justin’s article, I kept thinking of a bit of advice I received from John Stonestreet of Breakpoint Radio: We constantly need to be asking the question, “What do you mean by that?”
So, as we hear our kids come home from school stating that President Obama’s inaugural address is one of the greatest American speeches ever, ranked alongside President Kennedy’s and Abraham Lincoln’s… we need to ask, “What do you, or what did your teacher, mean by that?”
This, in fact, was an actual discussion we recently had with our sixth grader. My first thoughts: “You’re putting Obama ahead of FDR, Reagan and Washington?!?!” Then I asked the question… and I’m still flabbergasted, but with a bit more understanding.
But, what concerns me most is when I see parents leave the “academic teaching” to their kids’ teachers and they don’t ask the Stonestreet question, with the long-range problem of our kids developing a broken moral compass. Too often, these same parents leave the “moral teaching” to their kids’ Sunday School teachers, and run a similar risk (Yes… even Sunday School teachers are fallible and are capable of having skewed worldviews).
But, when we ask the question, “What do you mean by that?” we start a conversation that can bring clarity to moral dilemmas, as well as a greater understanding of what is being taught and awareness, as parents, of when to step in.
You see, at some point, Little Leaguers need to be taught when “hey batter, batter…” needs to stop, our kids (as well as animated raccoons) need to learn that stealing is never allowed, and that many times, what someone believes is absolute, unshakeable, and universal truth.
That’s our role as we “parent like we mean it” – ask the tough questions, have the uncomfortable discussions, and at all costs, instill amazing values and character in our kids so that when they hear moral absurdities, they can laugh at the irony and we can sigh in relief.
For the e-squared media network, I’m Jefferson Drexler