A lesson for teachers

My niece is 7. She’s precocious, smart and grounded—and that’s not just loving-uncle talk. A few Saturdays ago, when I asked how she was doing, Abijah tilted her head, looked me in the eye and matter-of-factly replied, “I’m smiling, aren’t I? When I’m smiling, I’m doing good.” I laughed and gave her a kiss on the forehead.

I mention this to illustrate her self-awareness. She may zone out when SpongeBob SquarePants is on TV, but Abijah doesn’t go through life passively, absorbing everything through osmosis.

That’s why a conversation that evening still troubles me.

Abijah attends a Chico Unified school. Her class wrote letters to soldiers in Iraq. The father of a classmate is stationed in the Middle East, so the assignment had special significance.

What upset me—and her mother (my sister-in-law) even more—is the reasoning Abijah took away from it:

“The soldiers are there to protect us. They’re fighting for our freedom.”

Her mom was appalled. When she told Abijah that the teacher gave a simplistic explanation to a complex situation, Abijah dug in her heels and debated with Mom:

“They’re fighting over there so they don’t have to fight over here.”

That logic may fly in some households … say, 30 percent these days. It doesn’t fly in this family, and it disturbed me to see my precious niece defending so fiercely a concept no 7-year-old can comprehend.

Mira, my sister-in-law, has taught Abijah to question things—I hear “Why?” a lot when we spend time together. Yet on this, Abijah has taken the teacher’s word as gospel.

“I hate that I have to convince her that there are other perspectives than the one she has been fed,” Mira wrote, after getting a sneak peek at this column. “It turns my stomach that she thinks that I hate the soldiers because I do not agree with our wars.”

Where have we heard that before? You can’t support the troops unless you agree with the president commanding them—more oversimplified rhetoric.

I’m giving that teacher the benefit of the doubt (and anonymity). I don’t think she meant to implant a slant into impressionable minds. But that’s what she did.

Here’s a lesson, educators: Dumbing down war is a dumb thing to do.

Weekly Edge: I like Anthony Peyton Porter. A little while back, we sat down over root beers and made a face-to-face connection. I had a feeling we’d have an interesting discussion—the man who writes From The Edge has a unique point of view.

Readers now will get double the amount of that singular viewpoint. His column is becoming a weekly feature in the CN&R, rather than biweekly, beginning this week.

Between sips of Abita at the root-beer place, Anthony and I discussed increasing his frequency. This happened sooner than expected when Culture Vulture soared into the sunset. (Wait, don’t get the wrong idea: C. Owsley Rain is still a man about town, just not a chronicler in the CN&R.)