Preserving innocence or coddling ignorance?
In two timeless lines, the American poet Billy Collins satirized society's predilection for whitewashing facts: "Soldiers in the Boer War told long rambling stories designed to make the enemy nod off," and "The Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom on Japan."
These examples from Collins' poem, "The History Teacher," each hide a kernel of truth within a whole loaf of lies. We can understand the need for governments to turn self-serving or disastrous missions that cost many lives into innocuous escapades, for how else would they ever be able to sell their next hidden-agenda war?
But when it reaches our textbooks or inhibits our access to unbiased reporting, then it becomes an affront.
"It's our duty to protect our young from the evils of the world — to preserve their innocence," many misguided parents plead as they get petitions signed to prevent discussions about Harvey Milk (gay rights) or reading Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar" (a suicidal heroine) or watching Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" (because science is now politics).
My AP English class read Tim O'Brien's memoir, which described him lying to his daughter about his actions in Vietnam, and I realized that preserving youth's innocence seems merely to entail the withholding of facts.
Certainly, innocence is a desirable trait, for is it not associated with babes and purity and God's unbridled love? No sullying of the soul by Adam and Eve's carnal desires. Furthermore, innocence is bliss, right? No. That's ignorance — but who can really tell the difference anymore? For when does innocence become ignorance? And when does ignorance become a sin? My answer would be that innocence (aka ignorance) becomes an unnecessary evil when it allows a viewpoint that is used as a weapon against others.
Jesse Deneweth, a junior at Marysville Charter Academy for the Arts, said that hiding information in an attempt to protect children is "not only morally wrong, but it also restricts the expansion and spread of knowledge. This method slows down the process of learning, which we thrive on."
What is it about innocence that makes adults want to navigate children away from the truth? Surely innocence should be a lack of experience, not a lack of knowledge, and yet the two are dangerously becoming synonymous. Maybe a 10-year-old is too young to hear about the dangers of drugs, the horrific happenings in war or the possible negative outcomes of sex, but why then are they old enough to play a video game such as "Call of Duty: Black Ops," where the objective is to kill as many players as possible?
Senior Kalia Klein said, "I think every child is different, and their capacity to understand some things depends on their maturity. In my experience, as a child, I felt not knowing things and having a lot of questions led me to finding the answers myself."
Today, Kalia is an excellent student and role model, yet things might not turn out as well with others. Do we really want children experimenting with drugs and sex merely because no one bothered to educate them? In this case, the old adage applies: To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
If we want to develop a nation of critical thinkers who weigh and evaluate facts before making decisions, then we must be fully exposed to the truth when we are young.
"We're going to find out about these things sooner or later," shrugged Bethany Harris, a junior, "and it's the parents' responsibility to prepare their children about what is the right thing to do."
We don't want to be like the complacent, ignorant public in the dystopian world of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." We don't want to incinerate knowledge merely because it might inflame our innocent minds. Or do we?
Natalie Landau is a senior at Marysville Charter Academy for the Arts. Her column appears every six weeks in Education.