You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught

You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught

By Robert Scott

All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.

We had a record player in our house when I was growing up and my parents had a small record collection, mostly classical, but including several Broadway cast musicals. One of those was South Pacific. Listening to that record was part of the soundtrack of my growing up.

Many readers of The Edgefield Advertiser are familiar with the plot. It’s a World War II story set in French colonial Polynesia, with the main characters American servicemen plus a very few, and very pretty, American nurses. There are also many native Polynesians and a French planter with a beautiful estate. With the war in the background and Japanese invasion always a possibility, there are two intertwined love stories: one between an American Navy officer and a local Polynesian girl, the other between anAmerican nurse and the Frenchman.

Partially a morality play, the musical places an obstacle to both romances: the American idea, more popular then than now, that romances between ethnically different people are not only frowned upon but also deeply disturbing. The Frenchman, his nurse girlfriend discovers, was previously married to a Polynesian who had passed away, and the two native-looking children running around his estate are, in fact, his children. The Lieutenant is deeply in love, but he is troubled by feelings from his upbringing that intrude on his life. These two issues are well summarized in the song, “Carefully Taught.” You’ve got to be taught, the song says, to be afraid of people whose skin is a different shade. And you’ve got to be taught before it’s too late – before you are six, or seven, or eight – to hate all the people your relatives hate.

Which brings me to the point of this OpEd. There is a controversy in public education today not just in South Carolina but in many states, most notably Virginia in their recent gubernatorial election, as to how much sway parents should have in the public education of their children. Should parents be involved in banning books on certain topics, or that contain discussions of, say, LGBT issues, from public school libraries? Should parents have a veto onwhether their children’s teachers can discuss controversial issues like Black Lives Matter or Critical Race Theory in the classroom?What if those books or discussions run counter to the values the schoolchildren’s parents hold dear, ideas that may confuse them if teachers think differently from their parents? Should such thoughts and opinions be banned from public schools, particularly those teaching young children?

As a parent and now a grandparent, I would answer with a resounding “No!” I am confident in my offspring and the way we have raised them to know this: they can sort through ideas different from our own and reach the moral and ethical conclusions at the core. It is somewhat frightening to realize that children don’t grow up in a bubble notwithstanding parents’ wishes, and they will be exposed to many ideas, whether the family’s ideas or their opposite. I don’t want the children in my family to be carefully taught “to hate all the people their relatives hate.” We each have prejudices inherited in part from our own forebears, prejudices many of usstruggle throughout life to overcome. Educating children includes both roots and wings; the wings importantly include allowing them, even encouraging them, to grow beyond 19th or even 20th or 21stcentury prejudices in finding themselves. That is among the lessonsthat public schools should ensure are most carefully taught.