If I’m not mistaken, today is the birthday of Jonathan Krohn, who turns 14. You might have caught his speech last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he spoke about the principles of right-wing politics and promoted his book, Define Conservatism. (Amazon.com doesn’t seem to have a link to the book yet, but it’s only a matter of time.) If you missed the speech, don’t worry—you can hear a lot more from Jonathan by following his appearances on Fox News, and his fledgling web page will undoubtedly flesh out in the months and years to come.
Jonathan is an accomplished musician and actor, a home-schooled child of undeniable intelligence and talent as a performer. (He’s been performing on stage since he was 8, and has had three call-backs for a major role in a Broadway play.) He says he became interested in politics by listening to conservative talk radio. If he hasn’t already replaced Joe the Plummer and Sarah Palen as the face of the conservatism movement . . . well, as I say, it’s only a matter of time.
The spectacle of this child performing at that convention was one of the most frightening things I’ve seen in my life and the best argument in the world against home schooling. There’s a difference between “schooling” and indoctrination.
According to my dictionary, indoctrination can be defined as “to imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle.” The word imbue, in turn, means
1 : to permeate or influence as if by dyeing (e.g., the spirit that imbues the new constitution) 2 : to tinge or dye deeply
It’s one thing for parents to model and explain their values to a child in the hope that the child will share them when he becomes an adult. It’s quite another to isolate and imbue him with only the attitudes and ideas of their particular subgroup of society. Exposing an impressionable young child to daily hours of emotional, partisan rhetoric until he can faultlessly mirror the mindset of that group—that is propaganda. Whether the values are those of a political party, an extremist hate group, or a religious cult, the moral problem is the same: the child is deprived of the right to learn to think, as well as the ability to understand and learn from others whose opinions may differ.
Most of us like to believe that America is a country where freedom flourishes and people have the right to choose what to believe. But there are niches in America—just as in Pakistan, North Korea, or any totalitarian state—where young children are isolated and indoctrinated into a closed system of beliefs. Children thus “educated” lose the ability to apply reason to new ideas, think critically, and make choices based on their own life experience. This is wrong—and frightening in a time and place where bright young minds are needed to find new solutions to critical problems.
For Jonathan, I can only hope that his interests other than politics will eventually allow him to discover and grapple with a wide range of ideas. I wish him deliverance from the smug confidence that comes of having no doubts whatsoever. I wish him well and will watch his career with interest. If he should persevere in his desire to be a political leader, I hope he’ll grow in wisdom as the years go on.
And I’ll tell you this—even at this stage in his development, I’d rather see him in the White House than Sarah Palin. He's got a much less hostile attitude, and he seems to be even better at learning and delivering his lines.