It was my fault, really. I wanted him to think outside the box. I remembered reading encyclopedias as a kid and the broad base of information it gave me. I looked at tools like Google skeptically, because they only give you answers. The most important part of learning is asking the right questions. I bought him books like “The Big Book of Tell Me Why” so that he had easy access to interesting questions and interesting answers. I encouraged him to read encyclopedic collections of books…then he did so.
At first it was just noteworthy. He came home with “How WW2 Started” and “How Carrier Fleets Work.” They both had the same gold font lettering and trim and were clearly part of a series of books. My wife and I exchanged skeptical looks, wondering how many more books we would see. Soon, he came home with “How Tank Columns Work” and “The Rise of Fascism.” The worry set in. I read the books and was relieved to find them fact-based, with relatively few editorials or opinions. It didn’t dawn on me that without opinions, my seven year old would be left to balance the merits of fascism on his own, with no context. “Sure, power is dangerously consolidated but they seem to get quite a bit done in a short amount of time without all that bureaucracy.”
Then he came home with “Racism and the Far Right.” On the cover there was a picture of a Nazi, a Klansman, and what appeared to just be a normal, white male Republican. “How far right does one have to be to constitute far Right”, I wondered. He also came home with The Arms Trade. Wondering if he understood what he was reading, I started asking him about it. In simple terms, he explained how oil embargos lead countries to trade oil for guns, and how we end up buying the oil anyway. My son had learned how to arbitrage for guns.
The last straw was when he was playing army men with his cousins. “I’m an American soldier,” one cousin exclaimed. “I’m an English soldier,” said the other. “I’m a Nazi soldier,” I heard a familiar voice yell. I finally sat him down and explained to him that the Nazis were the bad guys of WWII. I know that in this political climate, that point is up for debate, but I wanted to make sure my son got the message. I like the idea of books focusing facts and refraining from offering opinions. But maybe, just maybe, some value judgments should be included in what our kids read. “