Teachable Moments:  Torture, Politics and Honking

There are any number of teachable moments for kids, instances in which you can seize the opportunity to explain what’s seen as well as what’s happening in the world.  Such was the case this weekend as I drove Youngest to the library in a nearby city and passed the small local Occupy encampment, which presented a spectrum of topics to consider.  This was especially the case as I honked at a middle-aged man holding a sign which read Honk if you remember when torture wasn’t an American value!

Dad, why were you beeping the horn?  I responded as to why I honked the horn and what the sign said, which led to a conversation about torture.  To his credit, Youngest – at age nine – knew precisely what waterboarding was and we chatted about both why it was used and why people were opposed to it, now including me. 

Is that the only torture that we use?  My answer was that while it was the only torture technique that our country utilized (so far as I know), we did ship prisoners off to other nations who were open to other, more imaginative methods.  Well, what’s the difference then?  By this point, we’d pulled into the library parking lot and I could only tell him that so far as I could see, he was right in that there was no difference.  I didn’t mention that those who assigned a difference were only raising a facade – frankly because then I’d have to explain the meaning of the term facade.  The exchange, from honking to parking, took about five minutes and that was a decent timeframe for his age level.

Bill Cosby once performed a hilarious routine about kids and questions, entitled Why is there air?  The Cosby response was a simple four words:  to blow up basketballs.  The gist is that kids are curious and want to know what’s going on around them and it’s one of my primary responsibilities to explain the world to them.  But the younger ones neither want nor need lengthy lectures or conversations.  They simply need a few minutes at most to give the basic reasons.  In Cosby’s monologue, the child was probably a preschooler and not into upper elementary school, but the point is the same.  Keep it simple and neat, and then break it off lest the kid go into his yada yada yada mode.

Daily life is rife with teachable moments, some sweet and others not so – like waterboarding and torture.  Regardless, keep your ear tuned for the question and be ready to engage whenever it arises.


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