Glenn Beck Compares Norway's Dead to Hitler Youth. He Couldn't Be More Wrong.

Family Matters on 08.05.11
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As the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reports, right-wing commentator Glenn Beck caused outrage recently when he compared the victims of the horrific shootings in Norway to Hitler Youth. While at least condemning the shootings, Beck exclaimed that the idea of a youth camp all about politics was a deeply worrying concept. This from the Telegraph article:

Beck said that the Labour party youth camp on the island, where 68 people were murdered, bore "disturbing" similarities to the Nazi party's notorious juvenile wing. Beck, a multimillionaire darling of the Tea Party movement, said on his nationally-syndicated radio show: "There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler youth. I mean, who does a camp for kids that's all about politics? Disturbing."

Politics and Youth Have Always Mixed

Besides the astoundingly offensive nature of his remarks, Beck's observations were also clearly inaccurate. There is nothing strange or sinister about youth involvement in politics, and likening it to fascist Germany just doesn't make sense. In fact Beck's own political involvements demonstrate that politics and youth can and do mix on all sides of the political spectrum, as the Telegraph article goes on to demonstrate:

Despite Beck expressing surprise that political movements would hold camps for children, followers of his 9/12 Project – which aims to "recapture the spirit of the day after America was attacked" – have this summer been doing just that. Organisers of the "vacation liberty schools" in several states told the Daily Telegraph how they taught children as young as eight a Tea Party-endorsed curriculum spanning religion, economics and political principles.

It's The Other Guys' Youth Politics That is Wrong

Of course outrage at comments from Glenn Beck is nothing new. But his ranting did bring up an interesting point for me - how do we encourage civic and political engagement in our kids without brainwashing them into becoming clones of ourselves? After all, what Beck was truly railing against was not kids involvement in politics, but kids from "the other side" getting involved in politics. 

As I've revealed in my posts on principles and parenthood colliding, and the connection between children and consumerism, I have my own political views and, suffice to say, they are very far from Mr Beck's rightwing ideology. But I have always tried to nurture what Saul Alinsky referred to as "that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right."

Can you Teach Politics Without Brainwashing?

So how do I teach my child about politics without imposing my own views? How do I encourage her to develop her own opinions, thoughts and political expression? It's a tough question, and one without an easy answer. As Joanne Bamberger noted in her own post on how to teach kids about history and politics, first and foremost comes the notion of discussion. Wherever possible, I plan to encourage her to question what she sees around her, and to debate the notion of what's right and what's wrong. Above and beyond teaching political ideas comes the idea of teaching critical thinking - observing the world around her, and the myriad of views it contains, and weighing them up against the evidence at hand.

Will that mean I don't transfer some of my views? Almost certainly not. Some questions that are deemed "political" by some are, from my point of view, simply verifiable facts: science says our Earth is warming, and humans are causing it; marriage equality is a no brainer in a country that cherishes personal freedom; human beings thrive when we do our best to look out for and care for those around us.These are things that my child will hear from me early and often. But she will also hear that others believe differently - and that they should be encouraged to share evidence for their views. My hope is that she will take even these core truths and evaluate them for herself according to the world she sees around her - because a conviction is not a conviction unless it stands the test of thought.

Kids' Political Engagement is More Important Than Their Politics

Ultimately I have no illusion that I can or should control the political views of my offspring. I can share what I know, share what I believe, try to make a distinction between the two, and then watch as they develop into their own personalities with their own views. Ultimately, I hope less that my children will develop in a particular political direction, than that they will develop in a political direction, whatever that may be. After all, engagement is a cornerstone of democracy, as Torbjørn Eriksen, a former press secretary to Norway's Prime Minister expressed in his response to Beck's remarks:

"Young political activists have gathered at Utoya for over 60 years to learn about and be part of democracy, the very opposite of what the Hitler Youth was about," he told The Daily Telegraph. "Glenn Beck's comments are ignorant, incorrect and extremely hurtful."

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