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By Frank Watson
Gazette Columnist 

Children are our Future


July 26, 2018 | View PDF

My niece and nephew recently came to visit from the Midwest. They had never seen this part of the world, and I thought they would be impressed with the variety of ecosystems in Eastern Washington. Thus, I was a bit surprised when their initial request was to take a ride in “Uncle Frank’s snazzy convertible.” We mounted up, and I was about to start the engine when they asked for help with their seat belts. These kids, ages five and nine, were conditioned to buckle up before the car was put in motion. I was impressed with the results of quality parenting. I don’t think the government should be responsible to make me wear my seat belt, but I think it is dumb not to, and I enforced this rule with my own children. I remember noticing that my son’s car had the belt fastened behind the seat so he would not have to listen to the car’s beeping reminder. He lost his driving privileges for a month. The lesson must have stuck, as he is adamant that his own children fasten their belts before he moves the car. They didn’t learn this valuable lesson in school.

Government programs cannot shape the future of our society nearly as much as parents. It is common to look to schools as the vanguard of America’s future. There are basic problems with this thinking. Schools are very good at teaching science and literature, but parents are more influential in shaping morals and ethics. Additionally, experts with PhDs in education are often out of touch with the society they are trying to shape. Not long ago, academia decided that the USA should move towards the metric system. Towards this end, they began using metric in all school arithmetic and math texts. I was teaching freshman Algebra at the time and witnessed the unintended consequences. Students could visualize a pound or a foot. A pound was four sticks of butter and six feet was the height of a full-grown man. They had no reference, however, with metric measurements. They couldn’t visualize 1.85 meters or 400 cubic centimeters. It was as if I was teaching Algebra in a foreign language. I had to write my own story problem using feet and inches in order to give the kids a fighting chance to learn the basics of Algebra. Government experts are frequently too far removed from the society they are trying to modify.

Most Americans would say they believe in following the law and, “Honesty is the best policy.” In practice, however, we feel a real need to lock our doors and anything not nailed down is expected to walk away. That is not the case in all societies. I had the wonderful opportunity to teach English in the Japanese public-school system. There are no Robin Hoods in Japan nor any admiration for rebels. If you inadvertently drop something on the street in Japan, you can retrace your route and find it. No one picks it up. I dropped my wallet on my way to work one morning and went back 30 minutes later to find it lying on the side of a busy sidewalk. There are no home break-ins in Japan. Doors are seldom locked. You can find vending machines that sell almost anything to include canned alcoholic drinks. If you are 21, you can buy a bourbon and coke in any subway station, but underage kids don’t partake because it would be wrong. They have been conditioned to follow the rules much the same as my niece and nephew have been conditioned to wear their seat belts.

Could we condition future generations to be blind to skin color? Can we become a society that values personal honor above any gain that can be derived by lying or cheating? I think so, but government programs must be aimed at parents. Parents are in the best position to instill honor and decency in children.

(Frank Watson is a retired Air Force Colonel and a long time resident of Eastern Washington. He has been a free lance columnist for over 18 years.)

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