Sunday, March 02, 2008

Rights & Choice

I recently had the pleasure of attending a weeklong series of debates at a local public Middle School. The debaters were all 8th graders, about 13 or 14 years old. They were allowed to debate what ever topics they wanted, provided the topic was a pertinent public issue. So, I heard debates on the pros and cons of gun control, or a military draft, of pro-Choice vs. pro-Life, or stem cell research, of animal testing and many others. These debates were technically part of their language arts class, but they were kind of combined with their US History and Social Studies classes as well, since they were drawing on info from mnay different sources for their content.

It was truly humorous to watch these pre-teens dressed up in ties, trying to argue very important points but consistently slipping up in their verbiage or saying absent-minded things. Two examples: during the pro-Choice, pro-Life debate, the pro-Life girl consistently referred to the embryo as an "embryoid" on accident, which mae it sound liek the fetus was an alien life form or something. Another time, during the debate on using animals for food and clothing, the pro-animal kids made a very strong comment about endangered species being wiped out. The opposing kid, a very short little Hispanic boy, just shrugged his shoulders and in his Mexican accent said, "Yeah, but who needs pandas anyway?" The whole audience burst out laughing. These type of frequent childish interlocutions made these debates truly pleasureable to watch.

But beyond the humour of it, it gave me an opportunity to witness what kids in public schools are being taught about things like rights, responsibilities, choice and law. The common theme running throughout every debate was that the Constitution of the United States was invoked for or against every position, as if proving (or disproving) something as constitutional de facto won or lost the argument. After hearing the Constitution and several phrases about rights being tossed around, I began to pay attention to the context in which these kids were using the words "rights" and "choice."

Basically, every kid defined our rights as being able to do whatever we want. One boy even said these exact words, "Our Constitution guarantees us the right to do whatever we want; that's what it's all about." In most of the arguments, the side who was able to most clearly invoke something (say, abortion) as a "right" won the debate (the victor was determined by an audience poll). Whether or not the issue was good or bad, or whether or not it was murder didn't seem to matter. The kids' minds seemed to stop working as soon as something was established as a "right." And it was simpy taken for granted that the Constitution was about giving us freedom to do whatever and say whatever we want.

Secondly, the word "choice." Unanimously, every side that was in favor of giving people a "choice" came out on top. There was a debate on the pros and cons of hunting. The anti-hunting person said that we really don't need to hunt for food, nor for clothes, and to kill for fun is not a healthy habit to develop. The pro-hunting person, without addressing any of the specific arguments, simply retorted, "Yeah, but it should be our choice." He took the debate by a 90% to 10% margin. Now, incidentally, I agree with the pro-hunter, but my point is that to say, "Yeah, but we should have a choice," is no argument at all. It is just an appeal to popular sentiment. This tactic was used in every debate, including the abortion one. In each case, the kids thought that to have a choice was an unqualified good.

Well, so what? I mean, they were only a bunch of stupid 8th graders, right? Yes, but in four years they'll be a bunch of stupid adults. They were arguing based on what they learned in Language Arts, Social Studies and US History, and they are being raised/schooled to think that the Constitution is about giving us the freedom to do whatever we want, that nobody can say anything otherwise if our "rights" happen to be sanctioned by the law of the land, that "choice" is an unreserved good and that it is always better to have a choice. Down what road will this citizenry lead us when it attains its maturity in a few years?


Anonymous said...

This ties in nicely with the post before if you think about it. Chesterton said, "to have a right to do something is not the same as to be right in doing it."

Unknown said...

This citizenry, when mature may do a better job than the current citizenry whom you must admit has a lot to answer for. One classroom, one teacher, one group of kids, no biggie.

Boniface said...


I grant it, it is a very valid point. Every generation is responsible to God for what happens on its watch. My generation is just about to take over and in many cases already is in control, while my parents' generation is retiring. We all ought to be concerned with what happen's on our watch, so that on the Last Day Christ does not say to our generation, "Woe to you, you wicked and adulterous generation! It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than for you."

Anonymous said...

Hold on there buddy...........

My time is not up, my breath has not ceased..... and my "generation" just got appointed your new Bishop.. hehehehehe

I will keep up the good fight.... as per Luke 17:10