Our family first arrived in Narrowsburg [NY] in 2000, as city people hunting for a cheap house. For barely $50,000 we were able to buy the "weekend house" we thought would complete our metropolitan existence. But soon after we closed on the home, we moved to Paris, spurred by the serendipitous arrival of a book contract. When our European idyll ended after two years, and with tenants still subletting our city apartment, we moved into the Narrowsburg house. After growing accustomed to the French social system -- with its cheap medicine, generous welfare, short workweek and plentiful child care -- life back in depressed upstate New York felt especially harsh. We'd never planned to get involved in the life of the town, nor had it ever occurred to us that we might send our son to the Narrowsburg School. But suddenly we were upstate locals, with a real stake in the community.And Narrowsburg is tough community for an enlightened Francophile such as Burleigh to endure.
[F]or the first few months, we felt uneasy. Eighty of Narrowsburg's 319 adults are military veterans and at least 10 recent school graduates are serving in Iraq or on other bases overseas right now. The school's defining philosophy was traditional and conservative, starting with a sit-down-in-your-seat brand of discipline, leavened with a rafter-shaking reverence for country and flag. Every day the students gathered in the gym for the "Morning Program," open to parents, which began with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a patriotic song, and then discussion of a "word of the week." During the first few weeks, the words of the week seemed suspiciously tied to a certain political persuasion: "Military," "tour," "nation" and "alliance" were among them.One shudders at the thought. How will Burleigh's six year old come to embrace her mother's highbrow contempt for the hypocritical betrayal that is America? This is a deep concern: Burleigh notes that "[i]f you knew nothing else of the world, if you were just 5 or 6 or 10 years old, and this place was your only America, you wouldn't have any reason at all to question the Narrowsburg School's Morning Program routine."
And why should you? There is a reason that we think of our childhoods as an age of innocence. It is a time when we are able to focus our embryonic minds on our relationship with existence. I was six when Saigon fell to the communists and I can remember watching the evacuation on the news and even thinking that it was something that must be important. Nevertheless, the egoistic thrill of riding around the block in my "green machine" and the joy of wiring together my toy train set held more sway for me. During childhood, one's focus is on things far more immediate and it ought to be.
In contrast, Nina Burleigh has Iraq on the mind. She writes,
[j]ust before Christmas, my son and I drove together into New York City with bags of children's clothes and shoes that he and his sister had outgrown. The Harlem unit of the National Guard was putting on a Christmas clothing drive for Iraqi children. On the way into the city, I tried to explain to my son what we were doing, and -- as best I could -- why. As we crossed the George Washington Bridge and the Manhattan skyline spread out below us, I began to give him a variation on the "Africans don't have any food, finish your dinner" talk. I wanted him to understand how privileged he was to live in a place where bombs weren't raining from the sky. It was a talk I'd tried to have before, but not one he'd ever paid much attention to until that day, trapped in the back seat of our car.Yeah kid, but the president invaded Iraq on a lark and is "bombing cities and destroying buildings" and starving families "like yours" just for the giggles it gives him. Why don't you wrap your arms around that, you little six-year-old twerp!
In simple language, I told my son that our president had started a war with a country called Iraq. I said that we were bombing cities and destroying buildings. And I explained that families just like ours now had no money or food because their parents didn't have offices to go to anymore or bosses to pay them. "America did this?" my son asked, incredulous. "Yes, America," I answered. He paused, a long silent pause, then burst out: "But Mommy, I love America! I want to hug America!"
No wonder so many leftists are so embittered. After all, what is a 6 year-old to do about geopolitics (or his mother's attendant rages) except sit there in helpless impotence? Burleigh has taught six-year old that America is a vicious place controlled by monsters--and that there's nothing he can do about it. And you thought learning that there was no Santa Claus was bad. At least with that horror you learn where the gifts really come from and that you can still give and receive them.
If it were my child, I'd want to teach them that they were efficacious--if they kept their wits about them. During the developmental years, contemporary politics would be off the table altogether. In its stead, I'd share with my child everything I knew about history, be it the history of science, literature, philosophy, or nations. When my child understood how ideas shape both men and civilizations, then we could then talk about politics (and my attendant rages). Until that point, the message would be lost.
Burleigh has one haughty observation to make before she concludes her article. You see, for all its jingoism, life in Narrowsburg actually expanded her child's mind.
Now it has been almost a year since my son scampered down the steps of Narrowsburg Central Rural School for the last time. We've since returned to the city, driven back to urban life more by adult boredom than our children's lack of educational opportunities. Our son is enrolled in a well-rated K-5 public school on Manhattan's Upper West Side; not surprisingly, the Pledge of Allegiance is no longer part of his morning routine. Come to think of it, and I could be wrong, I've never seen a flag on the premises.Not surprising. I hear the culture in Manhattan can do that to you.
My husband and I realized, though, that Narrowsburg did more than mold our boy into a patriot. He can, it turns out -- despite the warnings of other city parents -- read at a level twice that of his new peers. Since we returned to the city, he has learned how to ride a bike, long for an Xbox, practiced a few new swear words and, somehow, learned the meaning of "sexy." He has pretty much stopped favoring red, white and blue.