Friday, July 28, 2006

20th vs. 21st Century Feminism

The Broadsheet blog at comments on a feature in Sunday's SF Chronicle about stay-at-home dads:

"I came away feeling like any article that praised moms who stayed at home in the same terms would get absolutely pilloried for trying to send women back to the kitchen," wrote one Broadsheet reader. "Also, the dads interviewed seemed to feel like they could get away with saying things that I felt would be very controversial coming from a woman's mouth."

Our reader is referring to quotes like this one from Wayne Wilson: "I don't want my babies to be raised by anybody else." The Broadsheet reader continued: "I mean, if a stay-at-home mom suggested that a working mother was not raising her own kids, but having someone else do it, it would be yet another bomb thrown in the 'Mommy Wars.'"

Why, the reader asks, is it "cool when men stay at home since it's opposite their traditional role, but it's lame and antifeminist if a woman does it?" For many people, this is a confusing question. Is Linda Hirshman right? Should we renounce childrearing as unworthy and all get to work?

For a very, very long time, and still in many places around the world, it was/is compulsory for women to stay home with babies, an arrangement enforced by custom and sometimes law. Women, went the theory, ruled the domestic sphere, men the public sphere.

Feminism busted that down, and feminists urged women out of the kitchen and into the public sphere, both in work and political life. The result was a social revolution; by almost every measure, feminism was spectacularly successful.

Good, as far as it goes. Women got more freedom and more power. That was stage one of the revolution. It meant putting a lot of kids in daycare; a whole generation. Many kids were raised that way and they turned out just fine. But the dual-income family also created a lot of contradictions, more for the parents than the kids. Many parents grew dissatisfied. Why should any of us, male or female, be slaves to work? Why should someone else have the satisfaction of raising kids? What's so bad about raising kids anyway? Screw the politics, it comes down to this: I love my kids and I miss them and I want to see them raised by people who love them.

So now we're in stage two of the revolution. Women's economic and political power has grown; many women have more career potential than the men they partner with. When such (relatively privileged) couples have kids, they can make decisions based on what they want instead of what society says they should want. Couples come up with many different arrangements, depending on the circumstances of their lives. It's a hard time, in some ways, without well-defined roles and paths, and sometimes with a lot of economic instability. This describes a condition of freedom.

So for now, a man proclaiming that he doesn't want his babies raised by anybody else, and he's going to be the one to take care of them, is risky and revolutionary in the same way that a woman doing the opposite was once revolutionary.

That a few feminists like Linda Hirschman don't get this is just sad; history is passing them by. They're fighting the battles of the Sixties, but it's the 21st Century. "The biggest problem with American feminism today is its obsession with women," writes my buddy Lisa Jervis, founder of the magazine Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture and editor of the forthcoming book Bitchfest. She continues:

Yes, you heard me: It’s time for those of us who care deeply about eliminating sexism within the context of social justice struggles to stop caring so damn much about what women, as a group, are doing. Because a useful, idealistic, transformative progressive feminism is not about women. It’s about gender, and all the legal and cultural rules that govern it, and power—who has it and what they do with it.

A transformative progressive feminism envisions a world that is different from the one we currently inhabit in two major and related ways. Most obviously, this world would be one in which gender doesn’t determine social roles or expected behavior. More broadly, it would also be one in which people are not sacrificed on the altar of profit—which would mean universal health care, living wages, drastically reduced consumption, and an end to the voracious marketing machine that fuels it.

Lisa is sketching out the next stage of the revolution. For those of us who have chosen to have children, we need transformative, progressive, feminist values that are consistent with our desires and the realities of our lives - and I don't know about you, but my desire is to be close to my family and take care of my baby.

Horribly, the Right, especially the Religious Right, has gained ground by capitalizing on desires like mine - but they argue that the answer is to go back to the good old days of patriarchy and get women back in the kitchen. According to their ideology, a person with a penis is simply not supposed to have my desire. For many guys of my generation, right-wing "family values" make no sense. For all the noise and their rise to political power, I think it's too late for the Right. History is passing them by, too.

The only way to go is forward, into stage three - when, hopefully, men and women can raise children in a context of equality. We need a 21st Century vision of the family. Many of us are already living it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Markets vs. parents

Firefighters who want to live in high-priced cities can work two jobs, said W. Michael Cox, chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “I think it’s great,” he said. “It gives you portfolio diversification in your income.” *

When I read this quote in a NY Times article about how rising real estate prices in major cities are squeezing out the middle class, I couldn't believe it. I had to read it again to make sure he actually said what what I thought he said.

He did.

Let's put aside for a second the nature of the job of firefighter, in terms of physical and psychological demands. Let's put aside for a moment the degree to which firefighting is a vital service for any community, including big cities.

Let's put aside my own belief that to be truly great, a city has to have the entire economic spectrum, especially including working and middle classes.

What really struck me is how this economist -- and not just any economist, but the chief economist of one of the Federal Reserve banks -- thinks working two jobs is "great." That you should have a second job as a kind of "portfolio diversification."

If you are single and without kids, working two jobs might be okay, and depending on the jobs and your own choices, even "great" -- though when I was single and kid-less I actually enjoyed having free time to pursue non-job related activities like going out, hanging with friends, exercising, reading, etc.

But think about what this attitude means for parents, either single parents or parents living with partners.

Imagine what it means to have to work two jobs, at least one of which is full time and as demanding as firefighting. I've never had to do that, but even trying to imagine it makes me exhausted.

And then imagine that you have a kid or two.

If you are working two jobs, it's really hard to even think about having time to spend with kids.

Maybe Mr. Cox sees kids are a luxury that should only be indulged by people who can make enough money to afford them. I don't know for sure, but that's my hunch about him, based on this statement and other things he's written or said. So he'd just say that this hypothetical firefighter just shouldn't have kids.

Mr. Cox's view represents one strand of conservative thinking in this country -- an influential one among elite conservative economists and policy makers -- that reduces everything to economics, and to a particular kind of sink-or-swim, kill or be killed, "let the market decide everything" view of how economies should work.

What they miss is that some things can't be reduced to economics. Some things are just too important to be left to the market.

It's important that parents be able to spend time with their kids, and not have to work two jobs just to make ends meet. It's important that parents be able to support their family financially while still having time and energy to devote to parenting.

It's so ironic that the political party that claims to be in favor of "family values" is at the same time pushing an extreme vision of our economy that makes it impossible to actually parent, that's actually weakening families.

What do we need? We need to understand that we're all in this together. We need to understand that we live not as isolated individuals, but in communities. We need to understand that the most important things we have are relationships with other human beings. It is these relationships that tie communities together.

Rather than telling the firefighter he or she should just work two jobs, our leaders should be asking how they could help to ensure affordable housing in every community.

They should be asking what steps could be taken to make sure that working and middle class people can afford to rent or buy homes in the communities where they work.

It's a tall order, for sure, and there are no easy answers. But one thing I do know is that the answer is not to tell people they should be happy to work two jobs.

*Source: "Cities Shed Middle Class, and Are Richer and Poorer for It," Janny Scott, New York Times, July 23, 2006

Cross posted at daddychip2

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

An odd vs. An end

"Dreamworks has picked up the latest successful pitch from The Office staff writers," writes Martha Fischer at Blogging Sundance. "This one was dreamed up by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, and is called The Intern... The movie will tell the undoubtedly hilarious story of 'a middle-age, stay-at-home dad who decides to return to the work force and is forced to start as an intern.' This is the point at which I almost write something like 'Gee, a story about the humiliation of a sad-sack middled [sic] aged man?'"

Note that in the writer's eyes a "stay-at-home dad" reentering the workforce equals a "sad-sack" dad.

Dads: leave a comment and let the writer know what's what.

We'll see what the film is like. I've seen only one episode of the American version of The Office. The original British version is subtle and compassionate; the boss from hell is a figure to be pitied as well as laughed at, and in the British Office his personal maturation (the culmination of which is portrayed in the post-series Special) is moving and hilarious to see. Will The Intern make fun of stay-at-home dads, or focus its satire on our society's absurd hypocrisies about work and parenting?

I recently also read this article from the Canadian magazine MacLeans on a "boot camp" for dads in the U.S., where older dads mentor new ones. "Women have instant networks for stuff," says the founder. "Men don't." That's right. Seems like a good idea to me!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Boys, toys and militarism

It's hardly controversial to argue that war and instruments of killing are glorified in our society, and that young boys are a particular target of this promotion.

Just walk down the "boys" aisle of any toy store and you see that a huge proportion of toys are military-themed or military-related. My local dollar store, in fact, in its toy section, carries nothing but military toys for boys. Some video games also promote the sense that warfare is fun. And I do believe there is a connection between this promotion of military toys and the tendency of many Americans, especially men, to cheer and support US military action abroad without thinking about the costs to those on the receiving end of US military action, without thinking of the costs to the US soldiers who take part, without thinking about what war really is.

When my son BK was born we began facing the question of how we wanted to raise him, what kind of man did we want him to become. Part of the concern was the hyper-militaristic boy culture in our society, which was reinforced by the typical macho stereotypes foisted on boys from a very very early age.

But then we started to see that our son liked to shoot at things, even though he had no toy guns, even though he did not watch television or violent movies. He found a stick and would use it as a gun. We were quite concerned about this kind of thing.

One day I ran into the son of friends of ours who was about 20. His parents had been active in the peace and feminist movements from the time he as born. He himself is a very cool kid, not at all militaristic or macho; in fact, I'd be thrilled if my own son turned out like this kid.

I talked to him about my concerns -- BK was probably about 5 years old at the time. And he told me his own story. He'd grown up in a feminist, peace-activist household.

Yet he loved to play army and war, he loved to play violent video games. It seemed like such a contradiction.

But he explained that he knew the difference between fantasy and reality. Because his parents had actually talked to him about war, warfare, killing, and militarism, he understood that the fantasies of playing army or playing violent video games were very different than actual warfare.

And as I thought about it, I realized that as a kid I also played army. We'd divide up into opposing armies, and roam the neighborhood "killing" each other with pretend guns. Although there were no video games back then, we watched plenty of tv shows and movies that glorified military action.

And yet, I did not become a militaristic, violent guy.

The point here is that the attitudes of our kids come from many different places. Yeah, there's a lot of pressure and opportunity for our boys to adopt a militaristic mindset, to think of war as "cool" and of violence as normal. But as I wrote earlier in my post about politics and kids, we parents are our kids' first teachers.

Given this societal environment, it's so important that we actually talk to our sons about militarism and war. Of course we need to talk to our daughters about it. But our sons are the main targets, and when they turn 18, the sons of those of us in the US are required to sign up for "selective service" (military service registry).

Given US foreign policy over the past several years -- actually, over the past half-century -- and given the extent to which US military action is glorified in the news, in history books, in newspapers, it's especially important for us as Americans to talk openly and frankly with our kids, and especially our sons, about militarism.

My wife and I have done that. From the time he was little we made sure BK knew what war actually was, putting it in very human terms.

We explained the difference between doing something to defend yourself, and doing something that is closer to bullying. We explained what fighting a war means for people on the receiving end of our missiles and bullets -- not just soldiers but moms and dads and kids. We explained exactly what happens in a war -- people actually get killed and maimed, homes are destroyed -- conveying the immense sadness and tragedy that comes with violence. We explained that unfortunately sometimes leaders, including our own, do not obey the most basic rules of nursery school -- use words, not your hands.

All of this helps make it clear that playing war and "shooting" with sticks, pushing buttons on a gamecube or watching a dvd are not war. They are fantasy. And war is fundamentally different.

Our kids have to know that war is not a game, and that violence should only be used as a very last resort. They have to know that our society tries to create the false impression that war is exciting and fun and bloodless. They have to know that our leaders try to deceive us into believing that we are always justified to use bombs and guns.

Of course BK has a lot of non-violent toys, and he and his friends do a lot of other kinds of play that does not involve war or guns. But when BK plays army, when he plays with his plastic army guys, when he and his friends -- including a good friend whose parents are feminist and pacifist and pretty much on the same page as we are on those issues -- have gunfights, with sticks, with supersoakers, with toy guns (yes, BK somehow has a toy revolver, the kind I had as a kid, and his friends do too), he understands that this is not war.

BK plays with the toys, but he understands that the reality of war is not a game.

Cross-posted at daddychip2

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pissing into the wind vs. Going with the flow: The Play

Based on a more or less true story!

Dad#1 is a writer.
Dad#2 runs a nonprofit law firm that sues prescription drug companies.

Act II, Scene 2:

Scene: Irish bar in Boston.

Dad#1: How’s work going?

Dad#2: Win some, lose some. Lately I’ve been trying to stay enthusiastic. Sometimes I feel like we’re just part of the cost of doing business for these big pharmaceutical companies.

Dad# 1: The cost of doing business matters. It can change behavior.

Dad#2: Don’t you ever feel like you’re just pissing into the wind?

Dad#1: Sure, all the time. When I left my job a year ago, I absolutely felt that way.

Dad#2: Still feel that way?

Dad#1: All the time. But I realized something kind of important, which is that I didn’t have any choice but to do the kind of work I do. I may be pissing in the wind but I have to do what I think is right and hope it works out. I mean, look, we don’t know what effect our actions will have. What seems ineffectual today can turn out to have a huge impact later on – Rosa Parks and King were inspired by people we’ve never heard of, blah, blah, blah.

Dad#2: Like the butterfly that flaps his little wings in China and causes a hurricane off the coast of Louisiana.

Dad#1: Sure, exactly. Except the butterfly doesn’t have any choice but to flap his little wings. That’s just what he does. We on the other hand have to make annoying choices. See, the problem with my old job is that the organization had, you know, strayed from its founding values. I joined a social justice organization but it turned into this business while I was there. At the end I wasn’t doing work that made sense to me, and so I was unhappy. Right after I left I just felt disillusioned, like no good intention goes unpunished. But then I realized I couldn’t live that way, thinking that whatever I started would turn to shit.

Dad#2: You can’t think that way if you’re dad.

Dad#1: That was a big part of it, yeah. Exactly. We don’t know how our kids are going to turn out, but we just have to raise them in a way that seems right to us. It’s like how E.L. Doctorow described the experience of writing a novel: you’re driving a car through the desert at night and you can only see as far as the headlights shine. You have to just keep driving in the right direction and have faith that you’ll get to your destination.

Dad#2: That’s the problem. What if you start to think that you’re not actually going anywhere?

Dad#1: What else are you going to do?

Dad#2: Stop the car. Get a job with one of the pharmaceutical companies you’ve been suing, buy a big house, send your kid to private school, retire in luxury.

Dad#1: I got a glimpse of that life at my old job. After I became a dad, I thought lots, more than I’d like to admit, about whether or not I should focus on making money. It seemed like the right thing to do, provide for my family and so on. That whole manly dad thing. But I was so unhappy. I’d be holding the baby and thinking about arguments at work. I wasn’t focused on the baby; I was always somewhere else.

Dad#2: That can be true at any job.

Dad#1: Sure, lots of nonprofit jobs suck. But some are great. This is about values and what you want out of life. After I quit I realized that I couldn’t organize my life around private accumulation. Why should that be the point of being a man? That’s somebody else’s idea of daddyhood. It’s a trap. For lots of guys, maybe it’s OK. I’m not judging them anymore. I just know that I have to live a certain way or I won’t be happy. And what kind of father will I be if I’m not a happy person?

Dad#2: So it’s destiny.

Dad#1: Maybe that’s one way of putting it, like you have a purpose and the secret to happiness is discovering that purpose, though I have no idea how that purpose would get assigned. It’s probably just accident, like everything else in our lives. Anyway, I just felt like, I had to live my life come what may. Maybe I wouldn’t make as much money, but maybe there are other things I could give my son by living my life the way I do. I’m not sure what. I’m still figuring that out.

Dad#2: But what if you’re no good at fulfilling your destiny? Like, you sue drug companies but you suck at it? Or maybe you just think it’s boring?

Dad#1: First of all, you probably don’t suck at it as much as you think you do. You can’t win every battle and if you lose a couple in a row, you can start to have negative bullshit ideas about yourself. Second, you don’t have to do this particular job forever. You can move on. Third, you know, a lot of work is boring. Especially legal work. If you worked for a big company, would it be any less boring? It’d probably be even more boring.

Dad#2: At least you’d make a lot of cash. (Finishes beer and slams it down on the bar.)

Dad#1: If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine with me. The only problem is, would you be making the world better or worse in that job?

Dad#2: Yeah. I think I know the answer to that one.

Dad#1: I dunno. Drugs help people live longer, right? You could tell yourself lots of stories that would make it easier to go to work.

Dad#2: Ugh.

Dad#1: See? (Laughs.) You can’t do it, can you?

Dad#2: I think I’m drunk. And I have to piss. Do you want another beer?

Dad#1: Sure. Does beer help people live longer?

Dad#2: I dunno but it sure makes me piss.

Dad#1: Just don’t do it into the wind.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Kindergarten racism

When my daughter CB was in kindergarten I spent about 2-3 hours every week volunteering in her classroom. I wanted to get to know her classmates and be part of her first year of school. The teacher was a good sport, he gave me interesting things to do with the kids, and I got to know all of them pretty well.

The class had 18 kids, 12 boys and 6 girls, mostly white, but five of the boys were black. The teacher, who was pretty young, and the teacher's aides, who tended to be older, were all white, as am I. I never thought much about it.

But then I started noticing that the teacher treated the black boys much differently than the white boys, reacting much more harshly to the same behaviors if committed by the black boys rather than the white ones.

The teachers' aide, a very nice woman, became almost a different person when working with the black kids. She would assume they couldn't do the project or assignment, and would often just give up. I'd step in and could see that these kids could do the projects just as well as any of the other kids in the class.

But the most memorable event had to do with a substitute teacher. She was white, probably in her 30s, from a suburban area. She was very uncomfortable with the black kids.

When one of them did something or needed some direction, she acted like she was afraid of them. In fact, I could see that she was afraid of them, the expression on her face was one of fear, almost terror. These are five year olds we're talking about.

She asked me to deal with them, which I did. I knew the kids pretty well by then, and they knew me.

What has stuck with me from that day is the fear on the face of this woman. A fear of five year olds. Because they were black. That really opened my eyes. I realized how naive I'd been.

From that moment I began noticing a lot of things that we white folks are used to not seeing, not recognizing, or ignoring. How black kids are treated differently, in a negative sense, by the white adults in authority. And of course other kids notice that.

One day my daughter came home from kindergarten and said, "the dark-skinned boys are bad." At the time we were shocked that she'd say that, but I realized that she was just saying what she was seeing. The adults in the room treated the black boys as bad, and so they were bad. White boys who did the same things were merely mischievous.

Most white Americans reportedly think that racism is a thing of the past, and that we live in a colorblind society. Any continuing disadvantages experienced by blacks must, by this logic, be their own fault. And we shouldn't even really talk about race, because, the thinking goes, that is what perpetuates racism.

We live in the US Northeast, in a town that is very liberal. No one is openly racist. Yet the attitudes of white adults towards these black children reflect an ingrained racism. What I saw in CB's kindergarten class was real. And it showed me that if most white Americans believe racism is dead, then most white Americans don't understand how insidious racism continues to be.

And of course part of the problem was me. I did not stand up to any of these people and call them on their racism. Thinking about it now, some of them were probably not even aware of what they were doing. I know that they would have been extremely offended had I pointed it out. Since I was a new kindergarten parent, I was overly cautious on this and on other issues. If it were now I think I would have reacted differently.

But would it have mattered?

All of these school district employees had been through "multicultural and diversity training," meant to make them sensitive to issues of race and class. But it didn't seem to help. I know groups that advocate for children of color in our town, and they are frustrated with the school district administration and much of the school board. The administration and board are all good white liberals, and they just don't get it.

I don't have an answer. But these personal experiences have led me to see that the bottom line is, the race problem in this country is a white problem.

Reposted (slightly revised) from daddychip2.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Cars Stink, Ride a Bike!

I don't have a car, and ever since Cole was old enough to wear a helmet, he and I have made a lot of trips by bike together. Riding provides a great opportunity to see and learn about the city, a practical way for busy parents to stay in shape, and an active and visible way to cut pollution and oil demand. Plus it's usually faster (and definitely more fun!) than taking the bus.

Unfortunately, I know a lot of parents, especially urban parents, are scared to take their little ones out on the road. If you fall into that category, I encourage you to take a look at the new Family Biking site The San Francisco Bike Coalition just put up, which has some really clear, practical information about equipment, safety, and good places to ride. It also includes a discussion forum where you can ask questions, like the ever-pressing "Will the Xtracycle fit in a MUNI bus rack?"

Hope to see you on the road!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Politics and kids

My 15-year-old daughter CB likes to talk about politics. She discusses and argues politics with friends and relatives, in her classes at school, as well as online.

From her first forays into cyberspace (in "Sims Online") politics has been part of her online interactions with others. She's had online run-ins with Republicans from all over the country in Sims and then later via her blog and instant-messaging. And since she and her friends have friends in other places who then check out each others' blogs and IM each other, she's talked politics with all kinds of people.

Sometimes at the political blogs and discussion boards I frequent someone asks, what is the appropriate age to start talking to children about politics? I am always blown away when some people give ages from ten and older, or even moreso when they say you shouldn't talk to kids about politics because they should be able to make up their own minds!

When this question comes up, I jump right in and tell them that you need to be talking politics with your kids from the youngest age, and certainly by the time they are in kindergarten.

As progressive parents my wife and I felt strongly that we needed to start early on to explain our values and worldview to our children, and to teach them to defend and be proud of their views. We felt that, especially in our society, where media and public discourse tends to denigrate progressive, humanist values, it was important to start as early as possible.

Another way of looking at it is that we need to start explaining the world and how it works to our kids at an early age.

Of course people have no problem doing that when it comes to plants and animals, stars and planets. But for some reason, when it comes to politics, some people don't see it as important. But it is vital.

It's important to teach our kids our values, what's right and what's wrong. We explain to our kids that it's right to help people who are in need. We explain that people are less well off not because they are bad people, but because of the structure of our economy, racism and classism, and the realities of personal circumstances.

We teach our kids that it's wrong to treat people badly just because they are different. Those of us who are white have to teach our kids that the system is stacked to their advantage whether they realize it or not.

Just as important as passing on our values is how we do it. The most important thing we can teach our kids is to think creatively and critically, and to question authority.

So one of the first lessons we taught our kids is that you don't obey someone just because they have authority. You need to understand what their goal is, why they are asking you to do something, and how they are asking you.

It's helped that our kids' teachers tended to use participatory kinds of classroom management, where the kids themselves set the rules of the classroom (with teacher guidance) and discussed why it's important for everyone to obey the rules. And kids have to understand that in some situations they will have to just obey.

But this relationship to authority at the personal level lays the groundwork for kids to think critically about political leaders, for them to question the things that political leaders and other authority figures tell us, to not just accept at face value the words of our presidents and other leaders. It also means we have to explain our choices to them.

What also matters is how to talk about politics. My kids knew that George Bush would be a bad president from the very beginning. Not because George Bush is a bad person (he may or may not be), but because the policies that have come to dominate the Republican Party and conservative movement, of which he is the head, are diametrically opposed to our values. This is not a simplistic, "Republicans are bad." Rather, it's about values and priorities.

We explain to our kids that we value fairness and justice, and that unfortunately conservatives pursue policies that are the opposite of that by defending the interests of the wealthy rather than the poor. We give them specific examples -- the recent refusal to raise the minimum wage at the same time as the Republican dominated Congress tries to give itself a $3,000 raise and cuts taxes for the very wealthiest of the wealthy are cases in point. We explain why some people support Bush on these policies -- for wealthy people who are concerned mostly about their own short term material well-being, it might be a logical choice. For others, it's more complicated.

Of course beyond economic justice issues are also social issues, and here too we have explained to our kids from early ages that many people in our society are very intolerant of particular kinds of people, including people who are not white, people who are not Christian, people who are not straight. This intolerance comes in part because they don't know people who are different. For my kids, this is maybe the hardest thing to understand.

We explain why it is so important for there to be a strong separation between church and state, how such separation was meant originally to protect religious people, and how it now protects everyone regardless of belief or nonbelief.

It's hard to understand why people would support some of these conservative policies, and the politicians who are pushing them. It's hard to understand why some grandparents and uncles and aunties support them. So we explain that people disagree about politics in part because they have different values and priorities and beliefs. We explain, for example, that some people believe that the market should decide everything and that government is bad. We explain that such people think that the price you pay in such a system -- poverty, for example -- is worth the overall benefit. We explain that people have different beliefs and values. And we explain that sometimes it's better not to argue about politics (with grandfather, for example).

I should add the obvious: explaining politics to a kindergartner is different than discussing it with a ninth grader. But kindergartners fully understand concepts such as fairness and unfairness, they know about sharing, about treating others as you would like to be treated. They know about being trusting, and being tricked. They understand bullying and greediness, and that those things are wrong. They fully understand enough of the world that they can understand the basics of politics and political values.

Of course talking about politics is just one part of the story. Kids also are sensitive to whether you walk the walk. But I think that explaining why we do what we do, and why others disagree, is an important foundation.

In general, CB's run-ins with conservatives drive her a bit crazy. But she is very good at keeping her cool and having rational arguments. Just last week she had a discussion with a teen blogger who is very much against legalized abortion. CB has also had heated political discussions in her classes, and with one of her uncles. I have to say I was very proud that she really held her own against him -- I think he was really shocked that a mere 14-year old was able to explain so clearly and articulately her position and to critique his.

More recently she's having IM and email run-ins over racism with a self-described "liberal" cousin her age who lives in a Conservative Southern State. I should add that while my 12-year old son BK is not quite as into political discussions as his big sister, he has stood up to friends who gay-bash, explaining why that is wrong. And both of them have come with me to demonstrations: BK was with me at the local anti-war march in the fall of 2002, and CB came with me to the more recent local march in support of immigrants.

When my kids take political stands, when they stand up for what they know is right, they make me so proud to be their dad.

Cross posted at daddychip2