Wall St. protesters: Teach your children to think


The protests against corporations that began in New York over a month ago have spread around the world.  I’ve listened to protester comments to journalists about their expectations and their comments are reflected in a conversation I had with one of my students just a few days ago.

This young woman, sympathetic to the protesters, spoke to me about the need for government to “put a stop to corporate profits.”  She also told me that people had the responsibility to take care of others in the country, that it was the most compassionate thing to do, and that the government should enforce it. 

I asked my student if she would be willing to work only for her living expenses.  In other words, no profit beyond what she absolutely needed.  She looked at me with an incredulous stare and said, “Of course not!”  I asked her if she really believed the government should force “compassionate” financing on people – in other words, require them to pay for the costs others incur.  She affirmed that to be so. 

I then asked her if she would be willing to work for five days a week, but her income from two of those days would be confiscated by the government for “compassionate use for others.”  Again, she was incredulous.  “No!  I’m talking about companies.  They should pay for it.”

I noted that she was willing to force others to pay for something that she was not willing to accept.  As I tried to get her to think through the consequences of what she was asking, she became frustrated and changed the focus of the conversation from facts to affect.  How she “felt” was more important than her logic flaws. 

While she was adamant about her feelings on this issue, she clearly hadn’t thought it through the end result of what she was asking.  If we wish to give the government the right to dictate what we should earn, why shouldn’t it apply to her?

I wasn’t trying to change her mind.  I was only trying to get her to think through her position and the ramifications of her position.  I would have done the same thing if she had been on the other side of the issue.  I challenge my students to think – not like I think – but to think for themselves.

I have been happy to see the increase in youth participation in politics and social issues over the past twenty years.  Voter turnout has gone from below 50% in the 1996 to above 60% in the most recent election.  Even though voters, both old and young, often base their opinions on affect rather than logic, at least they are involved.

Our job as parents is to help our children develop sound thinking.  They set the course for our future and the more skilled they are at thinking through complicated social issues, the better they will be when they are leading this country.

We can teach them this skill by first practicing it.  Do you really know why you believe what you believe about any issue?  Or do you, like my student, rely heavily on your feeling at the expense of logic?  Second, you can teach your child, especially your adolescent or young adult child, this skill by challenging him or her, regardless of the position she holds.  This will force your child to think through issues and build a stronger case for the position.

My challenge as a parent is to teach my children what I believe without indoctrinating them in a way that they cannot think for themselves.  I want my children to embrace my values, but I want them to embrace those values based on sound thinking rather than blind acceptance.  If they can do that, they will maintain the values I consider important long after I am gone.

Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.