Sunday, July 06, 2008

Where it began

Some of my earliest memories are political. That’ll come as a huge surprise, I know, but there it is.

My first term of Kindergarten was in a presidential election year, so the teacher decided to hold a mock presidential election. She set up a “voting booth”, separated from the room by a blanket or sheet or something. Trouble was, we couldn’t yet read or write, so the teacher stood inside the booth and we told her the person we wanted to “vote” for.

Even at five years old, I was intensely suspicious of this—how could we be sure the teacher really marked down our choices correctly? It’s fair to say that my suspicion of people in authority, and demand for integrity of the democratic process, began then.

The year before, my mother briefly took me to a pre-school programme run out of the local YWCA. She’d drop me off and she’d have a swim, all of which seemed like a good idea to her, but I apparently wasn’t as keen. My mother said I told her, “Let’s go late so I don’t have to say the damned ‘pledge to the legions.’” She thought it was cute.

I’m old enough—barely—to remember a time when prayer was part of the public school curriculum. As I recall, each day began with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer read by the teacher. The banal old “God is Great” prayer was required before snack time. Prayer in public schools ended before we made it to a year in which snacks were no longer served, but it’s probably where I learned to dislike prayers offered in official settings.

Years later, in high school, where we were forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance before school assemblies, I’d routinely add or delete words or phrases to match my beliefs, like deleting “under god”, for example. Apparently my dislike for the pledge began in pre-school and my dislike for overt religiosity in primary school.

And yet despite all that, I remained a committed Christian Republican right into my University years. How and why this changed is a topic for another day, but it was born in my childhood and youth—my growing suspicion of those in authority and of the integrity of the democratic process, as well as my disdain for overt religiosity, especially in a political context, all started then.

Apparently, at a very early age I learned to defy at least some definitions and labels and, obviously, I learned to evolve. Learning to defy labels and to evolve aren’t bad lessons to get from childhood. I wonder how many still get them.

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