You Have to Be Carefully Taught

You Have to Be Carefully Taught


I’m trying to look on the bright side. I really am. I work with and present books to children who are innocent and don’t get bummed out by the news. I wish I was that innocent. Lately, the news has been filled with hate, bigotry, and violence. I know we’re supposed to “see the good” in things, but I read about Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and I can’t see the good. I see pictures of people in Europe holding signs that say, “Hitler was right,” and I can’t see the good. I hear about children being bullied because they are different, and I can’t see the good. It’s hard to stay upbeat with all that is going on around us.

But kids are different.  They see the good a bit easier. Not to sound too Pollyanna-ish, but when I’m with my students, students in a different school, and especially my grandchildren, I am hopeful. Our books have important messages in them, and it’s exciting when they kids “get it.” When Ellen Rothberg and I wrote them, we wanted kids to be able to relate to the main character who doesn’t always do the right thing. But she learns. Recently I was reading Hayfest, A Holiday Quest to a group of kids. It’s about the importance of inclusion and diversity. They all told me about how they play with kids who look different than they do and how they know that just because some child celebrates a different holiday, that doesn’t make them bad. They haven’t been taught to hate. Yet. It brings to mind a Rodgers and Hammerstein song from the musical South Pacific. The lyrics to “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” resonated with me when I first heard them years ago, and they resonate with me now.

You’ve got to be taught To hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear You’ve got to be carefully taught.

I do have hope. I don’t think our country is falling apart, and I still would rather live here than anywhere else. But I think we can do better. Remember, our children are watching us. They will be taught what we teach them.  Let’s make sure the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren is one of which we can be proud.


5 Comment(s)

  • by viviankirkfield Posted December 8, 2014 3:26 am

    Yes, Ellen, you’ve hit the nail on the head! “You’ve got to be carefully taught”…and children are observing and listening and modeling themselves after…whoever is teaching. So if the parents are prejudiced or the teacher has a chip on her shoulder or the TV (whatever is on at the moment) is the ‘babysitter’…that is what the children are learning. And it makes it so much more important for parents to be sharing great picture books with kids from a very young age…great picture books make wonderful teachers! And that’s why we are writing them, because one day, our books will touch a child’s life and make a difference. 😉

  • by Robyn Campbell Posted December 8, 2014 3:50 am

    Great thoughts here, Ellen. I can’t watch the news right now. All of it is just beyond my scope of imagination. I’ve see those signs. They make me sick. That’s why my kids are taught no to hate anyone. Not for their religion, not for their skin color or any other reason. Hatred breeds hatred. Isn’t it sad? This post isn’t depressing. You end on such a hopeful note. xoxo

  • by Sydney O’Neill Posted December 8, 2014 4:46 pm

    This is so true, Ellen. We are all responsible for teaching compassion, not hatred. Parents, teachers, writers, television and movie producers, politicians, churches and clubs, everyone who comes into contact with a child has that responsibility. Only when our species accepts that responsibility can we lay claim to wisdom.

  • by ssuehler Posted December 9, 2014 2:04 am

    Excellent post, Ellen. What amazes me about the human race is that there is so much good. So much love, kindness, compassion. Then there is the other side. Hate, prejudice, fear. The good and the evil. But what is just as bad as hate, is something many of us are guilty of. Turning our backs, not getting involved,’ that doesn’t concern me’. Since the beginning of time (most) parents have wanted a better world for their children. And many of us are still trying. But we all could do better. I am not saying that violent T.V. shows or video games are at fault for violence We managed to have our KKK and Hitlers without them,( thank you very much). But why do we put up with them and what are they teaching? We may not ‘save the world’ with a book, but we sure as hell can try to help one child, one soul. I read someplace (oh, did I mention I like to read?) that a human is born with one spark of goodness, kindness. It can either be extinguished or brought to life. There is also a wonderful poem by Martin Niemoeller : First They Came For The Jews… Let’s try to stand up and bring the spark of goodness to life.

    • by ellenleventhal Posted December 11, 2014 6:18 pm

      Thanks, Sally. Your words are beautiful. Yes, we can at least try to help one child. Do you know that story about the starfish? It’s a beautiful story about how even though we may not be able to save the world, we can help one person. So interesting that you bring up Pastor Niemoeller’s poem. I use it all the time. When I taught full time, part of my curriculum was Holocaust/Moral Courage. “First they came for the Catholics, but I was not a Catholic, so I did not protest…..” I love it. When I do school author visits now, I even use that when I speak to older kids. Two of our books (I have a co author, Ellen Rothberg) are about inclusion and diversity and anti bullying. I do a whole thing on standing up for the right thing as opposed to standing by. Thanks for commenting!

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