Steve Wiley is Jackalope Ranch's Parent Hood. He's a slightly unorthodox father of five who will weigh in weekly with his mildly-rebellious views and observations. If you'd like to see how he came to write this column, watch the intro video. This week he addresses the importance of critical thinking and watching The Daily Show with his kids.
Back when I was a kid, my mom used to tell me how everything worked. God was in charge, all powerful, not to be questioned. America was the greatest, partly because God loved us the most, not to be questioned. If something didn't make sense, I was told to trust that God had it all under control, and I wasn't meant to understand everything. I was to consider myself lucky that God had made me an American Christian.
Within this framework of God and country, I was taught a truckload of decent morals. There was an abundance of love, family, and friendship. We helped each other through lots of tricky times and tight spots. My mom, my grandma, and many others worked as hard as they could to build my mind. I had a happy youth.
Yet somehow I still questioned things. More with each passing year. I grew up and became a father, and soon after I was confronted with the question of whether I wanted to carry out the same parental strategy of "trust me, this is how things work" or try something new. Thinking that I didn't need the theories from paragraph one to accomplish the goals of paragraph two, I went a different route.
Nowadays, I'm home schooling with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
A Role Model for Critical Thinking
You see, the overall parental concept I'm going for is to teach critical thinking skills. That means questioning God, country, society, everything. It means subverting the dominant paradigm. It also means I'm a huge fan of the phrase "I don't know" if it applies.
The trick is that I'm my kids' responsible authority figure, and in order for them to remain safe until they are capable of facing this wonderful world on their own, there are a number topics about which I can't be questioned. There are even times where I have to pretend to know stuff I really don't know. It's the inherent paradoxes of parenthood.
With that in mind, I try to stay as open and honest as I possibly can, acknowledge the paradoxes, and try to teach the kids that they should continue to question everything, even their father. One of my new favorite tools to help teach that lesson is The Daily Show.
In my mind, Stewart and his band of psuedo-reporters give the most honest appraisal of the "news" out there. And as a bonus: They are hilarious. If you've seen it, you know this already. Political satire at its finest.
I thought, "Hey, the kids might really learn from this", and slowly but surely, I weened the boys (my little lady is too young) onto my nightly recording of the show.
Dad, Which One is the Real News?
First, I had to make sure they had hit what I felt was the "age of awareness" for profanity, because Jon likes to cuss (it's bleeped out, but everyone can lip-read cussing, eh?) As I established a few weeks ago in A Profanity Lesson with Zappa and Grandma, we're past that point.
So I sat 'em down, and I told them, "This is a fake news show that makes fun of actual news". I explained that I thought it did a better job of reporting the truth about the media, politics, religion, and corporations than the actual news (see John Oliver's phenomenal Investigating Investigative Journalism above). I explained the sad irony that the "real news", especially delivered by the mainstream media, was usually so absurd that it made for great comedy material.
I opined that even though it's a crazy world, it was important to keep up with the news, and even though the scope of it could get frustrating, it really helped to laugh about it.
Then I turned it on, and hoped they would understand my parental babbling, and more importantly, the concept of this particular Parent Hood home school class.
That was about a year ago, and the neither The Daily Show nor my sons have disappointed. Now they turn it on for us to watch - because nobody cuts through the bullshit like Jon Stewart and Co. -- and those sarcastic goofballs are a rebellious riot.
The show leaves no stone unturned, and no media hypocrite or corporate weasel un-harassed (see the fall-classic Chaos on Bullshit Mountain on page one).
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We sit back and watch and laugh. Every once in a while we'll hit pause while I throw in my two cents worth or answer a question. We marvel at how politicians and celebrities can say one thing on camera, and then turn around a few short years later and say the exact opposite thing on camera. We question how so many of these public figures can sit down with the reporters and not know their interviews are going to be mercilessly hacked up in the name of hilarity (and whether the lazy publicist or the clueless subject is more to blame).
We'll talk about specific issues -- for instance gun control (like in the Grand Theft Semi-Auto segment on page one) -- and I explain specifically how I believe the segment cuts through the hype. I tell them my opinion on the issue, I tell them how Mom feels (if I know for sure), I tell them what other people in the family or the community believe, and I encourage them to think critically and develop an opinion of their own. Even if it's different than mine.
After all, I don't know a lot.