Do I vaccinate my son? You bet—and not just against the usual motley mix of physical childhood ailments. Almost every day our homeschooling curriculum offers a boost to his immunity against excessive respect for meddlers and control freaks.
In the course of teaching Anthony, I've discovered that inoculation against veneration of government happens almost inevitably. If you honestly teach history and analyze policies and their outcomes, education is something like a chicken pox party to build anti-state immunity. Over the last few years, he and I have delved into the dehumanizing effects of slavery and the Indian wars; President Woodrow Wilson's racism, nationalization of industry, and suppression of dissent; the presumption and failure of Prohibition and the war on drugs; the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II; the body count of militarism; the hubris of economic regulation; and much more.
If you're looking to dispel any starry-eyed misconceptions your kids may hold about war, the PBS American Experience episode about the 1968 My Lai massacre is a good place to start. It doesn't hold back on graphically documenting the grim events.
"That was pretty emotionally wrenching," I admitted to Anthony after advising him that the U.S. military generally conducted itself better than many rivals, who might treat such atrocities as par for the course. "Why don't you take the rest of the day off?"
The next morning, I emailed him a link to an article arguing that many school textbooks sanitize communism's missteps, treating it as a flawed economic approach rather than a totalitarian horror show. To illustrate the point, I added a well-documented piece about the Holodomor—an engineered famine inflicted on the Ukrainian people in 1932–33 by the Soviet government—and a short biography of thuggish lefty heartthrob Che Guevara. The readings combined into a powerful overview of both the sins of governing systems that seek to exercise total control and the foibles of the educational establishment.
OK. Maybe that was a bit much all at once.
Our lessons aren't solely a trail of tears through history. We also discuss the enrichment of our lives through the efforts of innovators, explorers, and entrepreneurs, and how their contributions stand in stark contrast to the damage often inflicted by politicians and government officials. We spend a lot of time on the high points of life, including advances in the arts and technology. Research about great inventors—along with labs duplicating some of their work—and a vacation tour of Ernest Hemingway's Key West house are examples of our generally upbeat educational experience.
It's not all classroom learning, either. I firmly believe that if you want people to be resistant to authoritarianism, you need to teach them not only an appreciation for freedom but also the skills and self-confidence to put it to use. Competent people are less likely to bow to masters than those who doubt their own abilities.
A couple of years ago, my wife and I gifted Anthony with a basic home tool set—screwdrivers, hammers, a level, an eggbeater drill, a utility saw, and the like. He habitually does small repairs around his own room, and he and I take on bigger tasks around the house together. Neither one of us wanted to gut and rebuild a balky toilet, but it's good to know that we're both up to the task and not reliant on others when the plumbing goes south.
Sometimes Anthony names a skill that he's eager to acquire. Then off we go into the desert to shoot rifles and pistols, or to the dining room table to see how fast we can pop a pin tumbler lock open with a pick and a tension wrench.
The throwing knives were my wife's idea. They offered a fine exercise in hand-eye coordination.
Like lots of kids, my son has a fascination with fire. And now he knows how to build one by constructing a teepee of tinder, kindling, and fuel. He can light it with a magnifying glass or from sparks thrown by a fire steel. And he can pitch a tarp under the stars so he has a place to sleep by the crackling flames.
This summer, after almost nine years of effort, Anthony will test for his black belt in taekwondo. It's the culmination of his own sweat, blood, and perseverance. That dedication to the martial arts has been a huge boon to his self-confidence as well as his physical conditioning.
Each of my son's accomplishments—the lessons learned, the skills mastered, the growing awareness of his own competence—is part of the development of a smart, self-reliant kid who is prepared, to the extent possible, to take on the challenges that the world throws his way. If my wife and I and Anthony himself have properly done our jobs, he'll be equipped to take care of himself and to offer aid to others. And he'll be thoroughly immunized against the promises, lies, and temptations of demagogues.
I only wish more people would work with us to build up a herd immunity to the plague of intrusive government.