All Commentary
Saturday, December 1, 1962

Pocket Sized Patriots

Mrs. Westerholm is a Registered Nurse, house­wife, and student of liberty of Inglewood, California.

A friend of mine asked a ques­tion a few months ago which caused long moments of thought-searching until the surprisingly simple answer finally evolved. Its simplicity should not have been surprising, of course, because most truths are simple; (only man’s attempts at qualifying and compromising make them seem complicated). My friend’s ques­tion was: “How can one possibly hope to teach very little children about such an involved and in­tangible concept as liberty?”

The answer given was: “Define liberty, in your most basic and simple terms, and you will find that you are already teaching it.”

Most of us start teaching our children certain rules of behavior at a very early age. We teach them not to bite, kick, hit, or otherwise injure other people (ex­cept in actual self-defense, or formal competition). We teach them to respect the property of others; not to steal, or destroy; not to borrow without permission; not to “redistribute” property without the owner’s consent—even for the immediate good of the neighborhood soft-ball team! We instruct them to enter an-other’s home only when invited. We explain that they must not tell “stories” which would be harm­ful or distressing to someone else; and not to make false accusations. Further, we teach them that they may not simply command another child’s unwilling obedience to their own imperial bidding; and if our children are clever enough or big enough to attempt this any­way, we try to dissuade them from becoming bullies. Finally, we teach them that all of these rules work both ways, both as re­strictions and as protections.

Well, if you are teaching these things, you are teaching many of the essentials of liberty—though perhaps not calling it liberty. Try expressing some of these ground-rules of behavior in Constitu­tional language, and they would read like this:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unrea­sonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”,,, (Amendment IV) “No person shall,,, be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”—(Amendment V) “.,, Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States,,,”—(Amend­ment XIII) And “.,, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial,,, and to be in­formed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him,,, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”—(Amendment VI)

This isn’t a bad start for a three- or four-year-old patriot!

It does seem to help clarify the issues if one gives these rules ac­tual names and clearly worded reasons. Helping children develop a usable patriotic vocabulary, by example and repetition, will also help them develop a practical and usable attitude toward patriotic actions and thinking. There’s really nothing shameful or un­manly or socially derelict about saying right out loud that you love your country and cherish freedom! Most children love to use new words, so why not give them some with real significance?

A lot of us give moral and re­ligious explanations for many of our rules: “God wouldn’t like you to do this.” Certainly this is fine, and true. These issues are indeed moral concepts. But if you would have your youngster grow up to understand his national heritage of specific freedoms, why not simply also tell him that the Founders of our nation believed so strongly that man’s right to per­sonal liberty was endowed by our Creator, that they built our gov­ernment and our nation on it? Ex­plain that these ideas are basically positive protections, not just pro­hibitive restrictions. Tell him that his ancestors fought with their lives to achieve these freedoms—and that we must all guard them carefully and sternly, because they have priceless value.

Youngsters Learn Quickly

You may be amazed, as I was, to discover how much of this even your four- and five-year-olds will comprehend. I do not understand the tendency to underrate the capacity of a child to learn and un­derstand moral issues; after all, most of the first formal lessons we expect them to learn are based on moral codes (or physical safety factors). Perhaps we need to re­view our own interpretations of these codes and arrive at simpler definitions and clearer terms—so that we may more easily pass them on to our children. I know I had to do this—am still doing it!

Youngsters seem to understand and respect the basic fairness and logic of a statement such as: “No one else has the right to harm your body or property except in self-defense; so, you naturally have no right to harm another fellow’s body or property except in self-defense.” Usually, if you simply tell a child that something isn’t right or proper, he will auto­matically ask, “Why?” It saves time to answer the “why” before he has to ask it!

Three Tools for Teaching

If I had to choose the three tools I’ve found most helpful in teaching my children (and my­self), they would be: fairness, logic, and identification. Fairness appeals to a person’s own desire for comfort and security. He likes the idea of doing fairly to others and of being fairly done to. Logic appeals to his eagerly expanding intellect. It makes sense that if he has ten dimes, he’s going to have trouble buying twelve bottles of pop that each cost a dime. Identi­fication has appeal to his imagina­tion and dramatic sense. He loves to pretend himself into the back hills of Kentucky as Daniel Boone!

One had best be well armed with clearly thought-out facts before trying to teach anything to any­body—but especially is this true when teaching children. Nothing can be quite so withering as the barrage of machine-gunned “why’s” that will follow a care­lessly dropped vague generaliza­tion!

By using these three tools (and plenty of midnight study ses­sions), I have been able to tackle such diversified questions as: “What does a parity taste like?” And, “How can Alaska and Hawaii be part of the United States when they don’t even touch the rest of them?” Or, “Is the government the building where the President goes to work every morning when he leaves his white house?” And once, after I had challenged a real whopper, “Gee, Mom, can’t we just call this an example of my good old creative imagination?” Be­lieve me, pediatric patriotism has its hilarious moments!

Few are the things in life more soul-satisfying or fascinating than watching a child reach out, and grasp, and use knowledge. To see him listen to an idea, come to understand it, and then act on it, is to see a miracle happen. The entire process is one continuing miracle—a never-ending physical manifestation of the omnipotent genius and love of our Creator. How awe-inspiring, unbelievably complex, and exquisitely beautiful is the growth of a child.

Before the Man, Came the Child

The mind and hands of man can produce marvelous accomplish­ments. But before the man, came the child he once was; and as the child grew, so grew the pattern of the man. If you believe, as many of us do, that we were individu­ally endowed by our Creator with certain potentials of creativity, and that to develop, enlarge, and utilize these potentials is not only a worthy goal of living but a way to grow closer to God, it becomes enormously important to protect the governmental environment which allows every man to go about this business of growing, learning, and creating in his own way.

History repeatedly warns that as freedom and liberty wane, so does creativity and progress—for the latter can flourish only in the warmth and tolerance of the former. Only in a nation dedicated to freedom and maintained in liberty can man or child find the environment for the fullest de­velopment of individual intellec­tual and creative potentiality. And these potentials might be cathe­drals or careers, books or bridges or businesses.

Young adults today have truly staggering problems to face. They must not only learn to deal with the personal economic problems and responsibilities of earning a livelihood, and make the difficult adjustment from a sheltering home to a competitive society; but they must also face the untidy and disconcerting facts of inflation, an incomprehensibly huge national debt, and the threat posed by in­creasing socialistic assaults against the very foundations of the fortress of freedom. It seems reasonable that there might be less dismay and confusion for this emerging citizen if he had been taught about the national situa­tion, in a gradual way, as a child. Not in a gloomily negative man­ner, but in a constructive let’s-see­what-we-can-do-about-it manner.

I tend to agree with the gentle­man who said, “Patriots are made, not born.” He might have added that they come in all sizes, too—from three feet tall, to the top of the scale. I confess a very special warmth for those eager, wide-eyed, pocket-sized patriots!

  • Mrs. Westerholm is a Registered Nurse, housewife, and student of liberty of Gardena, California.