Teach your children well

When I first saw the photo of this banner from Friday night’s Anderson County High School homecoming game, I was in Boston, packing to head home after spending two weeks with my 4 month-old grandson. Minutes earlier, I’d gone online to make sure my flight was on-time, where it was impossible to miss the avalanche of reports about impeachment and the president’s latest tweets. There was also Breitbart’s front page with a photo/story about CNN’s Jake Tapper, above it the words “Trump .45 Caliber Cartridge,” an ad for a shell-casing being sold as a trinket.

I tell you this for context. Teenager or adult, conservative or liberal, this is the world we live in.

While I was with my grandson I made a playlist of songs to sing with him. The Beatles, of course, made my list, as well as Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Dolly, Willie, The Eagles, and more. The banner—for which I place 100 percent responsibility with the adults, not the kids who made it—brought to mind this classic from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young:

Teach your children well.
Their father’s hell
Did slowly go by.
And feed them on your dreams.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that an overt political statement (even if you’re playing a team called the Patriots) is inappropriate for a high school football game, what dreams are we feeding our children these days? What is it about this president’s behavior that sets a good example for our kids?

Is it his never-silent Twitter feed where he calls the press “enemy of the people,” calls Democrats “savages,” and slaps childish nicknames on everyone he disagrees with, from war heroes to world leaders? If your child treated another child this way, would you cheer his behavior?

Is it the way he uses the bully pulpit to demean women, calling them dog, pig, low IQ, horse-face, crying lowlife? “Grab ‘em by the pussy?” Is this how we want to teach our sons, our grandsons, to treat women?

Is it his rallies where people still proudly wear “Trump that Bitch” t-shirts? Because at this point the slogan is so baked-in it came immediately to mind when I saw the words “Trump those Patriots” on the banner.

The banner, and the drama now surrounding it, reminded me of the infamous speech our “Make America Great Again” president gave at the Boy Scout Jamboree, the one where he trashed his predecessor, complained about “fake media,” and told a long story about a wealthy New York playboy with a yacht who led a “very interesting life,” adding, but “you’re Boy Scouts so I’m not going to tell you what he did.” Wink wink.

For all our talk about family values and morality, it’s not the lyrics of “Teach Your Children” that capture the constant reality TV spectacle that is 2019. It’s more like Nickelback’s “Rock Star.”

It’s like the bottom of the ninth and I’m never gonna win
This life hasn’t turned out
Quite the way I want it to be.
(Tell me what you want)

We all just wanna be big rockstars
And live in hilltop houses, drivin’ 15 cars
The girls come easy and the drugs come cheap
We’ll all stay skinny ’cause we just won’t eat
And we’ll hang out in the coolest bars
In the VIP with the movie stars
Every good gold digger’s gonna wind up there
Every Playboy bunny with her bleach blond hair.

In his 2013 autobiography, songwriter Graham Nash explained his inspiration for “Teach Your Children.” He’d seen a Diane Arbus photo of a boy about 10 years old, his face “bristled with intense anger. He had a plastic grenade clenched in a fist [and] the consequences it implied startled me. I thought, ‘If we don’t start teaching our kids a better way of dealing with each other, humanity will never succeed.’”

It is in this context that I see the banner—a banner the adults in our school system apparently said was A-OK for a high school football game—and question intent. What did you think would happen? Did it feel good for the teachers or coaches or parents involved to knowingly create this kerfuffle? Because there is no way, not in today’s divisive and hateful political environment, that the adults in the room didn’t know. You knew.

You knew, and you let your students create and color and hoist a sign that would poke a finger in your neighbor’s eye. That’s the story here, not the banner. This is what you’re teaching our kids.