("Confidences," St. Louis Zoo, Fall 2002)The ongoing flap over Obama's plan to address the nation's school children reminded me of something. Obama, of course, is being accused of wanting to indoctrinate our children. I recall when, back in the eighties, President Reagan, on nationwide TV, praised a little girl for turning in her parents, who were using drugs. Don't get me wrong: I agree that all kids deserve better than drugged-out parents. But Reagan's eagerness to single this girl out for public praise and--let's face it--emulation, rubbed me the wrong way. I had always heard that this was what kids in Hitler's Germany and in the Soviet Union were encouraged to do--to inform on their parents. What this little girl did was, perhaps, a sad necessity, but what Reagan did was worse. It smacked of indoctrination--an attempt to instill a certain set of approved values and attitudes. If telling kids they should stay in school is indoctrination, it is certainly not as egregious as encouraging kids to inform on their parents.
I know I'm not the only one who felt this way. At the time, Berke Breathed, in his comic strip "Bloom County," put Reagan's exemplum in wonderfully sardonic perspective. His character Boy Binkley turns his father in for drugs, and the police roust him out in the middle of the night. As he handcuffs Binkley's father, one policeman says, "Mister, your son must love you very much to have you put in jail for ten years." When the police ask Binkley what sort of drugs are involved, he answers, "Tobacco, caffeine, Schlitz--you name it!"