Just short of two years ago I had my most memorable conversation with my son, currently 7, as we sat in a petrol station, waiting for my wife to pay for the fuel she’d just put in the car.
“Dad,” asked his voice from the darkness of the back seat, “Do you believe in Jesus?”
At the time he had a very religious substitute teacher taking his class and there’d been a lot of talk at home of biblical issues, so the question wasn’t completely out of the blue. I’m an atheist, but I’m also keen not to force my views onto my children, so I gave a considered answer.
“Well I believe that Jesus existed and was a real person, but I don’t believe he was the son of God. A lot of people do believe that, though.”
“I believe that.” he informed me.
“If that’s what you believe then that’s fine.”
There was maybe thirty seconds of silence from the back seat (an exceedingly rare event with my son), then he clinched the argument.
“I think it must be true, because the book about Jesus was in the non-fiction part of the library.”
Atheism be damned, I’m not going to tell my child that librarians aren’t infallible and all-knowing.
I mention this story as an illustration of something that every parent knows; that children are sponges for knowledge. They soak up what happens around them and learn it, but critical analysis of it is limited.
This is why, for example, you probably learned the story of the birth of Jesus when you were at school and haven’t really thought about it since, and so not realised that none of it makes any damn sense at all (I did blog about what’s wrong with it some time ago).
This thirst for knowledge, coupled with an inability to weigh the truthfulness of that knowledge, is what makes anything involving children and politics such a red flag. Especially when, as in the case of Momentum Kids – the new childcare organisation, attached to the Momentum political group, that aims to help parents get involved in politics by taking their kids off their hands – it’s announced like this:
Less than 12 hours after the announcement Momentum are already spinning criticism of it as the work of the ‘biased’ MSM, or sexists who are opposing women being involved in politics rather than staying at home with the kids. In their defence, comparisons with the Hitler Youth are crass, but largely the people complaining are those who’d also, rightly, complain if the Conservative Party started a nationwide chain of crèches (Theresa’s Toddlers, perhaps) or if the Britain First school opened its doors to ‘selected’ children.
However benign a political organisation’s intentions are once they intersect with children thoughts automatically turn to indoctrination. When the organisation is already having difficulty shaking off allegations of abuse, bullying, sexism and anti-Semitism, as well as fighting a well-documented battle with the forces of reality, it’s a disaster.
Journalist Owen Jones has published a long blog today, asking Labour supporters to unite behind Jeremy Corbyn when he wins the leadership contest. In it, as well as laying out a media strategy that could have been dreamed up by somebody who’s watched The West Wing, but which he’s having to explain to a group who’ve been in control of a major political party for a year, he argues that Corbyn’s media gaffs are getting less frequent. Yet Corbyn is shackled to Momentum, an organisation so lacking in nuance that they can’t even recognise how toxic their brand is and avoid coupling it to such a sensitive issue as childcare.
As we’ve seen again and again over the last dreadful year the bubble of worth in a policy is encased in leaden delivery before being tossed into the sea of public opinion to see if it floats. So rather than seeing an organisation making a genuine effort to make politics (albeit just its politics) more accessible we get visions of Parsons from 1984 being denounced by his own children, or the famous Jesuit maxim about giving them a child for the first seven years of its life.
Which, I suppose, brings us back to the question of belief. However sincerely Momentum intend to deliver a balanced political education for child I suspect too few will be willing to file their claims in the non-fiction section of the library.