Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Mommy explains Constitutional law

Moms are put on the spot to answer all of the Great Questions sooner or later. My daughter is 7 years old and I have already been asked, "Is Jesus real?" "Where do babies come from?" and "When you are eating a chicken leg, are you eating a CHICKEN'S LEG?"


Today I was thrust into a discussion that required me to explain our Constitution. Like many great conversations, this one took place in the car. We had picked up our dog from his vacation stay at the kennel and were driving home, when we got on the topic of groups of kids not wanting to play with each other. Neither she or I remembers exactly how we got started on this, but we ended up talking about the fact that white children and black children used to be segregated in different schools. I pointed out that things had been this way here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and if we had lived here 60 years ago we would have had to work toward making the system more fair.

She asked: "Would you have given money to the black schools to make them better?"

I replied that I would have put my money and effort into getting the system changed.

I told her that after a lot of work from brave people, the law was finally changed to require children to attend school together.

She asked, "Did people vote to change it?" This was an amazing question because it required me to explain that no, if they had had a vote, most people probably would have voted to keep schools separate. But the way our government is set up, we have a Constitution whose principles are even more powerful than a vote. When the Supreme Court decided that the law keeping children in segregated schools was unconstitutional, the law had to be changed, no matter how people voted.

It's easy to be cyncical about our government today, but explaining the system to my child, I was pretty darn proud of our core principles. I think we have a wonderful government structure, if we will just insist that the separation of powers be honored and the Constitution be strictly and vigorously upheld.

Age 7 has its challenges but it is also magical and inspiring to be able to engage in real dialogue with my daughter. The questions she asks really get me thinking and our conversations are learning opportunities for both of us. I grew up in the North, where segregation is more book history than local history, and the fight for civil rights always seemed distant, like a grainy black-and-white documentary newsreel. The fact of segregation hit me in a new way, explaining to my girl that there had been separate schools right here in the only home town she has ever known.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on what was the most challenging question your child has ever asked you, and how old was your child when he or she posed it?

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Amy Vachon said...

Amy,
That's spooky - I drove to work today thinking about this very topic, although my daughter is not yet old enough to ask such questions. I was thinking about the news up here in Boston that our legislature decided to move a Gay Marriage vote closer to reality. And the juxtaposing fact that voting on human rights issues doesn't work. Those segregated schools are a similar example.

Anyway, I hope someday our country realizes how precious and wise our current dual legal system (judicial and legislative) is, and comes around to using it correctly nationwide for same-sex marriage as it did for a lot of human rights issues that have come before. Sorry - no 'big sky' questions from my kids to offer today, but I look forward to them! -Amy

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Adena said...

Ditto to Amy's comment. I am also in Boston and thinking the same thing, you can't have people vote on issues of justice and fairness, and if we did, we'd be back in the '50s or worse.

My son is also 7 and has a lot of interesting thoughts: he discusses G-d vs. Jesus with our Catholic neighbors (we're Jewish) and he wonders frequently what happens when people die and how long it takes for their bodies to disintegrate. Seven certainly is an interesting age... you can see those wheels turning in their little heads...
--Adena

9:52 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Our civil rights conversation did lead into gay rights as well. My family left our neighborhood church when it became clear that they would not live up to their promise to be inclusive. After a lot of soul-searching about what it would be like to leave the congregation in which we had invested our time and spirit, we joined an open & affirming church, and switching was the best decision. Instead of putting all of our energy into raging against the small-minded local authority of our previous congregation, we are now in a community with people who support gay rights, and we can put our energy into advancing social justice causes--actually moving forward instead of spinning in place. It is such a relief and an inspiration to start from a place of alignment in our spiritual home.

My daughter was 4 at the time we switched churches, and we didn't get into all of these issues with her then, but now we are going back and having the conversation. I believe our nation's thinking will be very different when her generation grows up. When I was young I didn't know any gay people and being homophobic was the easy path of going along with the culture that I lived in. Now the culture is much more open and my daughter knows lots of gay people, and it's presented as a normal part of life. Politically we are in a big struggle now but I believe that is the natural progression before change happens.

Thanks for your comments!

10:11 AM  
Blogger Martha said...

I haven't had such in depth conversations with my just turned 4 year old BUT, yesterday he was sitting on the potty, when I came in to wipe him. After I was done, he said in a really serious tone.. "Mama, is my bum clean because I really worry about having a clean bum. I don't want it to dirty my batman underwear or smell anything so check it again okay?" I was so floored by this.... yet very amused too!

1:10 PM  

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