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Subject:  A lesson in civics Date:  8/17/2001  9:19 PM
Author:  Quezon Number:  76 of 80

Because I write about politics, people are forever asking me the best way to teach children how our system of government works. I tell them that they can give their children a basic civics course right in their home.

In my experience as a father, I've discovered several simple devices that will illustrate to a child the principles on which the modern state deals with citizens. You may find them helpful too.

For example, when your child is a little older, you can teach him about the tax system in a way that's easy to grasp. Offer him $10 to mow the lawn. When he's finished and asks to get paid, withhold $5 and explain that this is income tax. Give $2 to his younger brother and $1 to the neighbor's kid, both of whom did nothing, and explain to him that this is "fair". Then tell him that you need the other $2 yourself to cover the administrative costs of paying his brother and the neighbor kid. When he complains, tell him that's the way government works and that he's just being "selfish" and "greedy".

Another lesson could be in a deck of cards. I used to play a simple card game with my son. It was called War. After a while, he understood that the higher ranking cards always beat the low ranking ones. That's when I created a new game called "Government". In this game, I was the Government and won every trick.

Follow that up by making as many rules as you can. Enforce them arbitrarily. And above all don't tell him what they all are. That way you can keep him on pins and needles and accuse him of rule breaking. Also, make sure he learns that a good number of the rules are irrational.

On regular occasions, promise to take him to the movies or the zoo, and then, at the appointed hour, recline in an easy chair with a newspaper and tell him you changed your plans. When he screams, "You promised!" explain that it was a campaign promise and that campaign promises don't count.

At times your child will express discontent with your methods. He may even suggest that he'd rather live with another family. To forestall and minimize this reaction, constantly tell him that you are the most loving and indulgent parent in the world and that he's lucky to be with you. Then recount lurid stories of the cruelties of other parents. This will make him loyal to you and, later, receptive to schoolroom claims that his country, with all its welfare and governmental intrusion, is the best and freest country on Earth.

Finally, teach him that words mean nothing -- or rather, that the meanings of words are continually "evolving". Tell him that what your words mean tomorrow might be the opposite of what they mean today.
Some readers may object, saying that this is a poor way to raise a child. A few may even call it child abuse. But that's the whole point.

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