This afternoon I was listening to Stephanie Miller host one of my radio shows, and she related a story of how her daughter asked her for a book. Ordinarily Miller would be delighted, because she is concerned that her daughter doesn't read recreationally--just a minimum to do her homework.
But it got complicated. The author of the book is a high-profile conservative, while Miller is one of the better-known liberal talk-show hosts. Catch her, by the way, on her own show at Radio Or Not.
Although her daughter was not interested in the book because of the author's conservative views, Miller was wondering what she should do. I called in with an answer: first and foremost, get her the book so that she will read, if that is a concern of yours.
But beyond that, let's look at this from another angle. Many adults have fully-formed opinions, whether they are liberal, conservative or somewhere in between. We discuss our ideas all the time, so if you are already capable of civil discourse, think of what could happen!
Imagine yourself having an adult, civil conversation about ideas with your child. You don't take the position that you are enlightening your child from a parent's point of view; it is a real exchange of ideas. This kind of conversation took place in my home from the time I was seventeen and got interested in religion. I asked my father, an Episcopal priest, about Christianity and he handed me his copy of Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. That set off a conversation that went on for as long as he lived.
My own reading program continues right up to now in Tucson, where I picked up a copy of Lenten meditations this past Sunday at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and All Angels. Our priest passed one out to everybody so that we can set aside some meditation time during the season preceding the mind-boggling celebration of Easter.
My father and I have both been reading constantly; his last interest was in the theology of Hans Kung, the German theologian who lost his life during World War II at the hands of the Nazis; the last thing that I was reading at the time of his death was Bishop John Shelby Spong. We talked about faith and Church history for two generations.
So think of the change that would take place if you and your daughter began talking about a topic unrelated to family life. The possibilities are endless, and you can begin both to listen to what she thinks about life, and impart your ideas on their merits.
I never lost an argument to a right-winger in my life, but not all conservatives are ideologues. Miller may be overestimating the conservative content of the book her daughter wants to read, and in any event the best way to get her daughter to read is to provide her with any books that she will read of her own free will.
According to Miller, her daughter failed to find any appeal in the Harry Potter series, for which I can't blame her; I can't stand any of the books. But one thing leads to another, and even if she has to wait until her daughter's interest is piqued by another interview or article, the best way to lay a foundation of trust between you and your children is to encourage, rather than censor, their inquiring minds.
I don't know what my father would have told me about Ayn Rand when I read Atlas Shrugged in college--because I didn't mention to him that I was reading it and I didn't consider it controversial. But I didn't need him to evaluate it and figure out that Rand doesn't have much to say that is "addressed to my condition." In other words, I found her pretentious, tedious and self-absorbed, and I didn't need my father to point that out.
Another book that I read in college was a supposedly-inferior work by Herman Wouk, author of The Caine Mutiny. That book was considered vastly superior to Marjorie Morningstar, but nobody told me that either and I loved it. Interestingly, it has enjoyed somewhat of a renewal of interest in the portrait of a young Jewish girl coming of age in New York during the war years.
So there's no telling what can happen when your child begins to read of his or her own free will, without prompting from you. I would advise Stephanie Miller to cheer her daughter on, discuss everything, and watch her mind bloom.
And since Miller comes from a Jewish background, I'd advise her to get a copy of This Hebrew Lord by Bishop Spong if she ever wants to learn something about Christianity that will give her continuity and relate the Church to its mother religion. In fact, I recommend it to everybody.