The Infamy of Children’s Books as Any Active Political Propaganda with the Big Question
We must resist the tendency to place all hope on the shoulders of one mythologized leader and instead promote the power of the collective voices and actions of “ordinary” people to challenge injustice, improve lives, and bring about a better future. Social Justice Books
Once in a rare while I must write a story because all my faculties have been put on the highest alert. My educational psychology about children’s cognitive development is crashing headfirst into a twitter post. It was advertising books for children on the topic of former president Trump who is still actively engaged in running for government again. This red flag is blowing fiercely in the storm of brainwashing impressionable children, questioning morality and democracy. The Big Question is what can we do about it?
First, some common terms to put us on the same page:
A dictatorship is a form of government characterized by a single leader or group of leaders and little or no toleration for political pluralism or independent media … Wikipedia
Propaganda is communication primarily used to influence an audience and further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be selectively presenting facts in order to encourage a particular emotional perception … Wikipedia
Brainwashing is a systematic effort to persuade people to accept a certain allegiance or doctrine ... Britannica
Infamy is an evil reputation brought about by something grossly shocking or extreme and publicly known or evil act. Merriam-Webster
In my opinion, there is nothing of greater infamy than brainwashing innocent minds or intellectually abusing children to gain precedence over their lifetime for political agenda or gain … NOTHING!
Children should never be manipulated against their cognitive development or knowledge base for political propaganda … NEVER
For example, let’s take American politics in the last four years transitioning from one election to reelection of a new president, still in turmoil.
Just think, if you had read a children’s book, that experience would be simply described this way without any further significance or personal extrapolation.
“Meet Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a famous entrepreneur. He is also a television personality. In 2015, Trump surprised many people when he decided to run for president. In November 2016, he won the election. Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States.”
There: the whole story, as easy as that.
What adult wouldn’t be horrified by its simplicity, almost inanity … so empty of facts, senseless, implying infinite interpretations. Now, most adults as they participated were mature enough to understand abstract concepts like rationality, connotation and denotation, inference and consequences.
Children cannot as yet define abstract experiences. Parents and educators know that children learn through active involvement, social participation, relating new information and restructuring previous knowledge, and engaging in some self-reflection.
In terms of human development, the importance of the child’s early years can’t be overstated because therein is laid the foundation for his or her future development, providing a strong base for lifelong learning and abilities, including cognitive and social development and essential building blocks of future success.
How would a 8 year-old child interpret these words:
His buildings reached into the sky.
His businesses just grew and grew.
Then Trump became our president–
People wanted something new.
These excerpts are from The Scholastic book for grades 3–5, A True Book about President Donald Trump, written by Joanne Mattern for young readers as a simplified, accurate, unbiased narrative with an “effort to show both sides.” His personal and professional life was outlined as a series of successful celebrations that “omitted facts, glossed over context, and ignored opposing perspectives.” In such compression, there are no other references to his campaign or presidency through actual witnesses or individuals who were marginalized, attacked and denigrated with derogatory and inflammatory statements.
Adults understand that partial truths only manage to falsify the true narrative but how can kids be expected to separate the variations of a complex, selective biography?
It may be possible that children may equate some large pages with print and flashy photos to an illustrated reality of “Olympic-caliber” feats. However, the words will remain in their brain’s memory banks as significant especially if heard again and again. The protagonist can become a superhero if not questioned or challenged.
Unfortunately, such stark compression doesn’t always work. “Donald Trump, a real estate developer endorsed by the KKK to drain the swamp, was elected president of the United States.” Of course, adults can fill in the blanks to match their experiences and associations … but how can any ugliness fit into polite conversations with children?
Books for children can’t take anything for granted, and thankfully, most tend to be studiously nonpartisan for school use. Young children are at an age when their perspectives about social change and citizenship are beginning to form. But civic understanding takes more time to understand how elections work, the democratic freedom of every vote counting or taking responsibility to question those in positions of power. It will take more experience to grasp complicated nuances like racism, xenophobia, misogyny, personality cult or unfair treatment.
Especially, in recent American politics, how can children relate logically with such adult controversies when new events show how constitutional elections can be denied, even violently attacked, and only misinformation can justify any autocratic, non-constitutional impositions.
Bottom line: active promotional autocratic-minded impositions must never be allowed to infiltrate young mindsets.
The big question is should children even be exposed to any active political player for obvious reasons when they lack cognitive development or critical thinking skills. Should such books even be allowed to be printed and distributed?
Definitely, suitable biographies of past presidents are welcome but whose details cannot be misinterpreted as propaganda as only selective highlights. In the long run, it’s important to read books about the complex lives of presidents and other public figures as a basis for responsible democratic citizenship and critical thinking founded on a base of verifiable truth. Thus, children will become adults with better respect for democratic values and social change while understanding that powerful leaders have flaws or limitations. Leadership is not all about glory days.
In time, as former president Trump remains a private citizen with no influence on elections or party fealty, then a book about his accomplishments, failings and changes can be presented, even for youth. It is especially important in this age of false news and the discrediting of expertise that accurate renditions of history are promoted. As a society we need to trust and learn from future biographies as truthful accounts of complex characters, not as simplified and celebratory stories minus facts to impress and influence children.
They do not need to read the last line of his book:
Millions of Americans are counting on [Trump] to help improve their lives.
Just how dangerous is this propaganda for a democratic country?
Update June 2018: Scholastic issued a statement, defending the books without responding to any of the points in the review below. Read more in Despite National Outrage, Scholastic Defends Children’s Books Celebrating Trump.
Update Nov. 2019: Scholastic’s celebratory children’s books about Donald Trump are finally OUT OF PRINT, after thousands of teachers, parents, and students sent letters.
Note: there are others.