“Fear of corrupting the mind of the younger generation is the loftiest form of cowardice.”
This is a quote that is near to my heart for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is because I am a teacher. I’m in contact with The Young all the time, and there is a certain division in my heart when it comes to the idea of “corrupting” them.
Every year, our school hosts the Phoenix Cup Junior High School Speech contest, in which young teens from around the country make speeches in English about the state of the world and their hopes for the future. And each year I’m stunned by their optimism and hope, their belief that we can all act reasonably and make the world a better place.
I’m a cynic, you see, and a pretty irredeemable one at that. But in order to be a cynic, one must have first been an idealist at some point, and seeing them wear their hopes so openly and bravely makes me recall feelings that had long since been packaged up and stored in the metaphorical closet of my heart.
I feel bad because I know that it will only be a few short years before their hope and idealism are put to the test, and those hopeful idealists are stuffed into the dull, jaded suits of adulthood.
And so, I don’t want to corrupt them. I don’t want to tell them about the things that I know are true, the trials that I know they will face, and the lies that I know they must one day see through. I fear that I will be the one who mark the end of their idealism, and I don’t want that on my conscience. I don’t want to be a corrupting influence.
That, however, is the cowardice that Jackson is talking about, or at least one variety of it. The impulse to shield and cosset my students is an impulse born of fear and trepidation – and not even for them, really. It is a fear that I will not be remembered for trying to help, but rather that I was the one who took their illusions away. It’s a self-indulgent fear, which is pretty much what cowardice is all about.
It also rests on a pretty adult-centered assumption: that The Young neither want to understand nor are capable of understanding these things, and that upon hearing them will crumble like delicate spun glass under a machine-gun barrage. This is pretty far from the truth. When adults lie, they know. They might not know what we’re lying about, but they know full well that we’re lying to them in one way or another and the truth – even an unpleasant truth – is preferable to a well-intentioned lie.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find the context for this quote. Searching on Google just brings up the quote itself, which is commonly brought up in discussions of censorship, a topic that Jackson was most likely expounding upon. The quote suits that topic just as well as the admittedly self-indulgent context I created, I think. Whenever someone suggests censoring a book or a movie or a video game, chances are that they’re doing it “For the children.” They say that kids shouldn’t be exposed to the violent perversion of the adult world, lest their innocence be lost in a hail of bullets and/or naked grunting.
And again, there’s something to that. There is a great temptation to let children live in their own fantasy world for as long as possible, where no one dies or despairs. Let the kids live in happy ignorance for as long as they can, right?
Maybe. I don’t have children, so I’m not as qualified to make a decision as someone who’s actually responsible for bringing a decent human being into the world. I like to believe I wouldn’t lie to them, at least not very often. I like to believe that while I would hold their innocence sacred, there would be times when it had to be put aside in order to prepare them for a world that does not value innocence. It would hurt, I’m sure, but sooner or later The Young have to be shown the world for what it is. And that requires courage from those of us who have gone before.