In the fight for our continuing freedom, the battle for our enduring liberty, the teens have been handed the flag, the drum and the fife. There have been three recent events regarding teenagers in America that have brought those who are our hope for a salvageable future to the fore. One is the president’s doing, one is the Supreme Court’s doing, and one is the doing of a young man whose intelligence has caused him to engage in critical thinking and free himself from the restraints of social conservatism.
When President Obama signed an executive order in June, ceasing the deportation of children of illegal immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States before they were 16 years old, he ticked the first box in 2010’s failed DREAM Act, and set the course for future citizenship for those who love the only country most of them have ever known.
As the president put it at his Rose Garden remarks, on June 15:
“Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life — studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class — only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak.”
“It is,” he added, as a reporter interrupted, “the right thing to do.”
But Arizona’s Republican Governor, Jan Brewer, did not agree, calling it “blatant political pandering by a president desperate to shore up his political base.”
Still, if you ask the kids for whom this order is intended, they just want a chance to contribute. “You give a student, a young person, the opportunity to keep going to school, to become a better person… ultimately it’s going to be helping the country,” Angel Monjaraz, a young immigrant, told Roanoke, Virginia’s WDBJ.
That sentiment seems to fall on deaf ears for known conservatives, like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. When the Court overturned almost all of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, known as SB1070, last week, he worked a comment about the president’s executive order into his state sovereignty granting opinion, taking the unprecedented step of questioning its wisdom as policy. It “boggles the mind,” he wrote, referring to the government’s assertion that the states cannot write their own laws on how to deal with something that’s federal responsibility, regardless of the federal government’s enforcement approach.
Luckily for kids, that’s not the only decision of the Court where Scalia was at the losing end.
With all the attention focused on the Supreme Court’s decision last week on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual responsibility provision, known as the mandate, what many people missed were the part of the ACA and other decisions that came down on the side of the well being of children and our society.
First, regarding health care, by allowing the health care law to stand, parents of very sick children, with pre-existing conditions, will not have to worry about their insurance coverage being terminated, leaving them with the added burden of obscene medical bills. Also, young adults who are having problems finding jobs with health benefits these days, will still be able to be covered, on their parents policy, until they are 26 years old.
But the decision which points to a positive march for children’s rights, and away from the prison industrial complex, is the case of two young men, who were both 14 years old, both convicted of murder, both sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, under mandatory guidelines in the states in which they were tried. The Court ruled that having such harsh sentences for minors constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” and thus violated the protections of the Eighth Amendment.
“Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan, in the majority opinion, “precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features—among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.”
Indeed, it is that “immaturity, impetuosity,” and naivete, that was recognized by our final example, in his own past, that brought him to a new understanding of his own freedom and liberty.
In 2010, a 14-year-old boy wowed a group of political conservatives at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, for the second year in a row, by delivering a cogent, coherent talk about how strongly he believed that only conservatism embraced American values. The young man, Jonathan Krohn, who lives in severely Republican Georgia, was back in the news recently, reacting to comedian Bill Maher’s use of tape, from Krohn’s CPAC address, on his June 22 HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher program, using it to admonish Republicans, “When 14-year-old boys sound exactly like you do…maybe you should rethink the shit that’s coming out of your mouth.” Maher went on to point to the booing of a gay soldier and cheering for a deadly, electrified border fence during the GOP primary debates, and added, “No wonder 14-year-old boys can do your act. You act exactly like 14-year-old boys!”
Reached by Politico, Krohn, now 17, admitted that his political views have markedly changed. “I stopped being a social conservative. It just didn’t seem right to me anymore,” he told Politico, adding, “it’s not because I’ve become a liberal from being a conservative — it’s just that I thought about it more. The issues are so complex, you can’t just go with some ideological mantra for each substantive issue.”
Appearing on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Monday night, Krohn, who plans to attend New York University in the fall, further explained, “When I revisited everything else, I said, ‘You know, I don’t really agree with everything I wrote [in two conservative books] then, so I should just move on,’ and the first things to go were my social conservative ideas because it just seemed so regimental, so structured, so dogmatic, and I didn’t want to be a part of that. I’d rather have my ability to have my opinion on any issue I want.”
Wanting children to have their own opinion and think freely is decidedly not conservative dogma, as the education plank of the 2012 Texas Republican Platform Committee report affirmed recently:
“Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
The conservative wing of the Republican party, which seems to have all the power, proudly claims to be the real embodiment, the true guardians, of American freedom and liberty. Yet freedom constrained by dogma means original thought has its limits, when measured against the litmus of conservative ideology. That’s no way to grow our young minds, our future, or our country.