Rod Miller: Kitchen Tables in Wyoming

in Column/Rod Miller

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By Rod Miller, Columnist

Joy Harjo wrote in her poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” that “The world begins at a kitchen table.”

She’s right. Our kitchen tables are among the most powerful places in our world if we use them for more than stuffing our faces.

Kitchen tables are a much better place to solve life’s problems than is the Capitol building in Cheyenne. If we use our kitchen tables wisely, we’ll leave a lot less work for our elected representatives in the legislature to do. They won’t need to clean up after us, because we did the work ourselves.

If we believe that the family is the basic building block of our state, then families gathered around the table are our most effective legislature, our most solemn church. Here is where we teach our young the fundamental skills that life requires.

If families forego that responsibility, then legislatures step in to tidy up the mess we leave. And, if Wyoming families neglect their duty around the kitchen table, they deny themselves the satisfaction of taking care of business themselves, and punt that job to government.

Here are some things that I believe should be taught at home, by parents who deserve the name. See if you agree.

Manners: Kids should be taught basic human interaction skills like manners, respect, civility and other social virtues. Looking someone in the eye when shaking hands, calling an elder Sir or Ma’am, helping someone in need, being tolerant of others’ opinions…none of these important lessons should be left to government. The kitchen table is the best classroom.

Money: Kids need to learn what money is and what it is not, from their parents. They need to learn to account for it, like balancing a checkbook (if checkbooks even exist today). They need to learn the basics of capitalism and investing, and the relation of capital to labor. Allowances negotiated around the kitchen table are great tools to teach these lessons.

Sex: Human sexuality must NOT be a taboo topic around the kitchen table. Kids must know that they can discuss this deep and mysterious part of themselves freely with their family. Without fear, without shame. If this can’t be done in the home, for whatever reason, the only alternative is to give schools and government the responsibility of regulating this powerful human energy in our children.

Books: Kids learn to love reading from parents who love to read. This might be the most crucial lesson. Reading together, discussing what was read, knowing how to filter messages in books through one’s internal bullshit screen, respect for the power of our language and our freedom to use it – this is the kitchen table curriculum, and it will teach our young ‘uns the joys of being able to think for themselves.

Conflict: We must teach our kids how to handle themselves in a world where conflict is a constant. Kids fight, parents fight, kids fight with parents and vice versa, but each conflict should end at the kitchen table where reasons for the conflict, and alternatives to yelling and screaming are calmly discussed. This is how young people learn which battles are worth dying for, and which are merely streetfights of the ego.

Government: Without a clear understanding of individual responsibility within a society, and the limited role of government, the human tendency is to ask government to do more than it is capable. The first line of defense against bloated government is a kitchen table where we teach our kids a deep sense of personal responsibility for their own lives.

There are more lessons, but I’m running out of room. I’ll leave the reader to add what they want to teach around their own kitchen tables.

Bottom line, if we as citizens raise the next generation to teach their own urchins the same skills, and nobody asks government to do more than it can, we’ll live in a groovier republic. And our electeds can go about fixing potholes and putting out fires instead of raising our kids for us.

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