I saw the video of 14-year old Johnathan Krohn at CPAC, last week. I thought about posting it, and didn't, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to say was defensible. I'm a strong believer in social skills, and in children being children. I'm not a fan of, "child-preachers," "pageants" for five-year olds, or intense basketball camps designed to make six-year olds go pro. But as I thought about it, I decided that that's me. Those are my values. And what did I know of the kid? Maybe he actually had a gift, and his parents were just letting him live the dream.
But I do think Matt raises a pretty good point:
I really struggle to understand why this particular gimmick appeals to
conservatives. What does it accomplish to put a 14 year-old front and
center at CPAC? What's the message it's supposed to send? That the
conservative message is childish? That the right's talking points can
be easily mastered by a 14 year-old? That the CPAC audience doesn't
care about the knowledge-base of the speakers there, they just want to
hear certain ritual beats repeated? I wouldn't want to claim that
liberals are so high-minded as to be above all that, but I'm
hard-pressed to think of an example of liberals trying to flaunt disdain for knowledge and expertise.
And then there is this: When you're young, and you come into some political consciousness, self-assurance, intellectual arrogance, and prejudice come easy. When I got conscious, I would have told you that the Egyptians invented airplanes, black people never had slaves, and that the cold made white people acquisitive by nature. And I would have told you this publicly, in front of a crowd of people. And I'd have slapped you with a Chancellor Williams tome if you dared to disagree. Thankfully, I had parents who protected me from myself. But more importantly, I had people around me who valued reading, listening and life experience over talking, writing and publishing. The dispensation of knowledge must be grounded by the acquisition of knowledge
If you're a conservative and you care about this kid, you don't give him a public forum. You give him your card, and you take his e-mails. You give him a list of books that he needs to read. Then when you see him, you quiz him on those books. You tell him that you're glad he showed the initiative to write and publish himself, but his thesis is actually banal. That if he's going to play in the big leagues, he should expect to get hit and prepare himself thusly. You warn him away from sideshows, and teach him to pride hearing over being heard. You teach him that these are his weapons and his shield in the great war of ideas.
Of course if you did all that, you'd risk turning him into liberal. But that's the chance you take, and that's what a person confident in their ideas does. They don't urge their pupils to turn away from the challenge of foreign ides, but to embrace it, to attack it, relishing the possibilities of how they could ultimately come out. Conservatives should encourage the kid to take himself seriously. Challenge him, and make sure he understands that conservative ideology isn't so rudimentary that a 14-year old could master it.