Monday, November 30, 2009

Telling the Truth Through Children's Books

I was at my sister's graduation from medical school over twenty years ago, and the keynote speaker was an expert in children's literature. My sister graduated just fine, by the way. As she says, "I didn't trip or anything." Besides finding out that my sister graduated near the top of her class (apparently a well-guarded secret), I was convinced that children's literature is often ahead of the adults in providing cultural indicators and trends for our society.

I wonder if that speaker was Dr. Sandra Williams.

I was thinking of that speaker and what she had to say when I wondered how to describe government's interaction with the public. Jim Diers warns us not to confuse public apathy with alienation. I do encounter those who believe the worst in our government, applying sinister motive or applying various conspiracy theories. Distrust in government is rampant. I counter that the situation is worse than they think. No-one is in charge, and those running the show are no smarter than you and me. The injustices and failures that people see are not sinister, but accidental.

I envision an entity built so large, it has forgotten it's purpose.

Which brings me to a children's story, "Jonathan Cleaned Up - Then He Heard a Sound" by Robert Munch. You can hear the story by following the link. In the story, City Hall makes a mistake and runs the final subway stop through Jonathan's living room. Jon marches down to city hall and runs in to various officials - and the computer - to try and solve the problem. He discovers the whole show is being run by a lone little man behind the computer. "Don't tell the Mayor the computer is broken. He spent ten million dollars for it." Jonathan solves his problem by applying a little blackberry jam.

There are so many truths in this little tale, I don't want to ruin it by explaining them all. I do think the story does hint at where the solution lies. We have to snoop around and acknowledge what we see as the truth. Something this big won't be fixed right away, but individual heroes can fix what they see. We have to find ways to make big government small - not by literal downsizing - that little man was mighty lonely and mighty hungry - but by bringing the services closer to the people.