“How many of you are ‘pro-choice’?” she asked her grade-school pupils. Immediately, all hands shot up, except one. “Why are you not ‘pro-choice’?” the teacher queried her lone dissenter. “Because I am ‘pro-life’,” she said, with a confidence that seemed to belie her seven years.

“And why are you ‘pro-life?'” the teacher continued. “Because my Mommy and Daddy are ‘pro-life’,” was the youngster’s firm reply. But her stern examiner had not yet completed her line of inquiry. “Suppose your parents were morons?”

“Then,” said the girl, emphatically, “I’d be ‘pro-choice’.”

The teacher’s attempt to discredit her pupil’s pro-life position obviously backfired. By unintentionally implying that only morons are pro-choice, the child exploited her teacher’s logic to her own advantage. This exchange, which actually took place at a Toronto elementary school, is a parable for the unworkability of the ‘pro-choice’ rhetoric. The child’s words are wiser than she could have suspected.

Having loving parents is not a bad basis for being ‘pro-life.’ By contrast, having a manipulative teacher is not a good basis for being ‘pro-choice.’ By listening to her parents, the young girl was responding to people, who is turn, form their ‘pro-life’ convictions by responding to a reality, namely, the human value of unborn human life. Her conforming colleagues, however, were not responding to a reality as much as reacting to a word. Who wouldn’t be in favor of choice! Who wouldn’t be in favor of green? But the green face! Everyone loves a surprise, until it reveals itself to be terribly bad news.

Words over concepts

The “teacher,” who apparently is willing to abandon pedagogy for demagoguery, does not inform her students what the particular choice of abortion actually entails. Had the teacher asked, “How many of you are in favor of removing all rights to life from unborn babies so that their own mothers are free to kill them?” One would suppose that no normal seven-year-old could possibly endorse such a thoroughly heartless position. Being ‘pro-choice’ can be maintained only by suppressing reality, while reacting, instead, to the sweet sound of certain abstract words. As in advertizing, what is sold is not the steak but the sizzle.

I have just finished reviewing Michael Schooyans new book, The Totalitarian Trend of Liberalism. Although his book is highly technical and represents a great deal of research, the main point is very much in harmony with our seven-year-old’s outlook. Just as the ideology of choice uses words to evoke dreams, so does the ideology of liberalism. Choice draws us into fantasy; life leads to reality. Liberalism is a world suspended from the gritty facts of reality, whereas liberty is an important dimension (though certainly not the only one) of human existence. Thus, Schooyans labors to show us that we should use our liberty realistically, in the service of life, and not employ a smokescreen of liberal ideology to avoid it.

Grade school children should be fed fairy tales, not ideologies – the former are infinitely more realistic. A good fairy tale will always make sure to include some frightfully wicked individual (whose iniquities cannot be justified on the basis of choice alone). Reality is full of them, and the wise student will come to realize that dealing with reality demands a great deal of courage and various other virtues. But an ideology, such as the one pro-choicers proselytize, invites people to withdraw into a dreamworld where they imagine that everyone is free and no one is ever constrained. In such a frictionless world, how could one ever determine whether anyone is a moron? Could we determine that anyone is a moron apart from how he relates to an undebatable reality? Could not a real moron (if he were well-coached) always excuse his peculiar behavior simply by claiming that he is ‘pro-choice’? In a world of choice without measure, how could we find justification for calling even a moron a moron?

Dreams are popular because they are undemanding. But a good teacher does not want his students to fall asleep in class. Realities, on the other hand, are unpopular precisely because they are demanding. Yet the very purpose of education is to prepare students so that they can better meet the rigorous demands of reality. Life is challenging; ‘choice’ is evasive.

Education should arouse us from a dream-like trance in which we are mesmerized by agreeable, though unrealistic, thoughts. In this regard, returning to our opening anecdote, the tables are turned. We may have more to learn, at least about ‘choice’ and ‘life’, from a seven-year-old girl, than from her salaried and certified teacher.

(Donald DeMarco is a professor of philosophy at St. Jerome’s College, Waterloo, Ontario).