by Reid Fitzsimons (The following letter was set to the Editor-in-Chief of Highlights For Children but a response was never received)
Editor-in-Chief, Highlights for Children, 803 Church St., Honesdale, PA 18431, January 26, 2017
Dear Christine French Cully:
(Thank you in advance for reading through this rather long-winded but hopefully pertinent letter from a Highlights subscriber and almost neighbor- over in Thompson, PA)
I was driving through Honesdale recently half-listening to the Wayne/Pike (county) local news when I heard a mention of Children’s Highlights Magazine. Knowing the connection of the Magazine to Honesdale and having just ordered three gift subscriptions I paid attention, assuming there would be an anniversary celebration or some such announcement. Rather it proved to be a “say it isn’t so” moment in which I learned Highlights is putting the interests of adults above the welfare of children in the form of political and social activism. For the first time in my 50-plus year recollection the magazine it was entering the realm of indoctrination, specifically by attempting to normalize the progressive and trendy narrative of homosexual families.
Prior to this I never contemplated the editorial personnel of Highlights, but rather was confident the Magazine would always shun controversy in a world where children are needlessly exposed to too much adult rancor. In researching Highlights I learned that you are the Editor-in-Chief and, while apparently the proximate factor in your decision to introduce indoctrination was based upon the complaint by someone offended by the lack of homosexual content, you stated, “It was never a question of if, it was always a question of when,” adding, “We expect this will make some people unhappy.” From this I am presuming (realizing that presumption is not always wise) you are likely at least middle-class and more probably upper middle-class, and that you consider yourself a liberal progressive, holding the concept of “diversity” in high regard, and similarly espousing “tolerance,” at least in a unidirectional sense. I suspect there was no “Trump: Make America Great Again” bumper sticker on your car!
In another quote, which I assume is correctly attributed, you stated, “We did expect and received a backlash when we committed to becoming more fully reflective to all the different kinds of families out there.” What I extrapolate from this is a belief that a child with homosexual parents will, upon seeing this particular drawing and caption in Highlights, feel more accepting of his or herself and that acceptance will diffuse more broadly. Personally I suspect the science isn’t supportive of this hypothesis: to me it’s reminiscent of such social movements as generic self-esteem enhancement and anti-bullying, actions more designed to make adults feel good, to be able to say “we did something,” rather than actually benefit children. However, if you are correct with the psychology involved, wouldn’t it make more sense to benefit as many children as possible? I’m thinking of, for example, children with one or both parents obese, even morbidly so. I am guessing this situation is 100-fold, 1,000 times, or even 10,000-fold more common than children with homosexual parents. My suspicion is that in presenting/normalizing families associated with obesity you would not receive the accolades that you perhaps might garner when homosexuality is involved. It is, after all, the feel-good cause celebre of the moment among progressives. Taking a homosexual activist stand in our current cultural environment is as difficult as proclaiming “Jesus is Lord and Savior” in a Pentecostal Church.
I do hope at this point I am not coming across as overly sardonic and that you continue reading this letter. I have fairly extensive experience with children, in addition to being the father of a 30-year-old who continues to be the joy of my life, though much of my experience is outside the norms of our society, and I want you to understand my perspective. 16 years ago I left salaried employment to do volunteer work in the (so-called) Third World, which has totaled 4-5 years living in impoverished, mostly rural areas. For 11 months in 2002-2003 I was the medical director of a very under-equipped and remote clinic in Western Kenya, where misery and tragedy were omnipresent- perhaps you’ve experienced something similar. Though it was in reality finite, I’m inclined to say I can’t count the number of babies and children who literally died in my arms or in my proximity. While malaria was the primary cause of morbidity and mortality, I recall the 6 or 7 year-old girl who, hours away from death due to rabies, began speaking in English, or the 10 or 11 year-old girl who died of pneumonia, or the infants we treated for severe burns because they were accidentally dropped into fires by their primary caregivers: 4 or 5 year-old siblings or cousins, understanding that most of the adults had died from AIDS. Most profoundly I reflect on a two year-old boy I diagnosed with AIDS, brought to the clinic by his grandmother, needless to say. We had a very limited supply of stuffed animals and I gave one to him, which he clung to, and it seemed to give him great comfort. I knew he was going to die, and for whatever this says about me, his case is the only one that can bring tears to my eyes all these years later, including now.
Subsequently my wonderful (and Christian) wife (I mention this because I am a non-believer, an agnostic, and Christians are so readily derided these days) developed a children’s project in a rural village in Honduras. I fear most of us in the US view such a place as pleasantly bucolic, where noble savages (a phrase incorrectly attributed to Rousseau) work hard, perhaps under oppression, to provide for their families. The reality of course is the majority of kids are, especially by our standards, abused and neglected with broken families and drunken fathers, who are rarely around. Our underlying theme and philosophy was to operate a place and program where kids could be kids, find nourishing meals and wholesome activities. This proved very successful and provided us with many happy memories, not the least of which included children gleefully shouting, “Reid (or Patricia), Mirame (look at me),” as they went higher and higher on the swing set, likely a first for many of them to find that kind of validation.
For several reasons we pared back this very active program several years ago and now spend less time there and emphasize older kids and young adults. One of our most consistent efforts is teaching English, and we can proudly say we’ve brought maybe five or six people into conversational fluency. One young man even obtained a job as a translator. Perhaps of interest to you, one of my most cherished teaching tools has been High 5.
With all this said, I suspect or perhaps assume that when you “received a backlash” to your activism you were inclined to view those in opposition with disdain. It is increasingly easy and common for a person of a progressive bent to diminish those who are in disagreement in an ad hominem manner: their arguments can be dismissed simply by declaring them to be homophobes, racists, misogynists, Nazis or whatever. This was recently summed up by a Presidential candidate under the heading of “deplorables.” This, of course, is not unlike an overly zealous Christian who takes great solace in the idea that their righteousness is fully confirmed by the belief that those who don’t share their enthusiasm for Jesus are depraved sinners.
I am unabashedly conservative and have my own narratives and perspectives. Nevertheless, as taken aback as I am by the debasing of Highlights by your progressive activism, I would be equally disheartened to see it polluted by any conservative activism. There are any number of basic truths that can be espoused generation after generation, based on the most fundamental concept of treating others as you want to be treated. Honesty, kindness, compassion, and so many other wonderful qualities can be benignly presented, and you needn’t fear that the absence of some adult’s pet cause is going to lessen to benefit for children. Highlights can continue to be what it was because there is no compelling reason to publish something in which you can expect and receive a backlash and to “make some people unhappy.” There is a still a huge area for common ground, without controversy, and if a particular political or social narrative cannot be accommodated, that’s fine. I’m not offended that you don’t present or advocate for a Pro-Life or vegetarian perspective and nor should anyone else be if their own little agenda isn’t somehow affirmed in the pages of Highlights. Perhaps I’ve seen too many children not allowed to experience childhood, but it saddens me greatly when we pull them into our often selfish and dysfunctional realm of adulthood, regardless how justified we believe our actions and beliefs to be.
I would enjoy and appreciate hearing your thoughts to what I have written and look forward to your response.
Reid Fitzsimons, Thompson, PA