Much of what we are, much of what we think, much of what we feel is learned as we grow up. We are taught at home, at school and in church, but we learn from every aspect of our lives. While our parents might teach us to believe in Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy, we observe their actions and the actions of others around us and we learn that these are fictional characters. We are taught to obey the Golden Rule and treat others as we would wish to be treated, but we observe our parents and teachers, and preachers and learn that it is okay to discriminate because of differences in skin color, or religion, or sex.
Even after we distinguish between what we were taught and what we observed our teachers actually do; we still honor in many ways those things that we were taught. And those things we learned formally continue to shape what we teach, both formally and informally, to our own children in turn. A white man in the South, who grew up in the 1950s and early 1960’s learned by observing that Negros were third class citizens, ranking even below women in their place in society. But as he continued to grow and observe the Civil Rights Movement and the Feminist Movement, he learned to modify his behavior and treatment of women and minorities. His thoughts may not have changed much, but his actions were modified by and for social justice.
At home his children might have learned some of the old lessons about treatment of minorities and women, but they were taught something else formally in school and in church. They were taught about the struggle for social justice and only for social justice. They continued to see the differences between what they were taught and what actually happened in their society, but they learned more about equality and justice than had their fathers, so they continued to change the society that they grew into.
Their children received less teaching at home about discriminating against blacks and women, though they continued to receive some; their parents were still conflicted about the discrepancy between what was taught at home and what the learned in school and by observing the real world. With the continued teaching about equality and the struggle for social justice at school and at church, these children are less conflicted than were their parents. And their children will be even less conflicted because there will be fewer disconnects between what they are taught and what they observe.
Slowly, human society changes for the better. As long as we are able to continue to teach our children about what is good and right about our society, they will continue to improve it. The disconnect between what we teach and what they see will change over time, but they will continue to move forward, making society a better place for all that live within it.