Posts Tagged ‘children’

One thing bugs the shit out of me is the conventional wisdom that two-person opposite-sex biological parents represent the best environment for raising children. David Brooks raised the old chestnut again in his wacky piece about the decline in opportunities for the lower classes:

A long series of cultural, economic and social trends have merged to create this sad state of affairs. Traditional social norms were abandoned, meaning more children are born out of wedlock. Their single parents simply have less time and resources to prepare them for a more competitive world.

First, this may be true and it may not be. Research has been inconclusive, and difficult to extricate from simple socioeconomic trends. Additionally, some research has shown that high-conflict marriages are as bad if not worse than single-parent households, and that stability may be a better indicator than number of parents.

Second, even assuming the argument is correct and two parents are better than one, why wouldn’t three parents or four parents be better than two? As California prepares to address this with possible legislation to open the door to more greater-than-two-parent households, it’s not surprising that the usual suspects have crawled out to voice their opposition:

“This bill is a Trojan horse for the same-sex-marriage agenda,” Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, said.

“Advocates for same-sex marriage are very interested in separating parentage and marriage from biological parentage, because that’s the one thing same-sex couples can never achieve,” he added.

I mean, sure, but part of the core conservative argument against same-sex marriage is that two-biological-parent households are better than two-nonbiological-parent households. Why wouldn’t the introduction of more adults, including the biological parents not be better? In fact, we have been doing this for some time, with villages, tribes, and relatives often taking on the responsibility of childcare. Like, oh, I don’t know, this family.

If stability is the goal, why not include as many stable adults as we can find?

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William Saletan atSlate always has these big pseudo-scientific questions that he thinks are deeply thought-provoking but are actually pretty schmeh.

For example, he has a long-standing (and probably wrong) hypothesis about race-linked intelligence. (I have previously noted the goofiness of this “scientific” discovery here.)

Now Slate has two stories about a study finding that children of gay parents at a time when being gay and having children was/is maligned can be stressful and difficult. That’s pretty understandable. Saletan’s take is probably more line with mine in that he thinks it still proves gay marriage is a good outcome (two parents, loving household, financial support, etc.). Still, he takes the study as methodologically sound (some criticisms here).

That said, let’s presume, for the sake of argument, that the study is right and two same-sex parents are actually in fact worse for the child than two opposite-parent biological parents. So what? Lots of children are raised in households without two opposite-sex biological parents; couldn’t a two-parent same-sex household still be better than, say, single parents? Couldn’t some alternate arrangement (let’s say, oh I don’t know, three parents in a household, or a two-parent biological household with grandparents in the home to provide childcare) provide even better results than the two-parent biological household? Should the government or society encourage such behaviors? Maybe, but maybe not. Attacking the “worst” child-rearing environments probably yields the most returns for society; certainly two-parent same-sex households are better than, say, institutional housing or constantly shifting foster care. Since there is high demand for same-sex households to have children, maybe we should be encouraging lots of adoption by any combination of two-parent households.

My point is that much like any presumed difference in intelligence between races (which, as I’ve noted, is probably wrong on its face anyways), the difference between a two-parent same-sex financially-supported household and a two-parent opposite-sex financially-supported household is probably so marginal that the policy implications are nil compared to the differences between a two-parent household and a no-parent household, or a two-parent household and an institutional care facility, or the difference between a poor family and a rich family.

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Amanda Marcotte has a thought-provoking post about anti-vaccination parents, but her formulation of the problem highlights a problem with “children’s rights” as we have constructed them in the contemporary sense:

Obviously, this is not about children’s rights. The children’s rights are being violated by their parents, who believe their right to use their children as symbols to prove their piety trumps their children’s right to health.

But to whom to these children’s rights inhere? That is to say, are children to be protected from their parents by the state? Or are they to be protected by their parents from the state?

Consider some of the core examples of what we consider children’s rights. Child labor, for instance, is not permissible, but we permit it in many family businesses. In some sense, the state wants to protect children from their parents (who would put them to work or accept exploitation by others). Yet, the state doesn’t want to impose unnecessary burdens on parenting (or on children themselves, who might want to help their family out in the business).

Or consider the famous case of Tinker v. Des Moines School District, where children were found to have free speech rights in school after coming to school wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. The Tinker kids’ parents both supported their decision and were noted area peace activists. Would the children have been protesting at all had their parents not been part of the peace movement? Or, more importantly, would the children’s parents have brought suit for them (as next friends, as necessary in court for minors) if they disagreed with them?

If we envision children’s rights as the state protecting children from their parents (or other adults through increased penalties for crimes against children, for example), then Marcotte is correct and children need vaccinations to protect them from their moronic parents. (And they are morons, for the record.) But if we envision children’s rights as parents protecting their children from an encroaching state (like Tinker!), then the vaccine-fearing parents, wrong though they may be, are asserting a vision of children’s rights that is not altogether insane.

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The way this story about school lunch fraud is written, you would think that school officials labeled their children as requiring free or reduced lunch in order to score the lunches themselves.

High-poverty schools have the ability to receive Title I funds from the Department of Education, generally defined by the states or local districts through a formula that relies heavily on the percentage of students that qualify for free or reduced lunch. This statistic is generally used as a shorthand for the school’s poverty level because it is easier to collect than family income alone and because it represents paperwork that most families are willing to fill out.

Although I believe that it’s entirely possible that these administrators’ children were fraudulently enrolled in the school lunch program to get free lunches. (But having eaten many of these free lunches at a high-poverty school, I doubt it.)

More likely, they are gaming the numbers to increase their percentage of free or reduced-lunch students, and thereby increase their funding. I bet a systematic audit of any major urban district would reveal similar fraud.

At the same time, the pursuit of these kinds of fraud is targeting the wrong places for graft. The cost of such an audit would far outweigh any monetary benefit that any individual school is currently receiving, and might find as much underreporting as overreporting.

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Just as films will try to generate suspense by putting a child in danger, proponents of new criminal laws will often tack on the name of a recently dead child. We famously have Megan’s Law, Amber’s Law (eventually to become AMBER Alert), Adam’s Law (eventually to become the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act), and Jessica’s Law.

And yet, these laws vary from marginally effective (AMBER Alerts) to severely limiting (sex offender registry in Megan’s Law).

Now, here comes Caylee’s Law, named for Casey Anthony’s daughter Caylee, which makes it a felony for a parent to not report a child’s death within 24 hours. The proposal has already picked up tons of petition signatures and public support, but it doesn’t take into account what its actual effects might be. When someone’s child dies, the range of grieving varies greatly. A parent’s desire to conceal their child’s death — however deluded — should probably not constitute a felony in and of itself. Magical thinking is often associated with grieving families, and time-of-death is a notoriously unreliable figure. How many Casey Anthonys would be punished, weighed against how many other confused, grieving parents who failed to submit the proper notification?

Generally, I think we should be very hesitant to jump on the bandwagon of bills named after dead children. The framing of “protecting children” becomes so blinding that few will ever question the efficacy or justice behind such laws.

Take state-run sex offender registries, for instance. It’s easy, in the aftermath of a gruesome and evil act, to say that this could have all been prevented if the parents had a sex offender registry. Unfortunately, such guidelines require registration for almost all sex-related offenses, including relatively minor ones like a 16-year-old sending a picture of his dick or an 18-year-old having consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend in an age-17 consent state. The Adam Walsh law also permits states to go through with civil commitment statutes, that require sex offenders to be institutionalized after their sentences are complete. Pedophilia and sex offenses committed against minors are horrific, but simply turning sex offenders into outcasts who live (literally) under a bridge probably doesn’t do much to stop their ability to be a repeat offender.

By using a dead child’s name, the hysteria surrounding child sex abuse allows for massive increases in punishment and often little to no opportunity to gauge their effectiveness. What positive effect do these laws actually produce? The evidence is pretty slim.

Proponents will argue that even if the bill saves one child’s life, it will be worth it, but it’s doubtful how many lives would actually be saved at the expense of so many other lives affected. Obviously, laws should respond to real-world events, but it’s irresponsible to demand drastic changes in law and punishment on the basis of one tragedy, without a broader basis in systematic fact.

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As if we needed more evidence that our legislative system is broken and Senate Republicans have no interest in governing, here comes another headline of GOP obstructionism — blocking the ratification of free-trade agreements that will certainly pass with a supermajority.

When I read this article, I thought, “I feel like I remember something about the GOP wanting to pass these free-trade agreements a while ago.” And I was right, but it’s actually funnier/sadder than that.

You see, Republicans in March blocked the Commerce Secretary’s nomination en masse, until the Democrats moved on free trade agreements. So, the Republicans whined and protested to demand free trade agreement debate, then essentially blocked the debate when Democrats provided it.

Just so we’re clear:

  1. Block Commerce Secretary’s nomination. Demand action on free trade agreements.
  2. Block free trade agreements. Demand action on destruction of program that helps retrain American workers.
  3. ???

See, I like where this goes, because I bet if it goes on long enough, we can get Republicans to block something like the “Cuddle with Puppies Act.”

Republicans are often described as overly “ideological,” but I think this distorts the picture. Ideology implies some sort of action-oriented series of ideas or beliefs; the behavior of Senate Republicans is more akin to a child’s tantrum. A bratty child will raise a fuss, demanding some object, and then when the frazzled parent provides said object, the child tosses it away to demand a new object.

The Republicans aren’t the party of “No.” They’re the party of “I don’t wanna!”

You keep complaining about jobs? Here’s that whole jobs bill you wanted. “I don’t wanna!”


As always, it would all be funnier, if it weren’t simultaneously hurting the American recovery.

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Amy Chua has an essay in the Saturday WSJ about the superiority of Asian parents. Although there are some extremes in the story that I find distasteful, there is one overarching theme that has gone woefully missing from our society:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America.

We are so concerned for the self-esteem of our children that we forget what gives people self-esteem. It’s not endless praise and spoiling from parents that makes you feel like a worthwhile person. We feel self-esteem from attempting something difficult and succeeding at it. And the only way we get good at something is by practicing it.

Particularly in the realm of education, this concept of “practice until you’re good at it” has gone woefully missing. We’re so concerned with making reading fun, or acknowledging different reading styles, or making sure no one’s feelings get hurt. With all the fuss, we’ve forgotten that we actually have to make students like reading. If students are bad at reading, it’s nearly impossible to get them to enjoy it. So, from an early age, we just have to make kids read. A lot. Like, a lot a lot. If a student is good at reading, a good teacher — or even a vaguely competent teacher like I was, can convince the student of the work’s importance.

While debates rage as to how to fund schools and how to choose better teachers, little debate has been had about the pedagogy itself. All the underlying demographic factors would seem to encourage more learning. Students go to school for more hours; fewer teenagers are working; parental levels of education are at their highest levels ever. Maybe, students are learning less because the way of teaching is so much worse. Rather than the virtuous cycle of practice, success, feeling good, we have the vicious cycle of sloth, weakness, and feeling terrible about school.

Yes, your children should play, and imagination is important. I don’t advise verbal insults or tyranny (as advised in the Chua essay). But instead of setting the next generation up for having fun, why don’t we set them up for success?

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