My fellow Babble writer Rich Hailey published a provocative post earlier this week asking who is responsible for raising children in America. Mr. Hailey was responding to an MSNBC promo spot in which host Melissa Harris-Perry says this:
We’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours, and your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘These are our children.’ So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that ‘kids belong to their parents’ or ‘kids belong to their families,’ and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.
Mr. Hailey objects quite strongly to this notion, saying that children are not a community resource or responsibility, but are rather the province of families. He goes on to argue that turning children over to communities will result in parents surrendering their right to instill such values as they themselves hold:
What happens when community values are not shared by the family? Imagine being part of a community which has a value system radically different from your own, say a liberal family living in a deeply conservative rural community. What if the community strongly values church attendance while you are agnostic, atheist, or simply a more private believer? Obviously, you will reserve the right to raise your child with the values you hold. But according to Harris-Perry, you might not have that option if the community chooses otherwise. Religious instruction might be introduced into a school setting, or maybe into extracurricular activities. On more likely, community schools could stop providing extra-curriculars, and allow the local church communities to sponsor sports, etc. That way, the school would not run afoul of the First Amendment, yet there would still be considerable community pressure placed on families to make sure their children attended a church.
While the scenario he proposes is certainly distasteful, I think it’s a stretch to suggest that there are indoctrination plots simmering all over the nation and our children will be brainwashed to reject their families’ ideals in mass numbers.
I think what Harris-Perry was saying is that we all have a responsibility to each other. It’s not that we need to revoke parental dominion over children. It’s that we need to assure all children that we will all be there for them no matter what. That we all care about their futures and we will work together to ensure all of our children have a fair shot. That society won’t abandon them in a crisis.
I was thinking about this in light of the bombing in Boston this week. One of the more horrific images was of a young man named Jeff Bauman, ashen and gravely wounded, was being wheeled away from the scene. By his side was another man giving him aid that probably saved his life. The man giving aid is Carlos Arrendondo. He was standing by the finish line handing out flags to runners, something he does as a tribute to his own son, a Marine who died in the Iraq war. When the bomb went off, Mr. Arrendondo saw Mr. Bauman and jumped into action, putting him in a wheelchair and pinching closed an artery in his leg to stop him from bleeding to death.
Mr. Arrendondo, a man who lost his own son, was there to bring joy to the runners but ended up saving another man’s son that day because that is what communities do: we work together in good times and bad. We care for one another, family or not.
I certainly would never wish to undermine another parent’s values or the choices that parents make for the best interest of their children but I also believe that I have a responsibility to help the children in my community grow up healthy, safe, and cared for. That sensibility is why I bring snacks to the playground for my son to share with his friends and why I bring donations to the food bank. It’s why I’d give a band-aid to a child hurt at the park and why I’m an organ donor. It’s why I read stories in my child’s classroom and why I support my local library. I care for my own children. I care for yours, too. That is what community means to me.
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