Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How Dare Mothers Work

When I first read about Monica Goodling's student essay about how poorly our society treats children, I thought it was an undergraduate essay which demonstrated decent writing skills. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I thought that it might have been written as a persuasive paper as opposed to a balanced treatment of her subject matter. But even assuming it was meant to reflect the full scope of her research skills, it wouldn't be the first time an undergraduate fell into the trap of relying exclusively on sources that support his or her thesis, and believing that constitutes "research". Except, reading some more recent news coverage about Ms. Goodling's law school, I realized that I wasn't reading her undergraduate work. It was a paper she wrote while in law school.

This paper begs to be ridiculed.
For centuries it has been known that the greatest duty of being a parent is to raise the child. And yet, study after study shows that millions of America's children are neglected every day. The reason for this failure to act must be due to a change in parents' philosophies. It is there, in their innermost parts, that the devaluation of their children begins.

From the time that America was first founded until around the 1950s, our society has been described as a "collectivist" culture balanced with a "communitarian" individualism.

These terms simply mean that while parents were individualistic in spirit, their own self-fulfillment and desires were secondary to the welfare of their social organizations and institutions. Hence, "doing one's duty" within a family was elevated above personal goals and independence.
She is seriously arguing that the modern concept of childhood existed from the dawn of American culture, and only started to fade away in the 1950's. Sure. The children who labored six or seven days a week in factories or in farmers' fields had it great, and we should all be so lucky.
Being a child of a single parent means that, often, one is deprived of many things a child needs to flourish and grow into productive citizens: attention, proper medical care, love, intellectual stimulation, financial support, security, authoritative guidance, structures, and time. The maxim that "quantity" is not important as long as a parent supplies "quality time," has been described mockingly as a satisfying delusion. Another author wrote, "Deeply embedded in the disorder of our society and the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots is the most poignant have-not of all--a child without two parents."

However, if Dan Quayle really was correct, then why would so many women be willing to give birth to a child absent marriage? For many, babies are a ticket to independence, a ticket sponsored by public assistance programs. But the ultimate cost falls on the child itself.
What a school this must be where everybody automatically knows what Dan Quayle has asserted - yes, that's her first (and last) reference to him.

The "haves" versus "have-nots" observation is interesting, because throughout history that's probably the biggest predictor of how idyllic a childhood is apt to be. The wealthy have, on the whole, always provided a better childhood environment for their offspring. The poor, on the whole, do they best they can within their means. That has improved during the course of this century, where the children of the poor have access to public education and are restricted from working the types of jobs and hours of employment many of them would have historically suffered.

But wow... women choosing to have a child outside of marriage. Is Goodling presupposing that the fathers of their children are on bended knee, offering their hands in marriage, and these women are stubbornly refusing to consider that option? Does she think pregnant women are hot commodities on the singles scene, and that young men can't wait to meet and marry them? Because if she doesn't think either of those things, she is speaking of the exceptional case, not the norm. And then the question becomes, is she saying that single mothers shouldn't "choose life"?
In addition to the contributing factors of attitude changes, divorce, single parent homes, and fatherlessness, one other factor contributes to the devaluation of America's children. That is the increasing number of married women who leave the role of being a full-time mom in order to contribute to the Gross National Product. They toss their children into "child care," but often leave the job of mothering their child less than fully compensated. Like the children's game of hot potato, the child himself bounces from person to person, often undergoing development in the midst of casual acquaintances.
Ah yes, the much anticipated screed against daycare. And Goodling speaks to a mythic history in which mothers didn't have to work and were free to raise their own children. She has, in the space of a few words, erased a history of the wealthy relying upon nannies and tutors to provide child care, and of poor women leaving their children in ad hoc care settings such that they could work. And as one would expect, she places no responsibility for child care on the father.

Some of Monica's incredible ideas to resolve these problems:
  • Revising welfare to cut off additional aid for additional children seems an obvious economically valid goal, but it alone is not enough.
  • Sex education classes should be abstinence-based, and students should be taught how to resist sexual pressure.
  • [T]eenage mothers be required to live with their families or in a residential care group home, in order to receive welfare benefits.
  • Parents should be encouraged to give up an extra income, unless it is absolutely essential to support the family.
  • Christian education and development is thus crucial to all children, and should be supported by all parents.
I'll admit that the issue of benefits increases for welfare-dependent families which have more children is not simple. Having more children is likely to prolong the period that a family remains welfare-dependent, and nowhere else in society are you guaranteed more income if you have more children. But I am not convinced that the increased welfare benefit plays a significant role in whether or not welfare recipients have more children, and I am not convinced that plunging a poor family even deeper into poverty is the best approach to increased family size. After all, the quality of the children's lives is likely to be directly and materially affected by their family's finances. This idea, along with the idea of forcing teen mothers into group homes, seems most likely to increase business for Planned Parenthood clinics. Christian teachings and abstinence-only education as a cure for teen pregancy? Once again....

Perhaps it is a bit ridiculous to dissect a ten-year-old essay written by a law student. But unfortunately, I suspect that this type of shallow thinking and regurgitation of platitutes helped her get her job, and helped advance her position within the Bush Administration. And I doubt that there's anything in this paper that she would presently repudiate.


  1. “The reason for this failure to act must be due to a change in parents' philosophies.” It “must” . . . gee, nice to know that there were no other societal changes in the past five or so centuries (creation of public education, industrial revolution, printing press, institutionalization of individual rights and liberties, equality under the law for women, end of chattel slavery and indentured servitude, . . .)

    From the time that America was first founded until around the 1950s, our society has been described as a "collectivist" culture balanced with a "communitarian" individualism. It has? By everyone? I always kind of thought that it had been described as an “individualist” society that rewarded independent thought and a willingness to “go it alone.” Who knew that all along everyone had been taught that you “need a village . . . “I wonder if anyone remembered to share this little piece of wisdom with Ford, Morgan or “Wreck-A-Fellow” . . . And as usual, Aaron exaggerates his point. Children weren’t routinely found working 7 or 8 hours at grueling, dangerous, and disgustingly unsanitary jobs . . . it was more like 10 or 12. (The whole eight hour work day thing didn’t get started until pretty recently in the “big scheme” of things . . .)

    Hence, "doing one's duty" within a family was elevated above personal goals and independence. So, I guess she isn’t familiar with the explosive societal change (broken families, out of wedlock births, abandoned children, etc) that accompanies the industrial revolution? Society started shifting away from the “collective morality” and to the “do as thou wilt” mindset just as soon as people started realizing that they had a way to “get off the farm/small town where everyone knows everyone” and move to the city.

    Although I have fewer problems with the idea of putting stipulations on welfare type programs than most people do . . . I concur that the author’s recommendations are pretty shallow . . . now if we were talking about taking the children of “inadequate parents” out of the home all together to be placed for adoption or put into our new “boarding school style military academies . . . “ : )

    “Perhaps it is a bit ridiculous to dissect a ten-year-old essay written by a law student.” Of course it is, it’s always a bit ridiculous to dissect the work of people who aren’t very thoughtful . . . but its fun to ridicule them. (Who will ever forget the inter-racial dating issue of “Consider” magazine . . .?)


  2. Certainly not our good friend, Mr. Gulp.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.