American Kids

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July 14, 2017
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By , The Catholic Thing, July 14, 2017

As an exercise in social clarity, let’s consider some of our prevailing ideas in America about children.

David CarlinFirst, there is the idea that we should have only a few of them, if we have any at all: small families, not large families. Much of America, especially liberal America, was shocked, I suspect, when at the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in early 2016 we heard, most of us for the first time, that he and his wife were the parents of nine children. This is too many by present-day standards; far too many.

And how unsettling it must have been to liberals to think that a man who was that far out of what may be called the “reproductive mainstream” had been sitting for years on the nation’s highest court. If he couldn’t control his philoprogenitive inclinations, small wonder he had rightwing judicial opinions. If a man’s judgment is defective in one thing, it is likely to be defective in many things.

Second, there is the commonly accepted idea that if one is unhappy in one’s marriage, one should dissolve it. Even though this may greatly harm the children, which (of course) it usually does. And even though the traumatic effect of a divorce many echo throughout the lifetime of the kids, which it also often does.

A few decades ago it was often said that kids were better off when their unhappy parents divorced. You don’t often hear this excuse nowadays; I guess everybody now realizes that, with exceptions here and there, kids are worse off when their parents divorce. (There’s social science research to that effect, if anyone needs it).

Who was the naval commander who said, “Full speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes”? Well, if you now get divorced you don’t tell yourself fairy tales about how this will be wonderful for the kids. You just say, “Full speed ahead, and damn the kids.” The happiness of kids is important, but the happiness of their parents is more important. Kids should be willing to sacrifice a share of their happiness in order that Mom and Dad, exercising what the Declaration says is their God-given right, can engage in their own pursuit of happiness.

Third, American society has no strong objection to very high rates of out-of-wedlock birth, a rate that is now about 40 percent for Americans as a whole and 70 percent for black Americans. For the most part this means that these children will grow up either with no father at all or with a very part-time father.

Thanks to the great social “progress” we have made in recent decades, it is not like it was in the old days, when the man (or boy) who got a girl “in trouble” had to marry her. No, nowadays it’s perfectly fine to be an unmarried mother. As for the father, not only is there no social duty to marry the mother, but there is no social duty even to cohabit with her on a permanent basis.

Despite the feminist movement, and despite our society’s great emphasis on the rights of women, men have been granted the quite extraordinary right of walking out on women they caused to be pregnant and the children born of that union.

And the semi-fatherless children of these reckless unions? The probability is greatly enhanced that they will do badly in school and in the world of work, that they will become drug abusers, that they will go to prison, and that they themselves will have children out of wedlock.

Fourth, we tolerate appallingly poor public schools for many of our children, especially poor black kids from the ghetto. Most of these kids end up with little in the way of an academic education, even though, thanks to the magic of “social promotion,” many of them are given a high school diploma.

Not to give them this diploma, according to our educational leaders, would be bad for their self-esteem. And it would also be bad for the reputation of school leaders who measure their success in terms of how few dropouts their schools have. Don’t worry about whether the kids learn anything; just don’t let them drop out; be sure they get a diploma, meaningless though it often is.

It goes without saying, of course, that lack of an adequate academic education significantly diminishes their chances for success in American life. But it’s not as if they don’t get a thorough non-academic education. They get it in the street from other kids. Often they get it in delinquent or criminal gangs.

Fifth, American society is by and large indifferent to the killing of unborn children. They used to be killed at the rate of about 1.5 million per year. The rate has declined in recent decades. Now it’s “only” about a million per year.

Those who defend the right to abortion usually deny that the entity killed in an abortion is a human being. If they are correct in saying this, then I am of course mistaken when I include abortion in my list of the ways in which children are abused or neglected in the USA. But they are not correct. And their assertion that the thing being killed is not human is a bad-faith assertion. At some level of their dishonest minds they realize that abortion kills a baby.

I am tempted to say that Americans, by and large, don’t care about children. But this is obviously untrue, given the vast amount of energy and money we spend to make sure that our children (most of them, at least) are well fed, well clothed, well housed, and well educated.

All I really know is that something horrible is also going on.


David Carlin is professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.