jasonbwatson

June 7, 2017

Let’s Keep “Parents” Around

Last August Joanna Schimizzi, a National Board Certified Teacher, wrote a blog for the “The Standard – The Official Blog of the National Board.” The blog post’s title was “Ban the word ‘Parents’.” Here’s how she started:

This school year, I want to challenge you to ban certain words from your vernacular. We each have our own set of words and phrases that are taboo in our classroom, like “stupid” or “I can’t”, but this year I want to challenge you to stop using the word “parents”.

What was the reason for this peculiar notion? Schimizzi wanted to challenge teachers “to realize that many of our students live in settings where ‘parents’ are not the only figures who are important to their success.”

That’s true of course. Dictionary.come defines “parent” as a father or mother or a protector or guardian. We usually have the former in mind when we think or say “parent” I am sure, and for years it has been common practice for many forms and communications to utilize “parent or guardian” due to the fact that so many children do not receive their primary care from a biological parent. The reality, however, is that there are more children living with two biological parents than most of us would guess. Last November 17 the U.S. Census Bureau, in Release Number: CB16-192, reported, “The majority of America’s 73.7 million children under age 18 live in families with two parents (69 percent), according to new statistics released today from the U.S. Census Bureau. This is compared to other types of living arrangements, such as living with grandparents or having a single parent.” According to that same report only 4% of U.S. children do not live with any parent.

Schimizzi said her position toward the word “parent” came when she was talking to a guidance counselor at her school about the low number of responses she received on a Parent Survey she sent home with students at the beginning of the year. “Her support helped me realize that many of my questions had implicit bias that placed value on certain experiences not applicable to all families,” Schimizzi wrote. “And one of her best suggestions was to change ‘Parent Survey’ to ‘Family Survey.'”

Of course family used to mean parents and the children they cared for. In fact, the leading portion of Dictionary.com’s definition of the word still says, “a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.” It becomes immediately clear therefore that if Schmizzi and her guidance counselor colleague felt that “Family” would be more appropriate to the realities of students than “Parent” that they must both have agreed, whether consciously or not, that “family” no longer means what it used to mean. Therein lies a huge part of why this recommendation to abolish “parents” is so dangerous–but I will get back to that.

Continuing in her blog, Schimizzi mentioned Al Trautwig’s statement during the Olympics that gymnast Simone Biles “was raised by her grandfather and his wife and she calls them mom and dad.” Biles was, in fact, adopted by her grandparents when she was just a toddler. But when Trautwig was challenged on Twitter about his statement he retorted, “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” After being ordered by NBC to apologize, according to The Associated Press, Trautwig issues a statement that said, in part, “To set the record straight, Ron and Nellie are Simone’s parents.”

That situation, however, is a great example of why the word “parent” is so important–not grounds for banning the word. I think many people have long understood that there is an incredible difference between procreating and parenting. Whether by conscious choice to give up or abandon a child, by some kind of incapacitation or even by death, not everyone who contributes to the biological act of childbirth can or will fulfill the role of parent. The willingness of other people to step in and fill that role is to be celebrated and commended–and there is absolutely no need to differentiate their role by calling them anything other than parents. This is true when those voluntary parents are related to the child by blood, such as Biles’ grandparents, as well as when there is no genetic connection whatsoever.

Schimizzi wrote that when she distributes her now-revised survey she will “encourage… students to deliver it to whoever plays the biggest role in supporting them. It’s an interesting experience to watch students think about who in their lives offers them the most academic support.” That is a valid point and it is entirely possible (and sadly, in some instances, probable) that a child will receive greater support from someone other than their parent. That needs to be recognized as well but it is not grounds for abolishing the term “parent”–not by a long shot. Schimizzi ended her post by sharing examples from three classroom teachers for improving family engagement. All three of the ideas have merit but not one of them has anything to do with the definition or role of “parent.” Instead, they focus on language barriers, a parent’s own experience as a student and the failure of parents to do anything with information they receive from the school. Effective educators will look for ways to overcome each of those obstacles. Doing so, however, does not require banning a word.

Banning words is a big deal because words have meanings. We like to pretend they do not sometimes–especially when the word gets in the way of what we want to do–but that does not change the reality that they do have actual meanings. Homosexual activists did not like the idea that “marriage” was not permitted for homosexuals because it was restricted to a man and a woman. So what did they do? Get the courts to extra-legally change the definition. (Somehow extra-legal sounds less offensive than illegal, doesn’t it? The reality is they are the same thing. This is an example of how we also choose words carefully to make something sound other-than what it really is–but this does not change reality either). Once marriage was redefined to include homosexual unions the law began further redefinition. Just a few months ago, in March, a New York court granted three-way custody to what many have called a “throuple.” Slate‘s story on the ruling was headlined, “New York Court Affirms Poly Parenthood with Three-Way Custody Ruling.” Just that headline illustrates the point I am making; whoever heard of “poly parenthood”?

Interestingly, the same Slate article–which was very supportive of the decision, recognized that the ruling was simply a logical outgrowth of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The victory of Dawn Marano and her child could set solid legal precedent for future custody claims of parents in queer or polyamorous families, a necessary next step in a vision of parenthood and child-rearing that extends beyond the boundaries of monogamous marriage. Funnily enough, this is the exact future predicted by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent on the 2015 equal-marriage ruling Obergefell v. Hodges. While arguing that the slippery slope of same-sex marriage could lead to the total breakdown of social norms and family structures, he cited the important legal-theory volume “Married Lesbian Throuple Expecting First Child,” a New York Post article from 2014.

We cannot play fast and loose with our words. Words matter precisely because they mean something. Banning the word will not change that reality. The Supreme Court has demonstrated that it can effectively change the definition of a word, and the New York court has proven that it can follow that example by changing the legal basis of custody, but that is why we must be so diligent to protect the words and definitions that we have in place. When we carelessly cast them aside we are opening the door for something else to take their place–and we may have no idea what that something else will be.

Of course we will find out eventually. Or our children will. I am reminded of this quote from Ravi Zacharias: “Our society is walking through a maze of cultural land mines and the heaviest price is exacted as we send our children on ahead.”

June 23, 2015

Messing with the Master Plan

You perhaps have heard the comments made by Adam Swift during an interview on Australia’s ABC Radio National. Swift is a Professor of Political Theory at Warwick University and he has been doing research, with Harry Brighouse, on family values. Swift and Brighouse published a book entitled Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships last August. According to the blurb on Amazon, the book “provides a major new theoretical account of the morality and politics of the family, telling us why the family is valuable, who has the right to parent, and what rights parents should–and should not–have over their children.” I have not read the book, so I will not comment on what it contains. From the description I just quoted it sounds both interesting and frightening. I say scary because when someone starts talking about the “morality” of family I get nervous. The family is an institution created by God, so its morality is unquestionable. I am also somewhat troubled by the question of who has a right to parent. While I agree that the act of procreation does not a parent make in any sense other than biological, if we start questioning who has a right to parent we are necessarily implying that some people do not have the right to parent. When we reach the conclusion that some people have the right to parent and others do not, we also necessarily imply that someone, or some group of someones, have the right to determine who has the right to parent and who does not. This notion should trouble us all. Still, it is not the book itself that led to Swift’s rise to national, even international, attention. That was due to the comments he made during his radio interview.

In that interview, Swift said that from a purely utilitarian position it would seem desirable to eliminate the differences between families and the resulting gaps that can impact educational opportunity, material provision, employment and more. “One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family,” Swift said. “If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.” Plausible maybe…if we were all robots or the human differences that make us unique could be eliminated. Swift is not the first one to speculate on this, though; Plato suggested it a couple of millennia ago. Aristotle did not agree with Plato though, and Swift tends more toward the Aristotelian position. So that’s a relief, at least. Swift and his colleague determined that the parent-child relationship is valuable and in the best interest of the child. That did not satisfy them though, as they wanted to know which familial activities contribute to the social inequalities that exist in the world. “What we realized we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children.” So this was what Swift and Brighouse set out to examine. Again, I maintain that this entire notion should scare us all. Do we really want to explore the possibility of forbidding parents from doing certain things because of the possibility that it might disadvantage someone else’s child? Of course we should prohibit things like cheating and bribery, but behaviors that are not illegal should be permitted and even encouraged because, again, where do we draw the line? Who decides where we draw the line? For example, my daughter wears eye glasses. Would Swift and Brighouse suggest that by purchasing those for her I am providing her with an unfair advantage, since many children around the world do not have parents who can purchase glasses for them?

Here is how Swift and Brighouse address that question. They developed a test for what they call “familial relationship goods.” Joe Gelonisi, who condicted the interview for ABC Radio National in Australia described “familiar relationship goods” as “those unique and identifiable things that arise within the family unit and contribute to the flourishing of family members.” That is a quite a broad stroke in my opinion, so what Swift and Brighouse have to say about these goods would be interesting indeed. What would be some examples of acceptable and unacceptable familial relationship goods? Providing a private school education for one’s children is not an acceptable example, Swift said. “Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods. It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realize these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.” Hmmm… I could convincingly argue that a private school education is not necessary for “intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships” but then I could just as convincingly argue that homeschooling provides a greater opportunity for such relationships that public education does–so are the parents who homeschool the only ones providing legitimate familial relationship goods? While he did not address homeschooling in his interview (that I can find), and I do not know if he addresses it in his book, I suspect Swift would argue that homeschooling is an illegitimate familial relationship good too, providing homeschooled children with an unfair advantage, particularly when the homeschooling is done by highly educated parents and/or in conjunction with the opportunity to travel extensively or pursue other private instruction in athletics, music or art.

What really got everyone’s attention was Swift’s assertion that parents reading bedtime stories to their children is an acceptable familial relationship good, but not one that parents should necessarily feel good about. “The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t–the difference in their life chances–is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t,” Swift said. He continued:

You have to allow parents to engage in bedtime stories activities, in fact we encourage them because those are the kinds of interactions between parents and children that do indeed foster and produce these [desired] familial relationship goods. We could prevent elite private schooling without any real hit to healthy family relationships, whereas if we say that you can’t read bedtime stories to your kids because it’s not fair that some kids get them and others don’t, then that would be too big a hit at the core of family life. I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.

I have read innumerable stories to my children, at bedtime and otherwise, and I can say without hesitation that it has never once even crossed my mind that in so doing I was somehow “disadvantaging other people’s children.” Sure, I am aware that children who are read to are likely to perform better academically and more likely to develop both a love for reading and a greater level of literacy, but the fact that not all parents read to their children does not mean that I am disadvantaging someone else’s child. Indeed, the reality is that those parents who do not read to their children are the one’s disadvantaging their own children, if we must use that word. There is no need for me to feel guilty about reading to my children just because not all parents do. There is no need for me to stop reading to my children in some bizarre attempt to level the playing field.

So overwhelming was the backlash against Swift’s comments that he was forced to take to his faculty page at Warwick to refine his position. “We would never discourage anybody from reading their children bedtime stories, nor criticize them for doing so. Where parents are not willing or able to provide that kind of help, then they should be encouraged to do so, and where necessary supported in doing so,” he writes. The hullabaloo was a result, Swift says, of “careless polemical journalism” which “has seriously misrepresented my views and led to a barrage of abusive emails.” I am certainly not suggesting that Swift should receive any abusive e-mails, and I have not contacted him, but when one writes a book and goes on the radio to tout a theory regarding the appropriate role of families and the advantages that may result from some parent-child activities, one must also be willing to accept that the theory is going to be examined, critiqued and perhaps even attacked. Swift concludes his explanation about his position (and presumably that of Brighouse, as well) like this:

We argue that the various means by which parents confer advantage on their children are not all equally important for loving family life. In our view the grounds for protecting elite private education, for example, are considerably less weighty. We also think it is good occasionally to be mindful of the children who, due to factors entirely beyond their control, are disadvantaged because of lack of loving attention from parents. Of course many will disagree with those views. But if you have read or heard that we object to bedtime stories, or want to create a level playing-field between children in different families, then you have read or heard someone who has misunderstood our theory.

I do not think I would have a problem with the notion that elite private education is not necessary. I would, however, defend wholeheartedly the right of any parent desiring to do so, and able to do so, to provide such an education for their child(ren). (Please note that this position is not purely a result of the fact that I am the administrator of a private school, either; I believe that one of the fundamental rights a parent should have is where and how to provide the best possible education for their children). Swift says that he does not favor creating a level playing field among families, yet it certainly seems that he is suggesting that a more level playing field should be desirable and that, when it does not exist, parents should at least feel guilty about it. I fail to see how this will benefit anyone.

By the way, what has received far less attention, no doubt because this notion is much more politically acceptable these days, is Swift’s suggestion in the radio interview that “parent” is a position that is not restricted to the biological parents and that the number of parents may be more than two. “Nothing in our theory assumes two parents: there might be two, there might be three, and there might be four,” Swift said. “Politicians love to talk about family values, but meanwhile the family is in flux and so we wanted to go back to philosophical basics to work out what are families for and what’s so great about them and then we can start to figure out whether it matters whether you have two parents or three or one, or whether they’re heterosexual etcetera. We do want to defend the family against complete fragmentation and dissolution. If you start to think about a child having 10 parents, then that’s looking like a committee rearing a child; there aren’t any parents there at all.” It is a relief to know that Swift thinks parenting by committee is not a good idea, but again, who decides how many “parents” is okay? If two, three or four are all acceptable but ten is not, who gets to decide where between four and ten that line is drawn? In reality, this is only an additional attempt to redefine what “family” is and what it means, and it is all connected to the redefinitions occurring the areas of gender and marriage, as well. After all, if one can decide what gender to be, regardless of the biology, and if we can change what marriage means, why not adjust what “parent” means too?

Ultimately, all of this chaos and confusion comes from our attempts to mess with that which God has already determined. God created human beings, male and female, God created the family and God created both the ability to procreate and the responsibility to parent. When we mess with the master plan–really the Master’s plan–that’s exactly what we end up with: a mess.

June 25, 2014

“God’s foundation for the soul of every nation”

A couple of days ago I received a letter from Dennis Rainey, President of FamilyLife. In it he described his shock at seeing a billboard in Little Rock, Arkansas this past February for the web site AshleyMadison.com that included pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. The headline on the billboard read, “Who said cheaters never prosper?”

If you do not already know this, AshleyMadison is a company, based in Canada, that exists solely to encourage and facilitate adultery. The company operates a web site that functions much like most dating sites would, I assume, by allowing users to create profiles that other uses can then peruse in order to select possible matches. The twist, of course, is that many of the users of this site are married, setting out with the specific goal of having an affair. The company’s registered trademark tag line is this: “Life is short. Have an affair.” It touts itself as “the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters.” The company also operates its own “Infidelity Press Room” (“proudly powered by WordPress,” it says–the same platform that hosts this blog). At the bottom of the site’s homepage it claims, “Thousands of cheating wives and cheating husbands signup everyday looking for an affair.” The site claims to have nearly 27 million members. It even offers an “affair guarantee package” through which the company guarantees users will find the perfect affair partner.

I find all of that to be pretty pathetic…and pretty sad…but not terribly surprising (other than perhaps the “affair guarantee”). The billboard Rainey was referring to, of course, was highlighting three well-known philanderers who were also presidents of the United States. The headline clearly suggested that cheating on your spouse need not be an obstacle to professional success. And therein lies the problem — the implication is that if you can commit adultery and still enjoy professional success, what difference does it make? Whether or not the behavior interferes with ones success becomes the only barometer for determining whether or not something is worth it. There is no mention of right and wrong. But then that is because there is no longer any recognition of right and wrong. Nothing is “wrong” if someone feels it is right. Everything is relative and situational…nothing is absolute. This billboard and this company are perfect evidence of the moral state of our nation.

Rainey’s point was that “the attacks on marriage and the family in America are growing bolder by the day.” I could not agree more. Rainey went on, though, to highlight why this attack is so persistent and prevalent: Satan wants to destroy the family as God designed it. We see it with the push to redefine marriage (which God designed to be between a man and a woman) and we see it with the push to destroy the boundaries of marriage (which God designed to include sexual activity between a husband and wife only). “The family is God’s foundation for the soul of every nation. Destroy it, and nations topple,” Rainey writes.

The AshleyMadison.com concept is perhaps more aggressive and in-your-face about promoting and encouraging adultery but the idea is nothing new. The internet can do wonderful things (it’s enabling you to read this blog after all!) but it can also facilitate evil. Those of us who believe in God’s design for marriage and the family must be willing to stand strong for God’s Truth. We must speak out in defense of marriage and fidelity. We must recognize Satan’s attacks for what they are and understand that we are absolutely engaged in a spiritual war each and every day. Thankfully, God has also provided His children with spiritual armor to stand against the fiery darts of the devil.

Stand firm!

August 9, 2012

Don’t Ignore God’s Design

I always find it interesting when scientific studies prove the validity of the Bible. I do not know whether the authors of such studies set out to provide or disprove the Bible, or whether the Bible ever even crosses their minds, but, without fail, accurate and legitimate scientific study consistently reaches a conclusion that is consistent with what the Bible has already established. As Solomon wrote, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, ESV).

I can remember back a number of years ago sitting in a large meeting room listening to one of the nation’s experts on the subject of dealing with troubled, aggressive and hostile youth, and hearing him state that the very best antidote for such behavior is “consistent, loving discipline over time.” The seminar was not hosted by a Christian group, and the speaker did not make any claim to be a Christian, but I thought to myself, “Hmmmm…interesting. That’s just what the Bible says.”

Well, another perfect example has emerged recently in a new study by Mark Regenerus, published in Social Science Journal. Regenerus, a sociologist and professor at The University of Texas, wanted to evaluate the validity of claims made by the American Psychological Association in 2005 that children are nor adversely affected by growing up in homosexual households. In 2010, social scientists Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz claimed that lesbian households were actually better for children than heterosexual households. In Journal of Marriage and Family they suggested that, “Strengths typically associated with married mother-father families appear to the same extent in families with 2 mothers and potentially in those with 2 fathers” (article abstract). That article was entitled, “Does the Gender of Parents Matter?”

But back in 2001 Stacey and Biblarz wrote, in American Sociological Review, an article entitled “Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?” The abstract for that article asserts: “Opponents of lesbian and gay parental rights claim that children with lesbigay parents are at higher risk for a variety of negative outcomes. Yet most research in psychology concludes that there are no differences in developmental outcomes between children raised by lesbigay parents and those raised by heterosexual parents.” Stacey and Biblarz go so far as to state that “heterosexism has hampered intellectual progress in the field.” It was this heterosexism that that they claimed caused the 21 studies that they examined to downplay what could have been important findings regarding the gender and sexual preferences of children. In their conclusion Stacey and Biblarz write that “researchers must
overcome the hetero-normative presumption that interprets sexual differences as deficits, thereby inflicting some of the very disadvantages it claims to discover.” In other words, they claim, it is the homophobic bias of researchers that results in studies showing that “lesbigay” families disadvantage children, since it surely could not be the case that those families in fact do result in disadvantages.

So, what did Regenerus find? His article was titled “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” and was published in Social Science Research. First, he decided to test a far larger sample than other such studies have typically used, selecting at random more than 15,000 Americans between the ages of 15 and 39. Of those 15,000 he found that 175 responded that their mothers had been in a lesbian relationship, and 73 indicated that their fathers had been in a gay relationship. Okay, so less than 2% of respondents were raised in a homosexual household; but what impact did that have on them? According to the research, those individuals were more likely than their peers raised in heterosexual families to report “being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male and female sex partners, more sexual victimization, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life, among other things.”

Now, let me be clear. I am not suggesting, nor, do I believe was Regenerus, that every child who is raised by a homosexual couple will be more likely to lose a job, get depressed, smoke marijuana, cheat on a partner, etc. But I am suggesting that it is not surprising to me to see those kinds of results. When we break the rules, there are consequences. When we ignore God’s design for the family, there are consequences. Do heterosexual parents mess up in raising their children? Of course. in case by case instances there will always be cases when we can find children of heterosexual parents who are far worse off than children of homosexual parents. But in general, children will be disadvantaged when raised by homosexual parents, because they will be raised in an environment that is contrary to God’s design.

I should mention that the article by Regenerus, and the study, have come under incredible attack since publication. Not surprisingly, it has been called “flawed, misleading, and scientifically unsound” by GLAAD, HRC, The Family Equality Council and Freedom to Marry. Those organizations, obviously, want to advance the idea that homosexuals, and homosexual families, are no different than heterosexual ones, so their thoughts on the study are not surprising. There has been so much negative attention directed at this study that there has been an audit of the research authorized by Social Science Journal, and I understand that those findings will be published in November. I hope that the results will indicate that the study was appropriately and accurately conducted. At the end of the day, though, even if the audit finds some errors or tries to put a different spin on this subject, the truth will always be the same: no one can ignore God’s design for the marriage and family and think everyone will be okay.

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