Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Christianity for and against the culture

Jea Bethke Elshtain offers a wonderfully nuanced model of Christian social/political engagement "for the children." Here’s a chunk:

our cultural milieu is one in which the norm is both parents working outside the home, exhausted and busy. It values success and drivenness, measuring success through monetary reward. It glamorizes celebrity and ignores the hard work people do every day to raise children and sustain neighborhoods, to make life less brutal and more decent and kind. It is a milieu of pervasive family fragmentation if not outright breakdown, to which many children respond with anger and "acting out." In this milieu every personal question, and many public questions, are medicalized and psychologized; new drugs are touted not only to the public but to the medical profession via lavish marketing stratagems and budgets.


Christians begin their reflections on this cultural setting with the gift and integrity of the bodies and beings of children. They go on to consider the gift of time and how precious it is. They consider the concreteness of the Christian message—do unto others here and now, not in the distant future, not in an abstract way. Do not ignore the person before you. This, in turn, invites critical reflection on whether we are rushing to diagnose children as "troubled" or "hyperactive" in part because parents no longer spend concentrated time with their children and prefer them to be pacified when they are with them. Such reflection suggests that radical and uncontrolled experimentation on America’s children, by way of powerful drugs, many with known, deleterious side-effects, absent knowledge of long-range effects, may be undertaken at least as much for the convenience of adults as it is for the benefit of children.


Any assault on the integrity of the human body should be of heightened concern to the Christian because Christianity is an exquisitely embodied religion. We recall sobering moments from the past when children—and adults—were quickly labeled "antisocial" or "incorrigible," institutionalized and forgotten. Now we think we are humane in rushing to medicalize, often against the advice of cautious voices within the medical community as to the alleged benefits and the many known dangers of massive drug use. One doctor cited in the Times spoke of children put on "three or four different drugs," each of which created new symptoms and side effects, before going on to ask: "How do you even know who the kid is anymore?"


That is a frightening sentence: how do you even know who this child is? If we believe every child is claimed by his or her Creator, we should be alarmed by a social milieu where children are treated instrumentally, where pacification of children rather than care and attention to each child in his and her particularity becomes a social norm. We are against this. What are we for? Minimally, we are for taking a hard look at how children are faring in our society. That, in turn, can spur transformation, especially in what I have called "the politics of time." Good, old-fashioned time is what so many children need. How can a society that pretends to be child-centered justify culturally approved neglect? It goes without saying that neglect comes in many forms: tens of thousands of privileged children are neglected in the way I am noting here.

What’s a child- or family-friendly policy in this context?

Discussions - 13 Comments

Corporal punishment in the elementary schools? Absolute authority of the teacher in the classroom? Teachers who aren’t educated by liberal morons? Teachers who are even educated? Much, much less sex and violence on television, which is owned (and produced) lock, stock and barrel by very loyal Democrats?

Took me about 30 seconds to come up with this.

I don’t know that policy is much help in this regard. Suppose, for instance, that you crafted a policy that made it possible for people to more easily survive on one income (and thus leave one mom or dad at home). Since I’d presume that you couldn’t actually impose financial penalties on those who chose not to stay home, it would be likely that many families would just use subsidies or whatever to supplement their incomes and buy more consumer goods. For a great swathe of middle-class America, the "choice" in favor of dual-career families at the cost of children’s welfare is one made in favor of bigger houses, more consumer gadgets, and all the things needed to live the American "dream."

TR, Teachers can’t raise children. No matter how good the teacher is, that’s one person trying to be "up close and personal" with many children. Twenty to thirty kids in a room, and by middle school, there is a changing cast of characters in a classroom, so you are trying to have a positive and lasting effect on over a hundred kids a day. So you would need every teacher to be an extraordinary person in the classroom, every day. How is that going to happen? Talk about it takes a village!


Julie has raised this subject before. Mothers need to be able to stay home. We have a tax system, as well as a social construct, that pushes mothers into the work force. It takes a sacrifice to stay home that is not only personal, but also financial. It is not just about the "dream," Michael. It can be a matter of survival. There are too many fathers in America who abandon their responsibilities - they must be more than the bigger paycheck in their families.


We are now into a generation where most young mother’s mothers and even grandmothers did not stay at home. How does anyone even know how to do that and do it well anymore?


I would love to write about this, but I have to get my daughter to school and go to work.

Kate:

I am curious why you think the tax system makes families require two workers? Do you think it is because taxes are too high, or are you thinking of the Child Care Tax Credit (sec. 21) of the federal income tax?

I think it would be hard to argue the Child Care Tax Credit creates strong incentives for both spouses to work (so they can get tax savings). Any couple earning over $40,000 a year will only get 20% of what they spend on child care, and the maximum credit (assuming 2 or more kids) at that 20% rate is $1,200. I do not know much about child care expenses, but I have a hunch they are more than $1,200 per year, so working just to get the credit would be very foolish.

If the couple is at $15,000 per year (where they should both be working anyways) they still only get 35% of the $6,000 maximum, or $2,100.

I read a very interesting article on the Child Care Tax Credit and agreed with most of the conclusions that it did not "reward" families where both spouses worked. I can pass the rest of the ideas along if anyone is really interested in the subject.

An addendum to my previous post. The dreaded "marriage penalty" (which is still in effect for any couple over the 25% marginal rate, and go back into effect in 2010) only applies to couples where BOTH spouses work and both earn about the same money. If one spouse does NOT work, then that spouse serves as a tax shelter for the spouse that does work, resulting in less taxes for the sole working spouse than if that spouse were single. I do not think it can be said the tax system requires both spouses to work, unless you think it is because taxes are too high.

Steve Sparks, I think taxes are too high. The Child Care Tax Credit is an incentive, but agree that it is would never be enough incentive as to be a "reward" for mothers working outside of the home.


Do you think that there is anything in tax system that encourages mothers to stay at home? Except for the occasional article like this one, I see very little in American society at large that gives any encouragment at all for a woman to stay home and raise her children. I do know young women, with highly principled husbands, who stay at home. Most will pick up limited part-time jobs when they can to overcome temporary financial hardships, to purchase a second car or to come up with money for the down payment on a home. My daughters-in-law sell books or clothing over the Internet to supplement the household income. Others I know do child-care out of the home another is her own catering business. One girl wisely married a man ten years her senior, who was well established in his job and had a good income. They have three boys already, as they both want and plan on having a large family. These all are idealists and are anomalous in society.


Actually, I do not know ANY young woman who goes to work claiming it is to pay the family taxes. Yet, it seems to me there is some correlation between the amount of money that a woman brings to the family and the amount of money in taxes that goes out the familial financial window. My husband is self-employed, kept me for many years while I raised our six children, and it was my conception that I might make enough money by working to help with the tax burden, which was substantial.

Tax deductions for dependents are really not adequate as compared to when they were first instituted in what? do I remember it was the 1950’s? I think taxes, in general, are too high and that government, in general, is an unnecessarily large burden on the economy. Or, perhaps I mean that is an unecessarily large burden on household economies. The nation’s economy seems to chug along beautifully no matter how large government becomes and that is a matter for rejoicing.

Kate, I know a lot of middle-class parents who argue they "cannot afford to stay home." It has very little to do with their taxes. It has a lot more to do with trips to Disney or the beach, new car payments, fashionable clothes, cell phones and other gadgets, bigger houses, etc. I also know some very poor people who stayed home with their children because they accepted donations from church members, moved into smaller dwellings, and well, sacrificed. While I agree with you that the federal government does a lot to encourage work outside the home and very little to support parents who actually want to take the responsibility for raising their own children, the problem is not really government, but people’s consumerism and greed.

Until the end of WWI, women often worked to support their household, long hours with very poor renumeration. Running a houshold without modern appliances, making cand repairing lothing, tending the house vegetable garden consumed almost all the wife’s time. by the 50’s this burden had lightened considerably.

It is not unreasonable to aspire to live in a house with a small yard, requiring no more than two children per bedroom. Take a look at the cost of such housing and then do a quick calculation on the salary required. Basically, one person pays the morgtage and med insurance. The other person pays the houshold expenses. Savings for retirement and college educations? Only in two income families.

We educate our daughters to go out into the world and hold down jobs equal to our sons. We spend hugh amounts of time overcoming their tendancy to self-effasement in middle school, which has effects on their academic achievement in high school. Listening to their social problems, investigating school problems. We live in a society that requires a college education for entry into the most mundane jobs.

Our daughters now have the same expectations that our sons. None of this is needed if the woman is expected to stay at home. It is, however, needed, in the event of a divorce
We know that the divorce rate is greater than 50%.

A painful solution is to delay having children, work hard, and sculpt the career of one spouse to allow part time work or consulting when the first child enters middle school. Tired and busy, yes. Children allowed in the home office - no. But, I will stack my children up against anyones, for maturity, stability and achievement. It is all about the parents.

More moms at home for longer. Children should not be raised by day care, or television, or be immersed in electronic crap most of the time.

Also, scrap Title IX. By going against nature and favoring girls’ athletics over boys’, it gives us too many cold, arrogant, hard-charging young women, and too few manly young men.

Let’s start teaching our boys to whittle again, according to Nature and Nature’s God. And whatever happened to Randolph Scott, riding the trails alone? Whatever happened to Jean and Tex, and Roy and Rex, the Durango Kid?

Yeah, that too.

Wittling is like watching the grass grow, just only slightly more productive, in my opinion.

While taxes, all of them, not just federal, do hurt the middle class, it is the desire to have it all that makes most families 2 income families.

The problem I have, though, is not the desire to have it all, but the fact that someone else is raising your kids from infancy and on.

garrett, I stayed home and worked as you say, though I had some modern appliances, and schooled my children through most of those years as well. When people would ask me, "Do you work?" I would always say yes, although I knew what they meant. That was often the second question, "What do you do?" and when the suggestion would come back that this was not really work, I wanted to kick them.


Dale, You are quite right. The expectation IS that someone else ought to be raising your kids. My first job, coming to Northeast Ohio, was in a day-care center. I wanted to know how to care for children as I was planning on having one. I saw there that putting my child in day care was something I would never do. It was not that we did not care for those children, but that we could never care enough. As much as I might love and nurture those other people’s children, it was never going to be enough for the emotional needs left unsatisfied.


People are resilient. This was a small town and is now a small city; I have met the adult versions of some of those kids I watched and they are usually all right. Not always. We could tell the children whose parents overcame their after-work-exhaustion and actually put something of themselves into their kids. That as opposed to those who plopped their kids in front of a TV and did not talk to them or read to them or give them that gift of time. It was not just a matter of discipline; there ought to be an ability to engage with another person, and often that seemed to be missing. There was a kind of defensiveness and hostility that grew as they grew up. Maybe we can medicate against this type of thing, and maybe we do, but is that the best for any of us?


I began home schooling my kids because the third boy was going to drive some poor kindergarten teacher crazy. At home, I could let him be active and no one could tell me to drug him. We did not have anything like "it all" and paying taxes was actually a perpetual problem. People tell me all the time that my kids are "amazing" and yet all they really had was me and a LOT of my time.

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