Civil Disobedience for Bad Parenthood

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The case of David Parker is making the blog rounds. Parker spent this past Wednesday night in jail because he refused to follow the rule of law and leave his son's school when the police showed up. Read the email exchange that preceded his altercation. It's fairly clear from it that the school is seeking to recognize that some of their students come from families with gay parents and is seeking to have the children who interact with those students understand that. The goal is quite obviously to minimize harm to those students from children of those who would teach that it's immoral to be part of a family with gay parents. David Parker's complaints, given the intent of this material, seem to the administration of the school to be exactly the kind of thing they don't want being an influence at their school, and they're right to worry about that. His language is pretty clear. He doesn't want this family structure being recognized or talked about at all by any employees of the school, and no materials that even acknowledge that it happens can be part of his son's curriculum.

Notice that he's not upset about his son learning about sex at too early an age, as Michelle Malkin claims. He's upset that they're teaching his child that there are same-sex parent families. You don't need to talk about sex to do that. What's funny is that he's claiming that the school has no right to teach his child values and morals but reserving that for himself and his wife. Yet he seems unwilling to do that himself.

He doesn't want his son exposed to anything that he can then help his son interpret in the light of the moral perspective he's supposed to be (but presumably is not) teaching his son. If he were providing that framework, he wouldn't be worried about what will happen when his son learns that there are family structures that involve gay parents. His son will know how to interpret that aright if he's teaching his son aright. The Christian view on this is that family structures do not matter for how we should accept a child and that sexual orientation does not matter for how we should accept a parent. It's also that forming such relationships is immoral. If David Parker wants to teach his son about that, then he can do so. Otherwise, it's the moral responsibility of the government to do so, because the moral formation of children is important enough that people like him who won't teach their children to accept the children of gay people need to be counterbalanced.

Think about how this would appear if it weren't about homosexuality but about something the Bible has a lot more to say about, divorce. I wrote yesterday about how Christians' priorities on these issues are skewed. God hates divorce, yet what is a Christian's response supposed to be when our children's friends are from divorced families? Are we to complain that this alternative lifestyle is evil? Are we to protect our children from being exposed to the fact that people divorce? Are we to get upset that schools are putting divorced family structures on the same level as traditional two-parent ones when they point out that there are lots of possible family structures?

I think it's pretty clear that the answer to all those questions is no. Yet the cases are analogous. Christians believe both actions are immoral. Both actions lead to an alternative family structure. Christians believe that alternative structure to be inferior in some sense (though it seems to me that a divorced one is more inferior in at least one respect, simply for practical reasons, due to their being only one parent to raise the kids). Yet somehow it's immoral to teach children about one, but Christians don't care about the other. Why? It's because of a kind of moral blindness. Those who believe gay relationships to be immoral seem to have a very hard time separating that from what they say about the people who are in them, how they view the people in them, and how they treat the people in them. (Some are so blind to this that they even confuse this sort of thing with recruitment to homosexuality!) The same people don't have this trouble with divorce. That means there's something particular to gay people that they can't get around.

I suggest this is because gay people are not like them. It's easy for Christians to consider gay people as evil in some level of depth that I'm not able to reach because I know I'm not going to face what gay people face. It's easy to put them in a lower moral category because I know I'm not possibly going to be in that category. This is the Pharisee who thanks God that he's not like those sinners. It's the putting of one sin that one doesn't commit and couldn't commit on a level that we would never say about something that we and those like us at least could commit, and people we know well do commit. It's thus exactly what the so-called "gay agenda" people say it is. It's homophobia. It's a kind of fear and hate of gay people. It's immoral and unChristian. That it's something special about homosexuality is clear from the analogy with divorce.

That's why I think David Parker has failed in his responsibility to be a good parent. He doesn't know how to teach his son to think about these issues rightly. He doesn't know how to separate two things that fall clearly on different sides of a fairly obvious moral distinction that most Christians have no problem applying in the case of divorce. He wants his son's school to do the moral training he won't do, but he wants them to do it his way, including his own morally skewed perspective that they don't share. He's not happy with the way they're doing it, and he was willing to spend the night in jail over it. Conservatives are going nuts saying the school's treatment of him is the height of evil, but I'm talking here about Parker's unwillingness to teach his son how to evaluate what the school is teaching him and his inability to recognize the difference between recognition of secual orientation differences and different family structures on the one hand and the moral evaluation of entering into such relationships on the other.

So much for the moral evaluation of Parker himself. What about the school? It's consistent with everything I've said against Parker that the school is also doing something immoral. Jay at Wizbang thinks the primary issue here is about who has a responsibility to engage in moral training. It's the parent's responsibility. So even if Parker won't teach his son properly, it may be the school's duty to stay out of it. I disagree. On too many issues parents aren't doing that, and schools have had to make up for it. This is especially so in inner city communities, and any teacher in those environments will confirm what I'm saying. When parents won't teach their kids, schools have had to pick up the slack in teaching. When that's going on, it's the moral responsibility of a just government to train children in moral formation.

Consider a parallel case again. What if I want to teach my children that Asians are morally inferior and deserve to be slaves? What if I tell the public school system that I don't want them teaching my kids that all races are morally equal? What if I insist that they pull my kids out of any session in which such a statement might be made? The school will properly view my demand as nuts. They're not going to think ahead of time about every possible case when someone might think it appropriate to make such a comment in order to "protect" my kids from such language. It's in fact unreasonable to expect them to keep every parent's such considerations in mind.

It's different if a parent wants a child excluded from a very specific activity, such as a Baptist who thinks dancing is wrong and won't have their children engage in square dancing during gym class. These very general sorts of things are much harder to monitor, and I can understand why a school would be extremely hesitant to promise that any kid will be excluded from any such comment a teacher might make. Given that there are children of gay parents in the school, it's going to come up, and teachers can't predict what they'll say when.

I think George Will is right on this. The government has a soul-crafting duty, particularly when parents won't do it, and that seems to be the case here. When Christian (or Christian-influenced) parents are so blinded by their mission to convert all people to the cause of being against homosexuality (rather than to Christ, I note) that they can't see that they're turning their children against the children of gay people, the government has a moral obligation to teach those children what those parents are unwilling to teach them. This can, of course, be abused if the soul-crafting mission of government crafts souls in the wrong way, and it's certainly true that he thinks the school is doing that, but it's not clear to me that this school is doing that. The only evidence I have is that they're teaching children to be accepting of those who come from non-traditional family structures. It's immoral to oppose that, particularly for Christians who have more at stake when they look like fools, as David Parker here does.

Update: The Prickly Pear criticizes the curriculum in a way that goes beyond what I was looking at:

The problem with this book is that it's teaching children that marriage doesn't matter, that there are other kinds of living arrangements that are equally okay. Well, they're not okay. Many of these other arrangements do not create the best environment in which to raise children. In fact, some are downright dysfunctional... Considering the amount of out-of-wedlock children growing up in fatherless homes, we need to emphasize the desirability of a two parent home, not diminish its importance.

Responsible parents don't want their children taught something that could be detrimental to their welfare. The school, by using this diversity bookbag, is usurping the parent's role. Perhaps if schools stopped social engineering and got back to teaching academics, kids could once again learn to read and write as well as their grandparents could.

It doesn't say they're equally ok. It just says that there might be good things about them all, which is surely true. A two-parent team consisting of two women is most certainly not going to have as much of the weaknesses common to men, and a two-parent team consisting of two men isn't going to have as much of the weaknesses common to women. A one-parent family isn't going to have parents who argue with each other in front of the kids. A grandparent-led family has the advantage of the children being closer to extended family. A adoptive parent family has the advantage of potentially giving better love and care to the child than the biological parents would have, given that they saw the need to put the child up for adoption. Divorced-remarried families have the advantage of having different people giving a different balance over a child's life.

None of that means any of those would be better than a family with two parents of the opposite sex who are the biological parents of the child. It's perfectly consistent with there being positive aspects to all of those family structures that one of them is far superior to them all and/or that more than one of them might be good but some of them be in the final outcome bad. If the school is failing these children, it's not in what it's teaching them. It's in what it's not teaching them. If we're going to be critical of that curriculum, we need to be critical of it in the right place. A parent's responsibility in such a situation is to help a child see that, and I would say that the teacher's responsibility isn't much different.

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14 Comments

There is one single detail I do not understand in the whole case:

Why doesn't David Parker place his kid in another school, rather than making such noise?

He may not be able to afford a private school, and I don't know if he can send him to another public school. Some places allow that, but some don't. Some require schooling in the district where you live.

Basically what you have to say is on the mark and well-reasoned, but what I think you have left out of the discussion is the systematic way the public school as an institution has discouraged and generally opposed parental responsiblity for moral training.

"the government has a moral obligation" is simply a continuation of the idea that the government had a moral mandate to conform its citizens to its interests.
I think that is contrary to basic individual rights, such as parental rights.

Schools should always step in as adjuncts, once they are given primary status that is usurping the rights from all parents...not just the neglectful ones.
Parents were kept out of the loop, considered ignorant of the specialized knowledge of education.

No. When I say the government has a moral obligation, I mean it the way George Will means it. There are objective moral truths about what's good for people, and the school has an obligation to seek those for its students. If it judges wrongly in what's good for them, then it's failed them. Part of that responsibility includes fostering their capacities to lead moral lives. That doesn't mean seeking what's in the best interest of the school itself, though that might play some role. The primary obligation anyone interacting with a child has to that child is to seek to promote that child's growth in whatever way is possible.

Linked to this on my site. Very interesting discussion.

I have already tried to talk about bias in another blog, and to my dismay I have found the same problem. My general impression is that, with all due respect, folks in the USA are raised without much basic information in the field of humanities. They do not know much about anthropology, History, Sociology, Politics, etc. In consequence of this limitation, the debate on bias is more than naive.

The anti-bias group in the case mentioned is making a huge mistake from the point of view of Human Sciences. They think they can prescribe cultural patterns to a whole community and resort to the use of force when they meet a parent who cannot understand their point of view.

Progressive educators around the world do not preconize the substitution of one dogma for another. A school and especially a public and lay school is the place for debate and the issues that are introduced into classroom must be themes for discussion. If teachers at any level aim to present a picture of diversity of family types to be discussed by children, so that each kid will draw his own conclusions and learn to argue for it, that is the correct approach. If, on the other hand, their intention is simply to teach one views as the only possible truth, without allowing students to derive their own conclusions, that is indoctrination in the same manner.

Something similar we see in the case of theories of the origin and development of the species. It is simply absurd that neither school authorities nor parents allow teachers to choose a comparative presentation of diverse theories.

Each teacher has a right to expose his own points of view, but has a duty to show his students other points of view on the same issues. And it is incumbent upon teachers to give their students the chance to deepen their understanding by reflexion and argumentation.

A group of educators that is dedicated to the anti-bias cause cannot ignore some basic anthropological factors and disrespect a local culture in such manner. It would by far more interesting if they showed a broad picture of how different cultures in different places and ages have organised family relations and viewed issues such as homosexuality. That would be something vital for the enlargement of the students' knowledge in Human Sciences. The approach they have chosen in Lexington School will not help in the removal of bias and ignorance in general.

It is the moral responsibility of the government to do nothing of the kind. It is not the government's job, it is the parents' job. The man is teaching his son morality; Christian values require kindness toward everybody. A five or six year old has no critical thinking skills anyway, and can not analyze what the government schools are teaching in light of his parents' teaching; he's a little kid. What the left wants is simply to get at them early and indoctrinate 'em to think their way instead of the parents' way. No way.

PandoraNC, I'm assuming we're just coming from very different pictures of what a government is to be like. I'm a Christian, so I'm assuming government leaders have a moral obligation to be righteous. You're obviously assuming they should be amoral.

I never said anything about what the left wants, and that's not my point. I'm talking about what should be done, not what some group I disagree with wants done. That's irrelevant to my argument.

As for critical thinking skills, that's why a parent and a school have the moral obligation to present kids with the information in a way consistent with thinking about the various possibilities, as Tony said. If they don't present to a child that you can disagree with how someone is living while accepting the person, then they've failed in their moral responsibility with regard to how they relate to that child. That doesn't make it immoral simply to tell a child that there are gay parents. It means they haven't said enough, not that they've said too much.

While I'd like to see the actual text of the book, I think the following summary suggests the book does more than you claim it does: "Shows the various combinations of individuals that can make up a family, emphasizing the positive aspects of different family structures, including grand-parent headed, single-parent, adopted, gay-headed, and mother-father families" (via the Prickly Pear link). This seems to go beyond simply saying "that there might be good things about them all." Particularly, I think the father has every right to be worried that his six year old son is being taught that no particular family arrangement is better than any other. This is an inference beyond the actual text that we (I at least) have available, but it seems exceedingly warranted. That this is happening in Massachusetts does not appear irrelevant. I completely agree with everything you say about divorce and loving the children of broken families--the church should be ashamed of itself for its unwillingness to speak against divorce the way it speaks against many other things. But doesn't this story seem to fit so well with the de-genderizing of American culture?

As for why he can't just go to a private school, as Tony puts it, the problem is with how we've structured our neighbourhoods in middle- (and lower-) class America, especially in the northeast:

The neighbourhood in which I grew up was a seven-year-old's walking distance from Estabrook. Parents saved up all through their lives to buy a house in a neighbourhood with decent public schools - because that way they not only got the house but got the school as well.

So this sucker and his wife make the down payment on the house - a house which costs well north of half a million buckaroonies (I was just over there, and saw for myself) - and are presumably paying mortgage out the f'n WAZOO. Not to mention taxes, which in Massachusetts is no joke.

And in return, their kids get to be indoctrinated into a belief system. Which is a fine belief system - for the school admins. But school admins ain't six years old, see. Forcing such opinions onto children that young, when they should be learning to tie their shoes and to spell, is just wrong.

By all means let the teachers and aides stamp out bullying where it crops up, let the teachers give speeches about tolerance where it is necessary, etc. But please spare the child "diversity packets" and general bird-n-bees (or bees-n-bees :^P) nonsense until junior high.

I think Massachusetts has a long and honourable progressive tradition that goes back to the ideals of the American and the French revolution. Nevertheless, this story has two sides.

One side is what Ross said, when complemented my words: David Parker could consider expending money with his kid's education, if the Public system is not ok for him.

The other side is the seemingly odd attitude of the school authorities in cutting dialogue prematurily or simply assuming that the local culture of their own Country can be ignored and disrespected. I do not know the actual details of the case, but that seems to me their basic error. You do not simply come and tell people have no prejudices, etc.. If an educator wants to work against bias, he or she must start new dynamics.

Progressive educators in Massachusetts should read more Paulo Freire. Freire has been�focused on dialogue and on the concern for the oppressed. Education is a dialogical (or conversational) rather than simply a curricula. And dialogue involves respect. It should not involve one person acting on another, but rather people working with ach other. Freire propugnates that progressive educators must be concerned with a certain educational praxis, i.e, an action that is informed and linked to certain values. Thus dialogue is about bothdeepening understanding and making a difference in the world. This process can be seen as enhancing community and building social capital and to leading us to act in ways that make for justice and human flourishing.

Although I speak in favour of everyone's right to be happy and to obtain remedy to practical problems, and this includes both heterosexuals and homosexuals, a society does not turn automatically to be fairer and freer because homosexuals have their citizenship affirmed. This is a key issue, but it is not all there is.

I give you one example of how undemocratic mentality can be inculcated together with the defence of gay rights: Pim Fortuyn and his right wing Party.

The Dutch political leader Pim Fortuyn is a case of a gay fascist voice. His ideas for the Netherlands and for the preservation of what he called Dutch values and the Dutch way of life were a form of autocratic and intolerant thought, just like any other new forms of fascism you see in other Countries. Pim Fortuyn was in part the result of a dogmatisc education. He was indoctrinated by values that are not the same as those of People of the Bible belt in the Western USA, but he was still indoctrinated.

Pim Fortuyn viewed his own values as absolute, and failed to realise that he was intolerant in relation to others when he incoherently gabbed about the tolerance society he claimed to defend.

I live in a town next to Lexington (not Concord), where this happened. A central point is that, in this area, families led by same-sex parents exist. This guy's kid *will* run into peers from such families unless he goes to a private school that makes an explicit point of *not* admitting children from such families. Like it or not, that's reality here. So, telling kids that such families exist, much as families with divorced parents exist, makes sense.

I am also troubled by the fact that this man moved in from out of state last year and now suddenly has this problem and magically the most virulently anti-gay groups in the state are there to photograph his arrest and attempt to make it a cause celebre.

And I feel very sorry for his kid - who did nothing to deserve to be in the middle of this mess.

Topher

Mr. Parker was only trying to exercise his parental rights guaranteed to him under Massachusetts' so-called "opt-out" law. The kid was only 5 years old, for goodness sake! Why does he have to be taught about homosexuality at that age?

To state that Mr. Parker is a bad father is out of line - obviously written by someone who does not know him personally.

A reading of the emails exchanged between him and the school board makes it clear that the scheduled meeting was a pretense for his arrest. The school board never really intended to allow his 5-year-old to opt-out, like they promised.

Now we taxpayers are footing the bill for the prosecution of Mr. Parker. To what end?

I oppose intolerance of other people's beliefs and denial of rights - always. Mr. Parker has my unconditional support.

http://www.davidparkerfund.org/

Nothing I have said has to do with whether this guy has a legal right to do what he's doing. I'm complaining on moral grounds. To bring up the fact that he's trying to exercise a right given to him by the law is simply changing the subject. Lots of things are legal but immoral.

As for why he has to be taught about families like those of his son's classmates, it doesn't take much thought to figure it out.

I tried to find any statement in the above discussion that states that Mr. Parker is a bad father. I did myself state that this action doesn't make any sense unless he's not fulfilling his responsibility to educate his son about how to respond to situations like those of his son's classmates who have gay parents. If he isn't doing that, he's not fulfilling that parental obligation (though he could well be fulfilling many others). I don't know if he's doing it or not. If he is (and he should be), his action makes no sense. That's all I said. People do things that make no sense all the time.

I'm not sure why you have to know someone personally to make claims about their publicly known lives.

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