Children are not property

The Daily Beast reports another bout of silliness  by the religious right in the reaction to a statement by Melissa Harris-Perry that “Your kids don’t belong to you-but the whole community”?

Now, I can see someone not liking the statement, but the silliness is where they go with it.  They trot out the old 20th Century foes of “communism” and “Leninism” to make it sound like the goal of the “left” is to confiscate children and make them loyal to the “state” because they “belong” to the whole community.

Do you belong to a community?  Of course!   You belong to many communities; we all do.  I belong to the Farmington community, the Mallett PTA community, the University community, the community of faculty who lead travel courses, etc.   Belonging to a community is not communistic, it is natural.

Children belong to the whole community, not just the school community or the community of parents.  They will work to support the retiring generation, they will keep society going and enhance the life of the community.   Her point was not to say that the community should control children, but that we should invest in education and programs to help make sure our children have the best possible future.

So why the wild reaction?   One word: property.   Some groups on the religious right have a notion that children can be seen as the property of the parents.   The parents can raise them as they want, educate them or not educate them, indoctrinate them, control them, and sometimes even abuse them.   To these people the parent owns the child, just as a master might own a slave.

Such thinking is inhumane.   Children are humans with all the rights of any human.    Beyond that if you look at human history we are by nature a collectivist species.  We form families and villages.  Villages look at the good of the whole, including not just all the people but the traditions and values of the community, as being more important than the individual.  This is true world wide, and throughout history.

Erich Fromm notes that what changed in the West was the process of individuation, whereby people started to separate from the community and think in terms of their own self-interest.   This is not a bad thing.  It is a particular part of our culture.   That individuation is why we strive, compete and progress – why we reject traditions and embrace change ranging from giving women equal rights to allowing gay marriage.

Yet this capacity for progress rests on a potential contradiction with our collective nature.   We still yearn to form communities.   Look at the popularity of social media, Facebook and blogger communities.    People have psychological difficulties with the demands of trying to be an individual responsible for their own happiness and choices, ranging from depression to anxiety and eating disorders.    People try to escape the pressure of the modern world through alcohol, drugs and other addictions.     We seek the comfort of tradition and a supportive village in a world that finds us disconnected and on our own.   Life for us has become materially easy and psychologically/spiritually difficult.

Which brings us back to the children.   The greatest gift we can give the next generation is the capacity to exercise their cultural individualism with a proper respect for community.   Respect means to recognize I do belong to my community.  I am part of it, I should act to support it and others who are in it.    Individualism requires that people be strong enough to be themselves rather than conform to the expectations of others, secure enough to look inside and learn who they are without feeling like their real self is weird or inadequate, and tolerant enough to accept the choices others make in expressing their individualism.

We have to give children the tools to navigate a world that can be daunting and intimidating.  Only if they learn to be strong, secure and tolerant individuals with respect for their community can they live awake, not giving in to the cultural hypnosis aided by marketers trying to define what one needs to be happy, normal or ‘acceptable.’   They will rejoice in who they are, rather than fear that others will see beneath the facade.  They will accept others for who they are, making real friendship and love, both personal and within the community, possible.

Unfortunately, the lack of funding for education, the removal of the arts from so many school districts (while competitive sports remain hot), the lack of respect for teachers, and our fetish with an individualism devoid of community with children seen as akin property, makes it difficult to give children the life skills they need to remain strong, secure and tolerant.   I take that as Melissa Harris-Perry’s point, and agree.

  1. #1 by GiRRL_Earth on April 11, 2013 - 15:33

    Great post.
    Hope everything is going ok.

  2. #2 by jalal michaelsabbagh. on April 11, 2013 - 19:02

    She lives in lala land ,would she do that if she had children? My children are my children.jalal

  3. #3 by pino on April 11, 2013 - 21:54

    So why the wild reaction? One word: property.


    That is insane.

    Respect means to recognize I do belong to my community. I am part of it, I should act to support it and others who are in it.

    We are members of a community, not people who belong to the community.

    Anyway, quick question, what if the “community” that you belong to is one that wants to pray in its schools and open its government meetings with a similar word of prayer?

    Check out this guy:

    • #4 by Scott Erb on April 12, 2013 - 07:04

      We belong to a community – that is the common linguistic way to express it. People say that all the time. It’s not that we are property – no human is property, no human “belongs” to anyone else. Belong here means being a part of. People misunderstood the word and had a freak out thinking it was akin to property. It makes the far right look silly and paranoid.

    • #5 by Scott Erb on April 12, 2013 - 16:32

      I think communities have a lot of leeway in what they allow – though in the US we have chosen to be limited by a Constitution. But if enough people wanted to change it, they could! Personally, I’m all for devolution of power.

  4. #6 by lee1978 on April 12, 2013 - 11:46

    My children are most definately not my property. I am reminded of these words that are typically read in our congregation when one dedicates/names a child. Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

    They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
    You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. There is more to the poem by Gibran but you get the gist! 🙂

    • #7 by lelice on April 23, 2013 - 19:24

      awesome message! thanks!

  5. #8 by SShiell on April 12, 2013 - 16:19

    There is one major fallacy to you community reference – I belong to a community, and yes, many communities. But I can choose to change those communities. I can pack up and move. I’ve done it before, several times in fact. Some times it was moving from one assignment to another while I was in the military. some times it was moving from one job to another after my military career was over. And some times it was from one house to another. But those decisions to move were mine to make. The community did not make the decision for me. Even in the military I had the choice to say no and leave the service. And when I chose to make that change my children went with me.

    As regards the “investments” she is referring to. Even there I have the choice. If the community I am currently residing in is making educational “investments” I do not agree with, I have the choice to remove my children from that “community” educational system and place them in a private school or even home-school them.

    My choice. It is not the community’s choice. It is mine to make. And that choice will be made using my own preferences and my own standards – not that of the community.

    It may “Take a Village” but as a parent I, along with my wife, get to choose the village.

    • #9 by Scott Erb on April 12, 2013 - 16:36

      Investments here mean she thinks people should see children as being very important for the future of the community, even country, and therefore spend more on education and child programs. That is a choice the community could make by voting a budget that increases the support for these programs – right now they are choosing not to, and that’s what she’s trying to convince people to reconsider. Remember, she’s not talking property, she’s not saying the children “belong” in property terms to anyone else – if kids were property parents could abuse them and do all sorts of things with no recourse – nor is she saying parents can’t choose to move, send a child to a private school or whatever. She’s not saying anything that limits parents. She’s arguing for more investment in education.

  6. #10 by Alan Scott on April 12, 2013 - 16:34

    It is not just what is said, but who is saying it. Just as those on the left love to read in extra meanings to what ever Christians and Right people say, it is not unreasonable to believe that hardcore Left people view our children as community property to be reeducated with values quite different from their parents. Especially since Left people largely control the reeducation industry in America. Strange how few Moderate to Right people ever seem to get hired by institutions of learning.

    • #11 by Scott Erb on April 12, 2013 - 16:41

      Well, I’ll try to defend people on the right if their words are unfairly twisted too. In fact I have – I defended Trent Lott when he was skewered for saying things would have been better if Strom Thurmond had been elected President. He wasn’t really arguing that segregation should have remained, he was just trying to say nice things to Thurmond. I thought the reaction by the left was extremely unfair. So I try to be equal opportunity on these things.

      K-12 education is very much under local control, and definitely not government control. It’s usually local school boards, and ours has a lot of Republicans and Democrats. They make the big decisions – so the idea that there is some ‘control’ by the left of education is wrong. Those are talk radio memes that simply aren’t true. (Heck go deep into the red states and you’ll definitely see a strong conservative bias in how the schools are run!)

  7. #12 by thalesomiletus on April 17, 2013 - 12:43

    Children are not property? Tell that to the women who “abort” their babies.

    You really should follow the Kermit Gosnell case, to wit:

    Don’t get me wrong — I fully support a woman’s “right to choose” in the early stages, but your grandstanding here is hilarious given that the legal distinction between a person and disposable tissue is a woman’s property rights.

    Frankly, the best thing you can do for your child with regards to schooling is to not stunt their mental growth by teaching them Progressivism, which means keeping them out of public schools at a minimum.

    • #13 by Scott Erb on April 17, 2013 - 15:59

      Progress is why the West has succeeded and embraced liberty. The new generation is even more progressive than the last – if you don’t like progressive thinking, that’s a culture war you’ve already lost.

      Trying to tie this to abortion is strange. I’m talking about living, breathing children. You’re mixing issues. I don’t consider an early term potential human to be a child. I reject that premise.

      Though I guess if you want to stop progressive thinking, avoiding education is the best way to do it. 😉

      • #14 by thalesomiletus on April 17, 2013 - 16:09

        Babies minutes 5 minutes before and 5 minutes after birth are in fact, living, breathing children.

      • #15 by Scott Erb on April 17, 2013 - 16:13

        You miss the point – that does nothing to counter my argument in the post. It does not detract from the argument in any way. It distracts by raising another issue. You haven’t denied my point.

      • #16 by thalesomiletus on April 17, 2013 - 16:17

        Your point was adequately critiqued above, and I saw no need to be redundant. Parents are the primary community, the one that cannot be vetoed save for gross negligence (e.g.; physical abuse), the community that can rightfully determine all secondary communities.

      • #17 by thalesomiletus on April 24, 2013 - 08:02

        I guess that didn’t sink in: your “point” is a straw man. No one is saying tha children are property like inanimate objects.

      • #18 by Scott Erb on April 24, 2013 - 08:11

        I disagree – whether or not they say it, many people act like it and treat their children that way. Why else would there such a silly freak out over benign comments?

      • #19 by thalesomiletus on April 24, 2013 - 08:47

        Why? If you hit an animal once, it will flinch the second time you raise your hand. People aren’t stupid.

    • #20 by Scott Erb on April 17, 2013 - 16:11

      Just googled Gosnell. Never heard of that case, and it doesn’t seem like a national story. There are abuses by doctors quite often, they’re local stories but lack national importance. Unless this is common, it’s not really more than a curiosity.

      • #21 by thalesomiletus on April 17, 2013 - 16:15

        Of course the mainstream press ignored it for obvious reasons, and your lack of commentary beyond meta-commentary is telling.

      • #22 by Scott Erb on April 17, 2013 - 17:08

        *shrug* I call them as I see them. That’s the beauty of blogs – everyone can give their opinion, and there are lots of diverse opinions out there!

      • #23 by thalesomiletus on April 17, 2013 - 17:10

        I’m not saying it told me something I didn’t already know. 🙂

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