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WHERE HAVE ALL THE LIBERALS GONE?
Long Time Passing . . .
by Wendy and William Dreskin
- from The Family in America, September 1990
Do the following statements represent a liberal or a conservative view of the family?
"Parents should de-emphasize materialism, making financial sacrifices if necessary, so that their young children can spend a lot of time at home with their parents."
"Regimented institutional upbringing in government-run centers is dehumanizing for young children and cannot teach individualism or ethical standards. It also has the potential to increase aggression in a society that already has problems with violence."
Time plays strange tricks with politics. When it comes to the subject of the family and child rearing, the last three decades have played havoc with our definitions of liberal and conservative politics. Thirty years ago these statements were liberal sentiments; today they are heard more often from conservatives.
Progressives today still profess to care about the next generation and consider themselves to be child advocates. However, questioning of materialistic values, concerns about government involvement in child rearing, and concerns about a form of child rearing which increases the incidence of aggressive behavior are now in the conservative bailiwick.
This reversal and realignment is a reflection of a process which has changed the face of the American family. As we enter the 1990's, despite conservative warnings in the eighties, the mainstream trend is away from parental involvement in child rearing, and increasing reliance on substitute care continues to undermine the integrity of the family experience in America. The critical issue, beyond ideological conflicts, is that children's basic emotional, intellectual, and physical needs cannot adequately be met when there is minimal parental involvement in child rearing.
THE AGE OF AQUARIUS?
Active questioning of customs, mores, and even laws was the hallmark of the late sixties and early seventies. Many young people moved away from basing their actions on dictums handed down by parents, teachers, religious leaders, and lawmakers, and sought more personal definitions of ethical behavior.
Redefining priorities was an essential part of the countercultural process. Rebels against "The Establishment" listened eagerly to "drop-out gurus" like Baba Ram Dass, who preached that inner peace was more important than driving a Porsche and friendship and brotherly love were much more important than membership in the country club. With the de-emphasis on careers and job status, many people rediscovered the joy of working with their hands and chose weaving, leather work, and other crafts which had been pushed aside by an increasingly automated, assembly-line economy. There was also a movement back to the land, towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle which would be less wasteful of the planet's resources. Hippies planted gardens, milked goats, and built geodesic domes to live in. They ground wheat and baked their own bread, and made tofu from homegrown soy beans.
In this period, young nonconformists were motivated by a desire to improve society, and the way in which children were raised was seen as crucial to that change. Adults who had rejected the materialistic definition of success hoped to inculcate these values in the next generation. Looking towards the future, hippies and liberals hoped to raise less aggressive children, children who, as adults, would seek world peace. Concerns about "The Establishment" values children were being taught along with their 3 R's resulted in alternatives like the free school movement and home schooling. Children were encouraged to question conservative prejudices against experimentation and nonconformity.
But this emerging countercultural vision of the "new" nuclear and extended family was short lived. Countercultural experiments with drugs, sexual promiscuity, and radical politics exacted a high toll. Quite aside from these problems, the late seventies and the eighties saw a shift in liberalism towards more pragmatic and materialistic goals and a devaluation of the child-rearing role. The contemporary women's movement, which got its start as part of the counterculture in the late sixties and early seventies, survived the demise of the hippies and grew rapidly. Gradually, nonconformist role models were replaced by career goals of job prestige and higher salaries, meshing with mainstream cultural values.
Marian Blum, educational director of the Wellesley Child Study Center, points out in her book The Day Care Dilemma: Women and Children First that "ironically, many feminists were critical of men for being materialistic--but then saw material success as the solution to the problems of women." The message of the women's movement was that "the only real value a person could have was through paid employment" and that women who had gained satisfaction from homemaking and volunteer work were being "exploited." Women were encouraged to enter the job market with full-time employment and career goals; to be on an equal footing with men. The women's movement made mothers who wanted part-time work, or work at home, or other options that would help balance work and family life feel like traitors. Success, for women now as well as men, was defined in terms of money and status. To attain this success mothers needed substitute care for their children, and this resulted in calls for "quality child care." Involvement in family life, spiritual growth, and attention to the needs of infants and young children were simply left out of the "success equation."
Today, most progressives, liberals, and feminists accept the idea that mothers should work outside the home for financial independence and personal satisfaction. Without looking carefully at what this means for the children's development, and the direction of the society as a whole, they continue to lobby for more government funding for institutionalized day care and tax credits for those who use it.
MONEY CAN'T BUY LOVE
"Many young adults have become accustomed to such a high standard of living--foreign vacations, restaurant meals, charge cards, and so forth--that any life change which requires the couple to exist on one income feels like a hardship," says Karl Zinsmeister, an adjunct research associate at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. This questioning of materialistic lifestyles achieved at the cost of human relationships would have made perfect sense to Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, yet it was delivered, and enthusiastically applauded, at a conference on child care sponsored by Phyllis Schlafly. Zinsmeister believes young families must balance their material goals with their children's developmental needs. The scales can easily tip against children's needs in a time when altruism and questioning of materialism are both out of vogue.
While questioning of materialistic values has come mostly from the conservative side in recent years, it would, of course, be foolish to imply that over-emphasis on materialism is a purely liberal phenomenon. Parents, both liberals and conservatives, who emphasize materialistic goals for themselves often believe they are fulfilling their parental obligations, or even acting in their children's best interests, by seeing that the children have "the best that money can buy." A major problem with this idea as it is applied to "quality child care" is that, as the Beatles told us in the sixties, love is "the kind of thing that money just can't buy." Advertisements by day-care centers and home day-care settings promising "tender loving care" are ludicrous in their implication that love can be bought for a price. And yet love, caring, and attention are precisely what young children need to thrive.
Babies do not simply need to be fed and changed. They need to form a close attachment with a loving adult in their early years if they are to reach their potential as human beings. This attachment is the foundation and wellspring of adult love. In her book Every Child's Birthright: In Defense of Mothering, the late Selma Fraiberg, who was a professor of child psychoanalysis in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, speaks of the pathways that lead from infant love to finding a permanent partner and the love of maturity. "The discovery of the partner, of the one person in the world who is the source of joy and bliss, has its origin in the discovery of the first human partner in infancy." Fraiberg also speaks of the "diseases of non-attachment" in which "there is no joy, no grief, no guilt and no remorse" because, as she explains, "in the absence of human ties a conscience cannot be formed." If only physical needs are met, as, for example, in a quality orphanage, children evidence gross, long-lasting deficiencies in all areas of development.
Using material needs as one yardstick, day-care advocates point to inadequate parenting in the inner cities, claiming that children are better off taken out of these homes. This is not necessarily the case. Sally Provence, a professor at Yale, operated a model day-care center for inner-city children as a research project with the support of a grant from the United States Children's Bureau, Office of Child Development. She found that children's stress increased markedly with the number of hours they were away from home and that children who used the center fewer hours each day benefited more from the program. Although from a researcher's point of view homes varied in the extent to which they met children's developmental needs, she observed that for all children their first love was their home, and they felt tremendous relief when they were picked up at the end of the day. While conservatives are often accused of being elitist in their attitudes and unsympathetic to the plight of the poor, day-care advocates who suggest that "professionals" do the job are clearly implying that poor minority women are inadequate mothers or that single parents cannot do a good job of child raising.
In an attempt to stress that mothers who choose non-parental child care are acting responsibly in their children's interest, women's groups often claim that most mothers are working because they have to. The child-care lobby tries to paint a picture of low-income parents who must work "to put food on the table," a material goal that is surely beyond reproach. The facts, however, according to the Census Bureau, are that the mother most likely to re-enter the work force in the first year of her baby's life is over twenty-four, white, college-educated, married, and has a family income of over $25,000. Another frequent refrain is "single mothers have no choice," although it is the mother who chooses to initiate divorce in 70 percent of divorces involving children under the age of eighteen.
One problem with asking mothers if they work because they "have to" is that this leaves the definition of need up to the working mother. Surveys asking mothers if they "need" to work call to mind jokes about necessity being in the eye of the beholder. In one such joke a patient says, "Is this operation really necessary, Doc?" and the doctor replies, "Necessary? Of course it's necessary! I need to make the payments on my yacht."
In one study of an ethnic minority relating household income of families with children under the age of six in six cities, researchers found that the percentages of families reporting that they needed child care were lowest in families with incomes under $30,000. In four cities the group "needing" child care the most was the group earning over $50,000. Based on the usual understanding of financial necessity, it would be expected that the need for a second income would decrease in households with higher incomes, but this is not the case. Even assuming the lowest end of the "over $50,000" group, and even assuming both wage earners earned equal salaries, the household income would still be $25,000 with one salary. Why do 27 percent of families studied in Phoenix, for example, feel that they do not need child care although their incomes are under $30,000, while 55 percent of families in the same city feel they "need" child care although their incomes are over $50,000? The report does not answer this question. It simply notes that "those who need child care . . . tend to be intact families and to cluster in the higher, not lower, income brackets."
FROM PEACE TO PAYCHECK
Liberals of the desegregation and Vietnam eras sought to break down barriers, focusing on fundamental humanness rather than differences in race, religion, nationality, and socioeconomic status. "Brother" and "sister" were popular appellations because they expressed the feeling of belonging to a human family, a family whose bonds were strong enough to accept all differences.
A natural outgrowth of this feeling of world brotherhood was opposition to the war in Vietnam and active or passive resistance to "the war machine." Discrimination against blacks in the U.S. and violent military acts against Vietnamese civilians were seen as connected in the sense that they both violated human rights. A fringe group was willing to fly the Viet Cong flag and to commit destructive acts like bombing draft boards and the Bank of America. But many of the movement's leaders were deeply committed to nonviolence.
David Dellinger was one of the leaders committed to nonviolent change. He resisted the draft and was imprisoned during the war. He wrote, "Nonviolence may start, as it did with young Ghandi . . . as a technique for wresting gains from an unloved and unlovely oppressor. But somewhere along the line . . . its strategy must flow from a sense of the underlying unity of all human beings." He saw the oppressors and the oppressed as "mutually trapped in a set of relationships that violates the submerged better instincts of everyone." As a black leader in Birmingham said in 1964, "We're going to win our freedom, and as we do it we're going to set our white brothers free."
Allan Berube, another draft resistor wrote, "When I meet a person, I must confront him as a person and not a thing; that is, I must obey what Paul Tillich calls 'the unconditional imperative to acknowledge every person as a person.' We are locked together in this reflexive relationship. If I use him as a means to an end, I am considering that end more valuable than his existence as a person. If I abuse him in this way, I also abuse myself."
At the start of the current feminist movement, women's values were completely confluent with the peace activists'. Women believed that liberation from stereotyped sex roles would free both men and women. Men would be free to drop the macho mask, to openly express their feelings of love, sorrow, and even fear. They would be able to participate in raising their children, instead of simply functioning as a breadwinner whose interaction was merely to "pat them on the head and send them off to bed." There was the belief that this would eventually lead to a nonviolent society, free of macho "sabre rattling." Children, raised in this "non-sexist" environment, would become adults who would achieve world peace.
Today feminists still consider themselves to be progressive, but to the extent that they measure self-worth by salary and job status alone and look at children as "it" rather than "thou," there is no progress. In fact, their view is basically identical to that which created the previously "male-dominated" rat race dictating the traditional role for the father, so sharply criticized by feminists, heavily identified with earnings and job status and quite uninvolved and distant from the children and child-rearing responsibilities.
SUBSTITUTE CARE AND AGGRESSION: A LIBERAL DILEMMA
A fund-raising letter from the Feminist Majority calls the pro-choice battle "the new Vietnam," attempting to identify a continuing tradition of liberalism, but there is a crucial difference in the two battles. The protesters against the Vietnam War were not only draft-age young men. Women, teenagers, and men above draft age were very active in marches and other forms of protest. The war on the other side of the globe did not have to concern these people. They did not act out of self-interest--they were truly concerned with ethical and moral issues. Later, feminists began to break away from the anti-war movement, concentrating their energies on "women's issues," especially abortion. The feminists today continue this egocentric approach and are pro-choice because they are looking out for their own interests.
Feminists tend to approach the day-care issue with the same perspective, looking first and foremost at their own needs, not the needs of children, men, or other women. There is no place in their schema for women who find homemaking and child raising satisfying. Although feminists are bitter about men treating women in a patronizing fashion, they readily subject homemakers to a paternalistic, "Don't worry your pretty little head about it. We're fighting for you and we know what's good for you better than you do." Cheri Loveless, co-founder of the organization Mothers At Home, has received letters from homemakers from across the nation. She found that mothers at home "not only felt condemned for 'not contributing to society,' but have actually been accused of taking from society without giving anything back."
As hippies became yuppies and the use of substitute care and group care increased, research began to show that children raised from an early age in full-time group care had deficits in emotional, social, and cognitive development. In fact, they evidenced the personality characteristics which would have been abhorrent to their parents in their hippy days. Children in day care were found to have less empathy than children raised in home care. They were also found to be more verbally abusive and physically aggressive, both to peers and adults, and this behavior persisted into their elementary school years. These children also tended to have fewer friends and were often labeled as loners.
The march from "peace to paycheck" is so powerful that this research is largely being ignored, suppressed, or deliberately misrepresented. In a paper presented at the meeting for the Society for Research in Child Development on April 24, 1987, Dr. Jay Belsky, a professor at The Pennsylvania State University's Department of Individual and Family Studies, identified how he had encountered this suppression when he was invited to testify about the deleterious consequences of infant day care before the United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families on behalf of the American Psychological Association. Other professionals in the field of child development contacted the APA saying that if Dr. Belsky testified, "it would harm the day care and women's movements by giving Congress ammunition to undermine child care and female employment initiatives." When he tried to publish a manuscript on the subject, he was told it would "generate guilt among working mothers." This caused him to comment, "It seemed to me that some had come to believe that one point of view--namely, that there were no risks associated with day-care rearing in this country--had a monopoly not only on the truth, but on what scientific information should and should not be disseminated. . . . Does truth reside, as the old Bolshevik credo contends, in that which is good for the revolution?"
There are now numerous studies that clearly show an increased risk of serious problems in personality development in day-care reared children, yet the liberals, feminists, and day-care advocates do not question the wisdom of substitute or surrogate care, even if the evidence points to behavior patterns and value-system formation which are likely to directly contradict their professed liberal political ideals.
In an ironic reversal, the Christian right is defending home rearing of children, while progressives, who still deplore the "military industrial complex," are intent on promoting a form of child rearing which puts their children at a greatly increased risk of having aggression as a serious deficit in social behavior. Although the Left sees itself as more concerned with human needs, it is the conservatives who are asking for an end to discrimination against families who choose to give their children a start in life which will enable them to feel love, compassion, and empathy and to have close relationships when they reach adulthood. It is not progressives, but conservatives, who are voicing concerns that "day care accelerates a cultural trend towards dehumanization."
DAY CARE AND CONFORMITY
Another contradiction in the conservative/liberal dichotomy is the issue of nonconformism. The sixties was an era of increased respect for those who marched to a different drummer. It is ironic that, a decade later, these once free spirits are content to impose utter conformity on their children.
Anyone who has spent time in a day-care center knows that it is not a place where children can "do their own thing." Every aspect of the day is regulated. They must lie on the mats, whether tired or not, for the prescribed number of minutes. If they are tired, they must still wake up at the end of rest time, since many centers cannot afford the luxury of a separate napping room. They must eat by the clock, even if they are hungry earlier, and there is no allowance for individual taste. In a center regarded as a "quality center," a little girl who did not like milk or cheese missed lunch three days in a row with menus of macaroni and cheese, pizza, and cheeseburgers and milk. Although she came home ravenous and dehydrated, the center insisted on its "no bag lunches" policy which had been imposed due to concern about conflicts between children if they brought different food. Even children's bodily functions are regulated, and they are told to urinate at the required time. An American author observed toddlers in a Chinese day-care center all sitting in a row on little pots, required to move their bowels in unison.
While "better" quality centers avoid horrors like walking toddlers in groups on leashes and putting infants in stacking, kennel-like cribs, day-care centers, like hospitals, asylums, and the military, are similar to a total institution. Just as Sally Becker becomes "the pleurisy case in bed 4" when she enters the hospital, children become, as the industry calls them, "units." In some infant centers, babies are "color coded." The "green" baby has the green pacifier, the green bottle, the green crib, and so on. The uniqueness of each little human person is lost, and diversity is discouraged if not actually punished. Children quickly get the message that they must go along with the group and not make waves.
In such an environment, it is not surprising to find a lack of creativity. Children need time away from the social pressures of the group, time to "be themselves" and explore their creative potential. Group settings are particularly stifling for a child with above average intelligence or special creative abilities.
In addition, the day-care schedule affects children's home schedules as well. Instead of awakening naturally, babies are lifted from their cribs, sometimes in the pre-dawn hours, to be taken to day care. Instead of being cuddled and allowed to nurse their fill, they are handed a bottle of formula to drink in the car seat, or feeding is postponed until the baby--hungry or not--arrives at day care. In the evening, the schedule of their harried parents does not permit the simple luxury of a relaxed bath with time for water play or relaxed, unhurried cuddling with the evening nursing or bottle.
The rigors of a day-care schedule are difficult for school-age children as well. Typically there is no napping area for school-age children in day care, although these children may be picked up from day care so late they cannot get home and eat dinner fast enough to go to bed at a reasonable time. Elementary school teachers complain these children are often so exhausted they doze off in class.
Progressives are dedicated to increasing the number of children who must lead these regimented lives. They are lobbying for the public schools to include day-care programs for preschool children or even infants and toddlers, and in some states they are working toward lowering the age for compulsory entrance into the school system. Even the once "lazy, hazy days of summer" are under attack as progressives push for year-round schools which would shift the costs of summer care from parents to the taxpayer.
Some conservatives, along with many child-development experts, have expressed concerns about the downside of the experience of living with schedules, of living as part of a group from the earliest years. In the sixties, liberals would not have needed studies to tell them that children need time to gaze at the clouds and imagine whales and caves, time for dreaming in the magical leafy world of a favorite branch in the apple tree; time, in other words, to be children.
EDUCATION OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: ARE WE SAFELY PAST 1984?
Liberal parents of the sixties and seventies, eager to impart their own values to their children, did not want to entrust the public school bureaucracy with their children's education. With images of Brave New World and 1984 in mind, the last thing they wanted was to hand over their young children to the government for indoctrination. Some chose to do home schooling, while others joined with like-minded families to form "free schools."
The idea that in another ten or fifteen years liberals would be loudly lobbying for the government and corporations to take over raising not only school-age children, but even babies would have seemed preposterous. Yet in 1987, when Edward Zigler, a professor at the Yale University Bush Center in Child Development, called for "a child care system that becomes part of the very structure of society," liberals did not cry out in dismay. When he talked about preschool as well as school age children being reared in a "partnership between parents and the children's caretakers" headquartered in the schools, it was some conservatives who questioned the wisdom of such an approach. Recognizing the importance of the family unit, conservatives urged an end to discrimination against families who choose to raise their own children, while liberals applauded bills which would provide additional government-funded incentives for nonparental care.
Government child care appeals to progressives because this would free parents from the burdensome costs of private child care. The possibility that the costs of such a system would ultimately still come out of their pay checks, as it does in Sweden in the form of increased taxes, has not been carefully examined. Progressives see themselves as champions of the underdog, of the poor women who cannot afford quality child care for their children. Tunnel vision prevents many of them from seeing that in the broader picture raising children in government-run institutions contradicts their position. Who would have dreamed in the sixties that liberals would be the ones to implore Big Brother to take charge of the next generation, while conservatives fought for the rights of parents to instill deeply personal family values in their offspring?
WILL THE REAL ROBIN HOOD PLEASE STAND UP?
When The Rich and the Super Rich was published in 1968, the liberal community was shocked at the descriptions of tax loopholes and strategies by which the rich could avoid taxation. The example of a chauffeur paying more tax than his employer and other examples of "the great tax swindle" aroused Robin Hood-like instincts to fight injustice.
The child care tax credit, however, was introduced in 1976 by liberals. This act, which gave tax benefits to parents who used out-of-the-home child care, was not limited to low-income families. Currently, this bill gives over 1 billion dollars in tax credits to families earning more than $50,000 if they choose to use out-of-the-home child care.
When the Act for Better child Care was proposed, it was conservatives who pointed out that this plan would "tax the poor to subsidize the rich." Families earning up to $48,000 would be eligible for child-care assistance, but a worker trying to support a wife and two children on $13,000 would get no help.
In the hearings on ABC in the House Education and Labor Committee, an amendment was offered to limit eligibility for ABC's subsidized day care to families earning less than 200 percent of the poverty threshold (roughly $22,000 for a family of four). While Republicans were unanimous in supporting this amendment, all the Democratic committee members, except one, voted against it. The ABC eventually passed both the House and the Senate.
Conservatives continue to support the idea of assistance to families in the form of tax relief regardless of whether they choose parental or substitute child care. They believe this decision is best left up to the family. Progressives, who are in favor of choice when it comes to other issues, are against choice when it comes to the day-care issue. They maintain that only families who use licensed substitute care should receive assistance.
WE SHALL OVERCOME . . . SOME DAY
The value of non-governmental, non-institutional child rearing is just as valid today as it was in the sixties, and a society which places materialistic goals above family life and spiritual growth deserves criticism today just as it did two decades ago. Concerns about violence in our society have only grown, making it increasingly important that we rear children who will be able to cooperate and who will develop into adults who are capable of nonviolent conflict resolution. These values, which were originally countercultural insights of the 1960's into societal deficiencies, are still valid because, as conservatives are now pointing out, the same weaknesses still exist.
While liberals are not usually defeatist, when questioned about the wisdom of raising babies in group care outside the home, they are always quick to point out that "Day care is here to stay." Have they ever said, "Acid rain is here to stay" or "Laws restricting abortion are here to stay"? Battles for these and other causes are continually waged in the courts and in the legislature. The real message is that they want day care to be here to stay.
It is unfortunate that so many of our youngest citizens have already been guinea pigs in the day-care experiment. It is alarming and tragic that studies clearly showing problems in the areas of emotional and cognitive development and health have been swept under the rug and that the response to those who have sounded warnings has often been to dismiss them as reactionaries.
Babies are not born progressive or conservative. Their developmental needs, like their nutritional needs, do not differ whether they are rich or poor, black or white, legitimate or illegitimate. If people on both sides of the day-care face can take an honest look at children's needs and truly place these needs ahead of monetary considerations, then as Pete Seeger sang, "It could be a wonderful world."
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