Saturday, June 27, 2009

Children: Priority or Nuisance?

Back in college -- probably the same semester a very attractive 22-year-old pre-law major asked if I wanted to visit her apartment to “study” together, and I said, “No, thanks, I’m pretty much ready for the test,” because I thought she actually wanted to study – I took a course in political theory, featuring Plato’s Republic, a text even more gargantuan than the sentence you’re reading right now.

In The Republic, Plato outlines his idea of the perfect city-state, where one “philosopher king” rules over everything, but nobody minds because he’s too enlightened to do anything wrong. Justice is always served, peace and prosperity are the norm, and the public bathhouses are open 24 hours a day for your man-boy loving convenience.

Plato’s vision abandons all possessions. No one would have spouses or children in his ideal world. Instead folks would apply their skills for the common good. Those who were adept with children would look after them in daycare-type environments, and the rest of us would do important things, like figure out where truth comes from.

Even as a college freshman who could never get a date because I didn’t know what one looked like, and was therefore eons away from enjoying a family life, I could see that Plato was on to something.

I could recognize, even in my late-teen stupor, that any society that treated children as a nuisance -- a biological necessity to keep the species going -- rather than a cherished responsibility would certainly advance and thrive.

Not convinced? Too bad, because we’re already moving toward Plato’s ideal. These days it’s fairly common for babies to enter daycare at six weeks old while both parents (if there are two parents) work. To wait until your child is six months old before returning to work is considered a long wait to return to the workforce.

This is not meant as a guilt trip. Putting a child in daycare can be an excruciating ordeal. We live in a fast society with a massive economy, and, in many cases, two or more incomes are required to keep pace.

In many ways, we live in Plato’s Republic right now, except that our leaders are far from enlightened. Observe President Obama’s education policy (yes, he does have one, though he doesn’t say much about it). It emphasizes expanding childhood education.


True, studies suggest kids who start school earlier tend to do better academically. But so do those whose parents haven’t abdicated responsibility for educating their offspring.
If the choices are school or neglect, obviously, school is a better choice at any age.

I know senior citizens who remember when Kindergarten was an add-on. Now we have full-day kindergarten, pre-kindergarten, Head Start, Early Head Start, etc. Even responsible, attentive parents feel they have to enroll their kids so they can “keep up,” or not miss out.

No one questions the merits of early childhood education. But at what point is a child better off with a parent rather than an “expert?”

At this rate, you’ll live to see the day when children are whisked away from their parents at birth to enter some sort of infant enrichment program, not to be seen or heard from again until they graduate high school.

Ever wonder why children don’t respect their parents as they used to?

Maybe it’s because, after being shuffled from one adult to the next since toddlerhood or before, their parents are simply less important to them.

And vice-versa.

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