Blurring Family Value Lines Would Benefit Us All

17 06 2007

From James Traub in the NYT Magazine today [the sound you hear is JJ cheering and high-fiving] :

. . .I don’t think it’s too much to hope that a different kind of first family could also blur the sharp line of red-blue antagonism.

The endless fight over “values” always seems to pit two idealized states against each other — the prelapsarian world of “the intact family” against the liberatory culture of “the ’60s.” Who actually lives in one of these worlds — besides the current tenants of the White House? Wouldn’t it be to our benefit to scramble those boundaries?

If someone’s going to argue for prayer in the schools, let it be a twice-divorced Catholic president — or, for that matter, an urbane and worldly black first couple.

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5 responses

17 06 2007
NanceConfer

It isn’t that we don’t all think “family values” are a good thing. It’s that we don’t agree on what “values” the First Couple should be pushing. Prayer in school is not a “value” I would support. Nor would many other much more religious Americans.

The specifics matter. Blow-dried candidates and their hairsprayed wives (or husbands) are often so out of touch with real life that their version of “values” doesn’t work much past the platitudes.

Nance

17 06 2007
JJ

Interesting — and then maybe the entire ruling class red or blue, black or white, reflects its own homogeneous version of family, underneath the seeming differences we all tend to focus on? A homogeneity not based on family values or political values of any kind, but more on class and privilege, one that doesn’t reflect the real world as the rest of us experience it, in any real ways that can inform policy. . . hmmm.

19 06 2007
JJ

This same idea is needed in our “educational” boundary-drawing and opposed definitions.
While linking up some writings for Rolfe’s continuing lively discussion of our different values in educating children, and how we wind up fighting each other, I came across Michael Berube’s story (from 1998) as demanding liberal professor who found himself dad to a Down’s Syndrome son, and had to rethink his abstractions about standards and schooling and, well, everything!:

He and his wife, Janet Lyon, also an Illinois English professor, have two young sons. The younger, James, was born just a few months after Bérubé’s first Voice article appeared, and was diagnosed at birth with Down’s syndrome. So even as the young professor was becoming a sought-after writer in his field, his life was becoming “wall-to-wall infant care” as he and Lyon took their child home. At first, he did not let this radical change in his personal life show up in his work: “To use a currently fashionable word, I was compartmentalizing.” But the more he learned about child development and his own child’s needs, the more the experience reshaped his thinking. “Let me put it this way: There are various ways in which I’ve just changed my mind about everything.” Eventually, he published an autobiographical scholarly essay about how his son had changed his life. Friends who thought it the best work he had ever done forwarded it to editors at Harper’s, where after much revision it became a long article and eventually a book titled “Life As We Know It.”
The book, published in 1996 to overwhelmingly favorable reviews, is on one level a loving yet unsentimental memoir of Jamie Bérubé’s first four years: the feeding tubes, the physical therapy, the educational decisions and bureaucracies. But on another level it’s also Bérubé’s best defense of the value of the humanities. Throughout, he uses the work of social philosophers and literary theorists to explain the political and cultural forces that shape his child’s life.
“When I talk deconstructively to folks in Special Ed., they’re no strangers to the proposition that studying so-called aberrant populations is central to an understanding of who we are, whatever ‘we’ means. They may not have been reading Derrida, but they’ve been working the same terrain.”
In his more recent work ranging from an account of his bout of Bell’s palsy to a philosophical essay on the nature of reality, Jamie appears again, not so much as a character but a limit-case, and a check against the theoretical tendency toward abstraction.
Bérubé wants no part of any theory that he can’t be sure will provide a place at the table for both of his sons.

When I was outraged at the young feminists a few weeks ago, it was because they hadn’t yet been “educated” by the lessons of real motherhood yet. So they were spouting theories and abstractions that I KNEW they would look back on ruefully and be forced to reexamine in light of new evidence at some point, if they became parents and were anything close to as smart and ethical in their thinking as I generally take young feminists to be — and as Berube discovered himself to be 🙂

19 06 2007
JJ

Conservative columnist George Will has a son born with Down’s Syndrome, now an adult. I remember reading his column on this in Newsweek last year, and it was sweet and very fatherly in the good sense of “paternal” (not paternalistic) — but I didn’t think to wonder then, if it profoundly affected his education poliitcs from what they might otherwise have been?

8 11 2010
Homeschooling D-I-V-O-R-C-E With Children « Cocking A Snook!

[…] “Blurring Family Value lines Might Benefit Us All” and The Most Important Lesson Whatever We Call […]

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