There was an Open Thread earlier today where people were talking about teaching — how draining it can be, how different posters had or hadn’t learned to read, write, communicate effectively; and the degree to which “effective teaching” has been reduced to bumping up the percentage of kids who correctly fill out the blanks on a standardized form. And I had a flashback to the days when I was helping out at beginner dog-training classes, and one exasperated woman voiced the all-too-common objective: “I don’t wanna do all this! I don’t *care* whether my dog learns anything! I just want him to be good when my friends come over and stay out of my way when I’m busy!”
Sad thing is, she was already a better owner than all the impulse buyers who just “get rid” of dogs who fail to magically intuit everything that might be expected of a successful family pet. People like the co-worker who complained about his kids’ dog being “dirty and noisy”, and when I offered to hook him up with a training class, responded, “I already spent a ton of money buying the stupid animal, why should I have to spend even more to make him do what I want?”
Then came a story on the local news about the competition between various towns for a share of the stimulus money being released to the state for “education”. Every parent, selectman, and administrator (I don’t remember any teachers on the air) spoke in favor of more supplemental funds for their town, either because the local citizens couldn’t afford what their kids deserved, or because the property-owners in the wealthier burbs were being taxed so heavily already. A minority of individuals deplored the whole concept of the stimulus package, because it wasn’t fair that “their money” should be capriciously taken by politicians under any circumstances. And the one thing everybody seemed to agree upon is that the governor’s intention to use the greater part of the funds in certain large urban school districts was just WRONG, because “Those People are given so much already… It’ll just be wasted by the teachers unions, or on frills like make-work summer job programs… I already pay a ton for MY kids’ after-school activities, why should I have to pay for other peoples’ kids as well?”
Sometimes it has seemed to me as though Americans basically hate kids. “We” considers them a nuisance and a drain on the public coffers and would really prefer they all be raised in camps somewhere far away. Sure, people like their own individual sprogs (mostly, most of the time), and kids can be mildly entertaining for brief periods, not to mention they’re a ridiculously vulnerable target market. But who wants to put up with the vast undifferentiated nuisance and squalor of other peoples’ offspring, with their noise and their neediness and their demands for our tax dollars?
And suddenly it occurred to me: The way American public policy runs these days, kids are basically treated as very high-maintenance pets. Raising them is considered a hobby, like breeding fancy chickens or keeping horses. Parenting is just another special interest group, with its own patois and skill-sets and warring factions. And while the Parenting Community is fascinated with every tiny detail of its fandom… everybody’s personal domestic livestock is special & deserves nothing less than the best of everything! — no sensible American wants to pay taxes for the upkeep of other peoples’ hobby children. Even the most committed locavore may balk at living next door to a stinking yardful of grubby chickens and crowing roosters, and the local housing development committee is less interested in the distinctions between trail riding and dressage than in the possibility that horse manure may depress local property values. If people insist on breeding children, they should be prepared to deal with the ensuing problems on their own. It’s not as though the general population had an ongoing interest in the welfare of other peoples’ hobby-farmed offspring! Especially all those horrible pet-shop-quality children, whose careless breeders spawn on an impulse — who are they to expect the rest of us to support their expensive hobby? Not to mention the kids themselves… if only Animal Control were enpowered to remove nuisance children who roam wild in decent neighborhoods, damaging private property and public amenities! Why can’t children come with an “off” switch, or at least a decent owner’s manual? You go to the trouble of having a kid, and all you get in return is 18 years of mess and whining and neediness and social embarassment! Sure, busybodies are always yammering about “classes” and “education” and “two-way communication”, but why should “we” be bothered to go to so much trouble over a long-regretted impulse, anyway?…
Okay, okay: A metaphor too far. But does it seem like “we” are forgetting that children are part of “our” communities?