Truth, Knowledge, Power

Sun, 21 Apr 1996 16:51:00 PDT

Calo writes:

"Anthropology began by going out into non-Western worlds in the attempt
to learn about itself at home (something like psychology looking at
aberration as the means for determining normality-- and having
forgotten in the process that it began by defining what was going
to be considered aberrant). A different procedure might suggest trying
to learn about ourselves as a means for beginning the dialogue that might
lead to learning about others."

Let me respond to Calo's last sentence in particular by referring to 2
articles in today's LA Times and a question.

In the LA Times today there were two articles about families. One had the
headline: "Child care no risk to infant-mother ties, study says." One reason
for the study had to do with the linkage between insecure attachment to
mother in infancy and "elevated rates of agression as youngsters." Dr.
Eleanor Macoby of Stanford commented "There's been this kind of suspicion
until now that day care is somehow contrary to family values. I think we
need to recognize that day care is a family value. It's a part of family
life now." (I won't comment on the illogicality of that statement.) So this
research basically says that all the changes in parenting that have led to
much more extensive use of day care is basically ok and not "harmful."

The second article is titled "Town tries to police the parents." This was a
long article on the trend towards laws that make parents legally responsible
for the acts of their children, and one town (St. Clair Shores, MICH) that
has not only had such laws, but has now tried to enforce them. The specific
incident was a teenage son of a town resident whose room at home not only had
the appearance of a dope house, but had marijuana roaches, open beer bottles,
unkempt filth (which wasn't the reason the police were involved) and
stolen goods from 3 recent burglaries in the neighborhood. The reason for
trying to enforce the law is that the father said he had absolutely no idea
what his son was doing and what was in his room.

Let me quote from the article, at some length.

"The town's mayor ... was shocked to learn that 80% of
the students lived with only one parent. Even in St. Clair Shores homes
that did have two parents, both likely worked...On patrols, [detective]
McFadzen started to see more violence, and a different type of child. His
generation's children--the 60's generation--were now in junior and senior
high school. These children cloaked their disrespect with sophistication.
THirteen-year olds, caught driving without a license, told cops, 'You can't
do that, you haven't read me my rights.' Teenagers approached for drinking
beer at a local lake, sneeringly wondered whether 'you cops had anything
better to do?' Broken windows, pellet guns, stolen bikes and lawn
mowers--little things, but some kids had five or six such 'cards' [reports
on serious misbehavior] at the station. When parents were called in, not all
sided with the police. Some sat silently as their 14-year olds yelled at
McFadzen. Some, when McFadzen suggested he 'found inconsistencies' in their
child's story, demanded to know if he was 'calling my son a liar.' ...
Watching it all, McFadzen couldn't help but think of how his father would
have handled things. You tell the policemen everything, that's what his dad
would have ordered."

"After [the son] left the conference room [where it became clear that the
father did not know his son had done the burglaries to buy marijuana]
McFadzen turned to [the father]. 'Please sir, take control of your child . .
. The house belongs to you, not him. Make him follow your rules."

"Fifteen days aafter McFadzen exhorted [the father] to control his son, [the
father] attempted to do just that. [The father] started up the staircase to
go to his son's room . [The son], not wanting him to do so ...
grabbed him and 'threw' him toward the dining room. In the dining room [the
son] started punching his father with closed fists. [The father] tried to
restrain his son. During this restraint time, [the son] yelled to his
sister, 'Kick I can get loose.' [the son] then stuck his fingers
into his father's eyes so as to get free. Once free he ran to his bedroom
and got a golf club. He went after his father again...'"

The father commented: "My wife and I didn't know of our son's problems until
it was too late... Our son went to Del La Salle Hhigh School [a private
school] where he was a good student... But he got mixed up with the wrong
kids...It's not like my wife and I didn't try to provide a good home"

The father worked 14 hours a day, his wife worked as a bookkeeper at a bank.
"It was true, working so hard, he and his wife spent much time away from
home. But nowadays that was quite common. It hadn't affected their
daughter; she'd never been a problem."

The father is facing a "potential of $70,000 in civil liabiilty for his
son's acts, to go along with a $100 criminal fine [stemming from the law
about responsible parenting]".

With respect to these kinds of laws "A mounting chorus of critics, including
various law school professors and the ACLU, nonetheless argue that most
parental-responsibility ordinances are unconstitutionally vague and
over-broad, as well as unworkable."

The question I pose is: These two articles seem to be worlds apart. One is
reporting research that says the kinds of changes we have experienced (day
care, single parenting, both parents working) is not in and of itself a
problem; the other implies that the problem lies in the failure of parents to
provide rules, guindance and enforcement of those rules and guides--which
might be related to insufficient parenting. Does anthropology as a
discipline have any kind of insight into what is going on?

D. Read