State-owned, state-run children

Government | D.C. Innes

State-owned, state-run children

Melissa Harris-Perry
Getty Images/Photo by Larry Busacca

Melissa Harris-Perry, a political scientist at Tulane University and an MSNBC talk show host, has ignited conservative rage with one of the network’s “Lean Forward” propaganda ads. Harris-Perry was surprised by the reaction to what she called “an uncontroversial comment.”

In the 30-second video (see below), she said our “private notion of children” that “your kid is yours, and totally your responsibility” is the great obstacle to adequate funding for public education. We need to see them instead as, she claimed, “our children.” Thus:

“[W]e have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility, and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments.”

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Fox News and conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck filled the airwaves in indignation.

But it is worth pausing to recognize what truth there is in what she said. The professor is claiming, quite reasonably, that raising children is not simply an effort of the nuclear family. We all recognize this by the care we take and the sacrifices we make to ensure that our children have the best schooling and the best community we can arrange, suitable friends from good homes, a supportive church, and government that provide safe streets, clean water, and clean air. In this sense, raising a child is a community effort.

Harris-Perry elaborated along those lines on the MSNBC website. Parents should be able to raise their kids “in a community that provides safe places to play, quality food to eat, terrific schools to attend, and economic opportunities to support them. No individual household can do that alone. We have to build that world together.”

As members of a shared community, we are morally responsible for one another. In a Presbyterian church the entire congregation vows to help raise the baptized child because the little one is born into a covenant community, not just a nuclear family. Parents today who do not have an extended family and likeminded community around them to help raise their kids are stretched at times beyond breaking by their parental burden.

But what justly frightens people is that Harris-Perry went beyond that historic, common sense position. She denied that “kids belong to their parents.” Instead they “belong to whole communities.” Elsewhere she equated “belong” with property ownership: “[K]ids are not the property of their parents. Their lives matter to all of us.” On her show, she repeated this: “I believe our children are not our private property.” Of course, they’re not. But on the video, in the same sentence, she claims that children “belong” to whole communities. So they are ultimately the property of the community, which of course acts through the state. While assuring us she doesn’t want to seize our children, she added ominously, “This is about whether we as a society, expressing our collective will through our public institutions, including our government, have a right to impinge on individual freedoms in order to advance a common good.”

In an age of aggressive government overreach, irrational confidence in the moral infallibility of government administrators, and a stridently careless push to redefine the family, people have every reason to cling not only to guns and religion, as the president put it, but to their children, too.

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