Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Parents Rights:Who's Your Daddy?

Control is the concept behind the parents-rights folk we are hearing here. They both want to be in charge and don't want anyone else in charge.

This is part two of a series on parents-rights aims. Part one is here. An overview of this mini-movement's aims is here. The assaults on ideas and books in schools and libraries is here.
Terminology note: Authoritative personality and authoritarian personality share traits and sound alike, but are significantly different. The latter, detailed by Adorno et alia, has been largely discredited because of sloppy methodology and a simplistic test linking authoritarian personality types with totalitarianism.

The former easily translates into pop psychology in concepts such as the headman or alpha male. These sorts can be natural leaders or bullies or both. They need unambiguous authority. They will accept it or if it is absent, supply it. Stereotypically, you see this in behavior of a cocksure authoritative type's wife. While she seems around him to revel in and submit to his pronouncements, when he is not there, she'll happily play the role until he returns.
It appears as through prevalence of authoritative types in the parents-rights groups prevents compromise. Those who view their goals as a zero-sum game are not likely to compromise, are likely to use a Randian style of false-premise shout-down to interrupt any argument they don't like, and may not accept even obvious defeats.

We can consider the Mad Dad case to illustrate many aspects of this.
  • Removing books from classrooms, libraries or optional diversity bags sent for parental review is not censorship, he avows.
  • Demanding that the teacher call the parents and remove his child from the classroom whenever a pre-defined taboo-to-him subject arises, even spontaneously, is not attempting to control curriculum or placing unreasonable demands on the school system, he avers.
  • A teacher mentioning that some kindergarten or elementary school families have two moms or two dads usurps his absolute right to moral education of his child, he states.
For anyone who has recently arrived or who has avoided coverage of nearly three years of this silliness, be aware of the basics.
  • Mad Dad and Mrs. Dad received the same kindergarten diversity book bag for parent review as other families.
  • It contained a picture book that included drawings of single-parent, mom/dad, mom/mom and dad/dad families, all engaged in common activities like cooking dinner.
  • Rather than removing the book and letting his son have the others, Mad Dad began making those demands for the classroom and school.
  • When he didn't get what he demanded, he staged a sit-in in school offices and remained for hours until the police were unable to convince him to go home and arrested him for trespass.
For deeper background, search this blog or MassResistance Watch or Mad Dad-friendly MassResistance.

We have a long tradition of civil disobedience in this country and particularly in Massachusetts. Our models made stands and took the consequences, whether it was fine, jail, public disapproval, or even the victory of getting what they wanted.

No Thoreau

Instead, the agenda of this kind of parental-control group uses very different tactics. From the beginning, Mad Dad, his co-plaintiffs in suits, their attorneys, and supporters:
  1. Play the victim.
  2. Lie about their goals, tactics and actual events.
  3. Made unsupportable assertions, publicly and in court.
  4. Refuse to acknowledge lack of control no matter how fringe and few they are or how many times they lose.
It's hard not to be amused by the group's frequent use of the image of a baleful Mad Dad in plastic handcuffs. He continues to allege in every writing or public comment and on his defense-fund site that he was arrested for trying to prevent his son's indoctrination. In reality, it was for misdemeanor trespass after he had lost his argument, and then had neither the grace nor the manners nor the wit to go home.

Actually, Mad Dad's own words are good ways to illustrate the extreme nature of the authoritative behavior, and perhaps why more reasonable people will not find compromise with this group. Before you get to his site, consider his remarks two years ago when he had a hearing on his trespass charge. The court ordered this volatile fellow to stay away from the school. Our exemplar of authoritative behavior said, "'...my son is very cognizant of the fact that his daddy can't enter school.' A reporter asks the criminally charged dad how he explains this. 'I told him his daddy's in charge. And he smiled.'"

Interestingly enough, daddy wasn't in charge. He has also lost his hearings and trials through U.S. District Court. Someone with less certitude and need to control might see the pattern here. He does not, any more than he would consider that his ideas about parental rights might have flaws.

He goes beyond painting himself and his beliefs positively — very understandable and very human reactions to his failures of control. Through his attorney's pleadings and briefs as well as his own words, he shows the defining characteristic of the group. That is, they make unsupportable and even illogical assertions of rights and other related claims.

Twisting Reality

He is not shy about his demands on his defense-fund site either. As just one example, in framing his arrest and the resulting suit, he writes:
This case is fundamentally about freedom of choice for parents to raise their children in the interest of their well being, health, happiness, growth and development as productive members of society. It is about maintaining parental sovereignty over one's children in private and public spaces - as parents are legally accountable and responsible for their own children. Therefore, this sovereignty should not be undermined by external authorities.
I have no doubt he buys into that. Such parents-rights group members often assert that they are subject to no governmental authority, that no one tells them what to do with their children. Reality differs.

For one, authoritative types seem to favor spanking, paddling and using sticks to punish their children. As Mad Dad did in a recent interview, they like to call his loving correction and swear it is never abusive. While I am not aware that he favors it, some of the same bent also employ Christian Domestic Discipline, which many of us would call wife beating. Yet that site and others like it use the same terms as Mad Dad does for his kids. This is their God-mandated right and duty as family headman. They say they are being pious as well as behaving legally.

Yet in the thousands of cases annually when children are found bruised, bloody and beaten, definitely beyond anyone's definition of loving correction, the government has the power to step in. Parental sovereignty exists only as a concept and in reality has many exceptions.

More mundanely, the big, bad government can dictate that kids must attend school — public, private, or home — through 16. It also requires seat belts in cars and helmets on bicycles for youngsters. There are other laws and regulations mandating keeping children fed, clothed and healthy.

The domestic sovereignty bluster is just that. It is an amusing atavism. It harks to times when slaves, servants and wives were considered too emotional, ignorant and illogical to understand the master's instructions without pain and humiliation — those lesser beings could understand. While slavery exists in pockets here and elsewhere in th world, the days when people could be treated like property are largely gone.

Blinders — Check

A somewhat more subtle assertion that permeated Mad Dad and company's federal suit is the extrapolated right for parents to have total control of any teaching they view as a moral one. They cite the defensible proposition that parents are and should remain the primary providers of moral training for their children. In fact, that's one area where most of us agree and many would agree that a lot of parents do too little here by word or example.

However, up in Lexington, this somehow morphed into parents as the sole providers of moral training by any stretch or association. In addition, the plaintiffs contend that mere mentions of common reality violate their federal rights to teach their kids values.

We heard this most clearly about both the family book and an early reader presented to a second-grade class. It had cartoons of a prince who turned down a parade of potential princess brides, preferring a prince. According to the plaintiffs, this:
  1. (Is) a form of propaganda specifically intended to wipe out their way of life.
  2. (This strikes at) the very, very, very core of their existence.
Oh, another assertion of this group is that because same-sex marriage was created here as a result of a court decision and not a legislative bill, it is not legal. The wingers love that, although anyone who had a middle-school civics class knows the various ways things become legal.

We can stop for a moment to appreciate the position of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that he'll go with an eight-year-old public preference referendum on this even though his legislature has approved SSM twice. He holds that it's courts that legalize SSM, not that nasty old set of elected representatives.

So, here, SSM is the law of the land. In Lexington as throughout the commonwealth, some families have two married moms or two married dads. Kids run across that regularly, regardless of their parents' fantasies.

Yet the Mad Dad foursome does not think they should provide basic information on daily reality to their children, even if they say clearly they do not approve of SSM and homosexuality. Instead, they demand that the teachers and libraries join them in this conceit.

Fortunately for those who prefer the real world, the U.S. District Court judge eviscerated the plaintiffs' arguments and dismissed the case. He advised them to try again at the state level, that no federal rights were involved here.


They did appeal that federal court dismissal, got that hearing before a three-judge panel, and say they'll plea to the U.S. Supreme Court if they lose. I think it is a lock that they'll lose yet again here. District Court Justice Mark Wolf was very specific about their suit's flaws, and the appeal presented nothing new.

Yet another defeat, by three judges instead of one, is not likely to deter this group. They clearly have funding for appeals, through their United Parent of America Inc. In playing the victim, Mad Dad likes to say this effort is expensive and he's fighting it on his own. I would be extremely surprised if they opened their books to show that there were no large donors from outside Massachusetts funding the bulk of this effort.

When they lose this appeal and get turned down by the Supremes, it's likely they'll try again at the state level. There, they have already failed to make the existing parental-notification law much broader. Unfortunately for this group, it is a sensible regulation, requiring opt-out for primarily sexual education curricula. There's really nothing there to empower the alpha male.

The next post will hit on the national efforts for a parents-rights initiative, and a future post will cover battles over controlling library shelves and records of what children check out. The first post in this series is here.

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