Tuesday, August 18, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, August 18, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Importance of the Family Shows in a COVID-19 World: Pressure Mounts for Parents Facing Unprecedented Challenges
We're going to take time today to look at a most fascinating and revealing intersection. The intersection of homeschooling, learning pods, contemporary questions about justice and equality, the role of parents, and the structure of families. All of that is coming together in the maelstrom of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then in this sense, it's the pandemic that is basically serving as a pressure cooker to intensify discussions. And one of the benefits of that is that clarification comes on many issues. So let's look at a headline that appeared in Friday's edition of the New York Times. The article is by Claire Cain Miller. It's entitled, "Every Choice for Parents Contains Potential Risks or Unfair Advantages." We're talking here about the decisions that parents make about the education of their children.
Miller writes, "It's the newest front in America's parenting wars. Parents forced to figure out how to care for and educate their children in a pandemic are being judged and criticized on message boards and in backyard meetups and virtual PTA meetings. If parents send their children to schools that reopen, are they endangered them and their teachers? If they keep them home, are they pulling support from schools and depriving their children? If they keep working while schools are closed, are they neglecting their children in a time of need? If they hire someone to help with remote school, are they widening achievement gaps and inequality?" Interesting questions and every one of them points to at least a pattern of what some parents are doing in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic with relation to the education of their children.
Now, let's go back before the pandemic. What was going on then? Well, there was even then, that's not so long ago let's remember, there was an array of options open to families. Even then you had public schools and private schools and Christian schools. You had modular schools, you had homeschooling parents, you had learning consortia, you had all kinds of arrangements, and that was in contrast to what would have existed in the United States just say 30 or 40 years earlier. At that point, at least in Protestant mainstream America, you had a monopoly or a near monopoly by the public schools on the educational choices of parents. So much so that most parents didn't think of the issue as a choice. All that began to change in the tumultuous social and moral changes of the 1960s, and by the time you get to say, the 1990s, you have movements like homeschooling that have virtually exploded. And they have continued to explode since then: Christian schools, private schools, different models of those schools. And of course, a certain model of what on the left was called unschooling or de-schooling.
That's a reminder by the way of the fact that homeschooling didn't begin as a movement on the moral conservative side, but rather on the liberal side. It was liberals, indeed self-styled hippies of the 1960s and especially the 70s who were saying that they wanted to take their children out of the schools run by "The Man", which is to say, the authorities in government. They wanted to avoid a monoculture developed by the public schools. They pulled their children out. Christians began to learn about that model and then to emulate that model and by the time you get to the 70s and especially into the 80s and the 90s, homeschooling is exploding. That's at the very same time that seismic changes are taking place in America's public schools.
Now a little footnote here, the public schools in the United States are the same thing coast-to-coast, and they are not. You look at the public school system in the United States, the logic was built upon local control of the schools, and to a greater and lesser extent, there is still local influence, if not complete control of the schools. So a public school somewhere in Mississippi is likely to be run somewhat differently than a public school in Massachusetts. But at the same time, it is also true that the federal government, which if you go back say just a few decades, didn't even have a Department of Education, is now increasingly using funding mandates as a way of controlling public school education: elementary, K and pre-K, and secondary education going all the way through the national map.
This has been a hot topic, a very current topic of conversation anywhere you find parents, and, in particular, Christian parents. It's a conversation to which I've contributed for a matter of decades now, but the COVID-19 pandemic raises the temperature, so to speak. It increases the intensity because the option of just assuming that children would go to school, that meaning a school building and a classroom with a teacher in it, is now very much up for grabs. And thus, you have the article by Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times on Friday saying that even in a secular context, parents are aware of the fact they are making decisions that are laden with moral meaning and others are watching their decisions and critiquing it. That's also a part of the parent culture. You have parents judging parents about the decisions that they have made, but again, the context here is an entirely secular context for this article. And that makes it even more interesting.
That last question that was asked in the introductory paragraph about parents, if they hire someone to help with remote school, are they widening achievement gaps and inequality? Well, later in the article Miller explains this by telling us, "More Americans are grappling with the role of structural racism in society and how their individual decisions about things like schooling have contributed to it. In some places," she writes, "schools have disavowed tutoring pods because they say they contribute to inequality." Having individual families and parents even authorized, if you are going to use that kind of terminology, to make these decisions comes for criticism in this article, "Individualizing decisions like these appeals to American ideals of independence and freedom. It also works to ensure that they remain individual decisions because research shows it ends up reducing support for public policies in support of the greater good and decreasing empathy for people with fewer advantages." Now, as Christians, let's just consider what we're looking at here. There are children who have more advantages than other children. There are families that have advantages over other families.
Educational Decisions Reveal the Importance of the Family and the Priorities of Parents
But it's interesting that one of the issues coming up now is the open articulation of the fact that there needs to be equality across the board when it comes to parents and families and their children, and that the creation, for example, of these tutoring or learning pods is an example of inequality that ought not to be allowed. Yesterday's edition of USA Today ran a full editorial, longer than their usual editorial with a headline, "Pods only widen education gap." Tara Chklovski, writing the piece says, "I saw a Tesla with #BlackLivesMatter written on the rear windshield the other day. It appeared to be a parent picking up their kid from a 'pandemic pod,' which, if you’re not familiar, is a small cluster of families who pool resources to hire a private tutor, who may be a parent. These pods are very popular among my neighbors in the Bay Area of California. Nearby I could see a YMCA, which provides child care and after-school programming. It had shut down due to COVID-19." She then goes on to write, "I’m not the first to point out that pods are emblematic of educational inequity in the United States. It’s a winner-take-all approach, with privileged, often mostly white students hoarding academic and social gains and further segregating our K-12 systems. This hypocrisy is why pod parents make me so angry. If Black lives matter, doesn’t that include Black children? What about Black futures?"
She goes on to say, "Pods don’t just help some kids learn more than their less privileged peers. They also actively pull apart the fabric of organizations that support low-income and students of color. By hiring teachers from public schools and trained staff from after-school programs and nonprofit organizations, pods siphon away community resources where they’re needed most."
Now here's what's really interesting. Before we take a closer look at some of the moral issues here, what's really interesting is that, like homeschooling emerged on the left, the tutoring pods or the pandemic pods also emerged way on the cultural left in one of the most liberal areas of the United States in some of the most economically advantaged communities on planet earth in Silicon Valley and in the Bay Area of California. Another footnote here is that, if you were to look at a map of the United States and consider those areas that experience the greatest income inequality, they tend to be right where the people who say they are most opposed to income inequality live. Places like Manhattan, San Francisco, the larger Bay Area. There's something very profound to think about there.
Now taking a closer look at some of the moral issues that are involved here, and there are so many, when you're looking at the fact that there are disadvantaged children, all of us want to see them experience greater advantages. And it also becomes very clear, and there are actually massive Christian worldview implications of this reality, that a context such as the pandemic or any form of economic stress actually demonstrates more fundamental advantages that are truly, truly important. One of the most fundamental of those advantages is actually having two parents in the home. It is the intact home. It is the natural family, that includes mother and father and their children in an intact environment that is filled with harmony and love and commitment, one to the other. The fact is that where you have economic disadvantage, you also have a pattern, which is simply easy to identify if you look at the data of a disruption in that process.
Now, of course, morally, the children are innocent of this. That is to say, they didn't make the decisions about their own birth. They didn't make the decisions about the circumstances of their raising. For the most part, they're not making decisions about the choices concerning their own education. Parents are making those decisions, but here's what we need to note. We have been living in a society that has increasingly been trying to say that marriage and the raising of children and parental authority and the structure of the family don't matter all that much. And yet in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is abundantly clear they matter a very great deal. As a matter of fact, they matter so much that they matter in the Bay Area of California and in Manhattan, as much as they matter anywhere else.
The word hypocrisy was actually used about the pandemic pods in that opinion piece that ran yesterday at USA Today. But when you're looking at hypocrisy, we need to understand that that is a universal human temptation, which Christians can well explain. It's, as we say so often, a Genesis 3 reality. But that hypocrisy has to do with the fact that you have liberal parents and, especially on the left, liberal lawmakers who are making laws for the entire country and establishing the new moral standards they demand, but they're not living by those standards.
That is to say, even as you have so many people on the left saying, "We want government to take control of more and more of the schools. We want government to dictate more and more of the curriculum of every school. We're going to dictate national policy that marriage doesn't matter and families really don't matter, that any kind of relationship is as good as any other, that children don't need two parents in the home. They certainly don't need a mother and a father, as a woman and a man united to one another in marriage." You have the people on the left who've been making this argument and yet when it comes to their own children, they don't live that way, and they don't make their decisions that way.
It's interesting to see the word hypocrisy show up in this secular context and indeed, in this USA Today editorial, and it's focused mostly at the left. Again, the opening illustration was a car, a Tesla with a #BlackLivesMatter written on the rear windshield that was a parent picking up a kid from a pandemic pod. That's the picture with which Tara Chklovski begins the entire piece. And again, let's be clear, we want children, all children to have more advantages. We want children, all children to be loved. We want children, all children to be fed and cared for. We want more children, all children to have the benefits of a quality education. But the fact is that many of the policies that have been established by this country and its government, mandated especially by bureaucrats in Washington and elsewhere driven by academics on the left throughout the country, they are actually counterproductive to increasing the security, the wellbeing, and enhancing the education of these children.
And that is because Christians have to understand something, and this is a good place for us to think about it seriously. And that is, that there is no structure, no program, there is no government intervention that can ever replace a functioning intact family. Now, let's be clear, these days it is considered controversial and perhaps some form of harmful language to talk about some families being stronger and for instance, using language like, "more intact," than other families. That is becoming language that you see sociologists running from. Social scientists say you can't use that language. But that is a form of moral insanity. The fact is that we either as Christians believe or we do not believe that the scripture indicates that God had a plan for the human family from the beginning, establishing it first of all, with the covenant union of a man and a woman, monogamous and exclusive, and then extending to the children who would be God's gifts to that couple.
The responsibility begins there. It doesn't end there. We also believe in the extended family and beyond that, we believe in the community. But this reminds us of a very important Christian principle, that is, the principle of subsidiarity. Now, again, we'll talk about that in greater length another time, but the most important issue is to understand that that principle says that the most basic structure that God has created is the most competent. That is to say, that when you have a mother and a father in a home, they are actually most competent to arrange the wellbeing of their children. Now clearly when there is an absence or a fracture or failure there, and throughout human history that has happened, someone has to step in, but the point is, every intervention after that and every structure beyond that is less competent in ensuring the wellbeing of that child or for that matter, delivering any other social good.
But we're living in a society that is operating by the opposite logic. And it's not just the legalization of same-sex marriage, it's not just the fact that we have so many single parents in the United States, it is that all of these are becoming basically a part of a new moral norm in which the functioning two-parent family is now considered something of an exception or for that matter, itself some kind of evidence of income inequality. But that points to another question, which came first, the economic security or the stable family? Well, the answer is there is no right answer to that question. If you're looking at any particular family at any particular time, but there is an answer to that question logically and biblically. And that is that the family comes before the security. Or to put it another way, you certainly should not expect that kind of security without the structure.
There's something else about subsidiarity that functions here, and that is the Christian understanding that parents, regardless of their politics, almost universally do make the decisions they believe are right for their children. It's not just that they don't care about other children. We should care about other children. We should demonstrate, actualize that care for other children, but we have primary responsibility for our own children. If we don't take care of our own children, we can't take care of anyone else's children. And so there's been the pattern, especially you see on the left in which you have a president of the United States, for example, elected saying, "I am completely committed to the public schools." And on the Democratic side, they almost always run with overwhelming support from groups like the National Education Association, the nation's largest labor union of teachers, and that labor union has something of a stranglehold on the Democratic Party. And it is actively opposed to any form of school choice. It's actively opposed to homeschooling.
But president Bill Clinton, elected in 1992 staunchly in support of the public schools, ended up sending his own daughter, Chelsea, to a very elite private school there in the Washington DC area. The same was actually true of the Obamas, and it could very well be that they made the right decisions for their children. And Christians understand they had the right to make those decisions, but it is incongruous to exercise that right for oneself while criticizing others for doing the same. When it comes to these pandemic pods, the reality is, parents, regardless of their politics, are likely to take advantage of whatever they see as a structure to assist their own children. And it also points to the fact that there is no biblical mandate that is classified as equality. The biblical mandate is, justice. Equality turns out to be important, but to have limited applications because in the context of this pandemic, the only way to ensure that all children receive an equal education is to ensure that all children receive basically no education.
And make no mistake, that has actually been the policy of some school districts who have not offered online instruction to elementary and high school students, because they have said not all students could take advantage. Now it's heartbreaking that that's true, but I'll just make a prediction and say, the parents of many of those children are making alternative arrangements for their children. And of course, many of them are now effectively homeschoolers. And homeschools, by the way are not going to be equal, but it is the right of Christian parents, it's the right of all parents we would argue, to make those decisions and to arrange the curriculum as they see fit. And in a home in which one of the parents has a PhD in math, it just might happen that those children are going to be advantaged. Well, to use the term of the current Marxist analysis, privilege. The same thing's true if one of the parents is a musician. And if both of the parents are actually in the home, there is likely to be a multiplication of the benefit.
Does Family Structure Matter? Despite Our Culture’s Demand for Denial, Christians Know the Honest Truth
But when we're thinking about all of that, I want to point to research that came out just last year, the end of last year by the Pew Research Center. Here's the headline, "US has the world's highest rate of children living in single parent households." It's really interesting. "For decades, the share of U.S. children living with a single parent has been rising, accompanied by a decline in marriage rates and a rise in births outside of marriage." If you want to know just how much of an outlier the United States is, consider these words, "Almost a quarter of U.S. children under the age of 18 live with one parent and no other adults (23%), more than three times the share of children around the world who do so (7%)." That would be only 7%. "In comparison, 3% of children in China, 4% of children in Nigeria and 5% of children in India live in single-parent households. In neighboring Canada, the share is 15%." That's shocking. We're talking about nations like China and Nigeria and India, where 5% or less of children live in single parent homes, but in postmodern America, we're now fully up to about 25%.
But this very same America wants to argue increasingly, and that's especially true of the elites in control of the national conversation, that it doesn't matter and actually that it is oppressive to argue that there is one family form that is superior to any other. But that point then takes me to a recent, very important report issued by the Social Capital Project of the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress. This was coming from the Republican caucus of the Joint Economic Committee. The title of the report, "The Demise of the Happy Two-Parent Home." With boldness, this report sets the issues very clearly. "Researchers have well-established that children raised by married parents do better on a wide array of outcomes. They have stronger relationships with their parents, particularly with their fathers. They are also much less likely to experience physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. They have better health, exhibit less aggression, are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior, have greater educational achievement and earn more as adults. They are also far less likely to live in poverty."
Now consider all those social goods. There is less abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse. There are lower rates of poverty. There are greater rates of educational achievement and wellbeing in these children. And yet we're living in a society that says, "You can't talk this way." But as a matter of fact, as a nation we have embraced what has been pushed upon us by so many who had an agenda, especially those in academia, those in the so-called therapeutic professions, what Peter and Brigitte Berger refer to as, "The regime of experts trying to instruct the American family since the 1960s," and I would say not only to instruct, but to destruct. The reality is that we have created a far less hospitable, far less secure, far less stable environment for children.
Now, the answer to this for Christians has to be multiple. Number one, we must understand our responsibility to honor what God has given us in the family, to honor God by raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, by exercising our God-given authority and responsibility to make the decisions for our children that are for their good. Beyond our own children, raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, we need to be part of churches that are establishing this as part of the congregational responsibility, to encourage parents and encourage families to be well ordered and to love one another and to function biblically in every respect. We need to advise and counsel one another.
According to Scripture, we also need to be congregations that are a family for those who have a family inadequacy. And that requires honesty, you can't say it is unbiblical and dishonest. And even the cultural left knows this. To say that family structure doesn't matter, it does matter. And in the local church as a congregation of Christians, we should seek to reach out to all within the life of the congregation who need to be assisted, loved, made more secure, families made more stable, parents who may be single parents who need help with their children, and children who need to find in the church lots of aunts and uncles who will love them. And yes, also help to provide for their stability and their education and their wellbeing.
And next, Christians are part of communities where we do want to help the community to try to buttress, to build up, to strengthen and to serve those who are in need. And in particular, the most vulnerable among us who are children. But we must insist on doing that honestly and a part of that honesty is knowing that there is no social structure. There is no bureaucratic program. There is no government entity that can wholly replace a missing parent or an inadequacy in a family. There is no way that any other structure can be equal to the structure that God has given us first and foremost in his plan. And furthermore, there is hope that is also given us in scripture that that which is weak, can be strengthened. And that's exactly what Christians have to do. We have to be committed in policy and politics and in our own personal lives to try to strengthen everything around us, rather than to weaken. That requires moral insight. It also requires moral honesty.
So looking at all these headlines together, it is really clear that we are up to a big challenge, especially in this pandemic. But we also have to remember that everything that's true now was true before the pandemic and will be true after the pandemic. The pandemic is a pressure cooker and let's be honest, we see the effects of that pressure.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. We were thrilled yesterday to welcome students back into the classroom at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College. We got to do, beginning yesterday and continuing as the Lord wills, we got to do what this institution was established for over a century and a half ago. Nothing fills us with greater joy and over the course of the last several weeks, we have welcomed hundreds of new students to both the seminary and the college. We'd be thrilled for you to be one of them. For more information, go to the website at Southern Seminary, sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.