Taranto’s The New Legitimacy
Solving social problems by redefining our terms points to new low on Census Bureau definitions: now anyone who lives with a child is a “parent”.
According to the NY Times
The Census Bureau attributed an indeterminate amount of the increase to revised definitions adopted in 2007, which identify as parents any man and woman living together, whether or not they are married or the child’s biological parents.
The article then cites a number of experts (what would we do without experts? as Taranto frequently asks) who don’t appear to notice the new definition at all.
One of the most intractable and devastating problems affecting minorities, not just blacks since a large number of Latinos are also being raised by single mothers, most of them very young, has been swept aside with a change of terms.
Are these children being raised by both parents? Are the consequences of irresponsible adults’ actions solved? Of course not.
I share Taranto’s frustration:
So here’s a more modest idea: Why not redefine together to mean “on the same planet”? So long as at least one man and one woman live on Earth, whether or not they are married or the child’s biological parents, every child is being raised by two (or more) parents, and this will remain true at least until we begin colonizing space. Hey, it takes a village!
For a more realistic assessment of the problem of children being raised in poverty, read Kay Hymowitz’s excellent article, The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies:
More than most social scientists, Moynihan, steeped in history and anthropology, understood what families do. They “shape their children’s character and ability,” he wrote. “By and large, adult conduct in society is learned as a child.” What children learned in the “disorganized home[s]” of the ghetto, as he described through his forest of graphs, was that adults do not finish school, get jobs, or, in the case of men, take care of their children or obey the law. Marriage, on the other hand, provides a “stable home” for children to learn common virtues. Implicit in Moynihan’s analysis was that marriage orients men and women toward the future, asking them not just to commit to each other but to plan, to earn, to save, and to devote themselves to advancing their children’s prospects. Single mothers in the ghetto, on the other hand, tended to drift into pregnancy, often more than once and by more than one man, and to float through the chaos around them. Such mothers are unlikely to “shape their children’s character and ability” in ways that lead to upward mobility. Separate and unequal families, in other words, meant that blacks would have their liberty, but that they would be strangers to equality. Hence Moynihan’s conclusion: “a national effort towards the problems of Negro Americans must be directed towards the question of family structure.”
No amount of redifining “parents” will change that.
Such obfuscations have consequences. First of all, comparisons over time become pointless. Distinctions are lost. The often-discussed and often-proven differences between a nuclear family and one that shifts through a series of “fathers” and sometimes “mothers” can’t be measured. Difference in achievement, health, happiness will be irretrievable. (One suspects that is the point.) Second, such shifts affect our definitions of family. I have no problem with the commitment between two gays partially because I have long suspected it does a lot less to undermine the definition of “family” than a high rate of divorce and bureaucratic decisions/definitions like this. Third, this undercuts the biological. We forget such lessons at our peril – in this case, peril to children. We worry about the dangers of jungle gyms and slippery slides, but ignore those understood for millenia.