USA Today, April 7, 2004
Parents, not politicians, should define family values
By Bruce Kluger
Every morning, my daughter's third-grade teacher, Lucas, begins class with a lovely
ritual. Strapping on a guitar and gathering his students around him, Lucas leads
the boys and girls in a medley of numbers he has taught them. There's nothing as
sweet as the sound of children singing, but my favorite part is listening to them
perform songs from my era—such as The Byrds' Turn! Turn! Turn! or The Beatles'
When I'm 64.
Most important, the exercise teaches the kids about harmony, both musical and
social. But lately, Lucas has been cutting the sing-alongs short—and he's not
happy about it.
"The city has mandated high-stakes testing for third-graders," he says, "so I have
to revamp my lesson plan to prepare them. The sad part is, you should see these
tests. They say nothing about who these kids are as thinkers and learners."
Mandatory testing is just one part of a more vexing problem facing parents: At an
alarming rate, people who never have laid eyes on our kids are deciding what's
best for them. And all too often, they're getting it wrong.
As we head into campaign season, power players of all stripes have begun to
pervert the definition of the American family to advance agendas that have little to
do with it. In the case of mandatory testing, the original idea came not from parents
worried about their kids' education, but from far-removed politicos battling over
arcane policies, federal money and their own hopes of re- election.
Now comes another example of this disingenuous, "for the sake of our children"
ploy: the national crusade against "indecency." It is as manufactured as the Janet
Jackson fiasco, the incident that started it all. The campaign to decontaminate the
airwaves has incited endless grandstanding by an "outraged" Congress, a finger-
wagging Federal Communications Commission and a holier-than-thou religious
right whispering instructions into the president's ear. In other words, it's all about
"Every election needs a wedge issue," says ACLU President Nadine Strossen. "This
year, it's the battle over our airwaves. Ironically, this has nothing to do with decency
or family. It's all about politicians trying to maintain job security."
Government proselytizers aren't the only ones dictating what constitutes family
values. To find the real players in this shameful game of My Household's More
Decent Than Yours, just look for groups with "family" in their titles.
Such as the American Family Association, which recommends a boycott of Disney
for its anti-Christian "depravity"—namely, hiring homosexuals and offering same-
sex health benefits.
Or the Family Research Council, which backed the recent Texas boycott in which a
wacko from Waco refused to buy Girl Scout cookies because of the national
organization's association with Planned Parenthood.
Or Focus on the Family, which has determined that homosexuality leads to
"alienation from family, rejection from friends (and) disdain from the heterosexual
These are the people I should trust when it comes to raising my kids? As my 8-year-
old might say, "Talk to the hand."
Still, two can play this game. If these groups can redefine "family" to suit their mean-
spirited ideologies, permit me to do similar tinkering with the word "indecent."
What's indecent to me is that while President Bush can't seem to raise 12 million
American children above the poverty line, he still manages to raise nearly $600,000
a day for his campaign.
What's indecent to me is the $1.5 billion proposal to plunge the nation into a giant
"healthy marriage" counseling session, even as the No Child Left Behind program
leaves behind a vapor trail.
What's indecent to me is that Christian conservatives continue to lecture on
morality, even in the wake of their own Roman Catholic child abuse scandal.
Enough already. We need to learn to harmonize. I'm confident that, even in this
combative election year, we can reclaim the sanctity of family, or at least keep it
from the grips of politics. As Lucas' third-graders might say while singing their
favorite Byrds song, "I swear it's not too late."