brucekluger.com

    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 erasuch 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 shortand 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
    politics.

    "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
    world."

    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."