Aug 042005
 

This morning I listened, as I always do, to NPR‘s Morning Edition. They interviewed Sen. Rick Santorum about his book, It Takes a Family. Clearly, the book’s title is a slam against Hillary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village. I haven’t read his book, but according to what he said this morning, instead of slamming Hillary, it sounds as if he actually agrees.

At one point Santorum talked about it takes religious institutions, neighbors, schools, etc. to instill good values in children. Sounds like a “village” to me…certainly something more than just a family.

I’d like to throw in my two cents on the topic. I grew up in an extended family. My grandparents lived close, and I spent a lot of time with them, with cousins, with Aunts and Uncles, and I’m glad of that. I have no doubt it gave me some advantages that probably aren’t measurable, but are there nonetheless. However, I know it also took a lot of other people that were part of the community in which I grew up, and I think those other groups and people are even more important for those children that don’t have two parents and other close relatives.

I know most all the teachers I had exercised a great deal of influence over me in a positive way. I know that our neighbors kept an eye on us, and that made us misbehave less. I remember a time after I was finally allowed to “cross the four-lane” to go to the little store and get gas for lawn mower. I usually got 50 cents for a drink and candy too. But not long after that, the next door neighbor was checking in with Mom because she’d seen me crossing the highway. Mom assured her it was now “OK.” but that’s how we were looked after.

So, Rick, children are certainly better off if they are the product of a close and loving family, a unit that takes many faces and complexions, but even you admitted it also takes all these other people and groups….so you really do know Hillary was right and kids are better off if they are part of a “village.”

I think a lot of the problems today come from the fact that we don’t develop relationships with and attachments to our neighbors like we used to. We have no sense of community, as we’re all self-contained. In Tampa, everyone seems to have a lawn service, so I never see kids out mowing lawns. Both parents work, so there are no more coffee cloches. Right now, I’ve lived in my house for nearly four years, and I can’t tell you the names of one set of next door neighbors. (See, I’ll admit to being just as guilty as everyone else.)

I blame air conditioning. Its true. I grew up without it. Its why older homes have real front porches. We went outside in the evenings and sat on the front porch, and slept with the windows open (they were open during the day too). You saw your neighbors coming and going, you heard the noises of the neighborhood, and you noticed things that were out of place.

Nowadays, we lock ourselves tightly in our cars with the windows shut, as we leave our cubicles. We go home and rush inside our air conditioned homes, and even if we do venture outside in the evening, its to the decks in the back of the house. We don’t want to interact with all our neighbors. We look for ways to interact with people just like us, so we don’t learn to get along with everyone.

I remember the firs time I moved to Tampa. I was looking for an apartment, and went to a Post Apartments property. I don’t think I’ve ever been so turned off to a place. I remember the guy telling me how they do a background check and all this because they surveyed their residents and found that (wink wink) they want to live around people like themselves. So help me, the guy said that. I think what’s most sad is that its true. We put our kids in private schools to keep them away from undesirables. We don’t hang out with the neighbors because they might not “be like us.”

I don’t know where I’m going with this, except that I do know kids are better off being raised as part of a community (a village), than being locked in a protected air conditioned, environmentally controlled world of other people “just like us.” Especially given that we are usually not part of a large extended family unit that is close. So Rick, you’re wrong. You just missed the point of community.

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