Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"America's Worst Mom": Bad Logic

In her defense, she's certainly not among the worst moms; I have known far worse, less
caring "biological moms" in my 64 years. However, I detected serious lapses in logic in the recently published one and a half-paged excerpt from her 2009 book, Free Range Kids....lapses which I pray will not harmfully impact her charmer of a son, now ten.

"The Week" publishes its longest feature, The Last Word, two or three pages from the magazine's back. Another week, another author: this issue, Lenore Skenazy is featured, explaining why she allowed her then nine year old son to take the NYC subway home alone, from Bloomingdale's in downtown Manhattan. Then Ms. Skenazy wrote a column about it for The New York Sun, which resulted in her appearance on morning TV, etc., etc. Recently a conductor on a commuter line (Ms. S. declined to state which) called police when the now ten-year old lad explained he'd ridden alone but would be picked up by car at disembarking.

What follows are quotes from this author, with rebuttals from me:

(1) ......"that may sound a little scary, but it's not. Here in New York, families are on the subway all the time. It's extremely, even statistically, safe......"

Rebuttal: It IS somewhat dangerous, not to say disingenuous, to act on the notion that New York City is one of the safest places for lone children under 13 (often physically slight, like this boy) to roam alone at will. No amount of training, which this mother says she has given her son, is adequate defense against the insane on the streets (and subways), pedophiles, etc. Notice her key word, "families", is irrelevant: The boy travelled ALONE, no family. As to any other "families" who may/may not feel inclined to help if an incident occurs, how is the presence of some families necessarily of help to her? She's right, there is chance in this world; but our job as parents is to minimize the negative effects of chance until at least puberty, when the child is significantly larger.

(2) ......."Our murder rate is back to where it was in 1963....."

Rebuttal: She should, as a competent journalist (which I question), recall that "rate" equates to per capita numbers--so that actually means there are MORE deviant, as well as normal, people around now, period.... the random nature of mingling with the public in crowds and on mass transit should alarm her, because there is not, alas, any straightforward person-per-
capita-chance-of-encounter-ratio every day. On day one, there might be all normal and kindly
folk around; on the next, three, four or more "troubled souls" will come across someone's path,with a potential for disaster. If Ms. S. doesn't realize that people are often sizing others up for any kind of weakness, she is not as widely read as media people should be, but seldom are now. All microbiologists, zoologists, geneticists, anatomists, naturalists and other life scientists state unequivocally that humans are animals also; it's wise to remember it.

(3)....."The idea that we should provide [total safety] for our children every second of every day...It's as if we don't believe in fate anymore....."

Rebuttal: I definitely disagree that Determinism should be any loving parent's guiding philosophy. So, no, besides catastrophic, genetically induced illness or freak accident, I reject "Fate" for children. Of course, every-moment-of-the-day safety is impractical once kids start school, but every reasonable effort should still be made, poetic interviewer allusions to "cotton wool" to the contrary.

(4)...."Mostly, the world is safe. Mostly, the world is good...."

Rebuttal:--If only! No, young single mom (from the photo), it is NOT mostly good and safe. In India and China, despite the glowing reports of the rise of their middle classes, most people are STILL underfed, living in unsafe conditions. Sex and domestic slavery exists in many countries, in our hemisphere, even HERE. (Unless one is prepared to deny the thoroughgoing journalism of
Frontline/PBS and other, credible sources.) Too many examples abound, African countries, etc.

I won't continue my diatribe about Ms. Skenazy's poor and dangerous logic. She has very likely (so far) not experienced some of the worst the world can deliver, but I HAVE:

--Kidnapped in St. Paul, MN, at 11 a.m. on my way to work, years ago, extricated myself without
help; the guy had a gun.

--Molested by a passing bicyclist on the sidewalk one block from my home--I ran around several blocks to get him, but lost him....this was a "good" northwest side Chicago neighborhood.

--Molested by an 18 year old neighbor boy in my own "nice and clean" south side San Antonio, TX home, while all the adults were beering and BBQ-ing out back. (These adults weren't
particularly caring parents at any time.) I was 11.

I've stopped crimes in progress against others on and off over the past 30+ years, mostly in Chicago, but occasionally elsewhere; I don't need the press, a posse, or a red beret, like the Sliwas of NYC, to do this. I'm delighted and satisfied to have helped many people, but I can tell you, every one of the many incidents occurred in public, and NO ONE ELSE stepped forward BUT me. By the way, at least three of these episodes took place on mass transit, one on a Greyhound bus during a storm, between Iowa and Illinois.

I wonder how any well-read, retentive adult can be very comforted by the feel-good PR pronouncements from big city mayors claiming encouraging lower crime statistics. (For those of
you Big Apple boosters, former Mayor Giuliani's famous, somewhat effective "Zero Tolerance"
anti-crime program was a DIRECT LIFT from the University of Chicago's famous Dr. James Q. Wilson. He's the criminologist who coauthored a text explaining his "Broken Window" theory, which is identical to the zero tolerance philosophy--published about ten years before New York
hard charging prosecutor/mayor G. spouted his not original, merely renamed "theory".)
Statistics are inherently and frequently wrong--look at poor Mexico City, variously stated
to have had 159, 150, 42 or 22 confirmed N1H1 deaths. Which is the right number? Similar U.S.
problem numbers are quoted here, everyday--I find them.

We adults must somehow devise the right safety culture for our kids--neither enclosing them
in a plastic bubble nor adopting a "sink or swim" social darwinism mentality. Ms. Lenore
Skenazy, in my opinion, has not found that thoughtful, careful center. I hope she does, for her
son's sake, and for her own.