Archive for June, 2009
As the debate over health care reform heats up in Washington, the rhetoric around health care rationing grows more vitriolic. Conservative commentators, such as those writing op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, paint a frightening picture of the world under “Obama-Care,” a world where we would all stand in long lines to get whatever care the state deems reasonable. At the other extreme are the advocates for a massive healthcare overhaul who insist that a single-payer system would end the waste and inefficiencies now rife in our present system, leaving more than enough money to provide optimal care to all the people, all the time.
Let’s park our ideologies at the door and talk facts for the moment. Fact number one: The United States rations health care now, and anyone who doesn’t think that’s true has never come into contact with the medical system–or is very, very rich. But we ration on an ad hoc basis, with little to no honesty around the process. Has your insurer or doctor ever used the word “ration” when discussing the reasons why you should or shouldn’t have a certain procedure? I didn’t think so.
So let me ask you: How should we ration?
First, let’s look at how the U.S. rations today. We start by limiting access to health care for the 40 million to 47 million Americans who do not have insurance. Many people insist that these uninsured do have access to high quality healthcare, in an emergency room or wherever; they just don’t pay for it. Not true. Study after study has found that the uninsured get sicker, die earlier and get lower quality treatment than the insured, precisely because they can’t afford to pay. From an Urban Institute report last year:
In 2002, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) estimated that 18,000 Americans died in 2000 because they were uninsured. Since then, the number of uninsured has grown. Based on the IOM’s methodology and subsequent Census Bureau estimates of insurance coverage, 137,000 people died from 2000 through 2006 because they lacked health insurance, including 22,000 people in 2006.
Other researchers have estimated that the death rate could be reduced by 5% to 15% if the uninsured had the same access to care as those with coverage.
Those of us who are insured don’t have to worry, though, right? Well, earlier this month three insurance executives testified before Congress that their companies routinely deny coverage to policy holders with pre-existing conditions, a practice called rescission, and they have no intention of stopping. From the LA Times:
An investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations showed that health insurers WellPoint Inc., UnitedHealth Group and Assurant Inc. canceled the coverage of more than 20,000 people, allowing the companies to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims over a five-year period. It also found that policyholders with breast cancer, lymphoma and more than 1,000 other conditions were targeted for rescission and that employees were praised in performance reviews for terminating the policies of customers with expensive illnesses.
For a view from inside the rescission process, read the Congressional testimony of Wendell Potter, former insurance industry executive:
My name is Wendell Potter and for 20 years, I worked as a senior executive at health insurance companies, and I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick – all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors. I know from personal experience that members of Congress and the public have good reason to question the honesty and trustworthiness of the insurance industry. Insurers make promises they have no intention of keeping, they flout regulations designed to protect consumers, and they make it nearly impossible to understand—or even to obtain—information we need.
There are other ways we ration. We limit the number of doctors that can be trained each year, and effectively limit the numbers of primary care physicians by reimbursing them at much lower rates than specialists, thus encouraging medical students to avoid that path. The result is doctor shortages and long wait times for appointments, often longer than Europeans and Canadians, the ones with universal health care, have to put up with.
Insurers also typically do not pay for preventive care, which might save money in the long run but not in the short term. And as New York Times economics columnist David Leonhardt points out, by allocating 18% of our gross domestic policy to health care we are devoting fewer dollars to salaries, savings and other social goods like college loans.
A 10% increase in health premiums leads to a 2.3% decline in inflation-adjusted pay. Victor Fuchs, a Stanford economist, and Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist now in the Obama administration, published an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association last year that nicely captured the tradeoff. When health costs have grown fastest over the last two decades, they wrote, wages have grown slowest, and vice versa. So when middle-class families complain about being stretched thin, they’re really complaining about rationing. Our expensive, inefficient health care system is eating up money that could otherwise pay for a mortgage, a car, a vacation or college tuition.
Then there is the way the U.S. chooses to spend the $2.3 trillion it will allocate for health care this year. We have decided that our top priority is to help the dying–studies estimate that 10% to 12% of U.S. health dollars are spent on end-of-life care. About 25% of Medicare’s budget is spent on patients in their final year of life, and almost half that amount is spent on the final 30 days.
That makes little sense to me, and I speak from experience. When my grandmother was a frail 96-year-old, she fell and broke a hip. Despite our family’s better judgment, doctors talked us into hip replacement surgery, from which she never fully recovered. She did not walk again, she quickly fell into dementia, and died with six months. I doubt very much she would have had that wasteful operation in a European nation. Then there was my mother, who died of an asthma attack at age 64. But first, the hospital was able to revive her enough to put her on a ventilator. Although she had a living will, and her family wanted the machinery disconnected, she lived in a deep coma for another five weeks, unresponsive, essentially a vegetable. I cannot imagine the financial cost, and I am all too aware of the emotional cost. Again, I do not think that would happen in a European nation. But take a look at England, home of “socialized medicine.” My husband died of a brain tumor in London despite the uniformly excellent care he received, all free thanks to the National Health Service. In his final month cancer was found in his liver, but the doctors felt there was no point in putting him through any more painful treatments. We agreed and he died peacefully in hospice.
So, how would you like to die, and live? Should our health care dollars be spent on prenatal care or end-of-life care? How about preventive care, mental health care, dental care–how much are they worth? Should we insure everyone, or just those who can afford the premiums? Be upfront about rationing, or continue on an ad hoc basis?
It’s time for an honest and open debate, don’t you think?
For some great insights into how America rations, bookmark The Covert Rationing Blog by DrRich, a former cardiologist and medical professor who now works as a consultant.
Also, if you want to learn about one model under consideration for lowering health care costs, read my story on patient-centered medical homes: The Family Doctor: A Remedy For health Care Costs?
Do you wish your parents would help with babysitting, financial support or even picking up your dry cleaning?
Growing Old in America, a just-released study by the Pew Research Center, shows that parents and their adult children are relying on each other in many ways. Aside from the interesting retirement data in the study, what caught my eye is that 36% of respondents ages 65 and older say they help with their children with childcare. In addition, 51% of them say they have given their children money in the past year. And 32% of respondents 65 and older have provided help with errands, housework, and even home repairs.
Housework and financial support is definitely nice, but I’ve always been envious of the working parents who can rely on their own parents for childcare. This week my son’s sitter is away on vacation, and because school is finished but camp hasn’t started, we had a problem. It would be so wonderful if one of his many grandparents could step in. But they are all at least two hours away. Luckily, our neighbor is watching him, which is arguably the next best thing to family.
Even so, I’m envious of the strong bonds children have with the grandparents who babysit for them on a regular basis. For example, a colleague’s mother-in-law just came to visit from the Czech Republic for two months, which made caring for his daughter, who is almost 2, a lot simpler. In the beginning, his daughter wouldn’t go to her grandmom, but, by the end of the visit, she was calling out her grandmother’s name (Baba) from the moment she woke up. Even more amazing: Baba got her potty trained.
Another editor here at BusinessWeek has what seems like an ideal set up: her mother-in-law is her daughter’s primary caregiver, and the mother-in-law does it for free. By now everyone in America knows that Michelle Obama’s mother Marian Robinson (pictured here) is helping out with caregiving for first daughters Sasha and Malia.
I realize the grass is always greener. Indeed, family tensions can flare up When Granny is Your Nanny, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Sue Shellenbarger. In her newspaper article and a follow-up piece on the Juggle blog, Shellenbarger writes about the complicated cross-generational child-rearing dynamic. Parents and grandparents may have conflicting views on food, sleep, homework, TV and computer use. For example, one grandparent lets her grandson eat ice cream while he is watching TV. Although his mother doesn’t let him do that, she often looks the other way.
Despite the potential for family clashes, it seems like more households are opting for what is considered an “old world” childcare solution.
The proportion of preschoolers cared for primarily by their grandparents while their mothers work rose to 19.4% in 2005, the latest data available, from 15.9% in 1995, the Census Bureau says. A wave of closings and cutbacks in child-care facilities suggest the trend is continuing.
Do you think your parents or in-laws can provide ideal childcare? Why or why not? Feel free to air your clean (or dirty) laundry here.
When the subject of motherhood is combined with work, the conversation can get nasty and divisive as evidenced by the comments to my recent post The Motherhood Penalty: Working Moms Face Pay Gap Vs. Childless Peers.
“I’m astounded at how heated the working mom debates are,” says Eileen Caines, a writer for the Orlando Examiner, in an email. “It’s not just working moms vs. stay-at-home moms anymore. It’s working moms vs. child-free coworkers. It’s working moms vs. working dads. It’s working moms vs. recently laid-off dads. Apparently, working moms can’t win.” (Caines also offers smart resume advice for working moms here.)
What sparked this dialogue was a study from researchers who used fake resumes for two equally qualified women–one childless, one a mom. The only way hiring managers could tell the difference is that the mom said she was an officer in an elementary school PTA on her resume. Yet, the non-parent, who listed that she was a volunteer with a community group, received 100% more callbacks from employers. Mothers also were consistently ranked as less competent and less committed than non-moms.
I checked back with lead researcher Shelley Correll, a professor of sociology at Stanford University’s School of Humanities and Science, with some follow up questions from readers.
Why is this a hot-button topic?
A lot of women make personally difficult choices whether to devote time to work or family. I think it makes them harsher on people who may make other choices. Let’s say you decide to leave a great job because you need childcare for kids. For some women, (that decision) can create tension between working and nonworking mothers.
Several readers wanted to know more about the “fake” resumes which included the PTA affiliation.
There are different stereotypes associated with motherhood and fatherhood. If a father says he is involved in the PTA, he is seen (by hiring managers) as more stable and committed to his job. But a mother is perceived to be less committed.
Why do you study gender disparities?
What got me interested is the data out there that show the pay gap between working mothers and childless women is larger for many segments of the population than the gender wage gap. I wanted to understand what is special about mothers that leads to disadvantages in terms of pay and promotion.
How do those disadvantages play out?
There is a face time penalty. People who spend long hours at work seem more committed, even if they aren’t working while at work. Men waste a lot more time at work than women. Mothers with children work much more efficiently. Observational studies have found that the amount of stuff working mothers get done when they are at work is higher compared to other people. But we value is face time, not efficiency.
These kinds of biases against mothers can be reduced when workplaces attempt to do so. With workplaces increasingly needing to hire the best people possible, it makes no sense to discriminate against the person who is a productive employee.
What other topics are you looking at?
I’m interested in men who take time off for eldercare, and how they are penalized. In my study, I found fathers experience no disadvantage for being a father, but other studies show if a father takes extended time off, he’s penalized. If he takes time off to care for an elderly parent or children, he is actually penalized worse than women are.
Do you have children?
No, I don’t, but I get asked this question a lot.
Do you think First Lady Michelle Obama will influence the way people think about work and family?
Michelle Obama passionately articulates that we need policies to promote work and family balance for men and women. Work-life balance is about sanity, and sanity is good for everyone. She’s lived that life. She is really going to make a difference in this way
Work-family balance is one of goals of the White House Council on Women and Girls. Michelle Obama came and spoke to the council. If she’s out talking about work-life issues, it’s really going to have an impact.
President Obama spent today reflecting on the meaning of fatherhood, and launched what the White House is calling a “national conversation” on fatherhood. He started the conversation with a group of fathers and kids, many of them disadvantaged, at the White House, and I thought both the questions and his answers during the event thoughtful and moving. One of the advantages of being a journalist is that we get full transcripts of such events; in honor of Father’s Day, I wanted to share this one with you, so you don’t have to depend on snippets from the evening news.
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. It is wonderful to see you. I see some familiar faces in the house. Rev, how are you doing? It is great to have all of you here today as we gear up to celebrate Father’s Day and to recognize the vital role that fathers play in our communities and obviously in our families.
This town hall marks the beginning of a national conversation that we hope to start about fatherhood and personal responsibility — about how fathers across America are meeting the challenges in their families and communities, and what government can do to support those who are having a difficult time. Today, you’ve had a chance to hear from five of those fathers, men who are doing an outstanding job of meeting their obligations in their own lives.
This item was written by Savita Iyer-Ahrestani. She is a freelance financial journalist now living in The Netherlands who guest blogs for Working Parents.
Almost all the American parents I have met while living overseas say that the two things they miss most about the States are online shopping and Target (TGT), which in our times have become pretty much one and the same thing.
In the four years that I have lived outside the US, I, too, have missed the convenience of Target and its panoply of both store and online choices. But like every other American expat parent I’ve met, I also have a real fear of returning to that world of temptation, for I remember all too well setting out on shopping trips to buy, say, a pack of batteries, and returning home with all manner of things I had no intention of getting in the first place.
The greatest fear I and the fellow Americans I’ve met overseas share is the impact of the easy consumer culture that Target et. al. stand for on our children. Living overseas—particularly in The Netherlands, which is a very basic, no-frills-at-all kind of place—our kids have been shielded from the “I wants” and “I needs” that the world (myself included) associates with America. How easily can it ensnare these kids once they get back to the States?
I asked Allison Pugh, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and author of “Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children and Consumer Culture,” what advice she had for me, taking my two tabula rasa children—aged eight and five and with no recollection of America (they left the US in 2005)—back to New Jersey in a couple of months.
“Good luck,” she said with a laugh.
I told her my favorite European vs. American story: A French grandmother I know went to the States for her grand daughter’s (whose father is American) birthday. As the French and many other European grandparents do, she took one very exquisite and quite expensive dress for the little girl. But it was completely overshadowed by the American grandmother and her armfuls of gifts, tossed into a corner without a second glance. The French grandmother said she had never felt so embarrassed in her life.
“I’m quite frightened about the onslaught of mass consumerism-even though there’s a recession, I still feel that American children want and get so much more than children I have seen in Europe,” I told Pugh. “Should I be afraid of this?”
Yes, she says, there is definitely something to be scared of. The whopping $17 billion that’s spent on advertising geared specifically toward children—the giant monster that American parents I’ve had discussions with overseas are really afraid of—is certainly something to fear (I don’t think I have seen ads for kids stuff on Dutch TV, come to think of it). But although advertising certainly fuels kids’ “needs” and “wants,” Allison argues that it can’t be held wholly responsible for the impact of consumer culture on children.
In her book—based on her doctoral dissertation—Pugh says that children’s desires stem less from striving for status or falling victim to advertising than from their longing to join the “conversation” at school or in the neighborhood. In turn, parents answer this yearning to belong by buying the particular goods and experiences that act as “passports” in children’s social worlds, because they empathize with their children’s fear of being different from their peers. They want their kids to belong, and this continues even under financial duress. Pugh studied children and parents from different socio-economic classes and found this pattern to be the same.
It’s okay to give into the “conversation” every now and then. Pugh says, and as a parent bringing my kids to a new place, I would be inclined to want to help them belong to that place as much as I can. But Pugh also says that she’s “quite pessimistic about individual kids’ abilities to withstand the pressures and fight against materialism and handle their differences.”
Parents are afraid of their children being excluded and left out, but ultimately “the solution will come from us not just talking the talk and walking the walk about difference, but actually celebrating it, in terms of ethnicity, social class, and all kinds of other differences,” Pugh says.
Many middle-class American parents I’ve met like to say they’re not materialistic, that they don’t buy their children anything. Yet when you walk into kids’ bedrooms they’re often filled to the brim—with stuff that’s rarely even touched. I find this—which Pugh says is “the honorable thing to say”—more pronounced among Americans than any other race I’ve met, so despite my discussion with her, I am still nervous about my childrens’ return to the US.
Do I have reason to fear or not?
This entry was written by Jeremy Adam Smith, the author of The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting are Transforming the American Family, from which this piece is adapted. His is also the founder of the blog Daddy Dialectic.
Today, a third of wives earn more than their husbands. Eighty percent of mothers work. Meanwhile, 80% of the people being laid off in the current recession are men. Pay gaps persist between mothers and childless women—as well as between women and men—but the female breadwinner is here to stay.
And yet when I traveled around the country interviewing breadwinning moms for my new book, The Daddy Shift, I found that many of them were struggling with their role. “I feel happy at my job,” said Oakland mom Rachelle. “But all things considered, I’d give it up and stay home with [my son]. And that’s strange. I didn’t realize that I’d feel that way.” She was shocked to find herself feeling jealous of her stay-at-home husband.
Rachelle isn’t alone. In a 2007 essay for the New York Times, M. P. Dunleavey wrote that breadwinning moms “are seething—with uncertainty, resentment, anxiety and frustration.” While her own husband “cooks, cleans, shops and takes care of our son,” Dunleavey said that she was filled with “terror that I’ll be the breadwinner forever.”
The roots of this discomfort are not hard to understand. A series of studies by sociologist Joseph Pleck found that the more a mother is involved with the worker role, the less time she feels she has to enact the mother role. But this result did not apply to fathers, despite the fact that fathers reported working twice as many hours on average as mothers did. “These findings suggest that although caregiving and breadwinning behaviors may be competitively organized [internally] for mothers, they are not for fathers,” writes Pleck.
In other words, fathers tend to see breadwinning as part of parenting, while many mothers see working as a separate activity that takes time away from their children. These feelings are products of a sexual division of labor that is centuries old; they explain why both stay-at-home dads and their breadwinning wives struggle with feelings of inadequacy, even as they continue to grow into new roles.
But those struggles, I discovered, are only half the story. Many career-oriented women marry men who become primary caregivers, and they are extremely happy with the arrangement. What’s their secret? In an age when gender roles are open to negotiation, the first trick, I found, is to identify what you want and find a partner who knows what he or she wants, bargain openly for roles as changes like parenthood loom, and clearly identify what strengths each partner brings to the table.
I saw this principle in action with Chicago parents Misun and Kent Hoffman. Misun made it clear at the outset of the relationship that she wanted children but that she also wanted to pursue her career, and Kent responded that he wanted to raise the children himself if she would support him. If the couple had not been able to arrive at this arrangement, Kent and Misun both told me, the relationship would not have gotten to the next stage.
It’s a discussion that every modern couple must have. If the sexual division of labor is indeed in the early stages of dissolving and gender roles are up for grabs—which I argue is the case—couples must put their respective assumptions and innermost desires on the table. When they do not do this, the silence can become a liability in their marriages. Misun and Kent did, and it became a source of strength. And after the children were born, Kent was grateful for his wife’s success as a provider, and Misun expressed appreciation for her husband’s unique contributions as a caregiver.
This is also true of another Oakland couple, Gopal and Martha. “I’ve always wanted to be a father, since I was a teenager,” Gopal told me. “There was definitely an understanding that we would share parenting. I always knew that I wanted to stay home and she always knew that.” This combination of self-knowledge and honesty created the basis for a successful reverse-traditional partnership. “Having a partner who stays home helps tremendously,” said Martha, a public school teacher. “It’s easy to play the game of the overworked mother, but I’m not an overworked mother, because Gopal takes on so much care.”
In short, here’s the formula for successful reverse-traditional families, especially those created by an unexpected layoff: prizing time with children and seeing the value in Dad learning to take care of the kids; respecting each other’s roles, both breadwinning and caregiving; being grateful to each other’s contributions; and being able to articulate what you’re gaining through a reverse-traditional arrangement, even when it’s involuntary.
The definition of fatherhood has expanded to encompass a capacity for caregiving, just as motherhood has expanded to include breadwinning. This expansion can create stress and unhappiness. But as I hope the stories in The Daddy Shift reveal, it doesn’t have to be that way. When parents like Gopal and Martha embrace their roles, it creates new examples—and new possibilities—for all of us.
Today’s Link: NuVal, nutritional scoring system Why: The ranking system measures how human health is impacted by more than 30 nutrients, along with dietary guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes….
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Here’s a guest post by Lenore Skenazy, the founder of freerangekids.com and author of “Free-Range Kids”:
You’re off on another business trip. Another three days away from your kids (oh yeah – and spouse). You pack your suitcase but have a hard time getting it shut, because it’s so full. Of guilt.
Absentee parentism is considered close to child abuse in some circles – especially in Disney movies, where nine times out of ten some moppet is bravely choking back tears because mom or dad is too busy to understand his need to sing, or need for a dog, or need for a cheering parent in the bleachers. Absent parents are bad parents, but by the end of the movie those “selfish” grown-ups have learned their lesson: Celebrate every gosh darn moment of your child’s life or consider yourself Facebook friends with Cruella de Vil.
But is that truly what children need? Constant parental presence? Historically and psychologically, no.
As I was researching my new book, “Free-Range Kids: Giving our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry,” it became obvious that many of the happiest, smartest, best-adjusted people you’ve ever heard had nothing remotely resembling a Disney childhood. From Ben Franklin, packed off to an apprenticeship at age 12 (as was common back then), to Barack Obama, abandoned by his dad at age 2, it seems pretty obvious that what a child needs is not a parent’s constant presence, but a parent– or grandparent, or some other caring adult – who has confidence in them.
In fact, too much parental hovering can sometimes sap a kid’s confidence. “Was it mom’s special ice skate-tying technique that helped me win?” a child might wonder, “Or my own ability?” The only way to find out is to tell mom: Today I’m tying my skates myself. This happens to be even easier when mom isn’t there.
Because we live in a hot-house culture that has decided children need constant supervision (thanks to ramped up fears out of line with a crime rate actually back on par with 1970), parents have colonized almost every kiddie sphere. Birthday parties. Baseball practice. The park. But what we have to remember is: This hovering is new.
Chances are when you were a kid, you walked to your friend’s house without a second thought. Now kids are driven. You played outside till the streetlights came on. Now kids stay inside, supervised. And if your dad worked late, or you were a latchkey kid, no one pitied you because your parent wasn’t there to check your every diagrammed sentence. You just did it on your own. In other words, you grew up confident in yourself and in your parents’ love. Maybe you even figured out why we diagram sentences.
So while you might feel bad leaving your kids for a few days – or more than a few days – it’s quite possible you’re giving those kids the rare but golden opportunity to muddle through on their own. When you come home, you’ll still be listened to. You’ll still be loved. And with one confident click, you can de-friend forever Cruella de Vil.
While you and your spouse look lovingly at each other across the dinner table tonight, take a moment and look at what’s actually on that table. Chances are you are sharing one unhealthy meal. According to a study in Nature, both married men and women are twice as likely to become obese as the general population. And the longer they live together, the greater the risk.
By the way, women should not think they’ll escape this fat trip if they forget the marriage license and live in sin with the one they love. Women co-habitating with a romantic partner have a 64% greater risk of obesity. However, men co-habitating with a romantic partner have no increased risk at all–proving once again that life is damn unfair.
The researchers, from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, aren’t sure why marriage might make you fat. They do note that the marital state confers other health benefits, including decreased smoking and longer life. “But we also see greater weight gain than in others of the same age, and greater risk of obesity,” said Penny Gordon-Larsen, an associate professor of nutrition at UNC and co-author of the study.
According to Gordon-Larsen, when people are living together – married or not – they tend to share behaviors and activity patterns. They may chose to eat meals together, possibly cooking bigger meals or eating out more often than they did when they were single, and may watch TV together instead of going to the gym or playing a sport. Gordon-Larsen said that in subsequent interviews with both romantic partners, they found that couples who lived together for more than two years (especially those who were married) were most likely to display similar weight/obesity patterns and physical activity behaviors.
This particular marriage penalty could be part of the same trend picked up in a study reported two years in the New England Journal of Medicine–that obesity tends to spread among friends and family. If one of your friends becomes obese, the risk that you will also become obese in the next two to four years increases by 57%. The siblings of that friend have a 40% greater chance of becoming obese, and the spouse, 37%.
Nothing like being fat, happy and loved, I suppose. I’m not sure what the solution is here. The UNC researchers suggest that, just as spouses share unhealthy behaviors, they could learn to share healthy behaviors. Would the couple that runs together be as likely to stay together as the couple who shares a late night pig-out? Any thoughts, short of mass divorce?
Less than a week after President Obama’s Cairo speech urging peace and tolerance in the Middle East, Wednesday’s murder of a Holocaust Memorial Museum guard in Washington is a chilling reminder of how active organized hate groups are at home. While our YouTube-Facebook-Twitter-texting-connected kids have unprecedented tools for finding common ground among cultures that have been at odds for millennia, the rantings of suspected shooter, white supremacist, and anti-Semite James W. von Brunn show how easily the Internet can be used to sow hatred. So how do we protect our children from such vitriol?
Our interfaith family is attuned to the slings and arrows of bigotry: insulting assumptions about Jews—my husband’s family fled pogroms in Eastern Europe for New York more than 100 years ago; narrow stereotypes about the South, where my family has had Christian roots for 390 years. Yet a surge in extremism brought on by the recession and the election of our first African-American President, documented in April by the Homeland Security Dept. and in February by the Southern Poverty Law Center, seems far removed from our peaceful and diverse New Jersey suburb. That is until acts of violence like the museum attack expose the wired worlds of hate that course through the Internet.
As the President seeks mutual understanding on the world stage, it’s up to us as parents to ensure our children practice tolerance at home. Communities like mine, where the local memorial to the 700 New Jersey residents who died on September 11 is a daily reminder of the destruction hatred can unleash, have many cultural crossroads: the girls’ track meet last month, where two runners, worried they’d be late for their Hebrew high school confirmation class, watched as a head-scarved young woman from an area school sprinted across the finish lines; an interfaith meeting of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim teens (“Mom, the Muslim girls and boys sat separately”) where the clergy did much of the talking.
On weekends, rotating congregations of Christians, Jews, and Hindus fill churches and synagogues strapped for cash that rent their space to other worshipers. The local Barnes & Noble looks like a U.N. library as kids of all colors, SAT prep books and Starbucks coffee at hand, fill every available seat and spill into the aisles. And the adjacent mall is a global bazaar of shoppers from all corners of the earth hunting for bargains or the latest trendy goods. But New Jersey is no stranger to bigotry: In 2008, it ranked first in the nation in reports of anti-Semitic incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Although down from 2007, there were 238 incidents ranging from two assaults on Jews to vandalism and graffiti—much of it initiated by teens.
To cross the bridge from recognition to mutual understanding and cooperation, what can our communities do? Our schools have long-running anti-bullying programs. Our interfaith clergy association—featuring a well-known local imam, rabbis, priests, and ministers– holds annual Thanksgiving and Holocaust memorial services. Teaching Tolerance, a program of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has teaching materials and its 101 Tools for Tolerance for individuals, homes, schools, workplaces and communities. Among them are No. 26, bookmark equity and diversity Web sites on your home computer; No. 27, point out stereotypes and cultural misinformation depicted in movies, TV shows, computer games, and other media; No. 57, invite bilingual students to give morning greetings and announcements on the PA system in their home languages; and No. 60, ask schools not to schedule tests or school meetings on the major holidays of any religious group. Develop a school calendar that respects religious diversity.
Sadly, some of kids’ best ideas are inspired after the fact—when acts of hate have taken their toll. Earlier this month in San Clemente, Calif., high school sophomores launched a peer-to-peer safety and support group, Cool 2 Be Kind Club, to honor their friend Daniel Mendez, who committed suicide over “relentless” bullying .
Readers, what kinds of things are your schools and communities doing to promote tolerance—and to prevent the hatreds so easily exploited on the Internet?