blaming families: juvenile justice edition

The Real News Network has an excellent series of videos (I posted about these previously.) The series looks at the use of detention and jailing of juvenile offenders, a system we have used to quarantine young people from working class families decimated by structural racism, a broken safety net, and low wages.

More at The Real News

Juvenile justice expert, Bart Lubow on families: [transcription is mine]
..... those who work in the juvenile justice system ... tend to think: the families are the problems. They pathologize the family and they think that removing the child from the family context ... is a good thing because the family is the problem. 
If you are in a juvenile justice system, committed to helping kids become productive adults and you think that family is the primary problem, affecting this kid's socialization, then why is it that you've built a juvenile justice system that only focuses on 15 - 16 year olds as opposed to working with moms and dads to say "what can we do to help you fulfill your responsibility as the primary socialization force in your kid's life?"
Lubow is keenly aware of the blame game that always blames families for modern dysfunctional institutions. When the democratic structure of corporations and state institutions is weak, these large groups exploit the people they should serve in the name of jobs at the top. And then they blame the people they ignore. It's a well-known psychological mechanism.

Blaming Families
Families, the oldest social unit, are remarkably powerful even in this age of transnational corporations. The bad parent meme helps us understand almost every problem out there and it is useful to see how much damage the family has wrought in past 30-40 years:
  • Families having children has caused global warming
  • Families wanting bigger houses caused the housing bubble
  • Families using credit caused the financial crisis
  • Families eating fast food created the obesity crisis
  • Families watching TV create low test scores in schools
  • Families coddling their kids cause juvenile crime
  • Families are overusing healthcare causing costs to rise
  • Families are spreading infectious disease by not vaccinating
  • Families are not educating their kids about sex
  • Families are not not forcing their kids to go to school
  • Families do not read enough books to their kids
  • Families are not spending enough time together
  • Families are getting too many divorces
  • Families are not buying and cooking good food
  • Families want time off and sick leave which businesses just can't afford
  • Families need to try harder and schools and testing corporations can help them improve 
Oh, and this just in: and families caused Occupy Wall Street too, unbelievably on a so-called parenting blog:

How bad parenting created Occupy Wall Street -
"We know the unemployment rate (over 9 percent) and the number of us living in poverty (more than 46 million. That’s roughly one in seven). But Occupy Wall Street is not helping those people. Occupy Wall Street is a temper tantrum in a private park. And it’s parents, moms and dads, i.e. us, who are to blame."
In fact, many people believe that family breakdown causes these problems instead of these problems causing family breakdown. Everything would be fine if families would do a better job. We could fit into the corporate and institutional structures of the new nation-state if we didn't have these families dragging us down.  Our factory schools have cooperated with mass medication, mass testing, punitive grading, and unnecessary remediation, all in the name of keeping the system intact. Many families seem to agree:

Survey: Parents deserve heavy blame for education woes | Local & Regional | Seattle News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News | KOMO News
    "An Associated Press-Stanford University Poll on education found that 68 percent of adults believe parents deserve heavy blame for what's wrong with the U.S. education system - more than teachers, school administrators, the government or teachers unions." 
US Families Lack Support 
The US has less support for families than other industrialized countries. Families do not have healthcare (and the healthcare we have is often poor quality), family leave, high-quality maternity care and real programs that enable mothers to stay with their children longer, affordable daycare, national jobs programs, food programs, or other supports for families. The US is alone among industrialized countries in many of these extremely unsupportive policies.  After years of corporate boosterism, many Americans believe that family breakdown causes these problems whereas, in truth, the relentless decimation of supportive services and wage stress has caused many families to splinter or be less functional. And that tearing of the social fabric costs because human beings are social creatures.

Families are there to supply kids to the public schools system who are in loco parentis. Families are not allowed to request and get services, from daycare to extra classes, nor can families decide to use fewer services for whatever reason: a child on medication may do better with a half-day schedule and time spent offsite while a child from a family working two jobs needs high-quality afterschool classes.

Schools Ignore Families
These differences cannot be addressed within our system since the system requires, at force of law, that children be processed in lockstep, assembly-line fashion. And ending a factory approach means ending credential manufacture as a mission. The schools need to offer learning services that support many paths to credentials. We need to stop trying to control and measure what kids know and start supporting people.  If our goal is to maximize learning, then we must support families and their children, we can move toward schools allowing families to choose their services in order to optimize their family life.

Families are social relationships that have economic value for communities.  It is really expensive to try and repair and support families that are stressed or broken. Providing ways for us to support and strengthen the people in our communities is moving toward sustainable economics by saving money and expanding service. Money cannot buy what flexibility and decentralization could provide: only the right design can get there.

At the bottom of the entire school system are families that have no power. Changing the schools is actually one of the surest ways we can positively impact the widest number of families and children. We can move away from a factory approach and begin to work toward providing families resources. Otherwise we will continue to transfer wealth upward to the 1% who are, perhaps, the families who should be blamed.
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