Does Your Child Belong to the Community?

An MSNBC promotional spot in which commentator Melissa Harris-Perry declares that children belong to the community has gone viral on YouTube.

Viewers have responded with outrage to the idea that we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.

The most common interpretation of Harris-Perry’s words seems to be that she would like to take children out of their homes and raise them collectively. That was not her meaning, but that is the message she conveyed to a lot of listeners.

Harris-Perry’s day job is professor of political science at Tulane University. I’ve never watched her MSNBC talk show, so I don’t know how she expresses herself on it. I don’t know what type of audience she is targeting. In the promo that has provoked so much outrage, she talks like a college professor who assumes she will be understood without giving much thought to her choice of words.

With her first and last sentences, Harris-Perry makes it clear that she is calling for society to make a greater investment in the needs of children. Unfortunately, between these two sentences she expresses herself with incomplete thoughts and hot button words and phrases. When she says, “children don’t belong to their families,” she doesn’t mean that they do belong to the government and should be taken away. She means that children don’t just belong to their families. The larger community should care about the well being of other people’s children because children are so important to the well being of the community once they grow up.

What every child needs is a loving, caring family to provide the guidance, involvement, and emotional support that will give them the strength they need to avoid the pitfalls of drugs, irresponsible sexual activity, school failure, and criminal behavior.

On the other hand, the community should care about the children who don’t have that kind of family. Instead of meaningless laws requiring more and more standardized testing that will cost millions or even billions of dollars to implement, the agencies concerned with education would do more good by establishing boarding schools as a refuge for children who would be better off without the sorry families they happened to be born into.

The Harris-Perry flareup is a good example of media misdirection. Instead of following up on the need to improve the conditions of children who do not have supportive families, the television opinion-shapers prefer to stir the pot of anger, misunderstanding and partisan hatred.

If you are visiting this site, you belong to the tribe of supportive parents/adults. An important part of your job is to teach children to question what they hear on television.

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2 Responses

  1. The average American–perhaps the average human being–does not read or listen closely. Most people hook onto certain words and phrases and fill in the rest according to their own feelings about a subject. I think that demagogues and media pundits rely upon this attention deficiency to keep dissension and ill feeling at a boil.

  2. I heard Melissa Harris-Perry’s promotional spot on MSNBC and had no trouble understanding exactly her meaning—as you did. She believes (rightly so) that the whole community needs to share the responsibility of nurturing all our children.

    When It Takes a Village came out by Hillary Clinton in 1996, it was received with the same type of criticism and pseudo interpretation. “She wants the government to take our children away….”

    Proposed legislation against gun violence garners the a similar response: “The government is going to take our guns away….”

    If I say “Pass the salt,” someone will, no doubt yell, “You want to take away our Fritos and tortilla chips!”

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