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The Big Answer


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The Assault On Parenthood

a book by Dana Mack

(our site's book review)

The Assault On Parenthood has this subtext: that the experts, social agencies, ACLU, NEA and the rest of the liberal interests have assaulted parenthood, stealing its jobs from parents, who it considers incapable of decent parenting. Her cure is to take the power back from all of the above and put it once again into the hands of parents. She feels that the reason that the institutions that are supposed to be helping parents are actually undermining them is that they are all anti-family.

This includes the courts, unions, PTA, lawyers, psychologists, educators, social scientists, et al. But a counterculture of parents, she says, disenchanted with all this tampering, is forging a pro-family movement aimed at reclaiming the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing. She proposes seven policy ideas which she expects will require political courage to convert into effective action: less taxes, more jobs, media responsibility, education reform, child welfare reform, family law reform, and community revival.

(Note: Anti-feminist and anti-ERA leader of the New Right: Phyllis Schlafly started the Culture War in the 1970s with her anti-ERA campaign and she STILL believes a woman's place is in the home! Most Social Conservatives in the United States still have obsolete ideas and agendas regarding women and homosexuals, and they're Pro-life, Pro-School prayer, etc. Some are even closet racists. Some are creationists—denying evolution. Almost all are nostalgics, trying to turn back the clock to the 1950s. Dana Mack is like a Schlafly clone and she is also trying to turn back the clock.)

Her message is very politicized and one-sided. It screams right wing as it castigates the left for their social transformations and progressivism, but Mack seems to want the social engineers to continue, only this time in reverse, rolling back all the progress made in the areas of children’s rights and the fight against child abuse. What she’s looking for is power, authority, authoritarianism, and to convince others to support the “pro-family” platform of the right wing. But because most citizens don’t like the extremism demonstrated by pro-life, pro-family, pro-religion in schools, pro-spanking, and pro-authoritarian agendas, and consider them the rejection of progress by the regressive nostalgic conservative die-hards, she’s unlikely to gain many adherents.

The repression of social science by the Religious Right leads to ignorant, authoritarian parenting errors
The repression of social science by the Religious Right leads to ignorant, authoritarian parenting errors

We’ve all seen or heard about people who quote the Bible, implying a denial of science and secular progress in so doing; support authoritarian child-raising in homes and schools, totally ignoring the science that has proven this to be a big part of society’s problem—and not its solution; and politicize social issues while naming various progressive people and organizations as mindless and heartless villains. Few of us are impressed, as this is just another hollow skirmish in the perpetual Culture War.

A bible thumper denying science, evolution, progress, the Enlightenment, and much human knowledge
A bible thumper denying science, evolution, progress, the Enlightenment, and much human knowledge

Her definition of a real, knowledgeable expert is someone (like Phyllis Schlafly) from a right wing think tank, and her definition of objective research is the findings of the right wing—whatever they may be. Her strategy is to label everyone who won’t bow down to the right’s regressive and repressive agenda as anti-family, anti-parent and anti-child. Alan Wolfe has said of Mack and her cohorts that "conservative educational criticism, in particular, resembles a Ponzi scheme": each writer cites another conservative writer for proof of his points. And the result is that a veritable library of books full of pseudo-knowledge is assembled, "all of them resting on the same non-foundations." He points out that in her book she deceives herself even more than she deceives her readers.

Mack's strategy is to label everyone who won’t bow down to the right’s regressive and repressive agenda as anti-family, anti-parent and anti-child
Mack's strategy is to label everyone who won’t bow down to the right’s regressive and repressive agenda as anti-family, anti-parent and anti-child

Over and over we’ve seen this, especially with regards to the advocacy for authoritarian discipline (which she strongly supports in her tired, cliched polemic tome): Finding no science on her side to back her naïve arguments in favor of violence towards kids “for their own good,” she—without telling the reader about it—runs off to some fundamentalist special interest group or dogma tank (one cannot call the process they go through “thinking” so we cannot say “think tank”) and they give her the names of books and authors from academia (mostly Christian Universities) who support spanking and coercion and write it up as if it were science as opposed to simply a strongly held dogmatic, regressive belief that is too uncomfortable to let go of, even in the light of all the evidence that supports this abandonment. She quotes these tired, foolish, propaganda-crammed tomes as “evidence” that her ideas are scientifically based, and people who are looking for an excuse to keep beating their kids get another green light for violence. See The New Know-Nothings: The Political Foes of the Scientific Study of Human Nature.

Spanking—how Dana Mack wants us to treat our children!
Spanking—how Dana Mack wants us to treat our children!

She especially dislikes where schools are at because they (only some) are dumping authoritarian discipline ideas and trying to get parents to dump it at home as well, which to Mack and Schlafly is clear evidence of an “anti-family” agenda. She says that what people dislike most about schools is their liberal attitudes, but what most people dislike most about schools is the political agendas being acted out there, to the detriment of teacher, parent and student alike. Mack seems to be against P.E.T. because it doesn’t address how to make kids obey when they won’t. She cites a kid coming to family P.E.T. meetings stoned as evidence of the method’s inadequacies, and she implies it is permissive. She is wrong. It is authoritative (except for the preclusion of logical consequences), and Thomas Gordon himself has said many times that permissive methods are at least as bad as authoritarian ones. Or you can call it humanistic or harmonious, but never authoritarian or permissive.

And the fact that the stoned kid in her mind needs authoritarian punishments rather than counseling, understanding, active listening, conflict resolution meetings or a treatment program, merely underscores our assessment of Mack as a right winger. One can easily imagine that one might spank a kid often and the kid would seek oblivion via drugs, or simply act out this way to express his anger toward his parents. But we find ourselves unable to imagine spanking a kid and getting the result that he dumps using drugs. The only thing the violence does is aggravate the situation and express the parents’ anger. And, of course, this latter is the real right that Mack is desperately trying to hold onto when she pretends to simply want schools to refrain from interfering with her parental duties: the right to get vengeance on someone you’re angry with.

Is her agenda to get schools to refrain from interfering with her parental duties really just protecting teachers' and parents' rights to get vengeance on someone they’re angry with (kids)?
Is her agenda to get schools to refrain from interfering with her parental duties really just protecting teachers' and parents' rights to get vengeance on someone they’re angry with (kids)?

Most authoritarians have two unconscious wishes, if one judges by their actions: to pay back their parents for the pain they endured from their authoritarian methods, and to use their kids to do this paying back, since they lack the courage to actually confront their real parents. No matter how many times they see that such parenting methods fail, they irrationally continue them because they are addicted to having win-lose power over another, which they were always on the losing side of during their childhoods. Such people try not to see that they are failing their kids with their ineffective parenting methods and merely causing passive-aggressive behavior or violent act-outs with siblings or peers, or depression and other signs of mental problems as the hate gets turned against the kid by the kid himself, who then needs self-esteem work (which Mack also condemns—of course!).

Depression rate in the U.S. in 2011
Depression rate in the U.S. in 2011
Children's basic emotional and social skills are dropping in over 40 indicators—they're more nervous, irritable, sulky, moody, depressed, lonely, impulsive and disobedient
Children's basic emotional and social skills are dropping in over 40 indicators—they're more nervous, irritable, sulky, moody, depressed, lonely, impulsive and disobedient, and authoritarian upbringing is a major contributing factor to this symptomatology

She needs to realize that schools’ and social agencies’ rejection of authoritarianism doesn’t make them anti-family, but simply anti-authoritarian. And they are not that way arbitrarily or to tease fundamentalists, but because all the world’s best thinkers are clearly seeing authoritarian mindsets as one of the world’s biggest problems. And their thinking is more than intuitive. It is the result of the science regarding this matter. And it is the result of knowing about the millions of people who have abandoned permissive and authoritarian methods and switched to authoritative or P.E.T. methods, and finally have gotten effective, benevolent, inspiring results in parenting specifically and relationships in general. The reason her hated “experts” are trying to let these proven scientific facts be widely disseminated is because they want people’s relationships, families, communities and parenting methods to work well and create happiness, rather than symptomatology. How could they do any less and live with themselves?

Of course she’s right not to want experts and agencies to take over her child-raising tasks! But is she right that we all should look the other way if she and other right-wingers (as well as left-wing liberal permissives, of course) do it wrong and create nothing but suffering, or should someone show some compassion and remind her that better ways are known about, and millions are successfully using them as we speak? We can all agree that social engineering by politicians, schools, NEA, ACLU, or others is simply not where we want things to go. The engineers are saying that the symptoms in society show that people are messing up, so we’re doing our best to set things right—their actions, then, are simply to address symptoms. And of course the right wingers are saying that it was the engineers’ interference that created all the dysfunctionality in the first place, so we’re trying to stop their engineering before they can do any more harm.

In truth, they’re both right. The more the engineers did their thing, the more the statistics on dysfunctionality went up. But, on the other hand, symptoms have been shown to go up seriously in countless situations where authoritarian child-wrecking is allowed to persist. So neither social engineering nor authoritarianism work. So what’s left? A better way is authoritative parenting, which has been shown to work best and produce the smartest and happiest and most cooperative kids. (And the best way of all is to incorporate P.E.T. rules and authoritative Winning Family Lifeskills knowledge and methods with flat-gradient nurturance patterns of childcare which has enjoyed thousands of years of roaring success, and with close-friendship and close neighborhood social patterns of social networking that have also been proven out over centuries. In other words, MCs. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match


The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet—was this portrayal ever real?
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet—was this portrayal ever real?

Mack actually denies the proven statistical evidence regarding the dysfunctional lives evolving out of traditional authoritarian lifestyles. Apparently she puts more stock in Ozzie and Harriet reruns than in Western science (in spite of the fact that the Nelsons themselves turned out to be a severely dysfunctional family whose traditional authoritarian patriarchal power structure drove its members to depression, misery, and worse—one of its members confessed that he was ashamed he ever had anything to do with that show, because it was a lie and there were no such families). Goodbye Enlightenment and Renaissance—apparently science has never learned a damn thing!

They say that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Once the facts on the severe symptoms coming from the traditional authoritarian lifestyle patterns were in, good people tried to do what they could to alleviate the dysfunctionality, and yet she’d have us do nothing, pretend that the scientists were wrong and the TV reruns were right, kowtow to her right-winger cohorts and Christian Right extremist friends, deny knowledge and science and submit to the will of her special interest agendas. To Mack, "research" apparently means people paging through holy books to check out their take on the matter! No wonder Alan Wolfe vowed to himself that he would do whatever it took to prevent kids from “falling into her clutches.” When she lies about a new generation of “experts” supporting authoritarian methods, she’s actually talking about the misguided fundamentalist tomes in Christian Right bookstores, but trying to deceive us into believing she has credible sources and actual experts on her side. Not a chance! Are we deluded, or wasn't there a Biblical verse about lying? (Proverbs 12:22 says "Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight.")

When the truths of science come around, her head goes into the sand, but when her right wing extremist friends appear, out comes her head!
When the truths of science come around, her head goes into the sand, but when her right wing extremist friends appear, out comes her head!

When Mack interviews parents and finds out that 5 of 6 are spanking, she finds an authoritarian grassroots movement of parents taking back their power and setting things right again, while the rest of us merely find the same old statistics demonstrating the prevalence of frustration and ignorance in the parenting area.

Parents: 5 of 6 are spanking, demonstrating the prevalence of frustration and ignorance in the parenting area
Parents: 5 of 6 are spanking, demonstrating the prevalence of frustration and ignorance in the parenting area

One of the most thoroughly naïve passages one will ever find in contemporary literature is the one in which she notes that the “large number of parents I’ve talked to” disbelieve the abuse statistics, that spanking is bad for kids, the pervasive family dysfunction and violence statistics, etc. This exposes a deep-seated ignorance of human psychology. Of course people who are messing up kids—by the same old threaten-and-spank methods that were used on them—are guilty and rationalizing and projecting their anger at themselves and their own parents onto the “government liberals” who are “messing with our families and causing all the problems”! This is standard, normal, expectable and predictable. This is called coping. It is how people live with dysfunctional situations.

Did Mack expect great gobs of awareness and insight? With only a modicum of knowledge she would have gone into the field expecting rationalizations for misparenting problems and relationship dysfunction, as well as defenses, denial, self-deception, projection of guilt and anger, and we-them, win-lose, black and white thinking and beliefs, the goals of which are to help these people feel okay about themselves regardless of how badly life is working for them when they insist upon making the same mistakes with their kids that their parents made with them.

Surveys are great marketing, sociological, and demographic research tools
Surveys are great marketing, sociological, and demographic research tools

She should have known that attitude surveys and conversations with people one doesn’t know well—especially since they will soon sense her right-leaning agenda—will unearth neither people’s deepest feelings not the real psychological realities out of reach to these people’s conscious minds. What she got was either silence from those who disagree and didn’t want to argue with someone who displayed no hint of true open-mindedness, or capitulation to her slanted questions by the weak, or concurrence by those already of the rightwing persuasion. These latter, of course, would be the ones she’s recall later in her perusing of notes, and her notes would have recorded mostly agenda-supporting views, and to us she’ll announce an authoritarian groundswell of opinion of parents taking back their power.

A mind like that of David Riesman or Abraham Maslow can interview people empirically and grasp where they’re really at and how they feel, but also what is going on at deeper levels; such a mind comes to such interviews with deep and abiding psychological and human knowledge and wisdom about minds, people, relationships, and inner realities. But a Dana Mack sees merely what she wants and needs to see—as in Maslovian deficiency-cognition. If she reported her experiences in the dry, factual way of science, she’d have merely a collection of superficial verbiage with no obvious scientific significance (and—need we say it?—no publisher). But, like a media reporter looking for a juicy sound bite to back a ratings grabbing agenda, she found a "great groundswell" of opinion backing a parental rebellion and indicating a jarring lurch to the right, as authority once more raised its sword against the forces of Sodom and Gomorrah, a seemingly heroic and exciting coup in the Culture War. That’s Hollywood . . .

Mack has a point that we need to replace the takeover by experts and agencies with actual good family life. But her method of doing this is regressively naïve. She has a point that the experts which tell parents they don’t know what they’re doing are not so much convincing parents to abuse their parenting functions as to abdicate them to daycare personnel and experts at school and in agencies. And this needs to be turned around. But her way of doing this is a nonstarter from the word go.

Experts which tell parents they don’t know what they’re doing are convincing parents to abdicate their roles to daycare personnel and experts at school and in agencies
Experts which tell parents they don’t know what they’re doing are convincing parents to abdicate their roles to daycare personnel and experts at school and in agencies

In the first place, her solutions are mostly political, contradicting her contention that solutions need to be grassroots based.

In the second place, her politicized rhetoric further polarizes the already divisive issues, contributing to the problem, not the solution.

Mack's politicized rhetoric further polarizes these divisive issues, and is part of the problem, not the solution
Mack's politicized rhetoric further polarizes these divisive issues, and is part of the problem, not the solution

And in the third place, she is belief-heavy and knowledge-light. She cites a myriad of impressive sources and writes well, but being a collector of agenda-friendly data to use as propaganda dogma isn’t the same as being a social scientist able to grasp, integrate and synthesize knowledge into a meaningful whole by seeing the patterns which connect (as the Tofflers and Bateson and Capra phrase it) and presenting a unified and coherent whole, guided by truth seeking and not a quest for agenda backing tidbits.

It was encouraging to see her and her husband fully accept, in good feminist style, their childcare situation in which she is the primary breadwinner and he is the primary caretaker. Our hats off to a person of such right-leaning proclivities who can take this reversal of traditional roles in stride with so little fuss. Dana Mack is a passionate champion of the cause of good parenting and successful family life. She makes many good points. But she made the classic 20th century error of catering to the promises of political salvationism, and simultaneously found herself swamped in the self-righteous beliefs of misguided right-wingers out to turn back the clock to the not-so-good-old-days in which parents beat “obedience” into their young and we all lived happily ever after. Except for the kids. And the parents. And the neighborhood. And the communities. And the society.

Dana Mack, in good feminist style, is the primary breadwinner and her husband is the primary caregiver in her house
Dana Mack, in good feminist style, is the primary breadwinner and her husband is the primary caregiver in her house