Do Your Homework!

“It might be difficult, but it is necessary. He won’t learn otherwise.”

I was so surprised to hear those words come out of my mouth.

We were discussing my son’s homework. Or rather, the lack of finished homework. He has decided to resist the obligation to finish his work, and would much rather play.

I am not a fan of homework, per se. Busywork is annoying at best. Rote work is sometimes necessary, however – and the work my son was assigned was actually of better quality than that. I am not a fan of needless suffering and misery. I tend to get in long and bitter arguments with laissez-faire capitalists who argue for some kind of social Darwinism.

So why would I say such a thing? I couldn’t understand why this felt like such a natural position to take with my own son. It bothered me for most of the night. I worried that I had become the stereotype: “A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.”

And then I realized exactly how patronizing both positions are. It is possible to take a nuanced, flexible route. Requiring standards does not mean sacrificing compassion. Compassion does not require gullibility and stupidity. Recognizing the social and personal forces acting on him (he’s ten, other kids were playing outside, etc) explains his behavior – but does not excuse the personal decisions he made.

It is common to see advocates of a parenting technique to insist that theirs is the best. None of them are – and all of them are. Different children react differently to the same technique. The same child may react differently at different times in their lives. The goal, however, is always the same: To raise a child, to help them learn to be self-sufficient, and to set them up to lead a fulfilling life.

The same principle is true in our public policy. We tend to focus on the techniques: welfare, free markets, progressive taxes, less taxes. All of these require an adherence to an ideology, and in doing so, lose sight of the reason the ideology exists.

What are the goals of our country, really?
Maybe we disagree on the fundamental goals – I’d have a problem with “everyone follow my religion” as a goal – but we’re so caught up in talking about how we’ll get to a particular goal that we simply Do Not Know what other people want.

I remember a conversation with my mother almost a decade ago. We disagreed bitterly on welfare.

“But Mom,” I said, “there are people who have simply had bad things happen to them who need help.”

Of course,” she said, “but there are people who abuse the system and get a free ride. They shouldn’t be allowed to do that.”

Of course,” I said.

We still disagreed about the methodology – and still do – but once we realized that our goals were pretty much the same, the venom went out of the conversation. Once the venom is gone, then everyone can start working on the actual problems.

Take a look around. Look at yourself. Are you looking to fix things or spread venom?

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