R. Cort Kirkwood versus parents and the world

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Last week R.

Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Last week R. Cort Kirkwood was his typical bombastic self, preaching to the world about everything we’re doing wrong and giving us the Kirkwood gospel.

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I usually avoid his sermons, but sometimes I read them just to see what’s gotten up his nose lately. Last week, I should have followed my usual practice.

&uot;Abolish weak parents,&uot; he wrote in a column in which he also heaped contempt on teachers and school administrators. Abolish Mr. Kirkwood, is what I was thinking as I recovered from the nausea that afflicts me whenever I read that kind of writing. Normally, I don’t agree with writers like William Bennett and George Will, but as they analyze the problems families face, they write from the perspective of parents, sharing lessons learned from interacting with their own children. There is a common ground that allows me to understand their concerns and learn from their perspective.

But Mr. Kirkwood does not mention his own parenting experience. There is no common ground here, no attempt at making sense of his own choices as a parent as he castigates the rest of us for being &uot;weak&uot; and for never saying &uot;no&uot; to our kids. Where are the stories about how he got &uot;tough on kids&uot; and earned their respect? His whole approach leads me to ask on what basis he presumes to tell any of us what is wrong with our families and our schools.

As I observe families in Freeborn County I do see some in trouble, but I also see many where kids are disciplined with loving-kindness (and don’t need reminders from anyone to do it). I see kids who are a challenge to teach, but I also see teachers and principals who have earned the respect and admiration of students and families. All of us are trying to make a difference for the better in a society that remains largely indifferent to the needs of families until something tragic occurs, like a shooting in a school, when that indifference turns into hostile accusations.

Nothing in Mr. Kirkwood’s polemic mentioned the mandatory overtime for many blue collar workers, overtime that makes it impossible to be home supervising children. Nor did he mention the white collar jobs that require evening and weekend hours spent away from home. He doesn’t talk about how we Americans are expected to move to where work is, leaving grandparents, aunts and uncles -&160;who could help us raise our kids -&160;far away. He neglected to point out that a family of four needs at least three full-time minimum wage jobs to have even a chance of owning a home, instead of renting one. That can make it hard on a family when there are only two adults, even harder when there’s only one. Work-related demands like these add stress to the life of a family and make it hard for parents to be around for their kids.

Lots of so-called experts point out how parents are always to blame when kids go wrong, but in a society that values our production on the assembly line or in the office more than it does our role as parents, when exactly are we supposed to find the time to be with our kids? Employers have a greater say over the schedules of most American workers than children.

Parents who opt to stay at home, even for just a few months, get no guarantees about returning to work later. But bringing these facts into the discussion leads to questions about the values and priorities of capitalism and that’s an absolute no-no in this country.

When I look around me I don’t see the sorts of things that Mr. Kirkwood claims are happening to kids and schools. I didn’t see it in North Dakota or Iowa or Arizona, either. Do those who have been so vocal about &uot;wonderful&uot; Mr. Kirkwood in the past see situations like he describes in such numbers that they merit spiteful condemnations of parents? If you do, here’s a word of advice. You might find that learning the names of the kids in your neighborhood and talking to them or offering to help the parents you see struggling around you is a better way to make a difference than pointing fingers.

David Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.