Thursday, December 11, 2008

A family AND a village

"It takes a village to raise a child." African proverb, title of Hillary Clinton's book, 1996

I was in Abby's classroom (kindergarten) again yesterday - I continue to be amazed at the community that exists at the school, at all the caring people that make the place "go", at all the children whose lives are touched there for at least six hours every day. During my last twenty minutes there, one little boy sat next to me, leaning, sprawling, and wiggling as close as he could get. He was in "time out", a place where he had landed because he was clamoring for attention. That I could provide him with just a bit of that one-on-one attention for a few minutes made my day - and got me thinking again.

I'm going to start with stereotypes - which are not usually perfect but at least provide a point of reference and some truth. When raising children, it seems to me that many Christians believe that their family (or at most, church family) is the only safe place for their young kids (0-10+ yrs?) to be. To that end, they may choose Christian schools, church sports leagues, after-school church clubs, Christian books, Christian cartoons, home school, church-based service, only Christian friends. I think of ripples of uproar among Christian adults that I knew when Hillary Clinton wrote "It takes a village" in 1996. The thinking went, "Our children are up to us, God forbid that the government should start raising them." But I think that they missed the point completely.

I do believe that our families (Christian or not) lay the foundation for our kids' lives. But what I glimpse in the actions above is that some Christians don't really want to be a part of the "village" (or you could say, the neighborhood). They don't really want to be served by secular schools or sports or clubs. Let me try hard to distill my thoughts here. I acknowledge that they are kind of one-sided, but that's what I've got for now.
  • If I expect the village to raise my children, I may neglect to work hard at teaching values and character at home.
  • If I expect the village to raise my children, I may blame others when my children don't turn out as planned.
  • But, if I overvalue the family (and church), I am essentially devaluing the community I live in. The teachers, coaches, club leaders, mentors - they are not good enough for me and my kids. Invite them to Jesus, when my kids are too Christian for their group?
  • When I choose to keep my kids out of general public activities, I withdraw myself too. I give less to the elementary school down the street, the park district sports league, the Girl Scouts. I'm less likely to go volunteer with any of them, because my daughter isn't involved.
  • My kids are going to grow up and eventually live in this "village". Will they avoid it just like me? Will their neighbors, coworkers, janitors, etc. be the kids who we didn't get involved with so many years before?
  • Finally, I think back to the little boy cuddling up next to me at school. Some kids, even many kids, don't have a family that is as strong as they need. They need others in the village to love them, teach them, befriend them. If I live like family is the only place to raise a child right, I am ignoring the needs of millions of kids who have only a village to depend on.
And that is all that I have time to write today. What do you think? What is the balance between family and community? Why do you think that? I want to know.


Don said...


You not only provide food for thought by saying out-loud what many Christians are communicating by constructing a "Christian bubble" for their children and themselves, but you also provide some rationale for meaningful, reciprocal involvement.

"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" cannot be fulfilled in a bubble, nor can it be fulfilled by doing "service projects."

I think one key is self-perception: "Lord, I thank thee that I am not like others..." vs. "God, be merciful to me: the sinner." That self-perception is projected in the choices of our social boundaries and the vibe we send out in our involvement with others.

I applaud your courage is your "prophetic" utterances: "The king has no clothes."

Peter said...

"What is the balance between family and community? Why do you think that? I want to know."

Joanna--I don't know. That's the wisest thing I can say. But of course we all knew that; the question is a rhetorical one. So here is what I think:

I think it changes depending on the moment. I had a student this week do a day-long job shadowing project at a really great placement. During the process of setting this up, I was in contact with the student's mother and one particular teacher. The mother of course was all for the project and I was working to get the student out of school for a day to do it. This one teacher stood in the way. The mother knew it and kept offering compromises through me but this teacher would not let the kid go. Finally, we set up the shadowing for after school, so the student would not miss any school time. This teacher still wouldn't let go. Every time he saw me, he had something negative to say about this kid. This teacher can be described as a wonderful man, by most accounts. But on this, he was less than graceful. Why? I think that he was a hyper-member of that community of teachers (at least for a moment) who say that what we do in our classrooms is the most important thing for the student. And he was at the walls of that community defending himself and all who he believed belonged to that community.

This gets back to your question. I don't think that in the western world, we know what community is. What we define as community is really not a community, but a fortress with walls to keep out people out who do not think (and look) like us.

And this gets back to the answer: you already gave it. Real communities are fluid, ever changing, and growing. That you stepped into the life of a child for a brief moment and gave a part of yourself is what a community really is. Even f you never see that child again, you have impacted his life and become a part of his community. Is that community? Is that family? They are one in the same, in my mind, if we just remember that we share this earth.

Thanks for the thoughtful post and sorry for the long comment on my first visit.

joanna said...

Hmmm, good stuff guys!

Dad - interesting about the self-perception - we can percieve ourselves as part of the solution or community. Maybe it's when we perceive ourselves as the entire community or the solution that we run into flaws.

Peter - Thanks for visiting. Your thoughts are great - I haven't thought about it from the teacher point of view, as you share in your story. And the defining of family and community, that makes a big difference on how we live too.

I was talking with my aunt today, another teacher, about her school where the families aren't involved much at all - work, social, and apathy barriers all get in the way. And yet she finds a way to stay motivated to work for those kids, without taking all responsibility on herself for their success or failure.

Great teachers, all of you, I think.

Dina said...

I'm just a transplanted American living well in Canada, thanks to a steady diet of whale blubber drizzled with maple syrup served up on an ice platter from within the cozy walls of my igloo (an almost perfect stereotype;O) so take what I say with a grain of salt. ;o)

First, I think I'm reading your equation, Christian + homeschool = reclusive nutcase who only peeks their head out of their church to shower the crazies in the world with their good news. Believe it or not, some Christians choose to homeschool their kids for other reasons than isolation and sheltering. Gasp! One quote I love sums up many parents' reason so well, that a child's education should be concerned with "the great human relationships, relationships of love and service, of authority and obedience, of reverence and pity and neighborly kindness; relationships with family, friend and neighbor, to "cause" and the past and present." For some, homeschooling is the perfect marriage of community and education, opening up more of your time to do those things that will have an impact on others and allow others to impact your family. As a homeschooling family we are more free to open our home to our neighbors and friends, free to join other homeschoolers who are NOT Christians (yes, they exist in large numbers!) and learn of their cultures and religions while sharing our own. Many of our other activities are with, again, the general community, many of who are not just like us.

Second, I wonder how there can be danger of "overvaluing family and church". Can that not be at the center of what you do and the strength found there better enable you to reach out to the village?

Lastly, you close with the thought that you were able to reach out to the 'community' while impacting a life within your daughter's classroom. Even without a classroom of community, we have found many, many opportunities for involving ourselves in the 'village'. As a family we are connected with the elderly through visits to a nursing home, with young kids living in poor and dysfunctional homes through a basketball, and with neighbors and friends by having them into our home.

In the end, it's a choice to be part of the village, both by helping to impact others' children and allowing your own to be influenced by others.

But family will always be my first priority and their rearing and growth is my responsibility. The Church, God's people, are also one of my prime responsibilities, as per His instructions. Together as a family and with the Church we have been able to impact far more numbers than we ever could individually. Yes, I love impacting people with love and good works but there is still nothing greater and longer lasting than impacting them with News that will change them for an Eternity.

And that, my dear friend, is all I have time to write tonight. I should be in bed but thought I'd give you something to read while perhaps trying to acclimate to the time change. ;o)

Great things to think about in your posts! Keep 'em coming and I'll just sit back and add an occasional cute picture to my blog while letting you provide us all with deep thoughts and challenging questions!

Have a great time in CA!!

Piper II said...

Well you found me! I guess I'll have to watch what I say...haha just kidding. I wish I could add something relevant to this discussion... Sometimes I wish I could homeschool the kids I might have in the future because I don't want them to have to deal with what I went through in middle school. But then I think, well, they will not be protected forever, and at some point, they'll have to learn to deal, and the best I can do is support them. This is what my parents did for me and I am eternally grateful to them for setting such an amazing example. And I don't really identify with one religious tradition...let's say I'm spiritually inclined. So anyway, that's my random thought for your blog!