Parents always know best? I sure didn’t | Opinion

We Americans do love our sweeping statements, even when they are clearly wrong. Especially when it comes to schools

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, speaks at a Capitol steps rally in Harrisburg on June 5, 2021 (Capital-Star photo).

By Denny Bonavita

“Parents know best how to care for their children.”

School boards hear that a lot these days, especially from parents who say their judgment should trump (pun intended) the judgments of professional educators, health care experts, etc., concerning wearing masks and other behaviors related to the COVID pandemic.

I myself thought that I knew best about 40 or 50 years ago.

I remember arguing, and shouting a bit, when the school board in Warren County moved to close the charming little elementary school located two blocks from our house and send our children walking a half-mile (!) and across a bridge that crossed the Allegheny River to attend a larger school.

“They will get hit by cars! They will be sexually molested! They will get lost! They will play hooky!”

Those were some of the shibboleths I recall (to my embarrassment) yelling during a school board meeting. “Shibboleth” is a politer synonym for “hogwash.”

I sure did wash my hog back then.

We young parents lost the argument.

What bad things happened to our tender little darlings?

Nothing. They went to school. They got educated. They had no mishaps that could not have just as easily occurred at that closer, smaller school.

For the record, I was 29 years old at the time.

Now, at age 78, I understand why the president of that school board snorted at my imprecations. Melvin Keller was himself probably in his 70s back then — and he had been involved in education for a half-century and more.

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He tolerated the overwrought, overprotective fears of us young parents because, after all, he had himself been a young guy. But he shunned fear in favor of fact.

Why, do we keep insisting, “parents know best?”

One reason is to convince voters to give us powerful, high-paying jobs.

Enter state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Republican who lives fairly near the Gettysburg battlefield. Mastriano’s credentials are impressive: 30 years in military service, retired Army colonel, several master’s degrees, and more.

Problem is, however, that knowledge does not automatically confer wisdom.

Here is a snippet from Sen. Mastriano, who might run for governor, as published in my hometown Courier-Express, of DuBois, Pa., last month:

“Parents are the only ones that can notice the day to day changes in their child and the effects that all day mask wearing can have on them. They know best.”

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Gee, some day-to-day changes in my own six children were noticed, not by me, but by my mother, my wife’s mother, a neighbor, our parish priest and, during high school years, by teachers and principals.

They brought the changes to our attention. They helped us to see the problems, and work toward solutions.

We weren’t always successful, but usually, things did work out — when “the village” came together to look after our children.

But we Americans do love our sweeping statements, even when they are clearly wrong.

Twenty years or so ago, hundreds of Americans went to prison because the sweeping statement at the time was “Young children do not lie.” Most of us became convinced by a few extra-loud voices that lying is a learned behavior and children of tender ages, especially preschoolers, simply did not know how to deliberately lie.

For awhile, our court system accepted as fact the young children’s claims of abuse despite the absence of any other evidence — and sometimes despite the presence of considerable evidence that no abuse had occurred, that the wrong person was being accused, etc.

We ought to have known better, from our own experience. Catch a three-year-old with a hand in a cookie jar, shout, “What are you DOING?” and listen to the panicked answer: “Nothing!”

Yes, young children can and do lie. Most often the lies are attempts to get out of trouble or to please adults by telling us what we want to hear, but children do lie. Eventually, “children don’t lie” became discredited in the legal system.

And parents can get things horribly wrong.

Check the statistics:

  • About 400,000 children are in foster care at any one time, having been legally taken away from their parents.
  • Another 140,000 children who have also been taken away by the legal system are in the custody of relatives, usually grandparents.
  • About 25 percent of the 2.2 million people now in prison report having at least one child.
  • That works out to more than a half-million children whose parents are locked up as criminals.

Sure, some parents do marvelous jobs.

And some parents stink up the process, whether due to drugs, booze, egos, stupidity, genuine emotional shortcomings, whatever.

The hard reality is that no one person “knows best” in these situations. Not a parent, not a school director, not President Joe Biden, not former President Donald Trump. We all know some things. We all believe other things — sometimes rationally, at other times sadly and dangerously wrong.

Mastriano is entitled to his own opinion. He is not entitled to his own facts.

The fact is, we are all learning about COVID-19 together. Nobody automatically knows best. There is no wisdom involved in the act of conceiving a child.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor/publisher at newspapers in DuBois, Brookville, New Bethlehem and Warren, Pa. He lives near Brookville, Pa. Email: [email protected]. His work appears occasionally on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. 

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.