What I said before...

Housing Prices, Kevin Bacon and Contraception
Written by Carol Kennedy in 2004

As my husband Jim and I search for our first house here in the San Francisco Bay Area, it is difficult not to get discouraged. A decent, 30 year old,  three bedroom, two bath house at about 1500 sq feet goes out in the low to mid 400’s. This seems criminal! We talk disgustedly about the over priced housing all over California and search our minds for the cause. My husband finally states emphatically “It is all because of contraception!”

To those who know Jim, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Some people have compared his talent to those who are exceptionally good at the Kevin Bacon Game. Apparently there are six degrees of separation between Kevin Bacon and almost any actor or actress. The point of the game is to make the connection by naming movies in which the given actor or actress has appeared and using a co-star to connect to the next movie. And within six moves you should be able to reach a Kevin Bacon movie.

For example, Kevin Bacon can be connected to the Alien in Alien, in just five steps:
Kevin Bacon was in Footloose with Dianne Weist,
who was in The Birdcage with Gene Hackman,
who was in The Firm with Holly Hunter,
who was in Copycat with Sigourney Weaver,
who was in Alien with the Alien.
(connections not my own, compliments of www.louisville.com )

What, you might be asking yourself, does this have to do with housing prices or contraception. Well, take the indisputable fact of inflated housing prices. We can connect this societal ill to contraception in….oh, say….four steps!

1.    Contraception allowed many more women to go back to work
2.    Two incomes in a family allowed couples to afford more expensive houses
3.    These two-income-households were willing to pay more for a house
4.    So housing prices have risen to the level at which two-income families are willing to pay

There we go, if it weren’t for contraception my family could afford to buy a decent sized house in a good neighborhood. But this isn’t the only problem in today’s culture that can be connected to contraception. And many of the connections are much more obvious.

Let’s take the rise in marital infidelity, for example. Contraception allowed the sexual act to be divorced from having babies. Which meant that men, especially, could sleep around without fear of getting a woman pregnant. Which further meant that it was much easier to have extra-marital relations without fear of consequences.

How about the age-old problem of women being mistreated and not respected. Contraception allows the marital act to be separated from motherhood. Which allows men to stop caring for the physical, or even psychological, equilibrium of their wives. Which further allows them to see women as a mere instrument of their own selfish enjoyment.

These connections may seem obvious to some of you, and others may find them a stretch. But, Pope Paul VI, back in 1968, saw them coming from a mile away. In the Encyclical, Of Human Life (Humanae Vitae), he wrote about the dangers of artificial contraception at a time when the contraceptive pill was first being introduced to the market, and he named these two potential outcomes among others.

However, the problems of a contraceptive society don’t stop at these few situations already mentioned. Just like the Kevin Bacon game, the Contraception Game can go on with seemingly endless possible connections. Lets get back to the housing situation, for example. Have you looked through some model homes recently?  One standard floor plan element would be the huge master suite next to two or three tiny bedrooms. What does that have to do with contraception you ask?

Well…contraception allowed the bearing and raising of children to play a very small part in the marital relationship; which allowed couples to become more selfish and indulgent; which led to the feeling that one deserved a palatial bedroom in which to enjoy the pleasures of marriage and life in general while your 1.2 children live down the hall in their perfectly decorated room(s). Family life becomes all about ME and what I get from it.

A more serious problem, and one difficult to hear about, is the recent rash of kidnapping and child molestations. One particular incident in Southern California was especially shocking because the little girl was taken from her front yard in broad daylight. Most of us can remember growing up in neighborhoods flowing with children and with stay-at-home moms on every other doorstep. A potential kidnapper had very little chance in a neighborhood like that. He would have to wait until a child was in a more isolated situation.

Again, it is contraception that allowed women to re-enter the workplace in such large numbers and that so significantly reduced the number of children in a family. The stay-at-home moms that you and I know today usually find themselves in a quiet, isolated neighborhood situation in which they seldom see another family out in the middle of the day. 

Unfortunately for us, and our children, the warnings in Humanae Vitae were not only ignored, but ridiculed by laity and clergy alike. And now the destructive effects of a contraceptive mentality that has poisoned our society since the early 60’s goes far beyond Pope Paul VI’s predictions.

However, we must not lose hope. Many young people today are seeing the culture of death and its effects and they want to counter it with fruitful marriages. And those that embraced the contraceptive mentality some 40 years ago are disappearing. Not only are the unable to reproduce themselves physically. They cannot reproduce themselves spiritually or intellectually. Remember, it is the tree that bears fruit that will survive the destructive forces of nature. And the fruitless will eventually die off.  

The Evils of Homework and Soccer

Written by Carol Kennedy in 2004

How un-American of me to put the name of evil to these hallowed institutions! It seems that almost every American kid these days plays soccer year round. And what self-respecting adult could object to homework? Besides, what do these two things have in common?

I think that these two childhood pastimes are the enemy of the modern family. They both tend to weaken the bond of family members with each other and they contribute to the contraceptive mentality of western society.

No More Homework?

Lets start with homework. I am not alone in my objection to homework. There is a book published by Beacon Press, written by Etta Kralovec and John Buell entitled “The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children and Limits Learning”. While I am not sure I agree with every claim in the book, Kralovec and Buell make a strong case for the end of homework.

As a former teacher, I struggled with the issue of homework. What exactly is appropriate to assign? How do I make homework easy enough so that students can do it on their own and challenging enough to make it worthwhile? How much homework is appropriate? How should homework compare in importance to sports, dance, music and other extra curricular activities? What if homework interferes with the limited family time most of my students already experience?

I always balked at the idea of collecting and grading homework. There was no way for me to know which kids worked independently and which did not, so a grade did not seem fair. And, if the homework was repetition of class work that should have been learned, why waste time going over it in class? If I really wanted to know how a student was doing in a subject, I would have to assign work in class and observe the student as he worked. Furthermore, often a child would develop bad habits or misunderstand work done at home and I would have to spend class time undoing the damage. Teaching time in the elementary school classroom is at a premium, and I was reluctant to give it up.

What Does Homework Do, Anyway?

I found myself questioning the value of homework. Does homework really teach self-discipline? Certainly the most disciplined did their homework and the least disciplined did not. But, I never knew a child to go from undisciplined to disciplined merely by completing homework assignments. Discipline during class time might help build virtue but, for most students, by the end of the day they needed a break. And for the difficult to handle student, their parents did not need to fight the schoolwork battle at home too!

As an early elementary teacher I struggled with the idea of making these young children sit through six hours of school and then have to go home and sit again. And as a pro-life teacher, I struggled with the realization that the families that had the hardest time keeping up with homework assignments were the ones who in an effort to be open to life, had the most children. How could I expect that mother of six to keep up with each kid’s homework assignment the way the mother of two could?

I had a growing dislike for homework, but could not find the words to argue against what seemed to be something so crucial to kids educational development. Then I heard about the book “The End of Homework”. Some of the more startling points from the book, which gave me courage to voice my opinion, include the following:

·      There is little to no scientific evidence to prove homework increases test scores or learning in any way, especially before junior high.
·      The 1901 California Civil Code outlawed homework.
·      Homework is increasingly seen as more important than sports, music and even family time.
·      As more homework is assigned, the gap between the children of educated parents and that of uneducated parents gets bigger.

In fact, the increase in homework, and other school factors, have led to the State of California considering a law limiting the weight of textbooks in order to lighten student’s backpacks. Parents and schools are concerned about the stress on children, both physical and emotional.

Is this evidence that the homework debate of the early part of last century might be reopened? Could we be waking up again to the possible evils of homework? I hope so!

Where Does the Family Find the Time?

What is really at stake here, even more than student stress, academic achievement, back aches, and less time for sports, is family life. Already, most households these days have two working parents, so family time is very limited. The idyllic picture of mother and child sitting together at the kitchen table enjoying their mutual love of learning over an exciting homework assignment is simply unrealistic. That is only remotely possible in the household with one child and a maid!

More realistic is the picture painted for me by two mothers that I overheard in the library one day discussing their fourth graders. The list of projects for that year seemed endless: science fair, California Missions, numerous book reports. All of these, it seemed were to be done at home, and to hear the two moms you would think the homework had been assigned to them and not their children. Well, in fact, it is assigned to them! Schools now expect parents to teach and enforce the use of the scientific method, help their child understand proportion enough to create an authentic replica of a building, and be familiar enough with children’s literature to help their child analyze and synthesize the deepest meanings of the story that they have read. How ironic that the educational system which seems so un-accepting of parents as the primary teachers of their children, especially in such personal areas as sexuality, would expect those same parents to teach such academic subjects at home.

Now, if you were to take that picture of the fourth grader’s after school home-life, and add to it a third grader with book reports and a family history project, as well as a first grader who needs to be read to fifteen minutes every night and must work with addition flash cards as well, you might get a picture of the home life of the average young family. You can bet there is at least some yelling, a minimum amount of tears, and an increase to at least one parent’s blood pressure each school night.

Putting Out Fires

One might ask the question “why are we seeing such an increase in time spent doing homework” Certainly I don’t recall doing as much as many kids seem to do today. And how did we get from homework being outlawed to large amounts of homework being the mark of a good school?

As far as I can tell, the increase in homework is a response to the lowering of grades in school. The lower the achievement of the average student, the more work we pile on the students. This is one point that the book “The End of Homework” made with which I didn’t originally agree. However, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. It is almost as if we are punishing the children for the failure of schools. We say to them “Your test scores are low so you must do more work…your homework must be increased in amount and difficulty. That should raise the scores!”

This doesn’t make any sense at all. Though we think we detect an increase in student laziness, lack of discipline etc., what we are actually seeing is the failure of the schools to actually teach, as well as their failure to motivate the average child who is, by his fallen nature, lazy.

And, strangely enough, our answer is to give them more homework. Maybe by heaping on the responsibilities they will become responsible. Maybe by extending the school day, they will learn more. Neither of these is necessarily true. And while we add to their school day with more assignments, we sacrifice the one thing that is so crucial to anyone’s success in life—a stable family.

While junior is in his room making up for everyone’s low test scores with yet another creative book report, where is the time for him to interact with his family? When do siblings bond with each other? When do parents interact with children? When does the oldest child get a chance to bond with the youngest? Is it in the car on the way to yet another soccer game?

Soccer and Other Evil Influences

Here we come to the evils of soccer, or any extracurricular activity that monopolizes as much time as soccer seems to for the average American family. You see the kids in their uniforms almost any day of the week. You may have a small one on a co-ed team (a problem in and of itself) and an older one on the travelling team. And what of the one child in the family who has no inclination for soccer? He either spends time reading in the family van on trips to and from the soccer practices and games, or he must be signed up for drum lessons at the music store downtown, adding another ten mile trek for everyone. This goes on until four or five o’clock any given weekday and then the family goes home to attend to the homework scenario mentioned above. It is no wonder that McDonalds and Taco Bells are on every street corner. Who has time to cook dinner?

Why does it seem that soccer is the greatest culprit in the field of extra-curricular activities? Certainly we had AYSO when we were growing up, but it seemed limited to the fall season during which you had about ten games and then put away your uniform until next year. This left time to try some other sport in the spring or summer. However, these days you can find soccer going on almost any week of the year. And the most disturbing is the sight of full soccer fields on Sunday morning, or even children dressed in their uniforms at Sunday Mass. Sure, we should be happy that they are at Mass, but what message is the child getting? Mass is something we fit in around our soccer games.

One might argue that attending soccer games on the weekend is a family event. But, I am sure that is really only true for the family with one child in soccer. Once you have more than one, the family must split up to meet the obligations.

Soccer seems to be the overwhelming winner in the after school battle for the family. It is even symbolic of all that is wrong with American society today. A simple, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, comparison to the great American pastime, baseball, will bring some of soccer’s shortcomings to light:

In baseball, each person must face the pitcher on his own—a fact that leads each child to build character and personal responsibility. Soccer, on the other hand, is a sport that seldom requires the individual to demonstrate his talent for the game or push himself to be better. Baseball lends itself to family bonding as when a child plays catch with dad or the family plays softball at a family picnic. Yet soccer is much harder to transfer to the family setting—it is much more difficult to mix ages and ability levels since some may get hurt. Soccer is gender neutral, further diminishing the differences between the sexes. On the other hand, we have baseball for boys and softball for girls. And finally, as my husband is fond of saying, soccer requires you to hit the ball with your head---that alone should tell you something.

The Chicken or the Egg

Seriously though, whether your child plays on the traveling soccer team, or is spending the weekend working on a science project, it is very likely that your family is being stretched to its limits. What we seem to have now is families that operate as a loosely connected group of individuals all out to meet their own needs and held together by an organizer driving a van, who tries desperately to meet her needs while making sure everyone else has theirs met. We no longer have the strong family unit, based on total gift of self, that marks the center of a stable society. It is no wonder that husbands and wives drift apart more easily; that children start even younger to look to peers to find out who they are; that siblings drift apart by high school; or that families choose to have fewer and fewer children.

Are homework and soccer the result of the breakdown of the family or the cause? It is hard to tell. However, if we want to strengthen families, perhaps we ought to consider unburdening them a bit by reducing homework (though I still want to end it completely) and limiting the extracurricular activities, especially the all-consuming soccer monster. This would allow for more family time, a more relaxed home-life and a greater opportunity for children to be a little bored at home—a situation which has historically led to more creativity than the most creative homework assignment.