Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Children: Disposable Commodities

The news hit the cyber world last week. A new memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” by Yale Law School Professor, Amy Chua upstaged all of us wimpy American parents. One commentator noted that Chua “didn’t let her own girls go out on play dates or sleepovers. She didn’t let them watch TV or play video games or take part in garbage activities like crafts. Once, one of her daughters came in second to a Korean kid in a math competition, so Chua made the girl do 2,000 math problems a night until she regained her supremacy. Once, her daughters gave her birthday cards of insufficient quality. Chua rejected them and demanded new cards. Once, she threatened to burn all of one of her daughter’s stuffed animals unless she played a piece of music perfectly. As a result, Chua’s daughters get straight As and have won a series of musical competitions.”

Another piece of news crossed my desk: the increasing growth market for designer babies who are conceived by artificial reproductive techniques, often with eggs from tall slender blondes and sperm from various genius sperm banks. The embryos are implanted into “gestational delivery devices,” primarily women in India. After their birth, the babies are placed in the hands of their well-to-do adoptive parents, often Westerners with fertility problems.

I’m not surprised at such news. Being human and having creative energies means we push boundaries, from conception technologies to child rearing practices. The refusal to say, “we will go no further in our exploration” has led to fabulous developments in science, medicine, art, travel and physical comfort. It also makes us seriously dangerous on occasion. 

Wisdom says, “Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do something.” I don’t think children should be reared with that kind of pressure and I am very concerned about this designer baby development. Both practices make children into assured commodities, not adventurous blessings. Both practices, I think, will lead to the idea that children are disposable when confronted with less than perfect outcomes. That crosses a moral line for me.

However even as I write this, I wonder how many things I take for granted as good seemed so wrong when they were first introduced. Then I wonder even further, “How many things do I assume are good are really not good, but I don’t want to eliminate them because they bring me comfort?”

I write at my computer. I particularly like both the spell-check and the auto-correct features built into many word processing programs. Two things have happened as a result. First, my poor typing habits have become far worse. I discover this when I work on a machine that has not already figured out my bad habits. Second, I who used to be quite a good speller, no longer take the time to figure out how to spell a word I might not use routinely. I simply type an approximation of the word and know the handy spell-checker will generally offer an accurate suggestion.

Does more good come from this than bad? I suppose. Most of my documents emerge reasonably correct. But I sense a loss of discipline, a carelessness that may wander over to other parts of my life. A loss of soul.

Our technologies seem designed to distance us from our souls. When we lose our souls, or can’t find them in the midst of this quest for the perfect child, the perfect paper, the perfect anything, we lose touch with the moral essence of us called conscience, provided by a Holy God to guide us, instruct us, correct us, and remind us of grace and forgiveness.

That loss of soul will eventually bring us down. Without an awareness of a Holy God who seeks to bring us to holiness, technology and techniques are going to destroy us.


Angie Hammond said...

I'm going to comment on two different parts of this post. First the part about children. Because of where I work, I see many children raised in many different ways. One thing I've noticed over they years is that children are not toys or items we pick up and play with and then put on a shelf. They are individual souls that have needs and desires just as we do.

They are not something we should push into a mold expecting them to be perfect in our eyes. I have students who do not understand that love does not require pain from them. They do not understand what love is because they haven't experienced it.

I'm not saying I know the best way to raise a child, but I do know that going to the extremes as an Amy Chua or the designer babies is just flat wrong. Please, we do not need another Third Reich where we decide the genetics ahead of time based on what we want. Then if we didn't get what we wanted we throw away the child in orphanages etc. I agree, it is wrong anyway you look at it. Children are not disposable anytime no exceptions.

I wanted to address the technology part of the blog differently. Being a scientist and science teacher by trade, I have a problem with saying that technologies seem designed to distance us from our souls.
Seems to me that it depends on which technology you are talking about and how it is used as to what it does to your soul. Coming from the standpoint of a science person and one who looks at things from that point of view, Technology to me is more of a way to make things possible. For instance simple technology in some countries of the world helps them to cook their food while keeping their air cleaner. It is a cheaper to use a stove that does the same work as burning wood.
Or how about the method of using clay jars filled with sand and water with another jar containing the food inside it using evaporation to keep food cooler thus extending the time until spoilage.

Yes these are simple examples of technology in action, but they both have one difference than those you spoke of in your blog. These were designed not to make something perfect, but instead were designed to increase the quality of life by providing food and cleaner air. Not perfect papers, or a perfect child or perfect anything. But ways to help people provide for themselves by preserving what they have and using what God has given them.

I don't think technology in itself is the problem, but it is more in how we use what we design. Are we designing to become like a God, or are we instead taking what God has given us and using it to glorify his name by taking care of it and providing for our fellow man. That is what I see as the difference.

If all we are doing is trying to be perfect then we have taken God out of the picture entirely. We live in an imperfect world that we made imperfect by our sins. Only God can redeem us and the world to make us perfect in his eyes again. He's sent us his son to begin this process, all we have to do is follow the leader on this end.
It is not in our hands but his. If we forget this, then we as you have pointed out are destined for destruction by our own devices.

Thanks again Christy for bringing this to our attention.

Christy Thomas said...

I agree that technology itself is not the problem. Like most thing, it is morally neutral. I do see, however, increasing isolation from ourselves by the current use of it, and that is what troubles me. Never a perfect balance here.

Angie Hammond said...

I see your point and why it troubles you so much. Just today I was thinking about how different life is for everyone today than it was when I was my students ages. No computers, no word processors manual typewriters, electric was expensive. And no calculators yet. Slide rules instead. You see a withdrawal and isolation from ourselves and I agree with this when we take the easy way out. No brain activity no having to think just let a machine do that for you. Scary no matter how you look at it.

So I'm in a position to introduce new ideas to young people. We are using technology all of the time to learn and to explore new ideas and inspire them to do more with their lives and minds.
Do you have any suggestions on how to do this in a way that both honors God and keeps it legal for me with the state?
You do know that I can't talk about God or religion unless my students bring it up.
I struggle with this each and every day.
Some days I make progress others, well like today. I seem to be beating my head against a wall for nothing.
Keep remembering that I'm not put here to save, that is God's job. I'm here to teach them what I know, and if I love them in the process that is a good thing.

Thanks for reminding me of my role.