Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Family values, Labor Day, and Sarah Palin

I love the true end of summer and beginning of fall, marked by Labor Day and the first day of school.These are important rituals in the life of a family.

Nature marks it, too: mosquitoes swarm for a last all night drunk, and in the morning yellow maple leaves are on the ground. This year is different, though. The mosquitoes and leaves were there, but no new backpacks hung in my breezeway, waiting to be claimed by kids rushing out the door in new shoes.

And on Labor Day, I couldn't find much homage to labor. Instead there was the appropriate concern with Hurricane Gustav and the inappropriate one to the news about Bristol Palin's pregnancy.

I didn't try to see Barack Obama's Labor Day speech in Milwaukee. Natural disasters aside, once the acceptance speech outlines a candidate's talking points, we don't hear anything new again unless something sensational or catastrophic happens. A 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy from a consensual relationship shouldn't be either of those things. Family values mean that we love well our families, however they are constituted, and we are kind to the families of others, however they are constituted. It really is that simple.

Family supporting work is a family value. But somewhere in the build up to this election, the poor and working class disappeared. It's not that they've gone anywhere: it's just that we've decided to ignore them. For someone who grew up dimly conscious of The War on Poverty, it's a little embarrassing to hear about making things better for the middle class with no mention of those who are in worse shape.

The excitement over the Palin family, on both sides, highlights a conflict between "middle-class" and "working-class" family values. To understand why, look at these descriptions from a site on social activism, Open Left:

Middle-Class Culture

Middle-class professionals tend to be fairly mobile and based in relatively self-sufficient nuclear families.  Middle-class professionals depend highly upon their credentials and learned practices, and often believe, at least, that they are judged in a meritocratic job market as individuals.  

The parenting practices of the middle class are significantly different from those of working-class families. Middle-class children learn at an early age to make their own judgments, often participating in adult life as if they were "mini" adults. They are frequently asked for their opinions and are allowed (and even encouraged) to disagree with adults. These families celebrate children's unique characteristics. Middle class parents focus so intently on cultivating their children that their "lives" can have "a hectic, at times frenetic, pace" (Lareau).

Working-Class Culture

Working-class families are structured to a much greater extent around an established hierarchy between children and adults.  In part because working-class parents lack time to constantly monitor children, hierarchies and limited tolerance for "back talk" make more sense than constant negotiation. Lareau found that "in working-class and poor homes, most parents did not focus on developing their children's' opinions, judgments, and observations."  In contrast with what she termed the "concerted cultivation" approach of the middle-class, then, Lareau argued that working-class parents are more likely to "engage in the accomplishment of natural growth" giving children plenty of time to do their own thing outside of the gaze of adults.

"Working-class people in the United States are more likely to live where they grew up, or to have moved as a family and not solo. They are more likely to live near extended family and [are] . . . likely to have been raised and socialized by traditionally rooted people" ( Leondar-Wright ).  Even though the old ethnic enclaves of the 19th and early 20th century have largely disappeared, Lubrano found that a "core value of the working class" still involves "being part of a like-minded group-a family, a union, or a community."

We can quibble about how much of that's accurate and the value of generalizations. But doesn't it seem like the merge of the two classes into one creates some interesting hybrids? it rings fairly true to me, and it explains a lot of the different responses we are calling "conservative" or "liberal."

It also seems clear to me that there are strengths and weaknesses in allegiance with either "side." 

Labor Day and the first day of school are important markers in the life of a family. The one honors the work that lets us raise our families and build the world in which they live. The other

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