Ariel Chesler explains the importance of growing up where your back yard is connected to your neighbor’s yard, and your front stoop was mere feet from your neighbor’s.
Jessica Grose, writing over at Slate, has legitimate reasons to be concerned about whether ethical parenting is possible in New York City where we face dwindling resources and opportunities, and where some lie and cheat, or use their expansive wealth, to get ahead.
However, as she has recognized, regardless of where one lives, it is possible to raise ethical children. It’s all about the individual parents, which, more than culture, drives how children see the world. It is therefore not surprising that unethical rich people who live in New York create unethical children.
Of course, the educational system we have in place here makes it difficult for children to believe in equality and fairness. The resources are limited and not evenly applied. The pressure to “be the best” placed on (some) children by (some) parents is tremendous. It is no surprise that rampant cheating, drug use, and overuse of tutors takes place. Not to mention dropping out. This is why proposals such as Mayoral candidate Bill DiBlasio’s call for universal Pre-K are so crucial for the children of this city.
Given the reality we face, I do not think it unethical to do everything one can for one’s own children within reason. Certainly, there is a difference between utilizing connections or paying for tutors and lying or cheating.
Sure, Grose’s suggestion of moving to the suburbs may be a solution to some of these problems, since, as she notes, there are no waitlists at schools and more resources. But, a move to the suburbs, I believe, makes it much harder to be an ethical parent because it raises a number of other problems.
There are children I know who live in the suburbs who have never been on public transportation, who never experience sharing such spaces with others, who live in a world where everyone has their own car, and their own swing set in their own backyard of their own immense house, with its many, many spaces for a small number of people. These children, and their parents, can’t possibly understand, the way a New York City kid does, how to share space with fellow humans, or be aware of things like environmental conservation or why we are all in this together. They don’t experience waiting for, or running to catch a train, or maneuvering through a crowded sidewalk, or being physically close to fellow citizens. This is an experience that matters. It is an experience that will have an impact on a child’s ethical reasoning in the future.
Even growing up in a house in Brownstone Brooklyn, as I did, I knew that my back yard connected to my neighbor’s yard, and my front stoop was mere feet from my neighbor’s. So, I was never isolated from humanity by great distances. This type of living is beneficial, especially for those worried about how children learn to think of others’ needs and about fairness and community.
I have joked in the past that raising a child outside of the City amounts to abuse or neglect. But, I was partly serious too. Learning to share resources is an important ethical lesson for children. So is awareness of different cultures and religions and foods and languages, and, actually seeing people with different skin colors and ethnicities on a daily basis. It is living in the City that teaches children to see the world, and issues, from multiple perspectives.
Children in the City are also exposed to music and art and dance and other human expressions in museums and at festivals and on the street. Sometimes, this exposure is spontaneous or unexpected. This is surely good for the soul but also will hopefully spark a child to ponder the human experience, both his or her own, and that of others.
So, if anything, I would be extremely concerned about how to raise an ethical person living in the suburbs, and, as a lifelong New Yorker raising two children here, I must believe that Grose, has to be, in some sense, kidding.
Photo: Flickr/Drew Spencer