It Takes Families to Make Up a Village

Article excerpt

The phrase "it takes a village to raise a child" gained currency several years ago. The African aphorism was invoked by those who sought to defuse concern about deteriorating families. The subtext was: If it takes a whole village to raise a child, it isn't such a big deal if a child has one parent or two.

Hillary Rodham Clinton seized upon the phrase just as it was becoming a cliche. But the phrase has gone beyond cliche - if Howard Fineman of Newsweek is right - and has become the heart of the 1996 campaign.

Robert Dole indirectly challenged Mrs. Clinton in his acceptance speech, saying, "It doesn't take a village to raise a child, it takes a family." At the Democratic convention, Mrs. Clinton insisted on her version. "Of course, parents, first and foremost, are responsible for their children." But they are insufficient, she argued, to raise a "happy, healthy, hopeful child. It takes teachers. It takes clergy. It takes business people. . . . It takes a president." Well. Bill Clinton has certainly shrunk our concept of the chief executive. Where once we vested presidents with authority over war and peace, taxes and tariffs, this president seems to be in charge of curfews, cigarettes and school uniforms. Mrs. Clinton now says he's in charge of ra ising our children. Mrs. Clinton didn't even make the case for her side as well as she could have (she does so a little better in her book). Even those well disposed toward her would have to pause over the notion that business people are required to raise your kids and mine. Her argument would have been better cast as follows: "Parents are the single most important ingredient to raising happy, healthy children. Everything our common sense suggests about two-parent families is supported by social science data. Children of intact families experience less of every pathology - poor school performance, trouble with police, suicide, early sexual behavior - than do children of divorce. …