An international friend brought a horrifying article to my attention over the weekend. It did not involve terrorism, Syria, the Standing Rock fiasco, or even Harambe. It was far more subtle a subject, far more insidious, and based on many misconceptions and quiet propaganda. The article was originally called, Bring Back Child Labor, until the author, Joseph Sunde, received such backlash he changed it to, Work is a Gift Our Kids can Handle.
Posted on the Acton Institute Power Blog, I detected some hints of conservative Christian homeschooling rhetoric I remembered from a few years ago, when I was involved in that movement with/for my small children. The Acton Institute’s stated mission is, “to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.” While the rest of the About page seeks to portray an ecumenical, almost secular and educated feel (nowhere is the word “Christian” mentioned), a quick look through Acton’s bookshop* proves their exclusively Christian underpinnings.
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s current pick for Secretary of Education, who recently made headlines with her trademark support of charter schools and school vouchers, is also a supporter of the Acton Institute, among others. This, in conjunction with the article in question, has deeply concerned many onlookers about the possible future of public education in America, but the rabbit hole goes deeper still.
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For at least the past 10 years, the Homeschool Legal Defense Fund (HSLDA) has made it their mission to reduce state laws pertaining to child labor. In the states of Missouri and South Dakota, they have successfully overturned previous child labor laws in the name of homeschool anti-discrimination. They have been working on a federal bill to the same end nationwide since 2006*. The HSLDA represents the welfare and rights of not just homeschoolers, but ultra-conservative Evangelical Christian homeschoolers in particular (more on HSLDA in another post).
It is the position of the HSLDA, that children as young as 12 should be allowed to work, if their parents view such work as beneficial to the child’s education.
“…a 12-year-old homeschooler in Illinois was manning the cash register for his family’s business after his morning schoolwork was done. He enjoyed the opportunity to earn a little money, and his parents knew that it helped him hone his math skills. Unfortunately, a customer did not feel the same way. She turned the family in to the Illinois Labor Department. After looking into the matter, the department prohibited the boy from working during school hours.” –Source
The article claims many of the child labor laws enacted by states in throughout the 1800s were necessary for their time, but are “outdated”, and suggests that all federal laws regarding child labor restrictions were and are superfluous (no question where this organization stands on states’ rights!). The article continues by outlining general laws pertaining to working children at different ages. A few key laws include:
- No child under 16 may work during school hours, which are defined as public school hours (typically 8:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m., depending on the state).
- The child is limited to 3 hours of work per day during a school week, or 18 hours a week.
- He may not work before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. except from June 1 to Labor Day, when evening hours are extended to 9:00 p.m.
- Children may perform agricultural jobs for employers who have filed a waiver with the federal secretary of labor for exemption from the work hours and minimum age requirements for those particular jobs.
- A child may only work during school hours if he is not getting paid. An example of such a situation is a school “work study” program, in which children gain work experience for educational purposes. –Source
The question remains: Why should some Christians seek to overturn these child labor laws?
Look how “Happy (Doc and Dopey)” are the “children” working in the mines! They exemplify proper economics and virtue!
Why would Sunde (getting back to the original article in question) feel encouraged to blithely insist the Washington Post’s recent photo montage of dirty, poorly clothed child laborers from the early 1900s, was over-the-top for (rightly) calling the pictures “haunting”. Several of those kids were smoking for crying out loud! Or does Sunde think being filthy, poor, abused, and developing lung cancer are signs of virtuous character?
He seems to ignore those details, opting to focus on a favorite conservative fantasy that these children were using their “creative talents” to “build enterprises and cities, using their gifts to serve their communities, and setting the foundation of a flourishing nation.”
Sunde quotes heavily and with admiration, one Jeffrey Tucker from the Foundation for Economic Education. Tucker’s article titled, Let the Kids Work, is a perfect example of someone who is disconnected from reality. He calls the Washington Post’s photos, “beautiful”, and proceeds to imagine what the children in the pictures must have experienced:
“They are working in the adult world, surrounded by cool bustling things and new technology. They are on the streets, in the factories, in the mines, with adults and with peers, learning and doing. They are being valued for what they do, which is to say being valued as people. They are earning money. Whatever else you want to say about this, it’s an exciting life.”
Tucker pretends to believe the whopper that, “it was the market, not the government that reduced and nearly eliminated full-time grueling child labor.” Didn’t he just say those abused children were actually having the time of their lives? Didn’t he then proceed to make fun of those who might protest on the children’s behalf with, “Oh, look how exploitative it is!”
While Sunde insists in a new disclaimer, “I do NOT endorse replacing education with paid labor…nor do I support getting rid of mandatory education at elementary and middle-school ages.” Yet his own essay quotes Tucker’s insane words, “If kids were allowed to work and compulsory school attendance was abolished, the jobs of choice would be at Chick-Fil-A and WalMart.” (emphasis added by me)
Sunde goes on to say,
“In our schools and educational systems, what if we stopped prioritizing “intellectual” work to the detriment of practical knowledge and physical labor, paving new paths to a more holistic approach to character formation? In our policy and governing institutions, what if we put power back in the hands of parents and kids, dismantling the range of excessive legal restrictions, minimum wage fixings, and regulations that lead our children to work less and work later?”
Our forefathers’ greatest mission was free and public education for all American citizens, so Americans would not be subject to oppression! Washington and Franklin and the others are spinning in their graves to hear such blasphemies from so-called modern educated (Christian) men.
The reality of working children due to the continued and inexcusable lack of oversight of homeschooled kids is already a current problem:
“In some cases, educational neglect may occur when a homeschooled child is expected to work rather than study. In some cases…homeschooled children may be treated as servants and expected to do childcare and housecleaning rather than completing homeschool lessons. In other cases, homeschooled children’s education may cease at age 12 or 14 as they are expected to work full time, often in family businesses or doing various manual labor. “By 11, he was working full time with his dad who did construction,” writes Miranda of her homeschool graduate husband. “By 14, he was in the woods logging, carrying the full weight of a grown man’s job, helping bring home income for his parents.” These children are frequently not paid for their labor, and are thus both deprived of an education and exploited…These children often reach adulthood limited by their lack of education, their career path chosen by their parents through their failure to educate.” –Source
It’s even more of a problem for some homeschooled girls, whose educations are often devalued as they are raised to be “keepers at home”. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education quotes from Christian leader RC Sproul Jr., ““She [a nine-year-old homeschooled girl] doesn’t know how to read, but every morning she gets up and gets ready for the day. Then takes care of her three youngest siblings. She takes them to the potty, she cleans and dresses them, makes their breakfasts, brushes their teeth, clears their dishes, and makes their beds.” Now I [Sproul] saw her rightly, as an overachiever.”
Though it hasn’t been updated in 3 years, Sunde’s blog, Remnant Culture, features a telling who’s-who* of Evangelical and Catholic leaders and organizations whose mission is to instill pure capitalism (free market/free enterprise) in order to bring back the individual freedoms of religion and democracy they believe they have lost.
It is rather shocking that the very people who give the most lip service to education, America’s Founding Fathers, the value of children, and Christian morals, are the same ones advocating for elimination of compulsory education laws, a reduction of child labor laws, and the idolization of one form of human (i.e. fallible) government. In their minds, free enterprise is next to godliness (more on that in a later post). Make no mistake, the Industrial Revolution, America’s purest age of capitalism sans legal restrictions, saw the exploitation of everyone that possibly could be exploited. It was no less than the Northern form of slavery, without the personal investment of human chattel.
*Note: the shop link on the About page appears broken.
** When I first read Sunde’s essay on 11/27/16, he had included a statement about ending compulsory education at 8th grade. You will not find this quote in his current essay, it has since been deleted. The following comment references this quote, and there may be others: http://disq.us/p/1dx5k74.
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A Teen by Definition is Not “Mature”
*Little disclaimer: By “mature” I mean as physically developed and/or experienced in life as adults. I am not referring to responsibility, which many teens are better at than some adults.
I was just 16 but I knew it was love, and my boyfriend, also 16, and I secretly but seriously discussed our future. It was my 18th birthday when my new boyfriend and Sr. year highschool sweetheart proposed to me at our favorite park. I was 18 still when we married and my 19th birthday came one week later. My husband was barely 20.
Over the past 13 years of marriage, we have occasionally reflected on the past. On this issue, we both have come to the conclusion that marrying so young is not something we would now recommend to others. We were in love, but we were not prepared. We were not prepared financially, reproductive-wise, and he was not prepared mentally. Until my new husband kindly walked me through the steps, I had never paid a bill before. I didn’t know how to cook beyond pasta salad and boxed mac and cheese. We had no long-term plans, no goals other than my determination to get my Bachelor’s (it took 7 years, but I finally did).
We were strongly encouraged to marry fast in order to avoid living or falling into sin (sex), and we happily and naively agreed for the sake of our spiritual health and physical desires. It never occurred to our superiors/supporters that if we couldn’t be mature and responsible sexually before marriage, we weren’t mature enough for marriage. Our best friends and family were devastated and deeply concerned. They thought we were being way too hasty.
We struggled much for the first few years, forced to grow up very quickly and alone, for our friends were still in college when we began having babies. Not knowing how to budget, how to pay bills, or how to plan for long-term savings, and neither of us having a college degree, we suffered financially. Some decisions we made so long ago still haunt us today. We were encouraged not to take birth control since they were “full of toxins” and “not natural”, but to try the spit and microscope method of birth control instead. Wouldn’t you know it? Within 7 months I was pregnant.
Underage Marriage in the United States?
I was skeptical when a spiritual abuse blog I follow, posted an article on their FB page about child marriages in certain fundamental, homeschool, patriarchal, Christian circles. I knew it happened in many developing countries. I knew about the practice in fundamental Mormon (FLDS) churches out West. I knew it was a growing issue in the US due to the influx of immigrant cultures, but surely this article was grossly exaggerating the occurrence of underage marriages in these Protestant Christian groups. The article only highlighted two instances of child marriage, and both happened in the same family with a mother (married at 15) and her daughter (married at 16).
I asked for more information, and the moderator of the Spiritual Sounding Board Facebook page generously provided me with 3 more articles. While none of them could make a convincing case for the actual practice of child marriages, the positive mindset among several general commenters, the remarks of Kevin Swanson and Dave Bruehner-two big names in the conservative Christian homeschooling movement, and even Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty”-fame, began to show a disturbing trend.
There is a legal, and for some, ethical, difference between underage child marriages which occur between 12-17 (more typically, 15-17) years of age, and young or early marriage, which happens between 18-22 years of age, generally speaking. While the latter has been increasingly pushed by some in Evangelical circles to prevent or reduce sin, when the former does occur or is promoted, many times it is for very similar reasons.
Early/Young Marriage, 18-22
Today there is “a sort of attitude … magical thinking, that if we get you married, then you’ll be fine and we don’t have to worry about anti-poverty programs… we don’t have to worry about child care.” Scholars, pundits and other policy elites need to end their magical thinking about marriage and acknowledge the widespread nature of marital poverty and economic hardship. Married Without Means, p. 3
Statistics have told those with “ears to hear” for years that the rate of divorce decreases, the older a couple is when married. Couples between the ages of 18-24 (or younger) have the highest rates of divorce among married couples. This age group of married couples also tend to suffer significantly lower incomes, many times at or even below poverty level. Poverty’s fallout among young people and society includes poor education, single parenting (related both to the high divorce rate and young, unmarried mothers), severe stress, poor mental and physical health, drug abuse, child abuse, abortion, and the ignominious welfare state-all issues that conservative Christians are deeply worried about.
Still, there are many examples of conservative celebrity Christians, politicians, and leaders who strongly promote the idea of early marriage as a panacea for society’s ills. The often-cited op-ed article from Christianity Today called, The Case for Early Marriage (July 2009), by Mark Regnerus, a sociologist with much to say on the topic of young marriages in the church-see also Regnerus’s similar article titled, Freedom to Marry Young (April 2009), from the Washington Post-seems to be mostly concerned with abstinence (rather a lack thereof), baby-making, the “decreasing market value of women” as they age, and economics; it is cheaper to live together with someone, pooling resources, than living alone, he insists. Continuing in the CT article, Regnerus appears to idolize marriage as a “formative institution” and elevates it to the status of duty, meanwhile stigmatizing singles (especially women) as if they are forced to settle into their singleness. Regnerus is a real romantic.
The Duggar Family’s long-running reality TV show has garnered them much influence. The Duggars, of “19 Kids and Counting” fame, do not self-identify as a Quiverfull family, but they do maintain similar strict beliefs concerning children, homeschooling, marriage, modesty, patriarchy, and courtship. “Jim Bob and Michelle were married on July 21, 1984, just after Michelle’s high school graduation. She was 17 and he was 19 when they married; neither went to college” 19_Kids_and_Counting.
It would seem that oldest son Josh Duggar and his wife, Anna, were married when they were both 20. Anna says on their webpage, she first saw Josh via the TV show when they were both 13. They met at a homeschooling conference in 2006, when they would have both been 18. After a carefully cultivated courtship, they were married in 2008 and now have 4 children.
Josh was recently found to have cheated on his wife with a prostitute (at least once), engaging in rough, unprotected sex and potentially exposing both his wife and unborn child to venereal disease. Of Josh’s two married sisters, one was married at 20, the other waited until the ripe old age of 24. Both young women became pregnant immediately, none of the Duggars have gone to or have been encouraged to attend college. Although the Duggars’ lifestyle has worked for them financially because of their celebrity status, the average couple who marries early becomes just another statistic.
Child Marriage: A Rose by Any Other Name
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-10
“At a Sportsmen’s Ministry talk in 2009, [Phil] Robertson had some advice for a young man. “Make sure that she can cook a meal, you need to eat some meals that she cooks, check that out,” he said. “Make sure she carries her Bible. That’ll save you a lot of trouble down the road. And if she picks your ducks, now, that’s a woman.”
“They got to where they’re getting hard to find,” Robertson remarked. “Mainly because these boys are waiting until they get to be about 20 years old before they marry ’em. Look, you wait until they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket.” The Duck Commander company founder added: “You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16, they’ll pick your ducks. You need to check with mom and dad about that of course.” “
And Robertson practices what he preaches. He began dating his wife, Kay, when she was only 14 and he was 18. They waited until Kay was 16 to get married. Duck Dynasty Star: Girls Should Carry a Bible Cook and Marry When They are 15-RawStory
Attorneys claim Phillips, a close friend to the Duggar family and an associate of actor Kirk Cameron, “methodically groomed” Lourdes Torres since she was 15 years old and led her to believe they would be married. Phillips told the girl this was possible because his wife, Beall Phillips, “was going to die soon.” Lawsuit Reveals Teen was Groomed as Personal Sex Slave in the Duggar Family’s Movement-RawStory
- The lack of true consent on the part of the child
- The manipulation and power plays on the part of adult authority figures/taking advantage of a child’s innocence, naivete, and inability to say “no”
- The safety and health of a child which includes the possibility of pregnancy, STDs, and/or physical damage
- Using a child for the gratification of an adult
- The young girls in such families are not able to give their own consent, because the consent is settled between the father-patriarch and the bridegroom.
- There are significant power plays on the part of older adults as they take advantage of such a sheltered girl’s innocence, naivete, and inability to say “no”.
- The safety and health of the young lady is not taken into consideration, since medicine has shown how dangerous pregnancy can be for teens and their babies, yet in many of these families, contraception is considered a terrible sin against God. As was seen in the Josh Duggar-Ashely Madison case (see link above), these innocent teen girls may still be at risk of STDs as well.
- Finally, these young marriages are pushed or arranged purely for the gratification of the adults involved and not the benefit of the girl.
- Young/Early marriages occur between at least one party who is between 18-24 years old. In most cases, the couple are peers in age.
- Young/Early marriages are often encouraged among traditionally-minded churches and religious groups as a way to reduce sexual sin and single parenthood.
- Young/Early marriages and child marriages have the highest rates of divorce among married couples. Many times, young couples are uneducated, leading to poverty, which in turn leads to a variety of personal, familial, and social problems.
- Child marriages are marriages that occur between at least one party who is between 12-17 years old. In many cases, the minor is a female and the bridegroom is in his mid-20s or older.
- Child marriages are happening in the United States due to the culture of immigrants coming in and religious fundamental cults throughout the states.
- Child marriages are a form of sexual abuse, no matter how prettily packaged it may seem.
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References and Research:
Many times I share silly things on Facebook for laughs. Sometimes I share things that made me think. This time I share an article to speak out.
I have lost many friends because I practiced these beliefs, I have lost many friends because I left these beliefs behind. I have lost many friends, even this very week, because I speak out against these beliefs. I have been called bitter, unforgiving, angry, paranoid, hurtful, picky, a perfectionist, and a tool of Satan because I have been so hurt by these beliefs and I choose to speak out. But I get it, I really do, because 13 years ago, when I was high on the elitism of these beliefs and getting attention from fellow Christians, accolades from church leaders, and “gifts of God”, I would have said and thought the same.
You can read more about my history here: How I Left a Cult