Skip to content

Beating Some Healthy Fear Into ‘Em

Somebody scrawled “Parents not peers” on the bathroom stall here in the MSU library where we’re coordinating on a class project.

I’ve encountered this slogan before. Originally, it was meant to chide some of the excesses of ’70s hippie-dippy child-rearing theory, which could credit developing children with too much calm intellect and community spirit, and in doing so overemphasized the importance of winning the child’s favor or indulging his whims at the expense of establishing parental authority and a sense of social propriety. To that extent, the sentiment is all well and good.

Unfortunately, “parents not peers” has been seized upon by authoritarian parents, and employed out of context (as so many good ideas seized upon by authoritarians in our culture are) as both justification and euphemism for the “because I said so, now shut up or you’ll feel the back of my hand” school of child-rearing. Parents prone to repeating the mantra could more accurately be described as parenting by the slogan “lashes not love” or “tyranny not trust.” That doesn’t sound so good in public, though, so they stick to the original, which promises to produce fine, upstanding citizens who wouldn’t, for example, deface restroom walls.

It’s hard to tell just what the vandal intended with his graffiti. People fond of publicly brandishing the catchphrase may tend to parental tyranny, but perhaps this is an exception. Who can tell? Sloganeering out of context is a hallmark of dog-whistle politics: a reassurance of solidarity to those who embrace the intent behind the sloganeering and discuss it in greater depth out of the public eye, yet also vague enough to provide intellectual cover from getting called out on it. It also spares us the burden of working out a defensible moral code, allowing us simply to substitute a rallying cry with which to drown out that little voice inside which is our conscience.

Or, to put it in a manner old “parents not peers” would understand:

Thoughts good; slogans bad! Thoughts good; slogans bad

Postscript: to my amusement, someone else wrote beneath the original slogan, “What the hell is this supposed to mean?” Clearly I’m not the only one harboring suspicions as to the author’s intent.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *