UM Professor David Lykken has spent his career studying the role of nature and nurture in shaping people. And he believes his research shows the best society would be one in which the state decides who gets to have children.
by Jennifer Vogel

           Lykken: People adjust to things, but bad things keep happening to people like this.

           CP: Yet there plenty of people, even artists and inventors, who come from poor neighborhoods, who were maybe even raised with single parents, and turn out fine.

           Lykken: It's astonishing that again, there are some people with such a talent for socialization that they do manage. There was a television program a while back based on a Pulitzer prize-winning series [about] this black woman in Washington who was just a wretch. She made her living as a small-time drug pusher and a prostitute. She turned her 13-year-old daughter on to heroin and prostitution. She was really the pits. But two of the six or seven children somehow avoided all this, pulled themselves out, became married, family men, self-supporting. They had such a talent for socialization that they went out on their own. It does happen. The other question that is implied by what you say is that there are people that come out of these backgrounds and turn out to be great people. Jessie Jackson, for example. That suggests that it would be wrong for us to make social changes to prevent that from happening. Just because you recognize that some people who have turned out well were raised in terrible conditions, would you move into a housing project? Would you beat your kids the way some of these kids have been beaten? Would you give them adversity in order to be good to them?

           CP: Well, that's not really the question. I'm thinking that economic or social status lines aren't the best indicators of whether somebody's going to be a good person or the best indicators of who should be allowed to have a child.

           Lykken: I wouldn't base the licensure on income.

           CP: Well, that's one of the requirements you've mentioned.

           Lykken: The qualifications I would require are the same ones that you require for someone who wants to adopt someone else's child. That the man or woman be 21 or older, self supporting. If you decide you want to have a baby, but you can't support it, so I have to support it, is that right? I don't think so. You can't have been convicted of a violent crime nor incapacitated by mental illness. Those are requirements that 90 percent of responsible parents can meet without trouble whatsoever. It's true that it would impact more heavily on the underclass. It would reduce the size of the underclass.

           CP: If you could mandate how society would run, what role the government would play, what would you do?

           Lykken: The first thing I would do would be to start working on the understructure we need to help these kids. We know how to train parents and a lot of the bad parents including those in the underclass really want to do the right thing and are willing and able to learn, but it's expensive because it takes a lot of time and involvement. And there have been two or three demonstration projects, expensive projects that have shown positive results. So we should invest money in that, in parental training. I think we ought to have a parental practicum training course, three months and six months in every community college in the country for new parents, and if we did them, I'd add that to my licensure requirement. You have to get through that course.

           But an awful lot of really bad parents are not going to take the parental training. They are going to drop out. And we know that happens. What we have to do is to take children away from those parents and put them in healthy incubators. Take them out of that infection and put them into a place where they are going to be safe. Many of this generation of social workers still believe in this family preservation baloney and that there is still something magical about the biological tie. So even though the mother is an addict and a nut and incompetent and so on, that still she is better for the child than anyone else.

           That's going out of fashion. We need to create a professionalized foster care system in this country. I think we should set up systems of boarding schools as other people have suggested for the older kids. Boarding schools staffed by some of the retired, non-commissioned officers coming out of the service who know about discipline and so on and can exert obedience with a word, the way a good father can. And they'd be mainly boys' schools because the boys are the source of the problem. And we also know that especially among adolescents, it's better to keep the boys and girls apart. The girls get into more trouble in co-educational schools and the boys get into more trouble also. Keep the nitro and the glycerin apart is what I say. The only sensible thing to do is to invest money now in these ways, to salvage the kids that have already been produced by parents who never should have had children.

           Somebody had this wonderful analogy. You're standing by a river and you are seeing hundreds of babies and kids floating by, headed for the rapids, more and more kids. You jump in and save a few, but many of them are swept out. Sooner or later, you say jumping in and grabbing them is not the solution. You have to go upstream and find out who is throwing the babies into the river. Who you find upstream will be the immature, unsocialized, sociopathic parents who shouldn't be allowed to have babies.

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