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January 4, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – During the Coronavirus epidemic high-profile British soccer-player Marcus Rashford called for the extension of free school lunches over the school holidays. School meals are free in the U.K. for the children of poorer families, and Rashford thought that it would make sense for this concept to be extended to the time when schools are out. Prime Minister Boris Johnson caved in to the campaign in the summer, giving poorer families vouchers to use in supermarkets, but refused to do so again for the Christmas break, though a lot of volunteers did step in with offers of free cooked meals, and the government promised help through the normal channels of the welfare system. In the meantime Rashford was given an honor—“Member of the British Empire” (MBE)—usually given to people who have spent a lifetime volunteering, at the age of 23.

Rashford’s initiative was prompted by a commendable compassion, but there is something slightly troubling about the terms in which his campaign took off. Feeding the very poor is a fundamental category of good work, but what have schools got to do with it? It was difficult to shake off the impression that Rashford was benefitting from an unfortunate idea which seems to have taken hold: that schools are primary care-givers. If they are, the periods of time in which schools are not in session, for whatever reason, become problematic. Who is going to look after the children then?

Christina Odone summarizes the results of an Ipsos opinion poll conducted in January this year.

Almost six in ten parents believe that schools and parents should be equally responsible for reading and writing (59 per cent) as well as non-academic skills such as imagination and creativity (57 per cent), speaking and listening (54 per cent) and physical skills (53 per cent). Almost half feel schools and parents should have equal responsibility for social skills and behaviors (49 per cent) and almost the same proportion (43 per cent) believe that schools and parents should have equal responsibility for children’s emotional awareness.

Another opinion poll, conducted by YouGov, shows that 46% of children arriving in school at the age of 5 are not “school ready:” in diapers, not familiar with cutlery, not talking properly, not able to respond to questions, and so on.

It is not so very surprising that parents who expect their children’s schools will teach them “speaking and listening” may present these schools with children not very good at speaking and listening. As the second poll found, “some kids can’t pronounce their own names.”

What is the solution to a problem created by a shift of expectations and resources from families to impersonal, state-run institutions? Why, obviously, it is a greater shift of expectations and resources from families to impersonal, state-run institutions. Reporting the YouGov finding, the TES laments that pre-school children have missed out of four months of nursery. You know, those institutions where under-5s are stressed by the absence of their parents, and are often cared for by staff with poor English, if not actual sex-abusers.

And so failures by families are addressed not by supporting families but by undermining them further, leading to more failures. 

Schools which see themselves as correcting or supplanting the ideas parents have inculcated into their children are not just a problem insofar as their ideas are wrong. They are a problem because they undermine the authority of parents. If they rubbish parents’ moral and religious values, how can they expect those parents to continue to present to them children who are disciplined, hard-working, and polite?

The undermining of the family also includes the systematic dis-incentivizing of married, single-earner families by the tax and welfare system: to such an extent that in the U.K. the “tax credit” system favors single-parent families. Again, the legal status of marriage has been manipulated in such a way that it is impossible to get a truly life-long, legally-binding union between a man and a woman, to say nothing of the way that same-sex unions have been forced on nations around the world.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In light of the fact that stable families, where biological parents look after their offspring and are legally married to each other, are associated with vastly better outcomes, it would be perfectly reasonable for the state to make forming and maintaining such families easier, not harder. Whenever policies in this direction are proposed, we hear the bizarre objection that they are intrusive and engaging in social engineering, as if policies which push things the other way are perfectly neutral.

This is something which Catholics and others should insist on when politicians come seeking our votes. The most fundamental step of all, however, is for young people to believe in the family enough to form and maintain one: when they do do so, they deserve our support.

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.