Kirsten Andersen


Huge population control sign in Indiana school hallway: ‘It’s up to you – no more than two’

Kirsten Andersen

BRAZIL, Ind., October 30, 2013 ( – Fr. John Hollowell, a Catholic priest, was initially pleased when he saw the sign in the hallway of his local public high school.  Stretched prominently above a row of lockers, the bright yellow banner proclaimed “Zero Population Growth” in large letters.

“At first when I walked past the sign I thought to myself, ‘Oh, cool, they're starting to catch on that our population levels are at a critical phase and that we're heading for a demographic winter because no one is having kids anymore,’” Hollowell wrote on his blog about the experience.  “They're trying to get the word out that our population growth is trending towards a crisis … Then I literally had a sick feeling in my stomach when I realized I had the sign completely wrong.”

As Hollowell got closer to the sign, he realized it actually read, "Zero Population Growth: It’s Up To You – No More Than Two.” 

The banner was a warning, all right, but of a very different kind than Hollowell had first thought. 

“My jaw hit the floor,” Hollowell wrote.  “This is about the most messed up thing I've seen in a long time.  We might as well have Nazi flags hanging in the hallway.  What does that say to kids from families bigger than two kids?  Reproduction is a problem?  The math teacher I went to visit across the hall just had his third child today.  Are he and his wife contributing to the downfall of humanity for welcoming human life?”

According to Fr. Hollowell, the sign featured a series of square white boxes with yellow smiley faces inside, each representing 10 million people.  Each box contains progressively more smiley faces covering more and more of the white background until the final frame, where there is no more white space visible at all, only dozens of smashed smiley faces that no longer fit in the box. 

“I mean look at the sign … if people keep having kids the smiley faces won't fit in the box anymore!  Look how scientific it is,” Hollowell wrote sarcastically.

Two commenters on Fr. Hollowell’s blog said that they had either worked at or attended the school - Northview High School - and that the banner had been displayed in the hallway for at least ten years prior to Hollowell’s discovering it. 

“When I taught at this school, ten years ago, this banner was put up every year,” one commenter wrote. “Since high school students are particularly hard on hallway decor, it is made of paper, and student projects on the topic would later appear trickled throughout that level of the school. I assume it is a unit that culminates with a student project, and that it has been taught robotically for at least a decade.” 

But one student commenter said it was a student-created work that won a competition years ago and was never taken down.  “I attended this high school and walked past this banner for four years,” the student wrote.  “It was made for an Earth Day contest who knows how many years ago … and happened to win.”

Another student agreed, stating, “I don't think it gets hung up every year; I think it has STAYED up. Being above the lockers, it doesn't get a lot of abuse.”

But after Fr. Hollowell and some of his blog readers complained to the school about the banner, it was finally taken down. 

In a letter to reader Christine Niles, the school principal wrote:

“First and foremost, I offer my apologies. I don’t think the banner was originally created years ago, nor hung in our school at any point, with the intent of offending any individual, group, or religious sect. Nonetheless, if you, or any others, took offense to the banner, I offer my sincere apologies.

Second, I can assure you that our only “agenda” is to provide a quality education that is in alignment with Indiana standards. We are not in the business of indoctrination or promotion of one theological perspective over another.

Finally, I want you to be informed that I have taken down the banner. I, along with my staff, make every attempt to be vigilant in making sure that we create an atmosphere and environment at Northview that is welcoming to all. If the banner impedes our progress in those efforts, it needs to come down. Thus, I removed the banner immediately.

I do appreciate your concern and comments. I hope the corrective action I described above serves as proof that I take your feelings and beliefs, as well as those of others, seriously.

Ernie Simpson
Northview High School”

The poster’s message is reminiscent of propaganda signs used in anti-fertility campaigns around the world, including in Singapore, where government officials, concerned about overpopulation, promoted a two-child policy with highly visible posters and billboards advertising the “Stop at Two” campaign.  In addition to the ubiquitous propaganda posters, the Singaporean government imposed sanctions on families who had more than the recommended two children – including fines, reduced priority for government housing, and limiting third and later offspring to bottom-tier schools.

The “Stop at Two” campaign was so effective in Singapore that the birth rate fell from 4.3 children per family in 1973 to just 1.44 by 1987.   But by that point, the government realized it had gone too far.  Faced with a dwindling and aging population, they turned their campaign around, printing new propaganda posters urging couples to “Have three or more (if you can afford it)!” 

But the damage was done.  Many women of childbearing age had already been sterilized, fearing government reprisal should they become pregnant a third time. Meanwhile, their daughters were growing up in a culture that no longer valued large families; in fact, they had been taught to fear them.  Today in Singapore, the birth rate is only 1.2 per family, far short of replacement rate. 

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In India, a similar slogan, “Us two, our two” (or “Hum do, hamare do” in Hindi), reminds families that for each couple, the government believes there should be only two children.  Couples who have more than two children are ineligible to run for local public office, and those who work for the government are denied employee housing if they have more than two children.  The nation’s birth rate has fallen from 5.7 per family in 1966 to 2.7 per family – roughly replacement rate in a developing nation like India – as of 2009.  Birth rates in many states within the country have actually fallen below replacement levels.

In China, fears of overpopulation have led to a draconian one-child policy aimed at reducing the population.  This policy, the strictest in the world, limits most couples to just one child.

China has no need of slogans – the country simply enforces its laws with an iron fist, severely punishing those who fail to comply with beatings, fines, jail time, forced abortions and sterilizations, and even death.  Even for those who only want their first child, depending on what the current birth rate is in any given province, the local family planning police may decide to regulate who will be allowed to give birth, and when.  If a woman becomes pregnant when it is not “her turn” according to the authorities, she can be fined and forced to abort her child. 

The Chinese birth rate is now 1.4 per family (owing to certain rural provinces that permit couples to try for a second child if the first was not a son).  Most experts predict China’s population will peak within 15 to 20 years and then face a similar fate to what is expected in the rest of the developed world – a precipitous decline in population as older generations die off with very few children to replace them.

Over the past 30 years, worldwide, birth rates have fallen by more than 50 percent. According to the United Nations Population Fund, by the middle of the 21st century, worldwide fertility will be below replacement level.  In most developed nations, this is already the case.  Replacement level in the developed world is 2.1 children per family.  In the EU, the birth rate is 1.5.  In Russia, it’s 1.17.  In the U.S., it’s 1.89.  In Japan, it’s 1.3.  All of these societies are aging, and as older generations die off, there will not be enough young people to replace them in the workforce or maintain the infrastructure they have built, which will likely lead to drastic social and economic decline.  

A birth rate like that of Japan’s – 1.3 children per family – is called “lowest-low” fertility by demographers.  At that rate, they say, a nation will lose half of its population every 45 years.  Indeed, Japan's population reached its peak in 2008, and since then, the total population has plummeted by over a million people as the elderly have died off with no babies to replace them. These days, the Japanese buy more adult diapers than they do diapers for babies.  More than half the country’s real estate is referred to as “depopulated marginal land.”

By the end of this century, if the birth rate stays stable, the population of Japan will be less than half what it is now.

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