2 min

Deaf to kids’ rights

Parents are generally schizophrenic, but wanting children like them

There’s been much hoopla over the past month, as news spread of a deaf US lesbian couple who chose deaf sperm donors in the hopes of having deaf children. The couple has been blessed with two deaf children to date, and they’re ecstatic.

Commentators all over the world have condemned the couple as child abusers – they’ve saddled their children with a disability that will make life more difficult and severely limit their choices and experiences.

The couple’s response is one of deaf pride. They’re proud to be deaf, they say; they’ve learned to see it as a positive experience. Deaf pride sounds an awful lot like gay pride – taking something considered flawed and finding joy and fulfillment in it. The pundits, predictably, see this as the latest form of political correctness, one where you’re not allowed to value the experience of hearing over that of deafness. And so the mothers cripple their own children out of a selfish refusal to acknowledge the inferiority of deafness.

But hold on a minute. The behaviour of these mothers towards their children may seem perverse, but it is altogether typical of most parents. Parents are generally schizophrenic – torn between wanting their children to flower into their own unique entities, and wanting their children to be just like them.

No one knows this better than queer people. Precious few parents are pleased when their kids turn out gay. Many of us have first-hand experience watching otherwise terrific parents struggle with basic acceptance, when they learn we’ve chosen a path so different from the one they wanted for us.

Parenting isn’t a selfless act. Most parents take it for granted that raising kids involves ensuring that their own religious, ethnic and family traditions are carried on. In fact, many people choose to have children specifically for these reasons.

Take religion. If you believe the lesbian parents crossed a line in engineering deaf kids, consider religious parents.

To an outsider, bringing up a child within a religion can appear to be a growth-stunting manoeuvre. Many religions describe the consequences of behaviour – eternal damnation, for instance – in terms which traumatize children. Religious upbringing can inflict shame and guilt that kids will continue to struggle with well into adulthood. And, of course, many religions teach kids hate and bigotry.

But to a religious parent, religion is a gift to their children – a useful way to teach basic values, or a means to rich spritual experiences invisible to the outsider. Or a means to eternal salvation.

We have to expect that parents will rear their kids in peculiar ways, and personally, I’m willing to tolerate quite a bit of nonsense. Parents will always fuck up their children, to varying degrees, and part of being human is learning to deal with parental baggage.

But we ought to be concerned about differentiating between parents’ personal freedom to do their own thing and children’s rights to healthy development. Everyone seems to agree that the lesbian mothers have done wrong. But the degree to which some parents impose religion on their children can also be a handicap.

A decent education will be any kids’ best tool for sorting out their own life, including whatever damage their parents inflict. But when parents choose religious schools for their children, they remove a key means for kids to put their parents’ religion into perspective.

Canada’s constitution enshrines our system of educational apartheid, which is why provinces like Ontario have a parallel Catholic school system.

When the Durham Catholic school board unanimously decided to prevent Marc Hall from bringing his gay date to the prom, a lot of people began to question why the public funds a bigoted school system so clearly at odds with the public interest.

Religious schools aren’t about freedom of religion. They are about putting parents’ rights ahead of children’s rights.

It’s unclear whether there will be enough momentum behind a fight to de-fund religious schools. But it’s clearly in the interests of children to do so.

* David Walberg is Xtra’s publisher.