Rabbi Shmuley Boteach just appeared on Ireland’s “Late Late Show,” the longest-running program in television history. His upcoming book is ‘The Broken American Male.” His website is www.shmuley.com.
The next president of the United States will need to address the crumbling social fabric of this great nation. America is richer than ever, but its families have never been so impoverished. The main problems are, first and foremost, the fifty percent divorce rate; second, children who do not interact with parents; third, a shallow and degenerate culture that especially degrades and exploits women; and fourth, broken men who define their success through financial accumulation rather than personal commitments thereby neglecting their families and becoming unavailable or deadbeat dads.
Here are four ideas that can begin to stem the rot, consolidate our families, and ennoble our culture:
1. Make marital counseling tax deductible. Studies show that marital counseling, for the most part, really works and the difference between staying together and getting divorced is often simply the difference between a couple having a wise counselor with whom they can consult and not having it. But, sadly, many couples simply cannot afford the huge costs of going to a good counselor on a regular basis. Let’s give them the financial incentive to do so.
Marriage is society’s most important social structure. Without marriage, children do not have stability and men and women are often relegated to lives of solitude and loneliness. When couples divorce, the burden of raising children often falls to the government, especially in the case of dead-beat dads. So whatever revenue is lost from the tax deduction would be more than made up from the vast savings in government expenditure for children that should not be the government’s responsibility. And this is aside from the vast savings of policing and punishing teenage delinquency that would vastly decrease if our children had two parents working in concert to raise them.
2. Impose a dress code, or even uniforms, at public schools. I am writing this article in Dublin, Ireland, where I am doing a TV appearance. The uniforms of the public schools here are modest and convey the serious nature of being at an institute of learning. It also conveys to the boys in the school that girls are dressed in a respectable way because they are meant to be respected.
Compare that to our own public-school system. Time magazine reported in 2003 that forty percent of teenage girls wear thongs to school, mostly with the underwear band showing above their jeans. This is a disgrace and immediately conveys both that going to school is akin to going to a peep show and that flirtatious interaction of boys and girls is more important than the learning experience. Getting our kids to wear uniforms, or at least to conform to an appropriate dress code, teaches them that serious things – like learning – must be taken seriously. It conveys to girls that they should carry themselves in a dignified manner than invites respect. And it teaches both boys and girls that the body is not designed to be exploited but respected, and that sexuality is something private and best kept out of a public space.
3. Create a national family dinnertime. There is no more important daily family interaction than the family supper. Sitting down to a meal together, the one great unifier of all cultures and religions, allows a family to connect, interact, and debrief about their day. It gives parents the opportunity not only to talk to their children but to listen to them about how school and their lives are going.
The next president should call on the American people to sit down for dinner either right before or immediately after the network news broadcasts (which might even provide some interesting conversation topics). A president could appeal to the national TV networks to either go completely dead during that daily half hour, or at least put on something so boringly unappealing to children and teenagers that the family dinner will be a more stimulating alternative.
The president should be seen sitting down with his family every night at that exact hour, notwithstanding pressing matters. A lottery should then be done of families who abide by the national family dinnertime to meet with the president once a month so that the institution becomes more and more ingrained in the national psyche.
4. Create a daily moment of silence in America’s public schools. This was an idea championed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The brokenness of today’s men is the direct product of a culture that promotes accumulation and acquisition as the rudiments of success. Men are especially prone to the depression that results from feeling like failures. This must be countered from the earliest age by allowing our young boys to reflect on their intrinsic value as human beings and their status as an essential part of God’s overall plan.
America wisely separates Church and State, and no one is asking that prayer be imposed on America’s public schools. But a moment of reflection on something important and spiritual will directly counter the pounding materialism that reduces us men to nothing but what we earn and reduces women to nothing but what they look like.
I agree that God should never be coerced into the American school system. But neither should incessant materialism. An innocuous moment of reflection, and a teacher telling children that this is their moment to thing about anything larger than them, can nourish the soul and perhaps jumpstart some serious reflection on the part of young boys and girls.
I believe strongly that the candidate that seizes the values agenda will triumph in the next election and will seriously strengthen our nation. In the 2004 vote, while the pundits focused on the war with Iraq, twenty-two percent of people voted for their values. It made the difference between George Bush’s victory and John Kerry’s defeat. In this cycle, not a single candidate has made a significant effort to offer healing values to the American people and American families. Let the healing begin.