I like Jill Lepore. Her essays in the New Yorker show a kind of depth that is completely missing in Irish journalism. There’s no space for it.
What I like is that she asks the kinds of questions we should be asking here, and provides really well researched, intelligent commentary.
Writing in the New York Times about Ben Franklin’s little sister Jane, she’s asking - in a smaller way, about whether we decide what’s important before we make big decisions.
Jane Mecom buried 11 of her 12 children, was married at 15 and wasn’t provided with adequate education. While the question of infant mortality has been dealt with, the factors that lead to teen motherhood haven’t been - the social welfare system (especially that it’s better for couples not to live together, or at least claim not to), the pathetic LCA (and even more pathetic LCVP) offered as an alternative to standard Leaving Cert - and the presumption that there are those who can’t aspire to do a standard leaving cert because of their geography, their status, their relations.
I also can’t help thinking that if there was a programme or organisation that placed the same kind of emphasis on girls that the GAA places on boys in sport, things could be different. Because what the GAA offers is a cheap chance to excel or even succeed in a non academic arena. What is the alternative for girls who don’t do well in school? And if we were to deal with that huge issue of teen pregnancy - and the educational ignorance, social marginalisation, government sponsored welfare traps that support it, what positive difference could that make to the lives not just of young women, but to their children? And to the social environment we all share?
Across the world aid agencies realise that the way to support communities is through educating women so that they and their daughters can make better choices about their bodies and their lives and their skills. We have no Taliban, but we do have a system that keeps a certain cohort of young women in chains that we all have to pay for socially, economically and financially.
What scope is there for improving lives in communities and families if we deal with this effectively by creating better opportunities for young women and enabling them to make better decisions about those opportunities? If you educate the mothers, you educate the families.
Jill Lepore quotes Ben Franklin in her NY Times piece. This is what the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation proposed.
Has enough changed in the last almost 100 years? Are we cherishing all the children of the state equally? Not the teenage mothers, the disenfranchised teenage fathers or their sons and daughters. We’ve failed and continue to fail young men in very different ways that have had a lot of discussion here already.
The social welfare system is really the worst aspects of the public service for poor people. Get in and stay in and make sure they can’t get you out. Get used to the system of ‘entitlement’ without service, where increments are replaced by supplementary payments or additional payments for more children. Become part of a system which requires no confidence, no motivation and no desire for change - and no impetus for change. It’s a velvet coffin.
It’s un-aspirational. It’s anti-aspirational.
What strikes me today is that in all our current talk of political values and economic value(s), I don’t see the media or the mainstream parties making any effort to consider what social values we should prioritise in the decision making that’s happening now and the bartering with the EU/IMF. It’s interesting too how we discredit those who advocate for various groups by suggesting they have no grip on economic realities - the community and voluntary pillars. There’s a common ground somewhere but why the reluctance in treading it?