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At What Point Do We Call Schools Orphanages?

by Joy Pullmann via



The city fathers of Buffalo, New York are considering what they call “public boarding schools,” “where students as young as first or second grade would be assured proper meals, uniforms, after-school tutoring and activities.”

“We have teachers and union leaders telling us, ‘The problem is with the homes; these kids are in dysfunctional homes,’” Buffalo school board member Carl Paladino told the Huffington Post. The “Buffalo Institute of Growth would supplement a college-style academic schedule with life skills and social activities that would keep students on campus seven days a week…”

This isn’t an isolated discussion. In Madison, Wisconsin, a local foundation recently shelled out $300,000 to help the district create four “full-service schools,” which is a euphemism for “take over basically every salient aspect of parenting.” This includes health care, dental care, after-school and weekend babysitting, meals and snacks, and parenting (although Madison schools have renamed that “mentoring” so it’s more appropriately generic).

Of course, behind every statist program you’ll find the Obama administration, which has for its tenure been busily shelling out your kids’ money (because it’s all debt spending now) to “help” public schools transform into similar incarnations of modern orphanages. They’re not even quiet about their ambition to program children “from cradle through college and career.”

The Promise Neighborhoods initiative, which is just one arm of a multipronged effort, wants “cradle-to-career solutions” that “integrate programs” and “break down agency ‘silos’” for comprehensive government-run life planning. All on behalf of the children, as usual. These are already in at least 20 states.

Boarding Schools and Orphanages Aren’t Necessarily Bad

Before some analysis, first the necessary caveats.

Boarding schools are not necessarily evil. My husband attended a boarding high school, and it was neither one of those “military school” halfway houses for troubled kids nor an elite school for wealthy kids with detached parents. There was no Christian high school anywhere near his family’s home, and it was really important to their family that the children attend one, so they ate margarine and rice and sent their six kids on partial scholarships to their alma mater in the Missouri boondocks 900 miles away. If only every parent was that dedicated to his child’s success, right? And if only every child had the opportunity to use his education tax dollars to attend such a school if his family felt the need.

I also understand the need to remove some kids from terrible homes. That’s why we have a foster-care system. The Federalist has also published some poignant writingfrom a graduate of a 1950s orphanage who has spent his academic career researching their modern incarnation: group foster-care homes. He argues they are not right for all displaced children but are perfect for some. It’s perfectly plausible that kids of widely diverging personalities, family situations, and abuse histories will need widely diverging modes of restoration.

The Default Should Be Home, Not an Institution

Look, we all recognize the sad truth that some children’s families are not safe places for them. A just society removes such innocents from their messed-up parents when it is truly necessary, and places them in real homes where they might have a fairer shot at life.

But that’s not we’re talking about here. We’re talking about assigning a kid to full-time government oversight simply because his parents have less money than some others, or because his family speaks a language other than English at home. These situations are not inherently abusive. Government owes parents and children proof their relationship is causing permanent and abominable damage before it reaches to separate the two. It’s entirely offensive to poor and minority families to tell them these qualities alone require society to remove their children.

It’s also wrong. How does it make sense to think that hired hands will be better at meeting children’s needs than their own flesh and blood? How does it make sense to think that shuffling children into some mechanical, preset series of government programs will nurture their beings better than weeding and feeding within the organic ecosystem in which they first bloomed to life? Families were made for children. They’re the natural place children abound. When a habitat is sick, we don’t call it restored if someone comes in, pours concrete, and builds a pile of cubicle holders on top. We call it destroyed, and we mourn that destruction.

This Is an Inevitable Consequence of Big Government

One could easily consider “full-service schools” a form of damage control politicians need to cover the evidence that their policies of paying people to have babies outside of marriage and creating a false sense of security with “free” birth control for everyone have contributed to skyrocketing rates of children born to inherently unstable homes, with attendant increases in child abuse and neglect.

Ultimately, though, the increasing conversion of schools into orphanages only makes obvious what is already true about American society: We’re already a cradle-to-grave welfare state. Government oversees children from before birth through programs like WIC, which gives poor pregnant and nursing moms “free” health care and food. It then oversees children from birth through adulthood with health care from Medicaid, food from SNAP and school breakfast and lunch (and sometimes dinner), rent subsidies and low-income housing, out-of-home early childcare and parenting through child-care vouchers and Head Start, even more babysitting through make-work after-school programs, and more. We pay for millions of kids’ college tuition, “workforce training,” hell, even their cell phones. Next we’ll be supplying them with iPads. Oh, wait.

The Obama administration is merely rearranging this reality, trying to streamline all the pre-existing welfare into one centralized orphanage people can stay in even after they reach 18. At least they’re honest. Given Republicans’ penchant for efficiency in government control rather than concern about reducing it, they might as well be honest, too, and cheer Obama for using the money and power they keep giving the federal government instead of pretending he’s some antagonist to their long-proclaimed but long-abandoned principles.

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