Raising Your Child to Be a Mensch Essay - Critical Essays

Raising Your Child to Be a Mensch

In his treatise on education, THE ABOLITION OF MAN, C.S. Lewis warns that the relativization of morality-- reducing it to a set of feelings with no extrinsic standard--will produce a generation of “men without chests": individuals who are technically competent but who have no hearts, no commitment to goodness. It is the possibility of such a scenario that has prompted Neil Kursham to write RAISING YOUR CHILD TO BE A MENSCH. In many American urban centers, highly educated parents put their infants’ names on waiting lists for the best kindergartens; opportunities for children’s academic and physical education abound. At the same time, the cultural diversity of modern cities, more than the skepticism of philosophers, has contributed to a widespread moral uncertainty: Amid the proliferation of beliefs and life-styles, how can I be sure that my own are valid? Have I any right to shape my children’s values?

Kursham responds to these and related questions with an impassioned plea for parents to embrace traditional Judeo-Christian values (as exemplified in the Ten Commandments) and to pass them on to their children. “Mensch” is a Yiddish word that, according to the book’s dust jacket, means “decent, responsible, caring person.” A mensch gives of himself to others. More than in rising to the top, making good grades, achieving financial success, a mensch is interested in relieving suffering, showing kindness, being honest. Such goals, Kurshan insists, can be communicated to children.

The hard part, naturally, is that values are passed along more by who the parent is--revealed in casual conversations, responses to stress, daily routines--than by carefully worded speeches or admonishing lectures. The goodness has to be inside. For most of us, there’s the rub.

Kurshan has written a warm, winning book; his is an essentially sunny view of human nature. Yet can man really pull himself up by his bootstraps, make himself good by dint of willpower fueled by “common sense and natural love,” as Kurshan suggests? Or is something more drastic needed: a spiritual awakening, a change of heart?