Arvonne Fraser: American Experiment Contributor

Arvonne Fraser, who died recently at 92, contributed several essays over the years to American Experiment symposia that I compiled on a variety of subjects.  She also was one of my 40 interviewees in a 2014 book, Broken Bonds: What Family Fragmentation Means for America’s Future.  One might ask how a liberal “trailblazer” wound up in Center publications.  Easy, I invited her.

I don’t know when we first met other than to say it was a long time ago.  The same is true of her husband, Don, the former congressman and mayor of Minneapolis, who survives her.  Obviously, Arvonne and I differed on a quite a bit, but she was a friend who thought hard about issues that I think about, too.  Here, for example, is what she says in Broken Bonds about the importance of grandparents.

I tend to think of generations, but I’m beginning to think – this goes back to the mentoring thing – you need more than two generations.  Three generations become very important, not that they have to be related.  Maybe that’s just because I’m old.  But I think back.  My grandparents were very important to me.  There is this inherent tension between parents and children as they grow up.  Children have to separate themselves from their parents, so they need other influences.  The word might be role models, mentors, and they don’t have to be, as I said, in the same family.  They can be external.  But it’s important for kids to see beyond their parents, to see other age groups to get a sense of what their future is.

The passage was perfect for the book in that it was creative, but also lent itself to a critique on my part.

“Can non-family members . . . not just grandparents,” I asked in turn, “also serve admirably as mentors and role models?  Needless to say.  But this is where one must ask who’s most likely to remain immersed in a boy or girl’s life over longest hauls.  Grandparents, usually connected by blood?  Or family friends, no matter how good and decent they may be?  I’m guessing grandparents.”

But so much (almost) for responses by me, as Arvonne deserves most final words, this time in quick paragraphs from a brief essay she wrote for a 2016 symposium titled, Specifically, What Must We Do to Repair Our Culture of Massive Family Fragmentation?

[F]amily fragmentation is not new.  It has both economic and cultural roots.  To improve lives for both adults and children as well as the whole society, we must build upon the cultural reverence for families but also begin to value and respect the unpaid work involved in rearing and caring for children.

Culturally, we must see children not as the property and obligation of individual parents but as future citizens.  Instead of expecting parents to present society with healthy young adults, well-educated and trained for paid work, our American culture must welcome and value each new baby born in this country as a new citizen and take a measure of responsibility for its welfare.

For starters, we might reinstate the teaching of civics – the rights and duties of citizens – in schools, as former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor advocates.  Children must learn the kind of government we have and their obligations as part of it.

In rereading these three paragraphs, I can easily envision some new readers, especially on the right, applauding some parts and not others.  But a variety of views is exactly what I’ve sought in pulling together symposia, which have averaged more than 30 voices each time.  As for Arvonne, when she wrote, or when I interviewed her, she delivered perfectly on the aim, which is to say insightfully, independently, and with confidence.

My ongoing thanks.