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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

It takes a stable family

"Luxury beliefs" -- the idea that monogamy is outdated, drugs are harmless and success comes from luck rather than hard work -- are fine for elites, Rob Henderson writes in Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class. They're very bad for poor.


Growing up in chaos -- an addicted mother and unknown father, nine foster homes in six years, abandonment by his adoptive father -- made him value family stability above all, writes Naomi Schaefer Riley a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and at the Independent Women’s Forum, in a Commentary review.


After the age of three, Henderson never saw his mother, who was deported to South Korea. Adopted by a two-parent family at the age of nine, he enjoyed having a father. “We’d shoot hoops at a local park and wrestle around. He told me stories about his experience in the Army when he had been stationed in Korea in the late 70s.”


He had five years of stability. Then his adoptive parents split up, his father rejected him and his mother's lesbian relationship fell apart. His friends were into drinking, drugs, stealing and taking stupid risks. His grades fell.


While some of his friends went to jail, Henderson enlisted in the Air Force, then -- after time in rehab for his drinking -- he managed to get into Yale through a program for veterans. That's where he met the fortunate children who thought marriage, sobriety and effort were unimportant.


Henderson became fascinated by "class divides and social hierarchies" at Yale, writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal. It wasn't just the students in $900 Canadian Goose jackets. It was the language that signaled membership in the educated class.


(Historian Paul) Fussell had remarked that upper-class people often name their pets after literary or historical figures to flaunt their education. Sure enough, one of the first Yalies Henderson met had a pet cat named “Learned Claw,” a play on the name of jurist Learned Hand.

Upper-middle-class Yalies thought it was insensitive to value the stable two-parent families in which they'd been raised -- and which they wanted for themselves, Henderson writes. They didn't understand his view that "it’s cruel to validate decisions that inflict harm, especially on those who had no hand in the decision — like young children.”


Henderson was at Yale when the administration told students to be careful not to choose a Halloween costume that might offend someone, notes Hymowitz. A student protest erupted when married professors, Nicholas and Erika Christakis, challenged the idea that Halloween costumes could be "microaggressions."


"A student from tony Greenwich, Connecticut, who went to boarding school at Exeter, 'explained' to the orphan from Nowheresville, California that he was 'too privileged to understand the pain these professors had caused'," writes Hymowitz.


Henderson earned a degree in psychology at Yale and a doctorate at Cambridge University.


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