The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, March 31, 2004  

Familiar Academic Stereotypes

Dalton Conley, director of New York University’s Center for Advanced Social Science Research, is a very, very angry man.

I don’t know why.

Perhaps it relates to his place in “the pecking order”?




That’s an Irish name, isn’t it?



That’s an Irish name, isn’t it?

Dalton Conley.

Dalton Conley.

That’s an Irish name, isn’t it?

Of this particular Dalton Conley I know little, if anything, and adding to what I know is not a great priority at the moment.

But since Conley himself traffics, apparently rather happily, and perhaps profitably, in stereotypes and smears, I’m going to assume he’s probably (merely?) one of “a brood” of, what, “12 or 14 an hungered children, sharing, when ‘Pa’ hasn’t spoilt the dole on his pints, tiny portions of weakened tea and sugared bread around the peat-fired hearth.”

Spare me. It’s been done. Far better and far worse than Conley’s performance in today’s Philadelphia Daily News (“Brood Awakening: Don’t Supersize Families”). And trust me, “brood” is Conley’s trite construction, not mine, and one that is to me, a man who is half Irish-American, a familiar, albeit subtle, ethnic slur regardless of who issues it.

Sure, Conley’s got himself a nice little title and position at New York University, historically not an institution that has been entirely friendly to the city’s Irish population, though one about which Conley no doubt feels extraordinarily proud given the massive obstacles he would have readers believe he has had to overcome throughout his life.

In today’s PDN Conley, who tells us nothing of his marital or familial status, rails on and on about the perils of large families and the hazards they purportedly present not only to society at large but to themselves: poverty, dependence, stupidity, all the usual crap psychiatrists and academics have foisted upon me my entire life, all of whom, I could (should) add, have known next to nothing, at least from the real world, about Irish- or Italian- or Catholic-American life.

Did you know, to take just one of Conley’s completely absurd factoids, “[M]iddle-borns [Ed.: That is, a second child.] are severely hurt by the addition of another mouth to feed: His parents are 25 percent less likely to send him to private school....”

The horrors!

You know what that means, don’t you? No Andover for you, Seamus!

Dalton is fixated on children and the tax code, which he believes “encourages” couples to have excess children (in my opinion, a dubious premise at best), seeking instead one that discourages reproduction. We’re just all too generous, he thinks. We’re crazily fostering a new generation of needy and dumb kids, according to this purported scholar.

I have to ask, though, why not advocate laws that are neutral on this supposedly crucial question? Instead of spending hours and money seeking to determine why children in large families are “destined” to fail, why not try to find out why the children of some large families succeed?

Some, that is, including mine. Or my parents’ family.

I’m one of ten children.

Proudly so.

And before you ask, and I know it’s your next question, because it’s always the next question, I’m the seventh of the ten.

And, yes, all ten share the same mother and father.

And, no, there are no twins, triplets, or multiple births of any kind.

And, yes, my parents are Catholic.

And, no, I have no idea whether that’s really why there are ten of us. For me, that’s just the way it has been, is, and will be.

And, no, don’t even dare to make some “smart”-ass remark about my parents’ sex life, because I promise what you’re thinking is neither original nor funny and, I guarantee, I’ve already heard it.

All ten graduated from high school and all ten hold bachelor’s degrees. Eight of the ten have master’s degrees, with one more in progress. Throw in a doctorate or two, completed, in progress, or intended, and just count the years of education and tuition paid.

Dalton, however, is thinking otherwise, asking, assuming large families are a consistent drain on society, “After all, do we really want to subsidize kid No. 9?”

“Kid number nine”?

I know her.

There’s a number nine in my family, in fact. A younger sister.

And what a burden on society she’s been!

She, the highly educated and brilliant archaeologist who currently is a professor of historic preservation at one of the nation’s leading institutions teaching the subject.

Yes, a veritable leech upon us all, she.

And guess what, and sorry, Mr. Conley . . . She’s reproduced!

Oh, and “No. 10”?

Well, he allegedly has the highest IQ in the family.

Of late he’s been teaching the brightest of America’s brightest college students.

A shame he was even born, isn’t it?

[Post-publication addendum (April 2): I’ve been reminded that according to family lore or scuttlebutt, the siblings’ highest IQ lies not in the hands, or head, of No. 10, but of No. 9.]

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