Jewish World Review

July 27, 1999 /14 Av, 5759

The 'deconstructing' of a controversy

By Binyamin L. Jolkovsky
Jewish World Review

The igniters of a debate over the role of the "essential father" in contemporary society have abandoned the airwaves and printed page, retreating instead to the safety of cyberspace, where they are re-organizing.

And for good reason, American laity and its press simply are not buying bunk.

Writing on the Psychology of Women Resource List (, the authors of the controversial "Deconstructing the Essential Father," the lead article in the June number of the official publication of the American Psychological Association, are pleading for help, claiming that they are taking an "enormous amount of heat from the popular press," including the Associated Press.

It is because of that flack, say professors Louise Silverstein and Carl Auerbach, that they have been "put on the defensive."

In their plea, the two include "talking points" to be shared with like-minded shrinks in hope of having some sort of bulwark (or, as the help-letter calls it, "support") in the academic community.

"We have decided not to get involved with the popular press, because no matter how careful one tries to be, our words can be quoted out of context. Our agenda is to stimulate scholarly debate," the two write in an e-mail obtained by

Indeed, that agenda includes pushing the belief that, among other things:

1)"Economics, not marriage" determines how well-adjusted children will be.

2) There is no "empirical support that marriage enhances fathering or that marriage civilizes men and protects children."

3)That male-female marriage as an institution hurts women and children because men waste family resources on "gambling, purchasing alcohol, cigarettes, or other nonessential commodities" thereby "actually increasing women's workload and stress level."

Only recently, the APA has begun to recover from the flap over another article the group published urging a value-neutral approach to sex between adults and children. The group refuses to comment on the current controversy.

Critics of the research, including Dr. Wade F. Horn, JWR columnist and president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a non-sectarian, non-partisan organization promoting "responsible fathering," say the study is flawed because it was a "non-random sample" of only 200 people and that when conducting such research "usually only the most well-adjusted apply." That is, "if you were doing a study of marital relationships, and advertised for subjects in the newspaper, very few wife beaters would apply. In a similar vein, when asking for volunteers to study, it is doubtful that many fathers would volunteer who are abusive or neglectful. Hence, studying volunteer gay fathers would likely conclude that all their kids are doing fine."

The two professors, who were to debate Dr. Horn on CNN, canceled minutes before air time. They teach at Yeshiva University, the traditionally Orthodox Jewish school in Manhattan, and openly declare in their paper that their research is motivated by politics --- to serve as ammunition in the struggle for the acceptance of nontraditional families and against what it describes as the "neo-conservative" doctrine --- and that the male-female family unit is not necessaerily the most effective in producing well-adjusted offspring.

Their article specifically mentions the need to correct "neo-conservative" belief in order to reverse "social policy initiatives" that favor a traditional family structure that it claims "discriminates against cohabiting couples, single mothers, and gay and lesbian parents."

In fact, the authors write in describing their conclusions, "our reading of the science literature supports our political agenda." And actually admit that "some of the research we cite to support our perspective will turn out to be incorrect."

Yet, despite the duo's very unorthodox belief, in another e-mail to the listserve, Prof. Silverstein claims the two have received encouragement from their program chairman and dean. And while members of Yeshiva's rabbinic faculty have expressed their dismay over the beliefs being pushed by professors who teach in schools that have mezuzahs on their doorposts, the university's president, Norman Lamm, while paying lip-service to traditional Jewish belief, nevertheless defends the paper in the name of academic freedom.

As if opposition from the rabbinic faculty at Yeshiva was not enough, a conservative Christian group is attacking the professors for their report and their "cover-up." Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, wrote a letter to Yeshiva President Lamm in which Rev. Sheldon complained that Silverstein and Auerbach are engaged in "non-scientific, ideological lobbying which fears the scrutiny of free people -- the same free people whom (the report) concludes should be under more government control."

Yeshiva, Lamm said in a telephone interview from his summer home in the Catskills, "is a university which has academic freedom, and is not responsible for what any individual faculty members say or write, no matter how outrageous it may seem to me as president or to the ethos of the university as a whole and its mission."

Binyamin L. Jolkovsky is JWR's editor-in-chief. He can be reached by clicking here. Related: American Psychological Association Prof. Louise B. Silverman Norman Lamm

©1999, JWR