Topics include children’s literature, play, reproductive technology

The Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP) hosted a conference entitled “Children and Culture,” co-sponsored by Notre Dame Right to Life, the Tocqueville Program, and the McGrath Institute for Church Life on Saturday, March 25 in Geddes Hall.

Focusing on the flourishing of children, the family, and society, the conference had a diverse range of speakers, ranging from Notre Dame’s own Professors Timothy O’Malley, Mary O’Callaghan, and Clark Power, to researcher David Lapp, the Catholic University of America’s Professor Melissa Moschella, and others.

The conference also examined a diverse array of child-focused topics. Mary O’Callaghan began the conference with a talk on Down Syndrome. She noted the important societal needs to both recognize the struggles and dignity of those with Down Syndrome, and she stressed the importance of fighting against the violence of widespread abortion inflicted upon them. “Obstetrics,” she pointed out, “has taken a good—eliminating a disability—and turned it into an evil—eliminating a person.”

This was followed by a talk delivered by David Lapp on a different set of children’s issues: the trends in relationships and families in working class communities. Noting the high rates of divorce, abuse, and trauma in such a demographic, he gave advice on how to combat the cycle of broken families in such areas: emphasizing the necessity of building trust-based relationships in friendship and in therapy, he said, “we are traumatized by relationships, but we are also saved by relationships.”

A Skype lecture delivered by Chiara Sferrazza on children’s literature advocated for a return to reading which morally equips children as well as entertains them. Afterward, Professor Timothy O’Malley touched upon life at Notre Dame and in his talk entitled “An Education for Family Life.” His lecture began by pointing out the issues built into universities such as Notre Dame which emphasize success (monetary and otherwise), change, and pursuit. Describing an educational system that views family life as “ancillary,” he emphasized the need for a return to a system which creates students ready to enter into the goods of family life and commitment: a system that “makes possible a way of education that civilizes the human person and civilizes family life.”   

Following O’Malley, President for the Center for Bioethics and Culture Jennifer Lahl delivered a detailed exposé on the current technologies and practices (as well as the effects and abuses) in the fields of egg harvesting and in vitro fertilization. Noting the detrimental effects such practices have on all parties involved, Lahl described many cases she herself was involved in through her activism and film producing. Lahl is the producer of films such as Eggsploitation and Anonymous Father’s Day.

Clark Power, Professor of the Program of Liberal Studies and Concurrent Professor of Psychology, next delivered a psychological analysis of childhood development in his talk “Children and the Moral Imagination.” Noting the key element of social play in a child’s moral development (through developing empathy, building community, and so on), he remarked that play can even take on a spiritual element. “God created the world in a spirit of play [i.e., without compulsion],” he noted, indicating that in our lives, play can thus bring us closer to God and what He intended us to be.

The conference concluded with a lecture by Professor Melissa Moschella, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America, entitled “To Whom Do Children Belong?” The talk focused on the difficult tension found in contemporary life between parental rights, the rights of other educators, and finally, the rights of the children themselves. Noting the frequent occurrence of instances where the rights of parents have been violated, Moschella advocated for greater consideration of parents’ primary authority and responsibility as caretakers, protectors, and educators of their children.

Speaking enthusiastically about the conference as a whole, sophomore Molly Platt noted that it “did an excellent job of addressing issues of the family from a variety of angles whether that be scientific, more strictly religious, or psychological.” She added that Jennifer Lahl’s talk in particular was a favorite of hers. Platt concluded, “It’s important to hear the voices of those victimized by manipulative practices.”

James Rahner is a sophomore philosophy and theology major living in Alumni Hall. He is desperately trying to decide whether or not to study abroad in Angers, France next spring. If you have advice on this matter or on any others, please contact him at