The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “chutzpah” as personal confidence or courage that allows someone to do or say things that may seem shocking to others. That definition, however, doesn’t do the word justice. A more accurate way of conveying the nuance of this word to one who is unfamiliar with it would be to cite the following oft-used example: Chutzpah is when a person murders his parents and, upon conviction, pleads with the judge for leniency on the grounds that he is an orphan.
A breaking news story may just have provided us with a real-life example of the epitome of chutzpah.
In a Camden County courthouse, Caitlyn Ricci, a 21-year-old college student, was suing her divorced parents to pay for her college tuition. Not unlike the case of Rachel Canning that was in the news months earlier, Ricci is estranged from her parents and wants the court system to force them to give her what she believes is coming to her. (Canning, for what it is worth, ended up reconciling with her parents.)
The very idea that a person (an adult, no less) can turn to the people who raised her and demand anything from them should be, and is, appalling. Just about every person I know who hears this story reacts the same way.
Everyone, that is, except the New Jersey judge that heard the case.
While a previous judge had ordered the parents to contribute toward Ricci’s college education even after she had left their homes, which in itself would be troubling, this decision goes much further. At the time of the first decision, Ricci continued to attend the local community college she had been going to while she was still living with her parents. The legal precedent originally used to make that decision, Newburgh v. Arrio,which found that parents were responsible for the college tuition of their unemancipated children, had to be combined with the fact that, in New Jersey, becoming an adult doesn’t automatically trigger emancipation. What that decision found was that parents had to pay for their child’s college education, so long as they were still responsible for the child.
That doesn’t make the idea of suing one’s parents any more palatable, but it’s a decision one can live with, I guess.
But this new decision introduces an entirely new ball game. Ricci has been away from her parents’ homes for almost two years now and lives with her father’s parents. She transferred to a new (more expensive) out-of-state college and demanded that they pay the new, more expensive tuition. The judge found in her favor, and ordered that they contribute $18,000 a year. This is rather curious, because the legal definition of an emancipated child is one that is neither cared for nor influenced by his or her parents, which seems to be an accurate description of the case at hand.
I have no idea why the relationship between Ms. Ricci and her parents deteriorated to this point. But the response of her grandmother, with whom she now lives, to this question is definitely an eye-opener. She said, “How would you have a relationship with your parents if they don’t want to contribute to college?”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, just about sums up the sad state of affairs for many people in this country today. Everything is about getting more “stuff.” A relationship with your parents? What’s that worth if they aren’t giving you what you are entitled to?
This attitude would be disturbing even if it were an exception, but the sad truth is that, in many ways, it has become the rule. The president can ram an entitlement bill through Congress and, just a few years later, his allies say that those who oppose it are seeking to “take away health care from millions of Americans.” He can add a single benefit for women, and then say that those who oppose it on religious grounds (a right upheld by the Supreme Court) seek to “deny women access to health care.” Is it then any shock that a 21-year-old student should feel that unless her parents give her what a liberal court decided she should get, in the way she wants to get it, there is no value in having a relationship with them?
There is a silver lining to this cloud, however. It doesn’t pertain to the destructive attitude that has so influenced society to the extent that the Ricci case (unlike the Canning case, which was thrown out by its judge) actually made it through the court system. If the legal system upholds the idea that a “child” can choose where to go to school, and compel his or her parents to pay for it, logic dictates something that I think the rest of us can get behind. It would stand to reason that the state of New Jersey which, in May of 2011 was found by the New Jersey Supreme Court to have a constitutional obligation to provide a “thorough and efficient” education to all its children, is more or less in the same position that Ms. Ricci’s parents found themselves to be in — which means we can choose where we want to go to school, and the state will have to pay for it.
But don’t get your hopes up. Private school education is about the only thing liberals in this country will make sure you are still paying for.